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Deja vu: Conference Finals matchups mirror opening day games

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

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnMay 10th, 2018

Durant takes the lead as Kerr starts Hamptons 5

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

Heat, Knicks clash in first NBA 2K League Finals

NBA 2K League press release NEW YORK – Heat Check Gaming and Knicks Gaming will make history when they meet in the first NBA 2K League Finals, a best-of-three series that will take place Saturday, Aug. 25 beginning at 4 p.m. ET (4am, Sunday, Aug. 26, PHL time) on Twitch. Below please find numbers related to the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League: NBA 2K League At-A-Glance: 102 – The NBA 2K League, a professional esports league co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., launched in 2018 and features the best 102 NBA 2K players in the world selected from 72,000 hopefuls. 132M – NBA 2K League content has generated more than 132 million video views on social media channels. 1.6M – The NBA 2K League and its teams feature more than 1.6 million likes and followers across all league and team social media platforms. 1M – The NBA 2K League awarded $1 million in prize money over the course of its inaugural season, with the largest prize pool reserved for the end of season champions.  The best-of-three NBA 2K League Finals will see the winning team receive $300,000, and the remainder of the $600,000 total prize pool will be awarded to the remaining seven playoff teams. 186 – The NBA 2K League regular season consisted of 186 games. 17 – The 2018 season ran for 17 weeks, beginning in May and ending in August, and featured 12 weeks of weekly matchups, three weeks of in-season tournaments and two weeks of postseason. 10M – NBA 2K18 has sold approximately 10 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling edition in franchise history. NBA 2K League Teams:      90 – NBA 2K League teams have formed more than 90 corporate and marketing partnerships. 21 – Affiliates of four NBA teams – the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves – will join the NBA 2K League for its second season, bringing the total number of teams from 17 to 21. 8 – Eight teams qualified for the inaugural NBA 2K League playoffs: No. 1 seed Blazer5 Gaming (12-2), No. 2 seed 76ers GC (10-4), No. 3 seed Pistons GT (9-5), No. 4. seed Raptors Uprising GC (8-6), No. 5 seed Cavs Legion GC (8-6), No. 6 seed Heat Check Gaming (8-6), No. 7 seed Wizards District Gaming (8-6), and No. 8 seed and THE TICKET tournament winner Knicks Gaming (5-9). NBA 2K League Players: 677 – Wizards District Gaming’s Austin “Boo Painter” Painter, the league-leader in points scored, tallied 677 points during the regular season. 84 – Grizz Gaming’s Mehyar “AuthenticAfrican” Ahmed-Hassan set the NBA 2K League single-game scoring record with 84 points. 57 – Blazer5 Gaming’s Dayne “OneWildWalnut” Downey, the Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year, recorded 57 blocks during the regular season. 25 – NBA 2K League players compete as unique characters in 5-on-5 gameplay.  Each position can choose between five different archetypes, creating 25 total archetypes* 15 – New York has produced 15 NBA 2K League players, more than any other state. 9 – There were nine international players on 2018 opening-night NBA 2K League rosters: Yusuf “Yusuf_Scarbz” Abdulla (Raptors Uprising GC; Canada), Mehyar “AuthenticAfrican” Ahmed-Hassan (Grizz Gaming; Canada), Jamie “vGooner-” Bull (Pacers Gaming; U.K.), Ryan “Devillon” de Villon (Mavs Gaming; Canada), Thomas “Speedbrook” Genaj (Celtics Crossover Gaming; Canada), Harry “HazzaUK2K” Hurst (Mavs Gaming; U.K.), Jannis “JLB” Neumann (Mavs Gaming; Germany), Basil “24k Dropoff” Rose (Heat Check Gaming; Canada), and Jomar “Jomar12 PR” Varela-Escapa (Blazer5 Gaming; Puerto Rico). 5 – Five players have recorded triple doubles in the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League: Heat Check Gaming’s Juan “Hotshot” Gonzalez, Raptors Uprising GC’s Kenneth “Kenny” Hailey, Celtics Crossover Gaming’s Ahmed “Mel East” Kasana, Wizards District Gaming’s Austin “Boo Painter” Painter, and Knicks Gaming’s Idris “Idrisdagoat6” Richardson. *An archetype is a preset combination of attributes and skills. For more information about the NBA 2K League, visit NBA2KLeague.com and follow @NBA2KLeague on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 21st, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Bottom 10

