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Celtics take Game 1 of East finals, beating Cavaliers 108-83

BOSTON, United States --- Jaylen Brown had 23 points and eight rebounds, Marcus Morris added 21 points and 10 boards, and the Boston Celtics opened a 21-point, first-quarter lead and scorched the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-83 on Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Al Horford scored 20 points for the Celtics, who ran off 17 consecutive points in the first quarter and never allowed the Cavaliers within single digits again. Boston led by 28 when Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue pulled LeBron James for good with 7:09 left. Game 2 is Tuesday night. Kevin Love had 17 points and eight rebounds, and James finished with 15 points, nine assists and seven boards. The Cavaliers mi...Keep on reading: Celtics take Game 1 of East finals, beating Cavaliers 108-83.....»»

Category: newsSource: inquirer inquirerMay 14th, 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

Eight NBA Playoffs storylines to watch

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Suddenly, we’re not quite as certain that Warriors-Cavs, Part IV, Sure to be Way Better than “Jaws: The Revenge” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, is going to make air, are we? The 2018 playoffs are just about here, and Stephen Curry isn’t, and Kyrie Irving won’t be, and Joel Embiid might be, and Jimmy Butler will be -- if his team is, that is. And both conference champions from a year ago are equally unsettled going into the postseason, for different reasons. The Golden State Warriors are banged up, while the Cleveland Cavaliers are brand new. Golden State hasn’t looked like an offensive leviathan, while Cleveland has been one of the league’s worst defenses. And, most importantly, each has legit challengers this year in Houston and Toronto in its respective conferences -- deep, tough, elite defensively, hard to stop offensively, and tempered/hardened/driven by recent playoff failures. Which should make late May and early June even more compelling than normal. At the least, we’ll have the Warriors going for three rings in four years, and LeBron James going for an eighth straight Finals appearance -- each representing something special. The postseason, then, should provide some theatre that Meryl Streep will drop what she’s doing to watch. Among the biggest storylines: 1. The Hinkie Referendum, Passed The Philadelphia 76ers’ scintillating run to end the regular season sets up them for a glorious postseason run, that will finalize a season in which the decisions by former GM Sam Hinkie -- the successful ones, anyway -- are rightly celebrated. (The failures of Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams to fire as stars after Hinkie took each high in the first round are not only not ignored by Hinkie’s biggest supporters, they are cited as proof that he had to do what he did for as long as he did, because you’re going to have some misses at the top of the Draft. God, I love Hinkie Stans.) It says here that a healthy Joel Embiid and an exponentially improving Ben Simmons are the one team that can give LeBron’s Cavs true night sweats in the Kyrie-less east playoffs. Embiid is a problem for any team, but especially for the defensively indifferent and ineffective Cavaliers, who have no one remotely capable of keeping “The Process” from running wild. Since New Year’s Day, only Curry (120.4), Chris Paul (116.1) and Jamal Murray (114.7) have better Offensive Ratings among point guards than Simmons’s 113.9, per NBA.com/Stats. Who, from among George Hill (6'3"), Jose Calderon (6'1"), Jordan Clarkson (6'5") and J.R. Smith (6'5") is Cavs coach Tyronn Lue going to put on the 6'10" Simmons? Yes, Lue could try James on Simmons, who is no threat to shoot from deep or run through a maze of pindowns. But that doesn’t make him any easier to slow down. No matter who Philly plays in the postseason, the Sixers are going to be a problem. 2. Indiana George and the Tempo of Doom It’s taken the Oklahoma City Thunder much longer than any of us thought, but OKC is a win from the postseason (even if the Thunder can’t beat the Heat in Miami tonight, the Cancun-bound Memphis Grizzlies will be in Oklahoma City Wednesday). And that’s when Paul George will determine whether his future is in the 405 or elsewhere. The Thunder’s up-and-down regular season doesn’t provide much clue to how far they could go in the playoffs, thought OKC looked formidable in ending the Rockets’ 20-game home win streak Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). It was a game that featured Russell Westbrook successfully taking on the challenge of defending James Harden down the stretch. When Oklahoma City plays with pace and gets up and down the floor, it can beat anyone. The Thunder will likely have to take down an elite unit like Houston at some point in the playoffs to convince George to stay. 3. A Series of Fortunate Events With Irving’s injury, the Washington Wizards’ failure to launch and other maladies to Eastern Conference contenders, the Cavaliers have an increasingly clear path back to The Finals. Doing this is best way to keep LeBron: The Sequel in town for an extended run, but the proof will be in the doing, of course. Cleveland will need Larry Nance, Jr., Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson to perform under playoff pressure, which Nance and Clarkson have never had to do and Hood did briefly in the 2017 playoffs with the Utah Jazz. 4. She packed my bags last night, pre-flight/Zero Hour, 9 a.m The Rockets have been the best team in the league most of this season -- an offensive and defensive juggernaut, the logical extension at both ends of the floor of the standards the Warriors set the last few seasons. James Harden will likely walk away with Kia MVP honors after the season and Chris Paul has been everything Houston hoped he’d be. But Houston must finish the deal with a championship to make its own mark. 5. Jurassic Park Everything is set up for Toronto, as well -- the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record and are tied with Houston for the best home record (34-7) in the league. They have home court until The Finals. Their two lynchpins, All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, are healthy. They’ve diversified their offense and learned to love the 3-pointer. They’re back to guarding at an elite level. The East is laid out open for a Toronto run to The Finals. There’s no excuse for the Raps not to. 6. ‘Brow’, Beating We don’t know for sure that the New Orleans Pelicans will make the playoffs. As of this writing, they haven’t clinched yet, although beating the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday went a long way toward their getting to the postseason. But assuming New Orleans is playing next weekend, its success in the playoffs can only help the franchise as it recovers from the recent death of former owner Tom Benson. “The Brow” (aka Anthony Davis) may have got us on April Fool’s Day, but the next couple of weeks will be dead serious. What if the Pelicans manage a first-round upset? Don’t say it’s not possible with the way Davis is playing. That would go an awful long way to quieting the “How the Boston Celtics Will Get Anthony Davis in 2020, Vol. MCMLXXXVII” hot takes. 7.  The Boston Medical Group The Celtics as imagined played exactly five minutes together this season. Everything that’s transpired since has been wrapped in gauze and sutured shut. Kyrie Irving’s latest knee procedure has everyone hopping off the Celtics’ postseason bandwagon -- a mistake, unless coach Brad Stevens pulls a hammy before Game 1 in the first round. Stevens has coached up whatever 12 guys are active pretty damn well since he’s come to the NBA, and he’ll still have a lot to work with in the playoffs: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier (the Celtics hope they can get Marcus Smart back after the first round). The bigger issue, of course, is Irving’s health going forward -- and into next season, after which he can opt out of the last year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. The current belief in Boston is that Irving’s knee -- the cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones -- is sound and that he’ll have no long-term issues with it. But Irving and the team thought taking out the tension wire that had helped heal his broken patella after his 2015 surgery would do the trick. It didn’t.   There should be no doubt Boston will be all in on Irving. But after missing these playoffs after going out in Game 1 of the Finals in ’15, Irving will again have to show he’s able to handle a season-long campaign and still be able to bring his best to the postseason. 8. Bah Gawd, That’s Kawhi Leonard’s Music! We have all worked on the assumption that Leonard isn’t going to play for the Spurs any more this season as he rehabs his quad injury, even though they’ve never quite actually said he’s out for the year -- and he, as per usual, has said next to nothing. The Spurs have ridden LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-NBA-level season to the cusp of the playoffs, but no one has much expectation they’ll be there very long if they make it without their former Finals MVP. “Do I have any expectation I’ll see Kawhi?,” Danny Green said a week ago, repeating my question to him. “As of right now, my mindset is no. I’m just going to forward without him … if he does come back, great. Our mindset is this is the group we have today, this is the group we’ll have tomorrow. If somebody does come and join, we’ll have them and it’ll be great. But right now we’re moving forward with the expectation that this is who we have.” But, it’s not like we haven’t seen guys come back suddenly for the playoffs after missing large chunks of a season. A fellow named Michael Jordan played just 18 regular season games in his second season with the Bulls in 1986, recovering from a foot injury and not returning to the lineup until mid-March. True, he did get 15 games under his belt before the playoffs. But that did not prepare anyone for his showing up in Boston Garden in Game 2 of the first round against the Celtics and dropping 63 on the home team. There are, to be sure, issues between Leonard and the Spurs, and maybe they’re insurmountable. But if, somehow, “The Klaw” wakes up one morning this month and says he’s good to go, and reports for duty … who doesn’t think San Antonio can’t start assimilating opponents into its collective just like old times? 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 NewsApr 10th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: What are you looking forward to in 2018?

NBA.com blogtable What one thing are you most eager to see in 2018? * * * Steve Aschburner: More competitive playoff series than we got a year ago and, most of all, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers really being pushed to the wall in at least one round each. I think last year’s hunger for The Rubber-Match Finals made us accept without too much grumbling the relative breezes both Golden State and Cleveland had through the April and May portions of the postseason. But seeing some new blood, however unlikely, would be fine, maybe even welcome, this time around. That requires some fine team on either side -- Toronto, Washington, Boston out East, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City to the West -- mustering a serious challenge. And, allowing for an injury or suspension or whatever, maybe pulling off something more notable than that. We can always find context and storylines for The Finals, if we get a bit of freshness dialed in. Shaun Powell: I'm eager to see the playoffs and if someone can come along and disrupt another Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup in June. Because nobody is creating much doubt as of yet. The team that's coming the closest is the Houston Rockets but they have three people who have underperformed in the playoffs: Mike D'Antoni, Chris Paul and James Harden. There's always the San Antonio Spurs, yet they seem a star shy. And in the East, the Boston Celtics of 2019 stand a better chance and the rest ... meh. Which means, I'm most eager to see Warriors-Cavs in June. John Schuhmann: I want to see what will happen with the Thunder, both on and off the floor. Can they continue to make progress offensively and if they do, will that encourage Sam Presti to keep the group together through the trade deadline? Or will the threat of Paul George leaving in free agency (and the long odds at beating the Warriors) force Presti to see what he can get for George by Feb. 8? Is it a guarantee that Carmelo Anthony will decline his early termination option this summer and stay under contract for another year? Do other stars want to play with Russell Westbrook? Sekou Smith: As much fun as the trade deadline can be in a given year, I have to admit that the free agent summer has me daydreaming about the chaos that a couple of moves could cause. Of course, LeBron James could turn the basketball world upside down if he were to decide to take his talents elsewhere (I'm not suggesting he should or I even think he will, I'm only thinking about the seismic activity it would cause). What happens with Paul George is also another potential game-changer for several teams around the league. That said, it's the great unknown that most intrigues me about 2018. None of us saw the Kyrie Irving trade request coming or the Chris Paul-to-Houston move coming. Things like the Draft and trade deadline offer a season of speculation that usually centers on name players we know will be involved in the process. It's the moves we don't see coming, the things we cannot forecast, that produce the best drama......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 4th, 2018

With LeBron gone, Eastern Conference set for a new champion

By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press The roadblock has been removed. With LeBron James gone, the path to the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference is open again. Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto and more are hoping to win the race to it. James ruled over the East for eight years, making four straight trips to the finals from Miami and then moving back to Cleveland in 2014 and getting there every year since. From Boston to Indiana, up north in Toronto all the way down to Atlanta, teams would emerge with what they thought was a title contender only to see James send them home for the summer. Now King James has abdicated his throne and moved to Los Angeles, and there should be rejoicing in the land he left behind. “It’s a new lease on life in the Eastern Conference,” said Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Reggie Miller, who faced a similar situation when he played in the East during the era of Michael Jordan’s Bulls. “It’s great that LeBron has taken his talents out West because it opens up the doors for not only a lot of these young players, but these organizations now. Fresh blood, something new to kind of see who can compete for that Eastern crown.” The Celtics nearly won it last year, falling to the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. They were without the injured Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and now that the two stars are healthy and have rejoined Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and the rest of a deep team that made a valiant run without them, Boston is probably the favorite in the East. But there’s intrigue beyond that, which rarely existed during James’ reign. Philadelphia finished strong in its first season with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons playing together, and now might get a full one with 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz joining them after his shoulder problems last season. Toronto shook up a 59-win team by firing coach Dwane Casey and shipping DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio in the trade for Kawhi Leonard, and Indiana bolstered a team that took Cleveland to seven games in the first round. Any of them have a chance to get to the place that James wouldn’t let them. “An appearance in the finals is going to be sweet,” Embiid said. A look at the East, in predicted order of finish: PLAYOFF BOUND 1. Boston — Depth of talent is not only tops in the East, but comes closest in the NBA to rivaling Golden State’s. 2. Philadelphia — If either Simmons or Fultz develops a jump shot to open things up more for Embiid, look out. 3. Indiana — Victor Oladipo has emerged as an All-Star and the Pacers are balanced behind him. 4. Toronto — If Leonard is fully healthy and motivated, Raptors added a top-five player to a 59-win team. 5. Milwaukee — Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to make the Bucks fun to watch in their new arena. 6. Washington — John Wall and Bradley Beal will give the Wizards plenty on the perimeter, but they need Dwight Howard provide a boost on the interior. 7. Miami — Heat won’t want to send Dwyane Wade into retirement without one final playoff appearance. 8. Detroit — A full season with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin together should be enough to get the Pistons back into the postseason. ___ IN THE MIX 9. Cleveland — Kevin Love and the remainder of the Cavaliers that James left behind should still be good enough to fight for a spot in the top eight. 10. Charlotte — The Hornets will host an All-Star Game in February. They’ll try to host playoff games in April. ___ FACING LONG ODDS 11. Orlando — Steve Clifford is the latest coach to try to mix a collection of young players into one that can defend enough to be a decent team. 12. Brooklyn — Nets made a seven-win improvement last season even while being dismal at defending and rebounding. Do either better and they can take another leap. 13. New York — Kristaps Porzingis remains out indefinitely while rehabbing a torn ACL, so new coach David Fizdale will give rookie Kevin Knox an early green light. 14. Atlanta — Trae Young may be exciting to watch, but he won’t be able to stop another long season of losing in Atlanta. 15. Chicago — The Bulls of Tom Thibodeau were veterans who always defended hard. The Bulls of Fred Hoiberg have been none of the above. ___ WHAT TO KNOW CANADA’S CHANCE: The Raptors gambled on acquiring Leonard from San Antonio, and now Toronto has a year to show him it’s worth sticking around when he becomes a free agent next summer. BEST MAN: A popular question after James left was who is the best player now in the East? Irving, Embiid, Antetokounmpo and Leonard are among those who can make compelling cases. HOWARD’S HEALTH: Dwight Howard has sat out his first preseason with the Wizards because of a balky back, the kind of injury that can sometimes linger, and Washington needs a presence in the middle no matter how good its backcourt is. OPENING NIGHT PREVIEW? Cleveland and Boston met in the opening game in the East last season and ended up squaring off in the conference finals. This time, it’s Boston and Philadelphia to open things in the East and they’ll be good candidates to close them......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 11th, 2018

