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Star rookie, Jazz rock Rockets, level series

Utah had a four-point lead in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night when Donovan Mitchell missed a jumper and sailed above three Houston Rockets to grab the rebound and finish with a nifty one-handed slam......»»

Category: newsSource: philstar philstarMay 3rd, 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

2017-18 NBA season review

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 29th, 2018

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

Chris Paul, Houston Rockets take dominant step toward ultimate goal

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

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

30 Teams in 30 Days: Jazz on upswing after postseason run

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com What offseason? That's a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8 (June 9, PHL time), NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead. With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days. * * * Today's Team: Utah Jazz 2017-18 Record: 48-34, lost in Western Conference semifinals to Houston Rockets Who's new: Grayson Allen (Draft) Who's gone: Jonas Jerebko, David Stockton The lowdown: Left woozy by the summer departure of free agent and franchise star Gordon Hayward, the Jazz gave the ball to a rookie and pulled a surprise by nearly winning 50 games and bouncing Oklahoma City Thunder from the playoffs. Their season was made more remarkable considering center Rudy Gobert played only 56 games because of knee issues. But Donovan Mitchell (20.5 points per game) was an unexpected savior and far better than anyone imagined. He won over his teammates and coach Quin Snyder quickly, then earned respect around the league for taking charge and also bailing out Utah in a number of close games, both rare for a rookie. Mitchell finished as the Kia Rookie of the Year runner-up. Snyder made good use of the rotation and found functional roles for most and the Jazz used Mitchell and defense to flourish. By the playoffs, Mitchell was arguably the best player on a floor that featured former Kia MVP Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and the Jazz entered the offseason feeling confident about the future. In 2016, the young Portland Trail Blazers made the playoffs, stunning the LA Clippers in the first round before giving the Golden State Warriors a feisty series in the semis. Encouraged by the bounce and swagger showed by an emerging club, the Blazers handed out contract extensions and … they haven’t done anything special since. In hindsight, every one of those extensions looks like a mistake. The lesson: Fool’s gold can sometimes, um, fool you. Are the Jazz headed down that path? The situations aren’t exactly the same, yet similar to a degree. Instead of going outside to make a few cosmetic changes to the rotation, Utah was mostly content to keep free agents Dante Exum and Derrick Favors, giving each contracts that were somewhat generous in a soft market that worked against most players. Exum signed for three years and a reported $33 million, or roughly the going rate for a backup point guard. But Exum’s run in Utah has been interrupted by injury and, even when healthy, his play was inconsistent. He perhaps earned the benefit of the doubt in the playoffs when he stepped in for an injured Ricky Rubio and had moments of solid play. Evidently, the Jazz feel Exum’s better days are just ahead. He’s only 23 and after investing so much time in him, Utah wasn’t ready to cut him loose. He brings great size (6-foot-6), is energetic, and point guard isn’t a Jazz strength. If nothing else, Exum gives Utah a sense of security. Favors is richer after signing a reported two-year, $36 million extension as no other team was willing to beat that price for him. The last two seasons weren’t exactly robust for Favors, who battled through injuries, sporadic play and found himself benched because of mismatches in today’s stretch-happy NBA. Favors has worked to develop more of a 3-point shot, but his lack of perimeter shooting was exploited by Houston in the playoffs. But as the case with Exum, the Jazz have years of player-development invested in Favors. As Utah’s longest-tenured player, Favors is a solid defender next to Gobert and the Jazz outscored their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions with the two bigs on the floor together. And even though he’s seemingly been around Utah forever, Favors is just 27 years old. The decisions by the Jazz to maintain the status quo isn’t unusual with this franchise, which has long prided itself on stability and player development. Strangely enough, Mitchell claims to love life in the Wasatch Mountains -- something to remember when and if he ever reaches free agency (unlikely, since the Jazz will surely break the bank for him). Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey moved up to take Mitchell in the 2017 Draft and has a knack for finding talent in places where few others search. He has had a solid track record in the Draft and with the 21st pick took Allen. A year ago, the Duke shooter considered entering the draft, but got mild feedback from NBA types. Allen brings 3-point range to a team that ranked 13th in 3-pointers made and attempted last season. Unless he makes an impact right away, Allen will be in the back end of a rotation that showcases Joe Ingles for distance shooting. The trick for Utah is to match or surpass last season’s effort while catching no one by surprise this time. And the Jazz must do that with virtually the same cast as before. 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 NewsSep 23rd, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Bottom 10

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

Long-awaited matchup arrives for Rockets, Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 11th, 2018

X-rays negative for Jazz star Donovan Mitchell

NBA.com staff report Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell was helped to the locker room in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets with what is being described as left foot soreness, per the team. Donovan Mitchell's (left foot soreness) x-rays returned negative. He will undergo further tests in Salt Lake City. — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) May 9, 2018 Mitchell's x-rays came back negative and he'll be re-evaluated in Utah. The injury occurred after Mitchell collided with James Harden midway through the fourth quarter. He was seen in the tunnel on a golf cart and would not return to the game. During the final minutes of the Rockets' 112-102 series-clinching win, a limping Mitchell returned to sit on the bench, presumably to join his teammates as their season came to a close. The 21-year-old finished the game with 24 points and nine assists, erupting for 22 points in the third quarter to spark a huge Jazz run. He finished his first playoff run averaging 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 9th, 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

Jazz guards Rubio, Exum out for Game 5 vs. Rockets

NBA.com staff report Utah will remain woefully thin in the backcourt as they try to stave off elimination at Houston. Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum will both miss Game 5 on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) with strained left hamstrings, the team announced on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). Rubio suffered his injury in Game 6 of Utah's first-round series against Oklahoma City. Exum came up hobbling during Sunday's (Monday, PHL time) Game 4 loss to the Rockets. Tomorrow's @UofUHealth report: Danté Exum (left hamstring strain) is out. Ricky Rubio (left hamstring strain) is out. Thabo Sefolosha (right knee surgery) is out. — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) May 7, 2018 Combined, Rubio and Exum are averaging 41.4 minutes, 19.1 points and 8.0 assists per contest. After Rubio went down, Exum had become an intriguing defensive wildcard for the Jazz, who have had their hands full containing Houston's star backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul. Now, Utah will be forced to rely even more on standout rookie Donovan Mitchell and reserve guard Alec Burks......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

