Advertisements


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

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

LeBron scores 46, Cavaliers hold off Pacers to even series

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 46 points and added 12 rebounds as the Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back from a poor performance in the opener by holding off the Indiana Pacers 100-97 on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) to even their Eastern Conference series at one game apiece. Dazzling from the start, James scored the game's first 16 points and had 29 at halftime, dominating the way he has in so many previous postseasons. But in a season in which nothing has been easy for the Cavs, Cleveland was lucky that Indiana's Victor Oladipo missed a wide-open three-pointer that would have tied it with 27 seconds left. Kevin Love scored 15, but Cleveland's All-Star center injured his left hand, the same one he broke earlier this season, with 3:43 left. Love's status could affect the remainder of this series — and perhaps Cleveland's season. Kyle Korver added 12 points, all on three's, and made several hustling plays for the Cavs. Oladipo scored 22 — he was in early foul trouble — and Myles Turner 18 for the Pacers, who shocked the Cavs with an overpowering win in Game 1. Indiana clawed back from an 18-point deficit and was within 95-92 when Oladipo, who scored 32 in the opener, somehow came free but missed maybe his easiest shot in two games. James grabbed the rebound and made three free throws over the final 22 seconds as the Cavs avoided falling behind 2-0 on the series. Game 3 is Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) in Indianapolis. The 33-year-old James was expected to be more aggressive than in Game 1, when he was unusually passive, deferred to teammates and suffered the first playoff-opening loss of his career. But James was his unstoppable self again, and there wasn't a whole lot the Pacers could do about him in the first half. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue shook up his starting lineup, going with Korver and J.R. Smith over Jeff Green and Rodney Hood. Green didn't score in the opener and Hood only started because Korver was dealing with a sore right foot. While the changes weren't that surprising, Oladipo leaving after 62 seconds was stunning. Indiana's lightning-quick guard picked up an offensive foul and then got his second when he knocked over James, who was setting a screen. With Oladipo off the floor, the Pacers didn't have an offensive answer to James. Nobody does. The three-time champion was in attack mode from the start. After not attempting his first shot in the opener until 1:52 remained in the first quarter, he dropped a short jumper just 16 seconds into Game 2. And he was just getting started. James made his first five attempts and scored Cleveland's first 16 points, making a pair of 3-pointers and then picking up assists on three's by Love and Korver. James outscored the Pacers 20-18 in the first 12 minutes. TIP-INS Pacers: Shot 6-of-22 on three-pointers. ... Oladipo became the fourth player in Pacers history with at least 30 points and six three-pointers in a postseason game in the opener, joining Reggie Miller, Chuck Person and Paul George. ... Dropped to 22-22 in Game 2s, including 6-18 on the road. Cavaliers: Improved to 40-0 when leading after three quarters. ... It was the 20th time James has scored at least 40 in the playoffs. ... Lue refused to reveal his lineup changes two hours before tip, saying by doing so he would give the Pacers — or any team in the postseason — and advantage. "Being strategic in the playoffs, if you tell your lineup, they can see what matchups they want to do and who's going to guard who, what matchups they want to guard," Lue explained. ... James needs 56 rebounds to become the seventh player in league history with 2,000 in the playoffs. UP NEXT Game 3 is Friday night (Saturday, PHL time)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 19th, 2018

