Seven players whose teams need them to step up big in the postseason

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Jeff Green

Since his 43-point game in mid-March (excluding Boston’s season finale, when regular players rested), Green has averaged 20.0, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. By any eye test, he’s looked excellent. But in that span, the Celtics have been outscored by 3.6 points per 100 possession with him on the court and outscored opponents by 12.5 points per with him on the bench. Green has suffered from playing major minutes with the Celtics’ reserves, and when he’s played with the starters, he’s posted positive net ratings. Once Boston shrinks its playoff rotation, Green should turn into a player who excels individually and helps his team become more successful.

Tayshaun Prince

Prince, once a bastion of durability, just played his first 82-game season since playing every game between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 season. The 2008-09 season was also the last time Prince made the playoffs. In a four-game sweep to LeBron James’ Cavaliers, Prince looked worn down, scoring 15 total points on 27 shots. He’s probably more rejuvenated with Memphis, but he’ll need to show he’s not too old for a long playoff run.

Jerryd Bayless

Bayless has given the Grizzlies a nice scoring punch off the bench, leading the team’s reserves with 8.7 points per game. But he also makes Mike Conley better, allowing Conley a break from full-time ball-handling duties while keeping the starting point guard on the court and contributing as a scorer. In the 64 contest the combination has been used, Bayless and Conley play 10 minutes per game together and help the Grizzlies outscore  opponents by 10.2 possessions per 100 possessions. As long as Bayless plays well, that makes managing a think backcourt much easier easier.

DeAndre Jordan

Last season, Jordan’s playing time shrunk from 27.2 minutes per game in the regular season to 21.6 minutes per game in a playoff series with the Grizzlies. Now that that Jordan is down to 24.5 minutes per game in the regular season, how much less can can he play against Memphis this year? Los Angeles had Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin last season to battle Marc Gasol inside, but can the Clippers rely on Lamar Odom this year? If Jordan proves he can make his free throws and remain engaged, he’ll stay on the court and they won’t have to answer that question.

Jeremy Lin

In Houston’s two losses to the Thunder, Lin scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting. In the Rockets’ win, he scored 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting. James Harden can’t carry the scoring load alone, and Lin is the wildcard who could help him – or get shut down by Oklahoma City’s impressive defensive backcourt.

Steve Nash

Nash’s numbers are down – his win shares and win shares per 48 minutes are both his lowest in the last 13 years – partially because the Lakers’ Kobe-centric system kept the ball out of his hands. But at 39 years old, Nash is no longer close to the same player he was just two years ago. With Kobe out, the Lakers have little choice but to empower Nash to run the offense. Does he have enough left in the tank to lead one more playoff run? I doubt it, but that’s probably their only hope of advancing.

J.R. Smith

The Knicks started the season 23-10 and ended with a 16-2 stretch. Between, they went 15-16. Smith was effective during both New York’s high periods and its low period, and that illustrates the excellent season he’s having. But Smith was definitely better during the highs (shooting 45 percent) than the low (shooting 36 percent). Few players can match Smith’s talent, and when he’s using all of it, the Knicks are so much better. There risk of Smith flaming out in the playoffs is lower than most could have envisioned, but that doesn’t change how much better he can make the Knicks when he play his best.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.

 

Steve Kerr has now reached 200 wins faster than any coach in NBA history

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr already has a championship under his belt as a coach. Now the 51-year-old former NBA player has reached another milestone in an already decorated career as a player and coach. After the Warriors beat the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, 113-106, Kerr became the fastest coach in NBA history to reach 200 wins.

Kerr hit the mark in just 238 career games. His seasons at the helm of Golden State have produced just 38 losses — 15, 9, and 14 over the last three years, respectively.

In doing so, Kerr surpasses the mark set by former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Congratulations are in order to Kerr and the Warriors. It’s certainly a huge accomplishment, and the lack of losses is dizzying to think about.

Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Warriors, Trail Blazers, Heat all help their playoff causes

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Tuesday was a big night for playoff chase games, so much so that the Wizards clinching the division title — their first since 1979 — or the bad night for the Pacers dropping them to seventh in the East didn’t even make the cut here. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.

1) In a battle of elite offenses, Warriors’ defense gets them key win in the race for the top seed. Wednesday night comes the game that will get a lot of media attention — Golden State heads into San Antonio in a battle of the two top teams in the NBA. The Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the West and all of basketball, any hope they have of catching Golden State requires a win tonight.