Rondo, Green serve up spicy subplot in NBA playoffs

By Brett Martel, Associated Press NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green have won NBA titles and never have been known to shy away from conflict on the court. Now their combustible convergence in the playoffs is providing spicy subplot to the Western Conference semifinal series between New Orleans and Golden State. “We’re here to fight,” Rondo said following New Orleans’ lopsided Game 3 victory that trimmed the Warriors’ series lead to 2-1. “With my guys on the court, I’m going to fight as hard as I can ... and do whatever it takes.” Green and Rondo had to be separated after whistles twice in the first three games — never mind some other antics in the flow of the game — and they’ll be back at it again in one of two pivotal Game 4s to be played on Sunday (Monday, PHL time). The other pits Houston against Utah in a series that the Rockets lead 2-1. The Rondo-Green sideshow is compelling because of what both players mean to their teams. They are not the type of trash-talking, loud-mouths who otherwise play marginal roles. They are accomplished leaders who produce. Rondo had 21 assists in Game 3, while Green nearly had a triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and nine assist. It just so happens they also are renowned for their masterful command of psychological gamesmanship. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry might have the best perspective; he’s coached them both. Gentry was a Warriors assistant on Golden State’s 2015 championship team and maintains a friendly off-court relationship with Green. “If he’s on your team you love him and if he’s not on your team you despise him — and to me those are the kind of players that I like to have,” Gentry said of Green. “I appreciate who he is and how he plays because he’s all about winning. And if you’re verbally weak, he’s going to take advantage of that.” Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls Green his team’s “heart and soul,” and its “engine.” Kerr also added lightheartedly that the fact Green hasn’t been assessed a technical foul in the postseason is “one of the great stats in this year’s playoffs.” Green bristled at the notion that he started any of the dust-ups with Rondo, insinuating that Rondo was the instigator. He asserted that his awareness of Rondo’s intentions is why he hasn’t been suckered into escalations that could result in a technical foul or ejection. “I’m not an idiot,” Green said. “I can see what they’re trying to accomplish a mile away.” Green added: “At some point, somebody’s got to tell the truth. It ain’t Draymond this time.” But Green has been in the face of other Pelicans players, tangling with All-Star Anthony Davis behind the play in one instance and yelling at the Pelicans’ bench in another. Green’s antics even agitated TNT studio host and former player Charles Barkley, who said he wanted to punch Green in the face. Barkley later apologized for his word choice, if not the sentiment. Pelicans forward Solomon Hill explained that Rondo — accomplished, playoff-savvy veteran that he is — seeks to neutralize Green’s psychological effect by taking on a “big brother” role for the Pelicans. “If somebody’s yelling in your ear, you’re going to get to a point where it’s about respect,” Hill said, referring to Rondo by his nickname, ‘Do.’ “And that’s kind of where ‘Do’ is. ’Do’s like: ‘We’re going to be respected. You’re not going to come out here and dance around and disrespect us as competitors.’” A closer look at Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) games: WARRIORS AT PELICANS Warriors lead 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT (3:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Although the Warriors lead the series, the Pelicans have not lost at home yet in the playoffs and have improved considerably in each game since losing by 22 in the series opener. New Orleans lost by only five points in Game 2 and then won by 19 when the series shifted to New Orleans. KEEP AN EYE ON: Warriors stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. They combined to miss 36-of-59 shots in Game 3 and will be eager to regain their shooting strokes. “I still don’t think K.D. or Steph was aggressive enough,” Green said. “I’ve said to both of them, I need them to be aggressive. They’re our guys. That’s who we’re going to to get buckets. We need them to be aggressive at all times and they’ll be that way” on Sunday. INJURY UPDATE: Curry will be in his third game back after missing more than a month with a sprained left knee. Kerr said he wasn’t surprised to see Curry’s production dip in his second game back. “Game 2 is always the hardest one after you come back from an injury,” Kerr said, adding that “it just takes some time,” for NBA players to regain their energy, legs and rhythm. PRESSURE IS ON: The Pelicans, who don’t want to go back to the West Coast down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination. “We’ve just got to avoid any kind of letdown,” Gentry said, adding that his players “understand who we’re playing and they understand the situation.” ROCKETS AT JAZZ Rockets lead 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT (8am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Following a surprising home loss in Game 2, the Rockets roared back to life in Game 3, picking apart the Jazz on both ends of the court. A fast start, highlighted by a 39-point first quarter, put Houston back on track. The Rockets shot 59 percent from the field before halftime and never looked back. “From the beginning of the game, we made a conscious effort to get stops and offensively push the pace and get shots, and we did that,” Rockets guard James Harden said. KEEP AN EYE ON: Rockets sixth man Eric Gordon has been a tough cover for the Jazz. Gordon broke out for 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Game 3, resembling what he did against Utah earlier, averaging 21 points on 48.4 percent shooting in three regular season meetings. ROOKIE STRUGGLES: Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is averaging 16 points on 32 percent shooting in the series while filling in at point guard for Ricky Rubi. He went just 4-of-16 for 10 points in Game 3. “I didn’t really do much,” Mitchell said. “That can’t happen. ... It’s like I would have been better off not showing up — and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up for my teammates. I’ll fix it.” PRESSURE IS ON: The Jazz. A second straight home loss would put Utah in the unenviable position of needing two victories in Houston to stay alive......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 6th, 2018