Spurs, Heat looking for bounce-back efforts in Game 2

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra have copious amounts of championship jewelry in their possessions, and their teams committing to the level of defense necessary to win in the postseason is a major reason why that’s the case. Vastly improved defense will be what both coaches demand — or at least hope for — on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs just didn’t have enough answers for Golden State in Game 1 of their Western Conference series, and Spoelstra’s Miami Heat offered Philadelphia absolutely no resistance in a second-half meltdown that opened their Eastern Conference series. The Warriors and 76ers are both looking to take 2-0 leads when those matchups resume on their respective home floors. “We understand that we are not favorites,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said. “We are underdogs. We talked about it, and to get a win here, we’ve got to overachieve. We’ve got to do better than we think we can do, even. So we’ll fight as hard as we can in Game 2.” That will have to be a mantra for both the Spurs and the Heat. The Spurs allowed Golden State to shoot 54 percent in what became a 113-92 playoff-opening win for the defending NBA champions. Game 1 in Philadelphia was even more one-sided, as the 76ers closed the game on a 74-40 run in what ended up as a 130-103 rout — the most points that any Heat team has allowed in any postseason game. “We have to learn from it,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “It’s a seven-game series. They beat our butt in the first one. But at the end of the day, they’re up 1-0 no matter which way they did it. We definitely have to make adjustments. We can’t go into the game saying, ‘Oh, they’re not going to make those shots again.’” ___ A look at Monday night’s (Tuesday, PHL time) matchups: HEAT AT 76ERS, Philadelphia leads 1-0. Game 2, 8 p.m., (8am, PHL time). Need to know: Philadelphia has now won 17 consecutive games, as well as 24 of its last 25 at home (not counting a “home” loss in London to Boston), and is coming off its fourth outing of 130 points or more this season. “If that’s the way it’s going to be, then we’ve got to conquer it,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve got to find a way.” Keep an eye on: Miami will have to change how it attacks screens and gets out on Philadelphia’s shooters, but that’s obviously easier said than done. Philadelphia will be brimming with confidence, and rightly so. 76ers coach Brett Brown knows the Heat will make adjustments, and it’ll be incumbent on him to react on the fly in Game 2. Injury update: 76ers star center Joel Embiid was released from the NBA’s concussion protocol Sunday (Monday, PHL time), but he will not play in Game 2. He’s recovering from surgery to repair an orbital fracture. For Miami, point guard Goran Dragic played Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) through a sore right knee that has dogged him for a couple weeks. Pressure is on: It was just one game, but Miami knows it can’t have a combined 13-for-40 shooting effort from its starting lineup again, or see Hassan Whiteside — the $23 million center — be a complete non-factor while playing only 12 minutes. ___ SPURS AT WARRIORS, Golden State leads 1-0. Game 2, 10:30 p.m., (10:30am, PHL time). Need to know: When Golden State senses a chance to grab command, it usually pounces — as evidenced by how the Warriors are 8-0 in their last eight Game 2s. The Spurs have never dropped six consecutive postseason games under Popovich, though that streak will likely be seriously tested unless San Antonio comes up with some very different ideas very quickly. Keep an eye on: San Antonio likely needs to get LaMarcus Aldridge going very early, to see if he can get in the rhythm that avoided him in Game 1. For Golden State, Klay Thompson bided his time in Game 1 and wound up shooting 11 for 13 — playing a brilliant game, getting teammates open with hard cuts in the early going before the ball found him. Injury update: Warriors star Stephen Curry and Spurs star Kawhi Leonard both remain out, but there’s no new major issues for either team. Pressure is on: Oddly, it’s probably more on the Warriors than the Spurs. Golden State lost 10 of its final 17 regular-season games, and doesn’t want to see this series open with a split that will see the return of “what’s wrong with the Warriors?” questions......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 16th, 2018

