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.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.