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Chris Paul, Houston Rockets take dominant step toward ultimate goal

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com SALT LAKE CITY — There is one more game to be played (at the very least) in this series, and it’ll be on the home court Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) when Houston will be in a celebratory mood. But be clear about this: the Jazz are no longer the barrier between the Rockets and the goal. They’re just standing in the way. There’s a difference. Getting rid of the overmatched yet naggingly persistent Jazz is all about keeping pace with the Warriors or perhaps staying one step ahead of the defending champs, nothing more or less. A long-anticipated Western Conference final, and perhaps a classic one, is impatiently waiting, and it’s in the Rockets’ best interest to settle their end of the bargain and if possible on the same night when the Warriors can do the same. And so, just a few hours after the Warriors went up 3-1 on the Pelicans in the other West semifinal, the Rockets did likewise Sunday (Monday, PHL time), using star power to overcome an otherwise blah performance. They only scored 100 points — a level that will certainly rise in the next round. Quite simply, they had James Harden and Chris Paul and Clint Capela when it counted and Utah did not. And speaking of Paul, he’s one win away from advancing beyond the second round for the first time in his otherwise respectable career. His anxiousness to kill that annoying demon was evident in the third quarter of Game 4, when he scored 11 of his 27 points while drilling the Jazz with mid-range jumpers, and the game flipped in Houston’s favor. “I’ve been here before, 3-1,” said Paul on post-game TV, his memory still sharp from blowing that lead while with the Clippers four years ago, coincidentally against Harden and the Rockets. “[Expletive] went bad real quick.” It also happened to be Paul’s birthday, and what more can a 33-year-old do to demonstrate that age is merely a number? “He was really big today," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I understand he has another birthday coming up Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time).” It was a surreal night for Paul as well. While he was busy erasing the Jazz, his brother CJ Paul was being momentarily erased from the arena. CJ Paul, who handles much of his brother’s personal affairs, was escorted from his lower-level seat by arena security in the third quarter for shouting at referee James Williams. He was allowed back to his seat moments later and claimed to be a victim of mistaken identity. “They thought I said something that shouldn’t be printed,” said CJ, right after he took a post-game phone call from Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations. “Actually, it was a fan sitting next to me. I addressed the fan who said it. I told security what happened. After they let me back in, the security guy said, `By the way, James said it was definitely you that said that. He didn’t see you, but he heard you.’ What, you mean out of 20,000 people? What’s crazy is James reffed me when I was in college.” CJ Paul, who has never missed any of his brother’s playoff games, didn’t miss much during his brief departure in this one, either. The Rockets stayed in control, save for some teases by the Jazz, and this is where they stand, right on the cusp, right with the Warriors suddenly swelling in their windshield. Remember, the Rockets built their team and their season around overcoming the Warriors; the Jazz never came up in conversation. That’s why they added Paul last summer, and why Harden tweaked his isolation-dominant game to accommodate Paul, and why the rise of Capela is raising the possibility of Houston bringing a new Big Three in Golden State’s direction. That Houston won another game despite a toned-down offense and a vanishing three-point shot — they made just 26 percent Sunday (Monday, PHL time) and in the last three games are at 29 percent — is either an impressive or troublesome trend depending on your hot take. D’Antoni is playing up the former. “We haven’t shot well the whole series,” he said. “But there’s all different ways to win. We’re not strictly a jump-shooting team. Chris has got the midrange. James gets to the hole. You’ve got Clint down there. We’ve got a lot of other stuff we can go to.  The whole plan was to get that so we wouldn’t be a one-dimensional team.” “We’ll get to 100," D'Antoni added. "Anyway, if we do our part defensively, we have a real good shot to win.” Against the Jazz, does it really matter? Utah arrived this far on hard work and solid coaching and an otherworldly rookie, but those teams don’t travel deeper than this in the playoffs. Their lack of star appeal is flaring up and gradually costing them right now. They started a rookie, a guy cut by the Clippers, an undrafted free agent, a Celtics’ castoff and a center who can’t shoot. Also, Derrick Favors isn’t 100 percent and Ricky Rubio missed his third straight game with a bad hamstring. Then, in the third quarter, Dante Exum grabbed his hamstring and was done for the night, perhaps for the series. They’re playing with house money after losing their franchise guy, Gordon Hayward, to free agency last summer. They won 48 games, had winning streaks of 11, nine and six after Jan. 22, grabbed the No. 5 seed and probably sent Paul George plotting an exit strategy from Oklahoma City after beating the Thunder in the first round. Then they stole a game from the No. 1 seed in the West, in Houston no less. What’s not to like? And yet, reality is settling in Utah like the famous bronze sunsets in the Wasatch Valley. Joe Ingles shocked the Rockets with 27 points in the Game 2 win; he totaled 21 points the next two. Exum was a national talking point for 48 hours after becoming a Harden Stopper in Game 2, but his 15 minutes quickly evaporated, and now he has the sore hammy. Mitchell had one insane quarter when the series shifted to Utah — his 13 points in the third quarter Sunday. Otherwise, not much else. Their plight was cruelly spelled out in a few sequences in Game 4. Mitchell stripped Harden and drove for a layup but couldn’t convert. Ingles broke Capela’s ankles on a step-back jumper but missed the three. Rudy Gobert took a pass and drove the lane... and Capela swooped from nowhere and rejected him. That was one of Capela’s six blocks (to go with 15 rebounds), and he influenced roughly a dozen others. “Donovan drove the lane and saw Clint and decided to pass, and that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” said Paul. “There was a lot of that.” Harden had issues once again against Utah after opening the series with 41 points. He shot poorly from deep, missing 6-of-7, and coughed up eight turnovers and couldn’t take control of Game 4. That left the savior role to Paul. Such is the luxury the Rockets have this season; when one superstar is handcuffed, the other is released. Paul was the best player on the floor if not the most efficient. In 35 minutes he had just one turnover, and in addition to scoring, he chipped in with 12 rebounds and six assists. “He was extremely aggressive tonight, which is what we needed,” Harden said. And why not? Paul can smell the next round and a chance, once and for all, to change the narrative with regards to his playoff history, which is an awkward fit with the rest of his playing history. When that was brought up to Paul, Harden respectfully interjected, “He’s not thinking about that. We got a game Tuesday and we’ll do whatever we can to close it out.” Paul laughed. “We’re not going to give up,” he confirmed. There’s no reason for that. The Rockets are suddenly on the verge — where they thought they’d be all along. The Western Conference Finals are tapping Paul and the Rockets on the shoulder and reminding them of their season-long mission statement, and the Rockets are very much OK with that. “We didn’t come this far,” said Harden, “just to be up 3-1 in this series.” No, not this one. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnMay 7th, 2018

D’Antoni, Harden and Paul poised to capture trio’s 1st title

HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul has a long history of playoff heartbreak. So does James Harden. And Mike D’Antoni has more than either of them combined. Separately, they’ve never gotten it done at playoff time. Together, their fortunes might change. They’ve led the Houston Rockets to the NBA’s best record going into these playoffs, and in a league that Golden State and Cleveland have dominated in recent years, it may not be overly surprising to see the Paul-Harden-D’Antoni triumvirate win it all this spring. With two regular-season games left, the Rockets have already piled up a franchise-record 64 wins to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. But this group — perhaps fueled by past playoff shortcomings — knows it has much more work to do. “The ultimate goal is holding that trophy up,” Harden said. “So until we do that there’s no celebrations ... we haven’t done anything yet.” D’Antoni, who’ll turn 67 next month and would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston gets it done, has revived his career in Houston. He got the Rockets to the West semifinals in his first year with them last season. And on the eve of these playoffs, D’Antoni insists he won’t spend a second thinking about all the times things went wrong in his previous postseason trips. “Zero,” he said when asked how much he thinks about his playoff failures. “Twenty-nine teams look back every year. It’s hard to win.” D’Antoni might know that better than most. In 2004-05, his Phoenix Suns won 62 games in the regular season and reached the conference finals before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in five games. The Suns advanced to the conference finals again the following year, but were eliminated by Dallas in six games. They lost in the second round in 2007, the first round in 2008. More failures followed in his stints with New York and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks were swept by Boston in 2011, the Lakers swept by the Spurs in 2013, both of those coming in the first round. Before last season, D’Antoni hadn’t won a playoff game in nine years. “We’ve had a great regular season, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “But what it does mean is that we’re pretty good and if we make big shots and do what we’re supposed to do ... then we’ll see if we can do it.” Paul’s failures in the postseason may be even more scrutinized. The nine-time All-Star, who came to Houston in an offseason trade, has made nine playoff trips without advancing past the second round. The worst of those flops came in 2015, ironically against Houston, when Paul and the Clippers had a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals. They got blown out in Game 5, wasted a 19-point second-half lead in Los Angeles in Game 6, then fell in Game 7 at Houston. That was then, Paul said. “It is cool when you stop and think about it,” Paul said. “But for us right now we’re trying to enjoy the moment. Trying to enjoy the process and not worry about all that stuff. Maybe after it’s all said and done you can reflect on it.” Harden knows playoff pain as well. His splendid 2016-17 season was so promising, especially after Houston routed San Antonio, on the road, in Game 1 of the West semifinals. The Spurs won four of the next five, including a 114-75 embarrassing series-clincher in Houston where Harden was held to 10 points. “These last few years I’ve learned that obviously you can’t do it by yourself,” Harden said. “You need guys to step up, make big shots, make big plays and so we have enough guys in here on any given night that can change a playoff series. So that’s what you need. That’s what puts you over the top.” Paul might be the topper Harden needed. From the moment Paul arrived in Houston, Harden raved about what he would bring to the team. After playing with him for a season, the normally reserved Harden was even more effusive in his praise of the fellow guard. “I don’t mean to sound too mushy or what-not but it was like love at first sight,” Harden said. “It was just meant to be.” This will be Harden’s ninth playoff appearance after three trips with the Thunder and five in Houston. He’s led the Rockets to the postseason in each of his seasons in Houston, but his failure to shine in big games has dogged him for years. Bringing a title to Houston, which hasn’t seen the Rockets hoisting a Larry O’Brien Trophy since the back-to-back crowns in 1994 and 1995, will render all those criticisms moot. “We’re all in this together,” Harden said. “That’s what it’s all about. We talk about it every single day. We’re in this together and if one fails we all fail. So we’re going to ride this thing out together.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 10th, 2018