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Top 10

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

PBA: Tim Cone knows lights-out Game 1 will stir up the beehive for SMB

Ginebra head coach Tim Cone says that the Gin Kings did everything on their part to steal the first game against the San Miguel Beermen in Game 1 of the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals. With such a game plan, Ginebra filled the chambers with 61.5-percent shooting, including a scorching 13 out of 25 from downtown. Even he can't help but marvel at his team's shooting display, opening the post-game press conference with a hint of surprise. "We were firing on all cylinders, and we kinda got them on their heels early and just never let up. Those games happen. They happen in the Finals, they happen any time," the winningest coach in PBA history said. Cone added that the team's fiery offense never stopped from the get-go, as the lead ballooned to as large as 39 (119-80), midway through the fourth quarter, merely cascading their strong start. In a dominating Game 1 victory, the American coach expects San Miguel to come out firing for Game 2 on Sunday, and expects their opponents to launch a haymaker from tip-off. "But all we did basically was stir up the bee hive, and they're gonna be coming back, sting us big time in Game 2. But at least we came out, we were aggressive, and we played with confidence." Cone again was quick to shower praise to versatile import Justin Brownlee, who again did a masterful performance with 42 points on 85.7-percent shooting, adding nine assists, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal.  "Basically you can't stop him one-on-one, so they're gonna have to get another defender, and we'll have to read that, see where it's coming from, and try to figure out how to battle it." As for Game 2 on Sunday, Cone obviously does not expect the team to be that hot again, but he hopes a little bit of luck come again at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. The long-time coach even took one of his former team's mantras to the Ginebra locker room, and it could not be more apt.  "Yesterday ended last night. So, this game ends tonight, tomorrow is a whole new day. So we can't let this success here affect the success going forward. It's too easy to think that, 'oh, we've arrived.'" Calling adversary Leo Austria as an excellent one in terms of adjustments, Cone could only hope how his team can do as he expects his opponents shifting to fifth gear next time around. "If I told you I'd have to kill you. Kidding aside, I think that we'll see ... That's the problem with winning a game in a series rather than losing. When you win a game, the reaction all goes to the other team, they make the adjustments, then you gotta come into the game and be ready to adjust to their adjustments." "...But we're not gonna come in doing exactly the same thing, either. We're gonna try to change some things up and try to keep them unbalanced." __   Follow this writer on Twitter, @philipptionary. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 27th, 2018

