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Young Celtics look to stop James, Cavaliers

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

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnMay 11th, 2018

Young Celtics look to stop James, Cavaliers

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 11th, 2018

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

Dub Dynasty: Warriors sweep Cavs for second straight title

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — Golden State. Golden still. Stephen Curry scored 37 points, NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant added 20 and a triple-double and the Warriors stamped themselves a dynasty after winning their second straight title and third in four years Friday night (Saturday, PHL time), 108-85 over the Cleveland Cavaliers to complete a sweep and perhaps drive LeBron James from his home again to chase championships. Overcoming obstacles all season long, the Warriors were not going to be denied and won the fourth straight finals matchup against Cleveland with ease. "This is so hard to do and doing it three out of four years is incredible," guard Klay Thompson said. It was the first sweep in the NBA Finals since 2007, when James was dismissed by a powerful San Antonio team in his first one. His eighth straight appearance didn't go well either, and now there's uncertainty where the superstar will play next. James finished with 23 points and spent the final minutes on the bench, contemplating what went wrong and maybe his next move. Act IV between the Warriors and Cavs featured a drama-filled and controversial Game 1. But from there on, Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of this California crew showed why they're the game's gold standard. And they may stay that way. "Can't get enough of this feeling so we're going to celebrate it together," Curry said. Not wanting to give the Cavs or their fans any hope despite the fact that no team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs, the Warriors built a nine-point halftime lead when Curry ignored a closeout by James and dropped a three-pointer. Then the league's best team tightened the screws on Cleveland in the third quarter, outscoring the Cavs 25-13 and prompting Golden State fans to begin those drawn-out "War-eee-orrss" chants that provide a perfect musical accompaniment to their three-point barrages. By the start of the fourth quarter, the only question was whether Curry would win his first NBA Finals MVP or if it would go to Durant for the second year in a row. And again, it was Durant, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists — more satisfaction and validation for a player who couldn't beat the Warriors so he joined them. After surviving a rougher-than-usual regular season and beating top-seeded Houston in Game 7 on the road in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors withstood an overtime scare in Game 1 and joined an elite group of teams to win multiple championships in a four-year span. Only Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, the "Showtime" Lakers and the Los Angeles squad led by Kobe and Shaq, and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls have been as dominant in such a short period of time. The Dub Dynasty. The path to this title was more precarious than the first two for coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors, who overcame injuries, expectations, a built-to-dethrone-them Rockets team and the brilliance of James, who scored 51 points in the series opener and carried a Cavs team from the beginning of their rollercoaster season until the end. It may have been the final game in Cleveland for the 33-year-old, who is expected to opt out of his $35.6 million contract for 2019 next month and become a free agent. James was pulled from the game with 4:03 left, and he slapped hands with the Warriors before heading to the bench. He plopped down in a chair and draped a towel over his broad shoulders, looking like a boxer on a corner stool. James averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10 assists in the series, but as has been the case in the past, he didn't have enough help. Another Summer of LeBron is officially underway and there are already teams stretching from Philadelphia to Los Angeles hoping to land the three-time champion, who may have to go elsewhere to put together a cast strong enough — and as James made clear this week, smart enough — to bring down the Warriors. Right now, the Warriors are on another tier and with Durant expected to re-sign with them in weeks and Curry, Thompson, Green and the rest still young and hungry, their reign could last much longer. Heading into the playoffs, the Warriors appeared vulnerable. There were lingering questions about Curry's sprained left knee that sidelined him for almost six weeks and kept him out of Golden State's first-round series against San Antonio. Kerr was forced to mix and match lineups, and it became obvious the Warriors weren't going to go 16-1 and storm their way to a title like they did in 2017, when their only postseason loss came in Game 4 after the Cavs made 24 three-pointers. Kerr used 27 different starting lineups during the regular season, which ended with a head-scratching 40-point loss to Utah. The Warriors began defense of their title as a No. 2 seed and their season was in serious jeopardy when they fell behind 3-2 to presumptive MVP James Harden and the Rockets. But Golden State, catching a break when Houston star guard Chris Paul was forced to sit with a hamstring injury, showed a champion's poise by winning two straight. That set up another reunion with James and the Cavs. Maybe the last. TIP-INS Warriors: Curry made a three-pointer in his record 90th consecutive postseason game and extended his mark for three's in road playoff games to 44. ... Green is the only visiting player to post a triple-double in the playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena, doing so in Game 6 of the 2015 finals. ... Became the ninth team to sweep a finals and first to win consecutive titles since James did it with Miami in 2012 and 2013. ... Golden State has won a road game in 19 straight playoff series, tying the Heat's NBA record. ... With his 43-point performance in Game 3, Durant joined Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal as the only players to score at least 25 points in their first 13 finals games. Cavaliers: Appeared in its 26th NBA Finals game, moving past Atlanta/St. Louis into 10th place all-time. ... James averaged 34 points in his 13th postseason, his second-highest total. BROWN OUT Longtime network broadcaster Hubie Brown injured his knee while sitting courtside preparing before the game. He was treated by a medical staff on site and taken to the hospital. The 84-year-old Brown was replaced on the radio broadcast by Jon Barry. Brown was working his 17th NBA Finals......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 9th, 2018

