The Extra Pass: Six NCAA Sweet 16 match-ups NBA fans should pay attention to

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Your bracket has gone the way of the Dodo, so now you can just watch the NCAA Tournament to root for teams trying on the glass slipper… and to see players your team may try to draft this June.

There are a few match ups in the Sweet 16 that should interest NBA fans — interesting showdowns of players who names Adam Silver (or Mark Tatum) will call in June.

Here are six to watch.

Julius Randle (Kentucky) vs. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville). This is the matchup everyone will be talking about — it could be one of the best of the weekend (in a rivalry game, just to add to the fun). Randle played well for Kentucky opening weekend and was the one guy in the predicted top four picks to perform up to expectations (unreasonable though they are). Harrell (projected mid to late first round) is a high energy defensive guy who has a lot of physical tools — length, quickness, strength — enough to really challenge Randle. They are separated in the draft because Randle is the far more polished offensive player with a higher ceiling, but right now Harrell has the fast first step on offense to make this a great matchup. Harrell could force the turnover-prone Randle into mistakes that could swing the game, or at least make Randle really work for his points.

Kentucky’s backcourt vs. Louisville’s backcourt. This is what will determine the outcome of the best game in the round of 16 and it’s a matchup PBT’s NBA Draft expert — Scott Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld — will be watching closely. Here is what Isaacson said:

“When these two teams played in December, the Harrisons and James Young turned the ball over 9 times against the Louisville guards, namely Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and it was a pretty good performance. None of the Kentucky guards are great ballhandlers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitino set Smith loose to harass Andrew Harrison as far out as Smith is comfortable. With real point guard, any disruption to the Kentucky offense can cause a lot of problems. On the flip side, the Harrisons and Young’s size could cause problems for Louisville if they are able to consistently get into their half-court offense, and their size can also hamper Smith’s ability to get good perimeter looks on offense.”

Nik Stauskas (Michigan) vs. Jordan McRae (Tennessee). If you like buckets, this is the matchup to watch — both of these guys may well lead their teams in scoring. Our man Isaacson brakes down the matchup, and thinks it could favor Stauskas and Michigan.

“Here’s a matchup where each player will have trouble guarding the other. Stauskas is a threat to knock down long jumpers or act as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. He is a strong passer, so McRae will need to have a strong plan to defend the high screens. McRae loves to attack the basket, but if he sees Stauskas giving him room, he’ll start shooting jumpers. Stauskas best chance to win this matchup is to have McRae shooting jumpers.”

Aaron Gordon vs. San Diego State defense. Gordon turned a lot of heads of people who didn’t watch much (or any) Arizona this year — he is a freak athlete. Watch him and where you often see that athleticism on display is defensively (guys at the college level just don’t know how to handle that). However Gordon has no steady jumper and no reliable offense that isn’t dunks — San Diego State was seventh in the nation in defense (adjusted points per possession, via Ken Pomeroy). Can Gordon score on them, enough to lead his team to victory? This will be entertaining.

Florida backcourt vs. UCLA Backcourt. Kyle Anderson looked good opening weekend (as did everyone on UCLA) as he used that 6’9” frame to get off shots over the top of his defenders. UCLA and Anderson were just physically superior to everyone they faced. That will not be the case Thursday night. Which makes this a contest Isaacson said he is looking forward to in particular in the round of 16.

“The size of the UCLA guards vs. the speed of the Florida guards. Kyle Anderson has a reputation for being very steady under pressure, but Scotty Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, are both capable of extending the defense out where Anderson will have a tough time making plays. Jordan Adams will be pressured on the perimeter all game, so Anderson will need to find a way to break down the Florida defense. When Florida has the ball, expect UCLA to play plenty of zone if they can get away with it. The guards will have trouble containing Wilbekin, which in turn opens up the floor for everyone else. If UCLA goes zone, Frazier and Wilbekin are the only thing close to consistent perimeter shooters for Florida and if they aren’t hitting, Florida’s offense can be in some trouble.”

Shabazz Napier (UConn) vs. DeAndre Kane (Iowa State). From the NBA Draft perspective, this is a battle of two guys trying to get picked later in the second round — these are the kinds of games that can help that cause, can help a GM think “this guy is worth the gamble.” Isaacson talks about this one as well.

“Two of the most exciting point guards in college basketball this year, bot Napier and Kane are comfortable looking to get into the lane or shooting threes. Kane is stronger and he likes to get physical with smaller guards on both ends of the floor. Guarding Napier is a team chore and Kane will need all the help he can get. Napier’s speed and body control allow him to create space pretty much whenever he needs it. The winner of this battle will likely be the one who gets his teammates better touches.”

Anthony Davis rattles rim with dunk on Juan Hernangomez (video)

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A sweet-shooting stretch four, Juan Hernangomez has a bright future in the NBA.

