Heat's Bosh and Bulls' Boozer await a rebound from a Miami free throw in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami

Looking at the possible first round upsets in the NBA playoffs

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There are some first round series in the NBA playoffs, like the one between the Heat and the Bucks, for example, that are nothing more than foregone conclusions.

But there are others where the lower seed has a more than legitimate shot at beating a higher-seeded team winning and advancing, at least in theory.

In the East, the four-five matchup between the Nets and the Bulls could really go either way. Brooklyn is probably the better team based on the way the Nets have closed the season, and with Deron Williams appearing to be as healthy as ever over the past few weeks, that superstar presence offensively might be enough for Brooklyn to advance.

Then again, Chicago is the one team (other than the defending champion Heat, of couse) no one wanted to face in the postseason, thanks to the hard-nosed, defense-first style the team plays under head coach Tom Thibodeau, and a Spurs-like ability to find a way to win no matter which players are available on any given night.

The Celtics and the Knicks should be an absolute war, given the history between the two teams this season. Even though New York is the two seed and has a far better won-loss record, Boston is unpredictable in terms of the effort veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett may be able to turn in, and even without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics are capable of putting up a fight of epic proportions against the Knicks in a seven game series.

The Hawks, entering the playoffs winning just two of their last seven games, don’t appear to be much of a threat against the higher seeded Pacers, and as we touched on briefly, there’s no way in the world the Heat lose four times to the Bucks unless multiple, tragic injuries should somehow rock the Miami franchise.

Shifting to the West, it’s tough to see any of the lower seeds taking out the higher ones in an upset.

The Thunder aren’t going to lose to a Rockets team that has become way too easy to slow offensively, and Houston (like most teams) has no answer for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The Lakers may seem like a decent upset pick to take down a Spurs squad that has struggled to stay healthy, but L.A.’s team defense has been dreadful all season, and even a moderately healthy Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili should be able to exploit that for way too many easy baskets.

Memphis, meanwhile, as the five seed taking on the Clippers would seem to have a shot at the minor upset given the fact that they took L.A. to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last season. But as good as the Grizzlies are defensively, they can’t be counted on to score with any consistency. So, a Clippers team led by Chris Paul who can both score plenty himself as well as set up his teammates for easy looks should have surprisingly little trouble with Memphis, even though the Grizzlies have appeared to be a somewhat strong team throughout the course of the season.

As for the Warriors taking down the Nuggets, Denver’s home court advantage is so strong that it finished with a better home record than the Miami Heat, who won 66 games and at one point during the season rode a 27-game winning streak. The home record of 38-3 the Nuggets put together is beyond impressive, it’s formidable.

The Warriors have a legitimate superstar in Stephen Curry, but they’ll need to prevent Denver from getting out in transition for the bulk of the series, especially at home, to even have a chance.

There’s a reason that upsets in the first round of the NBA playoffs are few and far between. Teams play all season long for postseason positioning, and the better team needs to lose four times before being sent home, which isn’t likely to happen unless injuries intervene, or an underdog puts together a rare and magical run that gets them to the next round.

The Bulls seem the most likely to pull the “upset,” with the Celtics, Grizzlies, and Warriors having the next best (albeit longshot) chances of proving the pundits wrong and advancing to the second round.

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.