Aging like fine wine, James shines when it matters most

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND – The first 57 seconds came near the end of the third quarter, LeBron James finally heading over to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench after logging 35 minutes – 35:03, as long as we’re counting – of intense, frantic, backs-against-the-wall elimination basketball against the Boston Celtics in Friday's (Saturday, PHL time) Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James took his seat with the idea of resting as much as he could, as quickly as he could. That’s about all he gets this time of year, when subbing James out of the game too often is like the Cavaliers loosening their grip on a balloon they’re blowing up but have yet to tie off. If the air went out of Cleveland’s balloon at Quicken Loans Arena, it was going to be out for months. Heck, given James’ possible departure in free agency this summer, the air might have been gone for good. “Obviously [if] I get a minute, couple minutes here per quarter, would be great. But it's not what our team is built on right now,” James said after yet another remarkable performance to keep the Cavs’ postseason alive. With what was left of the third on the game clock and how it played out, followed by the break between quarters, the Cavaliers’ star got about five minutes in real time to catch his breath. Then promptly subbed back in for the fourth. “Our team is built on me being out on the floor to be able to make plays, not only for myself but make plays for others,” James said. “It's just the way we've been playing, and we've been succeeding with it. “I was able to play 46 minutes today. I got my couple minutes, I guess.” He got another 57 seconds to be exact. They were less hurried, less nervous and absolutely earned, coming as they did at the very end. When James exited for good, his work was done. The Cavs had pushed this home-dominant series to its max, with Game 7 at Boston’s TD Garden Sunday (Monday, PHL time). James’ stats line was one of those gaudy/ordinary types he has spoiled his team and NBA fans with for so many years: 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He also had three steals and one blocked shot, racing back in the third quarter to deny Boston’s greyhound guard Terry Rozier after finishing a Cavs fast break an instant before. James went down as if shot early in the fourth, his team up 89-82; teammate Larry Nance fell into the future Hall of Famer’s right leg. But after a few tentative, anxious moments both for him and the folks in the arena, James was back to moving, pivoting and launching as if nothing had happened. “I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg,” said James, who seems to go through more histrionics and drama than the average player when he gets clobbered, without enduring the same level of injury. “I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I've seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one's leg standing straight up.” Not long after that, though, James was draining two bak-breaking three-pointers on consecutive trips, burning young Celtics forward Jayson Tatum both times from deep on the left wing. The second sent Boston scurrying into a timeout with 1:40 to go, and had James going a little primal along that far sideline, pounding his chest and hollering out. “The love of the game causes reactions like that,” James said. “Understanding the situation and understanding the moment that you're in. It was just a feeling that you can't explain unless you've been a part of it.” James has been a part of it plenty. This was the 22nd elimination game of his career, his eighth since returning to Cleveland in 2014. He is 13-9 overall and 6-2 in this Cavs 2.0 version. His production in these win-or-go-home games is unsurpassed in NBA history. James is averaging 34.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.4 assists, performing best when it matters most. That wasn’t always the case – James had some rough-shooting, high-turnover nights in elimination games early in his career. More recently, though, he’s everything you want but cannot get in a mutual fund: His past performances definitely are a guarantee of future results. “I’ve watched him play a lot of really great games, but that one’s right up there towards the top,” said Kyle Korver, Cleveland’s 37-year-old sniper. “It’s just so much heart. He wanted this game so bad. “I think he just craves those moments. He loves those moments. When the game is on the line, when the season is on the line, he’s just been rising up, and that’s what the great players do.” Iconic players like James and, before him, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are the ones who block whole NBA generations from achieving their dreams, hoarding Finals appearances and championship rings for them and theirs only. Celtics Brad Stevens, young as he is, has had to gameplan against James’ greatness and ability to dominate three times in playoff series now. “Does that ever come into our minds? Yeah, every time we watch,” Stevens said. “Every time you're standing out there. Every time you watch him on film. Best player in the game. Special night tonight and special night in Game 4 [44 points]. I can't say enough good things about him.” At least one of James’ own teammates didn’t always feel that way. “I've been in the league for some years and ran across him on the other side and really hated his guts,” said George Hill, the former Indiana Pacers guard who never beat James in postseason basketball before joining him via trade in February. “But to have him on our side, it kind of lets me take a deep breath of fresh air. It's just something that you really can't explain what he's doing night in, night out.” The view from the Cavaliers’ side isn’t just safer, it’s illuminating for George. “Yeah, I thought the best was when he always put us out,” the veteran said. “But to actually see it when he's on your team, I can't even put it into words. Sometimes I just think, ‘How did he make that shot?’ Or ‘How did he make that move?’ Or ‘When did he see that pass?’ Just making big plays and big shots. People always list him as not a shooter, but he's making big shots down the stretch. If it's three-pointers, layups, dunks, passes, he can do it all.” James wasn’t always so complete as a player. In some of his early forays into the playoffs, critics would pounce. Passing off a potential winning shot, for example, to less-decorated teammate Donyell Marshall. Getting ousted by a savvier, saltier Celtics crew in seven games in 2008 and in six two years later. A couple years after that, though, James would return the favor with his new crew in Miami. He dropped 45 points with 15 rebounds on Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the rest right on the hallowed parquet in Game 6, then backed it up with 31 in Game 7. Now he’s tormenting a whole new set of Celtics. “Like I said, I haven't always done it in my whole career, but I've never shied away from it,” James said. “That's either making a shot or making a play. I was taught the game the right way ever since I started playing.” So it’s talent to start, fundamentals ladled onto that and then time and experience to percolate, to ferment, to ripen James into what he is now: No one to be trifled with when there’s something to be won or to be staved off. Getting a little more introspective than usual, James talked about the maturation journey he has taken since arriving on the NBA scene still a teenager in 2003. “I've embraced a lot of situations as you grow up,” he said. “I mean, I love being a husband now. Did I embrace that at 18, 19? I don't think so. “As you get older, you just grow into more things. I didn't love wine until I was 30 years old, and now every other [social media] post is about wine, National Wine Day. So you learn and you grow and you know what's best for you as you get older. That's just all of us. I think that's what being a human being is. “At 18, I don't think I'm the same player that I am today at 33, and I shouldn't be. I'm just much more seasoned.” Fifteen seasons worth and counting, aging like all that wine. That’s the guy Boston will try to put out Sunday (Monday, PHL time). Arguably the GOAT, undeniably the BLOAT, as in Best LeBron of All Time.  Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 26th, 2018

