NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: How Boston can end the season tonight

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Nobody gave Boston much of a chance heading into these playoffs, mostly because they hobbled and sleptwalked their way through the regular season. Ever since the playoffs started, the Celtics and their ultra-powered defense have taken their game to a whole other level, and now they’re one win away from being NBA champions. However, getting that win will be anything but easy. Here’s how the Celtics can win in LA and end this series tonight:
1. Get Ray Allen Going

In Boston, the Celtics were able to take two out of three games without Ray Allen hitting a single three. In Los Angeles, it took a record-breaking shooting night from Allen to get them a win. This game will be tougher for the Celtics than the last two wins were, and they will need Pierce and Allen to get them points in their half-court offense. Ray Allen has the talent, and he’s still much taller than Derek Fisher. If he can use his screens, spot up in transition, and stroke in some threes, he’ll cement his legacy as one of the great shooters of all time.
2. Control the Paint

Los Angeles has owned the paint for most of the playoffs, but Boston’s physicality is starting to wear on them. Perkins, Garnett, and Glen Davis have to continue pushing Gasol off of his spots, even in the pinch post, and force the Lakers to rely on their outside game. If the Lakers get frustrated and start launching shots, that will lead to…
3. Rajon Rondo must be a nightmare in the full-court game

Earlier in the finals, the Lakers limited their mistakes, packed the paint, and turned Rondo into a half-court player. In Boston, Rondo was able to hound the passing lanes on defense, force the Lakers into making turnovers, and get the Celtics running on offense. The more dynamic and worry-free Rondo plays, the more dangerous the Celtics become. 
4. Trust the defense and don’t panic

Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau trust this defense. When Dwight Howard had some big games in the conference finals, they didn’t throw doubles on him and let Orlando’s shooters get good looks. When Kobe got hot in game five, they didn’t panic and let him set up the Laker bigs. Kobe will likely get his, but the Celtics can’t let Kobe or the crowd get them away from the way they play defense. They have to stay at home, make good rotations, and use their traps and pressure to create fast-break opportunities. 
5. Believe they can win

I said it about the Lakers, and the same thing goes for the Celtics. Paul Pierce has to believe he’s about to get another Finals MVP. Rajon Rondo has to believe he’s the best point guard in basketball. Kevin Garnett has to play like the best defensive player in basketball and one of the most complete seven-footers ever to play the game. Perkins has to control the paint and his own emotions. Ray Allen has to believe his next three is hitting all net. Tony Allen has to believe he can guard Kobe. Big Baby has to believe he can take rebounds away from the Lakers’ hulking frontline. Nate Robinson has to believe he’s in the game for a reason. 
Throughout the playoffs, the Celtics have been winning because they have an incredible belief in themselves, their game plans, and their ability to make plays when it counts. In Los Angeles, they will have to be their own biggest fans to win. If they can put one more good game together, they’ll have plenty of their other fans setting up a parade for them when they get home. 

Pistons consider shutting down Reggie Jackson for rest of season

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The Pistons have started Reggie Jackson. They’ve brought him off the bench. They’ve sat him entirely.

No role seems right for the point guard as Detroit has lost four straight and seven of eight.

Now, it seems the Pistons might just shut down Jackson, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury. He’s at least doubtful for tonight’s key game against the Heat.

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy, via Fox Sports Detroit:

We’ve been thinking about this, actually for a long time, OK? And he’s been playing at — it’s just hard to put a percentage — but probably at about 80 percent. And as we get into this stretch of games in March where we’re playing a lot, the fatigue is just making it worse.

It wasn’t really fair to him. We were running him out there, putting pressure on him. He’s seeing things he should be able to do, and he just can’t do. He’s not feeling pain, but he just can’t make the plays he wants to make. And we’re trying to put him out there.

We were really struggling, and we just need to have guys who are at full energy and the whole thing. And as much as he wants to, he can’t right now. It’s honestly amazing what he’s done.

To his credit, he fought me on it. He wanted to keep going.

He needs some rest. We don’t know how long it will be. But he needs some rest and to be able to try to get his energy back and see if we can get him at full strength.

He’s been a warrior. He’s tried to fight through it. He’s been frustrated, because he sees openings and things on the court that he just hasn’t been able to get to. I think part of it is a confidence thing.

And I think the thing that we really look forward to, and he looks forward to, is getting a fresh start in the offseason and being able to go through the preparation for a season like he did last year. And not only get right physically, but really get his confidence back to be able to attack and make the plays he’s had.

Jackson hasn’t looked right this season, showing only fleeting moments of quality production. It’s unclear whether that’s his knee, confidence, regression to the mean after a breakout season last year, bad luck or some combination.

But it has the Pistons in dire straights. They’re 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position with tonight’s game against eight-place Miami crucial.

Detroit’s offense and defense have hummed better with Ish Smith, but despite the better chemistry he affords, the talent drop from Jackson is also glaring. It’s not as if the Pistons have soared with Smith. And relying on Beno Udrih for backup minutes is its own risk.

Van Gundy is talking a lot about next season when it comes to Jackson, which seems telling. The coach’s compliments seem designed to soften the blow.

The odds are against Detroit making the playoffs, but they might be higher without Jackson. The fact that that’s even considerable is also telling about Jackson’s season.

Joakim Noah says he’s cleared to play, which will allow suspension to begin

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The NBA suspended Joakim Noah 20 games — effective once he’s “physically able to play.”

Noah underwent knee surgery about a month ago, and though it seemed he’d miss the rest of the season, the Knicks said at the time he’d be reevaluated in 3-4 weeks. That gave the team cover to claim his suspension should begin this season.

So, Noah rushed to practice today, and no matter how unlikely he would’ve been to follow this timeline sans suspension, that will seemingly be enough.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

New York has eight games remaining, which would leave 12 for Noah to serve at the beginning of next season.

Obviously, the more of his suspension Noah serves during this lost season, the better. The Knicks might be a wreck next season too, but at least there’s a chance they’re ready to win (and a chance Noah can contribute). This year is confirmed hopeless.

 

After fun back-to-back wins, Kings deemphasizing veterans

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Break up the Kings.

No, really.

After consecutive thrilling wins — a historic comeback against the Clippers on Sunday and another one-point win over the Grizzlies, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger’s former team, yesterday — the Kings announced a changing of the guard.

Joerger, via CSN California:

This was maybe our last stand for the year, as far as you’re probably not going to see all those veterans play together the rest of the season.

Darren Collison, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson played major roles against Memphis. Expect their minutes to be cut down the stretch.

The Kings have “fallen” to the NBA’s eight-worst record. It’s unlikely, but a late-game surge could “drop” them to the league’s 10th-worst record.

That’s unviable for a team that put itself on the tanking track and loses its first-round pick (to the Bulls) if it falls outside the top 10. Sacramento must protect itself from bad lottery luck.

It might not require going full Suns, but the Kings should and will emphasize developing their young players — who, not at all incidentally, are less equipped to help the team win.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.