Game 2 win puts Jazz in position for upset anew

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — They’ve already sprung one upset this postseason. Do the Utah Jazz have another one in them? There’s no reason to doubt the fearless, short-handed Jazz after they toppled the Houston Rockets in Toyota Center Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) with a 116-108 win in Game 2 over the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, evening up this second-round series at 1-1. The Jazz led by 19 before halftime, surrendered that advantage and trailed by five in the third quarter before re-taking control with a decisive 16-2 run late to shock the Jazz and snatch home court advantage with Games 3 and 4 this weekend in Salt Lake City. “That to me was maybe the most important thing in the game,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his team’s resilience. “To get off to a good start and play well and then you know they’re going to come back. It’s just a question of how far and how quickly, and I thought they cut the gap and not only made it a game, but basically took control of the game. "I think we could feel that. At that point, for our guys to keep their focus on what we’re trying to do, and continue to run and continue to shoot and try to defend says a lot about the team and how they function together and that they didn’t break at that point.” Playing into May wasn’t supposed to be in the cards for this Jazz team that lost All-Star Gordon Hayward to Boston in free agency. Only six players returned from the fifth-seeded squad that knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round last season and got swept by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals. There weren't necessarily any playoff expectations for this team at the start of training camp. But no one told rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who has led the Jazz all season and in their upset of Oklahoma City in six games in their first-round series. Mitchell shot just 6-for-21 from the floor, filling in for injured starting point guard Ricky Rubio, but showed up every time the Jazz needed him. He registered five assists in the first six minutes as the Jazz took control, finishing with 17 points, a career-high 11 assists, five rebounds and a jaw-dropping dunk on his own missed floater in the fourth quarter that helped ignited his team’s game-closing run. “Just being poised and staying under control was the biggest thing,” Mitchell said. “Understand how they were going to guard me and when you have the big fella [Rudy Gobert] rolling as fas he did, making the right plays to kind of predict what the defense was going to do next.” Clearly no one mentioned it to Joe Ingles, one of those six veteran holdovers from last season. The veteran forward smoked the Rockets for a career-high 27 points, drained 10 of his 13 shots, including 7-of-9 from beyond the three-point line, two huge ones in the final five minute to help hold the Rockets off. “Just sticking together and just keep executing,” Ingles said about what carried the Jazz down the stretch. “We knew they were going to make runs. So just sticking together, I think we did a really good job of that and we were able to make our runs when it was our turn.” It was the sort of group effort that has been the trademark of this Jazz team all season. Mitchell and Ingles served as the catalysts for an inspired bunch that jumped on the Rockets early, took the home team’s best retaliatory shots, and then pounced at the finish. Their confidence in each other and the rest of their teammates was obvious after two full days to study and digest how they wanted to attack the Rockets after getting drilled in the series opener. The Jazz bench nearly doubled up their Rockets counterparts in scoring (41-22) and got a career night from Alec Burks (17 points, six assists), a double-double from Jae Crowder (15 points and 10 rebounds) and quality work on both ends of the floor from Dante Exum, whose drive-and-dunk with 55.3 seconds to play closed the door on any hopes the Rockets had of a last-minute comeback of their own. “I thought Dante’s dunk was better than mine,” Mitchell said. The Jazz hit a franchise playoff-high 15 three-pointers and finally beat a Rockets team that had owned them in the five games (wins all by 11 or more points) they played leading up to Wednesday's (Thursday, PHL time) dramatic momentum shifter. It was the game Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni had been dreading as his team eased its way into this postseason. They played three outstanding quarters in five games against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round. They led the Jazz by 27 points in Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) opener but watched that lead dwindle to just 11 points after halftime, as the Jazz found some cracks in the Rockets’ improved defense down the stretch. He warned his team about thinking they could flip the switch in the postseason just because they’d won a league-best 65 games during the regular season. The real wake-up call didn’t come until now. “Yeah, we flipped it,” D’Antoni said. “We came back from 19 down. We flipped it and then they flipped it back on us. You've got to give them credit, they played great down the stretch. They hit shots, they did what they were supposed to do.” The Jazz did exactly what they did to the Thunder in the first round. They studied the film from their Game 1 loss, made the necessary adjustments and finished that series in six games, never allowing the Thunder to enjoy the home-court advantage they earned for that series. Duplicating that feat against these Rockets should prove to be a much tougher task, especially without Rubio, who was one of the most animated individuals on the Jazz bench all night while rocking Mitchell’s signature rookie sweatshirt. His hamstring injury might force Mitchell to continue working at the point for the remainder of the series. It remains to be seen, though, if that’s an advantage for the Rockets. For all the work Kia MVP frontrunner James Harden (32 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) and Chris Paul (23 points, five rebounds and three assists) did in Game 2, neither one of them could will their team to the win the way the rookie did the Jazz. “They were just too comfortable,” Paul said. “They were getting layups, dunks, free throws, a little bit of everything. We fought back hard. But give them a lot of credit, they did what they were supposed to do. They came in here and got a win.” The pressure is on the Rockets now to do the same in Utah. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 3rd, 2018

Ingles career night leads Jazz over Rockets 116-108

By Kristie Rieken, Associated Press HOUSTON (AP) — Joe Ingles scored a career-high 27 points and the Utah Jazz squandered a huge early lead before using a big fourth quarter to regain control and beat the Houston Rockets 116-108 on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) and tie the Western Conference semifinals at 1-1. Ingles made a career-best seven three-pointers and star rookie Donovan Mitchell added 17 points and 11 assists for his first game this postseason where he scored fewer than 20 points and didn't lead the team in scoring. The Jazz were behind by two with eight minutes left before using a 16-2 run to pull away. Game 3 is Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) in Utah. After trailing by 25 points at halftime of the 110-96 loss in the series opener, the Jazz jumped out to an early lead in this one and led by as many as 19 in the first half. Houston regained the lead in the third quarter but couldn't keep pace with the Jazz in the fourth as their normally potent offense went cold. James Harden had 32 points and 11 assists, and Chris Paul added 23 points as Houston fell to the Jazz for the first time this season after winning the first five meetings. Houston was down by one entering the fourth but Utah scored eight straight points on three-pointers from Dante Exum and Jae Crowder before Mitchell capped it with a nifty one-handed follow dunk to make it 100-94 . Mitchell missed a jumper and sailed above three Rockets to grab the rebound and slam it down with one hand. He did it right near the Jazz bench and his teammates went wild, cheering and pretending to fall backward on each other in awe. Harden made a basket after that before Utah scored another eight straight points, with two three's from Ingles, to make it 108-96 with 4.5 minutes left. Harden ended a 2.5-minute Houston scoring drought with a three-pointer about a minute later that was the start of a 9-3 run that got the Rockets within 111-105 with 1:46 left. But Rudy Gobert made one of two free throws before Exum put it out of reach with a dunk. Utah led by nine before Houston used a 16-5 run to go up 71-69 for its first lead since it was 6-5 with about seven minutes left in the third. The Jazz went back up 86-85 by the end of the period. After taking just four shots in Game 1 and finishing with 11 points, Gobert got going early Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) and had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting by halftime. But he was mostly quiet after the break, and finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. TIP-INS Jazz: Coach Quin Snyder said before the game that he didn't know when point guard Ricky Rubio would return. ... Utah assistant Igor Kokoskov was hired as head coach of the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). ... Ingles got a technical in the second quarter for arguing with Paul. Rockets: Luc Mbah a Moute had four points and four rebounds in his second game back after missing the first series after dislocating his right shoulder on April 10. ... Paul also received a technical for barking at Ingles. ... Capela finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. UP NEXT The series moves to Utah where Game 3 is Friday and Game 4 will be played on Sunday (Saturday and next Monday, PHL time)......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 3rd, 2018

