Eastern Confernence finals preview: Celtics vs. Heat

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (No. 2 seed)
Boston: 39-27 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES

Boston won the season series 3-1. In their second to final game before the playoffs the Heat did not play any of their big three against the Celtics, so toss that one out.

KEY INJURIES
Celtics: Starting two guard Avery Bradley is out after having surgery on both shoulders last week, and his defense will be missed. That moves Ray Allen into the starting lineup but he battling through ankle pain that may need surgery after the season. Paul Pierce has a sprained knee that will not be right until this summer.

Heat: Chris Bosh is still out with a strained abdomen and you shouldn’t expect to see him this series. Dwyane Wade has a knee issue and had to have it drained during the last series. Mike Miller has more things wrong with him than that guy on the table in the game operation, but he will be out there.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Heat: Offense 106.6 (8th in NBA); Defense 100.2 (4th in NBA)
Celtics: Offense 101.0 (27th in NBA); Defense 98.2 (1st in NBA)

THREE KEY CELTICS:

Rajon Rondo: When the pressure was on he played his best late in Game 7 against Philly — now he’s going to have to replicate that every game against the Heat for the Celtics to have a chance. They need his penetration to set up the other Celtics, particularly Brandon Bass cutting baseline or knocking down the midrange jumper. They need his jumper to fall. They need his defense. They need him to have the best playoff series of his life

Kevin Garnett: The Heat don’t have the size to exploit the Celtics when they go smaller and play KG at the five, which is good for Boston. Garnett’s offense was good against Philly but Boston needs more — he simply has to get deep post position and bring it on offense. Without Bosh to defend him Garnett has to put up big numbers for the Celtics to score enough in this series.

Paul Pierce: He had Andre Iguodala on him last series, if he gets hot at all in this one he’ll get LeBron James. Great. But again it comes down to scoring — we know the Celtics will defend well and as talented as the Heat are they will not score as much as normal. The problem is that Boston needs to put up more points than they have in the playoffs and they are about to face the best defense they’ve gone against yet.

THREE KEY HEAT:

LeBron James: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pulled no punches the other day — LeBron and Dwyane Wade are going to have to play at the level the duo did for the last three games of the Pacers series for the Heat to have a chance in this one. Boston plays great team defense but LeBron can get his and has to get his for the Heat to be successful. Also, he likely will have Paul Pierce to defend late in games, he has to shut down The Truth.

Dwyane Wade: Read what Spoelstra said above — the Heat need his scoring. They will need his defense and steals that create transition offense. They need the Wade that is one of the elite players in the NBA, anything less and they are thin.

Udonis Haslem: He’s got work to do at both ends of the floor. Defensively he’s going to get some time matched up on Garnett, and that could include key times in the game. They need his defense (and not his flagrant fouls, because the Celtics will be physical). On the other end, they need him to space the floor, to knock down the midrange jumper when Wade drives the lane and kicks it out. Like Haslem did in Game 5. They need that guy.

OUTLOOK

In their regular season meetings, the Celtics offense torched the Heat defense. Even if you throw out the final meeting when the Heat just rolled out the subs for 48 minutes.

Boston put up 117 in a game on Miami and racked up incredible shooting numbers in the regular season. The Celtics hit 76 percent of their corner threes against the Heat, with Ray Allen and others getting good looks (Boston shot 44 percent from there for the season). In their four meetings Boston shot 66.7 percent on long twos (20 feet to the arc). That’s the worst shot in basketball and they killed it from there. (Stats via NBA.com).

I don’t think they can come close to replicating that for four out of seven games. First off, two Boston wins came in April when they caught Miami during its “we’re just waiting for the playoffs to start” malaise. Also, against the Sixers last round the Celtics were not hitting those shots consistently. Ray Allen is not shooting like Ray Allen right now because of that ankle injury.

Instead I expect the Celtics will work hard to establish Garnett on the block, especially with Bosh not there to defend. He is going to have to have a monster series for the Celtics to have a chance. Also, Rondo is going to have to get into the teeth of the defense and create open looks for Garnett and Bass, who need to knock them down.

Miami’s defense is like a better version of the Sixers — they just have athletes all over the floor that pressure, gamble and try to force you into mistakes they turn into transition points. If Boston is to have any chance they have to break that pressure and put up points.

