Blackhawks or Heat: Who ya got? A PHT-PBT original


As you may have heard, the Chicago Blackhawks are on quite a roll.

As you also may have heard, so too are the Miami Heat.

You may also have heard some national pundits yelling at clouds discussing which streak is more impressive — Chicago going 23 games without a regulation loss, or Miami winning 15 in a row.

In the spirit of healthy debate (as opposed to loud noises), I reached out to ProHockeyTalk’s Jason Brough for a pleasant email exchange.

To: Jason Brough, ProHockeyTalk
From: Kurt Helin, ProBasketballTalk

Gentlemen, we have been brought here to discuss what seems to be the sports bar debate of the week — at least in some mythical sports bar where the NHL and NBA demographics overlap — and that is the Miami Heat streak of 15 straight wins vs. the Chicago Blackhawks streak of 23 games in a row earning a point.

The challenge is, this isn’t even comparing apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing apples and barbecue brisket. But because of my giving nature, I’m willing to concede one point from the start — the Blackhawks streak is already historic to its sport in a way the Heat streak is not yet. I think it’s just hard for some basketball (and maybe general sports fans) to get their arms around what the Blackhawks streak means, really. So, what does it mean?

From Jason at ProHockeyTalk: Oh, so that’s how you’re going to play this. Like a respectable human being. I was thinking we were going to argue LIKE THIS and belittle one team’s remarkable accomplishment, because that’s what sports in the modern age is all about. Think of the page views! But I guess if you want to be boring, I’ll just answer your question politely.

Of all the remarkable things about the Blackhawks’ streak, perhaps the most remarkable is this: It’s really, really hard to build a dominant team in the NHL, where unlike the NBA with its luxury-tax system, there’s a hard salary cap. Chicago’s cap payroll is about $67 million. The lowest cap payroll in the NHL belongs to Phoenix, at about $50 million.. And let’s not forget the best hockey player can, at best, play half the game. Nobody sits on the bench all game, except the backup goalie. Oh, and by the way, the ‘Hawks’ backup goalie has been great this season. Have the Heat been getting unexpected contributions, or has it mostly been LeBron?

Kurt: Oh, I’m not going to stay respectable — WE ARE GOING TO ARGUE! I expect we will degenerate into a dozens battle soon.

First though, it’s not just been LeBron James, although he remains the best basketball player walking the planet and that’s a good guy to have on your team. LeBron’s playing at a Jordanesque level right now and while that pisses off people who hate LeBron/want to defend Michael Jordan (as if he actually needs defending) it’s just a fact. But like I said it’s not just LeBron, Dwyane Wade has been great during the streak. In his last five games Wade has been averaging 27.4 points a game on 59 percent shooting. Chris Bosh has had good games. They are defending. It’s a team thing, just with LeBron as the head of the snake.

Here’s where I see the streaks as different — the ‘Hawks streak is meaningless come the playoffs. Last season the eight-seed Kings won the Stanley Cup and got to take it around Manhattan Beach all summer. Playoff hockey and regular season hockey seem largely unrelated, and while Bill James and his stats friends embrace the randomness it means that this streak is dead come the playoffs. It’s seeding and nothing more. In the NBA, only one team outside a top three seed has won a title since going to this playoff format (and that Rockets team traded for Clyde Drexler midseason). What the Heat are doing will carry over to the games that matter. What the ‘Hawks are doing becomes irrelevant. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.


PHT’s Jason: You’re wrong.

Not insanely wrong, but wrong nonetheless. It still helps to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs. And in a league like the NHL, where parity reigns, any advantage is worth having. Have you seen the atmosphere at the United Center for ‘Hawks games? Let’s just say, it doesn’t have the same sad, Derrick Rose-less feel as when the Bulls play. Chicago will take as many home games as it can get. As for the Kings, they were far from a typical No. 8 seed. They badly underachieved during the regular season given the players on their roster. (Sort of like another Los Angeles team you may be familiar with, though I’m not sure that one can win a title.) Plus, the Kings got Jeff Carter in a late-season trade. Not sure he had the same impact as Clyde with the Rockets, but he did score eight times in the playoffs, tied with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar for the team lead.

