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Celtics survive LeBron James attack to take 2-0 series lead

  LOS ANGELES, United States (UPDATED) – Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and the Boston Celtics overcame a 42-point performance from LeBron James to beat Cleveland 107-94 on Tuesday, May 15 (Wednesday, May 16 in Manila) and take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Terry Rozier added ........»»

Category: newsSource: rappler rapplerMay 16th, 2018

Celtics survive LeBron James attack to take 2-0 series lead

  LOS ANGELES, United States (UPDATED) – Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and the Boston Celtics overcame a 42-point performance from LeBron James to beat Cleveland 107-94 on Tuesday, May 15 (Wednesday, May 16 in Manila) and take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Terry Rozier added ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsMay 16th, 2018

Game 4: Cavaliers, Celtics look to finish off East sweeps

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press The unthinkable has happened before. Conference semifinals, 2010, Boston vs. Philadelphia: Boston wins the first two games at home, then goes into Philadelphia to capture Game 3 and take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Undeterred, Philadelphia won in seven games to reach the Eastern Conference finals. One small detail to note: That was in hockey. If there’s one piece of solace for the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors right now, it’s likely this — comebacks from 3-0 deficits are not completely unheard of in major sports. There’s been four of them in the NHL. Another happened in baseball, the Boston Red Sox rallying to oust the New York Yankees in the 2004 AL Championship Series. And even Cleveland has blown a 3-0 lead, albeit again in hockey, and that was of the minor league variety in 1960. But in the NBA, never. NBA teams staring into the 0-3 abyss have never been saved: 129 have tried, 129 have failed. On Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), the 76ers and the Raptors — both down 3-0 after down-to-the-wire defeats in their respective Game 3s of their Eastern Conference semifinal series — get their chance to be the ones who rewrite that ignominious piece of basketball history. Philadelphia plays host to Boston and Toronto is at Cleveland, with the 76ers and Raptors both trying to find ways to extend their seasons. “There’s a breaking point we all have,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “And I believe that if we can maintain our spirit, why couldn’t we be the one? And I mean that. That’s my goal with us, is to fight. That’s all I know. I can’t see any other way to approach this that makes sense to me. So that’s what we’re going to do.” The odds are obviously overwhelmingly in favor of the Celtics and Cavaliers, who seem destined to meet in the Eastern Conference finals for the second consecutive year. That’s hard to believe, given where those clubs were a week or so ago. Both needed to survive Game 7s just to get out of the first round. The narrative around the Celtics, with no Kyrie Irving for the postseason, was that they would be the East high seed ripe for a playoff upset. Oops. They’ve been unflappable. “I’ve never been around a group of guys, and I’ve been around some really special ones, that can just turn the page and they just play the next play the right way,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s a really unique group in that regard.” The narrative around the Cavaliers was that LeBron James was being asked to do too much and his supporting cast was capable of too little. Oops, again. And now James is five wins from an eighth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. “We’re getting better,” Cavs forward Jeff Green said. “We’re getting better each game. Our defense is getting better. We’re playing together. Things are turning a corner for us at the right time.” A look at Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) games: CELTICS AT 76ERS Celtics lead 3-0. Game 4, 6 p.m. EDT, (6am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: The Celtics are playing for a lot of rest. A win on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), and the Celtics wouldn’t play again until at least Sunday (next Monday, PHL time). And there’s nothing more valuable than days off to heal nagging things at this time of year. KEEP AN EYE ON: Jayson Tatum. Boston’s young standout was brilliant in Game 3 with 24 points, and the Celtics were plus-24 when he was on the floor. In the 11.5 minutes he was on the bench, Philadelphia outscored Boston 39-18. STAT QUIRK: Philadelphia set an NBA record with a 16-game winning streak to end the regular season. The 76ers topped the 15-game end-of-season run by the 1950 Rochester Royals — who exited the playoffs in a sweep. PRESSURE IS ON: Ben Simmons. The 76ers point guard made some atrocious decisions in the final moments of Game 3, like going back up with an offensive rebound late in regulation (instead of burning some clock with Philly leading) and the lazy-looking one-handed inbounds pass for a turnover in overtime that sealed Boston’s win. RAPTORS AT CAVALIERS Cavaliers lead 3-0. Game 4, 8:30 p.m. EDT (8:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Pity the Raptors. After coming into these playoffs with title hopes, Toronto has again been unable to solve LeBron James. In the last 15 matchups where the Raptors have faced James, they’re 1-14 and are now on the brink of being ousted by the Cavs for the third straight season. KEEP ANY EYE ON: Kevin Love’s resurgence. Cleveland’s other All-Star has been revived in this series, a development that bodes well for the Cavs going forward. Love finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds in Game 3, responding to urging from Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to play faster. PRESSURE IS ON: Raptors coach Dwane Casey. His moves have been questioned throughout the first three games. Toronto ran a mind-boggling inbounds play in the final minute of Game 3 with guard Fred VanVleet hoisting and missing a 35-foot jumper before the shot clock expired. Casey also benched All-Star DeMar DeRozan for the entire fourth quarter, a bold decision given that he’s the club’s best offensive player. PRODUCT PLACEMENT: James’ choice to wear a Seagram’s 7 whiskey cap to his postgame news conference was interesting. Some suspected he might be trolling the Raptors since Seagram’s was originally a Canadian company. The logo also includes a small crown, so there’s the royal angle. Whatever the case, he may want to start getting Samuel Adams hats ready for the East finals — if he wants to tweak Boston fans a bit more. ___ AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

LeBron scores 44 as Cavs even series with Celtics

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 44 points, surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar atop a postseason list and helped the Cleveland Cavaliers even the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) with a 111-102 victory over the Boston Celtics, who are looking forward to getting home. Pushed by a raucous crowd that wasn't so confident a few days ago, the Cavs held off Boston's comeback in the fourth quarter and squared a series that is now a best-of-three. Cleveland is trying to become the 20th team — out of 300 — to overcome a 2-0 deficit and James, who has already orchestrated two such rallies, is a step closer to a third. But to do it again the Cavs will have to win in Boston, where the Celtics are 9-0 this postseason. Game 5 is Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at TD Center. Kyle Korver added 14 points with several hustle plays, and Tristan Thompson had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland. Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Boston had all five scorers in double figures, but the Celtics fell behind by 19 in the first half and didn't have enough to catch Cleveland. And, of course, they didn't have James, who moved past Jabbar (2,356) for the most field goals in playoff history. James also recorded his 25th career postseason game with at least 40 points — his sixth in this postseason. The Celtics hung around in the second half and pulled within 100-93 on Marcus Smart's basket with 4:29 left. But Thompson got free for a dunk, and after a miss by Boston, James recovered after making his seventh turnover by making a steal and layup. Moments later, James drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to finally put away the young Celtics, who will now feel the immense pressure of trying to hold off the three-time champion. Celtics coach Brad Stevens considered changing his starting lineup, but decided to stick with the same first five — Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and Terry Rozier — as the first three games. Boston's starters held their own, but none of them was able to match James when it mattered most. The Celtics couldn't afford another slow start and that's exactly what happened. Boston got some open looks in the first quarter, but the Celtics shot just 27 percent (7-of-26) and both Tatum and Brown missed dunks. Also, Morris picked up three fouls and his teammates all seemed tentative as the Cavs pushed their lead to 15 at halftime. TIP-INS Celtics: Stevens was deliberately evasive about his starting lineup during his pregame news conference, not wanting to give the Cavs any advance notice. "We will start five people. I promise," he said, drawing laughs from media members. ... Injured stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are not traveling with the team so they can continue their respective rehabs. Both have been sitting on the bench with their teammates in Boston. Cavaliers: Won their seventh straight playoff game at home. ... James also recorded his 106th 30-point game in the postseason. Only Michael Jordan (109) has more. ... Love threw one of his patented "touchdown" passes in the first quarter to James, who outmaneuvered Smart and Brown like a wide receiver to make the catch and score. ... Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in last month's NFL draft, attended the game. Improved to 9-3 vs. Boston in the playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. BLOWOUT CITY Like most fans, Lue has been stunned — but not necessarily disappointed — by the number of lopsided wins in the playoffs, especially in the semifinals. The first six games between Boston-Cleveland and Houston-Golden State were decided by an average of 24 points. The Warriors won Game 3 on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time) by 41, the largest margin of victory in franchise history. "It does surprise me," he said. "All four teams are really good. But the home court has shown it's been a factor." UP NEXT Game 5 is Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) in Boston......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated News3 hr. 45 min. ago

LeBron, Cavs overpower Celtics at home in Game 3

CLEVELAND --- LeBron James had 27 points and 12 assists, Kevin Love added 14 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked like a different team on their home floor, tightening the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-86 victory in Game 3 over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night. Outplayed during two losses in Boston, the Cavs used a three-day break in the series to regroup and re-grip this series. They built a 19-point lead in the first quarter, pushed it to 30 in the second half and overpowered the Celtics, who fell to 1-5 on the road in the postseason. Any discussion of Cleveland's demise is premature. Kyle Korver made four of the Cavs' 17 3-pointers and Cleveland had six players i...Keep on reading: LeBron, Cavs overpower Celtics at home in Game 3.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsMay 20th, 2018