Worth a thousand words: NBA photographer Andrew Bernstein details his best shots

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Andrew Bernstein knew he wanted to be a sports photographer or maybe a documentary filmmaker. Trouble was, he recalled recently, his school at the time – the University of Massachusetts Amherst – offered courses in neither photography nor film. Not exactly a well-planned start to his chosen career. So Bernstein transferred to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. And once the native of Brooklyn stepped off the plane into 85-degree sunshine, he was hooked. Thus began a professional path that has taken him around the world, yet kept him Los Angeles-centric as the NBA’s senior photographer. A part-time job as an assistant to Sports Illustrated shooters helped Bernstein score his first NBA gig as a photographer the 1983 All-Star Game at L.A.’s famous Forum. He’d eventually serve as team photographer for the city’s Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and Kings, but it was in his work for the NBA that Bernstein made his greatest mark. In 1986, Bernstein helped create NBA Photos as the league’s in-house licensing agency, for which he served as senior director until 2011. He chronicled Team USA through its 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic championships, and has worked 36 NBA Finals and All-Star Games. Next month, his hardcover collaboration with Kobe Bryant -- “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” -- will hit bookshelves everywhere. This week as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the 60-year-old photographer will be honored as a recipient of the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award. To shed light on his craft and share some behind-the-scenes tales, Bernstein -- prior to heading to Springfield, Mass. -- talked with NBA.com about some of his favorite and most famous images. Come fly with him ... Details: Michael Jordan soars with several Lakers in futile pursuit at the 1988 Hall of Fame preseason game between Chicago and Los Angeles at the Springfield Civic Center. Bernstein: “It was one of those crazy moments -- in those days, I could only do one remote camera. Now I can do almost an infinite number because it’s all done by radio. But back then, you had to hard-wire into the strobe [lighting] system for the big flashes, and you could only fire one. I chose the one shooting through the glass, behind the backboard. A lot of things could have gone wrong. His hand could have been in his face. He could have been out of the frame instead of just on the edge. I could only take one shot every four seconds [with the strobe] -- it’s not like I could lean on the motor drive and then pick one frame out of 10. … But it became known as “Come Fly with Me.” It did kind of define him at the time as being able to fly.” Back story: Bernstein added: “If you have a microscope, you can actually see me on the other side of the court, sitting there with a little trigger button. Then there’s the trivia question of all time -- who’s the other guy? That No. 3 happens to be [University of Virginia star and NBA role player] Jeff Lamp.” MJ: Champion, finally Details: Michael Jordan and his father, James, in the visitors’ dressing room at the Forum, after Game 5 of the 1991 Finals. Bulls 108, Lakers 101. Bernstein: “The network would do the trophy presentation in the winning team’s locker room, and the visitors’ side at the Forum was about the size of a closet. There seemed to be a thousand people in there, and all hell was breaking loose. I got up on top of a table in the middle of the room for a vantage point. When they came back live from a commercial, they wanted to have Michael on -- but they couldn’t find Michael. Some sixth sense said, ‘Look to your left,’ and there he was, in the locker, hugging that trophy, crying his eyes out with his dad next to him. I always felt, if he’d had to play that whole season for free to get to the mountain top, he would have. I knew this was a special moment. I banged a couple of frames really quick.” Back story: After James Jordan was murdered in 1993, Bernstein got a phone call from Michael’s office saying he “would love it if I made a print and sent it to him,” Bernstein said. “Which I did. I was very close with my dad and Michael Jordan knew him -- my dad was with me through the entire Dream Team experience [in 1992]. And I knew his dad. So it was a poignant moment in my career to have him request that photo. If I had to pick one photo to put on my tombstone, this would probably be it.” ‘Mamba’ coiled to strike Details: Shot from a camera suspended in the rafters at the Forum, a Hasselblad 120mm with a 350mm lens. “A heavy rig,” Bernstein called it, anchored with multiple clamps and safety cables on the catwalk, aimed straight down. Bernstein: “I love the composition of this photo and how everything just came together. The Forum had that beautiful Laker-gold ‘key.’ This was young Kobe, his first or second year, and he was a dunk machine back then. Look how he’s cocked back like that and flying thorugh the air, the basket right there. All the elements came together. When I saw this the next morning -- I had to take the film to the lab after the game, drop it off, then go back in the morning after sweating it out all night, hoping that I’d see something like this -- I was like, ‘Wow!’ All the preparation, hours and hours, setting the equipment up, and it all paid off.” Back story: It’s not common to see the top of a player’s head and the bottom of his sneakers in the same shot. Bernstein knew he had to share it and, thanks to the large-format film, he knew he could share it big. “As soon as I saw this,” he said, “I immediately made a giant print for Kobe -- I mean, like 50 [inches] by 70. Huge. I framed it and drove it to his house. He was living with his parents in Pacific Palisades at the time. I hope he still has it. I had given players like Magic [Johnson] and whomever 8x10s, but I never had framed something I was super-proud of.” Old Kobe ‘dunking’ again Details: Kobe Bryant, deep in his career, before a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in January 2010. Bernstein: “During a long East Coast trip, the Lakers had played the night before in Cleveland and were at the Garden less than 24 hours later. Kobe was banged up that year. This was an hour and a half to game time, and he was literally willing himself to play that night. Both ankles are in ice. He’s got the finger in a little cup of ice. During my pregame routine, walking from the locker room to the training room, I just saw him there. Other guys were coming and going, but he was in this meditative state. I took one frame -- God forbid the click of the camera disturb or distract him. Phil [Jackson] called this ‘The Thinker,’ like Rodin’s sculpture.” Back story: A skilled photographer learns how quickly how to be unobtrusive, a “fly on the wall.” Said Bernstein: “You have to, to get behind-the-scenes intimate photos of players away from the bright lights, and what goes on in the bowels of the arena or during travel. In 2009-10, Phil and I collaborated on a book called ‘Journey to the Ring,’ which took the Lakers from media day to whenever their season would end. They ended up winning it all that year, which was unbelievable for the project. The photos were in black-and-white, which was a conscious decision Phil and I made.” Photographer, shoot thyself Details: Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bernstein before the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, Western Conference locker room at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Bernstein: “This was his last All-Star Game and it was a true Kobe love-fest. I spent the entire weekend just with him, followed him everywhere he went. I mean, I didn’t cover it like I normally do for the NBA, and NBA Photos was very generous for letting me cover it through him. It was a beautiful weekend. He took it all in and was very appreciative. His humility came out -- a lot of people don’t think Kobe is humble, but I think he was. And he was very grateful, that he had an impact on all these All-Stars who were grateful to him.” Back story: The locker room was closed to the media, but as the league’s guy, Bernstein always has special access. “A couple of people were coming over to get photos with him -- Gregg Popovich, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and a couple others,” the photographer said. “And I just jumped in myself. Very, very rarely -- I mean, four times in our 20 years together -- did I jump in the picture with him. But I couldn’t resist.” Shadowing the superstars Details: Another overhead shot at the Forum, this time during the 1991 Finals, with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan fighting for what eventually will be a rebound. Bernstein: “With this angle, it’s always a crap shoot what you’re going to get. The rim could be blocking a guy’s face. Somebody could be too far under the basket. The focus point is so critical -- you have to be right on where it’s focused. As for the shadows, if you can imagine lights in each corner of the court, way up high. It just depended on where the players were placed. If one of them is blocking the light on one side, you get a shadow off to the other side. It’s always dramatic with the strobe. But just to get these two icons in the same frame was difficult.” Back story: Just as the famous parquet court at Boston Garden looked so iconic on TV and from afar, the Forum was best viewed from a distance. The paint worn off the top of the rim by balls and hands was something few ever saw. “The Forum was a dump,” Bernstein said. “The walls were caked with dirt. Nobody ever cleaned it. They used to feed us under the stands where the rodents were. It was like a Hollywood impostor, and it’s in Inglewood, which is not your glitzy Hollywood location. But they made it look good on TV. It was a tough place to work, I have to tell you.” Brothers in arms Details: A fisheye lens captures the moments immediately after Game 5 of 2017 Finals, with Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry front and center. Bernstein: “I’ve gotten good at getting out and being the first guy in the scrum. When a championship is won, I sharpen my elbows and just go for it. I try to be right next to the TV guy and well, I guess people know me and I make my way to wherever I have to be. This particular time, I knew there had to be a moment in there where Curry and Durant had an interaction. And it was amazing -- they’re almost like one body. It’s Kevin’s first championship and Steph is so happy for him as his teammate. And the pressure that was on the whole team to win this championship. I love this picture. It shows so much about the way I work and how I think about what I need to do in the moment.” Back story: Bernstein’s camera captured Durant’s mother Wanda to the left, crying and enjoying the moment. But a few seconds earlier, he said, “his mom came up and grabbed him by the front of the jersey. She kept yelling, ‘We did it! We did it!’ That’s a great picture too.” ‘Uncoachable?’ Unforgettable Details: Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson share a moment after beating the Magic in Game 5 and winning the 2009 NBA championship at Orlando’s Amway Arena. Bernstein: “If you remember the 2008-09 season, there was a lot of pressure on Kobe. People had been saying that he couldn’t win without Shaq, Phil had actually written that he was ‘uncoachable.’ But there’s such a paternal father-son thing going on in this picture. … I know I’ve got to go to the star player immediately at the buzzer. So I ran out and found Kobe. Phil and he had just come together and they were hugging, which is a nice picture. But I knew the instant after a hug can be just as special. Something told me to wait till after the hug -- because [with the limitation of the strobe lights] I can’t shoot rapidly -- and bing! They broke the hug and Phil’s looking like, ‘Job well done, son.’ And Kobe has this amazing look of relief and sense of accomplishment and exhaustion.” Back story: Bernstein said this is the only print of his work that his wife, Mariel, allows him to hang in their house. “We have three teenagers [at the time] who basically were the same age, all within a year of each other, and when all hell was breaking loose at our house, we’d stand the kids in front of this photo. My wife would say, ‘Look at that! If those two guys can get along and be respectful, we can do it in this house.’ ” Forever linked Details: The Celtics’ Larry Bird and the Lakers’ Magic Johnson fight for rebounding position along the foul lane at Boston Garden in the 1987 Finals. Bernstein: “This is probably my most well-known image, other than the one of Jordan hugging the trophy. Remember, these guys played different positions. They never really matched up. You’d never see Magic D-ing up Bird like you would with Michael or Isiah Thomas. And you’d never, ever see Bird D-ing Magic. I had to be unbelievably conscious of when they were on the court together, where they were on the court and somehow, if they would end up in my frame. The only times, honestly, I could ever get them in the same frame was the ‘captains’ meeting’ five minutes before tip at center court, shaking hands, and a free-throw situation. When, by the grace of God, they would line up facing me. That’s what this was. Back story: Just as Bird and Johnson were linked literally, arm in arm, in this photograph, their careers were linked figuratively through the NBA of the 1980s. “It kind of defined the era,” Bernstein said. “These two great guys intertwined, neither of them looking superior to the other. Jostling for position, just like the Celtics and the Lakers did. I love this picture, and I know both of those guys love it. This picture is hanging in the Hall of Fame.” 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 NewsSep 4th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Bottom 10