The curse of the Western Conference '4 seed

Here's a reminder for the Western Conference teams next season when they start jockeying for playoff seeding: Avoid the fourth seed at all costs. Sure you'll get home court advantage against the fifth seed, but that hasn't meant anything since the 2012 Playoffs. For the past seven years, all fourth seeds have lost to the fifth seeds, with the latest victims being the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were ousted in six games by the Utah Jazz. Is it sheer coincidence? A hardwood hex? A sign of parity? We'll run through the aforementioned seven series and let you decide for yourself. 2012 Playoffs - #5 LA Clippers (40-26) defeat #4 Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) in seven games The setup: It feels appropriate that this "curse" began during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. The Clippers were in year one of Lob City, having acquired Chris Paul during the offseason, while the Grizzlies were looking to build on their epic #8 vs #1 upset of the San Antonio Spurs from the previous postseason. What happened: The Grizzlies began this series in the worst possible way. In game one, they led by as much as 27 points, and were up 95-71 with 9:13 left to play. But then Nick Young happened. Swaggy P came off the Clippers bench and buried three straight triples, helping LA win game one, and build a 3-1 series lead. The Grizzlies won the next two though, sending things back to Bluff City for a game seven. Ultimately though, home court didn't help, as the Clippers broke the game wide open in the fourth, outscoring the Grizzlies 27-16, for an 82-72 victory. "That guy was on the team?": Reggie Evan led the Clippers in rebounding with 8.7 a night, while Gilbert Arenas played in six out of the seven games, totaling 23 minutes and four points for the Grizzlies. What next?: The Spurs swept the Clippers in the semis. 2013 Playoffs - #5 Memphis Grizzlies (56-26) defeat #4 LA Clippers (56-26) in six games The setup: The Clippers won their division for the VERY FIRST TIME in franchise history, while the Grizzlies were in full Grit 'N Grind mode, with Marc Gasol winning Defensive Player of the Year that season. What happened: Things started off well, with the Clippers winning the first two games in LA. However, the Grizzlies stood firm at home, knotting the series at 2-all. Things turned dire for LAC when star forward Blake Griffin suffered an ankle sprain during practice, limiting him to just 19:34 minutes in game five, which they lost. With their season on the line in the City of Angels for game six, Griffin could only play 13:56, and not even a career postseason-best 30 points by Matt Barnes could save the Clips. To add insult to injury, Chris Paul was ejected with 2:29 left, before the game ended with a 118-105 score. "That guy was on the team?": Tayshaun Prince was Memphis' starting small forward, while Grant Hill and Lamar Odom, both with the Clips, played their last NBA seasons. What next?: The Grizzlies dispatched the OKC Thunder in five games in the conference finals, before losing to the Spurs via a sweep in the West Finals. 2014 Playoffs - #5 Portland Trail Blazers (54-28) defeat #4 Houston Rockets (54-28) in six games The setup: The Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard to a roster that already had James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons, making them one of the top teams in the West. The Portland Trail Blazers meanwhile built on Damian Lillard's 2013 Rookie of the Year campaign and snapped a two-year postseason drought. What happened: While things were tightly contested, three of the first four games went to overtime, the Blazers seemingly had the Rockets' number, winning two of those OT games, en route to a 3-1 series lead. The Rockets managed to stave off elimination at home in game five, but in game six, Lillard truly made a name for himself, by canning a series-winning shot, allowing Rip City to advance for the first time in 14 years. "That guy was on the team?": Mo Williams was Portland's sixth man (8.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg), while Omer Asik teamed up with Howard in the Houston frontcourt. What next?: The Blazers managed to take one game from the Spurs, before bowing out in the conference semifinals. 2015 Playoffs - #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27) defeat #4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) in five games The setup: The Blazers won the Northwest Division, but the next two teams in the standings, the Grizzlies and the Spurs, both had notched 55 wins, four more than them. Portland's main problem though was swingman Wesley Matthews tearing an achilles tendon early in March, a season-ending injury. What happened: Portland struggled to find someone who could take the starting SG spot on their roster with Matthews out, cycling through CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Arron Afflalo. That trio, as starters, combined to shoot 4-of-22 for 10 points over five games, allowing the Memphis D to concentrate on Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Grizzlies won the first three games, before picking up the clincher in game five, despite starting point guard Mike Conley suffering a facial fracture in game three and missing the rest of the series. "That guy was on the team?": Nick Calathes wound up assuming the point guard duties for the Grizzlies, in what turned out to be his final NBA stint (he went back to playing in Greece after the season). What next?: The Grizzlies lost in six games in the next round to the Golden State Warriors, after the Dubs made their famous adjustment to use Andrew Bogut to guard Tony Allen. 2016 Playoffs - #5 Portland Trail Blazers (44-38) defeat #4 LA Clippers (53-29) in six games The setup: The LA Clippers came really close to losing center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason, but you all know what happened instead. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, the team rebuilt after losing LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, among others, pairing Lillard with Most Improved Player winner CJ McCollum in the backcourt. What happened: The Paul-Griffin-Jordan trio looked splendid early on, going up 2-0 after games in LA. The Blazers struck back and won game three, but then disaster waylaid LA in game four, with BOTH Paul (broken hand) and Griffin (quad) exiting the game and the series. That paved the way for the Blazers to complete their run and advance. "That guy was on the team?": It was Chris Kaman's final NBA season, and he spent it as a locker room guy for the Blazers. It was also Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni's last stint in the NBA (not counting several preseason games with the Rockets the next season, before he got cut and returned to Europe). What next?: The Blazers advanced to the West semis, where they lost in five games to the Warriors, despite Stephen Curry missing the first three matches. 2017 Playoffs - #5 Utah Jazz (51-31) defeat #4 LA Clippers (51-31) in seven games The setup: It was a battle between two teams looking to go far in the postseason in the hopes of enticing their future free agents to re-up. For the Jazz, Gordon Hayward was the player in question, while for the Clippers, both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had the ability to depart in the offseason. What happened: Iso-Joe Johnson did Iso-Joe things, stealing game one for the Jazz on the Clippers' home court. Undeterred, the Clippers proceeded to win the next two, for a 2-1 advantage, but game three turned out to be costly. The team the next day announced that Blake Griffin was out for the rest of the season due to a toe injury. Still, things went to a game seven, in LA, but the Clippers did not have the firepower to win out, and the Jazz were able to get the victory and advance. What next?: The Jazz got swept by the Warriors in the West semis. And ironically, both Hayward and Paul wound up departing their respective teams. In addition, Griffin did sign an extension with the Clippers, but they wound up trading him mid-way through the 2017-18 campaign. 2018 Playoffs - #5 Utah Jazz (48-34) defeat #4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) in six games The setup: The Jazz equaled their postseason rank from last season, thanks to the brilliance of rookie Donovan Mitchell, while the Thunder formed a "Big Three" comprising Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. What happened: Paul George sizzled for 36 points to help the Thunder win game one, but Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell teamed up to help the Jazz win the next three. On the brink of elimination, Russell Westbrook led a dominant third quarter effort in OKC to force a game six, but in Salt Lake City, the Jazz managed to hold on, and earn the series victory. What next?: The Jazz will now test themselves against the top-seeded Houston Rockets. Should be a good one. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 29th, 2018