LeBron, Cavs overpower Celtics 116-86 at home in Game 3

By TOM WITHERS,  AP Sports Writer CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James had 27 points and 12 assists, Kevin Love added 14 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked like a different team on their home floor, tightening the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-86 victory in Game 3 over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night. Outplayed during two losses in Boston, the Cavs used a three-day break in the series to regroup and re-grip this series. They built a 19-point lead in the first quarter, pushed it to 30 in the second half and overpowered the Celtics, who fell to 1-5 on the road in the postseason. Any discussion of Cleveland's demise is premature. Kyle Korver made four of the Cavs' 17 3-pointers and Cleveland had six players in double figures. Game 4 is Monday night before the series returns to Boston. Jaylen Brown was in foul trouble all night and scored just 10 for the Celtics after averaging 23 in the first two games. Jayson Tatum scored 18 and Terry Rozier 13 for Boston. Only 19 of a possible 300 teams have ever overcome a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. James and the Cavs, who previously did it in 2007 and again in 2016 while winning the NBA title, took the first step toward a third comeback. To return to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, the Cavs have to win four of five and re-write Boston's illustrious history. The Celtics are 37-0 when they win the first two games in a series. "That doesn't bother me," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said before Game 3. "The games have to be played. They won two games on their home court, which we know they've been playing well the whole playoffs, but we're not discouraged. "So, 0-2 doesn't really mean anything." Apparently not. The Cavs came in wanting to play faster and be more physical with the younger Celtics, who were the aggressors in Games 1 and 2. Lue also needed more from point guard George Hill after two poor performances (8 points, 1 assist) in Boston. Hill responded with a driving layup to start the game and drained three 3-pointers in the first quarter as Cleveland wasted no time taking control. Hill finished with 13, J.R. Smith 11 and Cleveland's supporting cast played so well that James only had to play 37 minutes. Boston coach Brad Stevens was confident his team would play better on the road than earlier in these playoffs, but the Celtics were shaky early, committing four turnovers and shooting 2 of 10 while the Cavs opened a 27-11 lead. James arrived at 5:45 p.m., greeted by the usual phalanx of cameras waiting to record his walk from the security entrance at Quicken Loans Arena to Cleveland's locker room. Earlier in the day, James said the fact he has twice rallied from 2-0 deficits in the postseason offered no relief. "There's nothing about the playoffs that's comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer," he said. Summer might not be as close as it once seemed. FAMILY TIES Stevens has deep Cleveland roots, but he's slowly converting family members to pull for Boston's teams. His parents are from Northeast Ohio and his wife, Tracy, is from suburban Rocky River. Before the game, Stevens was asked what happens to all the Cavs, Browns and Cavaliers gear he gets as gifts. "My 7 1/2-year-old nephew was offered 10 extra-credit points (in school) if he wore anything regarding Cleveland yesterday, and he went all green," Stevens said. "And three years ago, I think he was all Cleveland stuff. So we're making strides with him. But yeah, we have a large contingent. Maybe they'll get some of those (Game 3 giveaway) yellow shirts and pass them around to some people who haven't completely converted to rooting for the Celtics yet." TIP-INS Celtics: Seeking to become the sixth No. 2 seed to win the East in eight years. Boston was a No. 4 seed when it advanced to the finals in 2010. ... Fell to 3-8 in playoff games in Cleveland, the most by a Cavs opponent at the Q. ... Stevens was relieved to learn that Boston legend Bill Russell was recovering after a hospital stay brought on by dehydration. Russell won 11 NBA titles with the Celtics. "He's the ultimate basketball winner," Stevens said. "The way he impacted winning, the unselfishness of a teammate, what he stood for off the floor — everything about him." Cavaliers: James needs six field goals to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,356) for the most in postseason history. ... Cleveland has won six straight playoff games at home. ... Improved to 14-6 vs. Boston in the playoffs. UP NEXT Game 4 is Monday night......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 20th, 2018

Backcourt blues: Cavs guards Smith, Hill horrible in Game 2

CLEVELAND --- J.R. Smith reached out, placed his hands on Al Horford's back and shoved Boston's big man out of bounds. It was the only time Smith was on target. Smith's shoddy performance in Game 2 --- he missed all seven shots and committed a flagrant 1 foul in 27 forgettable minutes --- underscored a startling disparity between Cleveland's and Boston's starting backcourts that allowed the fearless Celtics to withstand a brilliant, 42-point effort by LeBron James and take a 2-0 series lead. Smith and point guard George Hill were outscored 41-3 by Boston's Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, who were faster, hungrier and maybe tougher. "I don't think tougher," Smith said aft...Keep on reading: Backcourt blues: Cavs guards Smith, Hill horrible in Game 2.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsMay 17th, 2018

Celtics survive 42-point night by LeBron, down Cavs 107-94

Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and the Boston Celtics withstood a 42-point night by LeBron James to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-94 on Tuesday night (Wednesday in Manila) and take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals......»»

Category: newsSource:  philstarRelated NewsMay 16th, 2018

Celts draw first blood

Pound listless Cavaliers NEW YORK (AFP) - Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Al Horford added 20 to power the Boston Celtics over Cleveland 108-83 Sunday, humbling LeBron James and his Cavaliers teammates in their NBA playoff series opener. The Celtics seized the lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals,….....»»

Category: newsSource:  journalRelated NewsMay 14th, 2018

Celtics thwart LeBron James, Cavaliers in Game 1 of East finals

NEW YORK, USA – Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Al Horford added 20 to power the Boston Celtics over Cleveland 108-83 Sunday, May 13, and humble LeBron James and his Cavaliers teammates in their NBA playoff series opener. The Celtics seized the lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference finals, ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsMay 14th, 2018

Wicked good: LeBron undaunted by Boston, Celtics mystique

By Tom Withers, Associated Press INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — There haven’t been any championship banners hoisted into Boston’s hallowed rafters since 2008. LeBron James won’t let go of the rope. Cleveland’s star has bounced the Celtics from the playoffs four times in the past seven years, and James carries a six-game postseason winning streak at Boston into this year’s Eastern Conference finals, which open Sunday (Monday, PHL time) at TD Garden. As a member of both the Miami Heat and Cavaliers, James — whose success against Boston did a 180-degree turn with a mesmerizing Game 6 performance in 2012 — has made the Celtics green(er) with envy. But while the 33-year-old has the utmost respect for the NBA’s most decorated franchise, James’ admiration hasn’t stopped him from standing in the way of Boston stuffing more Larry O’Brien trophies into its crowded case. And if he beats the Celtics again and advances to his eighth straight NBA Finals, James would join a club currently exclusive to Boston players with legendary status. Only Bill Russell (10), Sam Jones (9), Tommy Heinsohn (9) and Frank Ramsey (8) have played in more consecutive Finals than James, who said he hasn’t reflected on the possibility of admission to their group. “I do know that this is my eighth straight conference finals and I have an opportunity to play for a championship if I’m able to be successful in this conference finals, so I don’t take that for granted,” James said Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “You dream about being able to play in big games in the NBA. Even when I got to the NBA that was one of my only goals — to be as great as I can be, to play in big games in the NBA and be remembered — and I think I’ve done that in my career. “Just trying to add onto it while I can.” Early in his career, James saw the Celtics as a postseason exit ramp. The “Big 3” Boston team featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen ousted him and the Cavs in 2008 and 2010, the latter series ending with James famously storming off the floor and pulling off his jersey to foreshadow his free-agent departure later that summer for South Beach. He avenged that loss the following year in the conference semifinals, and then in 2012, James had one of his most magnificent postseason exhibitions of his career in Boston. With the Heat down 3-2 in the series, James scored 45 points on 19 of 26 shooting and added 15 rebounds as Miami forced a Game 7 and went on to win consecutive titles. Since then, he’s 8-1 against the Celtics with a four-game sweep in 2015 and a five-game dusting last year in the conference finals. James has scored 979 points in 34 playoff games against the Celtics, the most by one player against a single team. And in his past six games on Boston’s parquet, he’s averaging 34.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists. James has eight playoff wins in Boston, more than all but four current Celtics. One of them, Jaylen Brown, knows what’s coming. “Physically, he is more superior than any guy that is on the floor,” Brown said. “He’s 260-plus pounds. Can run like a gazelle. Athletic. He’s physical. He’s just unstoppable. We gotta be mentally locked in and have a mindset to try and do the best we can. LeBron is top 3, top 5 of all-time. He’s going to do what he does. We just gotta take away the other guys and have a great mindset of mentally being locked in every possession.” Boston’s notorious crowd is known for rattling opposing players. In the first round, Celtics fans taunted Milwaukee guard Eric Bledsoe with chants of “Who Is Bledsoe?” after he unwisely made a comment about Celtics playoff phenom Terry Rozier. James and his teammates know they’ll have their ears rung as well. “One of the rowdy environments,” Cavaliers forward Kyle Korver said. “Boston is fun. They have a great crowd. They’re ready to get behind their team. There’s been moments where I’ve been on a team where there’s a decent lead and then they make one shot and the place just erupts. You’re like, ‘Man, they’re going to come back.’ You just feel it. It’s a great place to play, especially in the playoffs.” Boston’s roar only seems to strengthen James, who appreciates the passion and pride in the Celtics. “Just the history, you look up in the rafters and you see all the greats that has either played there or the previous arena they played in,” he said. “It’s a sports town. You look at the Patriots. You look at the Bruins. You look at the Red Sox. You add them, look at all that history. It’s just a sports town. If you’re not green, they don’t mess with you.” ___ AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 12th, 2018

Deja vu: Conference Finals matchups mirror opening day games

Did the computer formula the NBA uses to plot out its schedule turn out to be a time machine? In a remarkable coincidence, the league's two opening day games back on October 18, 2017 (PHL time), also happen to be the matchups of this year's Conference Finals. Back on that date, the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Boston Celtics, followed by the Houston Rockets visiting the champion Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers won, 102-99, while the Rockets came from behind, 122-121. Flash-forward a little under seven months later, and the Celtics have homecourt advantage against the Cavaliers, while the Warriors will battle it out in H-Town in four of the seven games. Can we glean anything from those two season-openers? Let's take a deeper look: Cavaliers 102 - Celtics 99 WHAT HAPPENED: So, let's get the depressing part out of the way early. The season got out to an ominous start when Gordon Hayward suffered a catastrophic, season-ending leg injury, just a little over five minutes into the game. The incident understandably shook the Green and White, and Cleveland was able to go up by as much as 18 points, 60-42, early in the third. However, as would become a theme for the Celtics this season, the team refused to back down. Boston even led by four late, 92-88, 4:12 to play. The Cavs then fought back behind LeBron James and Kevin Love, 102-98, 46.3 seconds to go. A free throw by former Cavalier Kyrie Irving made it a single-possession game, and after James missed a three-pointer, Jaylen Brown and Irving both missed looks to force overtime, allowing the home team to get the victory. WHAT'S DIFFERENT: The Cavaliers, are definitely different. On opening night, the team started James, Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose, and the latter three are no longer on the squad, along with Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, and Isaiah Thomas. In their place, the Cavaliers landed Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline, but Cleveland dominated the Toronto Raptors in round two of these playoffs by relying on their old guard - JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Kyle Korver. As for the Celtics, Irving won't be able to earn some revenge against his old team, because he was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to knee issues. He and Hayward aren't the only ones sitting this out. Reserve center Daniel Theis will also be riding the bench for this one, because of a knee injury too. If there's a silver lining though, all of those injuries have forced Boston's young guns to grow up quickly. Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum have all shined given more responsibilities. We'll have to see if it's enough to dethrone the King though. Rockets 122 - Warriors 121 WHAT HAPPENED: After a tight first quarter, the Warriors zoomed away to a big lead in the middle two periods, leading by as much as 17 points, and boasting of a 13-point cushion, 101-88, entering the fourth. The good vibes of the champions didn't last though, as Chris Paul led a 13-3 run to pull his team within three, 104-101, still 8:56 remaining in the game. Paul unfortunately couldn't close things out, as a knee injury sidelined him with 4:47 left. He actually joined the Warriors' Draymond Green on the injury list, as Green didn't check back into the game in the fourth because of similar concerns. With the players on the court, the Rockets closed the gap, and took over, 122-121, 44.1 seconds remaining, after PJ Tucker charities. Houston had a chance to grow their lead, following a Stephen Curry turnover, but James Harden missed a three-pointer. The Warriors sued for time, and went to Curry anew for a game-winner, but his shot was off, allowing the Rockets to start the season on a high. WHAT'S DIFFERENT: Both the Warriors and the Rockets failed to make any moves during the trade deadline. The Warriors did waive Omri Casspi to make room for G League call-up Quinn Cook, while the Rockets signed Joe Johnson off the waiver wire (another such addition, Brandan Wright, needed knee surgery and won't play). Perhaps the biggest change regarding the Warriors will be their rotation. On opening night, head coach Steve Kerr played almost his entire roster, with 12 players logging at least seven minutes, though some of that was due to Draymond's injury. Through these playoffs, especially in the Pelicans series, the Warriors went to the 'Hamptons 5' group early and often, with just a few bench guys spelling the main guns. That will likely be the case anew against the Rockets. As for Houston, the biggest improvement from then and now might be the play of center Clint Capela. The (restricted) free-agent-to-be dominated Rudy Gobert of the Jazz, and could outmuscle his Golden State counterparts, regardless of whether they go small, or opt for Zaza Pachulia or JaVale McGee. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Will LeBron win a 24th straight East series?