Future is now: Tatum, Celtics push Cavaliers to the brink

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com BOSTON - Someone might want to change their All-Rookie team ballot after this one. Jayson Tatum, so young that he actually drinks the Gatorade that’s on the table when he has a podium game rather than leaving it there for cameras and branding, got 99 out of a 100 possible first-place votes from media folks for the newbie honors announced Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). That left him a vote shy of both Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, the dueling favorites for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award when it’s announced next month. If Tatum merely is the Boston Celtics’ favorite rookie, though, that’s plenty. And wherever Simmons and Mitchell are at the moment, their seasons and postseasons are over. The Boston kid still is playing. Tatum scored 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished four assists, pilfered four steals and blocked two shots to led the Celtics to their 96-83 Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at TD Garden. His plus/minus rating of plus-19 was second only to veteran Al Horford’s (plus-22) and in a pivotal game in which his teammates shot a combined 34 percent, Tatum -- who turned 20 on March 3 -- hit three of his seven three-pointers, all but one of his eight free throws and seven of his 15 field-goal attempts overall. “I think his composure [is impressive], he plays above his age,” LeBron James said earlier in the day. “I think the unfortunate events of the injuries that they’ve had have allowed him to, I believe, get better faster than I believe they expected here. It’s given him an opportunity to make ... make mistakes and learn from them and still be on the floor.” Losing Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury in the season’s opening game and having Kyrie Irving limp into knee surgery and the sunset of this season in March did bump most of Boston’s players, the rookie included, up a couple spots in coach Brad Stevens’ pecking order. The No. 3 pick in last June’s Draft, Tatum was going to get his share of playing time. But he wound up becoming the fifth rookie in NBA history, and the first since Stephen Curry in 2009-10, to score at least 1,000 points and hit at least 40 percent of his three-pointers. Only eight previous rookies in Boston’s storied franchise history totaled 1,000 or more points. Jaylen Brown, Boston’s second-year wing, developed in tandem with Tatum. The pair of lithe, skilled players dripping with potential has most of the league’s personnel execs and coaches drooling. Except, with Game 6 on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) in Cleveland for the first of two shots at eliminating the Cavaliers, the Celtics are playing as if their future is now. A truism in the NBA is that, by the end of a rookie’s first arduous season, he’s not a rookie anymore. Mix in some force-feeding due to Boston’s two injured stars and now three playoff rounds, and Tatum is racing to the right on his learning curve. “I think that we misuse the word ‘development’ sometimes,” Stevens said. “I think we're in the business of ‘enhancement.’ I think Jayson was ready to deal with everything that comes with this because of who he is and his family and all his coaches before, because he's a very emotionally steady, smart player that was going to perform at a high level above his age. “I don't know that anybody could guess this as a rookie, but you knew he was going to be really good.” Tatum sorta had to be in Game 5. Brown got matched up in a lot of Boston’s defensive coverage of James and picked up his second and third personal fouls in the second quarter. Point guard Terry Rozier looked like his road alter ego, missing 6-of-7 shots in the game’s first 24 minutes. But Tatum -- who averaged 12.7 points against Cleveland in three regular-season meetings but is at 17.2 so far in the East finals -- had 12 points by halftime, helping the Celtics to their 53-42 lead. “I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games,” Tatum said. “I think that’s when I have the most fun, when things are on the line.” It was Tatum racing downcourt to chase down Kevin Love’s errant pass into the backcourt and finish with a layup that had Boston up 74-58. And it was Tatum who drew a foul on Kyle Korver with 3:11 left, prompting Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to pull a weary James. “I thought he was aggressive. I thought he was poised,” Lue said of Tatum. “Even though he was scoring the basketball, he didn’t try to rush or he didn’t press. ... He played like a veteran.” Tatum put in his work defensively Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), but also got as good as he gave. It’s become a familiar tactic for defenders to get physically aggressive with him, trying to exploit what at this stage still is limited strength by NBA standards. His father Justin, a basketball coach in St. Louis, has said he plays tall and hasn’t yet learned to utilize his base. “JR [Smith], Jeff Green, they're playing really hard on Tatum and making it very tough,” Stevens said. “He's had a lot of experiences over the last couple weeks dealing with playoff defense. I thought Milwaukee guarded him exceptionally hard and were really committed when he drove to the rim to having multiple bodies there. I thought that Philly obviously guarded him very hard. It's hard to make plays at this level in these games, and he's done that pretty consistently.” The numbers back that up. Tatum by halftime had become only the sixth rookie in league history to reach 300 points in the postseason, the first since Jack Sikma in 1978. It was his ninth playoff game of 20 points or more, tying him with Mitchell this season and David Robinson in 1990 for second most by a rookie since 1964; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 10 in 1970. Tatum, Brown and a few other young Celtics have given credit for the team’s unexpected success -- considering the injuries, anyway -- to Al Horford, the most obvious grown-up in Boston’s locker room. When Horford was asked late Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) what it’s like for him being around “these kids,” he sounded a little like James three years ago. That’s when Irving was hobbling, eventually blowing out a knee that spring, and Kevin Love was done for the playoffs due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first round. That’s also when James looked at the raw help he had from guys such as Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, and locked in on the possibility of reaching the Finals. “It's a lot of fun, just because these guys, they want to play the right way,” Horford said. “They play hard. I feel like we hold each other accountable out there. I think that's a big thing.  And when those things happen, it becomes fun. It's fun to me. And there's no coincidence why we're in this position right now.” Youth is being served, at least on the Celtics’ floor. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 24th, 2018

LeBron scores 44 as Cavs even series with Celtics

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 44 points, surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar atop a postseason list and helped the Cleveland Cavaliers even the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 on Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time) with a 111-102 victory over the Boston Celtics, who are looking forward to getting home. Pushed by a raucous crowd that wasn't so confident a few days ago, the Cavs held off Boston's comeback in the fourth quarter and squared a series that is now a best-of-three. Cleveland is trying to become the 20th team — out of 300 — to overcome a 2-0 deficit and James, who has already orchestrated two such rallies, is a step closer to a third. But to do it again the Cavs will have to win in Boston, where the Celtics are 9-0 this postseason. Game 5 is Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at TD Center. Kyle Korver added 14 points with several hustle plays, and Tristan Thompson had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland. Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Boston had all five scorers in double figures, but the Celtics fell behind by 19 in the first half and didn't have enough to catch Cleveland. And, of course, they didn't have James, who moved past Jabbar (2,356) for the most field goals in playoff history. James also recorded his 25th career postseason game with at least 40 points — his sixth in this postseason. The Celtics hung around in the second half and pulled within 100-93 on Marcus Smart's basket with 4:29 left. But Thompson got free for a dunk, and after a miss by Boston, James recovered after making his seventh turnover by making a steal and layup. Moments later, James drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to finally put away the young Celtics, who will now feel the immense pressure of trying to hold off the three-time champion. Celtics coach Brad Stevens considered changing his starting lineup, but decided to stick with the same first five — Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and Terry Rozier — as the first three games. Boston's starters held their own, but none of them was able to match James when it mattered most. The Celtics couldn't afford another slow start and that's exactly what happened. Boston got some open looks in the first quarter, but the Celtics shot just 27 percent (7-of-26) and both Tatum and Brown missed dunks. Also, Morris picked up three fouls and his teammates all seemed tentative as the Cavs pushed their lead to 15 at halftime. TIP-INS Celtics: Stevens was deliberately evasive about his starting lineup during his pregame news conference, not wanting to give the Cavs any advance notice. "We will start five people. I promise," he said, drawing laughs from media members. ... Injured stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are not traveling with the team so they can continue their respective rehabs. Both have been sitting on the bench with their teammates in Boston. Cavaliers: Won their seventh straight playoff game at home. ... James also recorded his 106th 30-point game in the postseason. Only Michael Jordan (109) has more. ... Love threw one of his patented "touchdown" passes in the first quarter to James, who outmaneuvered Smart and Brown like a wide receiver to make the catch and score. ... Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in last month's NFL draft, attended the game. Improved to 9-3 vs. Boston in the playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. BLOWOUT CITY Like most fans, Lue has been stunned — but not necessarily disappointed — by the number of lopsided wins in the playoffs, especially in the semifinals. The first six games between Boston-Cleveland and Houston-Golden State were decided by an average of 24 points. The Warriors won Game 3 on Sunday night (Monday, PHL time) by 41, the largest margin of victory in franchise history. "It does surprise me," he said. "All four teams are really good. But the home court has shown it's been a factor." UP NEXT Game 5 is Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) in Boston......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 22nd, 2018

