NBA Playoffs: Can Denver beat Utah on the road?

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Stealing a win on the road was a huge break for the Utah Jazz. Utah and Denver were a combined 66-16 at home this year, and went 40-42 on the road. Clearly, both of these teams are a lot more comfortable in their own buildings. Even without Kirilenko and Okur in the rotation, Utah has a lot of momentum going right now. 

That being said, the momentum will go right back to Denver if they can get a win tonight. Considering how many offensive weapons the Nuggets have, it’s never a good idea to count them out of a game. Let’s take a look at how each team can win Friday’s game in Utah and take a 2-1 advantage in the series:
Utah:
-Keep Deron Williams going:

Williams averaged 29.5 points and 12.5 assists on 51.7%/50.0%/80.6% shooting over the first two games. Utah is the more disciplined team at both ends of the floor; if Williams can continue to take over games on his own, they have a great chance.
Contain Carmelo Anthony to some degree:
The Jazz were able to live with Carmelo scoring 32 points on 25 shots in game 2. They weren’t able to handle Carmelo scoring 42 points on 25 shots in game 1. As long as he plays like a normal All-Star instead of going absolutely insane, Utah should be able to score enough to hold on. 
-Be Aggressive offensively:

The Jazz didn’t turn into the Suns during game two, but they did seem to get into their offense much quicker and look for more quick-hitting baskets. The Nuggets are a below-average defensive team, and Utah should look to attack the rim against them rather than settling for mid-range jumpers out of their flex sets. 

Get Something out of Wesley Matthews:

Korver coming off the bench takes some pressure off of Matthews, but going 3-12 from the floor over the first two games is not ideal for a starting shooting guard on a playoff team.
Denver:
-Use Your Big Men:

Like the Lakers, the Nuggets have a tremendous size advantage down low but don’t seem to be cognizant of it. Nene and Martin aren’t traditional post-up bigs, but they have the ability to punish Utah’s injury-riddled frontline if they get set up with chances to attack the rim. Martin and Nene both shot 7-10 from the field in game two; J.R. Smith, who went 3-10, was allowed to shoot just as much as either one of them. That should not be so. 
-Play Under Control:

Eight turnovers for the Nuggets in game one. 17 turnovers for the Nuggets in game two. Guess which game the Nuggets lost? Organized chaos only works if the offense knows what it’s doing. It’ll be hard to stay calm with the Utah crowd screaming their heads off, but it’s what the Nuggets have to do. 
-Attack Boozer and Milsap:

First of all, both Boozer and Millsap are iffy defenders. More importantly, if one of them gets into foul trouble, it means major minutes for Fesenko and Koufos. Those are not the guys Jerry Sloan wants to have to count on in the playoffs. 
-Get something out of Ty Lawson:

In game 1, Lawson had 11 points and 6 assists in 22 minutes, and the Nuggets were a +16 when he was on the floor. In game two, he had 3 points and 1 assist in 14 minutes. Lawson is a better backup point than anyone on the Jazz. The Nuggets should try to turn that advantage into some points. 
-Try to play defense:

I know Denver tries to outscore teams, but they should be capable of holding the Jazz to under 50% from the field or 40% from beyond the arc. Maybe they can start out by doing just one of those things in game three. Baby steps, you know?
Well, those are my keys. Tune it at 10:30 EST to watch either the Jazz or Nuggets win for completely different reasons than the ones listed above. 

LeBron James: “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs”

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Cleveland’s defense was pathetic Saturday and the Thunder routed them because of it. The Cavaliers gave up 148 points, allowed the Thunder to shoot 58 percent, and basically were little more than traffic cones for Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder to dribble and pass around. The Cavaliers have lost 8-of-11 and coach Tyronn Lue’s seat is getting warm.