Comm. Silver, NBPA say competitive imbalance not a problem

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com LAS VEGAS -- First came the backlash. Next, backlash to the backlash. By Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), much of the whipsawing over competitive balance -- or more accurately, imbalance -- as an NBA problem rising to the level of crisis had calmed down. Yet powerful voices from the league’s summer nerve center could not dismiss it entirely as an issue meriting closer inspection. “I'm not here to say we have a problem,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday after the Board of Governors meeting. “And I love where the league is right now. [But] I think we can create a better system.” Neither Silver nor Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sounded an alarm in their separate news conferences about what many see as a widening gap between the league’s haves and have-nots. Roberts, in fact, seemed to feel that all is well and that talent inequality is in the eye of the beholder. “Competitive balance, it almost depends on what your favorite team is,” said Roberts, who was rehired as head of the players union in another four-year contract announced Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “I don’t hear anybody in the Bay Area worrying about competitive balance. I also don’t hear the people in Philadelphia worrying about competitive balance, or Houston. “We’ve got great teams. And it’s never been the case, as far as I’m concerned, where I was not able most of the time to predict what teams were going to be in the Finals.” The topic came up in precisely that context before the Finals last month when Silver was asked about Golden State and Cleveland meeting in the championship series for the fourth consecutive year, a first in any of the major professional sports leagues. It reared its head again this month soon after free agency opened on July 1, with events conspiring to make insiders wonder about a growing disparity among teams. LeBron James’ signing with the Los Angeles Lakers was the biggest move in what appeared to be a continuing shift of strength into the league’s Western Conference. That was followed by the news that DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans’ All-Star center, had joined the champion Warriors. That signing sparked the initial backlash, a rich-getting-richer cry that pointed not to Cousins’ one-year deal for $5.3 million in 2018-19 salary but the fact that the Warriors will spend in excess of $20 million for it when luxury taxes are counted. Golden State had the NBA’s fattest payroll in 2017-18 of $137.5 million, despite a $99 million salary cap, thanks to various exceptions in the prevailing “soft cap” system. “I don't necessarily think it's per se bad that the Warriors are so dominant,” Silver told reporters, not long after discussing the “competitive landscape” with the owners. “As I've said before, we're not trying to create some sort of forced parity. What we really focus on is parity of opportunity. And a fair point could be made in the tax system, when certain teams are spending significantly more than others, that that's not parity of opportunity.” The counter-backlash came from folks who rushed to the Warriors’ and Cousins’ defense, correctly noting that neither did anything wrong, conducting their business within the rules as specified by the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. That CBA is the object of endless study and imagined revision, with amendments possible if negotiated prior to the end of the current deal after the 2023-24 season. Shooting for a “hard cap” likely would be a tough sell to players accustomed to the freedom of movement they currently enjoy. “It's not necessarily [Roberts’] issue,” Silver said in response to the union director’s characterization. “I think it's on me and our Labor Relations Committee, ultimately, to sit with the players and their committee and convince them that there may be a better way of doing things.” Silver mentioned Charlotte owner and legendary NBA superstar Michael Jordan, chairman of that Labor Relations Committee, as a valuable resource in addressing owners’ and players’ competition concerns. Both sides have valid arguments. Interest in the NBA never has been higher by almost any metric chosen, from selected TV ratings and licensing revenues to the game’s growth globally. Attendance at the MGM Resorts Las Vegas Summer League keeps pushing higher, with fans eager to see top rookies, second-year players and relative free-agent unknowns chasing their pro hoops’ dreams. The valuations of the 30 NBA franchises, of course, all have soared beyond $1 billion, according to Forbes.com, with the Knicks, the Lakers and the Warriors all estimated to be worth more than $3 billion. Longtime NBA observers such as TNT’s David Aldridge wrote a column this week that argued on behalf of dominant teams, anyway, saying that they actually drive rather than depress fan interest. As for any inability to win games or titles, he laid the blame for that on poor franchise management. The Knicks and the Clippers have all sorts of big-market advantages but haven’t won any championships lately (or at all in the Clippers' case). For Roberts, whose players reap 51 percent of NBA basketball-related income that tops $7 billion annually, business is good, period. “I’m excited about this new season,” she said Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “This free agency, there’s been a lot to write about so we’re all, I think, looking forward to what’s going to happen come October. “To the extent that people are predicting the end of the game, I just don’t think so. I would be surprised if Adam called me to say, ‘What the hell are we going to do?’ I think he’s as happy as I am. ... I think we’re in good shape.” Critics note Golden State’s on-court dominance in winning the last two championships. It only took nine NBA Finals games --one over the minimum -- while facing arguably the league’s best player in LeBron James. But those same critics seem to foget that the Warriors were pushed to the full seven games in the conference finals, and actually faced elimination twice before beating the Rockets. “I recognize what Michele's saying,” Silver said. “But at the same time, if you talk to players in the league, and I've talked to plenty of individual players as well, they want to be in the most competitive league possible too.” For every player on the Warriors' roster -- or the Rockets, the Thunder, the Celtics or the Sixers -- there are five or six on teams that realistically have no chance of chasing a ring or the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Cleveland went to four straight Finals thanks to James; no one envisions the Cavaliers getting back any time soon. “Maybe there are some players who think they’re on a second-class team,” said Sacramento wing Garrett Temple, one of the NBPA vice presidents. “But most players I’ve played with or been around, their thought process is, ‘We’re gonna get our team to become one of those first-class teams.’ It’s more of a challenge. More so than, ‘We need them to disband so we can make everybody equal.’ Because we’re competitors.” That really is the crux of the issue. Silver and some franchises want most of the competition to come on the floor, in games, in full view of fans who believe their teams can sufficiently compete. The league’s current title contenders are fine with a system that allows them to compete all the way to the top, with an owner stroking gargantuan checks to crowd out rivals. “Let me make clear that under the current system we want teams to compete like crazy,” Silver said. “So I think the Warriors within the framework of this deal should be doing everything they can to increase their dominance. That's what you want to see in a league. “You want teams to compete in every way they can within the rules.” Silver addressed a variety of topics that were came from the BOG agenda, including: -- Change is coming on multiple fronts, most notably in the league’s age limit. That seems likely to be re-set back to 18 years old from 19, permitting players to enter the league from high school. It’s a move that the NBA should be better equipped to handle with a near 30-for-30 farm-system affiliation with its G League. It also fits with the findings of an NCAA task force that cites dissatisfaction with “one-and-done” college players. Said Silver: “My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change.” -- The start of free agency, annually triggered at midnight ET on July 1 (12:00pm, July 1, PHL time), will be moved to a daytime or prime time opening bell. It’s one of those traditions that no one thought to change, Silver said. -- The league’s investigation into the Dallas Mavericks’ sexual harassment issues should be completed by the end of the month. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 12th, 2018