Cavs try to ease LeBron James load and stop Celtics

WASHINGTON, United States – The Cleveland Cavaliers can't continue to let LeBron James carry the load as they seek to climb out of an 0-2 hole against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference finals, Cavs big man Tristan Thompson said. "Other guys have to contribute and ........»»

Category: newsSource:  rapplerRelated NewsMay 19th, 2018

Deja vu: Conference Finals matchups mirror opening day games

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 2018

Draw of another title lights postseason path of Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 7th, 2018

Budding Sixers take control of series in Miami

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com MIAMI — Back in 2014, when the Miami Heat were wrapping up their championship-fueled era, the Philadelphia 76ers began plotting their own. And they did it unconventionally, laughably and by any measure, dreadfully. It was Year One of the most ambitious rebuilding plan before or since, when the Sixers willingly laid down and became a doormat and allowed other teams to wipe their sneakers on them. That season, while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh cruised to a fourth straight appearance, and their last together, in the NBA Finals, the Sixers lost 63 games. And then they got better at this tanking technique and lost 64 and 72 the next two years. But fast-forward to now, to Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) at American Airlines Arena, and the roles with the Heat and Sixers are threatening to flip. Maybe not so drastically, but it’s clear through four games of this first-round playoff series that the Sixers are going one way and the Heat another. The Sixers have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, a pair of young bedrocks slowly building something with the potential to be big. The Heat? They have banners in the rafters commemorating what they used to be, not so long ago. Philly also has something else on Miami, namely a 3-1 series lead after Simmons became the first rookie since Magic Johnson to drop a triple-double in a playoff game and Embiid fought through a poor shooting game and an irritating protective mask to spook any Heat player that challenged him at the rim. It was the Sixers who made all the right plays in the final crucial moments in the 106-102 win, getting key stops and buckets and pulling away, a team with a young core turning mature, and doing it rapidly, despite their lack of post-season experience. And having a front-row seat to this new Process was none other than Wade, a proud if aging member of the extinct Big Three who realizes something unique is happening with the Sixers. “This is a very good team,” said Wade. “They’ve got talent at almost every position. This is definitely one of the best first-round opponents I’ve played in my career.” Are the Sixers all that, already? “They’re good,” said Wade. “They’re special. They put the right team together.” Yes, they have. Maybe it wasn’t properly done in the spirit of competition, and perhaps they embarrassed themselves if not the league while doing so, but that’s all behind the Sixers right now. What’s ahead of them is a potential series-clinching Game 5 in Philly and from there, who knows? Yes, the core of the Sixers is Simmons, Embiid and Dario Saric, all under 25, and in the playing rotation only JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli earned any significant playoff money. But if a young team is ever going to reach the NBA Finals, this is the right time, and this is the right team. Just look at the wide-open landscape in the East: LeBron and the Cavaliers, winners of the last three East titles, are down 2-1 to the Pacers and haven’t appeared this fragile since LeBron returned to Cleveland. The Celtics are missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the East but inspires few outside Canada. Why not the Sixers? Why not now? Simmons is lacking a jump shot and little else, and still manages to score anyway. His direction of the club in the fourth quarter of Game 4 was near-masterful; Simmons stayed poised, found the open man and popped the Heat’s comeback hopes with an uncontested dunk when Miami pulled within a point. Embiid couldn’t hit a shot and yet didn’t fall into a funk; rather he terrorized Miami by being a defensive force, punctuated by his spike of a Goran Dragic late-fourth quarter breakaway layup attempt (followed by an Embiid stare down). “They make you pay every time you make a mistake,” said Wade. Speaking of which, the Sixers had 27 turnovers, certainly the recipe for disaster, and still found a way. In the words of coach Brett Brown: “I’m surprised we won this game. We really didn’t have any right to win this game.” But maybe it’s just additional proof that this is Philly’s time. It’s quite a contrast to the ex-bully on the block. Four years after LeBron made the second biggest decision of his life, the Heat are still searching for the identity they had when the champagne flowed, and the party rolled on South Beach. The only reminder is Wade, and at age 36 he’s only capable of having flashes now, like his 28 points in Game 2 and an impressive 25-point follow up Saturday that was marred only by a missed free throw in the final seconds. Besides that, there’s nothing special. Pat Riley’s latest attempt to recreate a winner is looking dubious right now. Riley decided two summers ago to build the Heat around a seven-foot center with low post-skills, which means Riley gave a $100 million to a dinosaur. And one with a decaying relationship with coach Erik Spoelstra. Hassan Whiteside can’t get on the floor in today’s NBA, where small-ball makes him a liability in certain situations. With no shooting range, and perhaps no incentive to develop one, Whiteside finds himself on the bench in fourth quarters and on the nerves of Spoelstra. “He’s a prisoner of the style of play,” said Brown. Plus: Riley also paid Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. Which means the Heat are almost guaranteed to be a 43-win team fighting for the final playoff spot for the next few years. When the Heat searched for someone to bail them out Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), who did they turn to? An aging All-Star who’s on the downside, which says something about Wade … and the Heat’s roster. “He ended up being our best option,” said Spoelstra. There’s another path the Heat can take, of course. They could follow the current Hawks, Nets, Lakers and Magic, who all took their cues from the 2014 Sixers, and take a few steps back before moving forward. But that’s not a fool-proof plan — have you seen the Magic the last few years? — and besides, losing by any means isn’t in Riley’s DNA. So, mediocrity it is, then. Meanwhile, the Sixers have Embiid and Simmons and if you ask fans in Philly, they’d say it was well worth the steep price, in terms of the misery of tanking, paid for them. “They’re two players that have the chance to be great,” said Brown. “Joel has no right to be doing some of the things he does. Ben’s composure down the stretch is amazing. Those two are exceptional.” What the Sixers just did was win a pair in Miami, under the banners that hung over them, was fly in the face of basketball convention which says youth doesn’t get served in the post-season. They can close out at home and then get the survivor of Celtics-Bucks, and Philly can expect to be the favorite in that conference semifinal. “I can see how much we’ve grown and how much more room we have to grow,” said Brown. “To come here and get a win, in this building, against an organization of winning and culture and history, it’s special.” There’s another story here: If the Sixers eliminate the Heat, then it could be curtains for Wade, who doesn’t have a contract for next season, who hasn’t committed to playing beyond this season, and who paused suspiciously for about three seconds when asked if Saturday was his final game in Miami. “I don’t want to answer that right now,” he said. Whether he sticks around or takes the sunset cruise, Wade must realize that a transformation is taking place in the East. After years of deliberately bad basketball the Sixers are finally bearing fruit, and oh, speaking of food, Wade and the Heat can chew on this for a minute: The Sixers have room under the salary cap to give Embiid and Simmons some help next season. LeBron James, free agent-to-be, might reach the conclusion that the Sixers are his best championship option. for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.   The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 22nd, 2018