That said, I will give you this: the Blackhawks are beatable. Do you think the Heat are beatable?

Kurt: If you keep insulting basketball I’m going to bring up how foolish the NHL looked during its lockout. That was embarrassing. The NBA would never… oh, wait. Nevermind.

I heard an interesting thing All-Star weekend from a person with another team, who said the Spurs actually are the team best suited to beat the Heat. San Antonio has veterans who have won, they move the ball very well and move off the ball (which is how to attack the Miami pressure), they have Tim Duncan and the size to score inside, and they have role guys who buy the system. It makes sense. Except I don’t see the Spurs getting past the Thunder (they couldn’t last year and the Thunder are improved). So while no team “can’t be beat” it’s hard to see how anyone beats the Heat if they are focused. And the reason they have won 15 in a row is they are focused.

Speaking of lockout, I’m curious — how are guys holding up physically? The reduced recovery time of a condensed schedule wore down NBA players and, while the NBA is a physical league (just ask Blake Griffin), the NBA doesn’t allow checking and full contact.

(Unless it’s from J.J. Barea, then it’s just cute.)


PHT’s Jason: How are guys holding up? The answer is, not well. Granted, how much all the injuries we’re seeing in hockey has to do with the lockout is impossible to say. But I feel like I’ve written the word “groin” more than usual this season. And not in the “Serge Ibaka slapped one” way.

In fact, if the Blackhawks are going to be stopped, injuries may be what does it. So far, they’ve been pretty lucky in the health department. Dave Bolland and Corey Crawford have missed some time, but that’s nothing compared to what teams like the Flyers, Red Wings, Senators, Blues, and others have experienced. Fingers are always crossed in the NHL, especially when you have key players with concussion histories, as the ‘Hawks do with Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook. But for now, everyone’s enjoying the ride. The Blackhawks host struggling Colorado tonight and get the Avs again Friday night in Denver. Then it’s Edmonton and Columbus, two more bad teams. Which is to say, this streak could go on for a while longer. Jinx!

Kurt: Frankly, we’ve all been typing “groin” too much this season.

So to sum up, you admit that the Heat streak is better than the Blackhawks’ and that hockey is the sport for people who can’t understand the subtleties of NASCAR. At least that’s what I got out of it. Maybe you saw it differently.

PHT’S Jason: Basketball sucks.

Five NBA Draft prospects/teams to watch in the Sweet 16

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Just like me and everyone else, your bracket is busted. That was not the only thing to go belly up in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament — so were a lot of the top-tier draft picks. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton didn’t see the second game of the weekend. Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges of Michigan State join the long list of players and teams stymied by Syracuse’s zone. Mohamed Bamba. Out. Michael Porter Jr.? Out. Trae Young? Out.

That doesn’t mean there are not guys NBA fans should be watching the round of 16 starting Thursday night. There are likely lottery picks playing, not to mention guys down the board who will be playing in the NBA next season.

Here are five things for NBA fans to watch in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

1) Battle of the zone defenses and lottery prospects: Duke vs. Syracuse. The Blue Devils are the most loaded team left in the tournament… forget that, they were the most loaded team in the tournament, period. If you’re a fan of a team in the midst of the tankapaloza going on at the bottom of the NBA standings right now, this is your game.

Duke’s big man Marvin Bagley III is likely going to be taken between No. 3-5 come June, and he is worth keeping an eye on. He’s a phenomenal athlete who can get buckets — he had 22 points in each of the first two Tournament games and shot a combined 18-of-24, he is an incredible finisher around the rim — plus is a beast on the boards (16 in the two games). Scouts and teams that liked him all season at Duke saw more of the same in the first two rounds, he helped his stock (if that’s possible)

Next to Bagley on Duke’s dominant front like is the more polished Wendell Carter Jr. (a likely top 10 pick), who had 24 points on 15 shots through two games of the tournament. This is a game where against the Syracuse zone Carter’s passing — big-to-big to Bagley, or kicked out to guys like Grayson Allen — will both matter to the team and show something to scouts. Allen is a likely late-first/early second round pick who can help his cause by showing how he can shoot over the top of that zone.

