Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics - Game Four

Four 3-1 series, do we see four series closeouts Tuesday? No.


Four games — every one of them featuring a team up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.

Tuesday night could see four series close out in the NBA playoffs.

Not likely.

We’re not sure who, but someone will push the series forward to a Game 6. One team will lose some days off to rest. That said, we will see closeouts. We are going to see what some call a “Gentlemen’s Sweep” (a team could have won in four but took its foot off the gas and let the other team win a game). We are going to see playoff series set.

Here is a quick look at each of Tuesday’s games, in order of potential Game 6s being forced.

Boston at Atlanta, Celtics up 3-1: This series may have been decided way back in Game 2, when Boston won on the road without Rajon Rondo while Josh Smith got hurt for Atlanta. In Tuesday’s Game 5 back at home Al Horford and Marvin Williams will move into the starting lineup for the Hawks, and they will have Josh Smith. Boston will play all of its key guys, despite some injuries — Paul Pierce’s knee and Avery Bradley’s shoulder in particular. Boston has simply executed better in this series, looking stronger each game, but expect a more desperate Hawks team at home. Joe Johnson wants to take more shots and he is capable of getting hot. Jeff Teague has been good and could outplay Rondo for a night. Atlanta has been to the second round the last couple years and will not roll over. Boston is going to have to work to earn the extra rest that comes with no Game 6.

Denver at Los Angeles, Lakers up 3-1: Denver knows the model to win — run the Lakers into the ground with a scattered, up-tempo game — but the Lakers have largely resisted playing along. Los Angeles has turned their wins into a traditional half-court basketball games and used their superior size and skill up front with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to get the victories. Well, that plus that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good. The Lakers should close this out at home, but they have yet to really fire on all cylinders for any game and would you really be shocked if they had one of their “mental vacation” games tonight? Neither would I.

Philadelphia at Chicago, 76ers up 3-1: Again we have a young team trying to get a road close out win in the playoffs, something that they will learn is not easy to do. But the Bulls are just so banged up — Derrick Rose is out with his knee injury and Joakim Noah is a game-time decision, he shot without a brace on his sprained ankle during shootaround Tuesday, but he likely will not go and even if he does he’s not going to be 100 percent. Chicago has guys like Luol Deng who could take over for a game, but Philly is finding its groove from early in the season when they were surprising everyone. Spencer Hawes has always been key to their offense — he can stretch the defense and his passing skills move the ball side-to-side for Philly, getting better looks. He’s found his game again. Expect Philly to close it out.

Orlando at Indiana, Pacers up 3-1: In Game 1 Orlando came out with playoff intensity and Indiana came out like a wide-eyed young team that had never really been there before. Midway through Game 2 Indiana woke up and said, “wait, they don’t have Dwight Howard, we should be beating these guys” and it has gone that way ever since. Orlando plays hard, Stan Van Gundy knows how to coach. But in the end Indy has Roy Hibbert, David West and Danny Granger and talent wins out in this league. The Pacers will close this out.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.