On offense, Miami is going to count on huge series from Wade and LeBron, who are attacking off the pick and roll. Boston lacks someone the size of Roy Hibbert on the back line but still no team was better during the regular season at containing the ball-handler coming off the pick. The Celtics need to get the attack-minded duo to hesitate and ultimately give up the ball.

What makes Miami dangerous is when Wade and Lebron can trust guys like Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller to knock down kickout shots (this is also where they miss Chris Bosh). And it should go without saying, you have to slow the Heat’s transition game. Well, you can say it but doing it is something else entirely.

PREDICTION

Miami in 5.

The truth is the Heat already beat the second best team in the East last round (after the Derrick Rose injury changed the landscape). Boston if they were healthy all the way around would have some pieces to challenge Miami but without Bradley’s defense and a steady Allen they don’t have the guys on the wings to defend the Heat. Boston’s defense is good, but their offense will not be able to keep up with what the Heat put on the board.

Bradley Beal: Wizards lost to Clippers after what referees described as a ‘s— rule’

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The Clippers beat the Wizards on Saturday, but not without a controversial finish.

Washington trailed 113-112 with 1.2 seconds left and inbounded the ball from the sideline to Bradley Beal, who made a shot, but after the buzzer sounded. However, the clock started early.

The sequence:

After review, officials gave the Wizards the ball in the corner with 1.1 seconds left. In a tough position with less time and on its secondary play, Washington didn’t score.

Beal, via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington:

“Excuse my language because I’m going to say verbatim what they said,” Beal said. “They said it’s kind of a ‘some s*** rule,’ it’s a freak rule. To me, it didn’t really make sense because you take a basket away. You go back and he says we get the same amount of time, but we didn’t get the same amount of time and then we get the ball in the corner. It’s kind of the tough s*** rule. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. We ran a great play and now that you take that away, we’ve gotta set up with a different play and they get a chance to set up and change some things. Now we’ve gotta do a different play with the ball in the corner.”

Referee Bill Spooner, via the NBA:

Spooner contradicts himself here. Was the time lost 0.1 seconds or 1.1 seconds? He said both at different points. He also clearly means the game clock, not the shot clock.

Here’s the relevant example from the NBA’s casebook:

Player A1 inbounds the ball at 0.8 of the period and the game clock starts early when the timer thought the ball was deflected. Player A2 receives the ball and the game horn sounds as he immediately turns to shoot a successful basket. How is this handled?

The on-court officials will signal for replay and the Replay Center Official will determine how much time ran off the clock prior to it being legally touched. If the successful basket was released prior to 0:00, the basket will be scored and if from the ball being legally touched until it cleared the net is less than 0.8, the game clock shall be reset to that amount of time. If the ball is still in Player A1’s hands at 0:00, the field goal cannot be scored and Team A will retain possession on the sideline nearest the point of interruption and the game clock reset to the amount of lost time.

Why would the game clock be set to the amount of lost time? I can see the game clock being reduced by the amount of lost time, which seemingly happened – in error, according to Spooner – Saturday. But just setting the clock to the amount of lost time unfairly punishes the team that is already disadvantaged by the timekeeping error.

From the rule to the enforcement, this was just sloppy.

Kevin Garnett: I want to help buy out Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, not partner with him

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Kevin Garnett’s rift with the Timberwolves – specifically owner Glen Taylor – is still going strong.

Garnett, via Shlomo Sprung of Awful Announcing:

“I don’t want to be partners with Glen [Taylor], and I wouldn’t want to be partners with Glen in Minnesota,” he said. “I would love to be part of a group that buys him out and kind of removes him and go forward.”

Taylor recently said he’s not interested in selling the franchise. That could be a bargaining tactic, but at face value, Garnett isn’t getting involved anytime soon.

Garnett and Taylor could break the ice with a clearly joyous occasion, a simple number-retirement ceremony. But even that is too much for the two.

5 Up, 5 Down: Jahlil Okafor finally gets to play some basketball

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

It feels like we should be more upset about the fact that we keep getting updates on major stars and their injuries. Stephen Curry has his walking boot off. Kawhi Leonard is close to getting on an NBA floor. Gordon Hayward is on Twitch and is now wearing a teensy little ankle brace instead of a walking boot.

This somehow feels good because it’s progress, even though what it really means is stars aren’t on the floor. Maybe that doesn’t matter, especially if you’ve watched the two teams topping the conferences play.