NBA.com blogtable LeBron James has won 23 consecutive Eastern Conference playoffs series. Is there any reason at all to think it won't be 24? * * * David Aldridge: Two words: Brad Stevens. He's the best chance the Celtics (I am assuming Boston doesn't blow its 3-1 lead over Philadelphia) have against Cleveland; his ability to take whatever players are in front of them and make them a cohesive unit is amazing. And his roster this year is better equipped to compete with James's Cavaliers than last year's, even with all the current injuries that have taken out Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Terry Rozier has been a revelation at point guard in the playoffs and he'll cause the Cavs problems; his matchup with George Hill will be a huge factor in the series. If the Celtics can get Jaylen Brown through the rest of the Sixers' series without him aggravating his hamstring, three potential days off before the conference finals could be big. I just think Boston is much more dynamic offensively this year than at this time last year, when Isaiah Thomas was hobbling. Having said all that, seeing J.R. Smith and George Hill show signs of life in the Toronto series and seeing Kevin Love really get rolling the last three games against the Raptors means James should have enough help to make it 24 out of 24. Steve Aschburner: Not anymore. There were reasons he might not have won No. 22: the Cavaliers weren’t playing well as the regular season ended and the Indiana Pacers came into the first round with no fear, no intimidation and both the game plan and the personnel to give Cleveland fits. James & Co. survived, but that series – the fatigue of it, the lack of preparation for their next opponent – became the reason they would fall in No. 23. Didn’t happen. Not even close. The Cavs have plugged leaks and polished their act into something close to Finals-worthy, and that will continue against either of the two, young, vulnerable teams on the other side of the East bracket. Shaun Powell: It'll be a surprise if he doesn't win 24. This isn't to take away from the gutsy Celtics or upstart Sixers, whomever will be standing in LeBron James' way next. But this might be the weakest Eastern playoff field LeBron has ever seen, given that he went through (a) the post-Paul George Indiana Pacers and (b) the mentally-flawed Toronto Raptors and will then see (c) the Celtics without Kyrie Irving or the Sixers will a bunch of kids. Also, the Cavs are finally hitting their stride right about now. John Schuhmann: There are certainly reasons to believe that Boston has a chance. (With apologies to Philadelphia, I'm assuming the Sixers don't make history by coming back from a 3-0 deficit.) The Celtics had the No. 1 defense in the league and have the size on the perimeter to defend LeBron James and stay at home on the Cavs' shooters a lot better than Toronto did. The Celtics have been the better, more consistent and more resilient team than the Cavs (who have won just two playoff games by more than four points), and Al Horford has been the second best player in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They will be able to take advantage of some matchups on their end of the floor, though they might not have the overall firepower to keep up with the Cavs if James' teammates can provide some support. And of course, it remains difficult to pick against James before he reaches The Finals. Sekou Smith: There's no reason to believe in anything other than the power of LeBron. He's shown us enough the past 15 years -- and the last eight in particular -- that when it comes to the race for the Eastern Conference title, he's the one thing we can count on. Boston and Philadelphia pose much different problems for the Cavaliers compared to the Toronto Raptors, so LeBron and Co. shouldn't go into this next round overconfident. But they should be secure in the fact that the one, true difference-maker in this whole thing still resides in northeast Ohio. Until that changes, it's wise to bet on LeBron......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