Victor-y: Oladipo scores 32 as Pacers stun LeBron, Cavs

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — Victor Oladipo scored 32 points and the Indiana Pacers held off Cleveland's second-half rally for a stunning 98-80 victory Sunday (Monday, PHL time) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series, handing LeBron James and the Cavaliers' their first loss in the opening round in eight years. Indiana was in control from the outset, opening a 21-point lead in the first quarter and leading by 23 in the third. The Cavs stormed back and got within seven, but Oladipo hit a big three-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a triple to make it 88-71. The Pacers completely outplayed the three-time defending conference champions, whose turbulent regular season has carried over into the playoffs. Game 2 is Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time). James scored 24 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his 20th career triple-double. But James got little help as Cleveland's four other starters — Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Rodney Hood and George Hill — combined for 25 points. This is all new to James, who had won 21 consecutive first-round games and lost a postseason for the first time in his 13th playoffs. The 33-year-old is trying to get to his eighth straight Finals, and already the path is tougher than imagined. Cleveland had won 14 straight first-round games, last losing on April 22, 2010, the last season of James' first stint with the Cavs. Indiana was swept by Cleveland in last year's opening round. Those Pacers, though, didn't have Oladipo or the balance of this Indy squad, which may lack experience but not confidence. Lance Stephenson, a longtime playoff nemesis for James, helped set the tone in the first quarter with a dunk he punctuated by throwing several punches into the padded basket stanchion. The Pacers took the fight to the Cavs. They were more physical, more energetic and more composed. Oladipo has become one of the NBA's rising stars, and after being a role player in Oklahoma City, he's Indiana's main attraction and looked like a seasoned star on the playoff stage. He made six three-pointers, swiped the ball from James on two occasions and more than doubled his previous playoff scored high of 15. The Cavs fell behind 33-12 during a strange first quarter that included Cleveland missing all eight three-pointers, James not attempting his first field goal until 1:52 remained and fans in Quicken Loans Arena wondering what they were seeing. As he does for every postseason, James shuts down all social media activities, a routine he calls Zero Dark 23 Mode. And this time, he began it Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) by posting a quote on Instagram from Martin Luther King Jr: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that." The Pacers drove him into a darker place. TIP-INS Pacers: Only have two starters __ Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young — from the team Cleveland swept last year. ... Oladipo wasn't seen as a franchise-changing player when Indiana acquired him along with Domantas Sabonis in the trade for Paul George. However, coach Nate McMillan said the guard wanted to prove himself and did with hard work. "He's a very coachable kid," McMillan said. "We've had many film sessions and one-on-one sessions to try to improve and he's shown that. This is a different season, a good opportunity for him to show where he's at again."... Indiana came in 15-6 in the playoffs when it wins the opener. The Pacers are 4-18 wheb losing Game 1. Cavaliers: James surpassed Michael Jordan (2,188) for the second-most made field goals in playoff history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,356) tops the list. ... James dropped to 48-8 in first-round games. ... Coach Tyronne Lue started Hood over Kyle Korver, who has lingering soreness in his right foot and was on a minutes' restriction. Korver played just four minutes. ... Green was 0-for-7 from the field, 0-for-3 from the line and the Cavs were outscored by 15 when he was on the floor. UP NEXT Game 2 is Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 16th, 2018