Game 4s: Jazz look for 3-1 lead, Wolves aim to tie Rockets

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, so he gets plenty of attention. Ricky Rubio just had a triple-double, earning him some time in the headlines. Donovan Mitchell has been great in his first three playoff games, so the fascination with the rookie star is only growing. It’s easy to notice those guys. Rudy Gobert should be getting noticed as well. Utah is taking a 2-1 lead into their Western Conference first-round series against Oklahoma City on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time), and Gobert is probably as responsible for the Jazz being in that position than anyone. He’s controlling the backboards, he’s changing shots, he’s thwarting Westbrook and he’s showing why he’s the likely Defensive Player of the Year. “It makes the guards’ jobs a lot easier,” Mitchell said of the French safety net with the 7'9" wingspan who protects the rim for the Jazz. “You feel more secure on the wing. ... The whole season, I’ve been saying if somebody gets by me, it’s like, ’All right, go ahead, try it. Because I’ve tried it. And it doesn’t work.” Westbrook probably would agree: He’s 1-for-7 in this series with Gobert waiting at the rim for him. There’s two Game 4s on the schedule Monday (Tuesday, PHL time), with Houston at Minnesota leading off before the Oklahoma City-Utah game. The Rockets fell in Game 3 to the Timberwolves on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), but still lead that series 2-1. Westbrook is not happy, and the reigning NBA MVP wasted little time in vowing that things will be different in Game 4. He was talking about slowing down Rubio, but he might be better served getting himself going again. Going back to the regular season, Westbrook hasn’t shot better than 40 percent in any of his last six games — the worst such streak of his career. ___ Here’s a look at Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) games: ROCKETS AT TIMBERWOLVES Rockets lead 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT (8am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: The Timberwolves bounced back from a 20-point loss in Game 2 with a sellout-crowd-inspired 16-point victory over the Rockets in Game 3 that was the franchise’s first win in the playoffs since 2004. Jimmy Butler had 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were more aggressive than they were in Games 1 and 2. “I felt like they outworked us, and that should never happen,” Rockets guard Gerald Green said. KEEP AN EYE ON: The Rockets shooting three-pointers. They needed 41 attempts to make 15 behind the arc in Game 3, as many as the Wolves swished in 27 tries. Harden was just 3-for-8, his rainbows often drifting to the left, as the Wolves kept up what has been a better-than-usual defensive performance in this series. “We’re just making it harder on them, making them take tough shots and just trying to find ways to stop a high-powered offense,” Towns said. PRESSURE IS ON: Rockets center Clint Capela. After a 24-point, 12-rebound production in Game 1, Capela had only seven points on six shots in Game 3. On the other end of the court, Towns finally got going after two bad games thanks in part to Capela’s defense. The Rockets could use a strong response from the Swiss standout in the attempt to keep the Wolves from tying the series. INJURY UPDATE: Butler, who missed a total of 21 games this season due to trouble with his right knee, clutched his left ankle in pain after twisting it late in the first half of Game 3. He didn’t miss any time, though, and didn’t even acknowledge the injury when asked about it in his postgame interview. “At the end of the day if you tell your mind it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t,” Butler said. ___ THUNDER AT JAZZ Jazz leas 2-1. Game 4, 10:30 p.m. EDT (10:30am, PHL time) NEED TO KNOW: Utah has won each of its last five first-round series as the No. 5 seed, and the Jazz are halfway to extending that streak. The crowd in Salt Lake City was extremely loud on Saturday and will likely be again on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). The Thunder are 5-6 in their last 11 games, and no one needs to remind them of how low the success rate is for teams that go down 3-1 in a series. KEEP AN EYE ON: Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook from deep. Paul George has been great from three-point range (15-for-31) in the three games, but Westbrook and Anthony are a combined 9-for-31. The Thunder need to get something going consistently from the perimeter to soften up Utah’s stout interior defense. PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. Most would think it’s the team trailing that would feel the most pressure, but Utah has a chance to take total command of the series. A loss would be doubly deflating; not only would the Jazz lose home-court, but they would go back to Oklahoma City for Game 5 with the Thunder thinking they have control of the matchup. INJURY UPDATE: Westbrook was getting treatment on some sort of upper-body issue in Game 3 and was coy about it afterward, pointing out that most players are ailing at this time of year. But if he’s limited in any way, that’s obviously a huge problem for the Thunder. ___ AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 23rd, 2018