For Syracuse, Tyus Battle needs to show he can make good decisions with the ball in his hands — he’s been inconsistent with that all season. He passes the eye test as a 6’6” NBA guard, but his decision making needs to be better and Duke will test that. Battle is a late first/early second kind of guy who needs to get a team to fall in love with him.

The fact both of these teams play so much zone will turn off NBA scouts — it’s the right basketball move for both Duke and Syracuse, but it masks the defensive flaws the top prospects on both teams have. And there are defensive questions about all three of those guys.

2) It’s the NCAA Tournament, of course you should be watching Kentucky. Two things are inevitable this time of year: John Calipari will find something to complain about so he can say everyone is against him; and Kentucky will be loaded with NBA prospects.

Kentucky’s guys to watch when they take on Kansas State starts with back-of-the-lottery/mid-teens pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, their smooth point guard. He was impressive with 46 points on 15-of-25 shooting in the first two tournament games (which is good, the consistency of his jumper was a question mark for scouts), although he did not show much of a stroke from three (2-of-2). His hesitation moves and smart game look like something that will translate to the NBA.

Then there’s Kevin Knox on the wing, who also should go in the lottery. He had 25 points on 16 shots in a strong game against Davidson in the first round, and what teams like are his defense and versatility. Combo forwards are in demand in the NBA.

Also keep on eye on Hamidou Diallo, a likely second-round pick.

3) Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Villanova will get a test from West Virginia. At this point in the season, scouts/GMs have opinions largely formed about players, but they want to watch them play one more time and want to see them tested. West Virginia should do that for the two Villanova prospects

Mikal Bridges is the kind of long, athletic defender that teams are looking for, plus he can knock down threes — he is 8-of-14 from deep so far in the tournament. He dropped 23 on a good Alabama team, and he looks like the kind of switchable wing role player at the NBA level a lot of teams are searching for.

The bigger test is for likely second-round pick Jalen Brunson — the guard struggled at points vs. Collin Sexton, and now goes up against a strong defender in Jevon Carter (a possible second-round pick himself). Brunson can help his cause with a good game here.

4) Hey Nuggets/Clippers/Lakers/Pistons fans, take the time to check out Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, he might be your late lottery guy. If anyone helped their cause in the NCAA’s first two rounds, it was A&M’s Williams, who played a key role in the Aggies upset of North Carolina with his 13 boards and strong play inside. The question never has been “does he have the talent?” but rather “will he bring it every night?” Williams showed everyone against North Carolina what he looks like when he can bring it, and you could see where he would be dangerous in the NBA where more skilled players around him will open up the floor and give him more space to operate. Think a poor man’s Clint Capela. Can he show he will bring it consistently on a big stage?

5) Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith had a strong first weekend, but he will get a test from Purdue’s Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards. Smith has plenty of talent and it showed against Florida in the first weekend — 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and strong defense.

Smith may be in the mold of a guy where some will say “he needs another year in college to develop” but after 28 points on 21 shots through the first two rounds of the tournament, the potential second-half-of-the-first-round may well come out and get paid to develop. He will get another chance to show how much he has developed against a quality Purdue team.

Between his clutch FTs, LeBron James goes out of his way to high-five Raptors G Fred VanVleet (video)

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

High-fiving the opponent between his free throws is a wellestablished trick to break concentration.

LeBron James turned the tables in the Cavaliers’ win over the Raptors last night.

Toronto guard Fred VanVleet brushed hands with LeBron between a pair of late LeBron free throws. Unfazed, LeBron turned around and got a crisp high-five from VanVleet:

LeBron made both free throws.

No matter how much better the Raptors have been than Cleveland this season, LeBron wants the mental edge. He led the Cavs to playoff-series wins over Toronto the last two years, and this only increases perception he’s in complete control when these teams meet.

Three Things to Know: Nothing but takeaways from Cavaliers beating Raptors

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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. Today we’re doing things a little differently, despite some other interesting games — Dwight Howard dropping 30-and-30, the genuine concern about Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle, and the Pelicans beating the Pacers because Anthony Davis is ridiculous — we are going to focus on the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Toronto at Cleveland, which the Cavaliers won 132-129.