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

LeBron James played in NBA Finals with broken hand after ‘self-inflicted’ injury

CLEVELAND --- LeBron James says he "pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand" after injuring himself in frustration after Game 1 of the NBA Finals. James punched a white board following Cleveland's overtime loss in the opener at Oracle Arena, calling his injury "self-inflicted" after Golden State finished a sweep of the Cavaliers with a 108-85 victory on Friday night. James arrived for his postgame news conference with a cast over his right hand. He says he was upset by some calls that went against the Cavs late in the fourth quarter of their opening loss and he was upset they had missed their chance to win on the road, saying he "let the emotions get th...Keep on reading: LeBron James played in NBA Finals with broken hand after ‘self-inflicted’ injury.....»»

Category: newsSource:  inquirerRelated NewsJun 9th, 2018

SEA Games slots up for grab in Milo Marathon

Aside from the honor of conquering the country's biggest footrace, this year's King and Queen of the 42nd National Milo Marathon will get a chance to don the tri-colors in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. The 11-leg event in partnership with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association will honor the men's and women's race champion with a slot in the Philippine team that will compete in the biennial meet to be held in the country November next year.  "Basta kung sinong mananalo dyan yun ang kukunin namin for the SEAG. We’re after the winners on both categories regardless of the time,” said PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico on Thursday during the event's press conference at Conrad Hotel in Pasay City. The kickoff leg will be held in Urdaneta, Pangasinan on July 15 while the culminating National Finals will be in Laoag, Ilocos Norte on December 9. Organizers expect around 150,000 runners participating for the duration of the event with last year's men's champion Joerge Andrade and five-time winner Olympian Mary Joy Tabal looking to extend their reign.  After the opening leg, the race will make a stop in Manila (July 29), Tarlac (August 26), Batangas (September 16), Lucena (September 30), Iloilo (October 7), Cebu (October 14), General Santos (October 21), Butuan (November 11), Cagayan de Oro (November 18) and the finals in Laoag (December 9)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 7th, 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