On Pace: Indiana opens eyes with blowout of LeBron, Cavs

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — They've spent the entire season on the fringe, virtually ignored by all but the most savvy fans and NBA insiders. They don't have any household names or any superstars on their roster, just one All-Star and a role player best known for foolish on-court antics. But as the Indiana Pacers strolled quietly into practice on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, a building they silenced less than 24 hours earlier with an eye-catching playoff win in Game 1 over the Cavaliers, there was something unmistakable about them. They're confident — and they're no longer a secret. "People didn't expect us to do this well," Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said, leaning back in a cushioned chair at the end of Indiana's bench. "We like that. That's what kind of drives our motor a little bit, being overlooked and no one expecting us to do what we're currently doing." The Pacers were the better team — by far — on Sunday (Monday, PHL time), leading from tip to final horn in a 98-80 victory over Cleveland that snapped a 21-game winning streak in the first round for LeBron James, who had never opened the playoffs before with a loss and figures to be more aggressive in Game 2 on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). Led by Victor Oladipo's 32-point, tough-shot-after-tough-shot performance, Indiana outplayed, outhustled and outlasted Cleveland, giving the Pacers a 4-1 record this season against the three-time defending conference champions. This may have been a surprise to outsiders, but it was just another day on the office hardwood for the Pacers, who won 48 games during the regular season and were the only team to beat Golden State twice. Didn't know that, did you? Well, most of Indiana's accomplishments have been woefully under-publicized. That's what happens when only one of your games is shown on national TV, you're playing in a mid-market city and you appeared to throw away the future by trading away your biggest star, Paul George, last summer. But the lack of attention doesn't faze Pacers. It fuels them. "They underestimate us," Lance Stephenson said, referring to everyone, not just those Cleveland fans taunting the Pacers on Sunday. "They didn't think we would get this far and they didn't think we was going to win that many games. But if you look at our team, I guess you could say we don't have that one player or the type of players that stand out, and that's why they underestimate us." Stephenson, the Pacers' instigator, spark and arch-enemy to James, set the tone for Indiana's impressive win in Game 1 with a thunderous first-quarter dunk he celebrated by bashing his head into the padded basket stanchion. "I'm a little dizzy right now," he joked before Monday's workout. His teammates' heads aren't spinning after the series-opening win over the Cavs, who swept the Pacers in the first round a year ago. They expected to play well, and they did. The Pacers aren't flashy, but fundamental. They do the little things: boxing out, diving for loose balls, taking charges. They've been successful by following coach Nate McMillan's simple formula: share the ball, stop your man and stay connected. "We've been playing like this all year," said Oladipo, the team's rising star who has been on a mission since coming over from Oklahoma City in the deal for George. "Been playing hard on both ends all year. It just hasn't been magnified. So it's the playoffs now, we've been doing this all year. Now everybody sees." Young, who along with Myles Turner are the only starters from last year's playoff squad, said Indiana's success is rooted in the team's togetherness. A year ago, the Pacers were going in different directions. "We had a lot of guys with egos that we really couldn't push aside" he said. "And there was a lot of miscommunication and a lot of different things that were going on. We didn't know if Paul was going to be here. We didn't know if Jeff [Teague] was going to stick around. There was a lot of uncertainty and no clarity from Day One and that hurt us from being a better team than we could've been. "But this team here, we're all in. We take each and every step together. We try to work in unison each and every day. We come to work and put our hard hats on and we all believe in each other." The Pacers took Sunday's (Monday, PHL time) win in stride, like a team that has won bigger games before. There was no chest-thumping, no bragging, nothing but talk of doing it again. "There ain't nothing to celebrate about," Stephenson said. "We won the game, but we got more to accomplish.".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 17th, 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

