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Rockets return home for Game 5 against Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnMay 24th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Top 10

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

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

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND -- These combo coronation-funerals can be tricky. Imagine the crowning of a new monarch where the royal subjects couldn’t stop chattering about the freshly deposed or deceased predecessor. Where the traditional cry of continuity and succession, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” got flipped, with what was overshadowing what is. That’s pretty much how it went Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, with the Golden State Warriors’ latest NBA championship having to share the stage with speculation, instantly revved up, about LeBron James and the choice he’ll soon make about his next employer. The Warriors are the kings, claiming pro basketball’s throne yet again by completing a sweep of James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals. But of course, James is the King, and as so many of us learned in sophomore English – thanks, CliffsNotes! – “Uneasy lies the head (of those who fret and obsess about the future whereabouts of the NBA superstar) that wears a crown.” Long live the kings! The King is ... gone? There was so much energy before, during and after Game 4 Friday (Saturday, PHL time) poured into the last game/next game conjecture about James, the Cavaliers and seismic shifts in the league’s 2018-19 landscape that even the player’s surprise reveal near the end of the night – a bruised and bandaged right hand – couldn’t derail it. Turns out, as James ‘fessed up, the sore shooting paw was an injury he had been playing with ever since Game 1 in Oakland eight days earlier. He had “self-inflicted” it in a fit of pique when he smacked a whiteboard in the visitors’ dressing room at Oracle Arena after Cleveland’s overtime loss in the series-setter, an outcome driven at least in part by some teammates’ mistakes and an arcane wrinkle in the NBA’s replay rules regarding block/charge fouls. Despite the hordes of media people chronicling every waking detail of the Finals, James had kept the injury on the down-low (along with the possibility that J.R. Smith’s nickname amongst his Cavs teammates might be “whiteboard”). The cameras zoomed in and clicked in a paparazzi frenzy of motor drives every time James raised the hand, wrapped in black tape, above the table during his postgame podium remarks. Whether a legit Page-2-the-rest-of-the-story factor in the championship series or a too-late alibi, the contused hand wound up as a sidebar to where James plans to be using it when training camps open in a few months. As of Friday (Saturday, PHL time), it had been 95 months since “The Decision,” the 2010 announcement that James made in a tone-deaf vanity TV production that he was taking his talents from Cleveland to South Beach. Nearly 47 months had passed since he broke the news of his return in a Sports Illustrated ghost-written essay, envisioning much of what actually has unfolded in the four years since. Now savvy insiders and casual observers alike presume James will be on the move again, pushed to leave the franchise he has defined in an urgent search for more and better talent with which he can compete. As in, y’know, some horses, some horses, his kingdom for some horses. James’ free-agency process next month (he can opt out of a $35.6 million deal in the final season of his current contract) is expected to dictate the market of player movement this summer like an oversized domino. It easily could swing the balance of power, if not quite at Golden State’s lofty level then immediately below it. The monster he helped create Dr. Frankenstein eventually was done in by his macabre creation, and it can similarly be argued that James has no one but himself to blame for the predicament in which he again finds himself. He set in motion the machinery of the super team, after all, when he chose to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami eight years ago. Oh sure, the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 got there first by luring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, but that was about knitting together three stars, all age 30 or older, for what would be their last best chance to win in an extremely limited run. That group won one title, went to two Finals in three seasons and was done, Allen leaving to join James & Co. with the Heat while Garnett and Pierce morphed into trade chips for Boston POBO Danny Ainge. When James, Wade and Bosh teamed up, they were in their basketball primes and their initial giddy boasts of “not four, not five, not six” championships turned off fans league-wide as much for its portent as its pretension. That crew went 4-for-4 in Finals, winning two rings before James, nudged by staleness and chafing as well as his grand plan for northeast Ohio, went home. From there, a line can be drawn through the ill-conceived 2012-13 L.A. Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all the way to this season’s Houston Rockets of James Harden and Chris Paul and the talent-gorged Golden State roster. James was the centerpiece as Cleveland replicated the Big Three concept around him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two younger, playoff-stymied All-Stars. The new-look Cavaliers went to the Finals in their first season together and clambered atop the basketball world to win the franchise’s first NBA title by the end of the second, becoming the first team in league history to do so after digging a 1-3 hole in the best-of-seven series. In that moment, regardless of the two Finals trips that followed, James’ bill was stamped: Paid In Full. Misguided fans might burn his jersey if he leaves again, but James burned the mortgage after that Game 7 in Oakland in 2016 as far as any remaining obligation to fulfill. “I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” he said after elimination Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we'll all remember that in sports history.” James added: “When you have a goal and you're able to accomplish that goal, it actually – for me personally – made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships. And I still want to be in championship mode. I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.” In other words, James intends to sustain his high level of performance. He expects to win. And he presumably will do whatever – and go wherever – is necessary to achieve that. There’s no perfect fit So what does that mean for the NBA’s best player (never mind what the annual MVP balloting says in any given season)? It means this: compromise. There is no ideal situation, certainly no easy answer to the guesswork surrounding James’ looming free agency. He could transform any of the 30 teams, but not without some trade-offs for him, for them or for both. Most of them won’t be in play. Teams in markets such as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Sacramento, the Twin Cities and so on can’t scratch James’ itches for either championship-worthy depth chart or spotlight. New York and Chicago, among the biggies, are out of synch with his timeline. Toronto? No way James is resettling his brand north of the border, and given his stated desire for teammates who have not just sufficient basketball skills but also mental toughness, well, the Raptors teams he and the Cavs have dominated do not qualify. The Boston club that stretched Cleveland to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals is built for the long haul and would have to surrender much of that to adjust to James’ career calendar. There’s a little Kyrie problem lurking there and, truth be told, the Celtics look to be on their way and are doing just fine without the 33-year-old heading, one of these years, toward decline. At some point in each of the 2018 Finals’ final three days, James spoke admiringly of the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs title teams that blocked his path whether in Miami or Cleveland. He was at it again even as the Warriors were dousing the opponent’s locker room at The Q with Moet champagne. “I made the move in 2010 to be able to play with talented players, cerebral players that you could see things that happen before they happened on the floor,” James said. “When you feel like you're really good at your craft, I think it's always great to be able to be around other great minds as well and other great ballplayers. “That's never changed. Even when I came here in '14, I wanted to try to surround myself and surround this franchise with great minds and guys that actually think outside the box of the game and not just go out and play it.” Where might James find that now or recruit that swiftly? Hard to say. There are asterisks and “buts” everywhere: * If he were to sign with the Houston Rockets, James would be hitching his star to Chris Paul, a buddy with an injury history that’s about the mirror opposite of his own. He would be teaming up with an elite coach in Mike D’Antoni, something he’s never had (though Miami’s Erik Spoelstra was just young and unproven, on his way to big things). But it also would require another big ask of James Harden, who had to adapt last summer to Paul’s arrival and need for the ball. * If James chooses the Lakers, he has the chance to hit reset with the league’s glitziest franchise, in a market that can meet his every off-court wish and where he and his family already own one or more ultra-comfortable homes. The Lakers have young talent to help James transition into a lower-usage veteran’s role, favored status as a destination team for other top free agents and the salary-cap space to get it done this summer with the likes of Paul George or his pal Paul. But that roster might not be capable of insta-contending, which could burn a season or two when James’ clock most definitely is clicking. * If it’s San Antonio, James could link up with the elite coach in Gregg Popovich, where the winning culture is in the DNA rather than some acquired taste. The Spurs have talent, particularly if Kawhi Leonard finds happiness again there. But they might not have enough to rattle the Warriors’ cage. And for all their professed admiration, James and Popovich might both fare better by keeping their relationship long-distance vs. the 82-game grind. * If it’s Golden State? Perish the thought. The NBA might have to board up itself if competitive balance were capsized to that extent. And as Draymond Green shrewdly noted on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), if James climbed aboard, it likely would require him and several other Golden State teammates to be dispatched to parts unknown. * If James prefers to stay East, where the winning comes easier, he could pick Philadelphia. The Sixers have two foundational young stars at positions that matter most, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. But Simmons is a non-shooter at the moment, the antithesis of what makes a great complementary LeBron teammate. As for Embiid, James never has had to play off of and service a top center. And Philly might feel like a basketball-only move, with the hungriest and most demanding of any new fan base he would embrace. * If it’s Miami – wait, could it be Miami? Could he go second-home again? The Heat always strive to be competitive and offer a talent base deep enough for the East and lots of familiarity. But they also have players such as Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters whose mental approaches don’t seem to fit the model James was cooing about in Golden State and with the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. * That brings us to Cleveland, where it’s possible James might choose to remain. Staying with the Cavaliers, after leading them to four Finals and that heady 2016 title, would be the easiest choice as far as pressure to win. He owes these fans nothing anymore – in fact, had the bargain been offered to them in 2010 (“LeBron will leave and win elsewhere for four years, but will come back and deliver a championship and four Finals trips”), most would have grabbed it. Here, James and the fans who have watched him even through the interruption develop from ridiculously touted high schooler to one of the world’s most famous athletes could grow older together. Then he could partner up and buy the team from owner Dan Gilbert for a long-term future. Certainly, staying has a certain place in his and the rest of the James clan’s hearts. “The one thing that I've always done is considered, obviously, my family,” he said at series end Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I've got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn't around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I'll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.” It’s worth noting that as James contemplates his options as a modern pursuer of championship excellence, the prospect of him moving again qualifies at some level as a failure. Not just by the support system in Cleveland, where he and Gilbert have their friction and James gets snidely mentioned as the team’s unofficial GM and head coach, but by him too. He’s the one who went off to seek his “college education” in south Florida in what it takes to win, whether on the court, in the front office or in and around the seams 365 days a year, straight out of the Pat Riley handbook. The teams about which James talks so glowingly in Oakland now and in San Antonio then have cultures he covets, stability up and down the flowchart he craves. In Cleveland, for a variety of reasons, his team has been incapable of establishing and maintaining that to a lasting degree. He is part of that missed opportunity and he has to own it, no matter if he goes or stays. James is inseparable from the dynamic of the Cavaliers’ ever-changing and often melodramatic roster maneuvers. Spending big, swapping out draft picks to import current stars and supporting players, and overvaluing secondary guys like Smith and Tristan Thompson are risks the Warriors and the Spurs largely avoided thanks to shrew drafting and laudable continuity. The Cavs’ scrap heap, by contrast, is high with traded picks, scuttled plans, panic deals, short-term patches and folks such as former coach David Blatt and former GM David Griffin. And maybe James could have nurtured a little better relationship with All-Star point guard and 2016 title sidekick Kyrie Irving, enough to have kept Irving from bailing on them all with his trade demand last summer. Now he’s on the verge of casting about again, prioritizing what matters most for however long he continues to play. James is more at peace with it than he was before, particularly in 2010, and surely can enjoy the leverage he wields and the riches it delivers. But there is a burden there as well, one that could be seen as completing a circle. So many of the NBA’s greatest stars have been stuck playing and living in the Age of LeBron, right? Their paths to the Finals blocked, on one whole side of the league, by him and his? Well, LeBron James is stuck now in the Era of the Warriors, freshly swept and anxious to close the gap. What goes around comes around, though the key more pressing of the big W’s now is, where? Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 11th, 2018