Reports: Carmelo Anthony clears waivers, set to join Rockets

NBA.com staff report Carmelo Anthony is one step closer to joining the Houston Rockets, according to reports from Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Sources: Carmelo Anthony has cleared waivers, setting up the 10-time All-Star to sign free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. — Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 1, 2018 Carmelo Anthony passes through waivers at 5 PM ET, clearing way for him to inform Houston that he will sign a one-year, $2.4M deal with Rockets. — Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 1, 2018 Anthony was waived by the Atlanta Hawks on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) after being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder on July 19 (July 20, PHL time). Per various reports, the veteran forward is expected to join Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets now that he has officially entered the free-agent player pool. According to Wojnarowski, the contract is expected to be a one-year deal worth $2.4 million. Anthony’s lone season in Oklahoma City was largely a bust. He averaged 16.2 points and struggled at times in his new role alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George. The 10-time All-Star posted career lows in scoring average and field goal percentage, and the Thunder were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Utah. The 34-year-old Anthony had been the headliner his entire career — he’s 19th in NBA history with 25,417 points — but he was more of a catch-and-shoot scorer last season instead of the isolation specialist he had always been. His playing time dwindled in the playoffs. In Game 6 of the first-round series against Utah that ended Oklahoma City’s season, he played fewer minutes than reserve Jerami Grant. After the season, he said he prefers to play with the ball in his hands more and said coming off the bench is “out of the question.” Anthony opted in earlier this summer to accept the $28 million he was due next season. The Thunder re-signed Grant, then it was reported that Anthony and the Thunder would eventually part ways, though it was unclear how it would happen. Anthony would help the Rockets fill their void at forward after the team lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute during free agency. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 2nd, 2018

Warriors need just one game to establish superiority

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — Months of building up the hard shell required to wade this deep into the NBA’s merciless playoff waters can evaporate in a snap. One bad rotation, followed by a missed layup on the back of yet another dagger from the other team and even a mighty, 65-win juggernaut can see it all unravel. The Houston Rockets know the feeling now, after living through it on what could turn out to be the biggest night of the best [regular] season in the history of the franchise. They invited the Golden State Warriors in, dared to beat the reigning NBA champions at their own game in these Western Conference finals with an emphatic win and came up woefully short of that goal in the opener. The home court advantage they worked for all throughout a brilliant season is gone. The comfort provided by a 2-1 record against the Warriors during the regular season series the Rockets held tight since January was blown away after just four quarters. Whatever aura they thought they owned heading into the Toyota Center Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) for Game 1, they shed long before the final seconds of their decisive 119-106 loss to the Warriors. It looked good early, when James Harden had the Rockets rolling to a nine-point lead in the frenzied opening minutes. But Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and the rest of a Warriors team making its fourth straight appearance in the conference finals, they don’t fold at the first sign of danger. “You’re not going to just come in and knock them out,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I mean, there’s just too many times we had mental lapses. We either didn’t switch properly or we didn’t switch hard enough. We turned the ball over  little too much. Every time we missed a layup, which we missed a lot of layups, they ran out. “They’re really devastating. We’ve got to make layups, don’t turn it over and do a little bit better job of mentally just staying up on people.” The fact that they were starting this series away from the friendly confines of Oracle Arena for the first time during their recent run did nothing to shake their belief in themselves. And if there is anything that is clear after just four wild quarters of this most anticipated series, it’s that the Warriors’ collective confidence is far superior to the artificial skin the Rockets wrapped themselves in leading up to the opening round of this heavyweight fight. Harden played inspired, for most of his 35 minutes, finishing with a game-high 41 points and seven assists. Chris Paul’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists look good on paper. But it wasn’t enough. It was nowhere near enough to offset the Rockets’ self-inflicted mistakes or the fury the Warriors can rain down on their opponents this time of year. “They’re obviously champions for a reason,” D’Antoni said. “If we want to beat them, we have to be mentally sharper. KD, he’s tough. Obviously, he was on tonight. Hey, you can live with that. But you can’t live with that and then make mental mistakes, and that's what we do. The combination of the two was devastating.” Durant was hell bent on devastation, torching an assortment of Rockets defenders for his 37 points. Thompson drilled the Rockets for 28 points of his own, his 15 attempts from beyond the three-point line serving as a more demoralizing dagger for a Rockets defense designed to limit those attempts. With so much attention on them, the Rockets seemed to lose their defensive focus on basically everyone else. “Defensively, we’ve got to be better,” Paul said. “You know it’s funny, I got caught helping a couple times in the first half and I think Nick Young hit three [three-pointers] off those plays. Some games, some series, you may make those mistakes and guys don’t make the shots. But tonight, every time we did it, they made the shot. They make you pay when you make mistakes.” Just to be clear about what kind of armor the Warriors travel with these days, they’ve won a game on the road in 18 consecutive playoff series, well before the Durant era. So as much as this is about the back and forth between Durant and Harden, the former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates who once got this point in a season together and elbowed their way into The Finals in 2012, it’s about Curry, Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP. Those are the other four members of the Warriors’ “Hamptons Five” lineup that started the game, the group that withstood everything the Rockets threw at them Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) and then beat them up over the final 15 minutes of a must-have game on their home floor. “They’re a good team,” Eric Gordon said, stating the obvious. "They’ve been playing together, they know who they are. They’ve been to four straight Western Conference finals. We just got to be a little better.” The Rockets’ must-win game is now Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). The pressure shifts to a Game 2 effort that has to be much better offensively if they want to keep pace with the Warriors. They’ll also need a much cleaner effort that doesn’t include sloppiness (the Warriors converted 16 turnovers into 17 points) and deficient defense (the Warriors shot .525 from the floor and .394 from the three-point line) that was on display in Game 1. These are all things D’Antoni believes to be correctable. And they could be. Indeed, they better be if the Rockets plan on stretching this series to the limit. Because there is still no way to account for the experience factor, the muscle memory edge the Warriors have when it comes to recognizing the time and place to apply the ultimate pressure on an opponent that’s ready to break. They sniffed it late in the third quarter, when the Rockets were reeling under a relentless barrage of Durant buckets. The only thing that saved them then were crucial baskets of their own from Eric Gordon and Gerald Green, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr subbing Durant out for a breather the Warriors closer did not want. “Yeah, he wasn’t really thrilled and I probably should have left him in,” Kerr said. “Late third he was going pretty well. I knew I had to get him some rest at some point. As soon as I took him out, they went on a quick run, so he was not thrilled. But he came back in and got us back on track.” You can toy with a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round, dropping Game 3 on the road only to come back and close out the series with back-to-back wins, especially when you are clearly the superior team and own that coveted home-court advantage. You might be able to get away with it in next round against a team like the Utah Jazz, when you lose home-court advantage in Game 2, but are are once again clearly the superior team and win three straight games to squash that challenge. Slip up a third time, as the Rockets did Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time), against a team that has won two of the last three Larry O’Brien trophies, a team with their sights set on a third, and … and there might not be another chance. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 15th, 2018

Curry, Durant lead Warriors into Western Conference finals

By Janie McCauley, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry had 28 points, Kevin Durant scored 24 and the Golden State Warriors advanced to the Western Conference finals by dismantling Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans 113-104 in Game 5 on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). Klay Thompson added 23 points for the Warriors, who with a 15th straight home playoff win tied Chicago for an NBA record. The Bulls did so from April 27, 1990, to May 21, 1991. Davis had 34 points and 19 rebounds for a Pelicans team that overcame the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon three months ago to make this strong run. The Pelicans shaved the lead to seven points with two minutes left on a basket by Davis before Draymond Green's turnaround fadeaway moments later. The Warriors advance to play the top-seeded Houston Rockets in what has long been an anticipated Western Conference finals matchup — with a Finals feel, perhaps — and one Golden State will start on the road Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). The teams didn't meet during the 2017 postseason, but the Warriors won a five-game series in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. Houston eliminated Utah in its Game 5 earlier Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). Curry, who returned for Game 2 after nearly six weeks out with a knee injury, knocked down an open three-pointer midway through the third and raised his hands to get the crowd going, then made another less than two minutes later. He converted three free throws at the 6:25 mark following a hard foul by Jrue Holiday. In the second quarter, Holiday shoved Curry hard into the basket, enraging the two-time MVP who let the officials know how upset he was by the push and no call. Holiday contributed 27 points and 11 assists, but even with better shooting, New Orleans couldn't stay with deep, score-at-will Golden State. The defending champions are serious about a repeat title, and took one step closer to that goal. So far this postseason, with Durant and Green leading the way, the Warriors have admirably defended the slower San Antonio Spurs and now the imposing, push-the-pace Pelicans. Green had another superb all-around night on both ends with 19 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocked shots. The Warriors came out of halftime with a 10-0 run over the opening 1:54, forcing two Pelicans timeouts and taking control for the rest of the game. Thompson hit back-to-back three-pointers midway through the first to put Golden State up 17-10, the second right in front of his own bench as teammates erupted in celebration. He began 6-for-9 and had 14 points by the 4:10 mark of the first. Durant became irate when Nikola Mirotic made a late, hard bump on a three-point try with 5:23 left in the first — a play that was reviewed and Mirotic received just a common foul. As Durant took free throws, Green tried to listen in on the Pelicans' huddle before official Josh Tiven pulled him away. CURRY'S SERIES Curry went 10-for-16 in 37 minutes playing his fourth game back from a sprained left knee he hurt March 23 (Mar. 24, PHL time). His minutes have increased each game he plays, up to 31 in Game 4 and 37 on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). He added eight assists and seven rebounds in Game 5. He was 32-for-67 with 15 three's in the series. On a side note, he went 0-for-5 on his signature tunnel shots before the game. TIP-INS Pelicans: New Orleans made 6-of-9 three's in the first and finished 10-for-24 from long range. ... New Orleans got back in it with an 11-0 run in the second. Warriors: Golden State shot 4-of-14 from deep in the first half. ... Durant scored 20 or more points in a 17th straight postseason game. His first five points moved him past two players — Chris Mullin (685) and Harrison Barnes (687) — into 10th place all-time for the Warriors in postseason scoring. ... Curry (366) passed Paul Arizin (364) for second place on the franchise postseason list for made free throws. ... Curry (19) and Thompson (16) have made all of their free throws this postseason. ... The Warriors are 9-1 in Game 5's since 2015. They also clinched their first-round series with San Antonio at home in Game 5. ... Durant received the Al Attles Community Impact Award in a pregame ceremony. The Warriors Community Foundation will donate $15,000 to the charity Durant chose, Oakland Elizabeth House, which provides residences to women and children who have been homeless or faced violence or addiction. QUOTEABLE Steve Kerr on whether he needed to check in with his players on the urgency of closing out the series: "I dial people on my rotary phone. Nobody seems to answer, though. Nobody answers a home phone anymore. No texts necessary. Our guys know what's at stake.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 9th, 2018

