NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: LeBron-Less Preview

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It’s foolish to pretend that the storylines surrounding this game won’t center around LeBron. Between the legacy, the attitude, the failure, the elbow, and everything else, LeBron being on the brink of massive failure is too intriguing not to focus on. It’s also foolish to think that LeBron’s performance in game six won’t be the single biggest factor in the game. LeBron’s had two great performances in this series, and the Cavaliers won both of those games. He’s had three lackluster performances, and the Cavaliers lost all three of those games. If the Cavs want to stay alive tonight, their franchise player needs to step up. There’s no getting around that. 

But just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the things that the Cavaliers need to do to avoid elimination that have nothing to do with LeBron. Without further ado:
1. Rebounding
The Cavaliers were the #1 team in rebound rate over the course of the regular season. The Celtics were 25th in rebound rate over the course of the regular season. Apparently nobody informed these teams of their respective rebounding prowess before this series, as the Celtics have been absolutely destroying the Cavaliers on the glass. The Cavs have not been getting the rebounds they should be getting, and it’s been killing them. Shaq has been invisible on the glass. Jamison has let rebounds slip through his fingers. Rajon Rondo is beating the Cavaliers to each and every long rebound. In game four, the beginning of the end for the Cavaliers came when Ray Allen banged in two consecutive threes off of offensive rebounds at the beginning of the third quarter. The Cavaliers have to rebound better. 
2. Turnovers
Again, this was supposed to be Boston’s problem. Cleveland wasn’t great with turnovers in the regular season, but Boston was much worse — the Celtics were 27th in turnover rate during the regular season. However, it’s been the Cavaliers coughing the ball up left and right during this series. The Cavaliers had 17 turnovers in both game four and game five, with each of their starters turning the ball over at least twice. In game five, the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 24-6 on points off of turnovers. The Cavaliers look sloppy offensively, and they’re far too content to take the ball right into the teeth of the Boston defense without knowing what they’ll do if they get cut off. Boston has been absolutely murdering the Cavaliers with extra possessions, and the Cavs need to put a stop to that.
3. Frontcourt matchup problems
One thing that hasn’t really been talked about yet: A big reason the Cavs traded for Shaq is so they could have somebody capable of defending Dwight Howard. One reason the Cavaliers traded for Jamison at the deadline is so they could have somebody to match up with Rashard Lewis. Thanks to both of those moves, the Cavs should be able to defend the Magic much better than they did last season. The only problem is that they’re a game away from being eliminated before they play the Magic. 
Shaq has been doing a good enough job on Kendrick Perkins, but the Celtics barely involve him on offense anyways. When they do use Perkins on offense, it’s generally as a screener, and Shaq has trouble on that pick-and-roll. Meanwhile, KG has been absolutely destroying Antawn Jamison. He hasn’t been having great scoring nights, but he has a mismatch every time the Celtics feed him in the post against Jamison. The Cavs have to give help, and good things end up happening for the Celtics even when KG doesn’t get the basket. There’s no easy fix to this problem for the Cavaliers, but it may be in their interest to mix things up a bit in game six. 
4. Mo Williams 
In this series, Mo Williams has enjoyed one great quarter and 19 bad ones. That’s not going to get the job done. He can’t find his shot, he can’t lose Rondo on the perimeter and initiate the offense, and he’s forcing plays. Also, he’s getting murdered on defense. Other than that, though, he’s been great. He needs to give the Cavs something in game six. 
5. Ray Allen
When the Celtics have Ray Allen going along with Rondo and Garnett, the Cavs have no chance of stopping them. Allen can catch and shoot off that pin-down, find the roll man if he gets trapped, or make a basket going to the rim if they force him to put the ball on the floor. Sometimes he forces that beautiful jumper, and even his jumper won’t go in every time if the Cavs do a good job of contesting it. The Cavs have to pray he’s not feeling it in game six, because if he drills a couple of those threes and gets the Garden crowd into it, it could be over. 
Those are the big things the Cavs need to go their way in game six. Well, that and LeBron. We’ll see what happens. 

