Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry

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.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Derek Fisher is out, but is real change coming to Knicks?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    New York Knicks President Phil Jackson watches his team play against the Toronto Raptors as head coach Derek Fisher talks with Pablo Prigioni #9 at Madison Square Garden on October 13, 2014 in New York City. The Raptors defeated the Knicks 81-76. 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 Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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My thought of the day: If a 71-year-old white-as-white-can-be guy doesn’t get or like the Super Bowl halftime show, then you’ve done it right. He’s not the future of anything. (Not that I have much use for Coldplay.) Now, on with Monday’s NBA news.

1) Derek Fisher out in New York, but does that mean real change is coming? 
Phil Jackson decided that the coach he hired with zero coaching experience whatsoever maybe couldn’t coach after all, and Monday the New York Knicks fired Derek Fisher. This was not necessarily a bad move, Fisher was a better coach this season than last — he was learning on the job — but still had a long, long way to go to be good. He’s not a great Xs and Os guy, and also had said that he shouldn’t have to motivate professional athletes — if you’re a coach who isn’t a great tactician or motivator, what exactly are you doing? Fisher was brought in to establish a culture then undercut himself with things such as the bizarre Matt Barnes incident. Him being out is not the worst thing for the Knicks.

But is the next coach going to be a real change?

Early reports have Phil Jackson sticking with his guys — Luke Walton is the guy at the top of the list, with Brian Shaw next in line, according to early reports. Both, at least, have NBA coaching experience, but Walton has only guided an already-built championship team that knew its roles, while Shaw lost the Denver locker room fast. This fits a pattern, Jackson has stacked the Knicks organization with his guys and now is saying that running the triangle remains an important part of the criteria for the next coach. That’s limiting. (There is still a debate as to how well a full-time triangle team, in the style Jackson likes to run that offense, can thrive in today’s NBA.) Someone from outside his coaching family — Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek — could provide a different view of things, a counterbalance, a new perspective that the best organizations welcome. Internal debate and differing ideas are a good thing if managed well. Golden State does that beautifully. If Jackson just hires a better version of Fisher, is that real change? Is that doing the franchise justice? Walton will have options as a coach once the Warriors’ season ends, likely in June, we’ll see if Jackson will wait that long for him. Or if he wants to go East.

2) Joe Johnson calls bank on Nets game winner. Mike Malone has Denver playing everyone tough lately (that’s how a coach builds a culture, Knicks), having beat the Bulls and Raptors recently, and on the second night of a back-to-back, it looked like they would sweep New York and topple the Nets as well. But Joe Johnson‘s hard sprint from the low block to out past the arc left Danilo Gallinari a step behind, and that gave Johnson room to drain the game winner — which owner Mikhail Prokhorov loved.

3) Bulls struggles continue, they get thumped by Hornets. Derrick Rose was a last-minute scratch for Chicago due to “general body soreness.” The rest of the team apparently felt the same way. Charlotte — a team playing with urgency as they try to climb back into the playoffs — put up 38 points in the first quarter and easily disposed of Chicago 108-91. The Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games and continue to struggle on the defensive end (without Joakim Noah now) while never finding their identity on the offensive end of the court.

Chicago is now the seven seed in the West and just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. There are a lot of things that have gotten the Bulls to this point, but the dominoes started to fall last summer when John Paxson and Gar Forman made their move. There is still time for the Bulls to turn things around, it’s just hard to envision this group doing it.

4) Andre Drummond from three-quarter court? Sure He has Stephen Curry range. Andre Drummond is in the Dunk Contest All-Star Saturday night, but apparently he should have been in the Three Point Contest as well.

5) Allen Crabbe (or Gerald Henderson) tip-in forces OT, where Trail Blazers pull away from Grizzlies for the win. After what had been a smart, gutty game by both teams —one Marc Gasol had to leave after 11 minutes with a foot sprain —  which had the back-and-forth feel of a playoff game at times, the Portland Trail Blazers were down two with time for one last shot. Everyone in the building knew it was going to be a Damian Lillard isolation. Including Memphis. Lillard got off his shot, but it bounced off the rim — right to C.J. McCollum, who had 21 points on the night, but he missed, and then came the tip. Officially Allen Crabbe was credited with the bucket, but maybe Gerald Henderson got it. Portland didn’t care, they just wanted to get to OT, and they did.

Overtime opened with six straight McCollum points before the Grizzlies even scored, and that was the ballgame.

Vucevic leads Magic comeback for 117-110 OT win over Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) — A big comeback gave the Orlando Magic their second win over the Hawks in two days and renewed belief they can stage a similar rally in their season.

Nikola Vucevic scored 25 of his 28 points after halftime, and Orlando rallied from 20 points down to beat Atlanta 117-110 in overtime on Monday night.

The Magic beat the Hawks 96-94 on Sunday on a last-second 18-footer by Vucevic. The 7-foot center was the difference again on Monday night, when he had 13 rebounds and six assists.

Thanks to a 2-12 record in January, Orlando is tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The wins over the Hawks provide hope for a turnaround.

“It’s big. It’s really big for us,” said Victor Oladipo.

Added Elfrid Payton, who had 20 points, “It’s definitely a step forward.”