The Boston Celtics have an MVP candidate (yet again) in Kyrie Irving, and the Houston Rockets seem unbeatable. Anyway, I’m excited for another Warriors-Cavaliers Finals.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

5 Up

Jahlil Okafor is finally a Brooklyn Net

We talked last time about how we needed to see Jahlil Okafor play a little basketball (or at least play on offense) by getting out of Philadelphia. My choice was for him to go to the Brooklyn Nets, which is exactly where he went 10 days later. Some are calling the Nets “interesting” although I think for that to be the case Jeremy Lin and his hair would still need to be bouncing down an NBA floor. I’m just hoping Brooklyn isn’t unwatchable from here on out. Let’s start with that and see where they end up.

The New York Knicks letting this dude warm up with them

Kevin Thompson is a New York Knicks superfan who got to warm up with the team and get introduced during lineups. The whole thing was part of the team’s Garden of Dreams night, which according to the Knicks is part of an experiential foundation that helps kids facing obstacles. Pretty sweet stuff.

10 minutes, six fouls

Michael Beasley once said that he basically felt he was Carmelo Anthony, that their games were similar, because they operate from the same side of the floor. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it was a great Beasley quote. This past weekend provided us with a Beasley moment, when the Knicks forward fouled out in just 10 minutes of play. The final blow was a sequence in the fourth quarter in which Beasley racked up three fouls in just 1:45 of game clock. When he had to leave due to disqualification, the crowd at Madison Square Garden gave him a standing ovation. I love the Knicks.

LeBron James is going to play for the Lakers … and the Rockets?

It’s not even 2018 and we’re already starting to talk about where LeBron James will land. It doesn’t feel likely he’ll stay in Cleveland, unless he buys the team of course. That’s probably not slated for the next year, so perhaps he will team up with Nerlens Noel and go to the Los Angeles Lakers? Or perhaps James is interested in the Houston Rockets, the team currently dismantling every other team in the West? This past summer was so crazy in the NBA, it just had to seep into the regular season. I’m all for it.

This Thunder team is a train wreck in slow motion

Real life is not NBA 2k18. That’s why you can’t just sim to the end of every Chicago Bulls game (can you imagine?) or force any trade you want. It’s also why three ball-dominant scorers playing iso ball don’t work, much to the chagrin of Oklahoma City Thunder fans. If you’re not an OKC diehard, this is probably the only thing you wanted to see outside of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony wrecking the rest of the Western Conference. It was never going to be interesting if this team got the 5 seed. Missing the playoffs is the next most interesting thing that could have happened, and frankly, perhaps the most understandable given the talent out West.

5 Down

Everyone is getting kicked out of games

Kevin Durant — long lauded as a silent assassin in the NBA — has been ejected from multiple games over the past month. He even had to be separated from DeMarcus Cousins after a recent one, which is crazy. Shaun Livingston‘s AARP card couldn’t get him immunity from an ejection. Hell, even a referee got suspended in that one. Tensions are rising in the NBA, and it feels like we all missed some memo from the league about a point of emphasis for this season saying everyone’s going to get rung on one technical foul. Are players flailing or is the league being unreasonable? I’m not sure, but tossing stars has to stop so you would think the league office will be looking into this.

Markelle Fultz is STILL out … for some reason

Markelle Fultz is fine, nothing to see here. I mean quite literally, because despite Fultz’s shoulder being A-OK, he’s still not scheduled to find an NBA floor for another three weeks. This feels like a decision the team would make under Sam Hinkie while winning single-digit games, but Hinkie is long gone and the Sixers are — gasp! — a .500 team sitting just outside the 8 seed. This still feels like some major piece of information is missing and I don’t know that we’ll hear about it save for in Fultz’s inevitable book in 20 years detailing Philly’s 8-peat championship run starting in 2020.

We’re not getting basketball in Seattle any time soon

A new memorandum of understanding was signed in the Emerald City this last week, meaning they are going to keep the ugly roof on top of Key Arena, knock down the walls, and dig a hole to the center of the earth as a means to expand the seating. Seriously, they have to dig down just to fit enough people in the arena. What this doesn’t mean is an NBA team. Los Angeles-based Oak View Group has said they will pursue both an NHL team and an NBA team, although locally in Seattle it’s known this plan puts events and NHL first. This is a bummer for NBA fans in Seattle, and for anyone trying to drive through Lower Queen Anne at any time of the day.