Draw of another title lights postseason path of Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst One of the Golden State Warriors’ people, walking out of Smoothie King Center Sunday (Monday, PHL time), summarized the team’s season so far in detailing Kevin Durant’s 38-point performance against the Pelicans in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. “Sometimes, people forget,” he said, a wry smile on his face -- and, yes, they do. With all that has gone on around the league this season, the Warriors’ storyline hasn’t been quite as eyeballed nationally this season compared with previous years. (Not that they should care. It’s just an observation.) The Cleveland Cavaliers blew things up last summer and reformed in the fall, blew it up again in the winter and reformed again in the spring. The Boston Celtics are displaying amazing resilience through seemingly devastating injuries to put themselves on the brink of another conference finals. The Philadelphia 76ers have their Fun Bunch. There was Paul George’s trade to Oklahoma City (and all that entailed, now and later) and the Toronto Raptors’ dramatic and successful changes throughout the year. And, at the forefront, there was the Houston Rockets’ rise as a legit and serious challenger to the Warriors in the Western Conference. During the regular season, the Warriors’ energy and productivity dropped off ever so slightly, like the planet killer in “The Doomsday Machine,” one of the all-time best original “Star Trek” episodes, after the doomed Commodore Decker drove a Shuttlecraft right down its throat. (Of course, Captain Kirk figured out to destroy it. Dude, come on. This is James Tiberius Kirk we’re talking about.) And at the end of the regular season, they were hit with a series of body shot injuries: Stephen Curry’s MCL strain, Durant’s ribs, Klay Thompson’s thumb injury, Draymond Green’s hip, and on and on. Those all sapped their continuity and made them look mortal down the stretch of the 2017-18 season, and the Warriors went 7-10 as the season waned. But, after dispatching the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs in five games in the first round, and taking a 3-1 lead on the Pelicans now, they’re again on the precipice of the Western Conference finals. A date with Houston is looming and a chance at a third title in four seasons is still on their racket. “I think as the playoffs go on, every series requires a different intensity level,” Green said last week. “I think we met that standard that it takes to win playoff games at the level we’re at right now, which is the second round. It’s not our first rodeo. We’ve been here a lot of times and we know what it takes.” Steve Kerr rolled the “Hamptons Five” lineup out Sunday (Monday, PHL time), the Lineup Formally Known as Death -- Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Green and Durant. It’s been their trump card for almost two years, the lineup that can’t be solved by the opposition, even as it’s chipped away at most of Golden State’s other conventional units. Durant went for 38, and the Warriors rolled to a 118-92 win and a 3-1 series lead. They didn’t use it much this season -- that quintet only played 127 minutes together this season, after logging 224 minutes last season -- because of all the injuries, because they tried to limit their biggest players’ minutes and because using Iguodala as a starter thins out Golden State’s bench. The Warriors’ most frequently used five-man unit this season featured Zaza Pachulia at center; among five-man units leaguewide that played 200 minutes or more together this season, per NBA.com/Stats, that quintet was third in the league in Offensive Rating, at 118.6. But Pachulia hasn’t played a minute in the playoffs, and if the Rockets are the Warriors’ next opponent, he may not play much then, either, against Clint Capela. Kerr often points out that the Warriors have six centers on the current roster, and most of them have gotten at least a little run at various points. But after JaVale McGee was ineffective in Game 3 against New Orleans Friday (Saturday, PHL time), Kerr pulled his trump card. It’s still a game-changer, and when a season comes down to a best-of-seven series, one game can be the difference. “We all bring the best of each other,” Curry said of the Hamptons unit. “We increase the pace of the game, but the versatility [is] at the defensive end -- Andre, Draymond, KD shoring up the paint, switching a lot of the screens and the action from the offense and Klay doing what he does on the perimeter. I think the biggest thing offensively is that we’re all playmakers, try to look for the best shot, stay within ourselves and just make the right play.” Going back to the old playlist may give the Warriors comfort in what has been another drama-filled season, with the contretemps about being disinvited from the White House by President Trump in September getting things off to a rollicking start. But the end of the season was what raised eyebrows around the league. Curry’s absence down the stretch combined with a teamwide ennui -- “I really don’t like talking about it,” Thompson said -- that gave potential playoff opponents hope they might be able to catch Golden State napping. The Warriors’ boredom showed up most at the defensive end. After being in the top seven in both unadjusted and adjusted Defensive Rating in each of the last four seasons -- including first in the league in both categories in the first championship season of 2014-15 -- Golden State fell to 11th and 12th, respectively, in the regular season. They came out of the All-Star break focused -- they were fifth in the league in Defensive Rating on March 1. But all the injuries blunted their momentum, and the scariest of all -- a serious injury to second-year guard Patrick McCaw in Sacramento March 31 (April 1, PHL time) -- shook the team more than people on the outside realized. “Throughout that time, we had spurts,” Durant said. “We played a great OKC team. We went in there and won. Then we lost to Indiana by 20, and then it’s like, when you’re riding just on emotion a lot, you tend to go up and down. It’s like a roller coaster. I think that’s what it was. We had those spurts where we played well and played a focused game, but then Patty goes out, boom, and there was just so much that went on with that. Then Steph goes out with a freak injury. So much went on with that. I think we were just so up and down emotionally it kind of blinded us from our goal, which was to be good every single night as basketball players.” McCaw’s injury -- a bone bruise suffered when he fell after a dunk attempt against the Kings, which required him to be carried off the court in Sacramento on a stretcher -- hit everyone hard. “When Pat got injured, I think that took a little bit out of us,” Durant said. “It took a little bit out of Steve as well. You could just feel it, when Steph went out, then I went out, then Draymond, then Klay. Our emotions were so up and down. When your emotions are, you have too many emotions in the game of basketball, it can kind of blind you from what you really have to do. This is a technical game. So when you put too many emotions into it, it kind of took us away from what we wanted to do.” McCaw, who played in 57 games this season, was not only a part of Kerr’s rotation. He is also a well-liked person who was getting better on the floor. He was re-evaluated last week and will be checked out again in a month. Though he’s been traveling with the team during the playoffs, his season is almost certainly over. And as his injury came during the Warriors’ many injuries down the stretch, its chilling effect was multiplied. “It definitely got to everybody,” Green said. “Kind of the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on with him. The rotations. Everybody’s like, ahh, kind of tiptoeing around, trying to make sure you get to the playoffs healthy. A lot of that makes a difference. I mean, that’s our brother. To see him down like that, not be able to walk off the court under his own power, him not being around us for two or three weeks, it was kind of like the unknown. It sucked. And I think it definitely had an effect on everything.” But Durant doesn’t like the metaphor of the proverbial switch being turned on at playoff time explaining the team’s improvement the last couple of weeks. “I don’t like when you call it a switch,” he said. “Because guys come in and get extra work in every single day. They work on their bodies every day, they get treatment. You come in here any time, you see guys in here working on their games. I think when you say ‘a switch turned on,’ if guys went cold turkey on everything as professionals during the season, and just tried to pick it up in the playoffs, I think that’s turning on a switch. Mentally, focus-wise, game plan-wise, I think you can turn on a switch, because you can lock in on an opponent, you know their tendencies, you can just focus in on one group of players instead of one day it’s San Antonio, the next day it’s Phoenix, next day it’s Sacramento. You’re going so up and down. If that makes sense. “So I think everybody’s putting in that work individually all year, and as a team, you know, stuff has to come together. We have to focus in on what we need to do, game plan wise, tendency wise, just try to take away things. I think that’s where you kind of turn it up just a bit.” Golden State has performed in fits and starts in the first two rounds. The Spurs didn’t have enough firepower to be a serious threat, but they played hard and were increasingly effectively on defense as the series went on. The Warriors didn’t really have an answer for LaMarcus Aldridge after Game 1. New Orleans had, until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), been more and more successful at making the Warriors shoot contested shots. That certainly gibes with Curry’s return after five weeks. He’s healthy, but rusty. After his adrenaline-filled return last Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) in Game 2 against the Pelicans, he made just 14-of-33 from the floor in the two games in New Orleans. There was talk afterward about breakthroughs for Curry cardiovascularly. The next few games will tell whether Curry is truly recovered and ready to be two-time Kia MVP Steph … or will he just be on the floor (as he was for long and important stretches in the 2016 playoffs after returning from a Grade 1 knee sprain). The Warriors still made The Finals, but Curry wasn’t Curry against Cleveland, and everyone, starting and ending with LeBron James, knew it. No one in NBA history has changed the geometry of basketball more than Curry, and when he’s on the floor, the ball starts flying around. “Our formula is simple: if we out-pass people, we win,” Warriors forward David West said. “Ball movement. With guys going in and out of the lineup, it causes moments where guys try to carry the load, maybe try to shoulder the load individually. But the strength of the group is the group.” But the Warriors can still throw so many different things and people at you. Iguodala shot a career-worst 28.2 percent on three-pointers in the regular season. He’s at 39.3 percent in the 2018 playoffs. Does anyone doubt he was biding his time until the postseason? No one wearing an NBA uniform is in better shape than the 34-year-old Iguodala, no one is smarter about the game or matchups, and no one is a prouder, fiercer competitor. The 2015 Finals MVP brings his bag of intangibles with him on the road even more than at home, as he did Sunday. In that game, he was making life miserable for the Pelicans’ Nikola Mirotic, creating deflections, making the right reads and impacting the game despite scoring just six points. Kerr likened him to Scottie Pippen after Game 4, but Iggy wasn’t buying it -- “Steve just does that to make sure I don’t get mad ‘cause I don’t shots,” Iguodala quipped. He may be right. But Iguodala and Green have a mind meld defensively that’s at the heart of the Hamptons’ effectiveness. “Andre and I, we’re usually on the same page,” Green said. “Two guys who really think the game, especially on that side of the ball. Sometimes we can talk things out and it works perfect and not say a word, and know what each other’s going to do. It definitely helps our team out defensively kind of having two coaches out there on the floor on that side of the ball.” Whether it’s switching to guard each other’s man, running at an open shooter to close before the ball gets there with the other man rotating, they know what the other guy is going to do. And that second or so the Warriors save defensively keeps them from being broken down. “How fast can you make that decision?,” Green says. “How demonstrative are you going to be about that decision? Are you going to second guess that decision? That’s usually when it doesn’t work; if you’re going to go, just go. That’s kind of the motto that Andre and I go by. If you’re going to go, just go; everybody else fall in line and rotate, and we’ll work it out from there.” And while Green and Rajon Rondo have been exchanging pleasantries throughout this series, Green didn’t pick up his first postseason technical foul until Sunday (Monday, PHL time). He’s been under control, coming up to the edge without going over. Someone without access to the internet asked Kerr if he’d ever played with anyone who instigated or tried to get under the skin of opponents. It’s a testament to Kerr’s comic timing that he actually did wait a beat before answering. “I did play with Dennis Rodman,” he said. Never be fooled by Kerr’s overall pleasant disposition and quick-with-a-quip acuity, though. He is a fierce competitor that wants to win big, the same as his current point guard, who is similarly underrated on the competition scale. Kerr has seven rings as a player and coach, and it’s not a coincidence he’s frequently been around teams that got it done in June. But the Warriors are playing for even bigger stakes than just winning the 2018 title. Legacies are created this time of year. A third title in four seasons, with four straight Finals appearances, would put Golden State in very rarified air in the modern game. San Antonio won three titles from 2002-07. But the Spurs, famously, never have won back-to-back titles. The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers, which won three straight from 2000-02, are the closest modern-day team to pulling off what the Warriors are trying to accomplish. Before then, you’re talking about the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, with six titles in eight seasons -- the two non-title seasons coinciding with Jordan’s sojourn to the minor leagues of baseball. Moreover, the Warriors are the hub around which the modern NBA now spins. And that is an even bigger legacy. Almost everyone (hi, Thibs!) tries to play the way Golden State does now -- the quick hitters, ball movement, pace. Teams do it in different ways. The 76ers look very different than the Warriors, with Joel Embiid their centerpiece of operations, and with 6'10" Ben Simmons taking up so much space with the ball in the halfcourt. The Rockets look different still as there’s not a ton of ball movement. There’s just an unending series of screen and rolls with Chris Paul and James Harden with the rock, looking for the inevitable open man in the corner or way, way behind the three-point line. A lot of things have happened the last 15 years to lead us where we are now. The league changed almost all the rules regarding zone defense, and got rid of almost all defensive contact on the perimeter. Rockets GM Daryl Morey and others led the burgeoning analytics movement, which championed shooting more and more three-pointers as a primary means of scoring, not as a novelty. Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns went with Amar’e Stoudemire at center, surrounding him with four smalls that could all shoot it from deep, and scoring came out of its coma leaguewide. Kerr and Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry have always been quick to credit D’Antoni’s influence on the modern game, starting in Phoenix and working through his current team in Houston. “He’s the guy that just eliminated the center position -- let’s just go small and fast and shoot more threes,” Kerr said of D’Antoni. “I was inspired by Mike, but I was also inspired by Pop (the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich) and Phil Jackson in terms of basic ball movement, screening. But pace is the name of the game these days, and people go about it in different ways. Ironically, Mike’s team (in Houston) is the slowest team in the league now. I didn’t see that coming.” But no one has put all of it together -- pace, small ball, shooting and defense -- like the Warriors have the last four seasons. The Rockets are the closest thing we’ve seen to Golden State, and they’re hungry, and they’re coming. And the Warriors and Rockets are just a win apiece away from seeing the clash of the Western Conference titans. They are in the middle of it, so they can’t stop and think about what it all means. We get that. But everyone wants to put a marker out there that’s hard to catch. LeBron is chasing a ghost. The Warriors have already made their mark on the game. They’re almost in position to do more. History is forever. “It’s important, because it’s what’s right in front of us,” Curry said Sunday. “We don’t think about the historical context of anything. For us, we have an amazing group of guys, amazing coaches sitting behind us. We’re appreciating the moment. That’s really all it is. You have tunnel vision for Game 5 at home, then a new series, hopefully (after that). The historic context doesn’t really seep into the locker room when it comes to what that means. It’s just about this year.” Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