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Wonder what the rental market is like in San Luis Obispo, Calif. San Luis Obispo is, give or take a few miles, one of the closest cities that is near the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the events of the NBA’s offseason, it’s not hare to imagine national reporters are going to be spending a lot of time in California next season, bouncing back and forth between the Bay and L.A. Catch LeBron James and the Lakers on Wednesday and then, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Thursday. The Western Conference only got stronger and deeper with James leaving Cleveland for a second time, this time to go to the Lakers. Add four of the top five Draft picks -- including No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings) and international phenom Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, acquired by Dallas Mavericks) -- going to Western Conference teams, and the talent disparity between conferences only seems greater. But did Eastern Conference teams take advantage of Cleveland deflating to make their teams better? And how effective were West teams in making their teams better prepared to at least compete with the Warriors? That’s where this year’s Offseason Rankings come in -- big, bold, definitive. You love them, if the amount of hate tweets and e-mails I get after they’re published are any indication. Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most. Here's what these rankings ARE NOT: A predicted order of finish for next season. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) I do not expect the Suns, for example, to have a better record than the Celtics, just because they had a better summer. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the Mavericks are now a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before? - If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team.       - If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) What plays into the rankings: - This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses, the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.       - Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. So Chicago, for example, gets credit for adding young, affordable players as it stockpiles its talent -- but that talent has to fit together, as Wendell Carter Jr. does with Lauri Markannen. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.       - Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely. Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means. The Bottom 10 * * * 21. DETROIT PISTONS 2017-18 RECORD: 39-43; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Dwane Casey; New executive Ed Stefanski; G Bruce Brown (No. 42 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jose Calderon (one year, $2.3 million); C Zaza Pachulia (one year, $2.3 million); G/F Glenn Robinson III (two years, $8.3 million); G Khyri Thomas (No. 38 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former coach Stan Van Gundy; G Dwight Buycks (waived); F/C Eric Moreland (waived); F Anthony Tolliver (signed with Wolves) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: F Blake Griffin. And he will be for some time. The Pistons need him to be his former All-Star self again, able to take slower defender to the basket, able to stretch the floor if he plays the five in small-ball lineups. They need him to be a playmaker, to get Reggie Jackson more looks off the ball and Andre Drummond some high-low lobs at the rim. They need him to sell tickets at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit’s revitalized downtown -- a building that seems to be more for the NHL’s Red Wings than the NBA’s Pistons. And they need Griffin to be an anchor that draws players to the Motor City during the life of his extension. THE SKINNY: Owner Tom Gores agonized over firing Van Gundy, but he finally did so, and was fortunate that Casey was available and willing to step right back into the fray after being cashiered in Toronto. Casey will be quite in his element building a defense around Drummond, but, like Van Gundy, Casey will need Jackson to stay healthy; he’s missed a combined 67 games the last two seasons. Detroit did well for not having a first-round pick to come out of the Draft with two solid guard prospects deep in the second in Thomas and Brown. However, the new coaching staff will have to get more out of the team’s last three first-rounders: Stanley Johnson (2015), Henry Ellenson (2016) and Luke Kennard (2017). 22. BOSTON CELTICS 2017-18 RECORD: 55-27; lost in Eastern Conference finals ADDED: G Brad Wanamaker (one year, $838,000); C Robert Williams (No. 27 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Shane Larkin (signed to play in Turkey); F Abdel Nader (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: C Aron Baynes (two years, $10.6 million); F Jabari Bird (two years, $3 million), G Marcus Smart (four years, $52 million) THE KEY MAN: F Gordon Hayward. All indications are he’s well on his way back from that horrific injury he suffered on opening night last season. He can do so many great things in coach Brad Stevens’ system, and if he’s 100 percent by the playoffs, Boston may well be the one team that can match up, player for player, with Golden State in a Finals meeting. (Remember this when people inevitably say I ranked the Celtics 23rd in offseason moves.) THE SKINNY: Boston got its biggest work done after Smart couldn’t loosen up an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings or Dallas Mavericks, and eventually worked out a deal for less than he sought to return. Smart’s deal puts Boston in the tax for the foreseeable future, but the Celtics knew that was the next step in keeping a Finals-capable core group together. With Kyrie Irving and Hayward expected back on line Stevens can throw so many different lineups out there, all committed to stifling opponent movement with long, switching defenders led by Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Williams was worth an end of the first flier, though he didn’t get off to a great start. If he gets a good wake-up alarm on his phone, he has a chance to be the Celtics’ center of the future. 23. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS 2017-18 RECORD: 52-30; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals ADDED: F Wilson Chandler (acquired from Nuggets); F/C Mike Muscala (acquired from Hawks); G Zhaire Smith (No. 16 pick, 2018 Draft); G Landry Shamet (No. 26 pick, 2018 Draft); G Shake Milton (No. 54 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former GM Bryan Colangelo (resigned); F Justin Anderson (traded to Hawks); G Marco Belinelli (signed with Spurs); F/C Richaun Holmes (traded to Suns); F Ersan Ilyasova (signed with Bucks); G/F Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: C/F Amir Johnson (one year, $1.5 million); G T.J. McConnell (picked up team option); G J.J. Redick (one year, $12.2 million) THE KEY MAN: G Markelle Fultz. His rookie year laid waste by a combination of injury and the yips -- which the Sixers have finally copted to -- Fultz is reportedly rebuilding his shot successfully under the learned eye of development coach Drew Hansen. If that carries over to the fall, Fultz will get a true opportunity (he had some cameos late in his rookie season) to show a skeptical Philly fan base he was worth the top pick in 2017, and worth Philly trading up to get him. He definitely could fill a need with the 76ers for a second playmaker to go with and occasionally in place of reigning Kia Rookie of the Year winner Ben Simmons. But if Fultz has another setback, physically or otherwise, it will be hard for him to stick much longer in Philly -- not a town known for patient reflection with regard to its sports teams. THE SKINNY: Coach Brett Brown was quite clear when he said the Sixers were hunting for a superstar this summer with the cap space they’d assiduously cleared the last couple of years. But the summer has come and gone and there’s no LeBron, no Kawhi, no trade, at least not yet, for Jimmy Butler or anyone else at that level. Belinelli and Ilyasova both played huge roles for Philly in the playoffs; maybe Fultz (see above) takes on some of that role, and Chandler will help. But this doesn’t feel like a successful offseason for one of the real risers in the East. 24. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS 2017-18 RECORD: 49-33; lost in first round ADDED: G Seth Curry (one year, $2.7 million); G Nik Stauskas (one year, $1.6 million); G Anfernee Simons (No. 24 pick, 2018 Draft); G Gary Trent Jr. (No. 37 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G/F Pat Connaughton (signed with Bucks); F/C Ed Davis (signed with Nets); G Shabazz Napier (signed with Nets); C Georgios Papagiannis (waived) RETAINED: C Jusuf Nurkic (four years, $48 million) THE KEY MAN: Assistant coaches David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbets, Dale Osbourne, Jim Moran, John McCullough and Jonathan Yim. With the Blazers mostly landlocked the next two seasons -- they’re currently above the projected luxury tax line both for next season and 2019-20 -- there aren’t likely going to be many significant roster changes for a while. And in the West, especially, standing pat is often falling behind. It will thus fall to Portland’s excellent staff behind coach Terry Stotts to maximize the production of the current group. They can point with some pride to success stories like Will Barton and Allen Crabbe, now in Denver and Brooklyn, respectively, along with Maurice Harkless and Al-Faroqu Aminu. For Portland to take another step up, they’ll have to coach up someone like 2017 first-rounder Zach Collins or this year’s first-rounder, Simons. They must have them exceed expectations to become a third legit star behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. THE SKINNY: Lillard insists the rumblings heard in some quarters that he’s unhappy in Portland aren’t true, and the franchise better hope he’s being honest. The decisions the Blazers made in 2016 continue to lock them in place; if they catch a favorable first-round matchup (a grumbling Rockets team in 2014; an injury-strafed Clippers squad in 2016), they can advance a round. But last year’s 4-0 sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans had to give everyone pause. How does Portland respond mentally? Re-upping Big Nurk in the middle on a very reasonable deal -- $12 million for a starting center was the going rate five years ago, when the Wolves gave Nikola Pekovic a five-year, $60 million contract -- was necessary. But losing Davis, a locker room and fan favorite for superior work ethic, will hurt, even though Collins should sop up a lot of those minutes. 25. ORLANDO MAGIC 2017-18 RECORD: 25-57; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Steve Clifford; C Mohamed Bamba (No. 6 pick, 2018 Draft); G Isaiah Briscoe (three years, $3.9 million); F Melvin Frazier (No. 35 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jerian Grant (acquired from Bulls); F Justin Jackson (No. 43 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jarrell Martin (acquired from Grizzlies); C Timofey Mozgov (acquired from Hornets) LOST: C Bismack Biyombo (traded to Hornets); G Mario Hezonja (signed with Knicks); C Dakari Johnson (traded to Grizzlies); G Shelvin Mack (waived); G Rodney Purvis (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: F Aaron Gordon (four years, $82 million) THE KEY MAN: G D.J. Augustin. A vet’s vet, he’s played 10 years in the league and started 226 games for eight teams, including 56 over the last two for the Magic. He’ll enter this season as the unquestioned starter at the point with Elfrid Payton in New Orleans and Orlando still looking to solve its long-term search for a point guard. It’s Augustin’s turn. THE SKINNY: At some point, Orlando’s yearly gambles on size and potential will pay off. Bamba could be the goods; he’s got a demeanor and toughness that should keep him together while he learns the craft at the pro level. But -- again -- it will take some time for Bamba, like 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Isaac, and Gordon, in whom Orlando invested a sizeable sum in July, to flourish. And Magic fans rightly can ask exactly how long they’re to remain patient. Clifford is supposed to improve the defense, but so was Frank Vogel … and so was Scott Skiles … and so was Jacque Vaughn. 26. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in Western Conference semifinals ADDED: G Tony Carr (No. 51 pick, 2018 Draft); G Elfrid Payton (one year, $3 million); F Julius Randle (two years, $17 million) LOST: C DeMarcus Cousins (signed with Warriors); G Rajon Rondo (signed with Lakers) RETAINED: G Ian Clark (one year, $1.7 million); F Nikola Mirotic (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Owner Gayle Benson. Mrs. Benson took control of the team after the death of her husband, Tom, last March. She displayed great grace in the days and weeks after Tom Benson’s death, making it clear at the time she had no interest in selling the team and would continue to make outlays to keep the team competitive. The Pels didn’t blink last summer giving Jrue Holiday $126 million, and that will have to remain the case going forward if New Orleans is to repeat its surprising run to the Western Conference semifinals last spring. THE SKINNY: Can’t lose your starting point guard and your starting All-Star center in one offseason -- no matter what the circumstances -- and come out of it with high offseason marks. And especially when Rondo seemed like the perfect fit for the team. Mirotic mentioned during the Warriors series how good Rondo was at picking him up and connecting him quickly with the team after he was traded to New Orleans from Chicago. And, yes, coach Alvin Gentry mentioned he may have exchanged cusses with Rondo every now and again, too. Life in RondoWorld. The path forward is narrower, but not impassible; Randle can be tantalizing at times, maddening at others, but he could plug-and-play at the four, and he can take some of the playmaking burden off of Holiday. But big minutes on the ball for Holiday again is not what New Orleans had in mind. Payton is going to have to perform immediately. And losing “Boogie” Cousins is a big minus. It’s not what the Pelicans gave up to get him. It’s the fit and flow he had with Anthony Davis before the injury, and what the promise of a return this season could have meant toward carrying the momentum of last year forward. 27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES 2017-18 RECORD: 47-35; lost in first round ADDED: F Anthony Tolliver (one year, $5.7 million); G Josh Okogie (No. 20 pick, 2018 Draft); F Keita Bates-Diop (No. 48 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Cole Aldrich (waived); F Nemanja Bjelica (signed with Kings) RETAINED: G Derrick Rose (one year, $1.5 million) THE KEY MAN: Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. He signed for big, big money by NFL standards (three years, $84 million), and the Vikings have Super Bowl aspirations. So all the light will be on the Vikes most of the fall and winter in Minneapolis, keeping it off of the still-young Wolves, who won’t be able to sneak up on anyone after breaking their long postseason drought. THE SKINNY: The Wolves should be positioned to build on their playoff run, especially if Butler can get through a full season healthy and Karl-Anthony Towns adds consistency to his prodigious talents. But they didn’t do much in the offseason, and the team that they beat out on the last day of the regular season, Denver, looks to be much improved. Tolliver should help the Wolves’ depth; they essentially traded him for Bjelica, and he shot slightly better on 3-poiners last season than Belly. Plus, they don’t come better as a guy than Tolliver and he can help Minnesota in the locker room. The issue of Butler’s contract isn’t going away; there will be a reckoning at some point, and he’ll have a lot more options next summer than free agents had this summer. Until then, coach Tom Thibodeau has pretty much the same team that he has to cajole better defense out of next season (22nd in Defensive Rating; 17th in points allowed). 28. CHARLOTTE HORNETS 2017-18 RECORD: 36-46; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach James Borrego; GM Mitch Kupchack; C Bismack Biyombo (acquired from Magic); F Miles Bridges (No. 12 pick, 2018 Draft); G Devonte' Graham (No. 34 pick, 2018 Draft); F Arnoldas Kulboka (No. 55 pick, 2018 Draft); ; G Tony Parker (two years, $10.2 milliion) LOST: G Michael Carter-Williams (signed with Rockets); C Dwight Howard (traded to Nets); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Magic); G Julyan Stone (traded to Bulls) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: C Cody Zeller. It’s a guess -- Borrego could opt for Frank Kaminsky III -- but Zeller would seem to be the replacement at center for Dwight Howard, who wound up in Washington after the Hornets traded him to the Nets. Zeller started 58 games two years ago and was very good in screen and rolls with Kemba Walker. Zeller only played in 33 games last season because of a left knee injury; if he returns to form, the Hornets could pick up offensively and actually have a little more diversity at that end than last season. THE SKINNY: Team owner Michael Jordan cleaned house after a disappointing 2017-18, bringing another Tar Heel back home in the veteran Kupchak. Kupchak dispatched Howard and then got Mozgov’s guaranteed 2019-20 season off his books to take back Biyombo, who’d left Toronto two years ago for $72 million from the Magic and who’s got a player option for 2019-20. Well before then, the Hornets are going to have to decide what to do with Walker, who’ll be one of the top free agents available next summer if Charlotte can’t get him re-signed or extended. The Hornets were 8.8 points worse when the two-time All-Star was off the court rather than on. Nicolas Batum has to make a return to the all-around talent that enticed Charlotte to trade for him and give him a $120 million extension; he averaged just 11.6 points per game last year, his lowest in three years. Howard’s presence in the paint may have clogged things up some, but that’s no longer the case. 29. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS 2017-18 RECORD: 50-32; lost in The Finals ADDED: F Channing Frye (one year, $2.3 million); G Collin Sexton (No. 8 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Jose Calderon (signed with Pistons); F Jeff Green (signed with Wizards); F LeBron James (signed with Lakers); C Kendrick Perkins (waived); F Okaro White (waived) RETAINED: F Kevin Love (contract extension) THE KEY MAN: GM Koby Altman. Altman has a blank slate now after trying to steer a championship-contending ship that had been stripped of a few propeller blades in the last 13 months. With James gone, as well as former GM David Griffin, the 35-year-old Altman has team owner Dan Gilbert’s charge to rebuild the Cavs without taking them down to the studs (as the Cavs did after James first departure in 2010). Altman’s next task after working out Kevin Love’s $130 million extension is clearing the roster of all the veterans brought in the last three years mainly because of their ability to play off of James. THE SKINNY: There weren’t any widespread jersey burnings this time in the Land. James left for L.A. with relative good will from his hometown, having delivered the championship it had waited 52 years for in 2016. Truly, the Cavs’ rebuild started the minute Kyrie Irving demanded a trade; last season seemed more rearguard action than an attack at another title. Extending Love through 2023 with no outs -- keeping him locked with rookie Sexton through the latter’s last controllable season before hitting unrestricted free agency -- gives Cleveland a base upon which to build. Cap room will follow in 2019, but next season will be difficult; Sexton has a lot of toughness and potential, but rookie point guards tend to get their lunch handed to them. 30. MIAMI HEAT 2017-18 RECORD: 44-38; lost in first round ADDED: None LOST: None RETAINED: G Wayne Ellington (one year, $6.2 million); F/G Derrick Jones Jr. THE KEY MAN: G Josh Richardson. Like many of his teammates, Richardson got an extension a couple of years ago -- four years and $42 million. Last season, he was (again) a solid two-way player for Miami -- almost 13 points per game, 84.5 percent from the line, 37.8 percent on 3-pointers. But if the Heat is going to shake out of the middle lane in which it currently seems stuck, Richardson will have to expand. Miami’s current roster makes it complicated; Pat Riley thinks Richardson’s probably more of a two, but he plays mostly three for coach Erik Spoelstra because Miami’s best lineups were small ball ones. Another offseason at P3 in California will help Richardson continue his development. THE SKINNY: No, Heat people: I don’t hate your team. But when you have no Draft picks, and you have no cap space, and thus you literally could do nothing in the offseason, and basically did nothing in the offseason, and your biggest, most newsy event was whether your 36-year-old future Hall of Fame guard will come back for one more season or play over in China … well, what am I supposed to do with that information? Rank you first? The question is, how much better is your team now than it was at the end of last season? It’s essentially the same team; other than the likes of Richardson (see above) or Justise Winslow, it’s not like there’s a great step up expected from Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic, is there? The Heat is not any better than last season. It isn’t any worse. It just … is. So, 30. 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 NewsAug 8th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Top 10