Everything happening with the Clippers

There’s almost too much to list here, but it’s topped by just how bad this team is. They were a .500 team when Patrick Beverley got hurt, and then Blake Griffin naturally followed. Danilo Gallinari has been on and off the court, and it’s been a quick degradation for LA after the flight of Chris Paul to Houston. DeAndre Jordan‘s contract now looms over the salary cap like a raincloud, and where he goes nobody will know. Can you tank and still keep Doc Rivers as your coach in 2017?

Marc Gasol is still a Grizzly

The Grizzlies are another mess, and disappointingly so. They were a perennial Good Team™ and both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol should have been favorites of yours to watch in the playoffs (mostly losing to the Spurs). Now, the team is in turnaround. Owner Robert Pera has been given an ultimatum from his minority owners, David Fizdale is gone, and Gasol is still starting games. It seems like there’s less heat on the team to move Gasol, but that’s how it always works in these situations when it’s not a garbage fire like Paul George last year. I expect to see Gasol moved before the trade deadline precisely because it feels like it would be super strange to see Marc Gasol not in a Grizzlies jersey. Hey, maybe to the Spurs?

Three Things to Know: Victor Oladipo drops 47, he and Pacers are legit

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Victor Oladipo drops 47 on Nuggets, shows he’s an All-Star and Pacers are for real. When the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, we thought it was a massive step back for the Pacers. The Pacers also ditched Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles, and Monta Ellis and brought in Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph, which had them rebuilding (we figured low 30s in wins, tops).

We were wrong.

Last Wednesday Oladipo hit the game-winner against Chicago, then he led the Pacers to a win over Cleveland (snapping the Cavs 13-game win streak), and on Sunday he dropped 47 points on the Denver Nuggets in another Pacers’ win, the team is now 16-11.

Victor Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star — he should be one of the East guards off the bench — making a leap from role player in OKC to leading man in Indiana. The Thunder brought him in to be a third scorer behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but when Durant left and Westbrook took over Oladipo regressed. This season Oladipo has the ball in his hands, is drawing contact and getting to the line on drives like he hasn’t in years, is finishing at the rim better than he has before (62 percent), is killing it from three (43.9 percent overall and 45.7 percent on pull-up jumpers from three), and he’s dishing out assists like he hasn’t since his rookie season in Orlando.

All of that — plus the fact Sabonis has taken a big step forward this season — has led to talk in some quarters that the Pacers won the trade with OKC that sent Paul George to a “super team.” Oladipo isn’t playing that game.

What Oladipo is doing is leading a Pacers team that has the sixth best offense in the NBA, and a team that’s getting easy buckets (fifth highest percentage of offense in transition, according to Cleaning The Glass). While the Pacers take more midrange jumpers than one might prefer, they are the second best team in the league at hitting them, so it works.

Maybe the Pacers come back to earth a little (their defense has been middle of the pack), but probably not as their point differential is pretty much in line with their record. Nate McMillan and company have gotten eight new players on the roster to blend beautifully. The Pacers are for real. This is who they are.

And Victor Oladipo should be suiting up as an All-Star in Los Angeles. He’s earned it.

2) Second most impressive feat of the night: Michael Beasley fouls out in 10 minutes. Michael Beasley has found regular minutes a bit hard to come by with the Knicks this season. Sunday, when the Hawks rotations forced the Knicks to play more small ball, Beasley got his run and was aggressive trying to make his mark and defend. What he did was foul out. Quickly — in 10 minutes. That got him a standing ovation in Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks ultimately got the win thanks to Kristaps Porzingis‘ 30 points and Doug McDermott adding 23 off the bench. And, of course, the efforts of Beasley (he was +10 in his 10 minutes, to be fair).

3) Kobe Bryant gave Eagles pep talk before they beat the Rams. Philadelphia came to Los Angeles Sunday for what was the NFL’s game of the week (and it was an entertaining one). The Eagles practiced for a few days in the sunshine of Los Angeles before the game, and on Friday huge Eagles fan Kobe Bryant came out to pump up the team.

Kobe also had a little video message for the world.

The Eagles got the win, but it may have come with a high cost as quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a knee injury and the signs aren’t good.