Arizona v Connecticut

NBA Draft and the Final Four, here’s a few guys to watch

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Your bracket is toast. Don’t lie to me and say you had Butler in the Final Four, let alone VCU. You’re not winning any money in the office pool this year, that is going to the guy three cubicles over who hasn’t watched a college hoops game in years and made his picks based on mascots and where his friends went to college.

No, you’re going to watch the Final Four to check out NBA prospects. Particularly in the Connecticut vs. Kentucky game.

Here are a few guys to keep an eye on this weekend. (The DX number is their ranking as a prospect in this draft by the wise men at Draft Express.)

Kemba Walker, 6’0” guard, Connecticut (DX No. 7): He’s the kind of small, quick guard that has been in vogue in the NBA. He comes with an increasingly rare NBA skill — the midrange game. And he uses the threat of it very well to create shots for himself and teammates. His crossover and step back is wicked. Also, he has been a big game player (two 30 point games in the NCAA Tournament, plus big plays in the Big East Tournament and the Maui Invitational). If the game is on the line for UConn the ball will be in his hands.

Scouts will be watching to see how he does against another lottery pick in Kentucky’s Brandon Knight.

Brandon Knight, 6’3” guard, Kentucky (DX No. 8): He has moved up draft boards with a good tournament and a contested game winner for the Wildcats. He projects as a shoot-first combo guard in the NBA. And he can shoot, hitting 38 percent from three plus knocking down contested midrange shots all season long. Some scouts are concerned about fit, but his performance is winning people over.

Terrence Jones, 6’8” forward, Kentucky (DX No. 12): He may or may not be coming out after his freshman season and he’s taken a little step back during the tournament as his outside shot has not been consistent. He’s got a real NBA body but there are questions about his energy game in and game out.

Shelvin Mack, 6’3” point guard, Butler (DX No. 65): He has taken on more of the scoring role this season at Butler and boosted his stock some with this run to the Final Four. He has range on his shot and has looked good running the pick-and-roll. But he’s not as quick as the PGs he will often see at the next level, and his shot is not consistent. Still, some team may take a shot on him in the second round

Doran Lamb, 6’4” guard, Kentucky (DX No. 67): A freshman who may return to what will be a loaded Kentucky team next season. He has a wide range of shots and hit 48 percent from three this season, plus he can defend. A lot to like here going forward, but there may be a ceiling with him not as high as some other guards around his age.

Alex Oriachi, 6’9” power forward, Connecticut (DX No. 78): He’s very athletic but considered a work in progress, although he took some steps forward this season. Don’t expect him in the draft this season but keep an eye on him.

Jeremy Lamb, 6’5” shooting guard, Connecticut (unranked by DX): The freshman is not coming out this year but the raw potential he has had is really starting to come through in the Tournament (he had 24 against San Diego State). He needs to put on some muscle and refine his game, but he’s a guy to watch in a year or two.

Paul shakes off awful start, leads Clippers past Heat 100-93

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) and forward Amare Stoudemire, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Associated Press
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MIAMI (AP) — Chris Paul had the worst possible start to his shooting day.

His finish, however, was perfect.

Paul’s consecutive 3-pointers in the final minutes were daggers to a Miami comeback, and his game-high 22 points helped the Los Angeles Clippers hang on to beat the Heat 100-93 on Sunday.

“I kept shooting it,” Paul said, “because sooner or later it had to go in.”

J.J. Redick scored 14 points, Wesley Johnson had 10 and DeAndre Jordan and Cole Aldrich grabbed 11 rebounds each for the Clippers, who won despite a 1-for-15 start from the field and swept the two-game season series with Miami.

“That was a team win because nobody really had it going,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But our defense really had it going all game.”

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic all scored 17 points for Miami. Luol Deng added 15 points for the Heat, and Hassan Whiteside finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

“They did to us what we’ve been doing the last few games, just grinding an opponent,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what they did to us, then made the bigger plays down the stretch.”

Paul was 0 for 7 in the opening period, the worst one-quarter shooting performance of his NBA career, and was 0 for 9 before he finally got a shot to fall. But his 3-pointers in the fourth snuffed out a Miami rally, and his lob that set up Jordan for a dunk was the clincher for the Clippers – who, after that horrid start, shot 55 percent the rest of the way.

Redick made a layup on the game’s first possession and the Clippers proceeded to misfire on their next 14 shots, but recovered to win for the 11th time in their last 13 road games, most of that with Blake Griffin sidelined by injuries.

“We’re just trying to hold it down until our big fella comes back,” Paul said.

Miami went to the oft-used strategy of intentionally fouling Jordan in the third quarter to slow the Clippers’ offense. And while it worked to a point – Jordan went 3 for 10 from the free throw line in the quarter – Miami couldn’t score. The Heat were 4 for 20 in the third, got down by as many as 11 and never led again.

“They made big plays down the stretch,” Wade said. “That’s the way we’ve been winning of late, so we can’t be mad at that. We got a little taste of our own medicine.”

TIP-INS

Clippers: G Austin Rivers will miss four to six weeks with a broken left hand. For now, the Clippers aren’t planning on making any roster changes to add depth. “We may have to make a decision but we’re just going to try to ride it out,” Doc Rivers said. … Paul has faced the Heat 19 times, and his teams are 13-6 in those games.

Heat: Whiteside took his first charge of the season. … Wade’s first point of the day gave him outright possession of 41st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He came into the game tied with John Stockton at 19,711 points. … Deng has scored at least 15 points in five of his last six games.

 

SUPER SATELLITE

The Clippers were using a different plane than usual for their postgame flight from Miami to Philadelphia, for Super Bowl 50 reasons. They changed planes in order to have satellite television access so they wouldn’t miss any of the Carolina-Denver game.

“It’s really nice of the NBA to have us play today and then travel during the Super Bowl,” Doc Rivers said. “Just really a great move. But at least we get to watch it.”

 

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.