MVP Ladder: No topping Harden in award chase

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com Stump speeches aren’t necessary. Not when your campaign drives itself on performance alone, when you elevate the conversation with each and every outing, the way James Harden did from the opening tip of this regular season until the final buzzer. So if it seems like Harden has skillfully avoided getting caught up in this reporter-crafted Kia MVP pickles that often drive the rest of our NBA dialogue on a daily basis, it’s by design. Besides, who needs to dive in on the debate when you have unsolicited celebrity endorsements from the likes of Kobe Bryant, who made clear to USA Today Sports that Harden’s time is now. “It’s got to be James,” Bryant said. “I really don’t understand the debate about picking somebody else. I don’t get it. Like, what the hell does this guy have to do? I mean for the last three years, the guy has been absolutely lights out, and now you still want to sit here and debate who should be MVP when he leads the league in scoring (30.4 points per game), his assists numbers (8.8 apg) are off the charts, they have the best record in the league (65-16). “If he doesn’t win MVP this year, what the hell is he supposed to do to win MVP, average 40 [points], 15 [assists] and 15 [rebounds]? I mean, come on now. Enough is enough.” After coming up short twice in the past three seasons, Harden is poised to capture the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. It is something he felt he earned last season, when his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, used a triple-double season to claim the hardware. Stephen Curry won the award in 2015 and 2016, his star rising in concert with the Golden State Warriors' surge from lottery team, to contender to championship-winner in two of the last three seasons. While Curry claimed those awards, Harden won MVP honors in a vote of his peers at the NBPA’s first Players Awards in July 2015. There will be no dispute this time around. There is no other narrative that trumps Harden’s.   No other player's performance rises above what he’s done for the Rockets this season, the first with he and fellow superstar point guard  Chris Paul sharing the leadership load of the league’s best team. Not even four-time Kia MVP LeBron James, who turned in one of the finest seasons of his 15 year career in Cleveland, could catch Harden on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder or in the minds of most voters. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni coached Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and two-time Kia MVP Steve Nash. Yet it was Harden who received D'Anton's greatest compliment after a win in Portland last month when called Harden the “best offensive player I’ve ever seen.” “He’s a hell of a player, first off,” D’Antoni told USA Today Sports when asked to explain his declaration. “It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved.” If the strength of Harden’s MVP case this season was just his own individual offensive brilliance, he’d still have a rock-solid case. He did record the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history this season and won the scoring title a season after leading the league in assists. But, as D’Antoni noted, Harden's ability to raise the level of play from teammates like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and others is what stands out. “I don't think there's a player that's had to create as much as I've had to in these last three years," Harden said in a GQ profile that came out this week. "I don't know if there's a guy in NBA history.” That comment can be interpreted in a number of ways, and it’s sure to spark yet another debate as the conversation continues deep into this postseason about who is most deserving of Kia MVP honors. But we’re done here. “It’s James Harden, no doubt about it,” a Western Conference executive told me when asked if there was any dispute about this season’s most valuable player. “Harden in a landslide.” * * * The top five in the Final Edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 2017-18 season stats: 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden declared early on that this was the Rockets’ season. He felt they finally had the pieces to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference standings, and, therefore, the entire league. He served notice on opening night, when he and the Rockets spoiled the Warriors' championship banner and rings celebration at Oracle Arena by claiming a win. Harden’s 27 points, 11 assists and six rebounds was the opening salvo in what turned into the best season in Rockets history. Harden’s ability to blend his point guard responsibilities with his role as the most lethal scorer in the league fueled one brilliant performance after another. As well, Harden also silenced the critics who suggested he and Paul would not be able to play well off of each other. The Rockets enter the postseason with the No. 1 overall seed and with all the confidence needed for a championship run. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 2017-18 season stats: 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds LeBron put the final touches on his outstanding 15th NBA regular season by capturing Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for March/April, the fourth time this season he took those honors (October/November, December and February). In addition to the parade of milestones LeBron reached this season, he also piled up a career-high 18 triple-doubles, led the Cavaliers through a tumultuous year that ended with 50 or more wins for the fourth straight season. He shot better than 54 percent from the floor (.542) and also had his best shooting from beyond the 3-point line (.367) since returning to Cleveland from Miami before the 2014-15 season. The true test of his super powers, though, will be on display in this postseason. The Cavaliers finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but go into the playoffs as the favorite, in the eyes of most, to survive the gauntlet due in large part to LeBron’s work the past seven seasons guiding his teams to The Finals. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 3 2017-18 season stats: 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks Davis turned it on when the Pelicans needed it most, after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. He powered the Pelicans with 50 double-doubles, one triple-double and, when the Pelicans needed grind their way into the postseason as 2017-18 waned, he picked his game up even more. He averaged 29 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks during the Pelicans’ season-ending five-game win streak that helped them secure the No. 6 seed. That sealed up Davis' second career playoff run and he’s still looking for his first playoff win. His ability to carry the load for the Pelicans the way he did, though, is easily the most impressive part of his season. There was no guarantee the Pelicans would make the playoffs in a rugged Western Conference even with Cousins healthy. To do it without him speaks volumes about the impact Davis had on his team. 4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 4 2017-18 season stats: 26.9 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard has done what few thought possible after the Portland team he joined as a rookie was taken apart and rebuilt around him. The catalyst for a Blazers team that finished third in the West, Lillard forced his way onto that short list of names in the best-point-guard-in-the-game discussion. He lacks the championship and/or Kia MVP hardware guys like Curry, Kyrie Irving and Westbrook all have. But his body of work as the face of Portland's franchise makes it difficult to leave him out of the discussion. The Blazers wouldn't have come anywhere close to that No. 3 seed without Lillard going nuclear in February (31.4 points, six assists and nearly five rebounds in 10 games). This has been a transformative year on and off the court for Lillard, who is not only had a career-best season, but also celebrated the birth of his son late last month. 5. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors Last week: No. 5 2017-18 season stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists Durant followed up his 2017 Finals MVP honors with a steady season, by his lofty standard, but not one that pushed him closer to the top of this list. His understanding of the way the regular season connects to the postseason no doubt played a role in the way he paced himself. That’s not to say that Durant didn't have an outstanding regular season, because he did. But just like James and to an extent his All-Star teammate, Curry, Durant’s seasons are now measured against the high standard he’s set in past ones. He actually averaged more points and assists this season compared to his first with the Warriors. And he set a career-high with 1.8 blocks per game, showing off his improved awareness and effectiveness on defense. With Curry out for the first round of the playoffs due to injury, Durant will get a chance to remind the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league just how dangerous he can be with everything on the line. The next five 6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 7. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers And five more: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves 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 NewsApr 14th, 2018