Heat have work cut out vs. surging Sixers

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MIAMI (AP) — Philadelphia 76ers reserve guard Justin Anderson scored six points on Thursday, but he played a major role nonetheless in a 128-108 playoff win over the Miami Heat.

It was Anderson who worked on the psyche of teammate Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ All-Star center who returned after missing 10 straight games because of a concussion and left-eye injury.

“Justin was hyping me up on the bench, telling me I’m one of the best players in the league and that I have to take over,” said Embiid, who wore a mask during the game. “I liked that.”

Embiid, with that added boost of confidence, produced 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 30 minutes. He missed his first five shots from the floor and then made five of his next six, including three 3-pointers.

In addition, Embiid made 10 of 15 free throws, wrapping up his highly successful NBA playoff debut.

On Saturday afternoon, the teams will meet again at AmericanAirlines Arena in a first-round series the Heat trails 2-1.

Certainly, the Heat will try to corral Embiid, but Miami gave its own star center, Hassan Whiteside, just 13 minutes on Thursday, in part because of foul trouble.

Whiteside produced just five points, two rebounds and one block. He made his only shots from the field, but his four fouls helped to keep him off the court.

“I want to get more minutes,” said Whiteside, who led the NBA with 3.7 blocks in 2015-2016 and with 14.1 rebounds last season. “Even with the fouls, I could’ve been out there. I would not have fouled out.”

This season, Whiteside is averaging 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. But, on average, his minutes per game are down seven minutes from last season and even more in the playoffs.

Whiteside said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra “wants me to just be in a corner and set picks.”

Spoelstra, meanwhile, said “it’s part of my job to figure out how he can get to his strengths and make an impact on defense and rebounding.”

Aside from the two centers, the other big story line in this series revolves around the 76ers, a young team that won 18 of its past 19 games. After years of horrendous records amid a major teardown and rebuild effort, the 76ers have looked like the best team in the league during the past month.

They didn’t just beat the Heat on Thursday — they ran them over, making 18 of 34 3-pointers (52.9 percent). They also shot 50.6 percent overall and were plus-eight on rebounds and plus-14 on paint points.

Ben Simmons, the 76ers’ star point guard, nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and seven assists.

JJ Redick, one of the top shooters in the league, scored just 10 points, but 76ers teammates Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli each scored 21 points and each hit four 3-pointers to help the offense flow.

Miami was led by 23 points and eight assists from point guard Goran Dragic. Heat reserve forward Justise Winslow scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. But Miami’s top three shooting guards — Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Wayne Ellington — combined for just 21 points.

The game’s biggest factor was Embiid, who had been listed as unlikely to play until Thursday afternoon, when he was cleared by doctors.

Embiid had a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, which continued a trend. In Philadelphia’s two wins in this series, they have outscored the Heat by 31 and 21 points, respectively.

Anderson said Embiid has been a team player throughout.

“One of the things (Embiid) told me during (Thursday’s) game was to tell Coach that he didn’t want any plays run for him,” Anderson said. “He just wanted to play within the scheme.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo laid waste to Aron Baynes with this dunk

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For the first time this series Friday night, the Bucks looked like the more talented team.

That got them a comfortable win at home against the Celtics and set up a huge Game 4 on Sunday, with the Celtics still up 2-1 in the series. This looked more like the Bucks team that some of us picked to win the series, the team with the long and superior athletes unleashed on defense to challenge everything Boston tried. Milwaukee also got a big game out of Thon Maker at the five, which helped spread the floor because he’s a threat from three (as a team, the Bucks were 16-of-33 from deep) that the Celtics had to cover. That opens up driving lanes.

Giannis Antetokounmpo took advantage of those lanes laid waste to Aron Baynes with this dunk.

🛫 THE GREEK FREAK TAKES FLIGHT! 🛬

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Damn. That’s not fair.