Orlando trailed by 20 in the opening period and by 18 in the third. It took its first lead at 96-94 on Mario Hezonja‘s 3-pointer with 3:33 remaining in regulation.

Orlando scored the first six points of overtime, including a jumper by Vucevic, who also had 13 rebounds. Kyle Korver‘s 3-pointer pulled the Hawks to 112-110, but Evan Fournier answered with a 3 for the Magic.

Al Horford led Atlanta with 27 points and Paul Millsap had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The Hawks were hot while building the big lead in the opening period, but Orlando’s defense kept playing hard.

“We got enough stops to win,” said Orlando coach Scott Skiles.

Millsap made one of two free throws to tie the score at 101 late in regulation. Millsap blocked a shot by Oladipo, leaving the Hawks with 1.2 seconds. Millsap took the inbounds pass, took a step back and sank a short jumper – but it came after the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.

“We lost our focus at times,” Horford said. ” … We’ve had this problem all year where we get up and we give up leads. It’s hard to take.”

Atlanta trailed 30-19 after the first quarter of Sunday’s 96-94 loss at Orlando. One day later, the Hawks flipped the script and led 30-18 after one period. They led 71-53 late in the third.

“When you’re up in the third quarter like that, we have to find a way to be better,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think we’ve got to be better late in games – myself, the players, everybody.”

Vucevic scored 12 points in the third period, including the last two baskets in an 11-0 run.

 

EVEN HARRY WAS HOT

Things went so well for the Hawks in the first half that even their mascot couldn’t miss. During a timeout, Harry the Hawk hit nothing but net on a half-court shot – with his back to the basket. Harry celebrated by dabbing on his way off the court.

TIP-INS

Magic: F Tobias Harris (sprained left ankle) missed his second straight game. … Fournier had 16 points. Hezonja and Smith had 14 points each. Aaron Gordon had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore had 13 rebounds. … Tiago Splitter (right hip) missed his fifth straight game and is expected to rest through the All-Star break. … The Hawks assigned C Edy Tavares to the Austin Spurs of the NBA Development League. Tavares has averaged 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in 10 D-League games this season.

 

Redick leads Clippers to 98-92 OT victory over 76ers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 8: J.J. Redick #4 of the Los Angeles Clippers attempts a shot between Hollis Thompson #31 and Robert Covington #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers on February 8, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Clippers defeated the 76ers 98-92. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers struggled until it mattered most.

J.J. Redick had 23 points, including the tying 3-pointer late in regulation, and Jamal Crawford also scored 23 points to lead the short-handed Clippers to a 98-92 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

The Clippers overcame their largest deficit in a victory this season, coming back from 19 points down to win their 19th game in the last 23 overall and 12th in the last 14 on the road.

“It was ugly out there for most of the game,” said Chris Paul, who assisted on Redick’s shot. “Good teams find a way to win, and that’s what we did.”

Jerami Grant had 17 points to lead the 76ers, who were looking for their first winning streak of the season.

“These are games we should be winning,” Philadelphia’s Ish Smith said.

Philadelphia looked in good position to earn its ninth win of the season – and first over a team with a winning record – before Redick’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 10.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter tied the game at 88. The 76ers had a chance to win it in regulation, but Jahlil Okafor‘s 18-foot jumper against the defense of DeAndre Jordan went long.

“I wish that Jahlil would have driven on DeAndre, but I give DeAndre some credit, too,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

The Clippers took control in overtime, scoring the first eight points in the extra session as Philadelphia missed 10 straight shots to end regulation and start OT.

“That was the best execution we had all game,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “And you look at each other like, `Where was that all game?”‘

Jordan had 12 points and 21 rebounds and Paul contributed 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Clippers, who have won nine straight over Philadelphia.

Smith returned to the lineup after sitting out the 76ers’ 103-98 victory over Brooklyn on Saturday night with an ankle injury and had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Okafor added 14 points and nine rebounds.

Already without injured starters Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers, coach Doc Rivers chose to rest Paul Pierce against Philadelphia. Rivers is out 4-to-6 weeks after breaking his left hand last Wednesday while Griffin remains sidelined after breaking his hand during a fight with a member of the equipment staff.

Philadelphia led by 10 points at halftime and controlled most of the second half.

The 76ers were up 88-85 with possession of the ball with 30 seconds remaining in regulation. Smith missed a 15-foot jumper and Nerlens Noel couldn’t corral the rebound. Following a timeout, Paul found a wide-open Redick, who swished a tying 3.

“I’m not the one that makes the shot, but I feel like I make it because we execute,” Paul said.

ROLLING ALONG

The Clippers improved to 18-4 without Griffin, who first was sidelined with a partially torn left quadriceps muscle injured on Christmas.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Crawford has scored at least 20 points in the last five games, averaging 22 points over that span. … Los Angeles came back from a 17-point deficit in a 101-96 win over Detroit on Nov. 14. … The Clippers improved to 18-9 on road. … The Clippers defeated the 76ers 130-99 on Jan. 2 in Los Angeles. … Wesley Johnson made his sixth start of the season in place of Pierce and had seven points and nine rebounds.

76ers: Allen Iverson was in attendance. … F Richaun Holmes was available after sitting out the last two games with an ankle sprain but didn’t play. … Philadelphia last beat the Clippers on March 16, 2011.