Can the Cavaliers even get out of the East? LeBron James wasn’t even asking that question after the Saturday loss, he wants his team to get to the conference finals first. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”

It’s January, it’s far too early to write LeBron and the Cavaliers off — his teams have won the East for seven straight seasons in a row for a reason. Cleveland’s mid-season malaise is a thing and they snap out of it, Isaiah Thomas will find his legs and play better, but this season has shown some troubling structural flaws in the Cavaliers. Ones that could bite them in the playoffs. Ones they are active in the trade market trying to address, or at least shore up a little.

Nobody around the league is comfortable picking against a LeBron team in the East — he has been to seven straight Finals for a reason (and how impressive an achievement that is gets overlooked). But this seems to be the weakest LeBron team since he bolted Cleveland (the first time?), and a second-round matchup vs. Toronto is no gimme anymore. LeBron is right to be concerned.

Former LSU star, Trail Blazer Tim Quarterman arrested after leading police on high-speed chase

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If you missed Tim Quarterman’s cup of coffee in the NBA nobody can blame you. The 6’6″ point guard was a star at LSU who went undrafted but got a chance to earn a roster spot in Portland. He bounced between the NBA and D-League last season playing in 16 games for the Trail Blazers, but then this summer was traded to Houston for cash, and the Rockets quickly waived him. He had signed to play in China but never got there due to visa issues, he did not play a game there.

Now he has some big trouble stateside. From Tupelo, Miss., television station WTVA (hat tip to the Times-Picayune):

Master Sgt. Ray Hall with the Mississippi Highway Patrol says the incident began sometime near 10:50 p.m. when troopers attempted to stop a 2018 Dodge Ram pickup truck for traveling eastbound on Highway 278 at a high rate of speed.

Quarterman failed to stop and led officers on the pursuit… The Mississippi Highway Patrol says the pursuit ended near (a family’s) home when Quarterman intentionally rammed a Pontotoc police officer causing both vehicles to crash.

Both Quarterman and the police officer were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

This led to charges of aggravated assault and felony fleeing, according to the report.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: “We are better than them”

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Houston’s home win Saturday night against Golden State was much more important for the Rockets than the Warriors. Not in terms of the standings (Golden State is still 3.5 games up there), but about confidence — the Rockets needed to know they can beat the defending NBA champions. This game fueled their belief that they have a shot against the Warriors.

Houston big man Clint Capela was trying to say that… then took it a step too far.

Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela told ESPN. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.

“We are better than them.”

It goes without saying that January games are poor predictors of May playoff series. That said, I have two quick thoughts here:

• The Rockets are the team best built to have a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors. (They can score with Golden State, and they have good switchable defenders on the wing, the two things needed to have a chance.)

• I want guys to say this. I want teams going up against the Warriors to believe — that is the first step to actually doing it. You think the Cavaliers feel confident like this right now? The Rockets have the swagger and are over the intimidation factor, that’s step one.

Chris Paul scores 33, Rockets topple Warriors 116-108

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden felt closer to normal after struggling in his first game back from a hamstring injury, and the Houston Rockets got a big game from Chris Paul to down the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Paul scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, Harden bested Stephen Curry twice in the final seconds and the Rockets held off the Warriors 116-108 to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

The victory gives Houston a 2-1 series advantage over Golden State after the reigning NBA champions had won the series the previous three seasons.

“Obviously they’re a championship caliber team for the past four years … and that’s what we’re trying to build our way up to,” Harden said.

Harden stepped back from Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left, then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout.

Harden finished with 22 points. Paul added two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

“It’s been a good streak, disappointing end to it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We played pretty poorly, did a lot of things to hurt ourselves and we’re playing a great team. Can’t get away with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni raved about the performance of the 32-year-old Paul .

“The guy is a winner, he’s been a winner, he’s going to win,” D’Antoni said.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts and 6 of 20 overall. It was just the sixth time in his career that he’d attempted 20 or more shots while making six or fewer.

“It was just one of those nights where I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor,” he said. “So I’ve got to take that responsibility for that one. It was pretty bad.”

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half.

It was Harden’s second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday.

The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points.

Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left.