Warriors await word on top defender Iguodala as LeBron looms

By Janie McCauley, Associated Press OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson sat on the floor in the middle of his teammates and pointed to his “2018 NBA FINALS” hat during a locker-room photo. An important face was missing from the moment: Andre Iguodala. In a postseason defined by uncertainty for the defending champions, Golden State could be without one of its top defenders as the Warriors chase a repeat title — taking on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a fourth straight NBA Finals matchup. Iguodala’s status for Game 1 on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) is a question as he recovers from a bone bruise in his left knee, which caused him to miss the final four games of the Western Conference finals against Houston. Cleveland’s Kevin Love is in concussion protocol, so he might not be ready, either. Coach Steve Kerr has said Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, will return when he can run without pain. The Warriors sure could use his presence against King James, who is making an eighth straight Finals appearance. “We’re still without Andre, which is a big blow for us,” Kerr said before Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) Game 7 at Houston. “In a different way. He’s not a scorer for us as Chris [Paul] is for Houston, but a huge component. So you go through the playoffs and things happen, and you’ve got to be able to bounce back no matter what and keep going.” Last month, Kerr became concerned his team’s defense wouldn’t return to its top form after Golden State struggled late in the regular season and even endured a particularly poor stretch in which the Warriors dropped seven of 10 games. Yet here they are in a familiar spring spot as June approaches. Once the buzzer sounded and the 101-92 Game 7 win over Houston was official, the Warriors could exhale. It hasn’t been pretty for much of these playoffs, a far cry from that remarkable, record-breaking 16-1 romp through last year’s postseason. There is clearly some relief to be back where this All-Star group expected to be all along. Stephen Curry kept the game ball tucked under his left arm long after Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) game, toddler daughter Ryan held in his right arm. Kevin Durant hugged general manager Bob Myers, while always-animated Nick Young beamed wearing his Finals hat and “Champions of the West” T-shirt, then enjoyed hoisting the shiny trophy. Draymond Green smooched his 1-year-old son, Draymond Jr. Back home, fireworks went off in the East Bay as everyone anticipates another battle with King James. “There’s a lot of just built-up anxiety, I guess, about this moment. When you walk off the court with a win and get this fancy hat, it’s a good feeling,” Curry said. “We had to work for it, and you’ve got to appreciate the moment. Somebody asked, ‘It’s four years in a row getting to The Finals, do you appreciate it?’ Yes, because it’s really hard. So all the smiles and embraces you have with your teammates, your coaches, it’s well deserved.” Golden State struggled to hit shots for stretches. The stars went through funks and the Warriors had to play catch up time and again — including from double-digit deficits in the final two games to beat James Harden and the 65-win Rockets on their home court after settling for the second seed in the West. James has willed his Cavs this far, saying, “I don’t know how I can compare it to other seasons because I can only think about this one in the present.” “Definitely a different team but we know everything goes and stops with LeBron James with them,” Green said......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 30th, 2018

Signature third quarter run lifts Warriors back to Finals

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — Stephen Curry and Golden State turned all those Houston bricks into a road back to the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant scored 34 points, Curry sparked another third-quarter turnaround, and the Warriors earned a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals by beating the Houston Rockets 101-92 in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). The defending champions trailed by as many as 15 in the first half after falling behind 17 in Game 6. Curry, who finished with 27 points, scored 14 of Golden State's 33 points in the third quarter as Houston's shooting didn't just go cold, it froze. The Rockets missed all 14 three-point attempts in that quarter as part of 27 misses from long range. The Warriors will host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) in the fourth straight matchup between the teams. James Harden had 32 points as the top-seeded Rockets' bid to return to the finals for the first time since 1995 fell short without Chris Paul, who was nursing a hamstring injury. The Rockets fell apart in the second half again after doing so in Game 6. The Warriors outscored Houston 122-63 in the second half of the final two games. Golden State led by seven entering the fourth and pushed the lead to 10 on a three-pointer by Klay Thompson with about 9.5 minutes left. Clint Capela made a hook shot for Houston but Durant hit a long three seconds later to make it 86-75. The Rockets were behind by 13 after a triple by Curry and had missed 27 straight three-pointers when P.J. Tucker hit one from the corner to cut the lead to 89-79 midway through the quarter. It was their first three-pointer since one by Eric Gordon with about 6.5 minutes left in the second quarter that put the Rockets up 42-28. Tucker's triple was the first of seven straight points for Houston which cut the lead to 89-83. But Durant scored six points in a 9-2 spurt after that which left the Warriors 97-85 with about three minutes to go. Houston finally found a little offense after that, using a 7-2 run to cut it to 99-92, but their rally bid came up short. Thompson added 19 for Golden State after scoring 35 in the Game 6 win and the Warriors got a fourth straight start from Kevon Looney with Andre Iguodala sitting out again with a bone bruise on his left leg. After being down by 10 at halftime of Game 6, the Warriors trailed by 11 entering the third quarter on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). Golden State opened the third quarter with a 10-4 run to cut the lead to 58-53 after a three-pointer by Nick Young with about eight minutes left in the quarter. Tucker made one of two free throws and the teams exchanged layups before Golden State scored nine straight points, with two three's from Curry, to take a 64-61 lead. Harden made two free throws before Curry scored eight points in a row, highlighted by a three-pointer which bounced high off the rim before falling back in, to make it 72-63 with just over two minutes left in the quarter. Golden State scored 33 points in the third quarter for the second straight game while Houston managed just 15 points on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) after it scored 16 in the third in Game 6. TIP-INS Warriors: Curry went to the locker room with trainers between the first and second quarters, but returned to the bench with about 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter and soon returned to the game. ... Thompson picked up his third foul with about 8.5 minutes left in the first quarter and sat out most of the period. ... Draymond Green had 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Rockets: Houston fell to 6-5 all-time in Game 7's and 4-2 at home. ... Capela finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. ... Tucker had 14 points and 12 rebounds. UP NEXT The Warriors host Game 1 of the finals on Thursday (Friday, PHL time) and Game 2 on Sunday (MOnday, PHL time)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 29th, 2018

Legacies at stake for Rockets, Warriors in Game 7

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com HOUSTON — So much riding on one game, which goes beyond which team reaches The Finals and which one reaches for the golf clubs. Reputations and images and legacies also can and will be determined in this winner-take-all battle between the Warriors and Rockets. Such is the way of professional sports and instant analysis and fortunes, both teams and players and coaches. That said, here’s what’s on the line for the main figures in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals: * James Harden. He can make a solid case for being the second-best player in the NBA over the past three seasons, having finished top three in Kia MVP voting twice and will perhaps take home the award this season. But LeBron James went to The Finals three times in that span and won once. Harden, on the other hand, doesn’t know what June basketball feels like since he joined the Rockets. He’ll have his best chance Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). He’ll be on his court, playing before his crowd, 48 minutes away from facing LeBron and the Cavaliers for a championship. If he loses against the Warriors, then Harden will keep the crown as Best Active Player Without A Championship, which isn’t an honor he embraces. With the possibility of playing this game without Chris Paul, Harden might need to explode for 40 points or more. And that still might not be enough. He’s still in his prime, but reaching The Finals, much less winning, isn’t guaranteed to happen. Remember how Oklahoma City was “destined” to return to The Finals when Harden played there? * Kevin Durant. His championship demons were destroyed last summer when he joined a loaded team and did exactly what everyone expected. Yet Durant didn’t sign up for a one-and-done. The only way to justify leaving OKC is by winning multiple titles. His performance in this series has gone hot and cold. This isn’t the same Durant who tore through everyone last spring and summer; he seems bewildered at times by the Houston defense. If he comes up flat and the Warriors lose, the sensitive Durant might want to stay off social media. * Chris Paul. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said what everyone feels about Paul and his hamstring injury: It stinks. Paul deserves so much more, especially after such a solid run through the playoffs in every round, including outplaying Steph Curry until the injury. Paul never reached the conference finals until now and at 33 is running out of chances to play for the championship. He’ll become an instant hero in Houston if he pulls a Willis Reed and inspires the Rockets in Game 7, then again if he beats his pal LeBron in The Finals. If not? Then he’ll wonder why the Basketball Gods are against him. * Steph Curry. A fourth straight trip to The Finals would make Curry the LeBron of the West. He shook himself free from a shooting slump to recover nicely in this series and save the Warriors from elimination in six games. * Mike D’Antoni. Validation would come finally for D’Antoni should he mastermind a victory over the four All-Star Warriors, especially so should he do it without Paul in Game 7. D’Antoni heard too often about how his offenses weren’t built to last in the postseason but nobody’s saying that now. Anyway, the Rockets employ a far different system than the one he used in Phoenix. Translated: Give him credit for adjusting and cooking up an offense to suit the talents of his players and not vice versa. Also, with the help of lead assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the Rockets’ defense is causing plenty of issues for the Warriors this series. Overall, D’Antoni has pushed all the right buttons. * Steve Kerr. Has he already done enough for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach just off two championships alone? If not, then a fourth straight trip to The Finals might be the trick. But Kerr hasn’t always convinced his players to remain calm in fourth quarters. Why did the Warriors’ offense suffer costly breakdowns in Games 4 and 5? Yes, Houston’s defense rose up, but adjustments by Golden State were slow to come, if at all. * Andre Iguodala. He isn’t expected to play Game 7 and if the Warriors advance, you wonder if he’ll be ready for another shot at LeBron. The Warriors gave him a nice contract extension here in his twilight because of what he means to them in spring and summer. They could use his on-court leadership. * Draymond Green. The Warriors are still looking for a breakout game in this series from their emotional leader. It’s not that Green has been a ghost; rather, he just hasn’t stood out in the small lineup or made his presence known in a big way, other than with the referees (as usual). It would help if Green began hitting those open three-pointers the Rockets are generously giving him. * Daryl Morey. Often celebrated as one of the top general managers in the game, Morey built this Rockets team with beating the Warriors in mind. He traded for Paul and signed P.J. Tucker last summer, and those two have repaid that faith with solid playoff performances. How many more times must Morey tweak the Rockets here in the Harden era before Houston finally strikes gold. For his sake, hopefully, this was the final time. But again, much depends on Paul’s hamstring. Sometimes, the fate of your team is beyond your control. Sometimes, you need luck. * Houston. This city endured a deadly flood, then lifted itself with the help of ordinary citizens and a handful of local athletes and celebrities, then celebrated its first World Series triumph courtesy of the Astros. For the last several months, therefore, Houston has been in the headlines, and would like to add another late Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). 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 28th, 2018