Durant takes the lead as Kerr starts Hamptons 5

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com NEW ORLEANS — Well, he finally did it. After dispatching the Golden State Warriors’ small “Death” lineup to great effect over the course of the past four seasons, Steve Kerr provided the world with a glimpse of what his vaunted “Hamptons Five” lineup could do from the start of a game. For all of the games Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala have scrambled and finished together, never before had they been sent onto the floor as a starting unit. The New Orleans Pelicans with Kerr had restrained himself, because with that group on the floor Sunday afternoon for Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal, the Warriors crushed the spirit of the Pelicans early as they smashed their way to a 118-92 win and a commanding 3-1 lead in this series. Game 5 is Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time) at Oracle Arena, where Kerr promised to give the Warriors’ home fans a chance to see what the rest of us witnessed at Smoothie King Center. That devastating combination of speed, athleticism, playmaking and scoring ability overwhelmed the Pelicans immediately. The Warriors had a 17-4 lead before the crowd could catch its collective breath and the outcome was never in doubt from there. Durant made absolutely sure of it. He knocked down two jumpers in the first 90 seconds and the tone was set. it wasn’t the lineup, Kerr insisted, but the force with which that group started the game that was the difference, Durant in particular. “He was attacking tonight right from the beginning,” Kerr said. “And he was brilliant. There’s not much you can do because he’s so tall and long and he’s going to be able to get his shot off over you. But I just thought he found better spots on the floor with his aggression and created easier shots for himself. “And then our movement the first quarter was much better. The other night we were standing around. Tonight, after they made their first stand on the defensive possession, we just kept playing. And that’s kind of who we are, multiple playmakers, move the ball and let the next guy make a play and don’t force anything. I think we had one turnover in the first quarter. It just set a great tone.” The Warriors indeed got punched in the mouth in Game 3 Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) and Durant made it his mission to ensure it didn’t happen again. The Warriors led by 18 in the first quarter, by 23 after the third and the starters were able to rest down the stretch. Durant sensed the mood around his team at practice on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). He went to work on his game, examining all of the things he would need to do to be at his best to outplay Pelicans’ superstar Anthony Davis. Their performances on this day were an intriguing study of a player who has gone to that next level time and again on the big stage and one who is just now learning what it takes to make that leap. Durant, the reigning Finals MVP, was ruthlessly efficient, finished with a game-high 38 points (on 15-for-27 shooting), nine rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in just 36 minutes of action. He took advantage of Pelicans defensive ace Jrue Holiday, six inches shorter than him, and anyone else the Pelicans sent his way. Davis, in just the eighth playoff game of his career, scored 26 points on 8-for-22 shooting, and grabbed 12 rebounds. But also had six turnovers and spent long stretches without so much as calling for the ball on offense as his team was dismantled. The gulf between he and Durant, right down to a hoodie wearing Durant showing up to the postgame presser by himself, and Davis not speaking at the same time in the hallway outside of the home team locker room, was striking. If you’re going to take on the pressure and responsibility that comes with being “the man,” you have to do it during the good times and the bad. And you have to light that fire for your team from the opening tip, the way Durant did. “KD … he was just KD,” Iguodala said when asked what led to the Warriors’ explosive start. “He got to his spots, got to his shots. It kind of reminded me of like 90s basketball, you got a scorer and they take the ball and get one dribble and get to their spot and the defense can’t do anything about it. It kind of reminded me of MJ (Michael Jordan), and I don’t like to make that comparison, but he got to his spots and there was nothing you could do about it. And when you see that look in his face it carries over to the rest of the guys and then you take that to the defensive end and you get stops, you know it’s right … the mentality is there.” The Warriors have always had a keen understanding of just how dangerous their small lineup can be. But it doesn’t suit them all the time. Sometimes Kerr’s hands are tied based on the matchups. But they knew this series would provide opportunities to go there. And once they got rocked in Game 3, Kerr knew exactly what his counter would be. “You know we’ve known all along this is a small series, and so you know we played it a little differently than last game with Steph just coming back for the second game and trying to buy us some minutes here and there, and obviously we got our tails kicked,”Kerr said.“So,anytime we’ve been in any danger over the years, we’ve sort of gone to this lineup. Whether it’s as [the] starting group or extra minutes, and obviously the lineup worked or whatever, but it’s not about the lineup. It’s really not. It’s about how hard guys play and how focused they are. The effort on both ends tonight was night and day from Game 3, and I thought our guys were just dialed in.” It didn’t require much in the way of pep talks or reminders of what he needed from his stars. Just having those five names together on the white board in the locker room let the Warriors know what time it was. “My discussions with Steph and KD were more strategic,” Kerr said. “They already know. They’re superstars. Stars have to be stars in the playoffs. Steph and KD don’t need to be told that. But my job as a coach is to try to help them strategically, so I talked to both of them about how I thought they could attack and get better shots. And we just did a much better job executing offensively.” Obviously, it helps to have five players as versatile and skilled as the “Hamptons Five,” a moniker given to that five man group after the other four had ramped up their recruitment of Durant during a visit to the Hamptons in the summer of 2016. Kerr didn’t want to acknowledge the nickname. But you can call it whatever you want when a player like Durant is added to an already championship mix. “Now that’s the group that has two banners hanging in the rafters,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said as he walked through the door his postgame media session. It’s the group that needed every bit of what Durant provided in The Finals last year, when he outshined Cleveland’s LeBron James to help the Warriors win that series in five games, collecting his first title and Finals MVP hardware. That slender assassin who was on display in all five of those games was back at it against the Pelicans Sunday (Monday, PHL time). “I just tried to tell myself that I’m at my best when I don’t care what happens after the game, the outcome or anything,”Durant said.“I’m just my best when I’m free and having fun out there and forceful, I think that was the thing. To play with force no matter if I miss shots or not, just try to keep shooting, keep being aggressive, and you know I just tried to continue to tell myself that over the last day-and-a-half. Today we went out there and knocked down some shots.” The same mentality will be required Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). Close-out games require the best an aspiring championship team can muster, even one that’s already been vetted twice in the past three seasons the way the Warriors have. But it’s especially important to Durant and the rest of the Hamptons Five. Because they know what’s on the horizon. They have the muscle memory leftover from the same journey from a year ago, with a groups so devastating that they can take apart any other team in basketball, when they are at their very best. “Yeah, just the experience. Guys have been there before. Just an IQ for the game,”Durant said of the most diabolical five-man unit in basketball. “You know, you got most of the guys that can penetrate and make plays. It’s good for scorers like Klay, Steph and myself. You know Andre and Draymond do all the utilities stuff like driving to the rim, getting stops, getting rebounds, and you know they were knocking down shots when they got the opportunity to shoot ‘em. I think we played off each other well. We’re going to need it even more at home for Game 5.” Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

Donovan Mitchell hits his own postseason bump

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com SALT LAKE CITY -- He saved one of his best performances for the morning of a playoff game, when Donovan Mitchell once again showed the poise and maturity that’s taken him places where few rookies in history have earned the right to travel. Hours after Ben Simmons, the unapologetic and self-proclaimed best rookie in the NBA, laid an egg against the Celtics by scoring one measly point and instantly became a social media punch-line, Mitchell refused to pile on his rival. This took guts, especially after Simmons dismissed any comparisons between himself and Mitchell weeks ago, but Mitchell went high road and had a veteran’s response anyway: “The biggest thing that people don’t understand is that every player has that night. You look at LeBron against the Mavs in the Finals … there was one year when I was watching Harden in a playoff game against the Warriors and he had like 10 turnovers. So it happens to everybody.” Yes, to everybody … and how prophetic, even to Mitchell, who rose to stardom by chopping down Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the first round, only to come close to pulling a Simmons in Game 3 of the Jazz-Rockets series Friday night (Saturday, PHL time). “I didn’t really do much as a whole,” he said. He struggled. He wasn’t a factor. This wasn’t the rookie who pulled the Jazz to the playoffs by commanding double teams and dunking with force and dropping shots from deep. This was different. This was … one of those games Mitchell spoke about. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots. His 10 points were his lowest for a game since Feb. 7 (Feb. 8, PHL time) when he scored seven against the Grizzlies. “I had terrible shots,” he said. “I don’t know how many shots I missed, but the shots I missed were terrible shots that weren’t good looks. I can’t do that.” Therefore, there were two factors which made for a strange and non-typical night for the Jazz. His disappearance, along with Utah’s No. 1-rated defense coughing up 39 points in the first quarter, gave the Rockets a breezy 113-92 victory and a 2-1 series lead. The Rockets finally broke 110 points for the first time this series, no major surprise given James Harden and Chris Paul and their three-point mentality. That’s too much fire to keep contained for very long. And whenever the Rockets break loose as they did, it puts massive pressure on the Jazz to keep up, which they couldn’t, if only because they’re not built for engaging in a scoring contest with most teams, let alone the Rockets. It’s the surest way to a quick basketball death. “For us,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, “the margin for error is not so great when you play a team [like Houston].” Just as alarming is Mitchell’s slow fade this series. He’s shooting 33 percent overall and 24 percent from deep, and this is sudden and unexpected, even against the No. 1 seed in the West. Maybe not for most rookies. But Mitchell raised the bar for himself after a strong regular season and a ballistic effort against Oklahoma City where he averaged 28.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and never once looked overmatched or uncomfortable in his first taste of the playoffs and high stakes. And isn’t that the ultimate sign of respect for a player, when a poor game, or a small string of them, are met with a surprise reaction? Mitchell has made himself into that special player already. He’s the rare dunk contest winner who’s just as dangerous from deep, a one-two combo that won over his Jazz teammates quickly and made him the club’s No. 1 option almost from the jump. Mitchell’s money move is a rapid burst off the dribble into the lane, where he’ll then execute a smooth spin move garnished with a gentle finger roll for the basket. OKC still has flesh wounds from that move. He delivered constantly in the final few months when the Jazz became one of the top three teams in the NBA, at least record-wise, and soared up the West standings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only rookies to hit 200 points faster in the playoffs than Mitchell, who did so in eight games. But those shots haven’t fallen with regularity here in the second round, and this was punctuated in Game 3. Either the Rockets have wised up -- which usually happens when a team sees the same player every other night in a playoff series -- or the rookie wall is playing a cruel trick on Mitchell by rising up in May. Snyder is betting on the former: “They shaded Donovan to his left hand and he has to adjust to that, and I think he can.” Mitchell doesn’t really have a choice if the Jazz plan to extend this series. There’s nobody riding shotgun on Utah that frightens anyone; Joe Ingles dropped 27 on Houston in Game 2 but followed up with six. Other than Mitchell, there’s no consistency, nobody who’s a big threat, and when others turn chilly, Mitchell is often forced to press, which he did Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Chris Paul said: “We just tried to make it tough on him. Donovan’s been great all year but Trevor [Ariza] is good defensively and Clint [Capela] is challenging him at the rim. He’s a tough cover and it’s hard to stop him with one person. Guys have to do it collectively. We try to make him feel crowded.” Which means the Rockets will take their chances on Ingles and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert beating them, a wise strategy. Mitchell’s load is heavier than most rookies, even more burdensome than Simmons’ in Philly from a scoring standpoint. Simmons has Joel Embiid and JJ Redick. Mitchell must be the lead singer for Utah, or else. Those are the odds, anyway, and the Rockets exploited that Friday. “I think the biggest thing is, my mindset has always been the aggressor,” Mitchell said. “Now they’re playing me in a certain way where I’ve got to make certain passes that I just didn’t make the entire game. That will be what I’ll take away the most. It’s like I would’ve been better off not showing up, and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up for my teammates. I’ll fix it.” That’s some pretty strong accountability there. However, Mitchell can’t do it all against a team like Houston, even though he’s done exactly that up to this point of the season. He may not be a “rookie” anymore, or play like one, but he’s human. Much like Simmons and everyone else. Here’s more of what Mitchell said about Simmons: "It just so happens that it happened to him, and I expect him to respond back. He’s a good player. Good players respond back, and it's all about the response. It's a testament to his character. But it happens. He can't play great every night. It's not as easy as some people think.” No, it isn’t, and the league’s showpiece rookies discovered the hard way, on back-to-back nights, here in the playoffs where rookies don’t normally shine or at least for long before they’re figured out. Yet, as Mitchell said: It’s all about the response. Game 4 is Sunday (Monday, PHL time), a day for atonement. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 5th, 2018

Celts, Cavs send rivals falling again

The Boston Celtics roared back from a 22-point deficit to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 108-103 on Thursday and take a 2-0 lead in their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series. Just as amazing were LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who blasted the Toronto Raptors,128-110, for a similar 2-0 lead in….....»»