Harden, Rockets pass first postseason test

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com HOUSTON — If the long road to June basketball is to come to fruition for the best regular-season team in basketball, it had to start like this for the Houston Rockets. That first step, that first foray into the great postseason abyss, required this sort of confirmation from the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament, so to speak. There’s no room for Cinderellas around here, no slaying of Goliath, not on Clint Capela’s watch. Not with James Harden on the case when the Rockets needed it most, and especially at crunch time. And not with Chris Paul, chip planted firmly on his shoulder as always, eyeballing bigger and better things than being the best from late October to mid-April. So it won’t be easy. Nobody said it would be. And let’s be clear, the Minnesota Timberwolves are not a normal eight seed. Not really. A healthy Jimmy Butler and the infusion of veteran talent that helped end the second longest playoff drought in NBA history this season makes that big a difference. They certainly did Sunday night (Monday, PHL time) at Toyota Center, when the Rockets were forced to battle until the very end for a 104-101 win despite a 44-point masterpiece from Harden. But like everyone else who dealt with these juggernaut Rockets all season long, Harden and his crew proved to be too much with the game on the line. With Harden on the bench and the game tied at 85 with 6:49 to play, the script was already written. He came in for Paul with 6:07 to play and the Rockets up a point, and promptly scored on a driving layup. He stole the ball and then scored on a driving floater. After a Capela block, he scored on a driving layup. By the time he knocked down a three-pointer with 4:27 left, the Rockets’ lead was back up to eight points, 94-86, and it was clear that Harden was going to do whatever it took — scoring, playmaking and even defending — to keep Game 1 from going awry. It was vintage work from the maestro who has owned the floor most every night since the season opener, when Harden and the Rockets went into Oracle Arena as the reigning champion Golden State Warriors hung another banner and collected those diamond-laced title rings and walked off the floor winners. “Another day for James,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after Harden finished one point shy of his playoff career-high. “He’s done it all year and he really stepped up. We were struggling to make shots, struggling to really have any kind of rhythm of play and James put us on his back and he’s been doing it for a while now.” D’Antoni will have to forgive the rest of us, including the frontrunner for the Kia MVP this season, for not digesting his theory about the playoffs being something other than a referendum on his team’s magical regular season. Harden operated like someone keenly aware of what was at stake with the Timberwolves, each and every one of them, trying in vain to slow him down. “Honestly, I just try to be aggressive and make the right play,” Harden said. “Things got slowed up a little bit, just try to be aggressive with my shot and fortunately it went in.” Jimmy Butler is an All-Star and one of the league’s best two-way players. Derrick Rose is a former Kia MVP himself, and still has enough juice left to make things difficult for someone when he locks in the way he did on this night. And neither one of them had any luck slowing Harden down during his second-half blitz. He scored 25 of his points in the final 18 minutes, making play after play when the Timberwolves appeared to be on the verge of potentially pulling off a shocker. “There were several plays in which I thought we defended well and he made shots,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “James is that type of player and we’ve seen it all year, [he’s] very difficult to guard. Basically, you have to guard him with your whole team. And it’s not just his scoring, but his playmaking and all the things that he does.” The Rockets won on a night when they shot a brutal 27 percent (10-for-37) from beyond the three-point line, where they’ve feasted on the opposition all season. They roasted the Timberwolves from distance during their regular season match ups to the tune of 43.4 percent and more than doubled them up in three-point makes during those games, but made just two more Sunday night (Monday, PHL time). Harden was 7-for-12 from deep, a playoff career-high for makes, while the rest of the Rockets shot a combined 3-for-25. And he was draining his shots with hands in his face routinely. “He’s an MVP candidate and you know why,” said Timberwolves big man Taj Gibson. “Every time the game was ‘mono e mono’ and they were in a tight spot, he just took over the game. He made some tough shots, he played phenomenal tonight. We were trying to throw everything at him, he’s a talented player.” He’s clearly much more than that. “I mean yeah, he’s a hell of a player,” Butler said. “Everyone knows that. But you don’t just guard him with one guy. It’s everybody out there, everybody has to be in the correct position. Challenge shots; contest them at the rim, but more than anything, if there is a miss we’ve got to get the rebound and take off the other way. But we didn’t do any of that tonight, we’ve got to be better [in Game 2] on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time).” Thibodeau had to turn to his bench to stay in the game before halftime and they delivered, scoring 19 points and playing with an energy level that matched what the Rockets did regardless of who was on the floor. Rose (nine points), Jamal Crawford (seven) and Gorgui Dieng (three) did all that bench scoring, which was the only way to offset the furious 49 points Capela and Harden combined for before the break. Jeff Teague’s three fouls and Butler’s defensive task, trying to keep Harden under wraps, required so much of his attention that the scoring load had to be picked up by someone else. He went scoreless in the first quarter and just never seemed to get untracked early on, finishing with just 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting. It’s an issue the Timberwolves won’t be able to scheme their way out of in this series, not as long as Capela is the most energetic and effective young big man on either team. He outscored the All-Star Towns 20-3 before the break and out rebounded him 10-5, adding two blocks and a steal to drive home the point that he’s up for this challenge all series long. “Man, Clint was all over the place, both ends of the court offensively and defensively,” Paul said. “You see him defending KAT, who’s a tough cover in the post. You know I’m low, and I weak side and I’m watching him go up for the hook, and then I’m watching Clint block it, and then he’s running. he was unbelievable tonight and we’re going to need that all season.” Capela finished his night with 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks while Towns didn’t crack double digits in the scoring column (eight points on 3-for-9 shooting, 12 rebounds in a team-high 40 minutes of action). Chalk it up as a lesson learned for the playoff rookie. That must-win game the Timberwolves won at home over Denver Wednesday night had all the hype and intensity of a playoff game, only it wasn’t. Thibodeau credited the Rockets’ defense, the swarming and double-teaming of Towns, for slowing the big man down. “He has to be more active,” Thibodeau said, before praising the Rockets for perhaps their most underrated trait this season: The ability to lock down defensively. “They’re good, they’re very good. They’re tied together, they do a lot of switching and after the switch they read the ball extremely well. They react, they swarm, and so you have ti make good decisions, you have to make good plays. You have to have the ability to read and react.” Funny, that’s what the Rockets’ best player does perhaps as well as any other player in the league right now. Harden reads and reacts accordingly, always seemingly coming up with the right play at the right time. That’s how you know he’s in the moment right now, as are the rest of the Rockets. No matter how many times and how many different ways anyone tries to deflect attention from the obvious, they comprehend every bit of what lies ahead for a team riding into the postseason on the strength of a 65-win regular season that saw them run away from the competition. They wouldn’t have souls if they didn’t. They wouldn’t be human if they hadn’t already calculated the weight of the best regular season in franchise history times a wide-open postseason equaling something that’s never been done here, which says a lot for a franchise that has two Larry O’Brien trophies to show off. They know how important each and every step on this current journey is, starting with Sunday night’s very first choppy ones. Any suggestion to the contrary is, shall we say, a distant cousin of the truth. But we’ll play along for now, at the beginning. Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 16th, 2018