10 things to know about the 2018 NBA Playoffs

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press With the NBA playoffs starting Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), here are 10 things to know: LEBRON’S STREAK Pacers fans, avert your eyes. LeBron James hasn’t experienced losing a first-round game in nearly six years. James’ teams have won 21 consecutive opening-round contests, a streak that started in Game 5 of the Miami-New York series in 2012. Combining his Cleveland and Miami years, James’ teams have won 46 of their last 51 first-round games. James and the Cavs play Indiana in the first round this season. MORE LEBRON James could set a slew of NBA records in these playoffs. He’s already the all-time postseason leader in points, is seven steals from passing Scottie Pippen (395) for the playoff record in that department, is four shots from passing Kobe Bryant (4,499) for another career postseason mark. Depending on how long Cleveland’s postseason lasts, James also has a shot at passing Ray Allen (385) for career postseason 3-pointers; he’s 55 shy of taking over the No. 1 spot there. And if the Cavs make a deep run James could also catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,356) for most field goals. KERR BATTLE Golden State coach Steve Kerr is estranged from his son. Temporarily. Nick Kerr works for the San Antonio Spurs — the Warriors’ opponent in a Western Conference first round series. This has long been a source of great amusement for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Steve Kerr as a player and remains close with him now. Popovich has said that Nick Kerr is the subject of additional security screenings at work, just to ensure he’s not a spy for the Warriors. (No, Pop wasn’t serious.) Steve Kerr says he and his son are “recusing ourselves” from family interaction during the series. “I think they already confiscated Nick’s phone,” he said. SO CLOSE ... You have to feel for Omri Casspi and DeMarcus Cousins. No active players have appeared in more regular-season games without any getting any postseason run than Casspi and Cousins. Casspi has played in 552 games, Cousins 535. And both were right on the cusp of ending their droughts this year; Casspi was waived by Golden State because it needed a roster spot once he hurt his ankle, and Cousins tore his Achilles’ to end his season with New Orleans. Tom Van Arsdale (929) is the record-holder for most regular-season games without seeing postseason play, followed by Otto Moore (682), Nate Williams (642), Sebastian Telfair (564), then Casspi and Cousins. GLOBAL GAME These NBA playoffs will be more global than ever. A record 62 international players, from a record 33 countries, are headed to the postseason. Every playoff team has at least one international player on its roster, with Utah and Philadelphia both featuring seven and Boston, Toronto and San Antonio six each. France and Australia lead the way in international representation in these playoffs, with seven players from each nation making it to the second season. Canada and Spain both have four. STREAKING SPURS This wasn’t San Antonio’s best season; the Spurs got “only” the seventh seed in the West. But their streak lives. This is the 21st consecutive season the Spurs have made the playoffs, one shy of matching Philadelphia for the longest NBA run. To put their current streak in perspective, the soonest any other NBA club will be able to say that it has a 21-season postseason streak will be 2033. Golden State and Houston have the second-longest active postseason streaks, at six. Portland and Toronto have been to five in a row, and four teams in this postseason — Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia and New Orleans — didn’t qualify for the playoffs a year ago. MONEY MATTERS Portland and Philadelphia have already won a little extra money. By winning on the season’s final night to ensure each finished alone in third in their respective conferences, the Trail Blazers and 76ers picked up another $64,842 from the NBA’s record $20 million playoff pool this season. Playoff teams split payouts from the pool, often toward bonuses for players and staff. Houston is assured $1,380,065 from the pool so far. Toronto is assured $803,222 while Boston and Golden State are up to $704,169. Every playoff team will receive at least $298,485 — and the payouts keep rising as teams keep advancing. The NBA champion will claim at least $4,782,438; the runner-up, at least $3,587,489. START FAST Of the 15 series played in the 2017 postseason, Game 1 winners ultimately won the best-of-seven 12 times. That 80 percent clip is consistent with the league norm. Since the 1983-84 season, winners of Game 1 have gone on to win the series 79 percent of the time. But that guarantees nothing — over the last seven years, four teams have lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals and gone on to win the championship anyway. DEFEND HOME COURT Home-court “advantage” really didn’t exist in the 2017 playoffs. Road teams won 43 percent of the postseason games played last year, and it’s reasonable to think such a success rate might be in play again this year. The 16 teams in these playoffs combined to win 351 games on the road in the regular season, or 54 percent. Ordinarily, road teams win playoff games about 35 percent of the time. FINALLY, MINNESOTA The Timberwolves are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. During that 14-year drought, the franchise had nine different coaches, used 131 different players, 92 different starters, took 93,776 field-goal attempts and scored 112,664 points. Here might be the best illustration of how long the postseason wait was for Minnesota: Only 12 of the 59 players taken in the 2004 draft were still in the NBA this season. The only player the Timberwolves drafted in the year of their last playoff run was Blake Stepp, who never made the NBA but played at least three times in the World Series of Poker......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

