Miami Heat's James tries to pass around Milwaukee Bucks' Jennings in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat

8 Comments

SEASON RECORDS

Miami: 66-16, best record in the league and number one seed in the East

Milwaukee: 38-44, eight seed in the East

SEASON SERIES

The Heat won three of the four matchups in the regular season, with one of the games in Miami going to overtime before the Heat secured one of those victories. But the close games were in November and December, and these two teams have been heading in opposite directions ever since.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Heat: offense 110.3 (Best in NBA), defense 100.5 (7th in NBA)
Bucks: offense 100.9 (21st in NBA), defense 102.3 (12th in NBA)

Differential: Heat +9.9 (2nd in NBA), Bucks -1.4 (18th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR MILWAUKEE:

Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, at the same time: On paper, Milwaukee should have one of the league’s deadliest backcourt tandems in Ellis and Jennings. The problem has been that when one has a big game, the other shrinks in the moment. That can’t happen against the Heat — if the Bucks are to win even a single game in this series, it’ll have to come on a night when both of their scorers light it up simultaneously.

Larry Sanders, under control: Sanders is a leading candidate for Most Improved and is on the list of guys in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Unfortunately, he’s been out of control with the officials all season long until just recently, finishing the season tied for second in the league for the most technical fouls with 14. Sanders needs to focus on the task at hand instead of the officiating this series, especially considering the fact that the Heat were the source of one of his bigger frustrations with the referees this season.

Limit transition opportunities defensively: The Heat are devastating in a lot of ways, but the last thing you want to see while trying to defend them is LeBron James or Dwyane Wade running free on the fast break, while outnumbered in transition. Milwaukee has to get back defensively and make Miami work for its offense in its half-court sets.

THREE KEYS FOR MIAMI:

Don’t overlook the opponent: The last time Miami faced Milwaukee, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both sat out, yet the Heat cruised to a double-digit victory anyway. That was only a little more than a week ago, and with Miami at full strength to open the postseason, it might be tempting to view this series as already being won. As long as the Heat bring playoff energy to their performance, they should be more than fine in this series.

Contain either Ellis or Jennings: It doesn’t matter which of the Bucks’ guards the Heat decide to shut down; either is capable of going for 30 on any given night, Miami simply can’t have them both get going at the same time.

Do what you do best: The Heat play dominant, championship-level team defense when they want to, and when they do, it leads to fast break opportunities that are impossible for the defense to stop. Let the defense lead to offense as it has all season long, and Milwaukee, like most teams, will be in deep trouble for the majority of this series.

OUTLOOK

While the Heat have peaked in the second half of the season by entering the playoffs on a ridiculous run of winning 37 of their last 39 games, it’s been the opposite for the Bucks, who have struggled as of late and closed the season by winning just four times in their last 16 games. This series will be a bloodbath pure and simple, unless the Heat take their foot off the gas and approach one of the games in the series as if it were a meaningless regular season game in November. Not likely.

PREDICTION

If the league allowed a series to end in three games, this would be the perfect candidate. Since that’s not an option, Heat will sweep in four.

Report: After not landing Lou Williams, Wizards may target Shabazz Muhammad

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Washington Wizards are thinking about a deep playoff run this season — they are the current three seed in the East, they have the best record in the conference since Dec. 1, and they have a starting five that has been powerful all season and is staying healthy.

What they could use is some bench help to help make that run, which is why the Wizards were linked to the Lakers’ Lou Williams in trade talks. However, Williams is now headed to Houston. So what’s next for the Wizards? They have interest in the Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic, but instead how about talking to the Timberwolves, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Shabazz Muhammad has shot the three ball better this season than at any point in his career, hitting 41.4 percent but taking just 1.9 shots from deep a game. He’s not a great shooter generally but is more of a physical small forward who would like to post smaller guys up inside and score at the rim. The bigger problem is he is simply not a good defender — ESPN’s real plus-minus has him as 75th among small forwards on defense.

He could step in and give the Wizards a little help in the rotation, but not near as much as Williams. The question is what would the Wizards offer for Muhammad, who is a free agent after this season? A second-round pick is probably the top end, maybe a player they don’t need to balance the salaries gets thrown in.

The Wizards are one of the more active teams trying to land help heading into the trade deadline. There just aren’t a lot of good options left for them.

Report: With Jahlil Okafor trade talk stalled, Sixers could reconsider Nerlens Noel offers

noel
3 Comments

The trade market for centers heading into the trade deadline isn’t good — there’s a glut of them on the market. If a team wanted a guy to play the five, they could acquire Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, and some others who are available. Also, the low price the Pelicans paid for DeMarcus Cousins — the best center in the game — has driven down the price.

Which is why the Sixers have had little success moving Jahlil Okafor. They came close with Portland, but the Blazers instead traded Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second round pick to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick. With Portland off the table, the market seems barren for Okafor.

So the Sixers may think about moving Nerlens Noel more, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said in a recent podcast (hat tip Hoopshype).

“If they can’t get a deal for Okafor done before the deadline, I’m told that it’s possible they’ll start – there are still teams still checking on Noel, re-engaging on him. What complicates it for Noel is that he’s a restricted free agent, and teams want to know ‘what is it going to cost to us to re-sign him’. And it’s going to be a big number.”

