Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

Seven NBA playoff story lines to watch


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.

Assistant coach: Kevin Durant ‘jealous’ of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan relationship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kevin Durant #5, Kyle Lowry #7 and Demar DeRozan #9 of United States celebrate as Jhon Cox #6 of Venezuela  looks on during the Men's Priliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Anything positive Kevin Durant says about the Warriors is interpreted as an insult to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

So, Durant has gone out of his way to praise Oklahoma City lately.

But he can’t control the messaging of Rex Kalamian, a Raptors assistant coach who previously worked for the Thunder.

Kalamian relayed a text from Durant about his experience playing with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star:

“Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team.

“I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that.

“Early on in OKC, we had that.”

“We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said.

“James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much.

“Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”

This will absolutely be interpreted as shot at Westbrook, and that’s not fair. Lowry and DeRozan share a quirky, trusting and sincere friendship. Even with deep bonds with their current coworkers, who wouldn’t be jealous of that?

Now, there are real signs of fray between Durant and Westbrook. Even if Durant’s text doesn’t necessarily implicitly refer to Westbrook, it might.

Maybe losing James Harden caused problems between Durant and Westbrook. Beyond his ability to – as Kalamian put it – connect, Harden also made the Thunder better. Winning cures all ills.

Durant will win plenty with the Warriors. That will smooth any rough edges in his friendships with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and everyone else.

But even if Durant has all his dreams come true in Golden State, he can remain jealous of Lowry and DeRozan. Their connection seems special.

Warriors embrace villainy in hilarious cartoon (video)

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke around while they pose for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

I find most of these corny, but “Super Team: A Warriors Musical” is fantastic.

Obviously, Draymond Green‘s character provides plenty of comedy. But the entire roster – from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to even Ian Clark – is used in the gags.

The breakout stars: Klay Thompson and Rocco.

Well done, Bleacher Report:

D-League implements three experimental rules

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 24:  Referees review a play prior to ejecting Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks from the game for a flagrant foul in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 24, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

None of these are as dramatic as the international goaltending rule, but the NBA continues to wisely use the D-League for rule experimentation.

The new rules for this year:

  • Each team will be entitled to a “Reset Timeout” in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and final two minutes of any overtime period.  “Reset Timeouts” do not allow teams to huddle, but otherwise mirror standard timeouts, allowing teams to advance the ball (when applicable) and make unlimited substitutions.  If either team huddles or prevents the ball from immediately being put back into play, it will result in a delay of game being issued to the offending team.  The “Reset Timeout” replaces the “Advance Rule” which had been used in the NBA D-League the past two seasons.


  • The 24-second clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound or when the offensive team otherwise is the first team to retain possession after the ball contacts the rim.


  • A 75-second limit on the duration of instant replay reviews has been implemented, except in circumstances where the review is for a hostile act or altercation, could lead to an ejection, there is a technical equipment problem or other atypical circumstances.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford pitched the “Reset Timeout.” I like it.

I’m pretty ambivalent on a 14-second reset after an offensive rebound. But why 14 seconds? If eight seconds are allotted to bring the ball up court, shouldn’t it reset to 16 seconds? It seems this is a continuation of a rule created when teams had 10 seconds to bring the ball upcourt.

I dislike the hard replay time limit. Replays should generally be faster, but if it occasionally requires more time to get the right call, so what? Those first 75 seconds are a sunk cost.

Rumor: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope demanding more than $20 million annually to sign contract extension with Pistons

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #5 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading andor using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Pistons owner Tom Gores said he’d pay the luxury tax if a contract extension for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put Detroit over next season.

Yet, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t signed an extension with the deadline six days away.

What will it take?

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

There was gossip over the summer that it would take a deal worth north of $20 million per year to get Caldwell-Pope’s signature.

That’s not an unreasonable demand. It’s up to Caldwell-Pope whether he’d accept less in exchange for more security, but I think he’d get even more as a restricted free agent next summer – maybe even a max contract, which projects to start at more than $24 million.

Caldwell-Pope is a good shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality wings and a greater need for them as teams go smaller. He’ll be just 24 next offseason, so his next deal should last through his prime.

His preseason didn’t foreshadow a breakout year. He remains a good defender and streaky 3-point shooter. But it’s possible Caldwell-Pope steadies his outside stroke and/or becomes an even more impactful defender. He could also improve his off-the-dribble skills, though his bread is buttered as a 3-and-D player.

Still, it won’t take massive improvements for Caldwell-Pope to hold value. To some degree, the Pistons could view every dollar under the max on a Caldwell-Pope extension as savings.

If his demands remain high, the Pistons could always take another year to evaluate the fourth-year guard. With matching rights, they can always re-sign him in the offseason.