Rockets advance to 2nd round with eyes on bigger goals

HOUSTON --- The Houston Rockets spent almost no time celebrating their first-round playoff series win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. For the top-seeded Rockets, it simply moved them a little closer toward their goal of bringing the franchise its first title in more than two decades. "This was a pretty good step for us, a step in the right direction, but we've got a long way to go," James Harden said. "We (don't) have this team just to win one playoff series." From the moment Chris Paul joined the Rockets in a blockbuster trade from the Los Angeles Clippers last summer, the Rockets have talked incessantly about their desire and belief that the pairing of...Keep on reading: Rockets advance to 2nd round with eyes on bigger goals.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsApr 26th, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst "It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself. He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest." -- Muhammad Ali Ali defended his heavyweight championship 20 times, during two eras: when he was young and unstoppable, after beating Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964, and when he was old and vulnerable, after beating George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. He was the fastest heavyweight ever in the first era; he was smart and could take a punch in the second. A generation later, the Golden State Warriors are defending their NBA title for a second time, in three years. But they, too, are doing so in two eras. In 2014, no one had seen anything like what Golden State did on a basketball court, and how Stephen Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s shooting range changed the geometry of NBA defenses. They stretched to the breaking point trying to get out to Curry and Thompson. They couldn’t figure out how to handle the Warriors’ five-man switching defenses. They couldn’t stand up under Golden State’s withering pace. There is no need to hold a telethon yet for the Warriors, three years later. They are 49-14 today, with four All-Stars among their five starters, including Kia MVP candidate Kevin Durant, in the prime of his career, who wasn’t there when the Warriors first beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals. They are still first in the league in Offensive Rating, first in True Shooting Percentage, first in Effective Field Goal Percentage. They still are unsolvable to most opponents. But maybe not all, not anymore. The margin of separation between Golden State and the rest of the league is still there, most of the time. But there are tiny signs of slippage. Tiny. You recall what Warriors assistant coach Bruce Frasier said in the preseason, when no one is injured and everyone thinks they’re going 82-0. “Teams are starting to figure us out a little bit,” he said then. “We’re talented, so that sometimes overrides strategy. But I feel like teams are figuring certain things out to do to counter what they’ve seen. Year one, it was really hard, because it was all new. The pieces have changed a little bit, but I feel like our challenge will be to see if we can layer on some of the offense, our fluid movement, and counters, and change things up, and execute better. Defense is always big, too, so I wouldn’t go into the complacent (problem). I think it’s going to be more execution, and how smart can we really be, and can we keep that energy up through this year?” In each of their previous three seasons, the Warriors led the league in margin of victory -- 10.1 points in 2014-15, 10.8 points in 2015-16 and 11.6 points last season. This year, though, they’ve fallen to third, behind the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors -- and their win margin is down to 8.5 points per game. Two years ago, the Warriors were fourth in the league in Defensive Rating (100.9). Last season, Golden State was second (101.1). This season, the Warriors are fifth, at 103.4. In 2014-15, they were 14th in the league in points allowed in the paint; this year, they’re 24th (to be fair, they were 23rd last year, when they won it all anyway). Are they bored? Tired? Aging? Is their bench inconsistency this year the result of vets saving themselves for the playoffs, or guys just getting old? And will it matter against anyone other than Houston? “Once you start getting a little older, it’s harder and harder,” guard Shaun Livingston said last week. “We definitely need the youth, we definitely need the health. We’ve got to be healthy. We’ve got to be healthy. Sometimes you see teams that maybe are over the hill -- they have the experience, but maybe not (the ability). It’s human nature. Obviously, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve got guys that are still in their prime. It’s mental now.” In the Jean-Pierre Coopman phase of their latest title defense (oh, how one misses spectacles like Ali fighting Coopman, the “Lion of Flanders” -- with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier on the call!), the Warriors came to Washington last week. There was no White House visit on the docket, only time with D.C. area kids and a trip to the African-American History Museum, with owner Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers on the trip as well. They have been in the public eye for five years now, back to Mark Jackson’s last season as coach, when the Splash Brothers exploded into the national consciousness. That’s a long time for one NBA team to have all that light and heat on it. For a minute, the Warriors tried to convince themselves that there was a backlash building against them nationally, that people had grown tired of their 3-pointers and video game point totals. It was, of course, a ridiculous posit -- Golden State and its players are more popular than ever, the love for Curry such that he felt perfectly comfortable posting a photo of the glass table he accidentally smashed in his hotel room on Instagram, any criticism surely to be muted amid America’s love for the two-time MVP.   when you feel like you’re on the @pgatour so you gotta get some swings going in the hotel room 😂😂😂 #idiot A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on Mar 1, 2018 at 1:33pm PST “There was a little guy who was probably eight years old, and he came up and introduced himself,” Steve Kerr said. “His name was Ryan, and I’m talking to him, and he goes ’oh, my God, there’s Quinn Cook!’ And he ran over to Quinn Cook. Not Steph, not me -- he loved Quinn Cook. That was cool.” Throughout the Warriors’ run, they’ve faced down different challengers in the Western Conference -- the first iteration of the Rockets with Harden, a hybrid inside-out attack where Houston unhappily and unsuccessfully tried to meld Harden and Dwight Howard in the post. The Durant/Russell Westbrook one-two combo in Oklahoma City. The Spurs, morphing from the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker-led team to the Kawhi Leonard-dominant one. The “Lob City” Clippers, followed by the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin halfcourt version. But this season’s Rockets, with Paul at the point, may be the most unique and dangerous threat to the Warriors. They are much more than a team that just rains 3-pointers on you -- though they most certainly do that, and do it historically well. They’re also an outstanding defensive team, with the additions of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute giving them a grit they haven’t had in past seasons to pair with the shot blocking and rim presence of Clint Capela. The numbers are stark: Houston is 32-1 this season when Paul, Harden and Capela all play, including two wins over the Warriors The Rockets have no obvious weakness. They have no fear of Golden State, either, having won two of the three meetings with the Warriors this season. It’s not just that they’re good, it’s how they’re good that makes them look like the greatest challenge yet to Golden State’s hegemony in the West. “I mean, yes, because they do it a different way, I guess,” Curry said last week. “They adopted the power of the three ball and try to use it as a main weapon, and obviously with James and CP together. Honestly, we know that they’re playing well. We’re chasing that number one seed and keeping tabs on how they’re playing and whatnot. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of time left before we have to face them again. We know they’re serious. But so are we.” The Warriors have had to deal with great adversity during their run, to be sure. The biggest challenge came about this time last year, when a collision between teammates -- Zaza Pachulia and Durant, in D.C., ironically -- culminated in a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bone bruise for Durant, taking him out of the lineup at the worst possible part of the season. Golden State had just ripped off wins in 23 of its previous 27 games since a lamentable Christmas Day loss to the Cavs. Curry had started to figure out how to play with KD, and vice versa. They were in the middle of a brutal stretch of seven road games in eight overall, with the one brief return home to play the Celtics. When Durant went down, the initial fear was that he’d torn his ACL and would be out for the season. The Warriors’ locker room was funeral after the Wizards game. “Obviously, we were trying to figure out if he was like ’done-done’ for the year, or whether or not there was going to be a chance he’d return,” forward David West said. “We were, at the time he got hurt, we were just starting to figure out the sort of roles, everybody was getting comfortable with roles. We basically had to reset., change some of the functions we were doing. We lost a few games  trying to literaly just figure out and recalibrate and re-balance. That was one of those periods where we were just looking at each other, trying to start this thing -- we lost this huge, huge piece.” Yet the Warriors figured it out on the fly. And how they responded then provides a big clue to how they might respond to the challenge the Rockets present to them now. “It took us, I think we needed to get home before we were able to stablize,” Kerr said. “I want to say we lost three of the last four on the trip or something  (they did lose three of four, but one of the three losses was at Oracle in that one home game with the Celtics). We got home and righted the ship and got going. But sometimes (an injury is) a galvanizing force when a guy gets hurt, and you have to do certain things. Like, for us, when Kevin got hurt, we talked about it and we said we have to be the best defensive team in the league. We don’t have that luxury of throwing the ball to Kevin and saying ’get us 30 points tonight.'” During that stretch without Durant (March 2, 2017 to April 5, 2017), who returned just before the start of the playoffs, the Warriors led the league in the league in Defensive Rating (100.0, just head of San Antonio’s 100.2), first in opponent field goal percentage (.429), tied for second in opponent 3-point percentage (.316) and fourth in opponent points allowed per game (100.9). And once Durant returned for good, the Warriors again flexed. They tore through the West, winning all but one game en route to a third straight NBA Finals. And they took the Cavaliers apart in five games for their second title in three years. “You could see Draymond, Klay, Andre, Shaun, those guys, even Loon (Kevin Looney), were like, ’we didn’t have KD last year,’ ” West said. “For someone like myself, I just followed their lead. Klay got a little more aggressive. Draymond sort of settled everybody defensively. And we started winning.” That muscle memory will come in handy this year. Durant and Curry have missed time with injuries, and Golden State hasn’t figured out things at center just yet. (Would it shock me if rookie Jordan Bell played a big role there down the stretch? No, it would not.) But the Warriors still are smoking people in the second halves of games; per teamrankings.com, the Warriors lead the lead in third-quarter scoring margin at 5.3 points per game, more than double the margin of the second-place Denver Nuggets. Whether it’s adjustments or something else (“mainly, fiery halftime speeches, Knute Rockne style,” Kerr opines), they have again put a lot of opponents away with 12 minutes to spare. Since the All-Star break, they’re fourth in the league in opponent field goal percentage (.433) and Defensive Rating (100.3). “This year, obviously, knock on wood, we want to stay healthy,” Curry said. “We want to continue to push in the right direction. Every year’s different. That’s the fun part about this league. No matter how much success you’ve had and what your expectations are, it’s a different journey every year. We’re right in the middle of that right now. We have an amazing record, considering how we’ve played. I think we’d all say we haven’t lived up to our own expectations. That’s okay. We have an opportunity to build the right habits and the right momentum going into the playoffs this year and do it, all 15 guys.” 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 NewsMar 6th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Middle 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 Middle 10 * * * 11. TORONTO RAPTORS 2017-18 RECORD: 59-23; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals ADDED: Coach Nick Nurse; G Danny Green (acquired from Spurs); F Kawhi Leonard (acquired from Spurs) LOST: Former coach Dwane Casey; G DeMar DeRozan (traded to Spurs); F Alfonzo McKinnie (waived); C Jakob Poeltl (traded to Spurs) RETAINED: G Fred VanVleet (two years, $18.1 million) THE KEY MAN: Nurse. The former Raps assistant has extensive G League head coaching experience. But the NBA isn’t just about a coach’s Xs and Os acumen. We know Nurse can do that. But an NBA coach has to have command presence in a locker room not only full of millionaires, but full of Alpha males who have their own very strong opinions on how they should be used and how their teammates should help them. Nurse will have to show he can put his own stamp on a team that will have some new faces while still having extremely high expectations. THE SKINNY: You may well think Toronto should be higher, based on Leonard’s standing as a top-five player in the league when fully healthy. No matter what you think of DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, no one can realistically say he’s better than “The Klaw” when both are 100 percent. But, of course, we don’t know if Leonard’s 100 percent. And, trading DeRozan, who’d been the franchise’s biggest advocate during his nine seasons there -- and who had led the team to its greatest extended run of success ever -- is not a transaction without consequence for the Raptors. He helped get the best out of Kyle Lowry. He could help recruit free agents. And, the circumstances of his departure have not helped the franchise’s reputation. Still, this is a talent-based league, and Leonard has it. His and Green’s presence on the perimeter gives Toronto the chance to be a switching defensive monster -- and will help the Raptors be able to match up better with the likes of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in a late-May playoff matchup, as long as the Raptors’ young core in which it believes so strongly continues to play as well in reserve as it did last season. 12. MILWAUKEE BUCKS 2017-18 RECORD: 44-38; lost in first round ADDED: Coach Mike Budenholzer; G Donte DiVincenzo (No. 17 pick, 2018 Draft); G Trevon Duval; F Ersan Ilyasova (three years, $21 million); C Brook Lopez (one year, $3.32 million); F Pat Connaughton (two years, $3.2 million); LOST: Former interim coach Joe Prunty; G Brandon Jennings (waived); F Jabari Parker (signed with Bulls) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: G Eric Bledsoe. His departure from Phoenix early last season was messy. But once he got to Brewtown, Bledsoe solidified the Bucks at the point, averaging 17.8 points and 5.1 assists per game in 71 starts. At 28, Bledsoe faces the last year of his contract and will have to show a new coach he’s capable of running things long-term and playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo through the meat of his prime. THE SKINNY: Budenholzer’s arrival should coincide with an improvement in the Bucks’ defense, something that former coach Jason Kidd could never quite accomplish. Ilaysova’s return for a second tour in Milwaukee should help, with his celebrated charge-taking skill and Lopez’s still-substantial size a double-boon to Milwaukee’s interior D as the Bucks were bottom 10 last season in points allowed in the paint (47.4 per game). If the paint becomes a little tougher to traverse, the Bucks should finally able to use their substantial length on the wing to get back to create deflections and turnovers, and get out in transition, where Antetokounmpo and Friends do their best work and their most damage to the opposition. They’ll do so 41 nights a year for the next couple of decades in the 17,500-seat Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ new arena that will open in early September with a concert and should pump new revenues into the Bucks’ bloodstream, giving them more financial wherewithal to keep “The Greek Freak” surrounded with high-quality talent. 