What we are not taking away from this is a prediction of a playoff matchup between these two teams. Forget the fact that regular season meetings are crappy predictors of playoff series in general, here are three other issues: 1) Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their fifth game in seven days, which factored into their poor defense and late fade; 2) Cleveland is going to be healthier and have different guys in the rotation come the playoffs; 3) If Dwane Casey or Larry Drew/Tyronn Lue have a tactic they think could be a great weapon against the other side, no chance they break it out for long in a late-season game — they will save it for the playoffs. Sort of like to NFL teams playing each other in week 16 when they know they could meet in the playoffs. We didn’t see the best of either side.

That said, let’s get on to the real three things.

1) The biggest factor in the Eastern Conference remains LeBron James and his level of play. There are questions about how well the new-look Raptors will carry over to the playoffs. There are more questions (at least in my mind) about how well this Cavaliers roster can defend, even when healthy. All that said, this game was a reminder of one simple fact:

LeBron James can lift a team to the NBA Finals almost by himself — he’s been to seven straight Finals for a reason. He is the force of nature, he’s still playing at an MVP-level (at age 33 in his 15th season), and he took over this game with 35 points, 17 assists, and zero turnovers.

LeBron shot 62 percent from three on the night, had 14 points and 5 assists in the fourth quarter alone, and was the difference in this game. OG Anunoby is the guy the Raptors will likely lean on in the playoffs to make LeBron work for his buckets, but he looked like a guys still working his way back from injury (and like a rookie with tired legs late in the season), it was Pascal Siakam who did the best of any Raptor (LeBron was 4-of-10 with Siakam guarding him on the night). That’s something we would see in the postseason, but nobody really had an impact, and the Raptors need to figure out how to make LeBron work harder for his buckets.

Put simply, the Eastern Conference is all about LeBron James. Still. And it will remain so until further notice.

2) Which one of these teams will defend better come the playoffs? The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 79 first-half points and allowed the Raptors a 135.8 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry put it this way after the game, “Disgraceful display of defense by us. We’ve got to be better than that.” The Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 140.4 (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Neither team defended well. If this was an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the team that improves their defense the most between now and then will come out on top.

Toronto has defended better all season — they are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating — but it didn’t show Wednesday. Maybe it was the back-to-back, fifth-game-in-seven-days that took their legs out from under them, particularly for the older Serge Ibaka who had an off night on both ends. (Tired legs also would explain the lack of transition points by the Raptors on the night, they needed those easy buckets). Maybe it’s the fact nobody has a good answer for LeBron. Maybe a lot of things, but the Raptors need to do better defensively in a playoff series or the outcome will be the same.

The Cavaliers lack cohesion on defense, and while they will get better defenders back from injury — Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. — that is not going to speed up the team getting used to each other on that end. Cleveland has to have better energy, they need to close out on shooters better (the Raptors got open looks late on kickouts, they missed injured C.J. Miles), and they just need more efforts like veteran Jose Calderon gave (it was a good night for him). Cleveland has time to get its defenders on the same page, but not a lot of it.

3) Is Toronto’s bench going to matter as much in the playoffs? Toronto’s bench unit has been key to their success all season — the Raptors took a double-digit lead in the second quarter thanks to their bench (who has done that to teams all season long). The Raptors lineup of Jakab Poeltl, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright was +6 in 10 minutes Wednesday. The Lowry plus bench unit has killed teams all season long.

Will it matter in the playoffs?

Right now coaches are going nine or 10 deep in their rotations, and the Raptors depth matters in that situation — their bench can beat your bench. It happened against the Cavaliers. However, come the playoffs the minutes that went to guys nine and 10 in the rotation go to guys one and two — the bench tightens way up, and the best players get more minutes. A deep bench doesn’t have the same impact.

What that bench will provide Casey in the playoffs is options — if Anunoby is struggling against LeBron bring in Siakam — but it’s not the same as the regular season. I love that in big games recently against the Thunder and Cavaliers Casey is still playing around with his lineups for stretches — now is the time to experiment. Now is the time to get guys used to playing with each other. That way, come the playoffs, Casey can throw the combination out there that he thinks works and there will be familiarity.

But the Raptors will need more from their starters in the playoffs because the bench will not have the same impact.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.