NBA Playoffs: Phoenix and Portland are finding a stylistic middle ground

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The Phoenix Suns and the Portland Trailblazers are stylistic opposites, and it’s been largely assumed that the winner of the series will be the team that can assert their own stylistic preference on their opponent; if the Suns can make the Blazers run, Phoenix would seem to have the advantage, and if the Blazers can force the Suns to slow down, Portland would be presumed to have an edge.

I can understand the logic, but I’m not sure I agree. Instead, I’d propose that neither team will be able to force their style onto the series conclusively, and both teams will be left with a back-and-forth between the Suns pushing the pace and the Blazers grinding the game down to a mechanical halt. Instead, the winner of the series (at least based on the four games so far) will be the team that can better acclimate themselves to the style of the other, with the series depending on how the Blazers can both run and defend the break and how Phoenix can operate.

First, consider Paul Coro’s account of the pace of Game 4 from the Arizona Republic:

It might have taken a double take to recognize the Suns, who scored 87 points, hardly resembled the NBA’s best-shooting team and often walked up the ball to give Portland the pace it wanted. Previous Suns teams starved for a stretch such as the one Saturday in which Portland missed 12 shots in a row over 8:29 of the second half. But the Suns scored just 11 points and did not take the lead during that span.

“If you walk it up and they get in a half-court situation, I think their defense is as good as anybody’s in the NBA,” Gentry said. “Our wings have to run. Steve (Nash) has to push it. Our bigs got to get down so we can run drags and step-up. It’s not one person. It’s the way we’re approaching it from a team standpoint. That’s something we have to get away from right away.”

A perfectly reasonable perspective given the way the game went, and in particular the Suns’ 87-point total. That said, the difference in pace between Games 2 (90 possessions), 3 (89), and 4 (88) was negligible, despite the radically different results. It’s not as if Games 2 and 3 were out-and-out track meets, the Suns were just much better at containing Andre Miller than they had been in Game 1, and their offense thrived after finding a rhythm in the open court. For Phoenix, it’s no longer paramount that they push the ball at every opportunity, but that they use the open space of the break to establish offensive momentum.

That’s where the Suns failed in Game 4, but it shouldn’t shock anyone to find out that the Blazers won the day using the very same plan of attack. Portland outscored Phoenix on the break 16-4 in Game 4, and the number of note is the Blazers’ 16, not the Suns’ 4. Once Portland was able to get free points and establish their offense on the break, Phoenix’s defensive adjustments weren’t quite so stifling. Things became substantially easier for the Blazers as they opened up the game, despite the clear departure from their style.

The winner of every game thus far has been the leader in fast break points, but every game has also been more in line with Portland’s average page (90) than Phoenix’s (97.6). The fastest game of the series was the Blazers’ Game 1 victory, and the two run-and-gun Suns wins were in games with very few possessions. Those aren’t signs that either team is struggling with the sense of identity, but rather that the series itself has become something of a compromise.

NBA introducing 2-for-1 All-Star voting days

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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The NBA changed its All-Star format this season from East vs. West to captain-picked teams (though still naming players equally from each conference).

That apparently wasn’t a big enough overhaul.

After including media and player votes last year, the league is making All-Star starter selection even more complex.

NBA release:

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 presented by Verizon will tip off with an early voting period exclusively on the NBA App and NBA.com beginning Thursday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET.

Voting via all other channels, including Amazon Alexa for the first time, will launch on Monday, Dec. 25 at 11 a.m.

Additionally, new for this season, five “2-for-1 Days” will allow fans to have their votes count twice on Dec. 31, Jan. 4, Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 when voting through the NBA App and NBA.com, along with Sina Weibo and Tencent in China.  All “2-for-1 Days” will be designated 12 a.m. – 11:59 p.m. ET.

TNT will reveal the All-Star Game starters, including the two captains, on Thursday, Jan. 18 during TNT NBA Tip-Off

The network will announce the reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET. 

The team rosters for NBA All-Star Game 2018 in Los Angeles will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET.

I suppose this is to drum up interest on otherwise quiet voting days. After all, this is really just about the NBA selling itself.

But the All-Star voting process has always left something to be desired. I don’t see how this changes that.

Report: Lakers ‘longshot’ to sign LeBron James

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Preeminent NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski called it “likelyLeBron James would sign with the Lakers or Clippers next summer. The Clippers have since been somewhat debunked as a LeBron destination. There’s circumstantial evidence linking LeBron to Los Angeles.

Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

So imagining James’ last act coming in purple and gold isn’t without basis. But as of now, it’s also a longshot, according to league sources.

Shelburne and Windhorst are highly credible. I doubt they’d report this without connected sources.

LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and manager, Maverick Carter, have recently publicly downplayed the importance of Los Angeles to LeBron. That felt like a coordinated attack on the LeBron-Lakers rumors, and this fits as a continuation.

But why wage that campaign? To keep the Cavaliers focused while LeBron still plays for them, even if he might leave after the season? To lower expectations among the Lakers’ massive fan base, so as not alienate those people (potential customers of the many LeBron-connected brands) when LeBron inevitably signs elsewhere? Both could be true, but there’s obviously a difference between each driving LeBron’s camp.

DeMarcus Cousins barrels in for powerful putback dunk over Bucks (video)

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When DeMarcus Cousins builds up a head of steam like this… poor John Henson (and kind of Khris Middleton).

This helped the Pelicans pull away for a 115-108 win over the Bucks last night.

Enraged Jason Smith restrained from Mario Chalmers (video)

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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During the Wizards’ win over the Grizzlies last night, Mario Chalmers tried to stop Jason Smith from shooting after Smith had been called for travelling. It’s a fairly common tactic, one pioneered by Kevin Garnett. Players don’t want their opponents to gain confidence by seeing the ball go through the net, even after play stops.

But Chalmers held onto Smith’s arm, and Smith took umbrage.

NBC Sports Washington:

I think it’s more likely, after halting Smith’s shot, Chalmers was trying to hold up Smith rather than yank him down. But I can’t know Chalmers’ intentions, and holding up a falling person by his arm isn’t very effective.

The double technical foul called seems about fair.