13. UTAH JAZZ 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in Western Conference semifinals ADDED: G Grayson Allen (No. 21 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jarius Lyles; G Naz Mitrou-Long LOST: F Jonas Jerebko (waived) RETAINED: G Dante Exum (three years, $33 million); F/C Derrick Favors (two years, $37.6 million), G Raul Neto (two years, $4.4 million); F Georges Niang (three years, $4.9 million) THE KEY MAN: C Rudy Gobert. He’s a monster presence, the hub of the Jazz’s defensive wheel and the reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year. And he has to take a step back in Utah next season for the Jazz to take the next step forward. He has to understand what Utah has in Donovan Mitchell and let that kid eat. Nobody in the league can do what Gobert does defensively. So embrace that and concentrate on that -- take the Draymond Green attitude about being the “defensive guy” on a great team (not that Jazz fans want you to do anything that Green does). Gobert’s handsomely paid and the DPOY award found him in Salt Lake City; there’s no small-market bias at work here. So let Mitchell and Joe Ingles carry the shooting/scoring load, let Ricky Rubio orchestrate, and snuff out opponent dreams at the other end, night after night. It’s what you were born to do. THE SKINNY: My God, Mitchell had a great rookie season. And Utah brought most of the band back from last season to provide advice and consent for him again, re-signing Favors, Exum and Neto each on very reasonable contracts. Doing so leaves Utah over the cap, still comfortably under the tax, and with nothing on the books that should raise an eyebrow financially. (Utah’s front office should handle my checking account for a while.) Anyway, no reason to expect any backsliding next season with the crew returning, though coach Quin Snyder will surely miss the counsel of his longtime friend Igor Kokoskov, off to run the Suns. 14. ATLANTA HAWKS 2017-18 RECORD: 24-58; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Lloyd Pierce; F Justin Anderson (acquired from 76ers); G Kevin Huerter (No. 19 pick, 2018 Draft); C Alex Len (two years, $8.5 million); G Jeremy Lin (acquired from Nets); F Omari Spellman (No. 30 pick, 2018 Draft); G Trae Young (No. 5 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former coach Mike Budenholzer; G Antonius Cleveland (waived); G Damion Lee (signed with Warriors); F/C Mike Muscala (traded to 76ers); G Dennis Schröder (traded to Thunder); G Isaiah Taylor (waived) RETAINED: C Dewayne Dedmon (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: GM Travis Schlenk. The second-year executive will be judged on how well Atlanta uses its trove of Draft picks -- three firsts this year, three firsts next year, two firsts in 2022 -- the next few years. And, ultimately, the Hawks will live or die by whether Young or Luka Doncic becomes the bigger NBA producer. Schlenk’s chances of completing the rebuild may well ride on that. THE SKINNY: The Hawks’ roster teardown is nearing completion, but the renovated Philips Arena will come online faster than the team, which now needs Young to live up to all the hype after his one season at Oklahoma. He has incredible range and great potential, but he’ll be challenged every night to stay in front of the legion of great points in this league. Pierce, the former Sixers’ assistant, is going to have a very tough time melding all the newcomers with the small core of players who survived, including John Collins, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre' Bembry and Taurean Prince. 15. LA CLIPPERS 2017-18 RECORD: 42-40; missed playoffs ADDED: C Marcin Gortat (acquired from Wizards); G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11 pick, 2018 Draft); F Johnathan Motley (acquired from Mavericks); F Mike Scott (one year, $4.3 million); F Luc Mbah a Moute (one year, $4.3 million), G Jerome Robinson (No. 13 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Austin Rivers (traded to Wizards); C DeAndre Jordan (signed with Mavs); G C.J. Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Avery Bradley (two years, $24.9  million); C Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million); G Wesley Johnson (picked up player option); G Milos Teodosic (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: F Tobias Harris. He was the key tangible piece of the Blake Griffin trade last season (the intangible being the unprotected first from Detroit in the deal that eventually became Gilgeous-Alexander after a Draft night trade with Charlotte). And Harris played quite well in his 32 games with the Clips, averaging 19.3 points and six rebounds per game. Those numbers could each well go up in a contract year and with few others outside of Lou Williams on the roster that can go get their own buckets. THE SKINNY: Amazing, but true: the Clipper player with the longest current tenure is … Wesley Johnson, who came aboard in 2015. “Lob City” is in the history books and change will be the norm here for a while, including next summer, when the Clippers expect to be a free-agent destination. The Clips did what they could with that not-insignificant restriction, but the best stuff was in the Draft, winding up with a potential long-term point in Gilgeous-Alexander and a two in Robinson that rocketed up the pre-Draft charts. Bradley’s on a very team-friendly and controllable contract, as is Patrick Beverley, whose modest 2018-19 salary isn’t guaranteed until January. Those two and Mbah a Moute can give coach Doc Rivers hope that he can get some stops on the perimeter, because while Gortat is still willing defensively and still takes a bunch of charges, he is not Jordan when it comes to rim protection. 16. BROOKLYN NETS 2017-18 RECORD: 28-54; missed playoffs ADDED: F/C Ed Davis (one year, $4.4 million); F Jared Dudley (acquired from Suns); F Kenneth Faried (acquired from Nuggets); G/F Treveon Graham (two years); F Rodions Kurucs (No. 40, 2018 Draft); F Dzanan Musa (No. 29 pick, 2018 Draft); G Shabazz Napier (two years, $3.7 million) LOST: F Darrell Arthur (traded to Suns); F Dante Cunningham (signed with Spurs); C Dwight Howard (waived); G Jeremy Lin (traded to Hawks); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Hornets); G Nik Stauskas (signed with Blazers); G Isaiah Whitehead (traded to Nuggets) RETAINED: G Joe Harris (two years, $16 million) THE KEY MAN: Co-owner Joseph Tsai. The Alibaba executive and billionaire has 49 percent of the team, and can buy majority control from Mikhail Prokhorov by 2021. Until then, they’ll run the team jointly, so no matter Prokhorov’s ups and downs, Brooklyn’s financial spigot should never run dry. Tsai reportedly has designs on expanding the Nets’ brand further in China, just as Prokhorov believed the Nets had global reach. They didn’t, at least not the post-KG and Pierce squads. THE SKINNY: If you love Ed Davis like smart people who know basketball do, Brooklyn makes the top half by bringing the ex-Blazer in on a short deal. If he plays great, he’ll cost the Nets a pretty penny in 2019, but Brooklyn has to take chances on guys who can outperform their contracts. The only thing the Nets couldn’t do was take on more ’19 salary when they’ll be in line to potentially add two max players. Won’t be easy to lure the elites, but Brooklyn also has accumulated enough assets to be able to make uneven trades for salaries if need be. In the interim comes next season, with coach Kenny Atkinson needing to continue to develop diamonds in the rough like Graham, who Cleveland wanted and who will help the Nets at multiple positions. 17. CHICAGO BULLS 2017-18 RECORD: 27-55; missed playoffs ADDED: G Antonius Cleveland; C Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 7 pick, 2018 Draft); F Chandler Hutchison (No. 22 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jabari Parker (two years, $40 million) LOST: F Jerian Grant (traded to Magic); G Sean Kilpatrick (waived); G Julyan Stone (waived); F Noah Vonleh (signed with Knicks); G Paul Zipser (waived) RETAINED: G Antonio Blakeney; G Zach LaVine (matched four year, $78 million offers sheet from Kings) THE KEY MAN: G Kris Dunn. As the 24-year-old will be every season he’s in Chicago. The Jimmy Butler trade in 2017 yielded the pick that became Lauri Markannen, and he’s also a key piece to the Bulls’ future. But Chicago won’t ever get elevation again if Dunn doesn’t become an elite point guard in a league full of them. He showed signs last season that he could be just that, most notably a December in which Dunn averaged 14.9 points and eight assists, and the Bulls went 10-6. But a concussion in January derailed Dunn’s progress and his production fell sharply the rest of the season. THE SKINNY: Can Parker play the three, as the Bulls insist he can? There isn’t a ton of evidence suggesting so, and Parker’s hypothesis that he isn’t getting paid to play defense does not provide much comfort. But the Bulls will try him there alongside Markannen and rookie Carter Jr. in what would be a huge frontcourt. Almost $20 million annually for LaVine going forward is also a stretch, but less of one if LaVine comes all the way back from his 2017 ACL tear with a full training camp and season. Carter may be more important to the Bulls’ hoped-for resurgence than Parker and LaVine; the Duke big man has that much potential. 18. WASHINGTON WIZARDS 2017-18 RECORD: 43-39; lost in first round ADDED: C Thomas Bryant; G Troy Brown (No. 15 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jeff Green (one year, $2.5 million); C Dwight Howard (two years, $11 million); G Austin Rivers (acquired from Clippers); G Issuf Sanon (No. 44 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Marcin Gortat (traded to Clippers); F Mike Scott (signed with Clippers) RETAINED: G Jodie Meeks (picked up player option); C Jason Smith (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Coach Scott Brooks. Entering his third season in Washington, Brooks keeps saying he wants the Wizards to defend and play fast. But he has to follow that up with action, especially when and if John Wall doesn’t provide the on-ball defense Washington needs to have any chance to unleash a still-potent fast break. Wall is 27 and, if healthy, in his prime. The team takes almost all of its cues from him; when he’s locked in, the Wizards can compete with anyone. But when he’s indifferent, so are they -- as evidenced by their horrible record against bad teams. Brooks has to demand Wall’s best, or be ready to limit his minutes. THE SKINNY: NBA protocol almost demands you hate the pickup of Howard, such is his current perceived valued among many after multiple stops the last few seasons. The guess here is that Howard won’t hijack the Wizards’ locker room, as he had been accused of while in with the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets, especially. Howard’s skill set can help Washington, which fell off defensively last season. But there’s also not much sense he’ll be a significant pick-me-up in D.C., either. He can’t stretch the floor and he’s not especially potent finishing in pick and roll, either. But the Wizards should at least be deeper off the bench with Green, who played well for the Cavs last season, and Rivers, who gives Washington legit guard depth along with Tomas Satoransky. 19. SACRAMENTO KINGS 2017-18 RECORD: 27-55; missed playoffs ADDED: F Nemanja Bjelica (three years, $20.4 million); C Marvin Bagley III (No. 2 pick, 2018 Draft); G Yogi Ferrell (two years, $4.1 million); G Ben McLemore (acquired from Kings); F Deyonta Davis (acquired from Grizzlies) LOST: G Garrett Temple (traded to Grizzlies) RETAINED: G Iman Shumpert (picked up player option); C Kosta Koufos (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: F Harry Giles. The Kings traded for the one-and-done forward on Draft night 2017 and redshirted him, feeling he needed a year to fully recover from the multiple knee surgeries he’d undergone the last three years. Those surgeries stopped his top-five Draft potential in its tracks, before and after a year at Duke. But Giles is back on the floor, having flashed his skills during NBA Summer League, as Sacramento gushed about his progress. If the 20-year-old is ready to roll come October, he could be an enormous boost. He’ll have to at least become a contributor, lest folks remind the Kings they passed on the likes of Kyle Kuzma and O.G Anunoby to trade for his rights. THE SKINNY: Bagley III has superstar potential, and he better become one, or the Doncic Stans among the Kings’ fan base will have aneurysms. The Kings were all over everyone, seemingly, this summer, dropping sheets on Zach LaVine, almost doing the same with Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker, and going after unrestricted free agent Mario Hezonja. All well and good, and getting Bjelica out from under Philly and prying Ferrell from Dallas were decent late July pickups. But it will be Bagley III who’ll be under the microscope. His skill sets are prodigious and he’s been working out feverishly all summer. And he wants to make a mark in restoring the Kings to where they were on the floor during the Webber Years. He worked out for them. He’s enthusiastic about them. That counts for something. 20. HOUSTON ROCKETS 2017-18 RECORD: 65-17; lost in Western Conference finals ADDED: G Michael Carter-Williams (one year, $1.5 million); G De'Anthony Melton (No. 46 pick, 2018 Draft); F Vincent Edwards (No. 52 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Trevor Ariza (signed with Suns); Luc Mbah a Moute (signed with LA Clippers); C Chinanu Onuaku (traded to Mavs) RETAINED: C Clint Capela (five years, $90 million); G/F Gerald Green (one year, $2.3 million); G Aaron Jackson (picked up team option); G Chris Paul (four years, $159 million) THE KEY MAN: Jason Biles, Joe Rogowski, Keith Jones and Javair Gillett -- the Rockets’ athletic trainers, sports performance and rehab staff. Their only mission next season, should they decide to accept it, is to get Paul through an 82-game regular season and a two-month playoff slog without breaking or pulling anything of importance that keeps him out of key games. Of course, should any of the staff be unsuccessful, the Morey will disavow any knowledge of their employment. Good luck, men. THE SKINNY: We have not yet included Carmelo Anthony, who will be signing in Houston any minute now. When he’s officially on the roster, he’ll certainly help, and we all saw that even Houston can go through extended scoring droughts in the playoffs. Having Anthony around should alleviate that. The Rockets may have had the best signing of the summer, keeping the 24-year-old Capela locked up long-term for $18 million per -- incredible value these days, given the way salaries are skyrocketing. But that was mitigated by the losses of Ariza and Mbah a Moute, who were crucial to the switching defense Houston employed and perfected by the playoffs, which threw sand in the gears of the Warriors’ impenetrable offense and would likely have propelled the Rockets to The Finals if Paul hadn’t gotten hurt in Game 5. Ennis and Carter-Williams will help some in that regard, but they don’t have the resume of Mbah a Moute and Ariza -- which means they sometimes won’t get the benefit of the doubt from refs that the old heads do. Houston’s still the clear number two to Golden State in the West, but the gap between the Rockets and the best of the rest has closed. 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

