This is going to be one wild night in the NBA — four first-round Game 6 showdowns.
Four games where a team’s season hangs in the balance, and another has the chance to close out and advance to the second round.
Who is most likely to force a Game 7?
Let’s break it on down, in order of most to least likely to be playing one more game.
1) Atlanta Hawks (over Indiana Pacers in Atlanta). I know you haven’t watched this series but as someone who has suffered through every minute of it, let me tell you the Hawks are going to win this game. Because these two teams are Jekyll and Hyde on the road/at home — every game in this series has been won by at least 11 points by the home team — and the Hawks are home for Game 6. Look for Josh Smith to have another big game, getting points in transition and attacking, and expect Jeff Teague to come out and play much better (Al Horford will be a rock as always). Indiana is the better team in this series, they made some adjustments that worked very well in Game 5 (forcing Smith to cover Paul George handling the ball in the pick-and-roll, for one) but I question if they can execute that on the road.
2) Houston Rockets (over Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston). The Thunder are the better team in this series, but they have not had time to adjust their game to life without Russell Westbrook. Boston has had its moments without Rajon Rondo where the offense flowed, but they had time to figure that out in the regular season, to experiment with lineups and what worked. Scott Brooks and the Thunder have had none of that; they have the Rockets wisely overloading the defense on Kevin Durant and daring anyone else to beat them. The Thunder can win — Kevin Martin is fully capable of lighting it up for a night — but the Rockets will be hard to close out at home where you can expect James Harden and Chandler Parsons to put up points.
3) Boston Celtics (over New York Knicks in Boston). This is all about Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks — they are the better team in this series, but they have gotten away from what makes them better. During their regular season win streak the Knicks were moving the ball strong-to-weak like the Heat and Spurs. But in this series they have gone back to isolation basketball — in the regular season the Knicks averaged 15 isolation sets a game (higher than the league average of 10), but against the Celtics that has jumped to 26 a game, according to ESPN’s stats and research people. The Celtics Thibodeau-inspired defense overloads the strong side and will shut down isolation plays. The Celtics will play hard, they will defend, and at home they could get a big game from Jeff Green from them. Could. But if Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith move the ball the Knicks can and should win. If not, they are playing on Sunday.
4) Los Angeles Clippers (over Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis). It’s hard to see this series reaching a Game 7 unless Blake Griffin’s sprained ankle has made a miraculous recovery. The Clippers need to find a way to slow down the force that is Zach Randolph and without a 100 percent Griffin I don’t see how they do that. Sure, the Clippers can try to open the game up by going small for extended stretches — Matt Barnes at the four — but the Grizzlies invite that kind of floor chaos. They pick you apart when you do it. The Clippers will need to play the best defense of this series and they will have to get a monster game out of DeAndre Jordan against Marc Gasol to win this. On the road. Chris Paul will do everything he can, but it’s probably not going to be enough.
When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.
This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.
Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.
“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.
I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”
Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.
Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.
The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.
Nikola Vucevic nailed it.
Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.
If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.
We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.
On this, he and LeBron James agree.
LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).
“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.
“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”
A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.
We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.
We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.
Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.
After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…
“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”
The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.
But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.
They have a shot at a title.
If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.