Rockets return home for Game 5 against Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 24th, 2018

Draw of another title lights postseason path of Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

Rockets, Warriors look to advance to conference finals

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: 2018 pre-playoffs predictions

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

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

MVP Ladder: Davis shrugs off pain, makes case for MVP

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com You’ll have to forgive New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry for not feeling the need to mount some coordinated public campaign for Anthony Davis for Kia MVP. Gentry figures the voters have eyes, so they've seen the same jaw-dropping things from the superstar big man that he sees every night. “He’s great, man. Just an absolutely great player in every aspect,” Gentry said in a hallway at the Smoothie King Center after Davis and the Pelicans came up short in a critical game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “You want to know what kind of guy he is? He’s in there beating himself up saying he should have done more. What more could he have done? He got 36 and 14 with three guys handing on him all night. Come on, man, he’s just a great, great player.” Davis finished with 36 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and played the final 17 minutes in pain after injuring his left ankle late in the third quarter. He took a minute to shake it off and finished the game favoring the ankle, that required treatment after the game. These are the sorts of performances he’s turned in routinely this season, particularly since the Pelicans’ other All-Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins, went down with a season-ending Achilles injury Jan. 26 (Jan. 27, PHL time). He and Cousins were on pace to become the first pair of teammates in NBA history to each average better than 25 points and 10 rebounds. Davis is averaging 31.1 points, 12.3  rebounds and 3.6 blocks since the All-Star break, after averaging 27.4, 10.7 and 2.1 in the 51 games before the break. So the “M-V-P” chants he heard in those final minutes against the Trail Blazers were well warranted for a player with range and versatility as a two-way performer that might be unrivaled in the league. “I can only think of a couple guys in this league who can impact a game the way he can from end to end. It’s AD and … ” Gentry said, before a reporter blurted out the name of the other player he was thinking of, “yeah, LeBron. I mean, these guys can guard from the three-point line to the rim and can score from those same spaces on anybody. Guys like that, wth that ability and those talents, they are just very rare.” James and Davis (who occupy the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder) will square off today at Quicken Loans Arena. It’ll be another chance for Davis to be measured against the league’s standard-bearer in regards to the MVP conversation. James has four MVPs in his war chest, and could (and probably should) have a couple more. Meanwhile, Davis is still searching for his first. At 33, James has shown a durability and staying power that Davis, 25, is also still searching for. If there is a knock on his game, it’s that he’s struggled with injuries, bumps and bruises to a degree that’s greater than you’d expect from a player as physically gifted as the 6'11", 253-pound dynamo. Tuesday night’s (Wednesday, PHL time) spill against the Trail Blazers marked the 11th time this season Davis has had to exit a game because of an injury. The reaction of the crowd, a collective hush as Davis writhed in pain under the basket, was followed by wild cheers when he got to his feet and limped to the bench. Davis refused to go to the locker room, choosing instead to take a moment to gather himself and return to the game, knowing the severity of his injury was overshadowed by the weight of the Pelicans’ current predicament. They need every single game to reach the postseason for just the second time in his career, the same postseason he suggested the Pelicans would have dominated had Cousins not gotten injured. That’s why he’ll play through whatever lingering discomfort he has to against the Cavaliers tonight. The gravity of the Pelicans’ situation demands that he fight through the pain, dust himself off and get back on the floor the same way he did Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time). “Just knowing the type of situation we’re in,” Davis told reporters in New Orleans Thursday (Friday, PHL time), “I just wanted to be on the floor. I felt I couldn't leave that game, even though it was bothering me. I just tried to tough it out and just play through it.” * * * The top five in the Week 24 edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: * * * 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 Season stats: 30.7 points, 8.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden took a rare night off Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) and the Rockets still rolled over the Chicago Bulls. The Rockets are good enough to go on auto-pilot the way they’re playing. They’ve already set the franchise record for wins in a season and secured the Western Conference's No. 1 seed ... all with seven games to go in their season. Harden’s work from the start of training camp has been the catalyst for this special season for the Rockets. He worked to integrate the new additions to the lineup, but did so without sacrificing any of the things that made him the strong MVP candidate he was last season. Topping his performance from last season should be more than enough to secure his first Kia MVP. The official word will come on June 25 (June 26, PHL time) at the NBA Awards show. But with the way the Rockets have played down the stretch of this season with Harden leading the way, the suspense in this MVP chase has evaporated. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 Season stats: 27.6 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds You have to appreciate LeBron’s admission that he would indeed vote for himself if he had a say in the race for the Kia MVP. And it’s hard to argue with his logic. Given all that the Cavaliers have endured since Kyrie Irving’s trade request was made public, it’s truly remarkable that he’s been able to compartmentalize the way he has and continue to play at an otherworldly level. If not for James Harden, LeBron would be clearing space on his mantle for his fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Instead, he’ll have to settle for another season of milestones and his continued assault on nearly every career statistic the league has to offer. Not to mention he's still on track to play all 82 games for the first time in his career. And if you were wondering how the old man (relatively speaking, of course) bounces back after tough night (18 points in their Wednesday, PHL time, loss to Miami), catch the highlights from his 41-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist masterpiece in Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back set. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 4 Season stats: 28.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks Back-to-back losses at Houston and at home to Portland have put Davis and the Pelicans in a familiar position in the Western Conference playoff chase. Every game until the finish is a must-win affair, with today’s tilt against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers serving as the ideal showcase for Davis. He’s been an absolute monster of late (29.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 2.4 assists in his last 10 games). He knows what it will take to push the Pelicans into the playoff mix without DeMarcus Cousins, as that is something Davis had to do three years ago to secure his lone playoff voyage. It took a home win over San Antonio on the final night of the regular season to clinch a spot and it might take the same this time around -- Davis and the Pelicans finish up the regular season April 11 (April 12, PHL time) with a home game against the Spurs. 4. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors Last week: No. 3 Season stats: 23.3 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds Saturday’s trip game in Boston (Sunday, PHL time) couldn't have come at a better time for DeRozan and the Raptors, who still have some work to do secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Their lead over the Celtics is down to three games. Given Toronto's recent losses to the Cavs and LA Clippers, a statement win on the road against the surging Celtics would go a long way towards resetting the Raptors' collective confidence. DeRozan’s continued evolution as a playmaker has remained on full display (15 assists in his last two games) and will be crucial to the Raptors’ offensive effectiveness in the playoffs. That's assuming coach Dwane Casey does indeed plan to keep his rotation as deep in the playoffs as he has all season. But the scoring prowess that has propelled DeRozan to All-Star status the past four seasons will be just as important, if not more so, given the relative inexperience of several of the Raptors’ role players. Both DeRozan and fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry know how vital it will be for them to be in a good rhythm for the postseason. 5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 5 Season stats: 26.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard was spectacular in a critical road win in New Orleans Tuesday night, finishing with a game-high 41 points (and nine rebounds, six assists and four steals). He did all that while out-dueling fellow MVP candidate Davis in what was a thrilling, must-see fourth quarter. It didn’t matter who was guarding Lillard -- sometimes it was Davis and other times it was Pelicans defensive wiz Jrue Holiday. Lillard was locked in and on absolute fire in a playoff atmosphere. His importance to the Trail Blazers, though, was even more evident a night later when he was missing from a deflating road loss to in Memphis. Lillard missed the game for a good reason: the birth of his son. But it should be clear by now that these Trail Blazers will go only as far as the mercurial Lillard can take them in the postseason. C.J. McCollum is as good a No. 2 option as you’ll find and Terry Stotts has done Coach of the Year-caliber in developing the roster. It’s Lillard’s scoring and playmaking, however, that takes them from a solid team to a top-three seed in the Western Conference. The next five: 6. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors 7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics 10. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves And five more ... LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers Next up? An inside look at LaMarcus Aldridge from an Western Conference advance scout: “I would love to know exactly what was said in the conversation he had with [Spurs coach Gregg] Pop[ovich] after last season, from both sides. Because whatever it was, it’s produced the best season I’ve seen from LA since he’s been in the league. And I’m dating that back to his best years in Portland. The Spurs aren't close to the team they are with all of the heavy lifting he’s done this season. He’s been more physical and much more active on the defensive end than he was last season and obviously, with Kawhi Leonard missing from the lineup for basically the entire season, his responsibilities as the No. 1 option for them offensively has been tremendous. He’s always been a skilled, face-up big. Working from the L and on the baseline extended, he’s as tough a cover as you’ll find at that position. "He embraced the other stuff, though, and perhaps at Pop’s urging. He’s made himself a more physical presence around the basket and at the rim. When he’s working in space against opposing [centers], that’s when he really has an advantage, because he’ll abuse guys his size and bigger who aren’t as mobile, guys who cannot match his quickness. He’s not an above the rim guy or a rim protector that causes you any concern, but he’s stronger than he looks and this season, he’s mixed it up more when necessary. He’s been more physical than usual. I’d suggest that’s a direct result of what Pop was trying to convey to him. Without Kawhi out there, someone had to play that role as their offensive catalyst and to do that LaMarcus was going to have to toughen up and show more fire than he did last season. I give him credit for stepping up to that challenge. I’ll admit, I was a bit of a skeptic when he was the hot free agent name a couple summers back. It’s easy to forget that. He was the player everybody wanted and the Spurs got him. And it seems like he’s finally comfortable there now in the role he’s playing leading that team right now. I’ve gained a lot of respect for him and his game with the way he’s played this season.” 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 NewsMar 31st, 2018

