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.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”