🇬🇷💥

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Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee… and let’s just say I’m not betting Baynes will be able to turn the tables and put the Greek Freak in a poster.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers completes pass to become part owner of Bucks

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Aaron Rodgers is regularly be seen courtside at Milwaukee Bucks games, having professed his love of the sport many times. Here was there Friday night for the Bucks’ Game 3 win, sitting courtside with girlfriend Danica Patrick.

This time, he was doing it as part owner of the team.

Milwaukee announced between the first and second quarters that the Packers QB1 is now part-owner of the Bucks, having bought a minority stake in the team.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers in a released statement. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks. As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

Rodgers is a California native who attended Cal in the Bay Area for college and now — like many an NBA player — splits his time between living where he works in Wisconsin and Southern California.

This is a smart time to buy into the Bucks — and not just because they won Friday. Milwaukee moves into a brand new building next season which should generate a lot more revenue for the franchise. Plus, the Bucks are poised to make a leap forward in the East as a team behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and a solid supporting cast (likely led by a new coach next season), which will lead to more revenue as they become a team to see on the road, one that fills buildings.

Pelicans look to pull off sweep of Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Before the 2017-18 regular season began, any conversation regarding the New Orleans Pelicans and brooms had something to do with the possibility the team would clean house.

That would have meant parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps if the Pelicans missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis.

But now, the broom means something very different.

Energized on both ends of the court, the Pelicans have the broom ready Saturday at the Smoothie King Center to sweep the faltering Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs with a fourth consecutive victory in the first-round series.

With a win Saturday, the Pelicans would become the first playoff team seeded sixth or lower to sweep a first-round playoff series since the 2001 Charlotte Hornets swept the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

“Closeout games are the hardest,” said New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo, a 32-year-old veteran who is the Pelicans’ second-oldest player, someone who has served as an on-court coach to his younger teammates. “That’s what I’m going to try to explain to these guys. The first three might have been tough, but this last one is going to be very tough.”

In routing the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday to take a 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans fed off a raucous sellout crowd and led by as many as 33 points in the second half, allowing Gentry to rest his starters. Davis finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds while nursing a sore left thumb, and forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired after center DeMarcus Cousins went down in late January with a season-ending Achilles injury, scored a career-playoff-high 30 points, with 14 in the first quarter.

Even though Portland’s normally potent guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had their best game of the series — combining for 42 of the Blazers’ 102 points — Lillard had trouble shaking free of the Pelicans’ trapping defense, which forced the ball out of his hands. Lillard made just 5 of 14 shots, including 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

“They whooped our butt,” said McCollum. “They beat us in every facet of the game: loose balls, rebounds, free-throw line, energy plays, 3-pointers in transition. … You name it, and they did it.”

The Pelicans have made a conscious decision to swarm Lillard and McCollum at every opportunity, daring other Blazers to beat them. Portland hasn’t adjusted properly to the strategy. Lillard has shot 32.7 percent in the three losses.

“I don’t think (defensive assistant coach) Darren Erman has gotten the credit that he deserves,” Gentry said. “He put together a great defensive game plan. It was him that brought the game plan to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do against them.'”

“You have to continue to mix it up and give them different looks,” Gentry added. “Even doing that, those guys got some shots off and made some real difficult shots. We’ve just got to make sure that we stay locked in and not let them get into one of those zones when it starts to go in and it doesn’t matter what kind of shot they’re shooting that it’s going to go in.”

Making matters worse for the Blazers is their injury status. Both Moe Harkless (left knee) and Evan Turner (right toe) are questionable for Game 4.

Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Pelicans have been tough to handle because a different player each night has shredded the Blazers’ defense.

“Going into the series, those four guys (Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo) have played extremely well,” Stotts said. “(Mirotic) is the third different guy who’s had a 30-point night. He’s very efficient, and he made a lot of smart basketball plays as well.”