Noel fits more with what teams are looking for in a five — he can protect the rim, he has hops, and he can finish around the rim (63.4 percent of his shots come within the restricted area, and he shoots 72 percent on those). He gets most of his offense off cuts or being the roll man — get him the rock near the basket and he’ll do the rest, but he’s not going to create or step out. He provides rim protection in the paint on defense (but if you have a big that can pull him out of the paint it gives him trouble).

There’s also the concern about his injury history.

The question is what the Sixers can get for Noel — it’s not going to be a first-round pick, because if a team wants him that badly they’ll just wait until this summer and try to poach him as a free agent. Come July, the Sixers could be forced to match a contract they don’t love just to avoid losing him for nothing.

Or, Bryan Colangelo can trade Noel for whatever he can get (a couple second rounders, most likely). Which has not been his style in Philly.

In nearly 3 years on job, Phil Jackson hasn’t fixed Knicks

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson watches from the stands during the second half of the Knicks' NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  The Pelicans won 110-96. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
9 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony had a half-season of clues about what Phil Jackson thought of him, and now it was his turn to evaluate his boss.

Anthony had trumpeted his trust in Jackson when he re-signed in 2014 and reaffirmed it months later, even as Jackson continued trading away key players from the best team Anthony ever played on in New York.

Reminded of that recently and asked if he still trusted Jackson, Anthony stopped well short.

“I trust the process,” he said, mimicking Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The process isn’t going well for Jackson in New York.

The Knicks are 23-34, 12th in the Eastern Conference and on pace to miss the playoffs for the third time in Jackson’s three full seasons as president of basketball operations. He’s made his relationship with Anthony worse and hasn’t made the Knicks better, and a guy who could do little wrong as a coach just can’t get it right as an executive.

Maybe Jackson can swing a trade to fix things before Thursday’s deadline.

Or maybe he’ll just never fix the Knicks.

If Jackson is planning anything, it remains a mystery. He hasn’t spoken to reporters covering the Knicks since his preseason press conference in September – backtracking from his vow to be accessible when he took the job – and isn’t expected to before the deadline. He has made only three postings on Twitter all season.

Yet he’s still made plenty of noise.

He angered LeBron James by referring to his friends and business partners as a “posse” in an ESPN story. And he upset some of the league’s other power players with his actions toward Anthony – which could prove damaging when trying to lure free agents. Jackson has either appeared to endorse or refused to distance himself from articles criticizing his best player and has largely cut off communication between them – after saying when he was hired that he planned to focus on “how players are treated” and “the kind of culture that’s built.”

Hall of Fame finalist Tracy McGrady told reporters this weekend he couldn’t remain quiet the way Anthony has.

“I’m not going to let you disrespect (me) in the public’s eye like that,” McGrady said. “You’re not going to be sending subliminal messages about me like that and I don’t respond to that. I don’t operate like that. I’m just not going to do it. And then you hide and don’t do any media? You leave everything for me to talk about? Nah, that’s not cool.”

Jackson retains the support of Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, who said in a recent ESPN Radio interview that he would not fire Jackson during the two-plus years that remain on his contract. (Both sides have an option to terminate the deal after this season).

Dolan didn’t even express much disappointment in the results, even though the Knicks had their worst season ever in Jackson’s first season and are 72-149 since the start of 2014-15.

“He was the best guy we thought we could find to run the New York Knicks,” Dolan said.

Maybe if he’d been hiring Jackson to coach, as Jackson’s 11 championships are a record for coaches. But there were questions about how he would do as an executive with no experience, and the answers haven’t been good.

He fired Mike Woodson and replaced him with first-time coach Derek Fisher, who lasted just 1 1/2 years. Starters Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton were traded in one deal, and J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert went in another early the next season. They were all mainstays on the Knicks team that won 54 games and reached the second round of the playoffs not even two years before Jackson was hired in March 2014.

Now all that’s left is Anthony, and it certainly seems Jackson wants him gone, too. He would have to find a workable deal, hard enough given the 32-year-old Anthony’s salary and age, then get him to waive the no-trade clause he gave Anthony when he re-signed him.

If not, maybe Jackson himself would leave this summer – though Dolan said he had no indication that was the 71-year-old Jackson’s plan. But he insists he can’t coach for health reasons and doesn’t appear to enjoy scouting and dealing with agents, essential parts of his job.

He must be disheartened that the work he put into this team hasn’t paid off. Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek to open up the offense after two years of his favored triangle, traded for Derrick Rose, and signed free agents Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings. None has sparked a turnaround, and drafting Kristaps Porzingis remains Jackson’s only inarguable success.

Jackson played on the last championship Knicks team in 1973 and said when he was hired what it would mean to build another winner here.

“It would be a capstone on the remarkable career that I’ve had,” Jackson said.

There’s still time for that.

But these days, Anthony probably isn’t the only one who no longer trusts in Jackson.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down DeMarcus Cousins trade with Dan Feldman

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings speaks with the media during media availability for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

It happened very quickly and snuck up on the league. As of Friday night there was not even a whisper of the Kings shopping Cousins among the NBA media. By Sunday night it was done, and executives from a few other teams wished they had been contacted and could have gotten in on the bidding.

DeMarcus Cousins was traded from Sacramento to New Orleans. Who won? What do the Pelicans do now? Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down.

They also talk about a handful of other possible trades that could come before the deadline. (Note, this was recorded before the Lakers’ front office shakeup or Lou Williams trade.)

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.