Are the Sixers too young for playoff success?

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 11th, 2018

Celtics still eyeing long playoff run after rash of injuries

By Kyle Hightower, Associated Press BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward exchanged the kind of toothy giggles normally only found between kids on a playground when they were introduced as the new faces of the Celtics. “It’s about to be crazy, G,” Irving said in the ear of Hayward to a soundtrack of clicking camera lenses as they sat on a dais back in September two days after Boston’s blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Seven months later, Irving has proven to be prophetic — albeit not how he had in mind. It has been crazy unlucky for the Celtics. Stunning too. Al Horford said even shocking. And though things haven’t gone as scripted in Boston, the Celtics will open the playoffs at the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference believing they can win it all without their injured offseason acquisitions. “Finals. I’m very confident,” guard Terry Rozier when asked how far Boston can go. “Everybody has to be on the same page. And we just gotta play. And play hard.” That’s been Boston’s calling card throughout the season. They have no choice but to play hard because from Hayward’s gruesome, season-ending left ankle injury on opening night, to the recent pair of left knee surgeries that has sidelined Irving, luck has been in short supply beyond the Celtics’ Leprechaun mascot named Lucky. Horford acknowledged being shocked when he heard that Irving was done for the season. But he said the time has passed for sulking about misfortunes. “We can’t dwell on the past,” Horford said. Obviously it makes it more difficult. Kyrie, he’s the leader of this team. We won with him and now we have to find ways to do it without him.” In addition to Irving and Hayward, Boston will also be without productive rookie Daniel Theis (left knee surgery) for the season and Marcus Smart (right thumb surgery) until at minimum the second round. That’s not to mention a plethora of nagging injuries that have dogged the rest of the roster. Yet, in an Eastern Conference that features a less-than-dominating LeBron James-led Cavaliers team, Boston veterans Horford and Marcus Morris and its corps of talented young players led by Jaylen Brown, Rozier and rookie Jayson Tatum give it as legitimate a chance as anyone to make it to the NBA Finals. The Celtics will finish with their second straight 50-win season and their highest number of victories under coach Brad Stevens. Last season as the East’s top seed, Boston made it to the conference finals in spite of being smacked with adversity on the eve of the postseason following the death of Isaiah Thomas’ sister. Thomas returned to the team, but was then lost midway through the conference finals to a hip injury he’d been quietly playing through. “With Isaiah, we had him all year. Even though he was banged up, he was with us,” Horford said. “Now with our group this year it’s different. We’ve been having so many injuries throughout the year that I feel like our guys — we’re much more prepared handling everything that we’re going through.” The good news is this Celtics team has already done an admirable job of figuring things out without Hayward and Irving. They’ve played all but five minutes this season without Hayward. In 20 games without Irving they are 13-7. Irving played his last game on March 11 (Mar. 12, PHL time). That’s given Boston time to see what its remaining rotation will look like. One thing it will certainly mean is a lot more minutes for reserves like Shane Larkin and Greg Monroe, as well as rookies Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele. Stevens acknowledged that there was hope after Irving’s first surgery on his knee last month that removed a tension wire that he would be able to return early in the playoffs. Having him ruled out has “just solidified that this is where our focus needs to be” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for the other guys and it’s our job to coach them,” Stevens said. “I believe in the guys in our locker room. They believe in themselves.” Without Irving, the most glaring deficiency for Boston is its lack of a go-to scorer. Brown is just a few games removed from scoring a career-high 32 points, and Rozier only recently had a 25-game double-digit scoring streak stopped. He’s also proven to be a dependable defender. Still, there is a sense in the East that Boston may be susceptible to a first-round upset. Miami and Milwaukee, currently have the same record (43-37) as the No. 6 and 7 seeds respectively. The Heat won 2-of-3 meetings this season with Boston, while the Celtics split their four games with the Bucks. Washington, at No. 8 leads the season series with Boston 2-1 with the series finale set on Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). Vulnerable or not, Horford has a message for whoever their first-round opponent is. “We’re the [No.] 2 seed. We have home-court advantage,” he said. “And this point, the only thing I can say to that is I can’t wait for the playoffs to start.”.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 10th, 2018

