Celtics-Heat Game 7 Preview: Five things to watch

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With so much on the line in Game 7, what are the things that will decide this game? What does it come down to? Here are five things to watch as the Boston Celtics meet the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night.

1. For the love of God, stop trying to front Kevin Garnett with Udonis Haslem. The Heat have stuck with this plan for five games and it’s murdered them nearly every time. Rondo can throw a lob pass in-between two crossing speedboats with his eyes closed. So, no, he has not struggled to find the lob to Garnett underneath, resulting in easy scores time and time again. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has sacrificed Udonis Haslem to the former T-Wolf time and time again, despite Haslem having neither height nor athleticism to challenge the entry pass. It’s like building a fortress wall, but only having it be about four feet high. The Heat had more success in Game 6 with timing their double once Garnett goes into his shooting motion in the post rather than upon the catch (where Garnett is more likely to simply pass out). They need to stick with that. They also need to get some help from the Gods by having Garnett miss his 18 footers on the pick and pop. That’s a primary reason Haslem is out there, to have the speed to challenge those shots. He has not been able to. There’s no good answer for stopping Garnett, it’s impossible. There are, however, less awful ones.

2. Keep with the strategy from Game 6 on LeBron James. Sounds nuts, right? But if LeBron James is hitting mid-range jumpers, you’re in trouble, big trouble, awful trouble anyway. Not a lot you can do. Doc Rivers will live with it day in and day out. You take your chances with the jumper. If he hits it, you’ve been beaten by one of the best players in the history of the game who had himself a historic day. You live with it. The temptation is to send doubles at James. The Celtics don’t really do that. Ever. They’ll challenge you with help on drives, but they’re not going to send two defenders at James in a face-up situation from mid-range unless things get really bad. It’s a bad idea. James is an incredible passer, and you’re setting yourself up for easy looks underneath by doing so.

3. Someone unreliable is going to have to have a day. Shane Batter, Mickael Pietrus, Mario Chalmers, Keyon Dooling. One side or the other is going to get hot from the arc and hit shots that honestly, they have very little chances of making regularly. Chalmers and Pietrus can shoot, but in this situation, with these stakes, against this defense? The odds aren’t with them. So what?! Welcome to the circus! Whee! Someone’s going to start nailing threes and that’s going to kill the other team and their fans who will say “We got beat by THAT GUY?!” Like I said, coin flip, man.

4. Drop the Bass. Welcome to Chapter 2 in “Things Erik Spoelstra has done in this series which makes my skull pound like an early Black Keys album is being played  at excruciating volume.” Spoelstra has stuck Battier on Bass. Battier is better matched up with Kevin Garnett than Bass. That’s crazy, but think of it. Garnett’s not going to slam his shoulder into Battier and score underneath. He’s going to take turnarounds based on muscle memory. Battier is susceptible to the lob, but is much better suited to combat that than Bass’ muscle underneath. Bass isn’t going to bust out any great post-moves. He has two shots. The mid-range jumper, which is deadly, and a muscle-in layup underneath. I get that the Heat have limited options, but they’re going to have to either put Joel Anthony or James on Bass. They can’t live with Battier getting crushed underneath. Boston on the other hand can win this game on Bass’ back, making him a hero and entering him into Celtics lore. Kind of a big deal.

5. The Great Big Bosh question. How much can he play? Will he start? A lot comes down to Bosh. The Heat have played better with every minute Bosh is on the floor. They need him, and they need him to deliver, at both ends. The biggest pressure is on LeBron James. The next biggest pressure is on Dwyane Wade. The next biggest pressure is on Erik Spoelstra. After that, it’s Bosh, and his impact could determine not only this game and this season, but the future of the Big 3 in Miami.

Three Things to Know: After another loss to Warriors, what do Cavaliers do now?

Associated Press
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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) Warriors handle Cavaliers again, do Cavaliers have to make an upgrade at the trade deadline? LeBron James was an MVP-level beast — 32 points on 18 shots, grabbing boards, dishing out assists, blocking four shots and seemingly being everywhere. Cleveland was targeting Stephen Curry on switches, hit 8-of-10 to start the game and shot 52.1 percent for three quarters. It wasn’t enough. The Warriors led by two after three because the Cavaliers defense remains terrible, and Golden State pulled away in the fourth for a 118-108 win to sweep the season series. It was clear from this game that while the Cavaliers may be better built to take on the Warriors than nearly every other NBA team, and maybe better than they were last June, there is still a gap between them and the Warriors.