Golden State Warriors not just good, they re lucky too

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com LAS VEGAS -- In this town, fates and fortunes can turn drastically any day, hour or minute. A flip of the card, pull of the switch or roll of the dice can make or break souls. Which brings us to NBA Summer League, the Golden State Warriors and the field. The league is holding its annual gathering of executives, coaches and player hopefuls here, and 29 of the 30 NBA teams are wondering about their chances this upcoming season and why the Warriors are the Chosen Ones. Meanwhile, the Warriors, winners of three of the last four championships, are no doubt doing some head-scratching about how a key injury is once again helping their cause and making them stronger. This is about luck, then, and why those chasing the Warriors can’t seem to get a break, and how the Warriors managed to make themselves both good and lucky. There is considerable buzz among the basketball throng in Vegas regarding the Warriors, who are less than a month removed from a convincing sweep of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and how they won twice this summer: championship and then free agency. The collective moan from the rest of the NBA seems to say: What the hell? DeMarcus Cousins agreed to a one-year deal with the Warriors for the NBA equivalent of loose change in a sofa: $5.3 million. Just like that, the Warriors added a dominant and versatile center, maybe the best in the game, which made coach Steve Kerr wisecrack about how the Warriors “needed another All-Star.” This was made possible because of a quirky circumstance that caused Cousins a lot of pain, which translated into plenty of gain for Golden State. When Cousins tore his Achilles last spring with the Pelicans, his market value in free agency fell to the floor right along with him. Suddenly, the rest of the league, including the Pelicans, became wary about investing heavily in a hulking center who most certainly would need most of the 2018-19 season to rehab, without any guarantee Cousins would return to form once medically cleared to play. Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 blocks last season, perhaps the best of his career. He turns 28 in late August. Had he avoided injury, he would’ve been far too expensive for the Warriors to afford. They’re well over the luxury tax and are limited to exceptions, which allow them to sign players but only on the cheap. A healthy Cousins was destined to command in excess of $20 million a season, more had he stayed with the Pelicans. “If he’s healthy, he’s the best player at his position in the league,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. Well, when free agency opened, Cousins’ phone didn’t ring, and you probably know the story by now: He personally called the Warriors and signed up on the spot. His reasoning: If my only choice in this league is a short-term deal, might as well be with the team in the midst of a dynasty. The Warriors understandably were shocked, but why would they be? This isn’t the first time an injury went their way. Steph Curry’s chronic ankle sprains once threatened his career. He underwent surgery in the summer of 2011 and played only 26 games the next season. At that time, Curry was a good player, but far from the superstar who’d win a pair of MVPs and destroy three-point shooting records. So the Warriors were understandably worried, especially once Curry was due a contract extension. The two sides made a compromise that protected both parties: Four years, $44 million. The risk the Warriors took is Curry would continue having ankle issues and never see a full season. Curry’s risk: He’d remain healthy and see his production swell and spend most of that contract as a bargain. A bargain, for sure: At the end of that deal, Curry was the fourth-highest-paid player. On his own team. The upside for the Warriors and Curry: That contract helped them extend Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and more importantly, add Kevin Durant. When you’re good and lucky -- remember, the Warriors won their first title over the Cavs when Cleveland was largely without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and beat the Rockets last spring after Chris Paul suffered a series-ending hamstring injury -- then you get plenty of rings. The beauty of the Cousins situation is the Warriors don’t need him during the regular season. This was mentioned more than a few times by rival general managers and coaches in Vegas. Cousins’ rehab is expected to require another five or six months -- full recovery form Achilles surgery is usually a year -- yet there’s no rush. Golden State won 73 games a few years ago without him and won 58 games last season on cruise control. They can wait until next spring, where Cousins could return, say, in March and use the final few weeks as a warm-up for the playoffs. After using the likes of the plodding Zaza Pachulia and quirky JaVale McGee in the middle, the Warriors are legit at center. Cousins fits the Warriors’ style because he can shoot 3s and is a willing and efficient passer from the high and low post. “That’s really an area where they’ve struggled and been inconsistent,” said Gentry, a former Warriors assistant coach before taking the top job in New Orleans. “It’s going to be a position where they make an upgrade." Meanwhile, Houston lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, a pair of athletic swingmen, this summer from free agency and therefore aren’t a better team on paper than last season, although the Rockets might soon add Carmelo Anthony, for whatever that’s worth. The Lakers welcome LeBron, but they didn’t get Paul George, who stayed in Oklahoma City, and the idea of trading for Kawhi Leonard this season remains a fantasy, at least for now. Which means the Warriors are once again the odds on favorites across town in the Vegas casinos to sip champagne next June. “Hey, that’s the NBA,” said Gentry with a shrug. “It’s supposed to be that way. You’re supposed to put out the best team you can. It’s up to the rest of us to catch them. They’ve put together a great team, drafted great, and guys in free agency wanted to come there. That’s what it’s all about. We have to pick up our game, it’s not that they should say, 'Oh we’re too good, let’s give away players.’ We all have to find a way to catch them, not them coming back to us.” Damian Lillard, the star guard for the Trail Blazers, spoke for the field when he said: “It's just going to get tougher and tougher. It is what it's always been, but just a little tougher. But you know what? Once the season starts, we gotta go. Nobody’s got time to be out there, not having fun and being stressed and all that BS. We gotta find to make it happen.” Twenty-nine teams, and especially the contenders in the West, are at a disadvantage regarding the Warriors because of a lack of All-Stars; not only do the Warriors now have five, but they’re all in their prime years. It’s one thing to try to be as good as the Warriors. Nowadays, you must rise to their level of luck as well. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 12th, 2018