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 19th, 2018

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

Long-awaited matchup arrives for Rockets, Warriors

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com James Harden and the Rockets must get past the Warriors to reach their first Finals since 1995. Finally, it’s here. The series the NBA world has been waiting for from the moment Chris Paul requested a trade last summer that sent him to the Houston Rockets to join forces with James Harden has arrived. It's the Rockets vs. the four-time Western Conference and two-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors for West supremacy. The Rockets had a feeling they could see this journey through to this point, even when the teams met on opening night at Oracle Arena. Houston was built to beat the champs, and did it twice in their three regular season encounters. Rockets center Clint Capela voiced his opinions on the matchup after a January win, saying his team was superior to the champs. And he’s just as eager for this match up, in which the Rockets hold home-court advantage. “I’m real excited,” Capela said. “This [Warriors] team is going to be hard, it’s going to be a fight. There’s going to be a lot of adjustments after every game. It’s going to be a chess game. Of course, we’re going to be ready. They’ve been to The Finals three straight years. So we’re just excited. Everybody's excited about it. I’m sure all the NBA fans are excited about it, too.” The Warriors are fired up, too, and have heard all the chirping. “Now you’ve got to play the game,” All-Star forward Draymond Green said. “You wanted us, now you’ve got us.” The Warriors are attempting to conquer the West for a fourth straight season, but this will be their first West finals without home-court advantage. Doing it against a team specifically designed to take them down just adds to a battle wrought with connections. Harden, Paul, Green, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson all won gold medals together, be it on the Olympic or World Cup of Basketball stage. Harden and Durant were teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder team that lost The Finals in 2012. Paul’s LA Clippers squad in 2014 was the last West foe to knock the Warriors out of the playoffs before The Finals. And the Rockets were the team the Warriors beat in the 2015 West finals to jump-start their would-be dynasty. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni pioneered the style the Warriors have used to dominate the league while he was coaching in Phoenix, where Warriors coach Steve Kerr was the Suns GM. The three-pointers will fly from all directions. Both teams are capable of defending at a championship level. The personnel on both sides is ideally matched. Perhaps best of all, though, is that both teams are healthy and without any ready-made excuses overshadowing this showdown. It’s best on best, a test of collective wills between the “cream of the Western Conference crop,” as Curry declared after the Warriors and Rockets each won their West semifinal series just hours apart on May 8 (May 9, PHL time). The NBA world has been waiting on this heavyweight showdown. Now, it’s finally here. 3 quick questions and answers 1. Who flinches first, Kerr with his “Hamptons Five” lineup or D’Antoni with his Harden-Paul-Capela trio? Against every other team in the league, the Warriors’ small-ball unit of Durant, Thompson, Curry, Green and Andre Iguodala has a clear advantage. No one else has three shooters like Durant, Curry and Thompson playing alongside the versatile Green and Iguodala. The Rockets come close with Harden, Paul and Capela alongside defensive specialists and three-point marksmen Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker. It’ll be a fascinating study in styles watching them matchup against each other. But advantage Warriors ... until we see someone crack the code against the "Hamptons Five." 2. What’s more valuable -- Houston's home-court advantage or Golden State's experience? Home-court advantage is always preferred. The Warriors know that. It’s been good to them in each of the past three seasons grinding through the West playoffs to The Finals. But it’s not infallible (as the Cleveland Cavaliers taught us, rallying from a 3-1 Finals deficit to take Game 7 at Oracle Arena). Which is exactly why the Rockets need to have the threat level turned all the way up for Games 1 and 2. Lose either one of the first two games at Toyota Center and the Warriors will pounce in this series. 3. Who is the biggest wild card for each team? And, are they capable of swinging this series? It’s Eric Gordon for the Rockets and whichever big man (JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney or perhaps Jordan Bell) that Kerr taps for service for the Warriors. Gordon has to shoot more consistently than he has thus far in the playoffs (34.2 percent overall, 31.4 percent on three-pointers) if the Rockets hope to match the Warriors basket for basket. The Warriors have a big man for basically every season, it’s just a matter of which one will fare best against a much-improved Capela. He has outplayed two more heralded bigs (All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns and the Jazz's Rudy Gobert) in each of the Rockets’ series to date. Overall, though, there's too much star power in this series for any role player to swing the momentum for more than a few minutes. The number to know 100.7 --The two best offensive teams in the regular season have been the two best defensive teams in the playoffs, combining to allow just 100.7 points per 100 possessions on their way to the conference finals. In the first round, the Rockets and Warriors held the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs to 5.6 and 5.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than they scored in the regular season, respectively. And in the conference semifinals, they held the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans to 7.0 and 16.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than they scored in the first round, respectively. The Rockets' starting lineup has allowed just 92 points per 100 possessions in its 153 minutes, having forced more than 21 turnovers per 100 (the best mark among lineups that have played at least 75 minutes). The Warriors' "Hamptons Five" lineup, meanwhile, has allowed less than 87 points per 100 possessions in its 54 minutes, and the champs have allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions in 250 total minutes with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala on the floor together. These teams aren't just here because of how potent their offenses are, and the team that advances to The Finals will be the one that continues to defend at a high level. -- John Schuhmann Making the pick The Rockets made it their mission to put together a group to avenge their 2015 and 2016 playoff failures, with the Warriors serving as their primary target. They’ve got home-court advantage, an inspired Paul and what appears to be all of the requisite parts needed to interrupt the Warriors’ dynasty plans. But do they have the nerve to snatch it all from Golden State, which took a measured approach to 2017-18 and has seemingly flipped the proverbial with another championship run on the line? Experience over ambition this time. Warriors in 6. 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 11th, 2018