That leaves the Cavaliers facing hard questions as the trade deadline approaches Feb. 8:

Do they make a bold move for the best player available? Do they go after depth to help against matchups with Golden State? Is there an available player that can actually close the gap with Golden State? If they find a player they want, do the throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

It starts with a big-picture philosophical discussion for the Cavaliers: Do they throw everything into another run at a ring with LeBron, and hope that motivates him to stay next summer? Or, do they make sure they hold on to the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick they got in the Kyrie Irving trade (consider it LeBron insurance)? While the Nets have outperformed expectations and lowered the value of the pick (right now it would go into the lottery the No. 7/8 pick tied with Phoenix), reports are the Cavaliers are holding onto that pick unless a player becomes available who can put them on the Warriors’ level.

DeAndre Jordan is not that guy. He is the best player available and the Clippers and Cavaliers have talked plenty, but Jordan does not change the equation vs. Golden State. Yes, he would give the Cavaliers rim protection and rebounding, but he can’t space the floor at all and defensively the Warriors would be able to pull him away from the basket and expose him. The Cavaliers are still interested (in part because it would make Cleveland better, in part because proposed swap would get them off of Tristan Thompson’s long-term money), but they would only throw in their own first-round pick (currently 24th) as part of the package. Is that enough?

There are other players available who could help the Cavaliers, such as Nikola Mirotic or Evan Fournier (or anyone on the Magic), but none are game changers with the Warriors. Paul George is the only guy who might be and he is not available, the Thunder are riding this season out with him.

Can the Cavaliers afford to do nothing? That would send a bad message to LeBron as he weighs free agency. Expect the Cavaliers to make trades, it just might be re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

2) Clippers win fifth straight beating Chris Paul’s Rockets — then things really get interesting when Rockets go after Clippers in the locker room. The story the Clippers wanted this game to be about is that they beat the Houston Rockets 113-102, and with that fifth straight win moved into a playoff position in the West despite the rash of injuries that hit the team this season. The Pelicans, Clippers, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers all within half-a-game of each other for slots 6-9 in the West — one of them will miss the playoffs — and that sets up a fun race for the second half of the season.

That’s not what anyone is talking about.

Instead, the fact that Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and James Harden used a secret back-tunnel between the locker rooms to try to go into the Clippers locker room and confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin. The guys reportedly stood at the back door of the Clippers locker room, Clippers players dared them to enter, and security stepped in fast. The LAPD was called and nothing actually happened — and it wouldn’t have anyways, these are NBA players there wasn’t going to be a fight. We know that.

Meanwhile, Clint Capela went to the front door of the Clippers locker room, knocked, and had the door shut in his face. (Was he the diversion tactic or just not in on the plans.)

NBA Twitter had a blast with this, including Griffin himself.

3) Earlier in the day, Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry almost got in a fight in the hallway after being ejected. Or they didn’t. After the Rockets/Clippers fun, this almost seems quaint. Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry had a little run in during the third quarter of MLK Day matchup.

Later, they were ejected late in Philadelphia’s 117-111 win over Toronto:

This led to reports of a dust-up in the hallway after the game.

After the game Simmons and Lowry both basically denied it.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Go watch the Clippers and Rockets, that’s far more entertaining.

Reports: Rockets try to confront Clippers, police dispatched to locker room

AP
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The Los Angeles Clippers got the better of the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Staples Center, 113-102, but the battle between Chris Paul and his former team had apparently just begun.

According to multiple reports, members of the Rockets took to the Clippers locker room after the game to confront Austin Rivers and then Blake Griffin.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says that according to his sources, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green entered the Clippers locker room looking for Austin Rivers, who was on the sideline due to an injury. LAPD were then dispatched to the scene — not just ordinary Staples Center security — and while nothing happened that’s somehow not the end of this story.

In true Scooby Doo fashion, Woj reports that the Rockets then sent Clint Capela to the front door of the Clippers locker room while Chris Paul went to a secret back door to the Clippers’ area as he looked to go after Blake Griffin.

Once again, I cannot stress that I am not making this story up.

Via Twitter:

Some of this may stem from the general tension between the two teams. Paul was traded to Houston in June for Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Sam Dekker among others after spending six seasons with Los Angeles.

There’s also the fact that Mike D’Antoni and Griffin got into it during the game, yapping at each other after Griffin made contact with the Houston coach on the sideline.