Category: newsSource:  journalRelated NewsMay 4th, 2018

Budding Sixers take control of series in Miami

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com MIAMI — Back in 2014, when the Miami Heat were wrapping up their championship-fueled era, the Philadelphia 76ers began plotting their own. And they did it unconventionally, laughably and by any measure, dreadfully. It was Year One of the most ambitious rebuilding plan before or since, when the Sixers willingly laid down and became a doormat and allowed other teams to wipe their sneakers on them. That season, while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh cruised to a fourth straight appearance, and their last together, in the NBA Finals, the Sixers lost 63 games. And then they got better at this tanking technique and lost 64 and 72 the next two years. But fast-forward to now, to Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) at American Airlines Arena, and the roles with the Heat and Sixers are threatening to flip. Maybe not so drastically, but it’s clear through four games of this first-round playoff series that the Sixers are going one way and the Heat another. The Sixers have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, a pair of young bedrocks slowly building something with the potential to be big. The Heat? They have banners in the rafters commemorating what they used to be, not so long ago. Philly also has something else on Miami, namely a 3-1 series lead after Simmons became the first rookie since Magic Johnson to drop a triple-double in a playoff game and Embiid fought through a poor shooting game and an irritating protective mask to spook any Heat player that challenged him at the rim. It was the Sixers who made all the right plays in the final crucial moments in the 106-102 win, getting key stops and buckets and pulling away, a team with a young core turning mature, and doing it rapidly, despite their lack of post-season experience. And having a front-row seat to this new Process was none other than Wade, a proud if aging member of the extinct Big Three who realizes something unique is happening with the Sixers. “This is a very good team,” said Wade. “They’ve got talent at almost every position. This is definitely one of the best first-round opponents I’ve played in my career.” Are the Sixers all that, already? “They’re good,” said Wade. “They’re special. They put the right team together.” Yes, they have. Maybe it wasn’t properly done in the spirit of competition, and perhaps they embarrassed themselves if not the league while doing so, but that’s all behind the Sixers right now. What’s ahead of them is a potential series-clinching Game 5 in Philly and from there, who knows? Yes, the core of the Sixers is Simmons, Embiid and Dario Saric, all under 25, and in the playing rotation only JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli earned any significant playoff money. But if a young team is ever going to reach the NBA Finals, this is the right time, and this is the right team. Just look at the wide-open landscape in the East: LeBron and the Cavaliers, winners of the last three East titles, are down 2-1 to the Pacers and haven’t appeared this fragile since LeBron returned to Cleveland. The Celtics are missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the East but inspires few outside Canada. Why not the Sixers? Why not now? Simmons is lacking a jump shot and little else, and still manages to score anyway. His direction of the club in the fourth quarter of Game 4 was near-masterful; Simmons stayed poised, found the open man and popped the Heat’s comeback hopes with an uncontested dunk when Miami pulled within a point. Embiid couldn’t hit a shot and yet didn’t fall into a funk; rather he terrorized Miami by being a defensive force, punctuated by his spike of a Goran Dragic late-fourth quarter breakaway layup attempt (followed by an Embiid stare down). “They make you pay every time you make a mistake,” said Wade. Speaking of which, the Sixers had 27 turnovers, certainly the recipe for disaster, and still found a way. In the words of coach Brett Brown: “I’m surprised we won this game. We really didn’t have any right to win this game.” But maybe it’s just additional proof that this is Philly’s time. It’s quite a contrast to the ex-bully on the block. Four years after LeBron made the second biggest decision of his life, the Heat are still searching for the identity they had when the champagne flowed, and the party rolled on South Beach. The only reminder is Wade, and at age 36 he’s only capable of having flashes now, like his 28 points in Game 2 and an impressive 25-point follow up Saturday that was marred only by a missed free throw in the final seconds. Besides that, there’s nothing special. Pat Riley’s latest attempt to recreate a winner is looking dubious right now. Riley decided two summers ago to build the Heat around a seven-foot center with low post-skills, which means Riley gave a $100 million to a dinosaur. And one with a decaying relationship with coach Erik Spoelstra. Hassan Whiteside can’t get on the floor in today’s NBA, where small-ball makes him a liability in certain situations. With no shooting range, and perhaps no incentive to develop one, Whiteside finds himself on the bench in fourth quarters and on the nerves of Spoelstra. “He’s a prisoner of the style of play,” said Brown. Plus: Riley also paid Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. Which means the Heat are almost guaranteed to be a 43-win team fighting for the final playoff spot for the next few years. When the Heat searched for someone to bail them out Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), who did they turn to? An aging All-Star who’s on the downside, which says something about Wade … and the Heat’s roster. “He ended up being our best option,” said Spoelstra. There’s another path the Heat can take, of course. They could follow the current Hawks, Nets, Lakers and Magic, who all took their cues from the 2014 Sixers, and take a few steps back before moving forward. But that’s not a fool-proof plan — have you seen the Magic the last few years? — and besides, losing by any means isn’t in Riley’s DNA. So, mediocrity it is, then. Meanwhile, the Sixers have Embiid and Simmons and if you ask fans in Philly, they’d say it was well worth the steep price, in terms of the misery of tanking, paid for them. “They’re two players that have the chance to be great,” said Brown. “Joel has no right to be doing some of the things he does. Ben’s composure down the stretch is amazing. Those two are exceptional.” What the Sixers just did was win a pair in Miami, under the banners that hung over them, was fly in the face of basketball convention which says youth doesn’t get served in the post-season. They can close out at home and then get the survivor of Celtics-Bucks, and Philly can expect to be the favorite in that conference semifinal. “I can see how much we’ve grown and how much more room we have to grow,” said Brown. “To come here and get a win, in this building, against an organization of winning and culture and history, it’s special.” There’s another story here: If the Sixers eliminate the Heat, then it could be curtains for Wade, who doesn’t have a contract for next season, who hasn’t committed to playing beyond this season, and who paused suspiciously for about three seconds when asked if Saturday was his final game in Miami. “I don’t want to answer that right now,” he said. Whether he sticks around or takes the sunset cruise, Wade must realize that a transformation is taking place in the East. After years of deliberately bad basketball the Sixers are finally bearing fruit, and oh, speaking of food, Wade and the Heat can chew on this for a minute: The Sixers have room under the salary cap to give Embiid and Simmons some help next season. LeBron James, free agent-to-be, might reach the conclusion that the Sixers are his best championship option. for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.   The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 22nd, 2018