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Wonder what the rental market is like in San Luis Obispo, Calif. San Luis Obispo is, give or take a few miles, one of the closest cities that is near the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the events of the NBA’s offseason, it’s not hare to imagine national reporters are going to be spending a lot of time in California next season, bouncing back and forth between the Bay and L.A. Catch LeBron James and the Lakers on Wednesday and then, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Thursday. The Western Conference only got stronger and deeper with James leaving Cleveland for a second time, this time to go to the Lakers. Add four of the top five Draft picks -- including No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings) and international phenom Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, acquired by Dallas Mavericks) -- going to Western Conference teams, and the talent disparity between conferences only seems greater. But did Eastern Conference teams take advantage of Cleveland deflating to make their teams better? And how effective were West teams in making their teams better prepared to at least compete with the Warriors? That’s where this year’s Offseason Rankings come in -- big, bold, definitive. You love them, if the amount of hate tweets and e-mails I get after they’re published are any indication. Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most. Here's what these rankings ARE NOT: A predicted order of finish for next season. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) I do not expect the Suns, for example, to have a better record than the Celtics, just because they had a better summer. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the Mavericks are now a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before? - If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team.       - If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) What plays into the rankings: - This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses, the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.       - Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. So Chicago, for example, gets credit for adding young, affordable players as it stockpiles its talent -- but that talent has to fit together, as Wendell Carter Jr. does with Lauri Markannen. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.       - Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely. Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means. The Top 10 * * * 1. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in first round ADDED: G/F Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (acquired from Sixers); G Hamidou Diallo (No. 45 pick, 2018 Draft); G Devon Hall (No. 53 pick, 2018 Draft); F Kevin Hervey (No. 57 pick, 2018 Draft); F Abdel Nader (acquired from Celtics); C Nerlens Noel (two years, $3.7 million); G Dennis Schröder (acquired from Hawks) LOST: F Carmelo Anthony (traded to Hawks); F Nick Collison (retired); C Dakari Johnson (traded to Magic); G Rodney Purvis (traded to Celtics) RETAINED: G Raymond Felton (one year, $2.3 million); F Paul George (four years, $136.9 million); F Jerami Grant (three years, $27.3 million) THE KEY MAN: G Andre Roberson. This is real simple: with Roberson on the court last year, OKC’s opponent offensive rating was 99.2; when he was off, it was 110.7. The Thunder was a near-elite defensive unit when Roberson played and was awful when he didn’t. His Real Defensive Plus-Minus, per ESPN.com, was 4.34, second only to Utah’s Rudy Gobert (5.06). So when Roberson ruptured his patellar tendon in late January, the Thunder’s ability to use George as a weakside defender who could freelance and use his length to create deflections and turnovers (because Roberson had the strong side absolutely locked down) went away. Any chance the Thunder has next season to compete at the highest levels in the West will depend on the 26-year-old Roberson’s recovery and return to the lineup. THE SKINNY: None of us -- none -- thought George was going to stay in OKC. And we all thought Sam Presti and the Thunder were crazy for trading for him last year, because it was just going to be a one-year rental and he was going to be off to the Lakers in 12 months, and OKC would have nothing to show for its deal. But George’s presence helped convince Russell Westbrook -- also long rumored to eventually head back to Cali -- to sign a long-term deal with the Thunder. And OKC’s acquisition of Carmelo Anthony helped convince George that the Thunder was all in on competing. And even though OKC went out in the first round of the playoffs to Utah, its year-long courtship of George and his family paid off when PG-13 spurned L.A. once and for all to stay in the 405. Anthony ultimately wasn’t a good fit, but he brought back Schroder, who will give Billy Donovan a dynamic scorer off the bench that can give Westbrook a blow and keep OKC’s offense from immolating when Westbrook is on the bench, a common malady the last two years. The Thunder has been relevant in an incredibly small market now for almost a decade. With George and Westbrook and Steven Adams and, now, Schroder, all signed up through 2021, that remarkable run will continue for some time. 2. LOS ANGELES LAKERS 2017-18 RECORD: 35-47; missed playoffs ADDED: F Michael Beasley (one year, $3.5 million); F Joel Berry II; F Issac Bonga (No. 39 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jeffrey Carroll; F LeBron James (four years, $153 million); C JaVale McGee (one year, $1.4 million); G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (No. 47 pick, 2018 Draft); G Rajon Rondo (one year, $9 million); G Lance Stephenson; F Mo Wagner (No. 25 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Thomas Bryant (waived); G Tyler Ennis (waived); F/C Channing Frye (signed with Cavs); C Brook Lopez (signed with Bucks); F Julius Randle (signed with Pelicans); G Isaiah Thomas (signed with Nuggets) RETAINED: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (one year, $12 million); G Travis Wear THE KEY MAN: F Brandon Ingram. The third-year man should be the major beneficiary of James’ presence going forward. Driving lanes previously clogged with defenders should now be runway clear. Opponents who previously could close out strong on Ingram will now have their attention elsewhere. Ingram need only look at James’ last stop: per NBA.com/Stats, among players leaguewide who appeared in at least 60 games last season, three Cavaliers -- Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Cedi Osman -- were among the top 20 in the league in lowest frequency of having their closest defenders within two feet of them, meaning James created many wide open looks for teammates all season. Ingram vastly improved his range last season over his rookie one, shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers. But he only attempted 1.8 threes per game last season. That number will surely skyrocket in 2018. Ingram must ready to take advantage. That will make him that much more deadly as a driver. THE SKINNY: Team president Magic Johnson was tasked with landing a whale in free agency, and he and GM Rob Pelinka bagged Moby Dick in James. Their subsequent free agent moves once Paul George opted to stay in Oklahoma City were all short-term plays with an eye toward the promising 2019 free agent class, which include the likes of All-Stars Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and DeMarcus Cousins. But that doesn’t mean Lake Show ’18 isn’t going to be the rip-roaringest circus this side of your standard Ozzy Ozbourne tour. What’s the over-under on the first time Rondo cusses out coach Luke Walton, or when we hear of a “spirited practice” that is code for “Lance ‘bowed ‘Bron in the neck and Walton sent everyone home”? The Lakers could be in The Finals or out in the first round, but what they decidedly will not be is boring. 3. DENVER NUGGETS 2017-18 RECORD: 46-36; missed playoffs ADDED: F Michael Porter Jr. (No. 14 pick, 2018 Draft); G Isaiah Thomas (one year, $2 million); F Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 41 pick, 2018 Draft); C Thomas Welsh (No. 58 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Darrell Arthur (traded to Nets); F Wilson Chandler (traded to 76ers); F Kenneth Faried (traded to Nets); G Isaiah Whitehead (waived) RETAINED: G Will Barton (four years, $53 million); G/F Torrey Craig (two years, $4 million); C Nikola Jokic (five-year, $147.7 million contract extension) THE KEY MAN: G Jamal Murray. Denver ended all pretense that the full-time point guard job wasn’t his last season and his second-year numbers were very encouraging. Among regularly playing (60+ games) floor generals, per NBA.com/Stats, Murray’s .577 True Shooting Percentage ranked only behind D.J. Augustin, Kyrie Irving, Darren Collison and Kyle Lowry. No one doubts the still-just-21-year-old Murray can fill it up, and that the Nuggets don’t need a classic ball distributor to light up the Pepsi Center scoreboard. But they do need to get more credible defensively. So does he. THE SKINNY: A great offseason for the Nuggets, who did what they said they would -- keep Jokic off the market next summer -- while clearing roster spots and minutes with two trades, and simultaneously reducing their luxury tax bill for 2019. (The Chandler trade to the Sixers also created an enormous $12.8 million trade exception for Denver through August of 2019.) Jokic should anchor one of the most athletic starting quintets in the game -- along with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, the re-signed Barton (penciled in for now as the starting three) and Paul Millsap. the Nuggets didn’t add much at the defensive end, which was their Achilles’ heel the last couple of seasons and the main reason they didn’t make the playoffs in 2017-18. Denver opted to strengthen a strength by bringing in Thomas, who’ll be in prove-it mode next season on a short deal with a coach that he knows from their Sacramento days in Mike Malone. Look for Malone to unleash Thomas on second units throughout the West. Porter Jr. was worth a flier at 14; he was the consensus likely first pick in the Draft a year ago, before his back injury took him out of all but a couple of games in his one season at Missouri. Denver can give him the entire year to rehab from two surgeries, the latest last week, and reset his clock for 2019-20. 4. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 2017-18 RECORD: 58-24; won NBA Finals ADDED: C DeMarcus Cousins (one year, $5.3 million); F Jacob Evans (No. 28 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jonas Jerebko (one year, $2.1 million); G Damion Lee LOST: C JaVale McGee (signed with Lakers); C Zaza Pachulia (signed with Pistons); Head of Physical Performance and Sports Medicine Chelsea Lane (went to Hawks) RETAINED: F Kevin Durant (two years, $61.5 million); F Kevon Looney THE KEY MAN: Brett Yamaguchi, Director of Game Operations/Entertainment, Oracle Arena. One doesn’t envy Yamaguchi, whose tasks will be twofold next season: create lifetime memories for the loudest and most loyal fanbase in the league, as the Warriors play their final season at Oracle Arena (aka Roaracle) -- they’re moving into the Chase Center, their tony new digs across the Bay in downtown San Francisco, come 2019-20. And, provide atmosphere and sizzle that will help coach Steve Kerr keep his veteran core from being bored out of its collective mind during the regular season while it waits for the playoffs and a chance at a three-peat. THE SKINNY: So, sure, the best team in the league adds one of the top two or three big men in the game in Cousins. But that’s the ancillary benefit of having such a dominant organization; everyone wants to figure out a way to get to the Bay. Cousins took less money to do so; now he can take his time rehabbing his torn Achilles tendon. If that means he’s not all the way back until All-Star, who cares? The Warriors will roll Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and Jonas Jerebko out at the five in non-Death lineups until Cousins is ready. Meanwhile, Kerr has to keep his vets, but especially Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston, off their feet as much as possible during the regular season so they’ll be good to go from April through June. Losing Iguodala for the bulk of the 2018 Western finals was almost the Warriors’ downfall. 5. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES 2017-18 RECORD: 22-60; missed playoffs ADDED: F Kyle Anderson (four years, $37 million); G Jevon Carter (No. 32 pick, 2018 Draft); F Omri Casspi (one year, $2.3 million); F Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4 pick, 2018 Draft); C Dakari Johnson (acquired from Magic); G Garrett Temple (acquired from Kings) LOST: C/F Deyonta Davis (traded to Kings); G Tyreke Evans (signed with Pacers); F Jarell Martin (traded to Magic); G Ben McLemore (traded to Kings) RETAINED: Coach J.B. Bickerstaff THE KEY MAN: G Mike Conley. It’s no secret how vital Conley is to the franchise, so a return to form is vital for the veteran point, who’ll be 31 on opening night and who missed 70 games last season with a heel injury. Next season will be the third of Conley’s five-year, $150 million deal signed in 2016; remember when so many people thought the world would end when a small market like Memphis invested so much in him? Well, Conley has already dropped to fifth in the league in salary among point guards, behind Stephen Curry Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Kyle Lowry. He’ll fall even further down the list next season, when John Wall’s massive extension kicks in, and Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker each get new contracts that could leap his. THE SKINNY: Memphis couldn’t have had a worse 2017-18 if it tried, and the Grizzlies compounded their on-court implosion by not trading Evans when everyone in the league -- seemingly, except for them -- knew he was going to walk in the summer if they didn’t. But, the Grizzlies’ front office recovered in a big way, selling the 18-year-old Jackson that he would fit right in despite not working out for the Grizz before the Draft, then doubling up on “Grit And Grind 2.0” by taking Carter, college basketball’s fiercest on-ball defender, in the second. Ownership was willing to let the front office use the full mid-level exception on Anderson, who isn’t the sexiest pickup to many fans but whose defensive numbers in San Antonio were outstanding. Temple is the ultimate good vet and locker room guy who will get a chance to play for Bickerstaff after the Kings opted to go with their young guys and he was likely out of the rotation. GM Chris Wallace was adamant that the Grizzlies could rebuild again around the aging Conley and Marc Gasol and that they wouldn’t trade Gasol after the latter’s difficult relationship with former coach David Fizdale. They did, and they didn’t. 6. PHOENIX SUNS 2017-18 RECORD: 21-61; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Igor Kokoskov; F Trevor Ariza (one year, $15 million); F Darrell Arthur (acquired from Nets); C Deandre Ayton (No. 1 pick, 2018 Draft); F Mikal Bridges (No. 10 pick, 2018 Draft); F Richaun Holmes (acquired from 76ers); G George King (No. 59 pick, 2018 Draft); G Elie Okobo (No. 31 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former interim coach Jay Triano; F Jared Dudley (traded to Nets); C Alex Len (signed with Hawks); G Elfrid Payton (signed with Pelicans); G Tyler Ulis (waived); F/C Alan Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Devin Booker (contract extension) THE KEY MAN: Ayton. Let’s not bury the lead here: he was the first pick overall for a reason, because he has franchise-turning capability. The Suns don’t need singles or the occasional double any more; they need someone to put them back on the map with big, sweaty, nasty four-baggers, night after night. (cc: mixed metaphor police.) It’s been a minute since Amar’e Stoudemire was at his destructive best, and the list of impactful bigs in franchise history is thin: Connie Hawkins, Alvan Adams, Tom Chambers, Charles Barkley, Stoudemire. Ayton has a chance to be as good as any of them, and better, and he’s a potential stash of Kryptonite down the pike to the Warriors dynasty. THE SKINNY: There’s the makings of a Jazz-like reimaging of the franchise in short order. Kokoskov not only comes from Utah’s staff, but has significant coaching chops outside of Salt Lake City. He’s been coaching since he was 24, and that was 22 years ago. He’s coached both around the world and around the NBA as an assistant and development maven, and he’ll be great at bolstering the confidence of the Suns’ young guys -- including Bridges, a mature and solid rook with collegiate titles from Villianova who’ll be able to grow quietly outside the huge media shadow cast on Ayton. Kokoskov will also make things a lot easier for Devin Booker offensively. But GM Ryan McDonough was also smart enough to surround the kids with some solid vets, starting with Ariza, who will help the Suns again become acquainted with a long-honored NBA concept called “defense.” 7. DALLAS MAVERICKS 2017-18 RECORD: 24-58; missed playoffs ADDED: F Kostas Antetokounmpo (No. 60 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jalen Brunson (No. 33 pick, 2018 Draft); G Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, 2018 Draft); C DeAndre Jordan (one year, $22 million); C Chinanu Onuaku (acquired from Rockets); F Ray Spalding (No. 56 pick, 2018 Draft); F Ding Yanyuhang; LOST: G Kyle Collinsworth (waived); G Seth Curry (signed with Blazers); G Yogi Ferrell (signed with Kings); F Doug McDermott (signed with Pacers); F Jonathan Motley (traded to Clippers); C Nerlens Noel (signed with Thunder) RETAINED: G/F Wesley Matthews (picked up player option); F Dirk Nowitzki (one year, $5 million) THE KEY MAN: CEO Cynthia Marshall. The former AT&T executive was put in charge after Sports Illustrated’s explosive story last February detailing a toxic workplace for female employees on the team’s business side, with sexual harassment rampant and no relief forthcoming from the supervisors who should have provided it. Marshall has been fast at work changing the business side culture, as separate investigations of who was responsible for allowing the previous environment to fester wind down. After their results are made public, it will be Marshall who will have to both enact their recommendations and sell the public that owner Mark Cuban’s organization has been fumigated for good. THE SKINNY: Dallas is banking that the 19-year-old Doncic is not only the real deal, but that he can come out of the gate in the NBA after starring in Europe and immediately give the Mavs a boost. There’s a large body of work suggesting Doncic will do just that, and accelerate the Mavs’ rebuild. Second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr.’s improvements should also speed up, and Jordan’s presence should start to close the sieve that has plagued Dallas’s defense the last couple of years. Losing both Curry and Ferrell will hurt the Mavs’ guard depth, though, and Brunson won’t be able to work in slowly. 8. INDIANA PACERS 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in first round ADDED: G/F Tyreke Evans (one year, $12 million); G Aaron Holiday (No. 23 pick, 2018 Draft); F Alize Johnson (No. 50 pick, 2018 Draft); F Doug McDermott; C/F Kyle O'Quinn LOST: C Al Jefferson (waived); G/F Glenn Robinson III (signed with Pistons); G Lance Stephenson (signed with Lakers) RETAINED: G Cory Joseph (picked up player option); F Thaddeus Young (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Kevin Pritchard, president of basketball operations. He’s been instrumental in putting this team together -- first as Larry Bird’s assistant, but on his own the last year-plus since Bird left. Now Pritchard will have to deal with not just the expectations last season’s surprising turnaround season will create with fans, but with the incessant calls and texts one receives when one has a team in which six players among the team’s core are on one-year deals and free agents next summer. It is extremely difficult for a team so constituted to stay unified and keep pulling on the rope together. Human nature is human nature, and players (and their families, and their agents) need reassurances they’re part of the organization’s future, just like any drone from Sector 7G would. It’s hard to think about sacrificing minutes and shots when almost players are judged by are their numbers. Nate McMillan, meanwhile, is only concerned, as any coach is, with the game in front of him, tonight. Pritchard’s phone will rarely have an hour off next season. THE SKINNY: What does a team that surprised so many last season need? More depth, because there aren’t going to be a lot of nights off going forward. The Pacers filled in nicely with a bunch of under-the-radar players, getting Evans after a bounce-back season in Memphis and O’Quinn after good years in New York. McBuckets is running out of stops to show he can be a key contributor in the NBA, but everything is tailor made for him to succeed here: he’ll have all the space in the world playing alongside Victor Oladipo, Bogdanovic and/or Myles Turner, depending on the lineup. Holiday was very good value at 23 in the first round. And Oladipo is on his grind. The Pacers are as big a threat as anyone to Boston’s assumed ascension in the post-LeBron East. 9. NEW YORK KNICKS 2017-18 RECORD: 29-53; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach David Fizdale; G Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million); G Kevin Knox (No. 9 pick, 2018 Draft); C Mitchell Robinson (No. 36 pick, 2018 Draft); F Noah Vonleh (one year) LOST: Former coach Jeff Hornacek; F Michael Beasley (signed with Lakers); C/F Kyle O'Quinn (signed with Pacers); F Troy Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Ron Baker (picked up player option); F/C Luke Kornet; C Enes Kanter (picked up player option); THE KEY MAN: F Kristaps Porzingis. It’s unlikely Porzingis will play much, if at all, next season, as he rehabs his torn ACL suffered in February. New York will be extremely cautious with a timeline, and in Porzingis’ absence, if more losing brings more figurative ping pong balls the Knicks’ way … well, they won’t complain about that, either. None if it matters if “The Unicorn” doesn’t regain his form, though. So much of the Knicks’ 2018-19 improvement, or regression, will take place off camera. THE SKINNY: Fizdale won’t have a mandate to try and win with a veteran team in his first season in New York, as was the case in his year-plus in Memphis. So he can implement his position-less/fitness regimen with the young Knicks without looking over his shoulder. New York’s planning for 2019, when it hopes to strike in a big way in free agency, but that doesn’t mean next season won’t be important. Knox will have a lot of light on him, especially after playing well during NBA Summer League, but the Knicks truly believe Robinson will make some contributions this season with his significant physical gifts. Both must continue changing the narrative in Gotham that the team’s new braintrust is rebuilding the brand the right way -- slowly, and correctly. Hezonja was a good low-cost flier for New York who’ll give Fizdale some small ball options. Hezonja came on strong the second half of last season for the Magic, who hadn’t picked up his third-year option and were hamstrung in what they could offer him as a result. 10. SAN ANTONIO SPURS 2017-18 RECORD: 47-35; lost in first round ADDED: G Marco Belinelli (two years, $12 million); F Dante Cunningham (one year, $2.5 million); G DeMar DeRozan (acquired from Raptors); C Jakob Poeltl (acquired from Raptors); G Lonnie Walker IV (No. 18 pick, 2018 Draft); F Chimezie Metu (No. 49 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Kyle Anderson (signed with Grizzlies); G Danny Green (traded to Raptors); F Kawhi Leonard (traded to Raptors); F Joffrey Lauvergne (signed with Fenerbahce); G Tony Parker (signed with Hornets); G Brandon Paul (waived) RETAINED: C/F Davis Bertans (two years, $14.5 million); G Bryn Forbes (two years, $6 million); F Rudy Gay (one year, $10 million) THE KEY MAN: Coach Gregg Popovich. There is no way to tell, nor is it really anyone’s business, how Pop will cope with the loss of his wife Erin, who died in April during the Spurs’ first-round series with Golden State. But the NBA grind is an unforgiving one, and Popovich is adding Olympic team coach duties to an already taxing schedule. He knows best how he’s doing and you can only hope he listens to himself when or if he needs time away. THE SKINNY: Backed up against it with Leonard’s still-murky insistence for a divorce, the Spurs did as well as could be expected in getting a four-time All-Star who’ll play with a huge chip on his shoulder next season. DeRozan will certainly help San Antonio extinguish the offensive droughts that came when teams loaded up on LaMarcus Aldridge defensively. LA was sensational for long stretches last season, making second team All-NBA for the second time in his career. Belinelli, rookie Walker and Poeltl should lengthen San Antonio’s bench significantly and reduce the Spurs’ dependence on nightly brilliance from 40-year-old Manu Ginobili, if he comes back for a 17th season. 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 NewsAug 8th, 2018