MVP Ladder: No topping Harden in award chase

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018

Cuban s tanking talk raises key issue for NBA

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst The NBA fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $600,000 for being honest. Cuban told Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Julius Erving on Erving’s podcast a couple of weeks ago that he told his players during a recent dinner that “losing is our best option. Adam (Silver) would hate hearing that…(but) we want the players to understand. As a player, you know that even though you may not agree, but at least if you respect the fact that someone took the time to talk to you, and you understood their perspective, you’re going to give me your feedback, but you’re part of the process.” But the league fined Cuban for what it called “public statements detrimental to the NBA” three days later. And Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams last week detailing the league’s position. “Throughout this period,” Silver wrote, “we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games. “The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter -- which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA -- has no place in our game.” Yet Cuban did not in any way, nor has any evidence to the contrary emerged, state the Mavericks were losing games on purpose; that is, players were intentionally missing shots, or not putting forth effort on defense to let the other team score, or anything like that. (Even Silver acknowledged in the memo that the league has “no basis at this time to conclude that the Mavericks team is giving anything less than its best effort on the court, and Mark has assured us that this is not the case.”) So, why the fine? Was what Cuban said so incendiary? ‘’Mark knew his comments were public, so it surprised me that he was so candid, but that's who Mark is,” said one very high-ranking official from another team over the weekend. “To me his comment wasn't indicating tanking as their strategy but more about setting the expectation that playoffs were not a possibility. The only consolation of not making the playoffs is being in the lottery. You can't blame a team from trying to turn the lemon (losing) into lemonade (top 4 pick). The league needs to find a way not to reward losing.” Exactly. What Cuban said was spot on -- losing to improve the Mavericks’ Draft position was, and is, the best and quickest way for Dallas to get better and start winning games again. That doesn’t mean everyone agreed with Cuban being so blunt. “I think it was a totally inappropriate to say that to players,” said another extremely high-ranking team official for another team. “Whatever the team’s strategy may be, I firmly believe that the players should always play to win. The fine is meaningless to Mark; in fact, sometimes I think he enjoys the publicity he gets from the fines.” But. We ask people to be truthful and not lie about their intentions. We tell our kids that no lie is worth telling, and that telling the truth, no matter how painful, is always the best choice. So Cuban is honest and tells the truth, that short-term losing makes more sense for his franchise’s long-term interests, and he’s relieved of 600 large by the league. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are lauded -- and revel in their slogan, “Trust the Process,” celebrated by the team’s most ardent supporters -- whose central tenet was to lose, and keep losing, until you could draft a player good enough to build around and win down the road. Which is, exactly, what Dallas is doing now. Indeed, increased tanking is the logical extension of an analytics-dominant league. If three is greater than two -- the reasoning behind the primacy of the 3-pointer in today’s NBA -- then doing anything you can to get more ping-pong balls in the hopper is the correct thing to do. You can’t just embrace the parts of doing it by the numbers that are pleasant. This is the flip side. Burying one’s head in the sand and pretending teams don’t do this doesn’t make sense. Everyone does it in every sport, or don’t you recall “Suck for Luck,” the chant of Indianapolis Colts’ fans before the 2012 NFL Draft? What of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros losing 324 games from 2011-13? Were they trying to win games, or did we all imagine them going from $102 million in payroll in 2009 to $26 million by 2013? “I resist the word ‘tanking,’ but I’m very pro ‘rebuilding,’ when it’s necessary,” said Los Angeles Dodgers President Stan Kasten, who in a former life ran the Hawks as general manager in the ‘80s and ‘90s, by telephone Sunday. “And, it’s painful,” Kasten said. “You’ve got to explain it to your team, your fans, to your front office, to your coaches, to your wife, to your kids, to the country club. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s nobody’s first choice. But if it’s necessary, it’s often the quickest way to get the team back to winning. And don’t lose sight of that.” Kasten’s Dodgers lost the World Series to the Astros, who methodically built their team the last four years around young drafted players like Series MVP George Springer, last fall in seven games. But not only is he not angry with Houston for the way management took the franchise’s foundation to the studs -- compared with his high-spending Dodgers -- he admires the speed with which they went from worst to first. “I have real feelings about what they did,” Kasten said. “Because Mark Walter (the CEO of Guggenheim Partners, the global firm that bought the Dodgers in 2012) and I, before we bought the Dodgers, we were looking at Houston. Because they were available. And truthfully, when we looked at where they were, we were going to do the same thing. It had to be done. Because they were not on a track to win. And frankly, I don’t think I could have done it as fast, or as well, as (Astros owner) Jim Crane, or (GM) Jeff Luhnow. Because doing that, to the extreme, takes real intestinal fortitude.” Kasten makes a strong distinction between a team cutting payroll and going young and that winds up losing, and one that’s actively seeking ways to lose more games. “All of these owners are hyper-competitive, and they want to win,” Kasten said. “And truthfully, the quickest way to win, at least if you look at the last three world champions, is to rebuild and get young and get prospects and do it that way. And if you don’t think that’s the better way to go, ask the fans in Houston and Chicago and Kansas City how they feel. You won’t get one fan who disagrees with what is done. It is the quickest way to win.” Please do not misunderstand. I hate tanking. I hate the idea of introducing losing into your shop, even indirectly. It’s like a virus, extremely difficult to get rid of once it gets in a franchise’s bloodstream. A ticket is, in essence, a contract between parties: I pay top dollar, you give me top-dollar product in exchange. When a team tanks, it violates that compact; I don’t recall any team that’s given fans a tanking discount. It is also very difficult to tank effectively in the NBA. The last three teams with the best odds of getting the No. 1 in the Draft going into the Lottery -- Boston (2017), Philadelphia (2016) and Minnesota (2015) -- have indeed won. But prior to that, the team with the best odds didn’t get the first pick for 10 consecutive years, and 22 times out of the last 25 years. And even the teams that did buck the odds and get the first pick often picked wrong, or did I miss Anthony Bennett Night in Cleveland, or the Andrea Bargnani statue outside of Air Canada Centre? “The Draft is often a crap shoot anyway,” the official from the second team said. “So why not give your fans the best product that you can and then draft Donovan Mitchell,” as Utah did this season. The Jazz traded for the rights to the Kia Rookie of the Year candidate, who was taken near the bottom of the Lottery (13th overall by the Denver Nuggets). This came a season after the Jazz went 51-31 and won its first-round playoff series. I agree. Tanking does not reward excellence in team building -- good drafting, good free-agent signings, good player development -- it rewards the exact opposite of that. It’s a Golden Ticket that doesn’t even require you to buy an Everlasting Gobstopper. But, tanking is reality. You can’t pretend it isn’t. And the only way to completely get tanking out of pro sports is to eliminate the Draft in all sports, including the NBA. We don’t want to have that conversation, do we? Personally, I’d love it. Can you imagine the fight that would set up between interested teams -- and who wouldn’t be interested? -- in a certain 7-foot-1 freshman center almost certain to leave school early who currently plays for a school that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately? Would he help the Lakers? The Knicks? The Bulls? The NBA team in the state in which the college player currently plays, which rather desperately needs another star to pair with its one really great player (whose name, if you must know, rhymes with “Nevin Cooker”)? Would he help any team in the league that doesn’t currently employ Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns in the middle? Most assuredly. And if he could control where he wanted to go, and for how much, the process would be must-see TV. Yet, while the real-world implications would be fascinating, I’m not sure how you could eliminate the Draft without loosening the underpinnings of the entire pro basketball enterprise (and, yes, one could make a moral case for doing just that, as it does go against the whole Manifest Destiny thing to artificially bind someone to a company rather than letting them market their services to the highest bidder). If there was no Draft, why would any player with Lottery-level talent go to college? Yes, there would be the occasional Grant Hill/unicorn who wants to go to college to better themselves intellectually and/or embrace the person growth that often comes from being on your own for four years. But, while sad to say, most kids with NBA dreams go to college because that’s the path through which they can ultimately get to the pros the fastest. With no Draft, and few of the top college-age players thus needing/wanting to go to college, you’d have a very different March Madness than you have now. And as that is a multi-billion enterprise, both for the broadcast networks that air it (including Turner Sports, which runs NBA.com) and the colleges that reap the financial deluge it produces, the likelihood of across the board support for a new player acquisition model is slight. Not to mention, you’d have a much different salary structure in the NBA, as there would be no rookie slotting for drafted players. And if you think the game’s superstars would stand idly by and watch more of that cheddar that they helped produce go out the door to guys who haven’t yet done anything … you’d be wrong. So, the Draft isn’t going anywhere. Which means the NBA must decide whether it wants to continue to be shocked, shocked that tanking is going on in its league, or accept the reality that there is not much patience for being in the middle ground in a league where every team is now worth more than $1 billion. There is only, as Pat Riley said a long time ago, winning and misery. 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

