PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets

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SEASON RECORDS
Denver: 57-25 third in the West
Golden State: 47-35 sixth in the West

SEASON SERIES
The Nuggets won the season series 3-1, which included two 11 point victories and a double overtime win in their first match up of the season. The Warriors lone win was by a single point when David Lee dominated with a 31 point, 9 rebound performance while taking Kenneth Faried to school. However, the last time these teams faced off was January 13th and since then both teams are improved and battle tested.

KEY INJURIES
Denver: The big injury is the torn ACL that will keep Danilo Gallinari out  for this series (and any other the Nuggets may play these playoffs). Kenneth Faried is nursing a sprained ankle which kept him out of Denver’s final 2 regular season games, but is hopeful he can return for game one.

Golden State: Andrew Bogut is dealing a sore ankle but should be ready to go for game one. Draymond Green (knee tendonitis) and Andris Biedrins (lower back tightness) both missed the Warriors’ season finale, but both should also be fine to play in this series. Brandon Rush missed the entire season with a torn ACL and remains sidelined.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Nuggets: offense 107.6 (5th best in NBA), defense 102.0 (11th in NBA)
Warriors: offense 104.2 (10th in NBA), defense 102.6 (13th in NBA)

Differential: Nuggets +5.6 (5th in NBA), Warriors +1.6 (11th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR GOLDEN STATE:

Stephen Curry: Curry is known for his silky jumper with the lightning quick release, but if the Warriors are to prevail in this series he’ll need to be more than just a scorer. The Warriors are at their best when he mixes his shot making with creating for others. If he can effectively find that balance this team gets very, very dangerous. When Curry is guarded by like sized defenders (I’m looking at you, Ty Lawson) he can score in bunches. But if the Nuggets switch Andre Iguodala or Corey Brewer onto him, Curry will need to find ways to beat the defense with his playmaking by using the threat of his own offense to generate good looks for others.

David Lee: Lee is the Warriors’ All-Star and against the Nuggets he’s going to have to play like it for them to advance. Lee offers a multi-faceted game that can be used to bludgeon the undersized Faried, but he must be assertive in working his way into the post rather than just floating around the perimeter as a jump shooter and faciltator. Lee’s rebounding will also be key as the Nuggets are one of the best at corralling their own misses and getting second chance points. If Lee can be a paint presence on both sides of the floor over the course of the entire series, the Warriors chances to win this series go up dramatically.

Protecting the paint: The Nuggets lead the league in shot attempts at the rim and points in the paint. Stopping them from getting and/or converting those looks is the most important part of the Warriors defensive game plan. To do so Andrew Bogut will need to prove healthy and fit enough to get up and down the floor to patrol the middle and deter shots without fouling. The Warriors will also need to commit to getting back on defense to ensure that they aren’t destroyed by Denver run-outs in transition.

THREE KEYS FOR DENVER:

Ty Lawson: On any given night any one of a handful of players can carry the mantle as Denver’s “best”, but Lawson will need to consistently be that guy for the Nuggets in this series. With Curry attacking him on one end, Lawson will need to give as much (or more) than he receives in the battle at the point. Lawson will need to push the pace, get into the lane, hit his jumper, and create for his teammates out of the pick and roll and when working in isolation. If he does all those things while not getting destroyed on defense, this series tilts Denver’s way rather clearly.

Wilson Chandler: With Gallinari injured, someone will need to pick up the scoring slack and Chandler is the Nuggets’ best option to do so. He has the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter, but can also get into the paint off the dribble or in transition to finish inside. For the Nuggets to generate the type of spacing they’ll need to maintain their dribble drive attack, Chandler will need to hit shots on a consistent basis. And, if he can have an explosive scoring night or two, he could easily turn the series in Denver’s favor — especially if one of them comes on the road.

Three point defense: The Nuggets were 29th in the league in both opponent three point field goals allowed and three point field goals made. Meanwhile, the Warriors led the league in three point field goal percentage and were 8th in total threes made. Needless to say, if the Nuggets allow the Warriors to simply camp behind the arc and shoot the long ball, they will be in trouble as Curry, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack and company roast them. Denver’s pick and roll coverage will need to be sharp to deny those step back shots that Curry loves and they’ll also need to effectively help on penetration and recover back out to shooters in order to run guys off the line and into less efficient shots.

OUTLOOK

From a sheer entertainment standpoint, this series has a chance of being the best match up of the entire first round. Both teams bring high octane offenses built on fast paced attacks, though both offer different means to get to those ends. The Nuggets want to run for dunks and lay ups while the Warriors want to run into early offensive chances that set up their jump shooting attack. Whichever defense does a better job of limiting the looks their opponent has thrived on all year has the best chance of winning, though it won’t come easy for either side.

The interesting part is that the Warriors offer the more diverse offense and should be able to put stress on the Nuggets through that varied attack. With Lee and Carl Landry working the interior and Curry, Thompson, and Jack working the perimeter, the Warriors can bring a balance that the Nuggets should have trouble containing. Add in Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson’s penchant for attacking the mismatch until the opposing team finds a way to stop it, and the formula is there for Golden State to give Denver fits on the offensive side of the ball.

That said, the Nuggets’ offensive approach can overwhelm opponents and it’s not yet clear the Warriors have enough defense to force them into adjustments. With Denver’s speed and ability to attack the paint, it’s likely Golden State will struggle to defend the rim. That will not only allow points in the paint, but will also set up open shots from the outside that the Nuggets can knock down even if they don’t boast the best stable of shooters. Add in Andre Iguodala’s all court game and ability to create shots for himself and teammates, then combine it with the Nuggets athleticism at power forward and center, and the defensive challenges for the Warriors only get more difficult.

PREDICTION:

Styles make fights and both teams’ attacking style should make for a great series. That said, the Nuggets are nearly unbeatable at home and I think they’re going to use that advantage to it’s fullest by claiming all four home games. Denver in 7.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.