Comm. Silver, NBPA say competitive imbalance not a problem

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com LAS VEGAS -- First came the backlash. Next, backlash to the backlash. By Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), much of the whipsawing over competitive balance -- or more accurately, imbalance -- as an NBA problem rising to the level of crisis had calmed down. Yet powerful voices from the league’s summer nerve center could not dismiss it entirely as an issue meriting closer inspection. “I'm not here to say we have a problem,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday after the Board of Governors meeting. “And I love where the league is right now. [But] I think we can create a better system.” Neither Silver nor Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sounded an alarm in their separate news conferences about what many see as a widening gap between the league’s haves and have-nots. Roberts, in fact, seemed to feel that all is well and that talent inequality is in the eye of the beholder. “Competitive balance, it almost depends on what your favorite team is,” said Roberts, who was rehired as head of the players union in another four-year contract announced Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “I don’t hear anybody in the Bay Area worrying about competitive balance. I also don’t hear the people in Philadelphia worrying about competitive balance, or Houston. “We’ve got great teams. And it’s never been the case, as far as I’m concerned, where I was not able most of the time to predict what teams were going to be in the Finals.” The topic came up in precisely that context before the Finals last month when Silver was asked about Golden State and Cleveland meeting in the championship series for the fourth consecutive year, a first in any of the major professional sports leagues. It reared its head again this month soon after free agency opened on July 1, with events conspiring to make insiders wonder about a growing disparity among teams. LeBron James’ signing with the Los Angeles Lakers was the biggest move in what appeared to be a continuing shift of strength into the league’s Western Conference. That was followed by the news that DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans’ All-Star center, had joined the champion Warriors. That signing sparked the initial backlash, a rich-getting-richer cry that pointed not to Cousins’ one-year deal for $5.3 million in 2018-19 salary but the fact that the Warriors will spend in excess of $20 million for it when luxury taxes are counted. Golden State had the NBA’s fattest payroll in 2017-18 of $137.5 million, despite a $99 million salary cap, thanks to various exceptions in the prevailing “soft cap” system. “I don't necessarily think it's per se bad that the Warriors are so dominant,” Silver told reporters, not long after discussing the “competitive landscape” with the owners. “As I've said before, we're not trying to create some sort of forced parity. What we really focus on is parity of opportunity. And a fair point could be made in the tax system, when certain teams are spending significantly more than others, that that's not parity of opportunity.” The counter-backlash came from folks who rushed to the Warriors’ and Cousins’ defense, correctly noting that neither did anything wrong, conducting their business within the rules as specified by the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. That CBA is the object of endless study and imagined revision, with amendments possible if negotiated prior to the end of the current deal after the 2023-24 season. Shooting for a “hard cap” likely would be a tough sell to players accustomed to the freedom of movement they currently enjoy. “It's not necessarily [Roberts’] issue,” Silver said in response to the union director’s characterization. “I think it's on me and our Labor Relations Committee, ultimately, to sit with the players and their committee and convince them that there may be a better way of doing things.” Silver mentioned Charlotte owner and legendary NBA superstar Michael Jordan, chairman of that Labor Relations Committee, as a valuable resource in addressing owners’ and players’ competition concerns. Both sides have valid arguments. Interest in the NBA never has been higher by almost any metric chosen, from selected TV ratings and licensing revenues to the game’s growth globally. Attendance at the MGM Resorts Las Vegas Summer League keeps pushing higher, with fans eager to see top rookies, second-year players and relative free-agent unknowns chasing their pro hoops’ dreams. The valuations of the 30 NBA franchises, of course, all have soared beyond $1 billion, according to Forbes.com, with the Knicks, the Lakers and the Warriors all estimated to be worth more than $3 billion. Longtime NBA observers such as TNT’s David Aldridge wrote a column this week that argued on behalf of dominant teams, anyway, saying that they actually drive rather than depress fan interest. As for any inability to win games or titles, he laid the blame for that on poor franchise management. The Knicks and the Clippers have all sorts of big-market advantages but haven’t won any championships lately (or at all in the Clippers' case). For Roberts, whose players reap 51 percent of NBA basketball-related income that tops $7 billion annually, business is good, period. “I’m excited about this new season,” she said Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “This free agency, there’s been a lot to write about so we’re all, I think, looking forward to what’s going to happen come October. “To the extent that people are predicting the end of the game, I just don’t think so. I would be surprised if Adam called me to say, ‘What the hell are we going to do?’ I think he’s as happy as I am. ... I think we’re in good shape.” Critics note Golden State’s on-court dominance in winning the last two championships. It only took nine NBA Finals games --one over the minimum -- while facing arguably the league’s best player in LeBron James. But those same critics seem to foget that the Warriors were pushed to the full seven games in the conference finals, and actually faced elimination twice before beating the Rockets. “I recognize what Michele's saying,” Silver said. “But at the same time, if you talk to players in the league, and I've talked to plenty of individual players as well, they want to be in the most competitive league possible too.” For every player on the Warriors' roster -- or the Rockets, the Thunder, the Celtics or the Sixers -- there are five or six on teams that realistically have no chance of chasing a ring or the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Cleveland went to four straight Finals thanks to James; no one envisions the Cavaliers getting back any time soon. “Maybe there are some players who think they’re on a second-class team,” said Sacramento wing Garrett Temple, one of the NBPA vice presidents. “But most players I’ve played with or been around, their thought process is, ‘We’re gonna get our team to become one of those first-class teams.’ It’s more of a challenge. More so than, ‘We need them to disband so we can make everybody equal.’ Because we’re competitors.” That really is the crux of the issue. Silver and some franchises want most of the competition to come on the floor, in games, in full view of fans who believe their teams can sufficiently compete. The league’s current title contenders are fine with a system that allows them to compete all the way to the top, with an owner stroking gargantuan checks to crowd out rivals. “Let me make clear that under the current system we want teams to compete like crazy,” Silver said. “So I think the Warriors within the framework of this deal should be doing everything they can to increase their dominance. That's what you want to see in a league. “You want teams to compete in every way they can within the rules.” Silver addressed a variety of topics that were came from the BOG agenda, including: -- Change is coming on multiple fronts, most notably in the league’s age limit. That seems likely to be re-set back to 18 years old from 19, permitting players to enter the league from high school. It’s a move that the NBA should be better equipped to handle with a near 30-for-30 farm-system affiliation with its G League. It also fits with the findings of an NCAA task force that cites dissatisfaction with “one-and-done” college players. Said Silver: “My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change.” -- The start of free agency, annually triggered at midnight ET on July 1 (12:00pm, July 1, PHL time), will be moved to a daytime or prime time opening bell. It’s one of those traditions that no one thought to change, Silver said. -- The league’s investigation into the Dallas Mavericks’ sexual harassment issues should be completed by the end of the month. 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 NewsJul 12th, 2018

2017-18 NBA season review

NBA.com staff report The 2017-18 NBA season was full of loops and sharp turns, taking fans and teams on a twisting journey that teased everyone about what might happen next. Only there was no surprise party waiting at the end of the day, just the Golden State Warriors and their brooms. The season gave us a few shakeups in the standings, some players who unexpectedly found themselves on the big stage, no nights off for LeBron James … and the best team rather predictably earned the honor of being crowned, for the third time in four seasons. The Warriors made quick work of James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, winning 4-0 in the fourth straight meeting between the teams on that stage. The sweep further certified the legacy of Kevin Durant -- who became a back-to-back winner of the Finals MVP award -- and Stephen Curry, the central figure of the Warriors’ dynasty. Other than forcing overtime in Game 1, the only silver lining for the Cavs was James scoring 51 points in that game and nearly averaging a triple-double for the series. If the end game between the Warriors and Cavs was widely projected when the season tipped off, the events that preceded it weren’t locked into place. This run from October to June took the NBA on an unexpected trip with pit stops in unexpected places. The Philadelphia 76ers won 52 games and closed with a 16-game winning streak -- two seasons after they went 10-72. The turnaround was a direct result of patience with young players who rapidly became franchise cornerstones after returning from injuries. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both of whom missed entire seasons, made themselves household names with big performances. Embiid was an All-Star who emerged as one of the game’s best big men, while sharp playmaking skills allowed Simmons to earn Kia Rookie of the Year honors. The Boston Celtics lost newcomer Gordon Hayward for the season after he suffered a leg injury in the season opener ... and then Kyrie Irving missed the final 14 games and the playoffs with a bum knee ... and still Boston flirted with the East's best record and one win from reaching The Finals. After trading their star swingman Paul George to Oklahoma City in the offseason, the Indiana Pacers improved by six wins and pushed the Cavs to a Game 7 in the first round. Victor Oladipo, acquired in the George trade, was the catalyst of a new Pacers era and was named Kia Most Improved Player. Twice a runner-up, James Harden finally won Kia MVP honors after leading the NBA in scoring (30.4) and finishing third in assists (8.8). He teamed with Chris Paul to turn the Houston Rockets into a beast. The Rockets won a franchise-record 65 games and held off the Warriors for the top seed in the West. Paul advanced beyond the semifinals for the first time in his playoff career. Behind steady 3-point shooting and an emerging low-post center in Clint Capela, the Rockets claimed a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the West finals. But Paul suffered a hamstring injury that benched him the rest of the series as Houston faltered in Games 6 and 7. On the injury front, New Orleans Pelicans All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles tendon. The Pelicans were forced to scramble in the second half of the season to defy the odds. Anthony Davis responded by playing at MVP level and had help from Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday and the arrival of Nikola Mirotic who infused the Pelicans with outside shooting. New Orleans changed its style in midseason, shocked the Portland Trail Blazers with a first-round sweep and then took a game from the eventual-champion Warriors. The Utah Jazz had an excuse to trigger a rebuilding process once Hayward left via free agency and center Rudy Gobert, the eventual Kia Defensive Player of the Year, was held to 56 games due to knee issues. Instead, the Jazz (48 wins) flourished under coach Quin Snyder mainly because first-round pick Donovan Mitchell played well beyond his years and became Utah's go-to guy. At season's end, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets staged essentially a play-in game on the final night for the right to reach the playoffs (which Minnesota won). Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the second straight season ... but couldn’t help the re-tooled Oklahoma City Thunder (with George and Carmelo Anthony) reach the West semifinals. And the Toronto Raptors took the top seed in the East with 59 wins, only to get swept by the Cavs. In the end, though, it was all about the Warriors. As a champion in their prime, the Warriors therefore gave the NBA plenty, except some suspense in the end. PLAYOFFS Eastern Conference first round Toronto defeated Washington (4-2) Boston defeated Milwaukee (4-3) Philadelphia defeated Miami (4-1) Cleveland defeated Indiana (4-3) Western Conference first round Houston defeated Minnesota (4-1) Golden State defeated San Antonio (4-1) New Orleans defeated Portland (4-0) Utah defeated Oklahoma City (4-2) Eastern Conference semifinals Cleveland defeated Toronto (4-0) Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-1) Western Conference semifinals Houston defeated Utah (4-1) Golden State defeated New Orleans (4-1) Eastern Conference finals Cleveland defeated Boston (4-3) Western Conference finals Golden State defeated Houston (4-3) NBA Finals Golden State defeated Cleveland (4-0) SEASON LEADERS Points -- James Harden, Houston Rockets (30.4) Assists -- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (10.3) Rebounds -- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (16.0) Steals -- Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers (2.4) Blocks -- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (2.6) FG% -- Cling Capela, Houston Rockets (65.2) FT% -- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (92.1) 3PT% -- Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers (46.8) AWARD WINNERS Kia Most Valuable Player --  James Harden, Houston Rockets Kia Rookie of the Year -- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers Kia Defensive Player of the Year -- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz Kia Most Improved Player --  Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers Kia Sixth Man of the Year --  Lou Williams, LA Clippers Coach of the Year --  Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors All-Star Game MVP -- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Finals MVP -- Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 29th, 2018