All-Star break works wonders for Blazers, Jazz, Heat

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com The Portland Trail Blazers are doing it again. For the second straight season, the Blazers are the most improved team after the All-Star break. Last year, spurred by the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic at the trade deadline, the Blazers were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better after the break (plus-5.3) than they were before it (minus-2.5). This year, without a rotation-altering trade, the Blazers have been 9.5 points per 100 possessions better since the break (plus-10.0) than they were before it (plus-0.4). Their 13-game winning streak (which started with their last game before All-Star weekend) came to an end at the hands of James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), but prior to that, they were the only undefeated team (12-0) since the break, climbing from seventh place in the West at the break to third place (with a relatively comfortable three-game lead in the loss column over the teams behind them) going into Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) games. Improvement has come on both ends of the floor. The Blazers have been 5.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 4.0 points per 100 possessions better defensively since the break. With the league average seeing an increase of 1.3 per 100, that's about even improvement on both ends of the floor. On offense, the Blazers have increased their three-point rate (3PA/FGA) from 31 percent before the All-Star break to 35 percent since, but have seen just a small jump in effective field goal percentage. Improvement has come more from taking better care of the ball and getting to the line more often. Over the last 16 games, Damian Lillard has averaged 9.2 points at the free throw line, 3.4 more than he averaged prior to that (5.8). Lillard has also seen a drop in turnover ratio, from 9.8 per 100 possessions before the break to 7.8 since. That 7.8 is the second lowest (higher than that of only LaMarcus Aldridge) among 14 players with a usage rate of greater than 30 percent since the break. On defense, rebounding has been key. After allowing 12.2 second chance points per game before the break, the Blazers have allowed just 9.5 (second fewest in the league) since. They continue to lead the league in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area and have been at their best defensively with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor. The defensive improvement may be more impressive, given that six of the Blazers' 13 post-break games have been against the league's top-10 offenses, though that includes games against Minnesota without Jimmy Butler and Golden State without Stephen Curry. It should also be noted that nine of the 13 games have been at home. Of course, the Blazers have been better defensively on the road (103.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they've been at home (104.6) this season. We'll see how those numbers (and their post-break improvement) hold up when they play seven of nine on the road after hosting the Boston Celtics on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Does it mean anything? Some teams might want to be playing their best going into the playoffs. But playing better late in the season doesn't necessarily mean anything. In fact, playoff team stats (offensive and defensive efficiency) more strongly correlate with pre-All-Star numbers than with post-All-Star numbers. Over the last 10 full seasons (going back to 2007-08 and skipping 2011-12), the 20 playoff teams that have seen the biggest increase in NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) from before the break to after the break have been more likely to underachieve in the playoffs (losing a series in which they had home-court advantage) than overachieve (winning a series they started on the road). The playoff team of the last 20 years that saw the biggest improvement was the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns, who were 8.2 points per 100 possessions better after the break (plus-11.2) than they were before it (plus-2.9). They reached the conference finals as the 3 seed in the West, but did so with home-court advantage in each of the first two rounds (because the seventh-seeded Spurs beat the second-seeded Mavs in the first round). Four of those 20 most improved teams have lost in the first round with home-court advantage, while the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls (4.5 points per 100 possessions better after the break) lost in the conference finals as the No. 1 seed. The overachievers? The 2008-09 Houston Rockets (5.6 points per 100 possessions better after the break) and 2013-14 Washington Wizards (4.8 better) won first-round series as No. 5 seeds without home-court advantage. And finally, the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers (who were 4.8 points per possessions better after the break) reached The Finals as a No. 2 seed. With that in mind, here are the teams that have been most improved on either end of the floor since the All-Star break this season. Most improved offenses 1. Miami Heat Like the Blazers, the Heat are doing this for the second year in a row. When they went from 11-30 in their first 41 games to 30-11 in their last 41 games last season, it was on offense where they really turned things around. Last year's turnaround came with increases in both three-point percentage and three-point volume (3PA/FGA). This year, the Heat have shot better from beyond the arc since the break, but they've actually taken a lower percentage of their shots from three-point range than they did prior, so their jump in effective field goal percentage isn't huge. They have gone from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in both offensive rebounding percentage and turnover rate. Hassan Whiteside has grabbed 28 offensive boards in just eight post-break games, though he hasn't seen a big increase in offensive rebounding percentage since the break. The team increase has been more about six different guys grabbing at least 13 offensive boards over the 14 games. On the turnover front, James Johnson has seen a big drop in his individual rate, from 13.7 turnovers per 100 possessions before the break to just 7.3 since the break. Goran Dragic has also seen seen a reduction. The drop in turnovers, along with more second chances and an increase in pace, as provided the Heat with almost six additional shots per 48 minutes. The Heat's post-break offense has been at its best (more than 123 points scored per 100 possessions) with Kelly Olynyk on the floor. Both Olynyk (60.7 percent) and James Johnson (60.6 percent) rank in the top 20 in post-break effective field goal percentage among 157 players who have taken at least 100 shots since the break. Tyler Johnson, meanwhile, has seen an effective field goal percentage jump from 50 percent before the break to 58 percent since the break. The Heat have played a fairly average post-break schedule in regard to opposing defenses. They've picked on some bad ones (scoring 128 points per 100 possessions in three games against the Suns, Nuggets and Knicks) and have played ugly against some good ones (like those of the Sixers and Blazers), but have been strong against the defenses in the middle of the pack. Going forward, they'll play just three of their 10 remaining games against top-10 defenses. Two of those are against the eighth-ranked Thunder, and one of those is Friday (Saturday, PHl time). Six of their other seven games are against bottom-10 defenses. 2. L.A. Lakers Rookies and second year players have accounted for 45 percent of the Lakers' minutes this season. That's the third highest rate in the league and the highest among teams that aren't at least 23 games under .500. So, in-season improvement both critical and somewhat expected. Of course, a vet has been a big part of the Lakers' offensive improvement. Brook Lopez has seen the second biggest increase in effective field goal percentage (behind that of Wilson Chandler) among players who took at least 300 shots before the break and have taken at least 100 since the break (see table below). For Lopez, as well as the team as a whole, it's been about the three ball, both in regard to percentage and volume. Before the break, the Lakers ranked 29th in three-point percentage and 22nd in the percentage of their shots that were threes. Since the break: fifth and fourth. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (46.3 percent) ranks seventh in post-break three-point percentage among 98 players with at least 50 attempts. But the biggest key to the Lakers' post-break offense may be a big jump in minutes for Julius Randle. He's actually seen a drop in usage rate and not much of an increase in efficiency, but Randle has gone from averaging less than 25 minutes before the break to 34 since the break. As a result, he's averaged 21.5 points (on 59 percent shooting) over the 13 games. And in that stretch, the Lakers have scored 14.2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (114.1) than they have with him off the floor (99.9). Most improved defenses 1. Utah Jazz Utah's improvement started with the return of Rudy Gobert from a month-long absence in mid-January. Since his return on Jan. 19 (Jan. 20, PHL time), the Jazz have allowed just 96.2 points per 100 possessions, 6.5 fewer than any other team. Over those nine weeks, the difference between the Jazz and the second-ranked Spurs (102.7) is more than the difference between the Spurs and the 20th-ranked Hawks (109.1). More improvement came with the acquisition of Jae Crowder at the trade deadline. And the Jazz have allowed a paltry 85 points per 100 possessions in 308 minutes with Crowder and Gobert on the floor together, with their opponents shooting just 38 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range. And the Jazz haven't allowed their opponents to do much with all those misses, grabbing 85 percent of available defensive boards (a rate which would lead the league by a wide margin) in those 308 minutes. There is a schedule-related boost here. Since the break, the Jazz have played seven games against the league's bottom-10 offenses (including six against the bottom six) and just three games against the top 10. But in two of those three games (Feb. 27, PHL time vs. Houston and March 12, PHL time at New Orleans), they held their opponent under a point per possession. They've now done that in nine straight games and in 18 of their last 24. Given the state of league-wide offense (this is now the most efficient season in league history), that's pretty remarkable. The Jazz have four games remaining against top-10 offenses, including two against the Warriors. One of those is Sunday at Golden State (next Monday, PHL time). 2. Indiana Pacers The Pacers have improved defensively six of their 14 post-break games having been against teams that rank in the top 11 offensively (the 11th-ranked Wizards have bounced in and out of the top 10). They've gone 3-3, but held those top-11 offenses - Milwaukee (x 2), New Orleans, Washington (x 2) and Toronto - to just 103.4 points per 100 possessions (about four fewer than the league's post-break average) over the six games. The Pacers' post-break defense has been at its best, allowing just 96 points per 100 possessions, with Myles Turner on the floor. Turner has been improved offensively since the break (seeing a sizeable jump in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage), but his defense has been more important. While Turner has made an impact inside, forcing turnovers has been a big part of the Pacers' defensive improvement. They lead the league in opponent turnover rate since the All-Star break, having forced 17.4 per 100 possessions, up from 15.1 (10th) before the break. Victor has been the league leader in steals this season at 2.2 per game, and has seen an increase (from 2.1 to 2.8) since the break, with Thaddeus Young (2.3) joining him in the top four in post-break steals per contest. The Pacers have also rebounded a little better, grabbing 77 percent of available defensive boards (15th in the league) since the break, up from 76 percent (27th) before it. Things haven't gone so well on the other end of the floor. The Pacers have seen the league's biggest drop in offensive efficiency since the break. They ranked sixth offensively (108.5 points scored per 100 possessions) before the break and rank 26th (101.6) since the break. Oladipo (from 59 percent to 46 percent) and Young (from 54 percent to 45 percent) have seen two of the eight biggest drops in effective field goal percentage since the break among 142 players who took at least 300 shots before the break and have taken at least 100 shots since the break. The improved defense will continue to be tested in the next couple of weeks. The Pacers will play six of their next eight games against top-10 offenses. That includes two games against the second-ranked Warriors and two more against the seventh-ranked Clippers. L.A. is in Indiana on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Most improved shooters Here's a look at the players who have seen the biggest increases in effective field goal percentage since the All-Star break. 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 NewsMar 23rd, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 6th, 2018

