NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 1: The Redick-ulous Ray Allen matchup

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nba_allen.jpgOne is arguably the best jump shooter in the NBA, one of the best pure shooters in history, and one of the top five guys you want with the ball in his hand and an open look with the clock ready to expire. He’s an NBA champion, a roundball legend, and a primary component for an NBA title contender.

The other is a bench player commonly forgotten among one of the league’s deepest teams. He is remembered best for his college exploits, yet another white Duke player who played well enough to make the league but will never be considered top-tier. A good player, not a great player, just another cog in a contender’s machine.

But J.J. Redick could have a huge impact on this series.

Redick is averaging fewer minutes these playoffs than he did last year, mostly thanks to a deeper Orlando rotation and more minutes for star Vince Carter. But his production is up, and Redick has shown enough this season to be counted on when called upon by Stan Van Gundy. And if SVG is drawing anything on this series from last year’s Eastern Semifinals, he’ll call upon Redick to stop Ray Allen.

In the Celtics’ wins last year, Ray Allen was a huge factor. And in their losses in that series, his struggles were also a factor. When SVG brought Redick in, we assumed it was to provide more shooters on the floor, not as a defensive adjustment. Imagine our surprise when Redick came in and clamped down on Ray Allen, deleting all the space he worked hard to create for catch and shoot opportunities.

The Celtics use Allen off multiple screens, often popping him to the wing for catch-and-shoot, relying on his perfect form and release. It’s a dagger that often comes just when an opponent thinks they’ve covered all angles. The problem is getting through the screens is incredibly difficult. Getting past the absurd number of moving screens the Celtics use (this is not a criticism, if you can get away with it, you should, but let’s be honest. Glen Davis does more stutter steps than K$sha), the Celtics have huge bodies who know how to screen, and often clamp Allen’s defender between two closing screens, one on each side.

Redick showed an absurd amount of toughness we didn’t know he had in him, fighting through those screens to run off the three. It doesn’t take much to interrupt a shooter on catch and shoot. He’s not focused on his defender, the objective is speed in order to negate the effect of the defender. Which means if you can get there, you have a good possibility of forcing him to reset or miss the shot.

Redick is younger, and hasn’t logged as many minutes as his Magic counterparts, which means that when Van Gundy sends him in on a suicide mission to shut down Allen, Redick can respond better physically. Throw in his coachable nature and you’ve got a machine primed to close out Allen. Take away Allen and the Celtics’ offensive game is halved due to how much space Allen provides on the floor.

Vince Carter, on the other hand, has quite a few miles on him, and tends to suffer minor injuries often. He responds to those minor injuries as if he has been shot with a crossbow laced with poison, covered in fire. Forcing Carter to run through Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis screens is an easy way to make sure Carter comes up gimpy at some point in this series.

SVG has had a major advantage over his coaching counterparts in his willingness to use deeper players on the bench to exploit specific matchups. Allen may be healthier than he was last year. Redick may not have the success he did. But if Allen starts to get hot, SVG needs to turn to the former Dukester for some instant defense. It’s not like he’s losing anything in terms of three point shooting with him in.

It only takes a half second for Ray Allen to set you on fire. Redick can be the half second closer that douses the flame.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Report: Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.

Matt Barnes announces retirement from NBA after 15 seasons

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When too many fans think of Matt Barnes, they think of the guy who tried to fight Derek Fisher, the nightclub incident in New York, the guy who was a pest on the court and racked up more than his share of technicals and fines in a 15-year NBA career.

Ask Barnes former teammates about him, and they loved him — off the court and on. He was the quintessential guy you wanted on your team and hated to play against.

Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well for the team after signing in Golden State — Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes stepped up his role and play. He earned that ring. However, this season there seemed to be no fit for him in the league.

Barnes was drafted in the second round out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to play for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

I’m going to miss him. While he had a rough exterior and was plenty chippy on the court, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off. I wish him the best and know he’ll enjoy life after basketball.