BLOGTABLE: 2018 pre-playoffs predictions

NBA.ph blogtable 1) Which first-round series in the West is most likely to see an upset result (lower seed beating higher seed)? Enzo Flojo: For sure it’s Portland-New Orleans. I love Damian Lillard’s game, but the Pels are a really tough bunch with a lot of weapons, even sans Boogie Cousins. Jusuf Nurkic will have a really tough time containing AD; that’s one reason this has a high potential for an upset! Migs Bustos: The Jazz and Thunder matchup. It's a tale of upward momentum versus inconsistency. The Jazz have won seven out of their last 10 games, and OKC are 5-5 in their last 10. With how the Jazz are playing great team basketball, led by super rookie, Donovan Mitchell, they have a great chance of upsetting the erratic OKC Thunder. If maganda ang gising ng Utah for four games, may tulog ang OKC sa kanila. Marco Benitez: I think the Thunder-Jazz series is the one where most likely we will see an upset. The Thunder experiment of Westbrook-George-Anthony has been up and down all season, while the Jazz are a well-coached team anchored on a great defensive presence in Gobert. The Thunder win if Westbrook dominates the game and Adams is able to neutralize Gobert. But if OKC becomes stagnant on offense and their usual selves defensively, then the Jazz can wreck havoc on this matchup. Favian Pua: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans: In order for the Pelicans to stun the Blazers, Anthony Davis must cement his status as the best player on both ends of the floor throughout the series. A Playoff Rondo sighting paired with the feisty defense of Jrue Holiday should stymie the backcourt attack of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Adrian Dy: If it turns out Kawhi Leonard was just saving himself for a postseason run, then the Spurs would absolutely wreck the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors. Barring such a comeback though, I'm riding high on the Pelicans. The Blazers don't have the bigs to even slow down Davis, and the Jrue Holiday + Playoffs Rajon Rondo combo could make things really tough for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum 2) Which first-round series in the East is most likely to see an upset result (lower seed beating higher seed)? Enzo Flojo: Don’t look past the veteran-laden Miami Heat. Philadelphia is by far the deeper team, sure, but if Embiid is hampered by his injury and both D-Wade and Goran Dragic have their way, Miami can push the Sixers to the distance and an upset may not be that surprising. Also, coach Spo shines in 7-game series! Migs Bustos: In the East, it's a bit more challenging. We all know about the success of the Sixers this season; no matter what seed Lebron's team is, it will be hard to upset them; the Raptors have been long consistent at the number 1 spot all season. So, the best bet would be the Bucks overthrowing home court advantage. And this is because Kyrie is out of the season. It's just up to Giannis and Co. to take advantage of that disadvantage by the Celtics to pull through. Marco Benitez: The plague of injuries to the Boston Celtics really hurt their chances of contending in the East, much less win a championship this season. Without Kyrie, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are vulnerable against the Greek Freak-led Bucks, who are long and talented. With that being said, Boston is still an extremely well-coached, albeit young team, and Giannis will have to be the best player on the floor for most of the series for the inconsistent Bucks to pull off the upset. Favian Pua: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat: Though the Sixers are rolling into the playoffs, only J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli can boast of a legitimate postseason resume. Led by All-Star Goran Dragic, the Heat are an unrelenting unit of two-way veterans who can both muck it up inside and bait opponents into a long-range shootout. Joel Embiid’s uncertain status will force Sixers head coach Brett Brown to find a counter for Hassan Whiteside. Adrian Dy: Though I have the 76ers advancing, it wouldn't surprise me if the Heat shut down Ben Simmons and shut up Joel Embiid. Erik Spoelstra has a knack for getting the best out of his squads, Dwyane Wade could have some clutch moments, and if the aforementioned Embiid doesn't return as soon as expected, South Beach could be singing after round one. 3) Which team that missed the playoffs has the best shot at making it next season? Enzo Flojo: I’d love to say Denver, but their being in the West really makes their window tight. That’s why I’m picking the Detroit Pistons, who have enough talent to make quite a big impact in the East, especially if their big names (e.g. Drummond, Griffin, Jackson) all stay put and stay healthy! Migs Bustos: To be honest, there are not much compelling story lines on teams that barely missed the playoffs this year. There's nothing like one of the most recent examples -- the Heat's 2016-2017 season where they made a late season run but just missed it at .500 (41-41), or how about Phoenix having a winning record at 48-34 in the 2013-2014 season missing out? The 16 teams were more or less 'predicted' to make the postseason this year so there wasn't a big surprise. Marco Benitez: I think a healthy Memphis Grizzlies team, with Conley, Gasol, Parsons and Tyreke Evans (assuming all are still with the Grizzlies next season) will be a lock to make the playoffs after a disappointing 22-60 win-loss record this season that saw a season-ending surgery for Conley happen in late January. Favian Pua: The Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic and his ragtag bunch of scorers were an overtime loss away against the Minnesota Timberwolves from getting their first taste of the postseason. To do so, the Nuggets will need to handle their business and take care of bottom-feeders, as it was backbreaking losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks in March that prevented them from securing an outright playoff berth. Adrian Dy: The Dallas Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki will likely want to go out with a bang, Rick Carlisle is still a really good coach, Dennis Smith Jr. is a fantastic attacking guard, and if the lotto balls bounce the right way, they could return to the upper echelon of the West. 4) Which team that made these playoffs has the biggest chance of missing it next season? Enzo Flojo: It may sound crazy, but the Spurs are at great risk for next season. Kawhi continues to be a huge question mark and their veterans will get even older in 2018-2019. They nearly didn’t make it this year, and next year could be the tipping point! Migs Bustos: I'd have to go with the San Antonio Spurs. No doubt all of the other teams are on the up-swing, and they all boast of youth. If Kahwi does not play for the Spurs next season, expect younger teams with great potential like the Nuggets and Lakers to overtake SAS. Marco Benitez: Depending on what happens in terms of offseason trades, and assuming that the rest of the Western Conference regains full strength next season, the two teams I feel have the biggest chance of missing the playoffs next season are Miami and New Orleans. For Miami, DWade is not getting any younger, and Hassan Whiteside has not been at a consistent All-Star level all season. With Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond getting a full year under their belt in Detroit and Kristaps Porzingis back at full strength in New York, I see Miami as the most likely team to get bumped off in the East next season. For New Orleans, the Davis-Cousins experiment did not necessarily turn them into a legitimate playoff contender in the West, and when Cousins fell to injury, they've had to rely on AD to carry them almost entirely on his shoulders. With the ultra competitive West getting healthier next season, unless the Pels are able to get better on the wings -- assuming of course Cousins doesn't bolt in the offseason -- they may find themselves out of the playoffs. Favian Pua: Cleveland Cavaliers. Hinging on the premise that LeBron James bolts for the Sixers or Los Angeles Lakers in free agency this offseason, the Cavaliers are headed for a massive nosedive towards the number one pick in the 2019 draft. No other team has more to lose than the Cavaliers this postseason, and it is highly probable that winning the title is the only way The King stays in The Land. Adrian Dy: If we get another round of LeBron James free agency sweepstakes, and he winds up getting the Banana Boat Gang together in Houston, it's hard to see the Cleveland Cavaliers being competitive, let alone back in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Should that happen, I'd expect them to trade guys like Kevin Love, and hope that lotto luck favors them anew. 5) Which team is your early favorite to win it all? Enzo Flojo: Despite all the injuries and all their inconsistencies, the Warriors are still my odds-on fave to win it all. They have four big time playoff performers, and they know this is where their real season begins. Migs Bustos: Don't count out the Warriors. Even though they have been plagued with injuries towards the end of the season, the Dubs will hope that they will be healthy in time and turn 'on' the button with their championship experience Marco Benitez: Still the Warriors. Although they'll be without Steph in the first round, I foresee the same dominant Dubs starting the second round all the way to the Finals. The regular season has been a bit of a drag for them this season, and I believe that's why we haven't seen the same Warriors squad as that of past years. But come playoffs, there's no reason why the defending champs don't get locked in; and when they do, frankly, there's still no better team in the league than Golden State. Favian Pua: The Houston Rockets. The playoffs is all about trimming the fat in the roster and letting star power take over in the biggest moments. In James Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets will always have at least one elite shot creator and facilitator on the court for all 48 minutes. Flanked by capable three-point shooters and wing defenders acquired specifically to neutralize the Golden State Warriors’ juggernaut, Clutch City is on track for its first Larry O’Brien trophy since 1995. Adrian Dy: Yes the defending champions are banged-up and looked uninterested as the regular season wound down, but now that it's winning time, I expect the Warriors to do their thing, although there's no way it'll be as smooth as their 16-1 romp last season......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

Are the Sixers too young for playoff success?

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com The learning curve of the Philadelphia 76ers has taken on a new, more direct and simpler geometric shape. It’s now a straight line, pulled and yanked that way by an impatient team determined to take the expressway from now on. And so this is where The Process has led them, to the NBA playoffs, a place exclusively reserved for Big Boy Basketball, where we get to see if the Sixers will skip another floor in their rapid developmental rise or if youth is about to get served a lesson. Hey, if nothing else, it beats wiping away the stench of losing, which is what coach Brett Brown was doing this time the last few years before this club finally grew up and as we now see, blew up. "This year we exceeded 50 wins and when you do that, you get into NBA elite territory which is something different for us,” he said. “But what’s interesting is we want more. We have more room to grow and we want to do that now.” Yes, the Sixers, finally sprung free of the dark ages, have crashed the annual spring show and are doing so rather emphatically in addition to surprisingly. Surely you saw this coming this quickly, no? On Christmas Eve they were 14-18. Their sensational big man, Joel Embiid, was getting the kid glove treatment, rarely playing extended minutes or consecutive games because of his brittle injury history. Their top draft pick, Markelle Fultz, was out with a bad shoulder and a broken jumper. Obviously, they’d just emerged from their four years of Tankapalooza with the trepidation of a chick stumbling from the nest. And quite simply, four months ago they just weren’t good enough to be lumped with the lead pack. Yet. But since then, what the hell just happened? “This group has come together from a toughness standpoint, a spirit standpoint,” Brown said. To say the least. The Sixers are 50-game winners, with a strong Kia Rookie of the Year candidate in Ben Simmons and a top-10 talent in Embiid, whose orbital injury that cost him the final eight regular season games should be healed for the playoffs at some point. Everything has fallen into place to make Philly a basketball destination once again, and these Sixers find themselves in a unique situation heading into the weekend. That’s because the playoff landscape in the East is favorable for someone like Philly to pull a surprise or two. Can they last a round? Of course; they’ll be a favorite initially. How about reaching the Eastern Conference finals? That’s trickier, and it’ll come down to matchups, but stranger things have happened. And, the NBA Finals? Well. Consider that there’s no true beast taking up space in the East and sending shivers everywhere. All of the contenders are showing a scratch or two: Toronto brings a blah playoff history; some of LeBron James’ supporting cast in Cleveland is untested; the Celtics are without Kyrie Irving, not to mention Gordon Hayward. The Sixers are the wild card in the playoff picture. Their wart is their inexperience in these matters. And so: Are they too young to be taken seriously? “I understand why people might think that, but I think we’ll be fine,” said JJ Redick, the resident senior citizen at age 33. “I don’t expect any of us to play differently than we have lately. These young guys are all gamers.” The Sixers are uniquely built; their twin core of Simmons and Embiid has played a combined three NBA seasons. Redick is the only starter with playoff experience and is also the only player in the rotation who ever played a major role in the playoffs. The Sixers are cubs compared to most of the East, even those teams below them. Essentially, the veterans on the Sixers orbit around the youngsters, instead of vice versa. Brown regularly takes the temperature of his players and has yet to pause at the results he’s seeing. For the most part, this has worked out better than he and they expected. “At this stage you figure how you deliver a team to the playoffs, how do you arrive at the playoffs,” Brown said. “Well, you can check three boxes: Their health, their spirit and their form. And finally: Are they playing good basketball? They’re all very interconnected, they’re all closely intertwined. Those things rule my day when I watch film and see how hard and long we’re going to go in practice. These guys have embraced and improved in those areas. Our defense has been excellent and we’re regularly getting 30 assists as a team, another example of a team enjoying each other’s company.” This makes for an interesting postseason baptism. There’s hope in Philly that Simmons and Embiid and Robert Covington and Dario Saric won’t know the difference between March basketball and May basketball. “We’ll just come and play the same way we’ve been doing,” Simmons said. The other advantage for Philly is Simmons appears well beyond his years. His expression is stoic, no matter the game circumstances, and his poise has yet to shatter memorably and cost the Sixers when it counts. He’s giving 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a night and had at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists in 58 games, second only to Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. He is the first rookie in NBA history to average eight assists on a 50-win team. It remains to be seen how a 56-percent free throw shooter will respond if he’s put in that situation with the game on the line. Otherwise, his court direction and ability to reach the rim should not suffer from springtime stage fright. “Ben sits behind a glass wall and watches everyone else on the other side,” Redick said. “There’s nothing that affects him. He plays with the same demeanor and purpose no matter what’s going on around him. He brings a calm presence, and the maturity he plays with is beyond his years. Impressive.” Brown said: “He’s the stone cold Rookie of the Year and to me it’s not even close.” Philly’s best player is Embiid, though, and he’ll play with a mask once he does return, perhaps sometime in the first round. If he doesn’t suffer any lasting effects from the facial injury (vision, lack of balance), he’ll be the premier big man on the floor in the East. This allows the Sixers to exploit their low-post advantage over the Celtics, Raptors and Cavs should Philly meet any of those contenders along the way. The Sixers are also working with a pair of bonuses in Fultz and Ersan Ilyasova, two players they didn’t anticipate being in the playoff mix just a few months ago. Fultz is finally free of his shoulder woes and his shooting is starting to come around, to the point where Brown says he’ll find a role for Fultz in the rotation. Basically, the Sixers feel safe enough to put him on the floor, something that would’ve been a reach before he was activated, when he showed a nasty mechanical hitch in a jumper that somehow went south on him. “We don’t feel we’re going to be caught off guard with him,” Brown said. Ilyasova was gift-wrapped to Philly by the Hawks at midseason and has since been a solid source of scoring (17 points in a two-point win over Cleveland last week) and deepened the Sixers’ bench, allowing Brown to use a variety of different lineups and strategies. In all, the manner in which the season has come together is paying off at the right time for Philly. “We didn’t have this level of maturity in November and December,” Redick said. “If you look at some of our losses early in the season I felt they were immature losses. We’re more focused, more together, developed a mental toughness. Sometimes in life and in this league you have to go through things and experience things to grasp how to do them. There’s no better learning tool than the actual experience. So blowing a lead or coming back from a large halftime deficit, you have to do those things to understand that you can do it. Having those lessons early in the season has prepared us to have a great run since Christmas; we have the second best record in the league since then. This is better than what I expected or even hoped for. It’s been a long sustained growth period.” What does it all mean? Well, even though they’re entering the playoffs with the force of a hurricane, this isn’t the NCAA tournament. This is best-of-seven basketball, which means a team must prove itself worthy of moving on, instead of hoping to get lucky or hot. In the case of Philly and others in the East, that means beating LeBron four times in a series, and that hasn’t happened since 2010. You could also make the case the Sixers are playing with house money at this point, no matter what happens; after enduring The Process and painful progress, this is a blessing, a reward. The Sixers aren’t seeing it that way, though, not after growing up in a hurry. They want to seize the opportunity now, and any playoff success will largely depend on how they handle this as first-timers. Your guess is as good as Brown’s. “You really don’t know what to expect,” Brown said. “There’s no body of work. I will give our guys the benefit of the doubt. The poise they have shown in the regular season, the poise they’ve shown in big games and key moments, gives me tremendous confidence that we will handle this stage with a greater level of poise than what I might have guessed in October, or what I might have guessed not so long ago if you asked me questions about how will rookies and young guys handle this very different part of the season.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 11th, 2018