Let s go shopping: A look at some of the top NBA free agents

By David Brandt, Associated Press An NBA free-agent class with a little something for everyone hits the market on July 1. The group includes an array of superstars, big men, glue guys and sharp-shooters. Here’s a look at some of the players to follow when the action begins: THE SUPERSTARS — Kevin Durant (player option): Has expressed his desire to remain with the Warriors. He’s in the middle of his prime as one of the game’s premier players. — Paul George (player option): He has one of the best all-around games in the league and is still fairly young at 28. — LeBron James (player option): Still the free-agent grand prize at age 33, James has shown few signs of wear and tear despite 15 stellar seasons in the league. — Chris Paul (unrestricted): Among the league’s best point guards even at 33, but he’s struggled some with injuries over the years, including a hamstring issue in last year’s playoffs. BIG MEN — Clint Capela (restricted): He’s emerged as one of the league’s top young big men after averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game with the Rockets. Houston surely would like to keep him, but the price tag could be steep. — DeMarcus Cousins (unrestricted): He was playing very well for the Pelicans before an Achilles injury ended his season. Questions about his long-term health are real, but he’s also a guy who can score 25 points a game if he regains form. — Derrick Favors (unrestricted): He’s not flashy and doesn’t stretch the floor, but the 6-foot-10 forward has had several productive seasons with the Jazz and will likely garner some interest. — DeAndre Jordan (player option): He’ll be 30 years old next season, but was still one of the league’s dominant rebounds last season, averaging more than 15 per game. — Brook Lopez (unrestricted): He averaged just 13 points per game for the Lakers last season, which was his lowest since his rookie year, but he remains a 7-footer who could help several teams. — Julius Randle (restricted): He’s quietly turned into a promising young player with the Lakers, averaging 16.1 points and eight rebounds last season while shooting nearly 56 percent from the field. GLUE GUYS — Trevor Ariza (unrestricted): A valuable forward who can stretch the floor, he’s provided solid shooting and good defense for the Rockets over the past four seasons. — Avery Bradley (unrestricted): Struggled with injuries last season, playing just 46 games, but is still considered a solid two-way player that can help a team in many ways. — Aaron Gordon (restricted): Still just 22 years old, the 6-foot-9 Gordon turned into a productive all-around player for the Magic last season, averaging 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds. His ability to make 3-pointers last season is a big plus. — Marcus Smart (restricted): The Celtics guard is not a great shooter, but can impact the game in many different ways. He averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season while playing great defense. SHOOTERS — Wayne Ellington (unrestricted): He’s emerged as a reliable shooter off the bench for the Heat the past few seasons. He averaged a career-high 11.2 points last years while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range. — Doug McDermott (restricted): Mr. McBuckets has turned into a very good role player, staying excellent from 3-point range while improving the other parts of his game. — J.J. Redick (unrestricted): Had a solid season for the 76ers, averaging a career-high 17.1 points per game and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. He just turned 34......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 28th, 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

The 10 most intriguing free agents of summer 2018

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com The summer of 2018 promises to change the landscape of the NBA. It starts with the best player in the world having the ability to choose his next team, but it continues with good teams in Minnesota, Portland and Washington that might feel the need to shake things up, as well as a situation to monitor in San Antonio. The trade market can be unpredictable. It wasn't until late July last year that we learned that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland, and it wasn't until late August when he was dealt to the Boston Celtics, who finished the summer with only four players remaining from the team that reached the conference finals. The free agent market is a little more predictable, in that there are only so many teams with the available cap space to sign a premium free agent outright. Most of the big contracts signed in 2016 (when almost every team had cap space) are still on the books and a lot of teams just don't have much flexibility. LOOK: NBA.com Free Agent Tracker But the trade market and the free agent market are tied together. In 2014, the Cavs created the space to sign LeBron James by trading Jarrett Jack and Tyler Zeller. And after signing James, they traded for Kevin Love. With that in mind, the players listed below aren't the 10 best free agents (or potential free agents). They're the 10 most interesting in regard to where they're going and what kind of contract they get. For players to be on this list, there needs to be some intrigue regarding their (and/or their team's) decision this summer. Kevin Durant is the second best player in the NBA and has a player option on his contract, but there appears to be little chance that he's leaving the Golden State Warriors. Re-signing with Houston is probably Chris Paul's best path to another year of contention. It's hard to see Clint Capela or Jusuf Nurkic (both restricted as well) going anywhere. The same goes (to a lesser degree) for Aaron Gordon and Fred VanVleet. There's intrigue in the terms under which Nikola Jokic is in Denver next season - either with the Nuggets exercising a $1.6 million team option or declining it, making him a restricted free agent, and signing him to a new deal - but we can be sure that he will be in Denver next season. The market for centers seems particularly small, taking away some of the intrigue with DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez. 1. LeBron James, F, Cleveland (Player option) At 33-years-old and in his 15th season, James remains the best player in the world. Would he leave Cleveland a second time? This is clearly the worst team he's been on since the first time he left the Cavs, and there are teams out there who can give him a better secondary playmaker to take some of the offensive load off his shoulders. Whatever team he's on next season is a contender and if if it's a different team than the one he's on now, it would be fascinating to see what happens with Love. Number to know: James' true shooting percentage of 62.1 percent this season was the third highest mark of his career. 2. Paul George, F, Oklahoma City (Player option) In trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana last summer, the Thunder knew that they might have George for just one season. There's been speculation about his next destination since he arrived in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder season (which ended in the first round of the playoffs) has to be seen as a disappointment. George's free agency is tied to what happens in San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard, who is eligible for a max contract extension this summer. If that extension doesn't happen (either because the Spurs don't offer it or because Leonard doesn't accept it), Leonard will become a trade target for teams that are also in the market for George. And there are a couple of teams that have the ability to bring two of the George/James/Leonard trio together. Number to know: George ranked second in the league in steals (2.0 per game) and tied for the league in deflections (3.9 per game). 3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Just when the Pelicans were hitting their stride with Cousins and Anthony Davis together, Cousins tore his Achilles. And then the Pelicans hit their stride without Cousins, winning 20 of their last 28 games in the regular season and sweeping the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. If the Pelicans were to lose Cousins, they don't have the cap space to replace him. But there's obviously risk in giving him a big contract coming off an Achilles tear, and the the Pels' two bigs aren't a perfect fit together. As part of their February trade with Chicago, the Pelicans exercised the team option on Nikola Mirotic's contract for next season. So Mirotic is there as Davis' power forward complement for at least another year. Number to know: Cousins accounted for 47 percent of the fouls that the Pelicans drew while he was on the floor. That was the highest rate among 275 players who played at least 1,000 minutes this season. 4. Julius Randle, F, L.A. Lakers (Restricted) Randle is still just 23-years-old and developed into a pretty efficient scorer in the final year of his rookie deal. Among 126 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, he saw the fifth biggest increase in true shooting percentage (from 54 percent to 61 percent). But the Lakers' have their eyes on bigger names and might have to renounce their rights to the restricted free agent to clear as much cap space as possible. Number to know: Randle ranked fifth with 802 total points scored in the restricted area this season. 5. Marcus Smart, G, Boston (Restricted) Marcus Smart is intriguing more for what his departure would mean for the team he's leaving than for any other team he might join. And it's quite possible that he doesn't have the same value outside of Boston. Putting value on a bad shooter who makes "winning plays" is difficult in the first place. What happens with Smart affects how the Celtics deal with Terry Rozier, who will be a restricted free agent next year and would draw more interest from other teams as a starting point guard (if the Celtics don't give him an extension this summer). It's hard to imagine the Celtics keeping both behind Kyrie Irving long term, but the decision could be delayed a year if Smart were to accept the one-year qualifying offer. Number to know: Smart is one of six players who averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 or more games and with their teams allowing less than a point per possession with them on the floor. 6. J.J. Redick, G, Philadelphia The Sixers are another team that will be big-name shopping in July, which affects the status of Redick, who was signed to a one-year $23 million deal last summer. The Sixers don't have his bird rights, but wouldn't have to pay nearly that much (per year) on a long-term deal. Redick is a terrific complementary player on offense (an aggressive shooter who draws the defense's attention with relentless movement), but can be targeted on the other end of the floor, as was the case in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston. Number to know: Redick shot 45.9 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, the fourth best mark among 101 players who attempted at least 200. 7. Derrick Favors, F, Utah There were times this season when the frontline duo of Favors and Rudy Gobert wasn't working out, and Utah had some success with smaller, more versatile players at the four. But overall, the Jazz outscored their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions with the two bigs on the floor together, and having both gives them a rim-protecting center on the floor at all times. Utah could create cap space and go free agent shopping, but that would require them to renounce their rights to Favors and Dante Exum. Number to know: Among 160 players with at least 400 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Favors saw the third biggest increase in effective shooting percentage (from 49 percent to 57 percent). 8. Isaiah Thomas, G, L.A. Lakers Thomas' stock fell precipitously from being a top-five MVP vote-getter last season to being a liability in Cleveland upon returning from his hip injury, and then requiring surgery in March. Still, the Lakers' offense was pretty efficient (scoring 110 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor and the last time he was healthy, he had a historically good season. There are teams (Orlando and Phoenix, especially) in need of a starting point guard, but Thomas may have to settle for a short-term deal and a bench role in order to restore his value around the league. Number to know: Among 160 players with at least 400 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Thomas saw the biggest drop in both in effective shooting percentage (from 55 percent to 44 percent) and true shooting percentage (from 63 percent to 51 percent). 9. Dwyane Wade, G, Miami No, Wade is not one of the 10 best free agents out there. But he's a future Hall of Famer who has said that Miami is the only team he'll play for going forward. We saw in Game 2 of the first round against Philadelphia that he can win a game for you on any given night. But over a full season, he'd be a much better fit with the Heat (who have a handful of versatile non-shooters) if he had, at some point, developed a three-point shot. That he hasn't increases the chances that his career is over. Number to know: Wade had an effective field goal percentage of 36.8 percent from outside the paint, the second worst mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200 total shots from the outside. 10. Jabari Parker, F, Milwaukee (Restricted) Parker should look much better in the fall than he did in playing just 38 games (including playoffs) after returning from a second ACL tear in his left knee. He has issues to fix on both ends of the floor and isn't an ideal complement to Giannis Antetokounmpo in that neither shoots very well from the perimeter. Parker still has top-two-pick talent, but injury issues and defense issues make him a fascinating case in restricted free agency for a team that's looking to take a step forward with an MVP candidate and a new coach. Number to know: In the playoffs, the Bucks' offense was more than 14 points per 100 possessions better with Parker off the floor (scoring 114.9 per 100) than it was with him on the floor (100.6). 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 30th, 2018