Celtics still eyeing long playoff run after rash of injuries

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 10th, 2018

Eight NBA Playoffs storylines to watch

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Suddenly, we’re not quite as certain that Warriors-Cavs, Part IV, Sure to be Way Better than “Jaws: The Revenge” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, is going to make air, are we? The 2018 playoffs are just about here, and Stephen Curry isn’t, and Kyrie Irving won’t be, and Joel Embiid might be, and Jimmy Butler will be -- if his team is, that is. And both conference champions from a year ago are equally unsettled going into the postseason, for different reasons. The Golden State Warriors are banged up, while the Cleveland Cavaliers are brand new. Golden State hasn’t looked like an offensive leviathan, while Cleveland has been one of the league’s worst defenses. And, most importantly, each has legit challengers this year in Houston and Toronto in its respective conferences -- deep, tough, elite defensively, hard to stop offensively, and tempered/hardened/driven by recent playoff failures. Which should make late May and early June even more compelling than normal. At the least, we’ll have the Warriors going for three rings in four years, and LeBron James going for an eighth straight Finals appearance -- each representing something special. The postseason, then, should provide some theatre that Meryl Streep will drop what she’s doing to watch. Among the biggest storylines: 1. The Hinkie Referendum, Passed The Philadelphia 76ers’ scintillating run to end the regular season sets up them for a glorious postseason run, that will finalize a season in which the decisions by former GM Sam Hinkie -- the successful ones, anyway -- are rightly celebrated. (The failures of Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams to fire as stars after Hinkie took each high in the first round are not only not ignored by Hinkie’s biggest supporters, they are cited as proof that he had to do what he did for as long as he did, because you’re going to have some misses at the top of the Draft. God, I love Hinkie Stans.) It says here that a healthy Joel Embiid and an exponentially improving Ben Simmons are the one team that can give LeBron’s Cavs true night sweats in the Kyrie-less east playoffs. Embiid is a problem for any team, but especially for the defensively indifferent and ineffective Cavaliers, who have no one remotely capable of keeping “The Process” from running wild. Since New Year’s Day, only Curry (120.4), Chris Paul (116.1) and Jamal Murray (114.7) have better Offensive Ratings among point guards than Simmons’s 113.9, per NBA.com/Stats. Who, from among George Hill (6'3"), Jose Calderon (6'1"), Jordan Clarkson (6'5") and J.R. Smith (6'5") is Cavs coach Tyronn Lue going to put on the 6'10" Simmons? Yes, Lue could try James on Simmons, who is no threat to shoot from deep or run through a maze of pindowns. But that doesn’t make him any easier to slow down. No matter who Philly plays in the postseason, the Sixers are going to be a problem. 2. Indiana George and the Tempo of Doom It’s taken the Oklahoma City Thunder much longer than any of us thought, but OKC is a win from the postseason (even if the Thunder can’t beat the Heat in Miami tonight, the Cancun-bound Memphis Grizzlies will be in Oklahoma City Wednesday). And that’s when Paul George will determine whether his future is in the 405 or elsewhere. The Thunder’s up-and-down regular season doesn’t provide much clue to how far they could go in the playoffs, thought OKC looked formidable in ending the Rockets’ 20-game home win streak Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). It was a game that featured Russell Westbrook successfully taking on the challenge of defending James Harden down the stretch. When Oklahoma City plays with pace and gets up and down the floor, it can beat anyone. The Thunder will likely have to take down an elite unit like Houston at some point in the playoffs to convince George to stay. 3. A Series of Fortunate Events With Irving’s injury, the Washington Wizards’ failure to launch and other maladies to Eastern Conference contenders, the Cavaliers have an increasingly clear path back to The Finals. Doing this is best way to keep LeBron: The Sequel in town for an extended run, but the proof will be in the doing, of course. Cleveland will need Larry Nance, Jr., Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson to perform under playoff pressure, which Nance and Clarkson have never had to do and Hood did briefly in the 2017 playoffs with the Utah Jazz. 4. She packed my bags last night, pre-flight/Zero Hour, 9 a.m The Rockets have been the best team in the league most of this season -- an offensive and defensive juggernaut, the logical extension at both ends of the floor of the standards the Warriors set the last few seasons. James Harden will likely walk away with Kia MVP honors after the season and Chris Paul has been everything Houston hoped he’d be. But Houston must finish the deal with a championship to make its own mark. 5. Jurassic Park Everything is set up for Toronto, as well -- the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record and are tied with Houston for the best home record (34-7) in the league. They have home court until The Finals. Their two lynchpins, All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, are healthy. They’ve diversified their offense and learned to love the 3-pointer. They’re back to guarding at an elite level. The East is laid out open for a Toronto run to The Finals. There’s no excuse for the Raps not to. 6. ‘Brow’, Beating We don’t know for sure that the New Orleans Pelicans will make the playoffs. As of this writing, they haven’t clinched yet, although beating the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday went a long way toward their getting to the postseason. But assuming New Orleans is playing next weekend, its success in the playoffs can only help the franchise as it recovers from the recent death of former owner Tom Benson. “The Brow” (aka Anthony Davis) may have got us on April Fool’s Day, but the next couple of weeks will be dead serious. What if the Pelicans manage a first-round upset? Don’t say it’s not possible with the way Davis is playing. That would go an awful long way to quieting the “How the Boston Celtics Will Get Anthony Davis in 2020, Vol. MCMLXXXVII” hot takes. 7.  The Boston Medical Group The Celtics as imagined played exactly five minutes together this season. Everything that’s transpired since has been wrapped in gauze and sutured shut. Kyrie Irving’s latest knee procedure has everyone hopping off the Celtics’ postseason bandwagon -- a mistake, unless coach Brad Stevens pulls a hammy before Game 1 in the first round. Stevens has coached up whatever 12 guys are active pretty damn well since he’s come to the NBA, and he’ll still have a lot to work with in the playoffs: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier (the Celtics hope they can get Marcus Smart back after the first round). The bigger issue, of course, is Irving’s health going forward -- and into next season, after which he can opt out of the last year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. The current belief in Boston is that Irving’s knee -- the cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones -- is sound and that he’ll have no long-term issues with it. But Irving and the team thought taking out the tension wire that had helped heal his broken patella after his 2015 surgery would do the trick. It didn’t.   There should be no doubt Boston will be all in on Irving. But after missing these playoffs after going out in Game 1 of the Finals in ’15, Irving will again have to show he’s able to handle a season-long campaign and still be able to bring his best to the postseason. 8. Bah Gawd, That’s Kawhi Leonard’s Music! We have all worked on the assumption that Leonard isn’t going to play for the Spurs any more this season as he rehabs his quad injury, even though they’ve never quite actually said he’s out for the year -- and he, as per usual, has said next to nothing. The Spurs have ridden LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-NBA-level season to the cusp of the playoffs, but no one has much expectation they’ll be there very long if they make it without their former Finals MVP. “Do I have any expectation I’ll see Kawhi?,” Danny Green said a week ago, repeating my question to him. “As of right now, my mindset is no. I’m just going to forward without him … if he does come back, great. Our mindset is this is the group we have today, this is the group we’ll have tomorrow. If somebody does come and join, we’ll have them and it’ll be great. But right now we’re moving forward with the expectation that this is who we have.” But, it’s not like we haven’t seen guys come back suddenly for the playoffs after missing large chunks of a season. A fellow named Michael Jordan played just 18 regular season games in his second season with the Bulls in 1986, recovering from a foot injury and not returning to the lineup until mid-March. True, he did get 15 games under his belt before the playoffs. But that did not prepare anyone for his showing up in Boston Garden in Game 2 of the first round against the Celtics and dropping 63 on the home team. There are, to be sure, issues between Leonard and the Spurs, and maybe they’re insurmountable. But if, somehow, “The Klaw” wakes up one morning this month and says he’s good to go, and reports for duty … who doesn’t think San Antonio can’t start assimilating opponents into its collective just like old times? 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 NewsApr 10th, 2018

