NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas vs. Portland

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed)
Trail Blazers: 48-34 (No. 6 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Tied 2-2, with Portland winning the most recent two games including one just two weeks ago (a game Tyson Chandler missed, so be careful about reading much into it).

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Roddy Beaubois sprained his foot in the season finale, and while X-rays were negative he may miss at least some of the first round; Caron Butler has been ruled out after knee surgery.
Trail Blazers: Of the guys left on the roster and expected to play, there are no significant injuries. Brandon Roy’s knees are relatively fine, for example. We could list all the Portland injuries from this season but it would take up the entire Internet.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Mavericks: Off. 107.6 (8th in NBA); 102.3 (7th in NBA)
Trail Blazers: Off. 105.6 (10th in NBA); 104.2 (14th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Roddy Beaubois: There are things we know about the Dallas offense — Dirk Nowitzki is going to hit long two-pointers with a hand in his face, Jason Kidd is going to knock down threes and makes some nifty passes, and so on. We know what to expect. What Beaubois provides is the unexpected — the burst of speed, the creativity. Well, he does when he’s healthy. Like seemingly everything about the Mavericks this season Beaubois has been inconsistent, and now injuries may keep him out for part of the first round. But Dallas could use him. It needs the energy he brings.

Tyson Chandler: He has rightfully been credited as being key to the Mavericks defensive turnaround this season, there’s nothing like having a big guy who will defend the rim on your team. And he’s better offensively than he gets credit for. But like all things Mavs, the defense has been inconsistent this season, and he needs to anchor its revival. LaMarcus Aldridge cannot be allowed to take over games, Portland penetration has to be cut off, and that falls to Chandler.

Jason Terry: Portland is a very deep team and Terry coming off the bench will need to provide points to the second unit of the Mavs to make sure Portland does not get on runs while some of the starters catch their breath. Also, Jason Kidd has had some tough games against Portland this season, twice going scoreless, and Dallas needs points from the backcourt. If Kidd is off again, Terry will have to step up on offense.

THREE KEY TRAIL BLAZERS

LaMarcus Aldridge: He had big games in Portland’s two regular season wins over Dallas — but both times there was no Tyson Chandler in his way. Now there will be but Portland still needs big nights out of their leading scorer. He has to get boards, particularly offensive ones, as well. Aldridge needs to attack and if he can get Chandler into foul trouble that will be big for the Trail Blazers.

Brandon Roy: He is not going to take over this series, but he can take over a game. Back on March 15 he dropped 21 on Dallas and keyed the win. If he can be solid off the bench then have that one game or two where he looks like the old Brandon Roy and can help them steal a game, Portland’s chances improve. The long layoffs between games in the first round may help him a lot.

Gerald Wallace: He will be matched up on Dirk Nowitzki. There may be no better maker of contested shots in the league than Dirk (‘Melo is right there, too) but Wallace has to make Nowitzki work for his shots and live with the results. Also, Wallace needs to go at Nowitzki and make him work on defense, as well. Wear him down. It’s not about stopping Dirk, it’s about making him less efficient and effective.

OUTLOOK

Maybe the best first round series, period. These two teams are very evenly matched. It’s going to be late game execution and unexpected players stepping up that will be key…

But the big key is the bigs. The Chandler/Aldridge matchup will be the barometer of this series — when Aldridge gets his Portland stands a real chance of winning. When Chandler owns the paint and Portland is taking too many jump shots and not getting rebounds, Dallas will win.

Dallas’ defense has been inconsistent of late — don’t be shocked if they got back to a lot of the matchup zone they used earlier in the season to try and even things out. They cannot have off defensive games in this series, it is evenly matched and they will be challenged to win even when they are on.

The battle of the benches will also be a lot here — Portland rolls out Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Wes Mathews (catch the fever!). That is a group capable of winning a game with hot three-point shooting. Jason Terry, JJ Barea and their bench can do the same thing for Dallas. It’s just another barometer in what will be a very close series.

PREDICTION

Flip a coin. It’s been trendy to pick against Dallas lately, people are forgetting just how good they really are. They can play well at both ends.

I’m not forgetting, but I like what Wallace can do for Portland on Dirk, and I like the bench of Portland to steal a couple games, and that will be enough. Fear Wes Mathews!

Trail Blazers in 6.

As expected, Blake Griffin reportedly opted out of contract with Clippers

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Doc Rivers says he wants Blake Griffin back with the Clippers next season.

The bigger question: Does Blake Griffin want to be back with the Clippers next season?

The decision is in Griffin’s hands as he has done what was expected, opting out of his contract for the coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

A number of teams — Boston, Miami, and others — are expected to take a run at Griffin. (In Boston’s case, he’s a backup plan to Gordon Hayward, but there will be conversations.)