Record futility dooms Houston Rockets in Game 7

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — In the end, all the questions remain. For Mike D’Antoni, for Chris Paul, James Harden and the rest of the Houston Rockets. All of the demons of playoffs past that the were to be eradicated with one game, Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on their home floor against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, and all of the noise would be silenced. But it wasn’t to be. The team these Rockets were built to beat, would not be denied. The Rockets’ record-setting season, the best regular season in franchise history, was undone by another record they ran into head on in what turned out to be the final night of their would-be magical campaign. The Rockets shot a jaw-dropping 44 times from beyond the three-point line, making just seven while enduring a cover-your-eyes stretch that saw them miss a staggering 27 straight. The 37 misses from deep are a playoff record. They broke their own record of 36, which they set in the first round against Minnesota when they shot 16-for-52 in Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and won by 20 points. You can go cold as ice from deep in a first-round series against an overmatched opponent and still win in a runaway. You can’t do it against the best shooting team in NBA history in a game with everything on the line. And as the Rockets sputtered in the third quarter the Warriors heated up. A Kevin Durant three-pointer tied the game at 61 with 4:34 to play in the third and a corner three from Curry with 36 seconds later gave the Warriors a 64-61 lead they’d never surrender. “These guys, you think you’ve got them or you think you are guarding them okay, and it’s just, if you take a deep breath one time, it’s a three,” D’Antoni said. “That’s why they’re so good.” Here is a compilation of all of the Rockets 27 straight missed threes ....🤮🤮🤮 pic.twitter.com/p9HRJuMJNz — gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 29, 2018 P.J. Tucker’s corner triple late in the game was the Rockets’ only made basket from distance after halftime, an ugly 1-for-21 effort that precipitated their collapse from an earlier 15-point lead. “Man, it hurts bad,” said veteran Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, who had perhaps the most brutal night of all, going scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting from the floor, including 0-for-9 from deep. “We played hard, though, we fought hard. I’m just hurt right now. Yeah, this one hurt real bad.” Their early lead provided even more false security for a team that already had to work without Paul in Games 6 and 7; that right hamstring strain suffered in the final minute of the Rockets’ Game 5 win ending his season prematurely. The Rockets’ season-long focus on the Warriors provided the ultimate incentive, from Daryl Morey’s obsession with the four-time Western Conference champs as he put this Rockets team together last summer, until the final buzzer Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). But now the after taste of being so close but just not quite healthy or good enough will linger into another offseason that begins before June. The manner in which they lost cuts particularly deep for a team that bragged about its “swagger” all season, from opening night at Oracle Arena when they spoiled ring/banner night for the Warriors right up until their fall in Game 7, when the strength they’d relied on all season failed them. “One half of basketball,” Harden said. “Two games, Game 6 and 7. One half of basketball. We just didn’t have the same energy that we had in the first half or the pace. So it’s extremely frustrating … we had an opportunity tonight and last game without Chris. Obviously he’s a big part of why we are here, but we had opportunities, especially in the first half of both games.” D’Antoni praised his team after it was all over, refusing once again to measure them based solely on the results of this series and this postseason. He stayed true to his word before the playoffs began, insisting that what happens now would not define the careers of Harden or Paul. It’s a noble thought, a fine gesture from an accomplished coach who helped revolutionize the game but is lacking that one breakthrough trip to basketball's biggest stage: The Finals. If that’s the way it looks and feels from the inside, fine. But externally, the results are all that matter. And D’Antoni, Harden and Paul go into the offseason with the same whispers, the same doubters wondering about their readiness for the magnitude of these sorts of moments. D’Antoni is still the great coach without a signature accomplishment. His team had a 3-2 edge in this series and home-court advantage in their back pocket, and couldn't finish against a team that has mastered the style of play he introduced to the league during his days in Phoenix with a two-time Kia MVP running the show. D’Antoni’s confidence, however, will not be shaken by yet another postseason failure. “No, because the other team’s doing it,” he said. “No, not at all. That’s where the game’s going. Now we should have made some more [three's] but no, I don’t lose confidence in that. We’ve got the right formula. We’ve got to execute it. We’ve got to do a little bit better and it would be nice if they would help out a little bit, but it seems like they’re not. We’ll get better.” Paul is still the all-time great point guard who can’t seem to stay healthy long enough to fulfill his destiny on a championship stage. “We knew it was going to be tough on him,” D’Antoni said. “Mostly I hate it for him. He’s probably more devastated than anybody. But again, I know the fans of Houston, especially myself, to have him on your side is incredible. He’ll be back. Like I said, he’ll be even better. We’ll be better.” Harden, the likely Kia MVP this season, is favored to join an unfortunate cast of players with the most valuable hardware but without a championship ring to go with it. After scoring 41 points in Game 1, his numbers continued to slide. He averaged 26.7 points on 38 percent shooting from the floor, including 20 from beyond the arc, over the final six games. And since Paul was relegated to a sideline motivator role for the final two games, the burden Harden carries into the offseason for this latest setback is magnified. But like his coach, Harden said there was no turning back. Even with a record blizzard of three-point misses, there was never so much as a passing thought to change up and try something different. “I mean, we had a lot of open shots,” Harden said, confident to the bitter end. "I think we competed , and competed the best we can.” The Rockets’ best would have been good enough to beat anyone else in the NBA Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). Just not the one team they were supposed to built for. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 29th, 2018

Paul paves way for Rockets, but will he be there in the end?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — If he doesn’t take another step on that tender right hamstring in these Western Conference finals, Chris Paul did what he came here to do. That won’t be enough for him, of course. No Hall of Fame-level competitor is ever satisfied with just reaching the precipice of a dream. They want it all. And you know Chris Paul’s every intention is to get to the summit. You don’t wait as long as he has, fight through as many barriers as he has throughout his career and get to the final seconds of a defining game like Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, and not feel the burn when you have to watch the outcome from the bench. Paul’s right hamstring didn’t allow him to take in the final, frantic 22.4 seconds of the Houston Rockets’ 98-94 win over the Golden State Warriors Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) at Toyota Center. He tweaked it trying to drive to the basket on Quinn Cook with the Rockets clinging to a 95-94 lead. Another injury for the man who has seen so many of his playoff dreams vanish in a haze of different injuries over the course of his career. It has to sting. He went from shimmying at Stephen Curry after knocking down a wild three-pointer to being forced to watch the end unfold without him on the court to finish what he’d started. But the Rockets are here, up 3-2 in this series and four quarters away from dethroning the defending three-time Western Conference champion Warriors. Paul's availability for Saturday’s (Sunday, PHL time) Game 6 remained a mystery late into the night; he received treatment after the game and did not speak to the media. “He’ll be evaluated tomorrow,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who for the second straight game in this series relied on just a seven-man rotation. “But obviously you saw him limp off, and he’s a tough guy. So they’ll do whatever they can do. If he’s there, great, good for him. If he isn’t, we have enough guys, it’s time for somebody else to step up. We’ve got plenty of guys over there that will have some fresh legs, that’s for sure. So we’ll be alright. We’ve just got to continue doing what we’re doing and we’ll find our way.” The Rockets found their way with Paul lighting the path of another heavyweight fight. Rockets fans left the building on an emotional high thanks to Paul, who scored 18 of his 20 points after halftime, after a brutal 1-for-7 shooting performance in the first half that made you wonder if he came into this game injured already. Once again he willed these Rockets past adversity, the same way he did in the close-out game of the conference semifinal against Utah when he piled up 20 of his playoff career-high 41 points down the stretch of a Game 5 masterpiece. “Well his spirits aren’t great,” D’Antoni said. “He wanted to be out there, and for sure he’s worried and all that. That’s normal. And like I said, we’ll see [Friday] how it goes. But what he did was remarkable. When we were kind of teetering, he made two or three three's. That’s just his heart. He made something out of nothing. His heart, his will to win, I don’t know how many times everybody’s got to see it in this league. He’s one of the best players that have played the game. Just his will alone and what it means to basketball, I don’t know. If you can’t root for him, I think you’ve got some problems.” The Warriors are loaded with problems then. Because they’ve surely seen enough of Paul in the deciding moments of the last two games in this series. Paul led the charge in Game 4 at Oracle Arena and did it again in the third quarter of Game 5, keeping the Rockets right with the Warriors during the period they’ve owned by draining three of his four attempts from beyond the three-point line during an unconscious third-quarter stretch. “It was well-deserved,” Curry said, a showman tipping his cap to a fellow showman. “It was a tough shot. If you can shimmy on somebody else, you’ve got to be alright getting shimmied on. So I’ll keep shimmying and maybe he will too, so we’ll see what happens.” It was more than just the shimmying, though. Time after time Paul got the switch he wanted, backed up and went at bigger Warriors defenders and got whatever he wanted. “Well, Chris is a Hall of Fame player, this is what they do,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “They put James [Harden] and Chris in pick-and-roll every single time. So they’re going to challenge you. We did a great job. They combined to shoot 11-for-40. He hit two 35-foot three's that were just unbelievable. You’ve got to live with that.” The Rockets have lived off of it all season. They knew it would the moment Paul was acquired in that blockbuster trade with the LA Clippers that set this Rockets’ Western Conference takeover attempt in motion. The aesthetics be damned. Keep your analytics. Sometimes the biggest moments require the unthinkable, unbelievable shots Kerr spoke of. “That’s the most difficult shots you can imagine,” Harden said of Paul’s three-point heroics and his entire arsenal of shot-clock beating artistry. “He’s been doing it all year, and he just manages to get those shots off and make big plays. He was built for it.” If only his body was built for the pounding that comes with the work he has to do, often as the smallest man on the floor. Paul’s body always seems to betray him at the very worst times. Dragging up the long list of bumps, bruises and season-derailing instances won't do any good now. It won’t do the Rockets any good, with or without him in Game 6, or even a Game 7, back here Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) if needed. Paul’s right leg will be on the minds of each and every one of his teammates as they prepare for the next step on this wild ride that began with a humbling Game 1 defeat that temporarily cost them home court advantage they’ve since snatched back. Can they win three straight and finish this? Is it even a realistic possibility without Paul available? “There is concern, obviously,” Rockets veteran Trevor Ariza said. “I hope he’s healthy. I hope he gets better and if not, somebody else has to step up and do what we’ve been doing all year, step in and try and help this team win.” Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 25th, 2018