When NBA returns, will Warriors’ dominance come back, too?

By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press The Golden State Warriors have never lost more than 15 games in a season under Steve Kerr. They could reach that total in the first night after the All-Star break. The Warriors who return Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) aren’t the same ones who dominated the NBA for the last three seasons. The defending champions sputtered into their week off with four losses in their final eight games, falling into second place in the Western Conference behind Houston — ending a three-year run of taking the league’s best record into the break. At 44-14 and loaded with four All-Stars, the Warriors are still very good, but not as good they’ve been. “This year we’ve had a pretty solid season, but feel that we can play a lot better,” Stephen Curry said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do this next 20 games before another championship run.” Their performances against their first two opponents out of the break show how different things have been for these Warriors. The Los Angeles Clippers, who visit Golden State on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), won in Oakland last month after losing the previous 12 meetings in the series. And the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State’s opponent Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) in a nationally televised game, have defeated the Warriors by 17 and 20 points already this season. They can become the first team to beat Golden State three times in a season since San Antonio went 4-0 against the Warriors in 2013-14 — the season before Kerr’s arrival. Their spotty play thus far makes Curry appreciate their time at the top even more. “We’ve kind of set a standard of excellence in the league,” he said. “That’s pretty cool to think about sustaining that high level of play for so long.” ___ Some other things to watch when play resumes Thursday with six games: RACE TO THE BOTTOM: While the NBA fined Dallas owner Mark Cuban $600,000 on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) for his public comments about tanking, the Mavericks have plenty of company near the bottom of the standings. Phoenix has lost seven straight to share the worst record in the league with Atlanta at 18-41, and six other teams, including the Mavs, have 20 or fewer victories. The team who finishes last has the best chance to win the draft lottery, though if it’s Brooklyn (19-40), that makes a winner out of Cleveland, which has the Nets’ pick that belonged to Boston after acquiring it in the Kyrie Irving trade. DOMINANT DAVIS: Anthony Davis scored 44, 38 and 42 points in his last three games before the All-Star break, leading New Orleans to victories in all of them. He leads the league with 22 games of 30 points or more and the Pelicans might need him to keep it up, as they are just a half-game ahead of the Clippers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. MEN OF MYSTERY: Two of the NBA’s strange absences could be cleared up after the break — or could last through the rest of the season. Spurs star Kawhi Leonard continues to rehabilitate a right thigh injury — the team lists his reason for not playing as “return from injury management” — after he was shut down after appearing in just nine games. Philadelphia guard Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 draft pick, remains sidelined with a right shoulder injury after playing in just four games. Neither player has been ruled out for the season, though there’s not much time left if they’re going to come back. RISING ROOKIES: Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who won the Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game, and Ben Simmons of Philadelphia could be locked in tight race for Rookie of the Year. Both have their teams on the rise, as the Jazz have won 11 straight games to pull within 1 ½ games of eighth place in the West, while the 76ers have won five in a row and are seventh in the East. LONZO AND THE LAKERS: Lonzo Ball is set to return to the Lakers after missing the last 15 games with a sore left knee. While the No. 2 pick was out, the Lakers have used Brandon Ingram in the point guard role and also acquired Isaiah Thomas from Cleveland, so coach Luke Walton will have to figure out how to fit in his prized rookie......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 22nd, 2018