What Chris Paul — also expected to opt out and become a free agent this summer — and Griffin choose to do will help set the market. They are two of the biggest free agent names out there where they could switch teams (Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are staying put). If they take their time making a decision, it leaves the Clippers in a bind — they have to wait to hear from these two before starting replacing or rebuilding, but by the time they know other players may have decided — and could bottleneck the free agent process.

The Clippers are going to be one interesting team to watch this summer.

Pistons’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suspended two games for DUI

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This is the standard penalty for coaches and players hit with a DUI. I don’t think the penalty is stiff enough in general for a serious issue, but this is the precedent that has been set.

Detroit Pistons’ guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been suspended two games by the NBA for “pleading guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, in violation of the law of the State of Michigan,” the NBA announced. He will miss the first two games of next season.

This will not stop Caldwell-Pope from getting PAID this summer.

A quality wing defender who hit 35 percent from three last season, he plays a position of need for a lot of teams and he is a restricted free agent. Other teams with cap space — Brooklyn and Sacramento come to mind — could step in and give him a max or near max offer. Then Stan Van Gundy needs to decide if he is going to match. He may not have much of a choice, if he wants to keep Andre Drummond and build an inside-out team around him, he needs Caldwell-Pope, and the Pistons don’t have the cap space to replace him.

One way or another, Caldwell-Pope is in line for a massive pay raise. This suspension will not slow teams, it just takes a little money out of his pocket.

 

Lonzo Ball tops Rookie of the Year early betting odds

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If you are betting right now on next year’s NBA Rookie of the Year award, you are a die-hard fan of your team and their new addition. Or, you have a problem and need to seek help. Maybe both.

Either way, the people at the gambling site Bovada have posted the early betting odds for the ROY award for next season.

Lonzo Ball (Lakers) 5/2
Ben Simmons (76ers) 3/1
Markelle Fultz (76ers) 5/1
De”Aaron Fox (Kings) 7/1
Josh Jackson (Suns) 9/1
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) 9/1
Jonathan Isaac (Magic) 16/1
Malik Monk (Hornets) 16/1
Dennis Smith (Mavericks) 16/1
John Collins (Hawks) 20/1
Justin Jackson (Trail Blazers) 22/1
Lauri Markkanen (Bulls) 22/1

Yes, Ben Simmons is in the mix.

The two bets I like here, if I were a gambling man, are Jackson in Phoenix and Dennis Smith in Dallas. I doubt Smith wins it, but Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the draft Smith will start for them next year, which means he gets opportunities and can rack up assists feeding Dirk Nowitzki at the elbow for a year.

Jackson is going to be unleashed in an up-tempo Suns offense where he will be the defender they need on the wing, play with high energy, and get buckets in transition. Winning ROY is as much about fit and opportunity as talent, and Jackson has landed in a good spot.

Paul George-Gordon Hayward-Celtics rumor doesn’t add up

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Paul George reportedly wants to play with Gordon Hayward. George is also reportedly willing to join his desired team (universally accepted to be the Lakers) by means that don’t guarantee the highest salary.

Could the Celtics – who are pursuing Hayward in free agency – leverage those conditions into getting George?

Adam Kauffman of 98.5 The Sports Hub:

I don’t what George would do, but it’d be a MAJOR financial disadvantage to go this route.

There a couple ways it could happen – George getting extended-and-trade or George getting traded then signing an extension six months later. The latter would allow George to earn more than the former, but even if he pledged to sign an extension, would the Celtics trade for him knowing he’d have six months to change his mind if he doesn’t like Boston as much as anticipated?

There’s a bigger issue, anyway. Both extension routes would leave George earning far less than simply letting his contract expire then signing a new deal, either with his incumbent team or a new one.

Here’s a representation of how much George could earn by:

  • Letting his contract expire and re-signing (green)
  • Letting his contract expire and signing elsewhere (purple)
  • Getting traded and signing an extension six months later (gray)
  • Signing an extend-and-trade (yellow)

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Expire & re-sign Expire & leave Trade, extend later Extend-and-trade
2018-19 $30.6 million $30.6 million $23,410,750 $23,410,750
2019-20 $33.0 million $32.1 million $25,283,610 $24,581,287
2020-21 $35.5 million $33.7 million $27,156,470 $25,751,825
2021-22 $37.9 million $35.2 million $29,029,330
2022-23 $40.4 million
Total $177.5 million $131.6 million $104,880,158 $73,743,861

Firm numbers are used when it’s just a calculation based on George’s current contract. When necessary to project the 2018-19 salary cap, I rounded.

The Celtics could theoretically renegotiate-and-extend, but that would require cap room that almost certainly wouldn’t exist after signing Hayward.

Simply, it’s next to impossible to see this happening. It’d be too costly to George.