LeBron s free agency decision could swing NBA s balance of power

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND -- These combo coronation-funerals can be tricky. Imagine the crowning of a new monarch where the royal subjects couldn’t stop chattering about the freshly deposed or deceased predecessor. Where the traditional cry of continuity and succession, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” got flipped, with what was overshadowing what is. That’s pretty much how it went Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, with the Golden State Warriors’ latest NBA championship having to share the stage with speculation, instantly revved up, about LeBron James and the choice he’ll soon make about his next employer. The Warriors are the kings, claiming pro basketball’s throne yet again by completing a sweep of James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals. But of course, James is the King, and as so many of us learned in sophomore English – thanks, CliffsNotes! – “Uneasy lies the head (of those who fret and obsess about the future whereabouts of the NBA superstar) that wears a crown.” Long live the kings! The King is ... gone? There was so much energy before, during and after Game 4 Friday (Saturday, PHL time) poured into the last game/next game conjecture about James, the Cavaliers and seismic shifts in the league’s 2018-19 landscape that even the player’s surprise reveal near the end of the night – a bruised and bandaged right hand – couldn’t derail it. Turns out, as James ‘fessed up, the sore shooting paw was an injury he had been playing with ever since Game 1 in Oakland eight days earlier. He had “self-inflicted” it in a fit of pique when he smacked a whiteboard in the visitors’ dressing room at Oracle Arena after Cleveland’s overtime loss in the series-setter, an outcome driven at least in part by some teammates’ mistakes and an arcane wrinkle in the NBA’s replay rules regarding block/charge fouls. Despite the hordes of media people chronicling every waking detail of the Finals, James had kept the injury on the down-low (along with the possibility that J.R. Smith’s nickname amongst his Cavs teammates might be “whiteboard”). The cameras zoomed in and clicked in a paparazzi frenzy of motor drives every time James raised the hand, wrapped in black tape, above the table during his postgame podium remarks. Whether a legit Page-2-the-rest-of-the-story factor in the championship series or a too-late alibi, the contused hand wound up as a sidebar to where James plans to be using it when training camps open in a few months. As of Friday (Saturday, PHL time), it had been 95 months since “The Decision,” the 2010 announcement that James made in a tone-deaf vanity TV production that he was taking his talents from Cleveland to South Beach. Nearly 47 months had passed since he broke the news of his return in a Sports Illustrated ghost-written essay, envisioning much of what actually has unfolded in the four years since. Now savvy insiders and casual observers alike presume James will be on the move again, pushed to leave the franchise he has defined in an urgent search for more and better talent with which he can compete. As in, y’know, some horses, some horses, his kingdom for some horses. James’ free-agency process next month (he can opt out of a $35.6 million deal in the final season of his current contract) is expected to dictate the market of player movement this summer like an oversized domino. It easily could swing the balance of power, if not quite at Golden State’s lofty level then immediately below it. The monster he helped create Dr. Frankenstein eventually was done in by his macabre creation, and it can similarly be argued that James has no one but himself to blame for the predicament in which he again finds himself. He set in motion the machinery of the super team, after all, when he chose to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami eight years ago. Oh sure, the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 got there first by luring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, but that was about knitting together three stars, all age 30 or older, for what would be their last best chance to win in an extremely limited run. That group won one title, went to two Finals in three seasons and was done, Allen leaving to join James & Co. with the Heat while Garnett and Pierce morphed into trade chips for Boston POBO Danny Ainge. When James, Wade and Bosh teamed up, they were in their basketball primes and their initial giddy boasts of “not four, not five, not six” championships turned off fans league-wide as much for its portent as its pretension. That crew went 4-for-4 in Finals, winning two rings before James, nudged by staleness and chafing as well as his grand plan for northeast Ohio, went home. From there, a line can be drawn through the ill-conceived 2012-13 L.A. Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all the way to this season’s Houston Rockets of James Harden and Chris Paul and the talent-gorged Golden State roster. James was the centerpiece as Cleveland replicated the Big Three concept around him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two younger, playoff-stymied All-Stars. The new-look Cavaliers went to the Finals in their first season together and clambered atop the basketball world to win the franchise’s first NBA title by the end of the second, becoming the first team in league history to do so after digging a 1-3 hole in the best-of-seven series. In that moment, regardless of the two Finals trips that followed, James’ bill was stamped: Paid In Full. Misguided fans might burn his jersey if he leaves again, but James burned the mortgage after that Game 7 in Oakland in 2016 as far as any remaining obligation to fulfill. “I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” he said after elimination Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we'll all remember that in sports history.” James added: “When you have a goal and you're able to accomplish that goal, it actually – for me personally – made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships. And I still want to be in championship mode. I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.” In other words, James intends to sustain his high level of performance. He expects to win. And he presumably will do whatever – and go wherever – is necessary to achieve that. There’s no perfect fit So what does that mean for the NBA’s best player (never mind what the annual MVP balloting says in any given season)? It means this: compromise. There is no ideal situation, certainly no easy answer to the guesswork surrounding James’ looming free agency. He could transform any of the 30 teams, but not without some trade-offs for him, for them or for both. Most of them won’t be in play. Teams in markets such as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Sacramento, the Twin Cities and so on can’t scratch James’ itches for either championship-worthy depth chart or spotlight. New York and Chicago, among the biggies, are out of synch with his timeline. Toronto? No way James is resettling his brand north of the border, and given his stated desire for teammates who have not just sufficient basketball skills but also mental toughness, well, the Raptors teams he and the Cavs have dominated do not qualify. The Boston club that stretched Cleveland to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals is built for the long haul and would have to surrender much of that to adjust to James’ career calendar. There’s a little Kyrie problem lurking there and, truth be told, the Celtics look to be on their way and are doing just fine without the 33-year-old heading, one of these years, toward decline. At some point in each of the 2018 Finals’ final three days, James spoke admiringly of the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs title teams that blocked his path whether in Miami or Cleveland. He was at it again even as the Warriors were dousing the opponent’s locker room at The Q with Moet champagne. “I made the move in 2010 to be able to play with talented players, cerebral players that you could see things that happen before they happened on the floor,” James said. “When you feel like you're really good at your craft, I think it's always great to be able to be around other great minds as well and other great ballplayers. “That's never changed. Even when I came here in '14, I wanted to try to surround myself and surround this franchise with great minds and guys that actually think outside the box of the game and not just go out and play it.” Where might James find that now or recruit that swiftly? Hard to say. There are asterisks and “buts” everywhere: * If he were to sign with the Houston Rockets, James would be hitching his star to Chris Paul, a buddy with an injury history that’s about the mirror opposite of his own. He would be teaming up with an elite coach in Mike D’Antoni, something he’s never had (though Miami’s Erik Spoelstra was just young and unproven, on his way to big things). But it also would require another big ask of James Harden, who had to adapt last summer to Paul’s arrival and need for the ball. * If James chooses the Lakers, he has the chance to hit reset with the league’s glitziest franchise, in a market that can meet his every off-court wish and where he and his family already own one or more ultra-comfortable homes. The Lakers have young talent to help James transition into a lower-usage veteran’s role, favored status as a destination team for other top free agents and the salary-cap space to get it done this summer with the likes of Paul George or his pal Paul. But that roster might not be capable of insta-contending, which could burn a season or two when James’ clock most definitely is clicking. * If it’s San Antonio, James could link up with the elite coach in Gregg Popovich, where the winning culture is in the DNA rather than some acquired taste. The Spurs have talent, particularly if Kawhi Leonard finds happiness again there. But they might not have enough to rattle the Warriors’ cage. And for all their professed admiration, James and Popovich might both fare better by keeping their relationship long-distance vs. the 82-game grind. * If it’s Golden State? Perish the thought. The NBA might have to board up itself if competitive balance were capsized to that extent. And as Draymond Green shrewdly noted on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), if James climbed aboard, it likely would require him and several other Golden State teammates to be dispatched to parts unknown. * If James prefers to stay East, where the winning comes easier, he could pick Philadelphia. The Sixers have two foundational young stars at positions that matter most, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. But Simmons is a non-shooter at the moment, the antithesis of what makes a great complementary LeBron teammate. As for Embiid, James never has had to play off of and service a top center. And Philly might feel like a basketball-only move, with the hungriest and most demanding of any new fan base he would embrace. * If it’s Miami – wait, could it be Miami? Could he go second-home again? The Heat always strive to be competitive and offer a talent base deep enough for the East and lots of familiarity. But they also have players such as Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters whose mental approaches don’t seem to fit the model James was cooing about in Golden State and with the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. * That brings us to Cleveland, where it’s possible James might choose to remain. Staying with the Cavaliers, after leading them to four Finals and that heady 2016 title, would be the easiest choice as far as pressure to win. He owes these fans nothing anymore – in fact, had the bargain been offered to them in 2010 (“LeBron will leave and win elsewhere for four years, but will come back and deliver a championship and four Finals trips”), most would have grabbed it. Here, James and the fans who have watched him even through the interruption develop from ridiculously touted high schooler to one of the world’s most famous athletes could grow older together. Then he could partner up and buy the team from owner Dan Gilbert for a long-term future. Certainly, staying has a certain place in his and the rest of the James clan’s hearts. “The one thing that I've always done is considered, obviously, my family,” he said at series end Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I've got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn't around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I'll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.” It’s worth noting that as James contemplates his options as a modern pursuer of championship excellence, the prospect of him moving again qualifies at some level as a failure. Not just by the support system in Cleveland, where he and Gilbert have their friction and James gets snidely mentioned as the team’s unofficial GM and head coach, but by him too. He’s the one who went off to seek his “college education” in south Florida in what it takes to win, whether on the court, in the front office or in and around the seams 365 days a year, straight out of the Pat Riley handbook. The teams about which James talks so glowingly in Oakland now and in San Antonio then have cultures he covets, stability up and down the flowchart he craves. In Cleveland, for a variety of reasons, his team has been incapable of establishing and maintaining that to a lasting degree. He is part of that missed opportunity and he has to own it, no matter if he goes or stays. James is inseparable from the dynamic of the Cavaliers’ ever-changing and often melodramatic roster maneuvers. Spending big, swapping out draft picks to import current stars and supporting players, and overvaluing secondary guys like Smith and Tristan Thompson are risks the Warriors and the Spurs largely avoided thanks to shrew drafting and laudable continuity. The Cavs’ scrap heap, by contrast, is high with traded picks, scuttled plans, panic deals, short-term patches and folks such as former coach David Blatt and former GM David Griffin. And maybe James could have nurtured a little better relationship with All-Star point guard and 2016 title sidekick Kyrie Irving, enough to have kept Irving from bailing on them all with his trade demand last summer. Now he’s on the verge of casting about again, prioritizing what matters most for however long he continues to play. James is more at peace with it than he was before, particularly in 2010, and surely can enjoy the leverage he wields and the riches it delivers. But there is a burden there as well, one that could be seen as completing a circle. So many of the NBA’s greatest stars have been stuck playing and living in the Age of LeBron, right? Their paths to the Finals blocked, on one whole side of the league, by him and his? Well, LeBron James is stuck now in the Era of the Warriors, freshly swept and anxious to close the gap. What goes around comes around, though the key more pressing of the big W’s now is, where? 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 NewsJun 11th, 2018

Dub Dynasty: Warriors sweep Cavs for second straight title

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — Golden State. Golden still. Stephen Curry scored 37 points, NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant added 20 and a triple-double and the Warriors stamped themselves a dynasty after winning their second straight title and third in four years Friday night (Saturday, PHL time), 108-85 over the Cleveland Cavaliers to complete a sweep and perhaps drive LeBron James from his home again to chase championships. Overcoming obstacles all season long, the Warriors were not going to be denied and won the fourth straight finals matchup against Cleveland with ease. "This is so hard to do and doing it three out of four years is incredible," guard Klay Thompson said. It was the first sweep in the NBA Finals since 2007, when James was dismissed by a powerful San Antonio team in his first one. His eighth straight appearance didn't go well either, and now there's uncertainty where the superstar will play next. James finished with 23 points and spent the final minutes on the bench, contemplating what went wrong and maybe his next move. Act IV between the Warriors and Cavs featured a drama-filled and controversial Game 1. But from there on, Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of this California crew showed why they're the game's gold standard. And they may stay that way. "Can't get enough of this feeling so we're going to celebrate it together," Curry said. Not wanting to give the Cavs or their fans any hope despite the fact that no team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs, the Warriors built a nine-point halftime lead when Curry ignored a closeout by James and dropped a three-pointer. Then the league's best team tightened the screws on Cleveland in the third quarter, outscoring the Cavs 25-13 and prompting Golden State fans to begin those drawn-out "War-eee-orrss" chants that provide a perfect musical accompaniment to their three-point barrages. By the start of the fourth quarter, the only question was whether Curry would win his first NBA Finals MVP or if it would go to Durant for the second year in a row. And again, it was Durant, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists — more satisfaction and validation for a player who couldn't beat the Warriors so he joined them. After surviving a rougher-than-usual regular season and beating top-seeded Houston in Game 7 on the road in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors withstood an overtime scare in Game 1 and joined an elite group of teams to win multiple championships in a four-year span. Only Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, the "Showtime" Lakers and the Los Angeles squad led by Kobe and Shaq, and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls have been as dominant in such a short period of time. The Dub Dynasty. The path to this title was more precarious than the first two for coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors, who overcame injuries, expectations, a built-to-dethrone-them Rockets team and the brilliance of James, who scored 51 points in the series opener and carried a Cavs team from the beginning of their rollercoaster season until the end. It may have been the final game in Cleveland for the 33-year-old, who is expected to opt out of his $35.6 million contract for 2019 next month and become a free agent. James was pulled from the game with 4:03 left, and he slapped hands with the Warriors before heading to the bench. He plopped down in a chair and draped a towel over his broad shoulders, looking like a boxer on a corner stool. James averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10 assists in the series, but as has been the case in the past, he didn't have enough help. Another Summer of LeBron is officially underway and there are already teams stretching from Philadelphia to Los Angeles hoping to land the three-time champion, who may have to go elsewhere to put together a cast strong enough — and as James made clear this week, smart enough — to bring down the Warriors. Right now, the Warriors are on another tier and with Durant expected to re-sign with them in weeks and Curry, Thompson, Green and the rest still young and hungry, their reign could last much longer. Heading into the playoffs, the Warriors appeared vulnerable. There were lingering questions about Curry's sprained left knee that sidelined him for almost six weeks and kept him out of Golden State's first-round series against San Antonio. Kerr was forced to mix and match lineups, and it became obvious the Warriors weren't going to go 16-1 and storm their way to a title like they did in 2017, when their only postseason loss came in Game 4 after the Cavs made 24 three-pointers. Kerr used 27 different starting lineups during the regular season, which ended with a head-scratching 40-point loss to Utah. The Warriors began defense of their title as a No. 2 seed and their season was in serious jeopardy when they fell behind 3-2 to presumptive MVP James Harden and the Rockets. But Golden State, catching a break when Houston star guard Chris Paul was forced to sit with a hamstring injury, showed a champion's poise by winning two straight. That set up another reunion with James and the Cavs. Maybe the last. TIP-INS Warriors: Curry made a three-pointer in his record 90th consecutive postseason game and extended his mark for three's in road playoff games to 44. ... Green is the only visiting player to post a triple-double in the playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena, doing so in Game 6 of the 2015 finals. ... Became the ninth team to sweep a finals and first to win consecutive titles since James did it with Miami in 2012 and 2013. ... Golden State has won a road game in 19 straight playoff series, tying the Heat's NBA record. ... With his 43-point performance in Game 3, Durant joined Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal as the only players to score at least 25 points in their first 13 finals games. Cavaliers: Appeared in its 26th NBA Finals game, moving past Atlanta/St. Louis into 10th place all-time. ... James averaged 34 points in his 13th postseason, his second-highest total. BROWN OUT Longtime network broadcaster Hubie Brown injured his knee while sitting courtside preparing before the game. He was treated by a medical staff on site and taken to the hospital. The 84-year-old Brown was replaced on the radio broadcast by Jon Barry. Brown was working his 17th NBA Finals......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 9th, 2018

