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.

Watch James Harden score 50 as Rockets beat winless 76ers 116-114

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 50 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and the Houston Rockets beat the winless Philadelphia 76ers 116-114 on Friday night.

Harden was 14 for 28 from the field and 16 for 20 at the line in his third career game with 50 or more points. He is averaging 36.2 points in his last five games.

Philadelphia moved one loss away from matching the New Jersey Nets’ NBA-worst mark of 18 losses to open a season. The Sixers have dropped 27 in a row dating to last season for the longest losing streak in major U.S. professional sports history, passing the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976 to ’77. The previous record was also matched by the 76ers in 2013-14.

Robert Covington had 28 points for Philadelphia, which made a franchise-record 16 3-pointers in 35 attempts. One day removed from a Boston nightclub altercation, rookie Jahlil Okafor had 11 points and six rebounds.

Facing an 11-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, the 76ers opened the period on a 24-8 run to take a five-point lead.

Down by two with less than 3 seconds remaining, Covington intentionally missed a free throw that was rebounded by Dwight Howard to secure the Houston win.

Harden led the Rockets to one of their best shooting performances of the season, helping Houston win for just the second time in its last nine games.

The Rockets shot 52 percent from the field, including an 11-for-20 night from beyond the arc. Howard added 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Philadelphia scored 100 points for the first time in nearly three weeks and just the fourth time all season. Isaiah Canaan had 23 points, and Jerami Grant scored 18.


76ers:C Nerlens Noel was a late scratch with right knee soreness. … SG Nik Stauskas returned from a one-game absence after suffering a knee contusion in Monday’s loss to Minnesota. … Canaan got his fifth start of the season over regular starter T.J. McConnell.

Rockets: Houston improved to 68-68 all-time against Philadelphia. … The Rockets had a season-high 35 third-quarter points. . PG Patrick Beverley received a technical foul in the second quarter after throwing an elbow near the face of Phil Pressey.



Report: Jahlil Okafor had gun pulled on him in another altercation in October

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

Apparently Sixers’ star rookie Jahlil Okafor‘s altercation outside a nightclub in Boston earlier this week — one for which he apologized, and there will be no law enforcement action — was not his only altercation since training camp opened.

Okafor had a gun pulled on him back in October, according to a report by John Finger at

The 19-year-old Sixers’ rookie was outside an Old City nightclub after 2 a.m. on October 4 when he and another person began arguing with two men sitting in a parked car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, according to a witness. The verbal disagreement escalated and a witness said he saw Okafor try to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window. During the altercation, the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor and his associate, per the witness.

U.S. Park Rangers — who patrol nearby Independence Hall — arrived on the scene during the altercation, according to separate reports filed by the U.S. Park Rangers and the Philadelphia Police Department and obtained by The man who exited the passenger side of the car fled on foot and appeared to toss his gun, per multiple witnesses. According to the police report, the driver got into a black Camaro with red stripes and sped off. The car was not stopped….

A law enforcement source told that a gun magazine was recovered near the scene and submitted for fingerprint analysis. The law enforcement source said the investigation is ongoing. It is unclear what happened to Okafor or his associate after the incident or if they were interviewed by U.S. Park Rangers or PPD.

The Sixers told Finger that they were aware of the investigation but would not comment further.

Add this to the incident in Boston and it makes you wonder about the situations Okafor keeps finding himself in. That said, we’re talking about a 19-year-old, and if you’ve ever been that age you know it is not always when you make your best decisions. Okafor is just going to have to grow up more quickly — and under a brighter spotlight — than the rest of us.


Raptors center Bismack Biyombo: Cavaliers believe we’re tougher than them

Lebron James, Bismack Biyombo
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LeBron James and James Jones called a players-only meeting after the Cavaliers’ loss to the Raptors on Wednesday.

This is why.

Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, via Chris Haynes of

“The most important thing is that we played tough,” Bismack told “Cleveland is a good team, but when they come in here, they feel like we are the tough ones and that’s what we want to accomplish as the definition of the Toronto Raptors.”

Those are harsh words from Biyombo. It’s one thing to say you believe your team is tougher than the opponent. It’s another to say you can tell the opponent believes your team is tougher.

Privately, though, I bet LeBron appreciates this comment.

The Cavaliers are not soft, but their goal is nothing short of a championship. They need to get tougher if they’re going to beat the Warriors, whom LeBron said look hungrier than Cleveland. So, LeBron has already begun challenging his teammates. He wants them to believe they have far to go, because that will pay off in the long run.

Biyombo’s answer furthers the Cavs toward that goal.

Plus, if the Cavaliers and Raptors meet in the playoffs, it’ll make it much easier for Cleveland to find motivation. But Toronto is a tough team. That series would be no walkover unless the Cavs use this criticism constructively.

Jerry West: Draymond Green is a Top 10 player in NBA

Draymond Green

Jerry West is smarter than you. And me. Put together. This guy is more than just the logo, he helped assemble the Showtime Lakers, he was a vocal advocate of not trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, he has been right far more than he has been wrong making basketball decisions.

And he says Draymond Green is a top-10 player in the NBA. West was on KNBR radio in the Bay Area when he made these comments (hat tip to Eye on Basketball):

“I think honestly we have two of the top 10 players in the league — Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players, I think, anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player. Watch him handle the ball, watch him make passes, defensively he’s everywhere. If he’s not a top 10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.”

West is right.

If you’re shaking your head no, then you don’t realize how 29 other teams are trying to find their own Green right now. Name the players who can step into the Warriors’ system and do what he does right now? It’s a short list. He is at the heart of what makes Golden State so dangerous; he’s more valuable to their style than Klay Thompson.

Well, we can add one caveat — Green is top 10 if your team is playing small. If you’re just going to play him as a four next to a traditional big all the time he’s still good but not a game changer. However, Green is a game changer at the center spot and the reason that the Warriors are so feared when they go small.

What is usually discussed about Green is he’s a fierce defender who can hold his own with a big inside, make a traditional center work, get rebounds, and still switch out on a pick-and-roll and harass a quick guard. Golden State doesn’t suffer defensively when they go small — they allow 9.1 points fewer per 100 possessions when they go small than their season-long average. Green makes it happen; that’s why he was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.

What often gets overlooked is how great he is as a pick-setting big when Golden State goes small. No defense has figured out the Stephen Curry/Green pick-and-roll. In part because Curry is Curry and almost indefensible. But Green can roll and finish in the lane, pop out and knock down a three, or do a half-roll to the free throw line and when the help defender closes on him he finds Andre Iguodala alone in the corner for a three (or Klay Thompson at the arc, or a slashing Harrison Barnes, you get the idea). Green is a skilled playmaker in his own right and plays with a high IQ, making the Warriors tough to defend.

In Golden State’s system, there is no doubt Green is a top 10 player.