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

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 23rd, 2018

Rose embraces new home, blocks out doubters

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com MINNEAPOLIS – Don’t let go of the rope. It’s one of Tom Thibodeau’s most familiar exhortations, a mantra of sorts to keep his teams locked in, digging down and generally committed through whatever grueling test they’re facing, be it a game, a road trip, a spate of injuries or the entire season. The trouble for Derrick Rose with that particular Thibs-ism is, so often, he has been the rope. On one side of an unfortunate tug o’ war, we’ve had the Rose loyalists, the fans, friends and family who believe that the 2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player’s return from injury hell to elite status is just one more, legit opportunity away. Pulling from the other side, there is a growing group of Rose skeptics who are convinced that the Chicago kid’s best days – his most explosive, elusive, game-changing moves – are behind him, strewn on the floors of too many surgical rooms and rehab gyms. Rose, 29, knows they’re there. One group pulling for him, the other doubting him. And in an unusually candid and forceful moment Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), the normally soft-spoken Rose delivered a stark message to them all. “Yeah,” Rose said after his first full practice since signing a minimum-salary contract Thursday (Friday, PHL tie) to join the Minnesota Timberwolves. “This is how I feel about the whole perspective on it: You can have your perspective on me as far as I’m a bum, I can’t play, I can’t shoot, this and that. All right. Cool. I have no hard feelings with that. I’m cool with that. If that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel. “But at the same time, I don’t need your [bleeping] validation.” Rose’s eyes burned bright, in a direct response to the many health challenges he has endured from acquaintances and strangers both, picking at whatever good or bad is left of his basketball career. “I know who I am,” Rose continued. “I know the type of player I am. So, you respect that and I respect that, and we should be good. That’s how I feel about it.” In other words, you work your side of the street, Rose will continue to work his. If there are NBA administrators like Thibodeau, the Wolves’ head coach and president of basketball operations, willing to give him another chance, he’ll be chasing the ghost of his own self while trying to help somebody win. One more chance Rose’s latest grab at faded glory could begin in Sunday’s (Monday, PHL time) matinee against the defending champion Golden State Warriors at Target Center (editor's note: Rose wound up playing just seven minutes off the bench. He finished with two points on 1-of-5 shooting with a rebound, two assists, and two turnovers). It probably is his last, best shot to salvage something from a 2017-18 season that’s been largely lost due to injury, yes, but other factors outside Rose’s control as well. What looked like a terrific opportunity back in training camp – signing with Eastern Conference power Cleveland Cavaliers and home to the game’s best player (and Rose nemesis) in LeBron James – got sideways fast. In the Cavs’ second game, on a drive to the rim, Rose got whacked across the face and neck by Milwaukee center Greg Monroe. He landed badly on the baseline, suffering a “jacked-up” left ankle that left him in a walking boot and sidelined him for 11 of Cleveland’s next 15 games. Then word got out just before Thanksgiving that Rose had left the team, reportedly to contemplate his future as an NBA player. He was gone for nearly two weeks, at least part of it back home in Chicago, during what Cavs GM Koby Altman called “a very challenging and difficult time for Derrick.” Rose didn’t play again until Cleveland’s 44th game. In nine appearances over the next three weeks, he was a shell of the three-time All-Star he’d once been, averaging 6.3 points, 1.6 assists and 13.3 minutes, while shooting 39 percent. On Feb. 8 (Feb. 9, PHL time), he was one of six Cavaliers players dealt by Altman at the NBA trade deadline, sent to Salt Lake City as a throw-in to acquire Utah’s Rodney Hood and Sacramento’s George Hill. Two days later, the Jazz waived Rose. Four weeks passed before Thibodeau got the green light from Minnesota owner Glen Taylor to sign Rose. The Oklahoma City Thunder had sniffed in his direction, only to opt for veteran backup Corey Brewer. Rose had family duties to attend to – he and Alaina Anderson had a baby girl in Chicago to start the week – but he also had spent time working out by himself in the Cavs’ facility or at Cleveland State’s gym. The end seemed near. Given Rose’s limited involvement this season, he probably would have been a long shot to land with one of the league’s 30 teams in 2018-19, had Thibodeau not reached out. The people on the dark end of Rose’s rope were winning. Now, this buys him time for a shout-out to the folks on the other end. “‘Don’t give up,’ Rose said he would tell them. Talking later at the downtown Minneapolis hotel where he’s staying, he wanted to assure people that his desire to play remains strong, his passion to keep trying still burns, and his mental fitness for this and future challenges on or away from the court is fine. “I still have faith,” Rose said, two bags of ice strapped to each leg. “No matter what happens, I still have a lot of faith in myself and my ability. It’s just about opportunity and catching a rhythm. Whenever I do catch a rhythm, I’d rather see what it is then. Than to, like, give up knowing I have so much left. Like, ‘Damn, I should have kept playing.’ “I’m going to give it my all. And once I do, then it’s like, ‘All right, cool. I gave it my all, now what’s this next phase in my life?’ “But as far as right now, I’m still in it. I’ve got two kids that can look at me now. The oldest, my boy [P.J.] is 5 years old. He’s looking at me right now. He sees everything. I’m going to tell him, ‘No excuses. Don’t come to me cryin’, this and that. Nah.’ He’ll see what I’ve had to go through. ‘Now suck it up and go out there and do what you’ve got to do.’” A career interrupted For some NBA players whose careers got waylaid by injuries – Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Penny Hardaway – their bodies finally refused to cooperate. They went from 60-to-0, no wiggle room on whether they would continue. Rose, for all his setbacks, has worked his way back – not back to his previous form – from each and every injury. From the ACL blowout that started him down his hobbled path in April 2012 to three subsequent meniscus knee surgeries, from the left orbital fracture he suffered when he caught teammate Taj Gibson’s errant elbow in the face in the opening practice of 2015-16 to the lingering ankle sprain dealt by Monroe’s blow in October. In that sense, Rose is more like Bernard King, Sam Bowie or Grant Hill, standout players whose career trajectories were forever altered – but not ended – by injuries. Rose speaks as if he has reached some level of peace with his maladies, referring to his injuries as “part of the game” and his particular “cross” to bear. “I’ve just had five surgeries more than other people,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. That don’t mean that I can’t play. That don’t mean that I lost my love for the game. No.” What Rose doesn’t like is the “fragile” label that’s been affixed to him. He’s less interested that he has played in only 486 of approximately 789 regular-season games so far, while proud of the 130 he logged with the Bulls (2015-16) and Knicks (2016-17) more recently. It seems clear that the reckless abandon with which Rose played – and the excruciating torque he put on his knees with his bounding, zig-zag attacks through the lane – wreaked havoc on his knees. Beyond that, though, he’s not buying any pattern business. “You see how I was injured [in October]? I was taken out of the air,” Rose said. “People are like, ‘Aw, he’s always injured.’ Are you just watching highlights, just looking at clips, like new fans are these days? Or are you watching an entire game? Are you just reading reports that come up on your phone?” Scouts say that Rose has lost both quickness and leaping ability, without developing a perimeter game to compensate. They also bundle his Cleveland hiatus with the AWOL episode last season with the Knicks, when Rose left the team without notice before a game against New Orleans, to question his reliability and commitment. Rose disputes the comments about his game, citing the circumstances in New York and Cleveland. “I could sit here and tell you, ‘I’m gonna try to change this. Do this and do that.’ Nah, I always felt, it starts with my rhythm,” he said. “[In] New York ... I was playing the triangle [offense favored by former Knicks president Phil Jackson] and still playing pretty well [18.0 ppg, 4.4 apg, 32.5 mpg]. In Cleveland, when did I really have a chance to catch a rhythm? When did I play 20 games straight? Or 10 games? Five games?” As for his reliability – or likelihood to take a powder on the Wolves the way he did on the Knicks and seemed to do on the Cavs – Rose said there is no issue there, either. In the past couple weeks, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan (depression) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (panic attacks) have opened up about psychological challenges they and other athletes face. But Rose shook his head as the question was asked. “Oh no, no, no,” he said. “I’m blessed, man. Beyond blessed. It’s not even ... what do I have to complain about? I don’t have anything to complain about. Of course, I wish I was on the court more. I think in time, with the right opportunity, I’ll be out there more. “I’m not depressed, even though I think everybody deals with some depression in some way. It’s about how you deal with it. We’re emotional creatures. We hold onto things. I try to meditate, try to do little things to change my mindset and try to read things to easy my nerves.” Rose admitted he did wonder if he would get another chance, once the Cavs traded him to a Jazz team that had no use for him. “Especially when you get dropped by a team like Cleveland, that needed players,” he said. “It makes other teams think, ‘Damn, if they didn’t keep him...’” Rose has not spoken with James since being dealt, he said. “The way I take it, I don’t take it as personal,” Rose said. “They didn’t need my services. That’s the way I look at it, OK? I understand. It’s business. Does that stop me from working hard? Does that stop me from still putting out goals and trying to reach my goals? No.” Familiar faces aid return Now Rose is reunited with Thibodeau, Gibson, Jimmy Butler (sidelined after his own meniscus surgery) and familiar coaches and staff making up the “TimberBulls.” He even trusts Thibodeau, often criticized for the heavy minutes he loads on his top players, not to break him. “If anything, I want him to play me,” Rose said. “I want to show to him that I can still play. I want him to see me and be like, ‘Damn, he’s still got it.’ I want him to count on me. I want to be held accountable. You know what I mean? I don’t just want to be, like, an average guy on the team riding along just to see how far they go. I really want to add.” Said Thibodeau, who ran Rose Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) through a rigorous refresher course on his playbook: “Obviously when he was at an MVP level, that was the peak. But he also, my last year in Chicago, he had a great year. ... He still has the potential to be very good. He’s young, that was the other part of it. He knows some of our guys, he knows the system. “Like all stories, there’s a beginning, there’s a middle and there’s an end,” the Wolves coach added. “I don’t think it’s a finished story.” Gibson thinks Rose can shoulder some of Butler’s late-game duties, simply because the scoring guard has strong muscle memory of such situations. He, too, hopes Rose’s story can take a happy turn. “I’ve got my fingers crossed,” the veteran forward said. “I truly believe in him. He’s got a lot left in the tank. It’s just, sometimes life doesn’t go your way and you have to push through it and keep fighting.” Thibodeau has said that Rose, like starter Jeff Teague and backup Tyus Jones, can play both backcourt spots, so he can mix-and-match based on situations. Rose anticipates no problem walking that line between asserting his game and rocking the Wolves’ boat. “My job coming here, I’m not trying to step on nobody’s toes. I’m not trying to take someone’s spot,” he said. “I’m not trying to show myself. Nah. I’m here to win. Me going out there and playing, hopefully you all see that. ‘He’s making money plays. He’s playing to win. And that’s what we wanted from him.’” Not that Rose, lest we forget from up top, needs anyone’s bleeping validation. Boosters and doubters can pull this way or that, but he said he’ll be the one who decides when his time is up. “When my love of the game is not there,” Rose said, sounding sincere near the end of his 10th season overall. “When I get tired of going to the gym. “Don’t get me wrong, we all go through that. But after a couple of days, I get antsy, I want to be in the gym. When a week or two goes by and I haven’t touched the gym, even in the summer, oh yeah, I’d know it was over.” Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 12th, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

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

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 6th, 2018