Another NBA Finals brings another huge challenge for LeBron

By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press BOSTON (AP) — LeBron James will get a couple days to catch his breath, then make his annual June journey to Golden State or down to Houston to face a team far better than his. His eighth straight NBA Finals sets up as one of his most difficult, flanked by a largely unheralded set of teammates who force him to do much more at 33 than most other players are ever asked. But James keeps showing he can do it, and he can’t wait for his chance to win another ring. Dare count him out? “At the end of the day, the game is won in between the lines, and we have an opportunity to play for a championship,” he said after Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) 87-79 victory over Boston. “That’s all that matters.” James dragged an injured and inconsistent Cavaliers team out of the Eastern Conference and back to the NBA Finals, where they will be an underdog against whichever team wins Game 7 in the West on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). But after playing all 48 minutes in his 100th game of the season, punctuating one of the greatest series a player has ever had with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, he sure looks capable of more. And the Cavaliers will need every bit of it. They had to play seven games just to get out of the first round, and seven more to finish a climb out of 2-0 deficit against a younger, more athletic Celtics team. They have to be tired, and that’s no way to go into a series against Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who blew Cleveland away in five games last year, or James Harden and a Rockets team that can be every bit as potent on one end and lock teams down on the other. The only way it would appear Cleveland would have a chance would be if James can summon his highest level, the kind that perhaps no other player can reach — and then do it three more times. The Celtics have seen him do it, after he averaged 33.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists to eliminate them in the East finals for the second straight year. “I think we’ve played now until May 25th and May 27th the last two years, and we started on Sept. 25th,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s every day. Every day that you’re totally focused on this, and he’s gone past that eight straight times. It’s ridiculous, and he does it at this level and with the pressure, with the scrutiny. Doesn’t matter. It’s just unbelievable.” This was the year James’ finals streak looked over. Kyrie Irving had been traded to Boston in the offseason, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose weren’t the answers as his replacement, and Kevin Love missed significant time with injuries. And even after the Cavaliers remade their team at the February trade deadline, it didn’t look good enough. Cleveland had finished just fourth in the East, never developing the necessary cohesiveness required to be even a mediocre defensive team, let alone a championship-caliber one. They still can surrender open shots everywhere, a flaw that seems fatal against the three-point happy Rockets or Warriors. The only obvious advantage the Cavaliers have is James, the kind of player who can win a Game 7 in Boston with a team that was without its other All-Star because of a concussion and couldn’t shoot straight deep into the first half, with Cavaliers other than James missing their first 10 3s until J.R. Smith hit one with 2:54 remaining until halftime. “I mean, the bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he’s been doing it for us since we’ve been here,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “The great quote from the great Doc Rivers is you always want to go into the Game 7 with the best player, and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I like our chances.” And he’ll like them again starting Thursday (Friday, PHL time) even if the oddsmakers don’t. The Cavaliers were probably far better last year and could only get a game from the Warriors. But two years ago, they also weren’t given much of a shot against the Warriors, especially after falling behind 3-1 in the finals. Nobody had ever overcome that deficit in the championship round, and Cleveland had to do it against a team that had won an NBA-record 73 games. James led that comeback to Cleveland’s first title, and now he’s got a shot for another unlikely one. “I’ll be available for at least four more games,” James said, “and we’ll see what happens.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 28th, 2018

LeBron James reigns supreme over Eastern Conference yet again

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com BOSTON – For nearly a decade, the general managers of the NBA’s Eastern Conference have had, essentially, one job: Arm, equip and overhaul their teams specifically to get past LeBron James and whatever squad with which he happened to be rolling. They have failed. Miserably and spectacularly. And that’s even spotting them the first couple of summers to get their bearings after the whole “Super Team” genesis in Miami back in 2010-11. James’ domination of the conference continued Sunday (Monday, PHL time) when he and the Cleveland Cavaliers persevered in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Clawing back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the series, and playing the final seven quarters without their second All-Star, forward Kevin Love (concussion protocol), the Cavaliers hung around in an ugly game. They took advantage of a Boston team on training wheels – 7-of-39 on three-pointers, oh my! – and snagged a ticket to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals. For James, it’s eight in a row and nine overall, these Cleveland four added to the four he reached with the Heat from 2011-14. It’s a run unprecedented since Bill Russell’s Celtics were winning 11 championships in 13 years, a stranglehold on half of all Finals opportunities this decade. He has a 6-2 record in Game 7 situations, with nothing but triumphs after dropping his first two. “I mean, the bigger the stage, the bigger the player, and he's been doing it for us since we've been here,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “The great quote from the great [Clippers coach] Doc Rivers is, ‘You always want to go into the Game 7 with the best player,’ and we have the best player on our team going into a Game 7. I like our chances. And he delivered again.” Next year at this point, maybe by league proxy, James will have one hand tied behind his back. That’s the next logical step in handicapping him against the field. He has made it to The Finals without his most talented sidekicks. He has taken or dragged along an ever-changing cast of teammates. This time, he did with arguably the Cavaliers’ barest cupboard since first dipping their collective toes in The Finals water back in 2007. Two All-Star point guards, Kyrie Irving (with whom James won a ring in 2016) and Isaiah Thomas (from whom James won his freedom after five awkward weeks), already were long gone when Love went down. And now he was facing elimination with a shaky crew and a huge, inflated question mark hovering over his and Cleveland’s offseason, whenever it comes. Then again, the Celtics were facing him. Like the Raptors, the Pacers, the Bulls, the Hawks and several others before them, Boston well understood the player through whom its playoff ambitions had to go. “I think we’ve played now until May 25th and May 27th the last two years and we started on September 25th. That’s every day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said about his team’s 2017 and 2018 tangles with Cleveland in the East finals. “Every day you’re totally focused on this, and he’s gone past that eight straight times. “It’s ridiculous. And he does it at this level and with the pressure, with the scrutiny – doesn’t matter.” Plenty of the foes chasing James when his Finals streak began have headed into retirement ringless and unfulfilled. Others were in high school or grade school. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, for instance, was 13 years old when James began his streak against Dallas in 2011. There are so many others like Horford, with tire tracks on their backs, no mercy coming their way from James and very little hope on the horizon. At age 33, James played all 82 games in the regular season for the first time in his 15-year career. He made it an even 100 with Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) appearance and he did it with aplomb, staying on the floor for all 48 minutes. “Our goal going into the series was to make him exert as much energy as humanly possible, and try to be as good as we can on everybody else,” Stevens said. “For the most part, I thought we were pretty good at that. Multiple games now in TD Garden, held them under 100, three games in the 80s – but he still scored 35. It’s a joke.” James’ stats line – 35 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists – was enough this time because he got a reasonable amount of help. Three other Cavaliers scored in double figures, including Jeff Green, the journeyman forward who started in Love’s spot. Being one of James’ teammates requires a thick skin for when things don’t go well. It also carries a sense of obligation, to occasionally come through the way Green did in Game 7 (19 points, eight rebounds) given the debt they all owe their resident superstar. “You want to be there for him,” Green said. “You want to be in the trenches, in the battle, helping him achieve the ultimate goal. For me, it’s a no-brainer to go out there and give it all I have.” Green was a part of James’ most tumultuous campaign yet, with so many twists and turns – the shotgun Irving trade, Thomas’ bad fit, a rash of injuries, a desperate reset at the trade deadline and a bumpy learning curve once the new guys arrived – that James and Lue casually referred to it as “five seasons” crammed into one. “It's now six seasons in one,” James said after midnight. “I guess this is the last chapter for our team in this season. It's been a whirlwind. I mean, it's been [a rollercoaster]. It's been good, it's been bad, it's been roses. There have been thorns in the roses. There's been everything that you can ask for.” For eight years, a conference full of rivals has targeted one player, who happens to be the league’s best, the first among alleged equals with the Heat and clearly the leader when he headed back home to Ohio. In that time, the players have worked, the coaches have schemed and the GMs have plotted. No one has found the answer. None have stopped him. Fact is, nobody’s really laid a glove on him. It’s his conference, seemingly for as long as he wants it. “It's been a satisfaction in the fact that I like to be successful,” James said. “But more importantly, just the work that I put into it. I mean, it's an every-single-day work ethic that I have while I'm playing this game, while I have the ability to play this game at this level. I love the competition. “I think about the teams that I've played over this run and the players that I've played over this run, slightly. But more importantly, me just being healthy. I've been healthy throughout this run. I put a lot of work into my body, into my craft. Being available to my teammates and being available to my franchise, the two franchises I've been with, and throughout this run is what's been more important to me than anything. Always being available.” It was late. James was weary. Another Game 7 in less than 24 hours would determine his and the Cavaliers’ next playoff challenge. “I'll be available for at least four more games,” he said. “And we'll see what happens.” 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 NewsMay 28th, 2018

LeBron, back in Boston, for another Cavs farewell

By Jimmy Golen, Associated Press BOSTON (AP) — LeBron James and the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers won’t get any sympathy from the Celtics when they return to Boston for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Already laboring to reach his eighth straight NBA Finals with a supporting crew made mostly of cast-offs and throw-ins, James lost the only other All-Star on the roster on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) when Kevin Love was declared out for the series finale with a concussion. Now, in what could be his final game in a Cleveland uniform — again — James will have to do it largely on his own. In Boston, where the Celtics are perfect so far this postseason. And in a series where the road team hasn’t really even come close. “There’s something different about LeBron, period,” Cleveland forward Larry Nance Jr. said after James scored 46 with 11 rebounds and nine assists on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) to send the series to a decisive seventh game. “I think [coach Tyronn Lue] said it best: ‘We’re going into a Game 7 with the baddest dude on the planet on our team.’ I like our chances.” James is having what could be the best postseason of his career, averaging 33.9 points and just under nine assists and rebounds, with seven 40-point games, two buzzer beaters, and a sweep of top-seeded Toronto. But he’s played in every game this season — Sunday (Monday, PHL time) will be his 100th — and it showed in the Game 5 loss to the Celtics. He admitted to fatigue afterward, and then played all but two minutes in Game 6 despite a sore knee from a collision with Nance. Still, the four-time MVP carried his team even after Love banged heads with Boston’s Jayson Tatum in the first half and left the game. “I can’t say enough good things about him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Every time we watch. Every time you’re standing out there. Every time you watch him on film. Best player in the game.” James will probably have to do it again in Game 7 to reach the NBA Finals for the eighth straight year, something accomplished only by Bill Russell and some of his Celtics teammates in the 1960s. Lue said he wasn’t concerned about James’ leg. Or about the team’s history in the TD Garden, where the Cavaliers lost the first three games by an average of 17 points. “We throw it all out,” Lue said on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). “It’s one game left to go to the NBA Finals.” The Celtics have had their own injury problems, starting in the first quarter of the season opener — at Cleveland — when top free agent Gordon Hayward went out for the year with a broken leg. Five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, acquired from the Cavaliers in an offseason roster overhaul, needed knee surgery and was lost in March. But they caught a break when Tatum was cleared to play on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). Stevens said the team doctors checked on him “and he’s great.” “So nothing there as far as to be concerned about,” Stevens said. Well, there’s one thing to be concerned about. “We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we’ve got to get the job done,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier said. “That’s no excuse, so we’re looking forward to it.” For James, it’s an opportunity to extend the season for his hometown team and put off another summer of questions about his future. Eight years ago, he came to Boston for the conference semifinals and had a triple-double — 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists — but shot 8-for-21 with nine turnovers and the Celtics eliminated the Cavs from the playoffs. As he left the court, James stripped off his Cleveland jersey; then came “The Decision” and the move to Miami. James is again able to become a free agent this season, with the Lakers, 76ers and Rockets among the most-mentioned destinations. Having led Cleveland to the city’s first major sports title in half a century in 2016, there is less pulling at him to stay home this time. But another title would ease the pain even more. And with the injury bug hitting the Western Conference finalists — Chris Paul was the latest ruled out for a game — the East champion might not be as big an underdog as expected. James will be ready. “You’ve got to be poised. You’ve got to be able to handle a punch or two,” he said. “We know it’s challenging. They’re 10-0 on their home floor, and they’ve been very successful against us, obviously, at home. But if you love challenges, then this is a great opportunity.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 27th, 2018

Future is now: Tatum, Celtics push Cavaliers to the brink

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com BOSTON - Someone might want to change their All-Rookie team ballot after this one. Jayson Tatum, so young that he actually drinks the Gatorade that’s on the table when he has a podium game rather than leaving it there for cameras and branding, got 99 out of a 100 possible first-place votes from media folks for the newbie honors announced Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). That left him a vote shy of both Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, the dueling favorites for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award when it’s announced next month. If Tatum merely is the Boston Celtics’ favorite rookie, though, that’s plenty. And wherever Simmons and Mitchell are at the moment, their seasons and postseasons are over. The Boston kid still is playing. Tatum scored 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished four assists, pilfered four steals and blocked two shots to led the Celtics to their 96-83 Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at TD Garden. His plus/minus rating of plus-19 was second only to veteran Al Horford’s (plus-22) and in a pivotal game in which his teammates shot a combined 34 percent, Tatum -- who turned 20 on March 3 -- hit three of his seven three-pointers, all but one of his eight free throws and seven of his 15 field-goal attempts overall. “I think his composure [is impressive], he plays above his age,” LeBron James said earlier in the day. “I think the unfortunate events of the injuries that they’ve had have allowed him to, I believe, get better faster than I believe they expected here. It’s given him an opportunity to make ... make mistakes and learn from them and still be on the floor.” Losing Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury in the season’s opening game and having Kyrie Irving limp into knee surgery and the sunset of this season in March did bump most of Boston’s players, the rookie included, up a couple spots in coach Brad Stevens’ pecking order. The No. 3 pick in last June’s Draft, Tatum was going to get his share of playing time. But he wound up becoming the fifth rookie in NBA history, and the first since Stephen Curry in 2009-10, to score at least 1,000 points and hit at least 40 percent of his three-pointers. Only eight previous rookies in Boston’s storied franchise history totaled 1,000 or more points. Jaylen Brown, Boston’s second-year wing, developed in tandem with Tatum. The pair of lithe, skilled players dripping with potential has most of the league’s personnel execs and coaches drooling. Except, with Game 6 on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) in Cleveland for the first of two shots at eliminating the Cavaliers, the Celtics are playing as if their future is now. A truism in the NBA is that, by the end of a rookie’s first arduous season, he’s not a rookie anymore. Mix in some force-feeding due to Boston’s two injured stars and now three playoff rounds, and Tatum is racing to the right on his learning curve. “I think that we misuse the word ‘development’ sometimes,” Stevens said. “I think we're in the business of ‘enhancement.’ I think Jayson was ready to deal with everything that comes with this because of who he is and his family and all his coaches before, because he's a very emotionally steady, smart player that was going to perform at a high level above his age. “I don't know that anybody could guess this as a rookie, but you knew he was going to be really good.” Tatum sorta had to be in Game 5. Brown got matched up in a lot of Boston’s defensive coverage of James and picked up his second and third personal fouls in the second quarter. Point guard Terry Rozier looked like his road alter ego, missing 6-of-7 shots in the game’s first 24 minutes. But Tatum -- who averaged 12.7 points against Cleveland in three regular-season meetings but is at 17.2 so far in the East finals -- had 12 points by halftime, helping the Celtics to their 53-42 lead. “I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games,” Tatum said. “I think that’s when I have the most fun, when things are on the line.” It was Tatum racing downcourt to chase down Kevin Love’s errant pass into the backcourt and finish with a layup that had Boston up 74-58. And it was Tatum who drew a foul on Kyle Korver with 3:11 left, prompting Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to pull a weary James. “I thought he was aggressive. I thought he was poised,” Lue said of Tatum. “Even though he was scoring the basketball, he didn’t try to rush or he didn’t press. ... He played like a veteran.” Tatum put in his work defensively Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), but also got as good as he gave. It’s become a familiar tactic for defenders to get physically aggressive with him, trying to exploit what at this stage still is limited strength by NBA standards. His father Justin, a basketball coach in St. Louis, has said he plays tall and hasn’t yet learned to utilize his base. “JR [Smith], Jeff Green, they're playing really hard on Tatum and making it very tough,” Stevens said. “He's had a lot of experiences over the last couple weeks dealing with playoff defense. I thought Milwaukee guarded him exceptionally hard and were really committed when he drove to the rim to having multiple bodies there. I thought that Philly obviously guarded him very hard. It's hard to make plays at this level in these games, and he's done that pretty consistently.” The numbers back that up. Tatum by halftime had become only the sixth rookie in league history to reach 300 points in the postseason, the first since Jack Sikma in 1978. It was his ninth playoff game of 20 points or more, tying him with Mitchell this season and David Robinson in 1990 for second most by a rookie since 1964; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 10 in 1970. Tatum, Brown and a few other young Celtics have given credit for the team’s unexpected success -- considering the injuries, anyway -- to Al Horford, the most obvious grown-up in Boston’s locker room. When Horford was asked late Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) what it’s like for him being around “these kids,” he sounded a little like James three years ago. That’s when Irving was hobbling, eventually blowing out a knee that spring, and Kevin Love was done for the playoffs due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first round. That’s also when James looked at the raw help he had from guys such as Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, and locked in on the possibility of reaching the Finals. “It's a lot of fun, just because these guys, they want to play the right way,” Horford said. “They play hard. I feel like we hold each other accountable out there. I think that's a big thing.  And when those things happen, it becomes fun. It's fun to me. And there's no coincidence why we're in this position right now.” Youth is being served, at least on the Celtics’ floor. 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 NewsMay 24th, 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

