Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

Seven NBA playoff story lines to watch

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After weeks of trying to predict seedings and matchups while watching teams rest their perfectly healthy superstars, the playoffs are finally upon us.

In no particular order, here are the story lines we’ll be watching when the postseason tournament opens on Saturday.

How much damage can the Lakers do without Kobe Bryant?

L.A. opened the season as the favorites (on paper) to challenge the Heat in the Finals, thanks to the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the offseason. An early season coaching change, followed by an insane rash of injuries derailed the Lakers’ chances all season long, and Kobe Bryant became the final casualty of the seemingly lost season once he went down with a torn Achilles injury just as the team was making a run at that final playoff spot in the West.

The Lakers managed to keep it together without Bryant long enough to beat the Spurs and the Rockets to seal a playoff berth, and enter the postseason winning eight of their last nine games. But how this team fares without Bryant while they try to combat the efficiency of the Spurs machine in a series will be extremely interesting to watch, though undoubtedly nerve-wracking for Lakers fans at the same time.

How far can the Clippers go, and what will that mean for Vinny Del Negro’s future?

Vinny Del Negro is legitimately on the hot seat in Los Angeles, for a variety of reasons. How far the Clippers do or do not advance in the postseason is likely to determine his fate, but just how far does L.A. have to get for him to be safe?

The Clippers have a tough but favorable first round matchup against the Grizzlies, who they beat in the first round of the playoffs a season ago in seven games. Last year, the Clippers were swept by the Spurs in the second round, so getting there again this year probably won’t be enough by itself to bring Del Negro back next season.

A trip to the Conference finals might be enough improvement to retain Del Negro’s services, but honestly, it’s going to be Chris Paul’s decision as much as it will be anyone’s inside the organization. Paul is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will have all the say in the world regarding whether or not Del Negro is brought back next season.

Will the Thunder return to the Finals without James Harden?

Thanks to Oklahoma City largely returning the same roster from a season ago that got them to the NBA Finals, the Thunder are once again poised to make a deep postseason run. But the elephant in the room is the fact that they traded James Harden away to Houston, and the reality is that if they don’t make it back to the Finals, this season will be a wild disappointment, and the front office will be scrutinized for choosing dollars over a legitimate championship chance.

Can the Knicks win a playoff series for the first time in 13 years?

It seems like a silly question, given the success New York has put together this year while being lead by the league’s leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony, and a likely Sixth Man of the Year candidate in J.R. Smith. But nothing is guaranteed for the Knicks despite holding the two seed in the East, and a first round matchup against the Celtics could be terrifying given the history between the teams this season, along with the intensity that veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will bring to a seven-game series.

How much noise can the Warriors make?

The Warriors are in the playoffs for just the second time in the last 19 years, and with one of the best fan bases in the league there to support them, it’s an exciting time in the Bay Area for a basketball resurgence to be taking place. Mark Jackson has been successful in installing a winning culture in just his second season as head coach, but he and the team have said all along that simply making the playoffs was not the ultimate goal this season. We don’t know what the team believes it’s capable of internally, but a first round matchup with an injury-depleted Nuggets team could prove favorable if Golden State can play flawless basketball during the road games of this series.

Will the Spurs finally live up to their potential?

San Antonio has always been one of the more well-coached regular season teams. Gregg Popovich has his system installed, and has the players on the roster to execute it to perfection, no matter the injuries that may take place over the course of the season.

But despite the regular season success, the Spurs haven’t been to the Finals since winning it all in 2007, and have lost to teams they were favored to beat in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. We know the system allows for regular season success, but at some point the Spurs are going to run out of chances with their core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili to get back to the Finals. Another early exit this season would be a major disappointment, and might signify the end of an era in San Antonio.

Will the Heat repeat as champions?

This is the question we all want answered. Miami ran roughshod over the rest of the league during the regular season, and just about everyone fully expects them to continue the trend throughout the playoffs. The Heat have the best player in the game in LeBron James, and All-Star complimentary pieces in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that are a wealth of riches when compared to the rosters of other teams Miami might face on the way to a title.

The Heat aren’t just the favorites to repeat as champions; they’ve become the expectation. The way they finished the regular season by winning 37 of their final 39 games is absolutely absurd, and they did so even while resting their best players at times along the way.

It’s gotten to the point where we’d all be surprised if Miami didn’t win the title again this season. But that won’t make the journey any less exciting to watch.

Report: Dwyane Wade’s cousin killed as innocent bystander in gang shooting in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This news is just sickening. In a world with just too much sickening news.