Warriors keep evolving in rivalry with Cavs

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND -- You might expect, given the familiarity from what’s gone on for four years now, that the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have worked up some serious mutual contempt. They both covet what the other wants -- in fact, the Warriors or the Cavs could make a persuasive case that, if not for the other guys, one already would have notched a three-peat and be chasing Bill Russell’s Celtics in pursuit of a fourth consecutive championship. They both have poured buckets of blood, sweat, tears, money, Gatorade and offseason counter moves into their nouveau NBA rivalry. And they both, well, as Golden State coach Steve Kerr phrased it to the San Jose Mercury News Sunday (Monday, PHL time), “We just want to kick each other’s ass.” And yet the Warriors and the Cavaliers -- who play again Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena in the NBA’s prime-time MLK showdown -- have more in common with each other than they do with any of the league’s other 28 teams. Playing 100 games or so every year. Locking in mentally and surviving physically longer than anyone else. Showing up each night targeted as a measuring stick, even a season maker, by the opponents. While trying like heck to keep things fresh. Renew. Find and tap into a new source of energy, because old ones wane over time. “It’s the biggest challenge of this whole season,” Kerr told NBA.com late last week, with the Warriors starting a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Toronto on their way back to The Land. Even if it were possible -- and it realistically is not, given free agency, injuries, trades, the salary cap, luxury taxes, hirings and firings each NBA offseason -- playing a pat hand from one championship-level season to the next isn’t desirable. Voices, locker rooms, relationships get stale. Rivals adjust and escalate in the arms race. Some players ebb in the pecking order, others flow. It’s important to inject new faces, add skills and even find fresh themes to fend off monotony, even boredom, through the 82-game slogs. The Warriors, in winning 20 of 23 games over the past seven weeks, largely have managed to do that. The Cavaliers, at 26-15 after 2-7 stretch that started at Golden State on Christmas (Dec. 26, PHL time)? Not so much. Golden State shifts gears after each season It’s easy to think of Golden State’s success since Kerr’s hiring before the 2014-15 season as one uninterrupted run of excellence. Three-pointers, “death lineups,” and the rest. But the differences from one year to the next have been fairly pronounced. “In Year 1, we were trying to prove ourselves to the world,” Kerr said. “Then we win the championship -- it was all so fresh. There were no letdowns at all that year. It was the most exciting, it was the most energized, it was the most refreshing. It was brand new to all of us. It felt like we were riding this wave all year -- we were all giddy, like, ‘Oh my God, we’re really good!’ We didn’t know we could be like that. And for me, it was my first year coaching.” Steph Curry won his first MVP award. He and Klay Thompson generated considerable conversation about the best shooting backcourts in league history. Draymond Green forever changed the old NBA notion of “’tweeners.” The Warriors finished 67-15, ranked second in the league in offense (111.6) and first in defense (101.4) and beat Cleveland in the Finals in six games. “It was maybe like the first stages when you fall in love,” Kerr said. “You’re just on Cloud 9 and she can’t do anything wrong. There’s infatuation and then you truly fall in love, and it’s amazing. “The second year, we sort of rode that wave of euphoria of being the best team in the league and having won the title. The next thing you know, we’re 24-0 and we’ve got a chance to set an all-time record. That 73-win mark carried us all year. We were going to prove that, not only were we the champs but we were one of the best teams ever.” The Warriors were -- by regular season standards. Curry won his second MVP award. Kerr missed the first 43 games due to health issues but assistant coach Luke Walton steered them to a 39-4 mark. They bought into the chase for 73 victories fairly late, but instead of a 16-5 playoff run like the previous spring’s, the Warriors went 15-9 -- coming up one victory short when the Cavaliers became the first team to claw back from a 3-1 deficit. That led directly to Golden State’s next new wrinkle, a reconfiguration that came close to buckling the league’s knees. “We got KD,” Kerr said. “Now we’re changing our team, right? Last year was about incorporating KD, welcoming this incredible player into our organization and our roster. Figuring how to do it, how we were going to adjust. I felt like there were times last year that were tiring, where our guys were done a little bit. But it was ‘new’ again.” Even the challenges were fresh, like counting Curry’s or Klay Thompson’s touches relative to Durant’s or closing ranks around Golden State’s thin man as his reputation took blows for the first time in his NBA career. Not interested in shooting for 74 victories, the Warriors simply took care of business and stayed coiled for the postseason. Then it was a 16-1 dash to title No. 2, Durant snagging the Finals MVP trophy after the five-game dispatching of the Cavs. All of which just set the Warriors’ bar higher, requiring them to search for something new, somebody borrowed, presumably nothing blue. “This year it’s just survive and advance,” Kerr said. “It’s ‘let’s get to April, May, June in one piece.’ There’s a reason we’ve lost six home games already. We don’t have the driving force that we had the last few years. We’re dealing with what any team in NBA history that’s tried to do this has dealt with. The Lakers (1982-85), the Celtics (1984-87, 1957-66)... It’s just really hard and you need that driving force.” Said Warriors vet Andre Iguodala: “Your body is mindful of it, because it hurts.” A couple of young guys -- Patrick McCaw, Kevon Looney -- have taken on bigger roles. Nick Young brings some sort of buzz into any locker room that will have him. Still, as veteran guard Shaun Livingston said: “We’re not chasing any records. We’re not adding another All Star. We’re just trying to make it through the marathon.” Cavs' challenges mount during 2017-18 The Cavaliers are just trying to make it through the marathon, too. But if they could, they might do it like Rosie Ruiz, the 1980 women’s “winner” of the Boston Marathon who perpetrated a hoax by hopping the subway and running only the final mile of Beantown’s famous race. The 2017-18 has been anything but fun for Cleveland so far. It began with the departure of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, a not-so-funhouse mirror image of Durant’s arrival a year earlier in the Bay Area. Irving, for reasons still not quite explained, made it known in the offseason that he wanted out. He wanted to be the man on his own team. Or he didn’t want to be left in the lurch if (when?) LeBron James took his talents elsewhere again. Or both. Or neither. Regardless, once the Cavaliers made his request come true by dealing him to Boston for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas and Brooklyn’s coveted first-round pick this June, their task got tougher and their season longer. Losing one of the league’s best ball handlers and shot makers doesn’t qualify as “renewal” any more than what went on in Oklahoma City when Durant packed up. There’s been more. Shooting guard J.R. Smith seemingly got old overnight. Jae Crowder, who came from the Celtics in the Irving deal, hasn’t meshed with the Cavs’ style. Kevin Love has been moved to center but hasn’t done anything to satisfy the Cavs’ need for rim protection. Thomas only returned to action from a hip injury as the calendar turned to 2018 and has played only four games in these two weeks. Even with so many new faces -- seven of the top 12 in coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation weren’t here 12 months ago -- it’s a group heavy on veterans, players a little too established or mature to naturally instill raw energy. James said recently that none of this is new, it’s another case of the Cavs biding their time for the “second” season that means everything. But Lue also introduced the topic of “agendas,” suggesting that some of his guys were looking out for their own responsibilities and performances -- particularly on defense -- rather than the group’s. At best, this is another dose of the midseason blahs, the Cavs in their doldrums in need of an All-Star break. At worst, though, they might be honing some bad habits that won’t be so easy to break in May or June. Especially if East rivals such as Toronto, Boston or Washington are emboldened after witnessing or administering some of the Cavs’ more embarrassing beat downs this season. Will any of this matter come spring? It will if the switch each team is minding stubbornly decides not to flip. “That’s the key. You’ve got to find that balance,” Kerr said. “Are you flipping the switch or are you navigating? The idea is, don’t let bad habits slip in. Right now, this moment, we’re into some bad habits. Our defensive efforts  the last five, six games [before the weekend] were awful. We got away with it because Steph was going nuts.” The Cavaliers repeatedly have not gotten away with bad defensive habits, even on nights when James has been dominant. “It’s tough,” Livingston said. “They’re a team that’s built for the playoffs. But our core guys still are in there prime. Their core guys are still good. But we’re talking about ‘prime.’” Most still would pick both Golden State and Cleveland to advance all the way to a “Finals Four” (after last year’s “Rubber Match” series). But one of these years, most will be wrong -- about one or both. That alone might be motivation enough. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 15th, 2018