Top 2 seeds set in East and West; everything else TBD

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press A look at where things stand in the NBA playoff picture, with five days remaining in the regular season: ___ EAST UPDATE The top two seeds are locked up: Toronto is No. 1 going into the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and Boston will open the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. Everything else is unclear. Philadelphia (49-30) now leads in the race for the No. 3 spot, passing Cleveland (49-31) by beating the Cavaliers 132-130 on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time). The 76ers, who haven’t been a top-three seed in the East since their run to the NBA Finals in 2001, would finish third if they end the season with wins against Dallas, Atlanta and Milwaukee. The Cavaliers have two games left, both against New York. So if Philly slips even once, Cleveland could return to No. 3 by sweeping the Knicks. Indiana (47-33) still has a chance at No. 3; to get there, the Pacers have to win out and have both the Cavaliers and 76ers lose out. That seems unlikely, and Indiana is probably heading for the No. 5 spot. Miami, even after a bad loss in New York, controls its fate in the race for No. 6. Milwaukee is No. 7 for now, and Washington — a loser of four straight, including a head-scratcher against Atlanta on Friday (Saturday, PHL time) — has slipped to No. 8. ___ WEST UPDATE Five days left, five spots left to clinch, and six seeds left to decide. A frantic finish is coming to the West. Portland controls the race for the No. 3 seed, and Utah knows that if it wins out the worst it can finish is No. 4 — which is astounding, considering it got off to a 19-28 start and was 10½ games out of the fourth spot. New Orleans (45-34) beat Phoenix to jump two spots to No. 5, and Minnesota (45-35) topped the Los Angeles Lakers to remain a half-game ahead of Denver for No. 8. Those two results mean four teams have exactly 45 wins going into Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), with Denver currently at 44 wins and the Los Angeles Clippers still able to get to 45 if they win out. ___ SUNDAY’S GAMES Some clarity might ... finally ... come to the West. — Denver at L.A. Clippers: The Clippers have to win out, or the season ends. Denver must try to match that desperation. — Milwaukee at New York: Milwaukee is 10-12 since the All-Star break. Some momentum might help the playoff cause. — Oklahoma City at Houston: Means nothing to Rockets. Means plenty to Thunder, who still could get home-court. — New Orleans at Golden State: The Warriors embarrassed themselves at Indiana on Thursday (Friday, PHL time). Will this be more of the same? — Portland at San Antonio: The Spurs are trying for a 21st consecutive playoff spot, and the Blazers are trying to lock up the No. 3 seed. — Brooklyn at Chicago has no playoff implication. ___ CURRENT BRACKET First-round matchups if the season ended Friday ... East: 1-Toronto vs. 8-Washington, 2-Boston vs. 7-Milwaukee, 3-Philadelphia vs. 6-Miami, 4-Cleveland vs. 5-Indiana. West: 1-Houston vs. 8-Minnesota, 2-Golden State vs. 7-Oklahoma City, 3-Portland vs. 6-San Antonio, 4-Utah vs. 5-New Orleans. ___ NOTE OF THE DAY Philadelphia has a chance to set an NBA record — the longest winning streak to end a regular season. The 76ers have won 13 straight and have three games left. Win them all, and they would top the 15-game season-ending stretch by the Rochester Royals in 1949-50. The last double-digit streak to end a season was posted by San Antonio in 2011-12, when the Spurs won their final 10 games. Philly coach Brett Brown was an assistant under Gregg Popovich on that Spurs team. ___ QUOTE OF THE DAY “You’ve got to go through whoever it is anyway.” — Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, asked about the Eastern Conference seeding jumble......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 7th, 2018

June Mar bags PBA Player of the Week honors

Four-time league MVP June Mar Fajardo’s size, skills and experience worked beautifully for San Miguel Beer, which went on to complete a 4-1 semifinal series win over Barangay Ginebra to march to its fourth straight Philippine Cup Finals stint Saturday night. The 6-10 Fajardo averaged 20.67 points and 12.67 rebounds to earn the PBA Press Corps Player of Week for the period of March 13-18, keying the Beermen’s victories in Games 4 and 5 to keep their All-Filipino conference “four-peat” bid alive. Stung by Ginebra’s 95-87 win in Game 3 last Tuesday, the Cebuano big man finished with a double-double stats line of 14 points and 13 rebounds, engineering SMB’s blazing start as the Beermen hammered the Gin Kings, 102-81 two days later. San Miguel, then finished off Ginebra’s Finals aspirations as the 28-year-old Fajardo barrelled his way in for 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the floor, along with 9 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in 100-94 win in Game 5. While Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot also dished off excellent performances in San Miguel’s sensational back-to-back wins, Fajardo earned the nod for the weekly citation. With a league-best 24 PBA titles at hand, San Miguel Beer looks to extend its domination of the Philippine Cup since reigning supreme in the season-opening conference from 2015 to 2017. The 2017 Philippine Cup conquest in fact, gave SMB the Perpetual Jun Bernardino trophy. San Miguel now awaits the winner of the other semifinal series between sister team Magnolia and NLEX. The Hotshots took Game 5 Sunday night, 87-78 to gain the driver’s seat, 3-2. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 19th, 2018