Where the Eastern Conference stands after the All-Star break

With roughly a third of the regular season left to play in the NBA, here's where the Eastern Conference teams stand at the All-Star break. GOING TO THE LOTTERY #10 Charlotte Hornets 24-33 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 5.5 games back of #8 #11 New York Knicks 23-36 WL record (2-8 in last 10 games), 7.5 games back of #8 #12 Chicago Bulls 20-37 WL record (2-8 in last 10 games), 9.5 games back of #8 #13 Brooklyn Nets 19-40 WL record (1-9 in last 10 games), 11.5 games back of #8 The Nets of course, don't own their 2018 first-round pick. That's going to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were able to improve their roster at the trade deadline while hanging on to that asset. Right now the pick is slotted in at #7, but there's just one game separating them and the two last-place teams, the Phoenix Suns and the Hawks. Of course, unlike those teams, Brooklyn is not incentivized to lose games and improve their draft position, and so where this selection winds up could still fluctuate wildly. #14 Orlando Magic 18-39 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 11.5 games back of #8 #15 Atlanta Hawks 18-41 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 12.5 games back of #8 ON THE CUSP OF THE PLAYOFFS #9 Detroit Pistons 28-29 WL record (6-4 in last 10 games), 1.5 games back of #8 The Pistons got a big boost from the Blake Griffin trade, helping them win the latter four games of a 5-0 stretch. After that though, they lost three in a row, including to trade partners the Clippers, before entering the break with a win over the Hawks. The biggest variable for the Pistons is point guard Reggie Jackson, who hasn't played since December 27 (PHL time) due to a right ankle sprain. He's projected to return in March, and how he fits in with Griffin and All-Star Andre Drummond will likely decide whether or not the Pistons go to the postseason. PRECARIOUS POSITION #8 Miami Heat 30-28 WL record (3-7 in last 10 games), 1.5 game cushion over #9 #7 Philadelphia 76ers 30-25 WL record (6-4 in last 10 games), 3 game cushion over #9 Two teams going in opposite directions right now. Miami had a red-hot January, winning 10 games out of 15, but have just one victory in February, versus 6 losses. In contrast, Philly has overcome a stretch where they were 3-5 spanning the last two months, and won five straight entering the break. And oh yes, the two teams played each other twice in February, with the 76ers winning both match-ups. It'll be interesting to see how Miami continues to use Dwyane Wade, whom they acquired at the trade deadline. In three games back in South Beach, Wade is averaging 7.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks in 22 minutes. However, he's also norming a whopping 4.0 turnovers. For the 76ers, it'll obviously be on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to carry the load, but improved play from Robert Covington would be a great boost. His three-point shooting has decreased each month, from 46.7 percent in November, to now just 27.9 percent in February. LOOKING FOR HOMECOURT #6 Milwaukee Bucks 32-25 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 4 game cushion over #9 #5 Indiana Pacers 33-25 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 4.5 game cushion over #9 #4 Washington Wizards 33-24 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 5 game cushion over #9 These three squads are Playoffs-bound, but the question is which of them will snag #4 and get home court advantage in round one. Right now, the team with the most upside has to be the Washington Wizards, who have so far done well without superstar John Wall, going 7-2 while he recovers from knee surgery. If they can continue to weather the storm until he returns in mid-to-late March, they should lock up #4. HERE THEY COME... #3 Cleveland Cavaliers 34-22 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 6.5 games back of #1 No doubt, it's a small sample size, one game sans traded pieces but before the new acquisitions were medically cleared, and then two with their four new players, but the Cavs were rolling entering the break, and LeBron James looks locked in anew. We'll need more games to see if James indeed has better chemistry with Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and George Hill, and one more factor to consider is the impending return of Kevin Love from his broken hand, which will obviously necessitate changes to the amount of shots everyone gets. Right now though, the King seems to have the necessary type of players that he needs to return to the Finals anew. REGRESSING TO THE MEAN? #2 Boston Celtics 40-19 WL record (5-5 in last 10 games), 2 games back of #1 Boston has slipped from the top spot of the East in recent games, their defense suddenly giving up a ton of points to opponents. After a stretch of seven straight wins early in January, they're now just 6-9 in their last 15 outings. We'll need to see if the rest over the All-Star break gives them a boost, or if this is just the Celtics coming back down to Earth. Remember, in the aftermath of the Gordon Hayward injury, nobody expected them to play this well. That they did, and are now seeing a mini-slump, might just mean we need to adjust our expectations anew of how good this Boston team is. TORONTO ON TOP #1 Toronto Raptors 41-16 WL record (9-1 in last 10 games) Not only does Toronto have the best record in the East, they have the best home record too, dropping just four of their 28 games in Canada. In contrast, West #1 Houston Rockets have four losses, while defending champs Golden State Warriors have seven. Toronto's biggest boon, aside from DeMar DeRozan finally embracing the three-pointer, has been their bench. Right now, the five-man group of CJ Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright is their second-most used lineup, and it's +34.6. Their best quintet is the previously mentioned one, but with DeRozan in place of Miles (+82.5). There are still questions about how Toronto will look come the postseason. Over the past few years, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have struggled mightily with their shot in the playoffs. Should they get there though with the #1 seed in the East, things might turn out differently. They have two more games each against Boston and Cleveland, and so the opportunity to get home court through the Eastern Conference Finals is definitely in play. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 21st, 2018

Paul has 33, Rockets end Warriors streak with 116-108 win

KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 33 points and 11 rebounds, James Harden had 22 points and the Houston Rockets held off the Golden State Warriors 116-108 on Saturday night to snap their 14-game road winning streak. Harden stepped back from Stephen Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left. Harden then blocked Curry's 3-point attempt after a timeout, and Paul made two free throws with 28 seconds left. Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston. Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts. The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half. It was Harden's second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday. The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points. Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left. The Warriors scored five straight points, including a 3 from Green, early in the fourth quarter to go up 96-94 for their first lead since early in the first quarter. They were behind by one later in the fourth before scoring the next five points to take a 104-100 lead with about seven minutes remaining. The Rockets led by eight in the third before Golden State ended the quarter with a 9-2 run, with a 3 from Curry and two from Nick Young, to get within 92-91 entering the fourth. TIP-INS Warriors: Green surpassed the 4,000-point mark (4,019) and added seven rebounds to also reach 3,000 rebounds. ... Golden State had 19 turnovers. ... Young finished with 16 points. Rockets: It was the second time in five games that Paul had scored 30 points or more. ... Ryan Anderson had 13 rebounds. ... Paul also had seven assists and three steals. UP NEXT Warriors: Host the Knicks on Tuesday night. Rockets: Host the Heat on Monday night......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 21st, 2018

10 things to know going into the 2017-18 NBA season

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Happy New Year, NBA. The 72nd regular season starts Tuesday night (Wednesday, PHL time), when Boston heads to Cleveland and Houston goes to Golden State. Fans in Cleveland will boo Kyrie Irving, fans in Oakland will cheer the Warriors’ latest championship banner, and the march toward April will finally be underway. The offseason was loaded with changes. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George went to Oklahoma City, Gordon Hayward and Irving went to Boston, Isaiah Thomas got sent to Cleveland, Jimmy Butler is now in Minnesota and Paul Millsap calls Denver home. That’s seven All-Stars who moved, a record for an NBA offseason. Every coach who started last season will start this season. That’s an NBA first. Here’s 10 things to know about the NBA season that is finally here: ___ 10. QUICK STARTERS San Antonio, Toronto and Miami will likely start 1-0 — because under current management, San Antonio, Toronto and Miami almost always start 1-0. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is 18-2 on opening night, Raptors coach Dwane Casey is 7-1 and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is 7-2. Spoelstra has started 1-0 in each of the last six seasons, the longest such run in the NBA. A coach in need of a 1-0 start? Try New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry. He’s dropped five straight openers and is 2-9 on opening night. Brooklyn, Orlando, Milwaukee and Utah have the league’s longest current opening-night losing streaks, starting 0-1 in each of the last four seasons. 9. FROM DISTANCE Last season was the third straight where the NBA’s team single-season three-point record fell, starting with Houston (933 in 2014-15), Golden State (1,077 in 2015-16) and Houston again (1,181 from 2016-17). Between the Rockets, Cleveland, Boston and the Warriors, four of the five highest single-season three-point totals in history came last season. Don’t expect the 3-ball to go away anytime soon, either. 8. LEBRON’S MARKS LeBron James’ list of milestones is about to get longer. He comes into this season 1,213 points shy of becoming the seventh NBA player to reach 30,000, meaning it should happen by about the All-Star break barring any extended absence. He’s also on pace to eclipse the 8,000-rebound and 8,000-assist marks this season. The only other player in NBA history with 25,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists is Kobe Bryant. James already has all those numbers, and counting. 7. WHERE’S THE DEFENSE? In 2014-15, half the league — 15 teams — held opponents under 100 points per game. Two seasons later, San Antonio and Utah were the only teams that managed the feat. The league’s planned crackdown on traveling this season might help, but it’ll be interesting to see if defensive numbers improve in this era of three-point-reliant, pace-and-space basketball. 6. MAYBE MINNESOTA Think about this, with apologies to fans in the Pacific Northwest: There have been more NBA playoff games in Seattle over the last 13 years than in Minneapolis. This will finally be the year that changes. The Timberwolves, who last reached the postseason in 2004, should return this spring even in a loaded Western Conference with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and new addition Jimmy Butler leading the way. 5. SPURS CHASE HISTORY If the Spurs win 41 games this season — a safe bet — it’ll be the 21st consecutive season where San Antonio finishes the regular season at .500 or better. That would tie the NBA mark in that department, matching the feat set by the Utah Jazz from 1983-84 to 2003-04. The Spurs set a record for consecutive winning seasons last year with their 20th. (Utah was 41-41 in 1984-85.) 4. DIRK’S LONGEVITY Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki enters this season 31 games away from passing Kevin Willis for No. 6 on the NBA’s all-time list. At 48,673 minutes, he’s also within striking distance of No. 5 Elvin Hayes (50,000), No. 4 Jason Kidd (50,111) and No. 3 Kevin Garnett (50,418). 3. STEPH WATCH Stephen Curry will have just turned 30 when this regular season ends. And by then, he legitimately could be No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time three-point list. Curry starts this season No. 10, and at his current pace will pass Ray Allen for the top spot sometime in the 2019-2020 season. 2. NEW DEADLINE No longer will the All-Star Game be overshadowed by talk of who’s getting moved where (like last year, when DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the Pelicans while players were still in locker rooms in New Orleans immediately after the game). The trade deadline will now be 10 days before the All-Star break, so this season that means Feb. 8 (Feb. 9, PHL time). 1. AND THE WINNER IS ... How can anyone pick against Golden State right now? The Warriors will get their third title in four years, which is the easiest prediction possible. So we’ll finish this with some probably less-than-chalk picks: LeBron James is going to reclaim the MVP award, the Rockets will have a game where they connect 30 times from three-point range and Charlotte’s Steve Clifford will be coach of the year......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 17th, 2017