Except it may too late for the Spurs — with their win Tuesday night, the Warriors made it tough to catch them. Fivethirtyeight.com now has Golden State with a 93 percent chance to retain the top seed in the West.

Golden State held on to beat Houston on the road Tuesday, 113-106, in a battle of the NBA’s top two offenses. However, it was Golden State’s elite defense that was the difference — the Warriors held the Rockets to 38.8 percent shooting overall and 16.1 percent from three. The Warriors crowd Harden with multiple defenders, and while he still puts up numbers — he had a triple-double in this game — he’s not as efficient.

Not that there wasn’t an offensive show, between Harden’s triple-double and Stephen Curry dropping 32 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Those two put on a show.

Golden State raced out to a fast lead and pushed that margin up to 22 by getting stops (and the Rockets just missing looks, they were 2-of-16 from deep in the first 24 minutes), then turning their defensive stops into transition buckets. Credit the Rockets because they battled back, started getting to the line, grinding a little, and by halftime it was just an eight-point Golden State lead. The game stayed in single digits through most of the second half, but the Warriors always kept the lead, and with a little push late got the win.

Which brings us back to the showdown Wednesday with San Antonio. If the Spurs win, they will be 1.5 games behind the Warriors, one game back in the loss column, with seven to play. The Spurs will have the tie breaker, but San Antonio would still need to win out (and Gregg Popovich has said he will rest players) and hope Golden State loses again (they have now won eight in a row heading into San Antonio). Certainly not impossible, but also not likely. By at least getting a split in their Texas two-step, the Warriors have probably earned themselves the top seed in the West.

2) Portland beats Denver, essentially ending the Nuggets’ playoff dreams. This wasn’t a must-win game for Denver in the purest sense — the Nuggets are mathematically alive for the eighth seed, just one game back of the Trail Blazers.

However, in the practical world, Tuesday night was a must-win game for the Nuggets.

And the Trail Blazers beat them. Beat then because of the guy Denver traded them at the deadline — Jusuf Nurkic had a career-high 33 points plus pulled down 16 rebounds, six offensive. After the game, he wasn’t shy telling his former team to enjoy their summer.

Going into the game Portland and Denver were tied for the eighth seed in the West, the final playoff spot. With the win, the Nuggets are one game up and have the tie-breaker, so it is, in essence, a two-game lead with eight to play. The challenge for Denver is six of their eight games are on the road, while Portland has just two of their eight away from home.

Fivethirtyeight.com now has the Blazers a 92 percent chance to make the postseason, the Nuggets get 8 percent. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.

3) Hassan Whiteside’s tip in keeps Heat in eighth seed, all but ends Detroit’s playoff hopes. This one play was the dagger shot to Detroit’s playoff chances. They had what amounted to a must-win game Tuesday against Miami, the Pistons needed one stop at the end, and this happened.

If I’m Stan Van Gundy, what keeps me up is not even the Hassan Whiteside tip-in, it’s little Goran Dragic pulling down the first rebound in and amongst the trees. How do you let him get that?

It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing game that caps off a disappointing season in Detroit. This team should be better than this, but here we are.  Detroit is now 2.5 games out of the playoffs with seven games to play. That’s too much. Fivethirtyeight.com has Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs at 1 percent.

Miami, on the other hand, has a 74 percent chance of making the postseason, according to the same site. The Heat’s biggest concern should be they are just one game ahead of Chicago for that last playoff spot, and the Bulls have a softer ending to the season (Miami’s last four games are Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and Washington, although those teams could be resting guys at that point).

Blazers’ Noah Vonleh posterizes Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic with huge dunk (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night’s game between the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers was an important one. The two teams are fighting for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers have been on the rise as of late, and the atmosphere at the Moda Center was electric.

While much of the talk was about Jusuf Nurkić, Mason Plumlee, and Nikola Jokic thanks to the trade between the two teams, it was actually Portland’s Noah Vonleh that got people talking early.

During a play midway through the first quarter, Vonleh threw down a huge dunk that posterized Jokic.

Via Twitter:

Vonleh has played much better alongside Nurkić this season, and Portland fans are all hoping he continues to develop going into next year. This kind of confidence and aggressiveness is just part of what the Blazers will need from Vonleh moving forward.