Griffin appeared to be pointing at D’Antoni for being out of the box on the sideline, making purposeful contact with him and resulting in double technical fouls.

Yet the overarching tension between the two teams was already palpable. Paul reportedly took umbrage to how Rivers was treated by his father, coach, and (at the time) GM Doc Rivers.

Then, late in the fourth quarter — after Griffin had already gotten into it with D’Antoni — some jawing from Austin Rivers led to an on-court discussion between Ariza and Griffin.

That prompted officials to eject both Griffin and Ariza with just a minute to go:

Austin Rivers said that the tension between Paul and Griffin was the thing that led to CP3 looking for a trade to Texas, just as a bit of backstory, so the bad blood and he-said, she-said is long-running.

No word yet on the details confirming how far anybody got, although it seems reasonable to expect Adam Silver and the league office should come down with some suspensions for folks. Malice in the Palace was perhaps the greatest modern disgrace for the NBA, and the league tries to keep even the whiff of violence away from their games.

It feels like there’s no way anyone here can get off light in an era where guys are getting suspended from both playoff games and preseason games for taking a teensy little step off the bench during disputes.

Meanwhile, the guys on the set of Inside the NBA had an absolute BLAST with the details (as did of Twitter, to be honest).

The Rockets and the Clippers play again next on Wednesday Feb. 28 in LA.

Check out the Chris Paul tribute video from the Clippers

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Chris Paul returned to Staples Center Monday night wearing the red of the Houston Rockets.

There was a mix of cheers and boos when CP3 was introduced against the Clippers, the team he helped make relevant and string together the best run in franchise history (even if it didn’t attain the lofty goals we had expected). He pushed his way out of town last summer, but Paul still goes down as one of the two greatest Clippers ever (he was a better player than Blake Griffin, but Griffin helped turn that franchise culture around before CP3 arrived, and Griffin is still doing work there).

The Clippers put together this tribute video.

Well done Clippers.

LeBron James does it all, still not enough for Cavaliers to beat Warriors

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers got to the Finals thanks to LeBron James leading an elite Cavaliers offense that covered up a defense which was second worst in the NBA after the All-Star break and improved to middle of the pack during the playoffs when they dialed in. That was not near good enough against the Warriors in the Finals.

New season, but we are watching the same movie.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Cleveland LeBron was nothing short of brilliant — 32 points on 18 shots, eight rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Through three quarters the Cavaliers got into the paint, hit their floaters and midrange shots, and knocked down 52.1 percent of their shots total — but they were down two because their defense was a disaster.

Isaiah Thomas tied the game 93-93 early in the fourth, but then Cleveland started a streak of missing eight shots in a row and hitting 1-of-14 (credit the Warriors playing better defense for some of that), and the Warriors just kept on scoring. And scoring.

The result was a 118-108 Warriors win to sweep the season series from the Cavaliers.

Kevin Durant had 32 points, Stephen Curry 23 and hit 4-of-8 from three.

With the trade deadline weeks away, this loss left the Cavaliers with big questions to answer:

Do they make a bold move to try to give themselves a better shot against the Warriors in the Finals? (And give themselves a cushion against Boston and Toronto.)

Is there an available player that can actually close that gap?

If they find the player, do the Cavaliers have the players and picks to get a deal done? Would they throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

Cleveland must consider it all because this game made it clear again there is now a gap between the two teams that met in the NBA Finals the past three years.

The Cavaliers again started out hot, hitting eight of their first 10 shots. Cleveland shot 58.3 percent in the first quarter and LeBron was 6-of-8 — but they led just 37-35 because the Cavaliers could not get stops. Cleveland’s transition defense was a mess all night, and in the first quarter one-third of the Warriors points came in transition opportunities, where they were very efficient.

There were positives for Cleveland. Dwyane Wade provided a boost off the bench with eight first-half points on 4-of-7 shooting, making energy plays like the steal and alley-oop to Jeff Green just before the half.

The Cavaliers were up 64-57 at the break as they shot 61.1 percent from the midrange. But it always felt like it was not sustainable.

Cleveland had shooting issues with guys not named LeBron. IT and Wade combined to shoot 12-of-33, and as a team the Cavs shot 6-of-26 from three. You can say those number should improve, and you’d be right, but we’re back to a great offense trying to cover up a weak defense.

That’s not going to cut it in the Finals. It may not be enough to cut it before the Finals, but the Warriors are showing they are in another class right now.