Warriors wrap up preseason with a win over Kings

The Associated Press - Stephen Curry had 18 points in 19 minutes as Golden State made a successful return home after its two-game China trip, 117-106. David Stockton had 23 points and eight assists for the Kings (1-5). em> strong>KINGS: /strong> /em> Veteran summer acquisitions Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill all were sidelined. ... Rookie Frank Mason started and had 10 points. ... Rookies De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic missed the game with injuries. em> strong>WARRIORS: /strong> /em>Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala didn’t play. ... Patrick McCaw scored 17 points and Nick Young made five three-pointers for 15. ... Rookie Jordan Bell started and finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. ___ strong>LAKERS 111, CLIPPERS 104 /strong> Brook Lopez scored 16 points for the Lakers (2-4), and the Los Angeles teams tuned up against each other before they meet in their season openers on Thursday (Wednesday, PHL time). Tyrone Wallace had 23 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Clippers (2-3). em> strong>LAKERS: /strong> /em>Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle each scored 15 points. ... Rookie Kyle Kuzma struggled to a 1-for-8 night, scoring eight points. ... Lonzo Ball sat again after hurting his ankle earlier in the preseason. em> strong>CLIPPERS: /strong> /em>Rookie Jawun Evans had 22 points and eight assists. ... Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Danilo Gallinari, Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic all sat. ___ strong>HORNETS 111, MAVERICKS 96 /strong> Kemba Walker scored 17 points and Johnny O’Bryant III had all 15 of his points in the fourth quarter for Charlotte. O’Bryant was 5-for-5 from the field and 3-for-3 from the foul line in the fourth, helping the Hornets (2-3) pull away with a 29-15 spurt. Harrison Barnes scored 24 for visiting Dallas (4-2). em> strong>MAVERICKS: /strong> /em> Dennis Smith Jr. closed his preseason with 10 points and nine assists. ... Dirk Nowitzki had 14 points and J.J. Barea added 13. em> strong>HORNETS: /strong> /em>Dwight Howard grabbed 12 rebounds, helping Charlotte win that battle 50-37. ... Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon each scored 14. ___ strong>CAVALIERS 113, MAGIC 106 /strong> Playing without LeBron James, Cleveland got 18 points from Jose Calderon and 15 from Dwyane Wade to beat Orlando. James missed his fourth preseason game with a bad ankle, and Kevin Love also didn’t play for the visiting Cavaliers (1-4). Aaron Gordon had 21 points for the Magic (3-3). em> strong>CAVALIERS: /strong> /em> Kyle Korver took five two-point attempts, something he did in only six games all last season. ... Wade and Derrick Rose didn’t play in the second half. ... JR Smith came off the bench to further acclimate to his new role, now that Wade is the starting shooting guard. em> strong>MAGIC: /strong> /em>Orlando allowed 36 points in the third quarter. ... Jonathon Simmons started again in place of the injured Terrence Ross (hamstring). ... Simmons had 12 points and Elfrid Payton had 11 on 4-for-4 shooting. ___ strong>WIZARDS 110, KNICKS 103 /strong> Bradley Beal scored 24 points in his best game of the preseason, helping Washington (4-1) send the Knicks to a winless exhibition slate. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 points as the host Knicks finished 0-5. em> strong>WIZARDS: /strong> /em> All-Star John Wall sat out the finale. ... Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 21 points. ... Former Knicks forward Jason Smith had 17 points. em> strong>KNICKS: /strong> /em>Kristaps Porzingis (sore right hip) and Frank Ntilikina (bruised right knee) were held out again. Ntilikina, the Knicks’ first-round pick, appeared in just one preseason game. He said he expects to fully practice Saturday. ... Doug McDermott scored 21 points off the bench. He had 12 in his first five minutes. ___ strong>RAPTORS 125, BULLS 104 /strong> Toronto outscored Chicago 38-17 in the fourth quarter to turn what was a tie game into a blowout. CJ Miles scored 27 points for visiting Toronto (3-2), which got 17 from Kyle Lowry and 16 from Norman Powell. Justin Holiday scored 17 for Chicago (3-3). em> strong>RAPTORS: /strong> /em> Jonas Valanciunas had 11 points and 10 rebounds. ... The Raptors were 19 of 48 from 3-point range. em> strong>BULLS: /strong> /em>Lauri Markkanen scored 13 and Bobby Portis added 12. ... Chicago had 28 assists on 38 field goals. ___ strong>SPURS 106, ROCKETS 97 /strong> LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 10 rebounds for San Antonio (3-2). Rudy Gay scored 14 points and Kyle Anderson added 13 for the Spurs. Eric Gordon led the host Rockets (4-1) with 27 points, and James Harden added 15 points and 11 assists — but shot a mere 5 for 17. em> strong>SPURS: /strong> /em>Danny Green had 11 points and seven assists. ... The Spurs outscored Houston 60-38 in the paint. em> strong>ROCKETS: /strong> /em>Houston took 53 shots from three-point range, making 15. ... Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson combined for 27 points, but shot 5-for-20 from behind the arc. ___ strong>GRIZZLIES 142, PELICANS 101 /strong> New Orleans’ Tony Allen — who will have his jersey retired by the Grizzlies when his career ends — got a huge ovation from fans in Memphis in his first trip back as an opponent. He didn’t play, and the Pelicans got routed. Jarrell Martin scored 20 points and Marc Gasol finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for Memphis (3-2). Jordan Crawford scored 19 for New Orleans (1-3). em> strong>PELICANS: /strong> /em>Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins both shot 2 for 5, combining for 16 points. ... New Orleans trailed by as many as 49. strong> em>GRIZZLIES: /em> /strong>Memphis got to the 100-point mark with 4:17 left in the third quarter. ... Mike Conley scored 19. ___ strong>BUCKS 107, PISTONS 103 /strong> Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out six assists as Milwaukee (1-3) avoided a winless preseason. Avery Bradley and Andre Drummond were brilliant for visiting Detroit (2-3). Bradley scored 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting, and Drummond finished with 18 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists. em> strong>PISTONS: /strong> /em>Tobias Harris scored 13 points and Boban Marjanovic added 10. ... Detroit got outscored 48-27 from three-point range. em> strong>BUCKS: /strong> /em> Khris Middleton and Mirza Teletovic each scored 14. ... Milwaukee used 14 players — 13 of them scored (rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon was the exception) and all 14 got at least one rebound. ___ strong>76ERS 119, HEAT 95 /strong> Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick each scored 19 for Philadelphia (2-3), with Redick going 5 for 6 from 3-point range. Bam Adebayo, James Johnson and Dion Waiters had 13 apiece for Miami (3-3). em> strong>HEAT: /strong> /em>Hassan Whiteside picked up three fouls by the midpoint of the first quarter, with Joel Embiid drawing them all. ... Jordan Mickey had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Justise Winslow scored 10. em> strong>76ERS: /strong> /em>Philadelphia “hosted” the game in Kansas City, Missouri. ... The 76ers shot 14-for-39 from beyond the arc, while holding Miami to a 4-for-30 performance from long range. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 14th, 2017

Camp time! Warriors, Wolves prepare to open training camp

em>By Jon Krawczysnki, Associated Press /em> The Golden State Warriors were the last team standing when the NBA season closed in June. Thanks to a preseason trip to China, they are one of the first teams to get going this season as the league gets up and rolling again. The Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves will hold their media days on Friday and open training camps Saturday, a few days ahead of the rest of the league as they prepare for an early October trip to China for games in Shanghai and Shenzhen as part of the league’s ongoing efforts to grow the game in the basketball-crazy nation. Golden State will be the headliner in China, just like it has been in the NBA for the last three seasons. And the Warriors open camp this season with a major advantage over everyone else that goes above and beyond the sheer talent the organization has assembled with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. While the rest of the league spent the entire summer scrambling to upgrade in a desperate attempt to enter Golden State’s stratosphere, the Warriors return almost the entire roster from the team that won its second championship in three seasons. In fact, Golden State should only be better this year because it will not have to spend part of the early season figuring out how to incorporate Durant’s game with three other All-Stars. Meanwhile, teams like the Rockets, Cavaliers, Thunder, Timberwolves and Celtics will need all of the preseason and then some to get on the same page with the new stars in town. There will be no such orientation process in Golden State. Free agents Nick Young and Omri Casspi will have to acclimate, but that is a lot easier to do when Durant and Curry are showing them around. ___ So as media days and training camps get up and running, here are a few things to watch at the outset: strong>HARD FEELINGS? /strong> It appeared that Durant was on his way to mending some fences in Oklahoma City after he left the organization to join Golden State last season. But the fence posts may have been torn down again when Durant disparaged the Thunder team and coach Billy Donovan as the biggest reasons he left to join the Warriors. Durant has since apologized , but the topic will likely come up again when he speaks to the media on Friday. And it should be interesting to see if Russell Westbrook has anything to say about it when the Thunder open early next week. strong>CP3 ARRIVES: /strong>The most intriguing roster experiment this year may be in Houston, where GM Daryl Morey is teaming James Harden with Chris Paul in a star-studded backcourt. Harden finished second in the MVP voting last season after moving from shooting guard to point guard and now will have to move back to accommodate Paul. Both players are used to having the ball in their hands and orchestrating the offense, so there will likely be some feeling-out that needs to be done in camp. The two have already appeared in a television commercial together, so they’re off to a running start. strong>KYRIE’S MOVE: /strong>The biggest headline in a wild offseason was Kyrie Irving’s request for a trade from the Cavaliers. He landed in Boston in a move that could define his legacy, the All-Star who didn’t want to play with LeBron James. Irving did little to shed light on his motives in an enigmatic interview with ESPN and likely will be bombarded with questions about it at media day. How the Celtics handle the early crush of attention and move past Irving’s exit from Cleveland could play a big role in their ability to truly challenge the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. strong>CRASH COURSE: /strong>The Timberwolves are one of the teams that made significant roster changes this summer after a disappointing 31-win season in Tom Thibodeau’s first year as coach. They added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford while trading away Ricky Rubio in an offseason overhaul aimed at ending the league’s longest active playoff drought at 13 seasons. Thibodeau asked owner Glen Taylor to allow the team to hold training camp in San Diego before they head out to China to get them away from the distractions of home and allow them to bond in a preseason that only includes three games. That Butler and Gibson played for Thibodeau with the Bulls should help that transition, but it will no doubt be a process worth watching. strong>RULES CHANGES: /strong>When players start taking the court for exhibition games, it will offer an opportunity for them to start to adjust to rules changes and points of emphasis that are new every season. One notable difference this year will be the “James Harden rule,” a change in the way the game is called aimed at reducing the number of instances a player tricks a defender into fouling them and then goes into a shooting motion to try to earn free throw attempts. Harden is the master , though dozens of players do the same thing. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 23rd, 2017

BLOGTABLE: How many games will Rockets win in 2018-19?