Young Celtics look to stop James, Cavaliers

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 11th, 2018

The NBA’s Final Four: Cavs, Celtics, Warriors, Rockets

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press The franchise with the most titles. The best player of this generation. The reigning champions. The probable MVP. The NBA has its Final Four. It certainly does not disappoint. Boston’s win over Philadelphia on Wednesday night (Thurday, PHL time) brought down the curtain on the postseason’s second round — one that wasn’t exactly loaded with drama, since it was the first time since 2002 that none of the NBA’s four conference semifinal series went past five games. Cleveland swept Toronto, while Houston, Golden State and the Celtics all prevailed by 4-1 counts. Everyone gets to catch their collective breaths for a few days, with the league going dark until the weekend. Cleveland and Boston don’t tip off the Eastern Conference finals until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), and the Warriors and Rockets start their West title series on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). And yes, the Cavaliers and Warriors are four wins away from a fourth consecutive meeting in the NBA Finals. A few things to know going into the conference finals: LEBRON, OF COURSE Any list of anything this time of year basically has to start with LeBron James, still generally considered the best player on the planet even at 33-years-old and in his 15th NBA season. Cleveland’s star is trying to reach the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive season — something only four other players have done, and they were all Boston Celtics. Bill Russell went to 10 straight title series, Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn went to nine, and Frank Ramsey went to eight. James is already the NBA’s all-time playoff leader in points, steals and minutes played. He’s fifth in playoff wins with 152, behind only Derek Fisher (161), Tim Duncan (157), Robert Horry (155) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (154). CAVS-CELTICS HISTORY This is the eighth time Cleveland and Boston have met in the postseason. Boston has won four of the previous seven meetings, but Cleveland has won the last two — including the East finals last season. WARRIORS-ROCKETS HISTORY This is only the third Golden State-Houston playoff meeting, and all have come in the last four seasons. The Warriors are 2-0 in the series, winning both times in five games — the 2015 West finals and a first-round matchup in 2016. SEEKING 10 Golden State is trying to reach the NBA Finals for the 10th time, a mark that two other franchises have reached. The Los Angeles Lakers have made The Finals on 31 occasions (winning 16 titles), and the Celtics have gone 21 times (winning a league-high 17 titles). If the Warriors successfully defend their NBA title and go back-to-back, it’ll be the franchise’s sixth time as the last team standing — and would tie Chicago for the third-most championships in league history, behind the Celtics and Lakers. MVP WATCH Houston’s James Harden seems like the probable winner of the NBA’s MVP award this season, with the only other realistic candidate for top honors probably LeBron James. They won’t know who won until June 25 (June 26, PHL time) — after the season. Regardless, they could wind up adding to a recent trend. The league MVP has played in the NBA Finals in four of the last six seasons — James and the Miami Heat won titles in 2012 and 2013, Stephen Curry and the Warriors won in 2015 and lost to Cleveland in 2016. MATTER OF TIME Ray Allen is still the league’s all-time leader in playoff three-pointers made, with 385. LeBron James and Stephen Curry are coming his way. James is No. 2 on the all-time list with 346 playoff three-pointers. Curry is No. 3 with 329 — in only 79 playoff games. Allen played in 171, and James has played in 228. WELL DONE, SCHEDULE MAKERS Here’s how the NBA season began, back on Oct. 17 (Oct. 18, PHL time): Boston at Cleveland, and Houston at Golden State. Almost seven months later, the conference finals begin with Cleveland at Boston, Golden State at Houston. WIN GAME 1 Winning Game 1 of any NBA playoff series is important; under this format that the league has been using since 1984, teams that take 1-0 series leads ultimately win those matchups about 80 percent of the time. That’s even more pronounced in this round. Of the 68 teams that have taken 1-0 series leads in the conference finals, 57 have gone on to make the NBA Finals. But four times in the last seven years, a team has dropped Game 1 in this round and made The Finals anyway. MORE DAYS OFF? The NBA Finals start May 31 (June 1, PHL time). That means there could be a lot of days without basketball before then. If both series end in sweeps — unlikely, of course, but possible — the Boston-Cleveland winner would have 10 days off before The Finals and the Houston-Golden State winner would have nine. Starting Thursday (Friday, PHL time), there will be no games five times in a nine-day span. There’s no games until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), and there’s no games in either series on May 17 and 18 (May 18 and 19, PHL time). Those needing a basketball fix on those last two days, fret not — there will be NBA Combine activities going on in Chicago on those two days. POOL UPDATE The NBA’s playoff pool for this season is $20 million, and here’s a look at how much the four remaining teams have made so far in this postseason — along with a look at what they could get. Rockets: $2,322,122. Would finish with $4,669,069 if they lose the NBA Finals, $5,864,018 if they win the title. Celtics and Warriors: $1,646,226 each so far. They’d get $3,993,173 if they reach The Finals and lose, $5,188,122 if they win the championship. Cavaliers: $1,478,543. Would finish with $3,825,490 if they lose the NBA Finals, $5,020,439 if they win the title. Teams use the playoff pool largely for bonuses for players and staff after the season. The 12 playoff teams that have already been eliminated will be getting checks adding up to about $7 million from the league......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

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

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

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:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018