By the Numbers: Why the Celtics are up 2-0 over the Cavs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com Are we witnessing the end of LeBron James' dominance of the Eastern Conference? For the first time in the last eight years, James' team trails an East playoff series by two games. And the team that's up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals is the one missing two of its three highest-paid players and one that struggled to get through the first round almost as much as the Cleveland Cavaliers did. Forget what we've seen from Cleveland all season; If you watched the Boston Celtics through six games against the Milwaukee Bucks, you'd have a hard time believing that they'd go on to win seven of their next eight playoff games, with the postseason's best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) over that stretch. So how did we get here? Here are some numbers to know about the Celtics and Cavs, with the series taking three days off before it resumes with Game 3 in Cleveland on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time)). Celtics score without leading scorer The Celtics ranked 18th offensively in the regular season, slightly worse than the league average in effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate (and right at the league average in turnover rate). They ranked third in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint, but 28th in field goal percentage in the paint. In 22 games without Kyrie Irving, they scored just 102.6 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would have ranked 25th). In the playoffs, the Celtics have been more efficient offensively (107.7 points scored per 100 possessions) than the Cavs (107.4). Boston is one of only two playoff teams (Indiana was the other) that have scored more efficiently in the postseason than they did in the regular season. Through the first two rounds, the Celtics' effective field goal percentage took a dip, but they cut down on turnovers and saw an increase in free throw rate. In the conference finals, they've been able to get to the basket more often, with 38 percent of their shots coming in the restricted area, up from 32 percent over the first two rounds. And that goes to the fact that they're playing a bad defensive team; The Cavs ranked 29th defensively this season. In the previous 40 years, no team that had ranked in the bottom thee defensively in the regular season had won a playoff series. So the Cavs have already made history, but it's not a coincidence that the only other team that scored more points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in the regular season is the team -- the Indiana Pacers -- that the Cavs played in the first round. Even in getting swept by the Cavs in the conference semifinals, the Toronto Raptors were just as efficient offensively (110.1 points scored per 100 possessions) as they were in the first round (110.2). But the Celtics had an improved offense even before they got to this series. They've been incredibly balanced, with six guys in their rotation having a postseason usage rate between 19.6 and 24.0 (none higher than 28th overall in these playoffs). As Al Horford said after Game 1, they've found "what fits this group." They've also found, against the Philadelphia 76ers and Cavs in particular, matchups that can be taken advantage of. They've been able to execute with precision and patience. Cavs' not-so-great shots Two things stand out about the Cleveland offense as it has scored less than a point per possession in each of the first two games. First, LeBron James has just 18 total points in the restricted area after averaging a postseason-high 14.4 points per game in the restricted area through the first two rounds. The Celtics have done well in transition (the Cavs have just 16 total fast break points) and in staying in front of James in half-court situations. Even when he scored 21 points in the first quarter of Game 2, five of his eight buckets came from outside the paint. And over the two games, only 27 percent of his shots have come from the restricted area, down from 41 percent through the first two rounds. James has shot 77 percent in the restricted area and 29 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs, so if most of his offense continues to come from the perimeter, the Celtics are in great shape. The other thing that stands out (regarding the Cleveland offense) from Games 1 and 2 is that the Cavs have shot just 1-for-10 on corner 3-pointers. Game 1 was just the fourth game this season in which the Cavs didn't make a corner three, and the two games are just the third time in the four seasons since James returned to Cleveland that they've made fewer than two corner threes over a two-game stretch. Corner threes are one thing that distinguishes the Toronto series from the other two that the Cavs have played. They averaged 5.3 per game against the Raptors, but just 2.3 against the Pacers and now, 0.5 against the Celtics. It's about the attempts as much as it is about the success rate. In the regular season, Boston opponents took only 19 percent of their 3-pointers from the corners. That was the lowest opponent rate in the league. The lack of corner threes is tied to James' lack of shots in the restricted area. Because the Celtics have done a good enough job of staying in front of James, they've been able to (generally) stay at home on the Cavs' shooters. If the Cavs can find a way to get their star to the basket, the Boston defense will have to react and other things will open up. Matching up down low The Cavs started Tristan Thompson in Game 2, with the thought that he had matchup advantage (on the glass, in particular) against Horford. In last year's conference finals, the Cavs outscored the Celtics by 81 points in 134 minutes with both Thompson and Horford on the floor. In this series, the Cavs are a plus-4 in 18 minutes with Thompson on the floor and Horford playing center, and that probably keeps Thompson in the starting lineup for Game 3. Having been outscored by 38 points overall in the series, Cleveland should see some encouragement in any configuration that has produced a positive point differential. Before Game 2, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he wouldn't change his starting lineup if the Cavs did. But the Celtics didn't let the Horford-Thompson matchup last too long, especially in the second half, when Aron Baynes subbed in for Jayson Tatum less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third quarter. Thompson has played more minutes (20) in the series with Horford at power forward (alongside Baynes or Greg Monroe) than with Horford at center (18). And the Celtics have outscored the Cavs by nine points in those 20 minutes with Thompson on the floor and Horford at the four. Will change of venue matter? With their wins in Games 1 and 2, the Celtics are 9-0 at home in the postseason. If they remain undefeated at TD Garden, they'll win this series. But the Celtics have been more than 20 points per 100 possessions better at home (plus-10.8) than on the road (minus-9.4) in the postseason. Their only road win (Game 3 at Philadelphia) came in overtime and the only team with a bigger home-road NetRtg differential (26.5) in these playoffs is the team (Milwaukee) that the Celtics played in the first round. The Cavs are 5-1 at home and have been 11.7 points per 100 possessions better at Quicken Loans Arena than they've been on the road in the playoffs. But four of those five home wins have been by four points or less. They haven't exactly taken care of business at The Q. John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. 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 19th, 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

Celtics take Game 1 of East finals, beat Cavaliers 108-83

By Jimmy Golen, Associated Press BOSTON (AP) — Jaylen Brown had 23 points and eight rebounds, Marcus Morris added 21 points and 10 boards, and the Boston Celtics opened a 21-point, first-quarter lead and scorched the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-83 on Sunday (Monday, PHL time) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Al Horford scored 20 points for the Celtics, who ran off 17 consecutive points in the first quarter and never allowed the Cavaliers within single digits again. Boston led by 28 when Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue pulled LeBron James for good with 7:09 left. Game 2 is Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). Kevin Love had 17 points and eight rebounds, and James finished with 15 points, nine assists and seven boards. The Cavaliers missed their first 14 three-point attempts of the game and shot just 32 percent in the first half. By that time, Boston led 61-35 — the biggest halftime playoff deficit in James’ career. With injured stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving on the bench in street clothes, the Celtics continued their stunning run this season with what may have been the most surprising turn of events yet. A year after dropping the first two games at home against Cleveland in a five-game East final, the Celtics pounced on James, and the favored Cavaliers were never really in it. The Celtics took the floor to a hype video that began with the broadcast of Hayward’s injury in the first quarter of the first game, at Cleveland. A variety of commentators predicted the team’s demise, including Hall of Famer Charles Barkley saying: “Their season’s over.” As more players went down to injury, the prophesies grew even gloomier. But there the Celtics were, back in the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers for the second year in a row — with Hayward, Irving, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin all injured and coach Brad Stevens down to an eight-man rotation. It was more than they needed. Morris, starting in place of Aron Baynes, backed up his boast that he could cover James better than anyone except Kawhi Leonard and helped pester James into seven of Cleveland’s nine turnovers. (James had eight in the entire four-game, second-round sweep of the Raptors.) Horford made his first seven shots of the game and scored 10, including eight straight, during the 17-0 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 21-7 lead. After James wiggled his way to a layup — Cleveland’s first points in 4 minutes, 43 seconds — Boston ran off eight more points in a row; Brown had six of them, and he finished the quarter with 13 points and five rebounds. Cleveland scored seven straight points early in the third and finished the quarter with six in a row to make it 78-64. But Boston made the first three baskets in the fourth and, after running off nine in a row to make it 96-68 with 7:09 left, the Cavs conceded. TIP-INS Cavaliers: Kyle Korver’s three-pointer with nine minutes left in the third period was their first after missing 14 in a row. It cut the deficit from 28 points to 65-40. ... Tristan Thompson had eight points and 11 rebounds. Celtics: The Celtics improved to 8-0 at home this postseason. They do not have to win on the road to reach the NBA Finals. ... Boston’s 36-18 lead at the end of one quarter was the second-largest in a playoff game in franchise history. UP NEXT Game 2 is Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time), Boston......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 13th, 2018

Young Celtics look to stop James, Cavaliers

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com For a few days at least, much of the talk about this rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals will focus on what might have been. In what could have offered some poetic closure to the Eastern Conference portion of this season, former Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving would be taking on his old team and, specifically, LeBron James, the superstar “big brother” whom he’d dissed by demanding a trade. Meanwhile, in a more perfect pulp-fiction world, Cleveland would be setting loose point guard Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics, giving him a chance for payback to the team that dealt him away the instant it sniffed the chance to land Irving. Those plotlines are kaput; Irving’s season ended in March with left knee surgery, Thomas got dealt from Cleveland at the February trade deadline. The best we’ll get now are sideline shots of Irving in street clothes on Boston’s bench, reacting to the series’ ebbs and flows. Thomas might be limited to tweeting from afar. That leaves one clear, distinct narrative: The King of the East vs. perhaps the best collection of aspirants to his throne. James is trying to cap one of his most remarkable seasons by advancing to his eighth consecutive Finals, having led the Cavaliers to the past three after four with the Miami Heat. He has coaxed and carried these Cavs along a steep learning curve, finally getting them spiffed up by the end of their sweep of Toronto. “He’s been doing this for a long time,” Boston’s Marcus Smart said after the clincher over Philadelphia. “He’s, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to do it. What better way than to go up and compete against a guy that’s [going to have] statues and things like that.” The Celtics, by contrast, are a team trying to write fresh history. They’re ahead of schedule, too, given Irving’s absence and the loss of prize free agent Gordon Hayward way back on opening night to a gruesome leg injury, coincidentally, in Cleveland. Boston put out a talented Milwaukee Bucks club in the opening round, then dumped the Philadelphia 76ers -- another rising franchise in the East – in five games. And for those who think the West has the sexier conference clash, this one offers a pretty slick matchup: James against Boston coach Brad Stevens. Widely regarded as a master tactician, Stevens -- whose Celtics lost in five games to the Cavaliers in last year’s East finals -- gets another multi-game shot. In last year’s series, James averaged these numbers to beat: 29.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.2 spg and 1.2 bpg. 3 quick questions and answers 1. Who guards LeBron? This is the first question (or should be) of every preview of every playoff series every year of James’ career since he first started qualifying in 2006. Toronto used the length of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam on James but neither of the Celtics’ young, long forwards -- Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum -- would be ideal for the duty, because Boston needs their scoring. Brown will take his turn but look for Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart in the crosshairs, counting on their physical force to bother Cleveland’s star. With undoubtedly lots of help and different looks, all the while sticking close to shooters like Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love. Said center Aron Baynes late Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time): “We know where the head of the snake is and we know what we have to focus on but he’s got a lot of great role players around him and some other guys that can really create as well. 2. Will Point Guard Showdown 1A be a letdown? So instead of Irving vs. Thomas, we’ll get Terry Rozier vs. George Hill. That’s not a bad backup plan, because Rozier has had a star-is-born postseason so far and Hill has been a huge help to the Cavs after missing 3.5 games in the first round. Hill has more experience and is a scrappy defender, but Rozier -- who averaged 16.7 points and shot 47.1 percent from three in the regular season vs. Cleveland -- has speed and energy that might swing this matchup in Boston’s favor. 3. Will Love love this matchup with Horford? Kevin Love doesn’t like playing center, but Cavs coach Tyronn Lue likes the effect that has on opposing defenses. Love has an inside-outside game that makes him a tough cover for both the big fives and for more agile power-forward types. The challenge in this round is how Love copes with Al Horford, who has comparable forward’s skills. It won’t be a traditional battle of bigs, for which Love will be grateful after tangling with Toronto’s jumbo Jonas Valanciunas. The number to know 18.5 -- The Cavs scored 121.5 points per 100 possessions in the conference semifinals against Toronto, 18.5 more than they scored in the first round against Indiana (103.0). The Indy series was too close for comfort; The Pacers actually outscored Cleveland by 40 points in the series and Cavs not named James registered an effective field goal percentage of just 47 percent (the league average is 52 percent). But things were much different against the No. 1 seed, with Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith combining to shoot 24-for-38 (63 percent) from 3-point range and Kevin Love recovering from a funk to average 25 points on 54 percent shooting over the final three games. The Cavs' defense remains a question, but they always have the ability to score points in bunches. The Celtics had the No. 1 defense in the regular season and the regular season series was on the ugly side (the teams combined to score just 100 points per 100 possessions), but Boston will have to pick its poison with James surrounded by shooters that have started to shoot well. -- John Schuhmann Making the pick The Cavaliers won two of the three meetings between these teams in the regular season, with their more impressive victory coming mere days after the Cleveland roster makeover at the trade deadline. The Cavs were plus-11 in the season series, James averaged 24.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 8.3 apg, Boston shot 30-of-106 from three and ... aw, who are we kidding? Regular season results matter little now. James is determined to win his 24th consecutive Eastern Conference series to reach his eighth straight Finals. He was a maestro vs. the Raptors in drawing out his teammates’ games. The Celtics, allowing for their injuries, already have overachieved. That ends here. Cavaliers in 6......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 11th, 2018