NBA.com blogtable The Rockets led the league with 65 victories last season. How many games do you think they can win in 2018-19? * * * David Aldridge: Fewer, but that's not a big deal. The assumption here is they'll rest Chris Paul more and more going forward to give him the best chance at getting to the postseason, so that may cost them 4-6 meaningless regular season wins. And if you take away another handful because of the dual loss of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, let's pencil Houston in for 55-57 regular season wins. Don't think that will be a big deal as long as they don't finish fourth in the west and have to face Golden State in the second round. Tas Melas: The general sentiment among basketball fans is that the Rockets will be far worse (the over-under line in Vegas is 55.5 wins!). What actually happened with the roster to forecast such a drop-off? It’s basically Carmelo Anthony and James Ennis replacing the departed Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute (leaving out the additions of RJ Hunter, Michael Carter-Williams, Markel Brown and draft picks at this point). Everyone will point to the defensive issues with Melo starting over Ariza. Defense is an attitude. Yes, a coach needs the personnel, but as much as it is about the guys on the floor, it’s also about the locker room, and I still think there’s enough with Clint Capela, Chris Paul and PJ Tucker (Ariza was part of mediocre Rockets defenses the two years before last season, which were also before James Harden improved defensively). And Melo replacing Ariza is why Ennis was signed – to be the defensive yang to Melo’s offensive ying. Melo can play primarily in the 1st and 3rd with Ennis playing the most important defensive minutes in the 4th. Exposing Melo might happen more in the playoffs, but for the regular season, I see this as a 62-win team. They do still realize that they need the 1-seed to beat Golden State. Shaun Powell: I'd go with the under here and say 60 wins for the Rockets, not because they're in for a steep decline. I'm just not sure they're willing to press for wins in April, given the unpredictability of Chris Paul's vulnerable body, which potentially cost them the Western Conference title (and maybe an NBA title) last season. The Rockets needed to get best record and home-court advantage in the West last season for their mental health. That's not necessarily the case now. John Schuhmann: Even if the Rockets kept the same team together and were relatively healthy, another 65-win season would have been difficult in a deeper Western Conference. And the departure of Trevor Ariza and the loss of depth at the forward positions should hurt them, especially on defense, where they ranked sixth last season. They still have a terrific core of five guys -- Harden, Paul, Capela, Eric Gordon and Tucker -- and should be plenty motivated to get back to where they were a few months ago, so I'll guess that they finish with 59-61 wins, which would still be good for the second best season in franchise history. Sekou Smith: I think the Rockets are capable of another 60-win season. But it'll take a monstrous effort to duplicate the season they had a year ago. And I'm not sure it's worth the energy. The Rockets need only maintain an advantage over the Golden State Warriors to ensure that a potential Game 7 in the Western Conference finals is played at the Toyota Center (only this time with a healthy Chris Paul). If the Warriors decide to attack the 2018-19 regular season the same way they did the 2017-18 regular season, the Rockets would be wise to push only hard enough to maintain a reasonable cushion ahead of the two-time defending champs. There's nothing else to prove. We know the Rockets are capable of winning it all. We witnessed it last season, right up until the moment that Paul suffered his injury......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 11th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Middle 10