Rockets return home for Game 5 against Warriors

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets have a chance to take their first lead in the Western Conference finals with a victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time). To do that they’ll need their superstars to step up again, with the pressure on James Harden and Chris Paul to deliver after their big performances in Game 3 spurred Houston to the road victory that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2. “We’re back to even,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We know what we have to do and see if we can do it against a great team.” After two blowout losses in this series, including an embarrassing 41-point rout in Game 3, the Rockets know they don’t have any time to celebrate Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) win. It was a victory that snapped Golden State’s NBA-record 16-game home playoff winning streak. “We have to get down to normal sea level real quick, because we’ve got a lot of work left,” D’Antoni said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, but also they know now it’s not going to be easy. We’re looking forward to it ... with the right type of fear and the right type of excitement.” It’s a huge opportunity for Harden and Paul, who’ve both had their fair share of playoff disappointments in the past, but combined to score 57 points Tuesday’s (Wednesday, PHL time) 95-92 win that put the top-seeded Rockets back in the driver’s seat in this series. The 33-year-old Paul is a conference finals rookie after failing to get out of the second round in his previous nine playoff trips. Though he’s never reached this level in the postseason before, his 13 years of NBA experience have proven invaluable as the Rockets try to knock off the defending champions and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 1994-95. Though the Rockets are heading to Houston for Thursday’s (Friday, PHL time) game, they know that playing at home doesn’t give them an excuse to let up. “Both teams have the ability to win on the road,” Paul said. “We had to prove that to ourselves. Weathering the storm, the runs that they made, and knowing that now we get a chance to go back home, we knew we had to get at least one win here. We got it, so now it’s a three-game series.” Though the pressure to perform is heightened for Harden and Paul, Rockets players and D’Antoni agree that they can’t get it done without plenty of help from Houston’s supporting cast. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela combined for 29 rebounds on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time), and in Houston’s Game 2 victory the Rockets had five players score 16 or more points. “It’s a close series so without any of them you don’t get there,” D’Antoni said. “So everybody has their role and some play a bigger role — bigger meaning they shoot the ball more so we as a society give them a bigger role — but everybody is just as important.” While the Rockets are thrilled to see the momentum of the series swing their way for perhaps the first time in the series, the Warriors are upset that they let what they feel like was a winnable Game 4 get away. Draymond Green is OK with his team having its back against the wall and believes the Warriors play well when faced with adversity. “I know what we’re capable of and I know the level of focus and intensity that this team brings when that is the case,” he said. “We blew a golden opportunity but it’s not one that we can’t get back. We can get it back. So there’s no panic.” Stephen Curry said he spent much of Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) going over each possession of Golden State’s 12-point fourth quarter in his mind and thinking of ways he and the team could have done things better to close the game out after leading by double digits early in the period. “It’s a frustrating feeling obviously ... but we’re great at turning the page and being resilient and finding a way to bounce back,” he said. This series has already had so many ups and downs that it could give a young person gray hair. For the already silver-locked D’Antoni, who at 67 would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston gets it done, the exhilaration of this journey has been well worth any stress it has caused. “It makes me feel alive, I know that much,” he said. “It feels good. You coach all year for this or even your whole career to get here or get as close as you can. It’s great competition, against one of the best teams ever.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 24th, 2018

ABS-CBN, S+A to air the NBA Conference Finals

The NBA Conference Finals are here! The pool of 16 has been whittled down to four.  The squads who were involved in the opening day match-ups last October will meet once again, this time in a pair of best-of-seven series in the NBA's version of the Final Four. As a treat for all Filipino fans, all Conference Finals games will be available on ABS-CBN Channel 2, ABS-CBN HD, ABS-CBN S+A, and S+A HD! The Best of the West  In the Western Conference, the dream battle between the top two seeds will finally come to fruition. The defending champions Golden State Warriors will face a stiff challenge against the top-seeded Houston Rockets, a team designed in order to have a crack at toppling the most dominant team in the league. A key match-up will be of course between two-time MVP Stephen Curry and this season's MVP front-runner James Harden. Not too far in the background are veteran guard Chris Paul and 2017 NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant. The supporting cast of both teams include All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors, and key contributors Eric Gordon and Clint Capela for the Rockets. Every game of the Western Conference Finals will be aired LIVE on ABS-CBN S+A and S+A HD! The East goes through LeBron James Meanwhile, LeBron James will try to take his new-look Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals once again, but standing in their way are the young and gritty Boston Celtics. The Celtics, who lost stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward as well as rookie center Daniel Theis, will be anchored by rising guard Terry Rozier, All-Star Al Horford, and young guns Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Cleveland, on the other hand, led by the ever-reliable four-time MVP in James, will be supported by All-Star Kevin Love. Also at his disposal are guards JR Smith and Kyle Korver, Filipino-American Jordan Clarkson, center Tristan Thompson, and high-flying Larry Nance, Jr! All Eastern Conference Finals battles will be seen on ABS-CBN Channel 2 and ABS-CBN HD! Check out the schedule of the NBA Conference Finals below!.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

Draw of another title lights postseason path of Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

Rockets, Warriors look to advance to conference finals

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul is a win away from finally reaching the Western Conference finals in his 10th season in the playoffs. But the Houston guard isn't looking ahead to what most expect will be a showdown with the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the next round. After all, he's been in this situation before in 2015 with the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul is normally reticent to discuss his past playoff failures, but the nine-time All-Star was candid about that particular letdown when he was interviewed on TNT moments after Houston took a 3-1 lead over the Utah Jazz with a 100-87 win in Game 5. He was asked if he's allowed himself to think about being in the finals for the first time. "It's the process man," he said. "I've been here before, 3-1. (Expletive) went bad real quick, you know what I mean?" The collapse that Paul is referring to came at the hands of the Rockets. Paul and the Clippers raced out to a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals. They got blown out in Game 5, wasted a 19-point second-half lead in a loss in Los Angeles in Game 6, then fell in Game 7 at Houston. Paul got prickly later when asked to expand on his comments and share what he learned from that series. He deflected the question with a joke before finally mumbling: 'don't relax,' before James Harden stepped in to save his teammate from the uncomfortable moment. "He's not even thinking about that honestly," Harden said. "We've got a game on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) and we're going to do whatever it takes to close it out." Houston's game against Utah is one of two games on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). In the other game, the Warriors also have a chance to finish off their series with the New Orleans Pelicans after taking a 3-1 lead with a 118-92 win on Sunday (Monday, PHL time). This is Paul's fifth appearance in the conference semifinals after losing to the Spurs 4-3 in 2008 while with New Orleans, being swept by San Antonio in 2012 with the Clippers and losing 4-2 to the Thunder with that team before that 2015 debacle against the Rockets. Coach Mike D'Antoni said the most important quality Paul has brought to the Rockets in his first year with the team is his toughness and edge. He doesn't expect to see anything different out of him on Tuesday despite having the opportunity to finally shed the label that he can't get out of the second round. "It's hard to go up another notch. I think he's on full-tilt all the time," D'Antoni said. "You'd have to talk to him a little bit [but] I'm sure it's on his mind." For the Jazz, they're hoping that they can recreate the success they had in Game 2 when they led by as many as 19 points early, and held on for a 116-108 win. "We were on a different level in Game 2 and I think we've just got to get back to that," rookie Donovan Mitchell said. Utah could get a boost in Game 6 with the return of Ricky Rubio. He's missed the entire series with a strained left hamstring, but was listed as questionable before Sunday's (Monday, PHL time) game and could be well enough to play on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). However, they could be without reserve point guard Dante Exum in Game 6 after he left Sunday's (Monday, PHL time) game in the third quarter with soreness in his left hamstring. Here's a closer look at the Pelicans-Warriors game. PELICANS AT WARRIORS Warriors lead series 3-1. Game 5, 10:30 p.m. EDT (10:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: The Warriors have been dominant on their home floor for two straight postseasons, having won a franchise-record 14 consecutive playoff games at Oracle Arena and already closed out the Spurs at Oakland in Game 5. With a 15th straight home playoff win, the Warriors would tie Chicago for an NBA record. The Bulls did so from April 27, 1990, to May 21, 1991. "We've got to win one game at Oracle and that's the one that we play next," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "That's as far as we need to look. Obviously it's a monumental task. It's been done before. As I said to the guys, 'We just got to go and play and you're not out until they win four games.'" KEEP ANY EYE ON: Stephen Curry continues to find his groove and this will be his fourth game back from nearly six weeks sidelined with a sprained left knee. His minutes are increasing each game he plays, up to 31 in Game 4. Curry is 22-for-51 with 12 three's so far this series. TOUGH CHALLENGE: The Pelicans never know which Golden State star might be on any given night — or all of them at once. The Warriors led wire to wire in Game 4 following its 19-point embarrassment in Game 3. Kevin Durant is coming off a 38-point performance, but it could be Klay Thompson's turn, or Draymond Green chasing another triple-double. "The bigger the game the better Draymond plays," coach Steve Kerr said, "the more intense he is, the more focus he has. He's going against Anthony Davis night after night and just doing an amazing job in concert with his teammates. Draymond's a rare guy. Every time the moment gets bigger, he gets better and not everybody can say that." Durant has scored 20 or more points in 16 straight postseason games. PRIORITY ON SHOOTING: Gentry gives New Orleans little chance of staying in the series and staving off elimination without a big scoring performance. The Pelicans lost 118-92 on Sunday (Monday, PHL time) and shot just 36.4 percent — 32-of-88 and 4-for-26 on three-pointers. "You're not going to beat them if you're not going to score 115 points, I don't care how good your defense is," Gentry said. ___ AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

Donovan Mitchell hits his own postseason bump

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 5th, 2018