It starts with the big questions — if the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder can’t answer those questions, the little ones will not matter.
That leads us to the big things to watch in Game 1 between the Thunder and Mavericks Tuesday night — can Dallas slow Kevin Durant, and can Oklahoma City slow Dirk Nowitzki.
The Thunder need to answer their question fast — Dallas is coming off a nine-day layoff following their sweep of the Lakers and they are bound to be rusty. They beat the Lakers with superior execution and that my take a while to come back. If the Thunder want to win one of the first two on the road, Game 1 sill be the best chance.
Serge Ibaka is going to get the first shot at Dirk, but he may be ill suited to stopping Nowitzki. We told you want to look for in more detail, but if we had to reduce it to two words, it would be Nick Collison.
On the other side, Shawn Marion is going to get Kevin Durant duty. The book on Durant has been to be physical with him and run him off his spots on the floor, to play heavy ball-denial and to limit his touches. We’ll see if Marion is up to that task.
One other matchup to watch closely is DeShawn Stevenson on Russell Westbrook. Game 7 against Memphis was Westbrook’s best game of the playoffs and if he displays that kind of balance again Dallas could struggle to stop him.
With those two guys to stop, expect to see Dallas use a fair amount of zone defense this series. The Mavs run maybe the best matchup zone in the league and that may be the best way to keep Tyson Chandler on the glass and in the paint to help on defense.
The two other keys for Dallas — don’t foul and don’t turn the ball over. Not fouling was something the Mavs did well, the Thunder got to the line 29 times a game during the regular season but that happened just 24 times against the Mavericks. That has to continue, the Thunder need free throws. They also want to get out and run, Oklahoma City is far more athletic. Dallas cannot fuel that with turnovers.
Lots of things to watch. But it all starts with the two best players on the court.
The Pelicans have been crushed by injuries the last few years.
Why? That’s an incredibly complex question.
But the New Orleans Saints – who share an owner (Tom Benson), a front-office leader (Mickey Loomis) and other staff with the Pelicans – have found culprits for their own injury woes.
Mike Triplett of ESPN:
The Saints have fired team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, per source, after it was discovered that CB Delvin Breaux has a fractured fibula and will require surgery expected to sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Breaux was originally diagnosed with a contusion
Suri is a Pelicans team physician.
Scott Kushner of The Advocate:
Fairly or not, Suri – after the Saints deemed him unacceptable – will be in the crosshairs if he keeps his job with the the Pelicans and their injury woes continue.
Chris Sheridan was ahead of the crowd in 2014, reporting LeBron James would likely leave the Heat for the Cavaliers – which obviously happened.
But Sheridan called it a “90 percent chance,” a small – but large enough – hedge. He also said LeBron would announce the decision on LeBron’s personal website. Of course, LeBron revealed his choice in a Sports Illustrated essay.
So, maybe Sheridan knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he doesn’t.
But the longtime NBA writer just fanned the flames of the already hot LeBron-leaving-Cleveland rumors.
Of course, the denials came quickly.
There have already been plenty of warning signs about LeBron’s relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, which didn’t restart in a great place.
It’s entirely believable LeBron would leave Cleveland, in large part due to Gilbert.
But it’s also fun to speculate about that salacious storyline.
Maybe Sheridan or his source got carried away for that very reason. Or maybe they know something.
Neither possibility should be discounted.
Unlike the early projections for the NBA title next season, the MVP race seems wide open.
Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George. James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.
Who is going to win? Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are the early betting line favorites, with these odds courtesy of online gaming site Bovada.
Russell Westbrook (OKC) 7/2
Kevin Durant (GS) 9/2
Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 13/2
LeBron James (CLE) 15/2
James Harden (HOU) 8/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 17/2
Steph Curry (GS) 11/1
Anthony Davis (NOP) 16/1
Paul George (OKC) 25/1
Chris Paul (HOU) 25/1
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 25/1
DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 33/1
John Wall (WAS) 33/1
Blake Griffin (LAC) 40/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 40/1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 50/1
Joel Embiid (PHI) 50/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 50/1
Damian Lillard (POR) 50/1
Draymond Green (GS) 60/1
Ben Simmons (PHI) 66/1
Gordon Hayward (BOS) 70/1
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 75/1
Jimmy Butler (MIN) 75/1
Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 75/1
Kevin Love (CLE) 100/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 100/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 100/1
Yes, it is far too early to discuss this. As a voter, I don’t even start to make a list of serious candidates until midway through the season (then that list evolves as the season wears on). But it’s fun to speculate about.
To me, the smartest bet on the board seems to be Kawhi Leonard — he could have won last year, and if anything the Spurs are going to ask more of him this season. I think Harden has a chance to win it this season even with CP3, same with Westbrook, but it feels less likely. It’s hard to imagine one Warrior being picked above the others for the award. If Giannis Antetokounmpo finds his jumper it could happen, but that feels more like something a couple seasons away. Same with Karl-Anthony Towns being in consideration.
If you’re going to bet on Kevin Love, just donate that money to charity where it will do some good.
It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.
This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.
If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.
Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…
Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.
Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.
Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?
Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.