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Wonder what the rental market is like in San Luis Obispo, Calif. San Luis Obispo is, give or take a few miles, one of the closest cities that is near the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the events of the NBA’s offseason, it’s not hare to imagine national reporters are going to be spending a lot of time in California next season, bouncing back and forth between the Bay and L.A. Catch LeBron James and the Lakers on Wednesday and then, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Thursday. The Western Conference only got stronger and deeper with James leaving Cleveland for a second time, this time to go to the Lakers. Add four of the top five Draft picks -- including No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings) and international phenom Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, acquired by Dallas Mavericks) -- going to Western Conference teams, and the talent disparity between conferences only seems greater. But did Eastern Conference teams take advantage of Cleveland deflating to make their teams better? And how effective were West teams in making their teams better prepared to at least compete with the Warriors? That’s where this year’s Offseason Rankings come in -- big, bold, definitive. You love them, if the amount of hate tweets and e-mails I get after they’re published are any indication. Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most. Here's what these rankings ARE NOT: A predicted order of finish for next season. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) I do not expect the Suns, for example, to have a better record than the Celtics, just because they had a better summer. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the Mavericks are now a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before? - If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team.       - If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) What plays into the rankings: - This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses, the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.       - Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. So Chicago, for example, gets credit for adding young, affordable players as it stockpiles its talent -- but that talent has to fit together, as Wendell Carter Jr. does with Lauri Markannen. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.       - Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely. Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means. The Middle 10 * * * 11. TORONTO RAPTORS 2017-18 RECORD: 59-23; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals ADDED: Coach Nick Nurse; G Danny Green (acquired from Spurs); F Kawhi Leonard (acquired from Spurs) LOST: Former coach Dwane Casey; G DeMar DeRozan (traded to Spurs); F Alfonzo McKinnie (waived); C Jakob Poeltl (traded to Spurs) RETAINED: G Fred VanVleet (two years, $18.1 million) THE KEY MAN: Nurse. The former Raps assistant has extensive G League head coaching experience. But the NBA isn’t just about a coach’s Xs and Os acumen. We know Nurse can do that. But an NBA coach has to have command presence in a locker room not only full of millionaires, but full of Alpha males who have their own very strong opinions on how they should be used and how their teammates should help them. Nurse will have to show he can put his own stamp on a team that will have some new faces while still having extremely high expectations. THE SKINNY: You may well think Toronto should be higher, based on Leonard’s standing as a top-five player in the league when fully healthy. No matter what you think of DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, no one can realistically say he’s better than “The Klaw” when both are 100 percent. But, of course, we don’t know if Leonard’s 100 percent. And, trading DeRozan, who’d been the franchise’s biggest advocate during his nine seasons there -- and who had led the team to its greatest extended run of success ever -- is not a transaction without consequence for the Raptors. He helped get the best out of Kyle Lowry. He could help recruit free agents. And, the circumstances of his departure have not helped the franchise’s reputation. Still, this is a talent-based league, and Leonard has it. His and Green’s presence on the perimeter gives Toronto the chance to be a switching defensive monster -- and will help the Raptors be able to match up better with the likes of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in a late-May playoff matchup, as long as the Raptors’ young core in which it believes so strongly continues to play as well in reserve as it did last season. 12. MILWAUKEE BUCKS 2017-18 RECORD: 44-38; lost in first round ADDED: Coach Mike Budenholzer; G Donte DiVincenzo (No. 17 pick, 2018 Draft); G Trevon Duval; F Ersan Ilyasova (three years, $21 million); C Brook Lopez (one year, $3.32 million); F Pat Connaughton (two years, $3.2 million); LOST: Former interim coach Joe Prunty; G Brandon Jennings (waived); F Jabari Parker (signed with Bulls) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: G Eric Bledsoe. His departure from Phoenix early last season was messy. But once he got to Brewtown, Bledsoe solidified the Bucks at the point, averaging 17.8 points and 5.1 assists per game in 71 starts. At 28, Bledsoe faces the last year of his contract and will have to show a new coach he’s capable of running things long-term and playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo through the meat of his prime. THE SKINNY: Budenholzer’s arrival should coincide with an improvement in the Bucks’ defense, something that former coach Jason Kidd could never quite accomplish. Ilaysova’s return for a second tour in Milwaukee should help, with his celebrated charge-taking skill and Lopez’s still-substantial size a double-boon to Milwaukee’s interior D as the Bucks were bottom 10 last season in points allowed in the paint (47.4 per game). If the paint becomes a little tougher to traverse, the Bucks should finally able to use their substantial length on the wing to get back to create deflections and turnovers, and get out in transition, where Antetokounmpo and Friends do their best work and their most damage to the opposition. They’ll do so 41 nights a year for the next couple of decades in the 17,500-seat Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ new arena that will open in early September with a concert and should pump new revenues into the Bucks’ bloodstream, giving them more financial wherewithal to keep “The Greek Freak” surrounded with high-quality talent. 13. UTAH JAZZ 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in Western Conference semifinals ADDED: G Grayson Allen (No. 21 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jarius Lyles; G Naz Mitrou-Long LOST: F Jonas Jerebko (waived) RETAINED: G Dante Exum (three years, $33 million); F/C Derrick Favors (two years, $37.6 million), G Raul Neto (two years, $4.4 million); F Georges Niang (three years, $4.9 million) THE KEY MAN: C Rudy Gobert. He’s a monster presence, the hub of the Jazz’s defensive wheel and the reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year. And he has to take a step back in Utah next season for the Jazz to take the next step forward. He has to understand what Utah has in Donovan Mitchell and let that kid eat. Nobody in the league can do what Gobert does defensively. So embrace that and concentrate on that -- take the Draymond Green attitude about being the “defensive guy” on a great team (not that Jazz fans want you to do anything that Green does). Gobert’s handsomely paid and the DPOY award found him in Salt Lake City; there’s no small-market bias at work here. So let Mitchell and Joe Ingles carry the shooting/scoring load, let Ricky Rubio orchestrate, and snuff out opponent dreams at the other end, night after night. It’s what you were born to do. THE SKINNY: My God, Mitchell had a great rookie season. And Utah brought most of the band back from last season to provide advice and consent for him again, re-signing Favors, Exum and Neto each on very reasonable contracts. Doing so leaves Utah over the cap, still comfortably under the tax, and with nothing on the books that should raise an eyebrow financially. (Utah’s front office should handle my checking account for a while.) Anyway, no reason to expect any backsliding next season with the crew returning, though coach Quin Snyder will surely miss the counsel of his longtime friend Igor Kokoskov, off to run the Suns. 14. ATLANTA HAWKS 2017-18 RECORD: 24-58; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Lloyd Pierce; F Justin Anderson (acquired from 76ers); G Kevin Huerter (No. 19 pick, 2018 Draft); C Alex Len (two years, $8.5 million); G Jeremy Lin (acquired from Nets); F Omari Spellman (No. 30 pick, 2018 Draft); G Trae Young (No. 5 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former coach Mike Budenholzer; G Antonius Cleveland (waived); G Damion Lee (signed with Warriors); F/C Mike Muscala (traded to 76ers); G Dennis Schröder (traded to Thunder); G Isaiah Taylor (waived) RETAINED: C Dewayne Dedmon (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: GM Travis Schlenk. The second-year executive will be judged on how well Atlanta uses its trove of Draft picks -- three firsts this year, three firsts next year, two firsts in 2022 -- the next few years. And, ultimately, the Hawks will live or die by whether Young or Luka Doncic becomes the bigger NBA producer. Schlenk’s chances of completing the rebuild may well ride on that. THE SKINNY: The Hawks’ roster teardown is nearing completion, but the renovated Philips Arena will come online faster than the team, which now needs Young to live up to all the hype after his one season at Oklahoma. He has incredible range and great potential, but he’ll be challenged every night to stay in front of the legion of great points in this league. Pierce, the former Sixers’ assistant, is going to have a very tough time melding all the newcomers with the small core of players who survived, including John Collins, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre' Bembry and Taurean Prince. 15. LA CLIPPERS 2017-18 RECORD: 42-40; missed playoffs ADDED: C Marcin Gortat (acquired from Wizards); G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11 pick, 2018 Draft); F Johnathan Motley (acquired from Mavericks); F Mike Scott (one year, $4.3 million); F Luc Mbah a Moute (one year, $4.3 million), G Jerome Robinson (No. 13 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Austin Rivers (traded to Wizards); C DeAndre Jordan (signed with Mavs); G C.J. Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Avery Bradley (two years, $24.9  million); C Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million); G Wesley Johnson (picked up player option); G Milos Teodosic (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: F Tobias Harris. He was the key tangible piece of the Blake Griffin trade last season (the intangible being the unprotected first from Detroit in the deal that eventually became Gilgeous-Alexander after a Draft night trade with Charlotte). And Harris played quite well in his 32 games with the Clips, averaging 19.3 points and six rebounds per game. Those numbers could each well go up in a contract year and with few others outside of Lou Williams on the roster that can go get their own buckets. THE SKINNY: Amazing, but true: the Clipper player with the longest current tenure is … Wesley Johnson, who came aboard in 2015. “Lob City” is in the history books and change will be the norm here for a while, including next summer, when the Clippers expect to be a free-agent destination. The Clips did what they could with that not-insignificant restriction, but the best stuff was in the Draft, winding up with a potential long-term point in Gilgeous-Alexander and a two in Robinson that rocketed up the pre-Draft charts. Bradley’s on a very team-friendly and controllable contract, as is Patrick Beverley, whose modest 2018-19 salary isn’t guaranteed until January. Those two and Mbah a Moute can give coach Doc Rivers hope that he can get some stops on the perimeter, because while Gortat is still willing defensively and still takes a bunch of charges, he is not Jordan when it comes to rim protection. 16. BROOKLYN NETS 2017-18 RECORD: 28-54; missed playoffs ADDED: F/C Ed Davis (one year, $4.4 million); F Jared Dudley (acquired from Suns); F Kenneth Faried (acquired from Nuggets); G/F Treveon Graham (two years); F Rodions Kurucs (No. 40, 2018 Draft); F Dzanan Musa (No. 29 pick, 2018 Draft); G Shabazz Napier (two years, $3.7 million) LOST: F Darrell Arthur (traded to Suns); F Dante Cunningham (signed with Spurs); C Dwight Howard (waived); G Jeremy Lin (traded to Hawks); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Hornets); G Nik Stauskas (signed with Blazers); G Isaiah Whitehead (traded to Nuggets) RETAINED: G Joe Harris (two years, $16 million) THE KEY MAN: Co-owner Joseph Tsai. The Alibaba executive and billionaire has 49 percent of the team, and can buy majority control from Mikhail Prokhorov by 2021. Until then, they’ll run the team jointly, so no matter Prokhorov’s ups and downs, Brooklyn’s financial spigot should never run dry. Tsai reportedly has designs on expanding the Nets’ brand further in China, just as Prokhorov believed the Nets had global reach. They didn’t, at least not the post-KG and Pierce squads. THE SKINNY: If you love Ed Davis like smart people who know basketball do, Brooklyn makes the top half by bringing the ex-Blazer in on a short deal. If he plays great, he’ll cost the Nets a pretty penny in 2019, but Brooklyn has to take chances on guys who can outperform their contracts. The only thing the Nets couldn’t do was take on more ’19 salary when they’ll be in line to potentially add two max players. Won’t be easy to lure the elites, but Brooklyn also has accumulated enough assets to be able to make uneven trades for salaries if need be. In the interim comes next season, with coach Kenny Atkinson needing to continue to develop diamonds in the rough like Graham, who Cleveland wanted and who will help the Nets at multiple positions. 17. CHICAGO BULLS 2017-18 RECORD: 27-55; missed playoffs ADDED: G Antonius Cleveland; C Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 7 pick, 2018 Draft); F Chandler Hutchison (No. 22 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jabari Parker (two years, $40 million) LOST: F Jerian Grant (traded to Magic); G Sean Kilpatrick (waived); G Julyan Stone (waived); F Noah Vonleh (signed with Knicks); G Paul Zipser (waived) RETAINED: G Antonio Blakeney; G Zach LaVine (matched four year, $78 million offers sheet from Kings) THE KEY MAN: G Kris Dunn. As the 24-year-old will be every season he’s in Chicago. The Jimmy Butler trade in 2017 yielded the pick that became Lauri Markannen, and he’s also a key piece to the Bulls’ future. But Chicago won’t ever get elevation again if Dunn doesn’t become an elite point guard in a league full of them. He showed signs last season that he could be just that, most notably a December in which Dunn averaged 14.9 points and eight assists, and the Bulls went 10-6. But a concussion in January derailed Dunn’s progress and his production fell sharply the rest of the season. THE SKINNY: Can Parker play the three, as the Bulls insist he can? There isn’t a ton of evidence suggesting so, and Parker’s hypothesis that he isn’t getting paid to play defense does not provide much comfort. But the Bulls will try him there alongside Markannen and rookie Carter Jr. in what would be a huge frontcourt. Almost $20 million annually for LaVine going forward is also a stretch, but less of one if LaVine comes all the way back from his 2017 ACL tear with a full training camp and season. Carter may be more important to the Bulls’ hoped-for resurgence than Parker and LaVine; the Duke big man has that much potential. 18. WASHINGTON WIZARDS 2017-18 RECORD: 43-39; lost in first round ADDED: C Thomas Bryant; G Troy Brown (No. 15 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jeff Green (one year, $2.5 million); C Dwight Howard (two years, $11 million); G Austin Rivers (acquired from Clippers); G Issuf Sanon (No. 44 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Marcin Gortat (traded to Clippers); F Mike Scott (signed with Clippers) RETAINED: G Jodie Meeks (picked up player option); C Jason Smith (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Coach Scott Brooks. Entering his third season in Washington, Brooks keeps saying he wants the Wizards to defend and play fast. But he has to follow that up with action, especially when and if John Wall doesn’t provide the on-ball defense Washington needs to have any chance to unleash a still-potent fast break. Wall is 27 and, if healthy, in his prime. The team takes almost all of its cues from him; when he’s locked in, the Wizards can compete with anyone. But when he’s indifferent, so are they -- as evidenced by their horrible record against bad teams. Brooks has to demand Wall’s best, or be ready to limit his minutes. THE SKINNY: NBA protocol almost demands you hate the pickup of Howard, such is his current perceived valued among many after multiple stops the last few seasons. The guess here is that Howard won’t hijack the Wizards’ locker room, as he had been accused of while in with the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets, especially. Howard’s skill set can help Washington, which fell off defensively last season. But there’s also not much sense he’ll be a significant pick-me-up in D.C., either. He can’t stretch the floor and he’s not especially potent finishing in pick and roll, either. But the Wizards should at least be deeper off the bench with Green, who played well for the Cavs last season, and Rivers, who gives Washington legit guard depth along with Tomas Satoransky. 19. SACRAMENTO KINGS 2017-18 RECORD: 27-55; missed playoffs ADDED: F Nemanja Bjelica (three years, $20.4 million); C Marvin Bagley III (No. 2 pick, 2018 Draft); G Yogi Ferrell (two years, $4.1 million); G Ben McLemore (acquired from Kings); F Deyonta Davis (acquired from Grizzlies) LOST: G Garrett Temple (traded to Grizzlies) RETAINED: G Iman Shumpert (picked up player option); C Kosta Koufos (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: F Harry Giles. The Kings traded for the one-and-done forward on Draft night 2017 and redshirted him, feeling he needed a year to fully recover from the multiple knee surgeries he’d undergone the last three years. Those surgeries stopped his top-five Draft potential in its tracks, before and after a year at Duke. But Giles is back on the floor, having flashed his skills during NBA Summer League, as Sacramento gushed about his progress. If the 20-year-old is ready to roll come October, he could be an enormous boost. He’ll have to at least become a contributor, lest folks remind the Kings they passed on the likes of Kyle Kuzma and O.G Anunoby to trade for his rights. THE SKINNY: Bagley III has superstar potential, and he better become one, or the Doncic Stans among the Kings’ fan base will have aneurysms. The Kings were all over everyone, seemingly, this summer, dropping sheets on Zach LaVine, almost doing the same with Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker, and going after unrestricted free agent Mario Hezonja. All well and good, and getting Bjelica out from under Philly and prying Ferrell from Dallas were decent late July pickups. But it will be Bagley III who’ll be under the microscope. His skill sets are prodigious and he’s been working out feverishly all summer. And he wants to make a mark in restoring the Kings to where they were on the floor during the Webber Years. He worked out for them. He’s enthusiastic about them. That counts for something. 20. HOUSTON ROCKETS 2017-18 RECORD: 65-17; lost in Western Conference finals ADDED: G Michael Carter-Williams (one year, $1.5 million); G De'Anthony Melton (No. 46 pick, 2018 Draft); F Vincent Edwards (No. 52 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Trevor Ariza (signed with Suns); Luc Mbah a Moute (signed with LA Clippers); C Chinanu Onuaku (traded to Mavs) RETAINED: C Clint Capela (five years, $90 million); G/F Gerald Green (one year, $2.3 million); G Aaron Jackson (picked up team option); G Chris Paul (four years, $159 million) THE KEY MAN: Jason Biles, Joe Rogowski, Keith Jones and Javair Gillett -- the Rockets’ athletic trainers, sports performance and rehab staff. Their only mission next season, should they decide to accept it, is to get Paul through an 82-game regular season and a two-month playoff slog without breaking or pulling anything of importance that keeps him out of key games. Of course, should any of the staff be unsuccessful, the Morey will disavow any knowledge of their employment. Good luck, men. THE SKINNY: We have not yet included Carmelo Anthony, who will be signing in Houston any minute now. When he’s officially on the roster, he’ll certainly help, and we all saw that even Houston can go through extended scoring droughts in the playoffs. Having Anthony around should alleviate that. The Rockets may have had the best signing of the summer, keeping the 24-year-old Capela locked up long-term for $18 million per -- incredible value these days, given the way salaries are skyrocketing. But that was mitigated by the losses of Ariza and Mbah a Moute, who were crucial to the switching defense Houston employed and perfected by the playoffs, which threw sand in the gears of the Warriors’ impenetrable offense and would likely have propelled the Rockets to The Finals if Paul hadn’t gotten hurt in Game 5. Ennis and Carter-Williams will help some in that regard, but they don’t have the resume of Mbah a Moute and Ariza -- which means they sometimes won’t get the benefit of the doubt from refs that the old heads do. Houston’s still the clear number two to Golden State in the West, but the gap between the Rockets and the best of the rest has closed. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018