According to NBC 5 in Chicago (which spoke to police), Dwyane Wade‘s first cousin Nykea Aldridge was pushing a stroller down the street when she was shot and killed as an innocent in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

The 32-year-old woman, whom family identified as Nykea Aldridge, was apparently the unintended victim of a gang shooting, police said. She was walking around 3:30 p.m. in the 6300 block of South Calumet when two males approached another male and opened fire, police said.

Wade tweeted this.

Aldridge was on her way to a local school to register her kids (they had just moved) when the shooting took place. There has been a rash of gang and gun violence in Chicago in the past year, and Dwyane’s mother Jolinda Wade had just been on a panel on ESPN’s Undefeated talking about it.

Wade is coming to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls this season.

Our thoughts are with Nykea Aldridge’s family and friends.

Bill Walton blames himself for Clippers leaving San Diego

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13:  Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 Championship team Bill Walton is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Donald Sterling was the owner of the Clippers when they left San Diego to move to the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1984. He’s a greedy man who lived in Los Angeles, he owned a bad Clipper team playing in a fast-aging building in San Diego, Sterling was bouncing checks to the point the NBA was ready to take the team away from him, and the selfish owner wanted the team closer to him in a situation where he could make as much money as possible. To suggest Sterling (especially in that era) made any move that was not financially related would be just wrong.

Still Bill Walton — a San Deigo native — blames himself for Clippers leaving San Diego.

He talked about it with the brilliant Arash Markazi of ESPN.

“When you fail in your hometown, that’s as bad as it gets, and I love my hometown,” said Walton, who grew up in La Mesa, 9 miles east of downtown San Diego. “I wish we had NBA basketball here, and we don’t because of me….

“It’s my greatest failure as a professional in my entire life,” Walton said. “I could not get the job done in my hometown. It is a stain and stigma on my soul that is indelible. I’ll never be able to wash that off, and I carry it with me forever.”

It was not on Walton. Not even close.

This was the Walton between the as-good-as-any-center-ever Walton that led the Trail Blazers to the title in 1977 and the Sixth Man of the Year Walton in Boston in 1985. The Clippers’ Walton was the one battling multiple foot surgeries that kept him out of most of multiple seasons in a row — something he could not control. And if you want to make judgements about how he was healthy before and after his time with the Clippers but seemed to get poor medical treatment on cheap Sterling’s team, go right ahead.

The move to LA was all about Donald Sterling. It was about his pocket book and what was convenient for him. There was a reason his team was at the bottom of the NBA for two decades (and that since he sold the team, while they have struggled to advance deep in the playoffs, they have been a more serious threat).

Bill Walton shouldn’t blame himself.

 

Jeremy Lin has cameo in Taiwanese music video. Because he can.

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You know Jay Chou as “Kato” from the Seth Rogen version of “The Green Hornet.” Well, you know him that way if you’re one of the people who suffered through that disappointing effort.

It turns out, Chou is basically the Justin Timberlake of Taiwan — actor, musician, good at everything he touches (except the Green Hornet, but that’s not on him). He’s huge.

And in his latest music video (above) he has Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin as a co-star.

There is pop-a-shot, a lot of ice cream references, and of course dancing in outfits that you and I couldn’t pull off in public. Just go ahead and watch it. You know you want to.

Expect to see Chou courtside in Brooklyn this season. They could use it, the Nets need a few celebs in house.

(Hat tip to  of CBSSports.com, apparently an avid follower of the Taiwanese music scene, and The Score.)

As expected, John Wall denies he cares what Beal, Harden, or others make

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29:  John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 29, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This was as predictable as Trump mentioning his wall in a stump speech he feels going flat.

Thursday, the Ringer reported that Washington’s John Wall was unhappy when he saw the money thrown around this summer at James Harden and even Wall’s teammate Bradley Beal. The quote that summed it up from an anonymous source: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

The second that story hit the web you knew Wall would deny it, and that came via ESPN’s The Uninterrupted (which has done well since it’s launch):

For both of you who hate video and prefer it written out:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better. Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

Two quick thoughts. First, talk to Wall for any length of time and it does become clear he loves basketball and plays the game with a passion. That shouldn’t be up for debate.

Secondly, everybody in the NBA compares salaries. Everybody knows what everybody is making. There’s another locker room measuring comparison equivalent, but I’m not going there. The reality is guys who were not free agents or up for an extension — and because of the length of Wall’s contract, that includes him — were shaking their heads at the money thrown around. Of course they wanted a piece of it. That’s different than jealousy, or lacking chemistry with a teammate because of it.

That said, Beal and Wall have never clicked like expected. Injuries are certainly a part of the issue, but it’s fair to question what else is going on, and if Scott Brooks as coach can change that.