It’s not because of his rim protection.

Video Breakdown: How to ICE the pick-and-roll on defense

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NBA teams can defend the pick-and-roll game in many ways, but one of the most common is called ICE. This method sometimes goes by the name of Blue, Down, or Black, and it is ubiquitous as way to defend in the most popular offensive action in the modern NBA.

The basic idea is that the screener’s defender — usually a big man — stays parallel to the baseline and below the screen itself. The goal is to force the dribbler east to west, and to defend the paint while allowing for a lower percentage long range jumper.

The dribbler’s defender — usually a guard or a wing — fights over the top and pressures the shooter from above, ensuring that he cannot take a 3-pointer.

ICE pick-and-roll coverage has two main goals:

  1. Stop the ball handler and force the offense to move to another action.
  2. Stop a shot in the paint or at the 3-point line.

This varies from other kinds of pick-and-roll defense, including the hedge, the show, and the blitz. We’ll cover those in future videos, but you can get a little taste of them in a defensive glossary video I’ve done previously.

Meanwhile, get the full breakdown on ICE pick-and-roll coverage with the video breakdown above.

Rockets’ Patrick Beverley says players “disrespecting game” by resting when healthy

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Former Bulls guard turned agent and podcaster B.J. Armstrong said on our podcast last week that no, players didn’t have DNP-rest days back when he played — but he added that might well have been different if they had the information on injuries that today’s teams and players have. He said they got tired, they got banged up, and they played through it. You can call that tough, but it likely took time, maybe years, off their career.

Houston’s Patrick Beverley is from that old-school mentality and said players are disrespecting the game if they don’t get out there when healthy. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I think that’s bulls—,” Beverley said after the Rockets’ 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. “I think that’s a disgrace to this league. I think that fans deserve better.

“I could care less about coaches asking players to rest or not. It’s up to you to play or not, and if you don’t, you’re disrespecting the game. And I don’t believe in disrespecting the game, because there was a time where I wasn’t playing in the NBA and I was trying to get here. So me resting, I feel like, is disrespecting me, disrespecting the name on the front of the jersey and disrespecting the name on the back of the jersey.”

It’s the coaches and the organizations telling players to rest, it’s rarely the players themselves, and the teams are doing it because they want their guys at their peak come the playoffs. If the goal is winning a title in June (or at least going deep into May) then not wearing guys down matters.

Everyone has their opinions on it, Gregg Popovich did a good job trying to explain the nuances, but the simple fact is player rest games are not going away. They did it back in Armstrong’s day too, they just called a sore ankle or back rather than rest. What helps lessen games stars have off is building more rest and days off into the schedule, which the NBA is trying to do. But that’s a challenge that will continue to be discussed.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Westbrook, Harden showdown leaves MVP race same as it ever was

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How many teams did you get right in your Final Four bracket? For the record, I have one (North Carolina). Which is why I was watching a lot more NBA on Sunday than NCAA (that and it’s my job). Here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) Russell Westbrook gets 36th triple-double. James Harden lifts Rockets victory. The MVP race is the same as it ever was. If you wanted to make a case for Russell Westbrook as MVP, he gave you reason on Sunday in a showdown with James Harden and the Rockets. Westbrook dropped his 36th triple-double of the season with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, and the Rockets could not stop him.

Harden put up numbers — 22 points on 15 shots, plus 12 assists — but his team got the win because he got help: 31 from Lou Williams, 24 from Trevor Ariza, and 24 from Eric Gordon. Williams had 18 points in the first half. As a team, the Rockets shot 63.3 percent overall and 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Harden has better teammates around him, but he is orchestrating them beautifully, he’s more efficient, and he’s lifting his team to higher heights. Westbrook is almost single-handedly carrying the Thunder offense by putting up historic numbers.

This game offered no clarity in the MVP race. In one of the closest, most interesting award races in years, your pick for MVP depends on how you want to define the award and its criteria. (And we’re not even getting into the legitimate case that can be made for Kawhi Leonard here. LeBron James is in the mix, too, although the recent stumbles of the Cavaliers may hurt his case.) We know where the Rockets organization stands.

Sunday’s Thunder/Rockets just an MVP showdown, it was a potential first round playoff matchup. On that front, the Rockets led by as many 25, and while the Rockets made a late push to get the lead down to single digits in the final couple minutes, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops, and the result was never really in doubt. It’s hard to see a playoff series going much differently, the Thunder just don’t defend well enough to slow Houston.

2) Celtics beat Heat, move into tie with Cavaliers for top record in the East. Boston just keeps on grinding, keeps on making enough plays, and keeps on winning. So much so that with a hard-fought win over the Heat on Sunday Boston finds itself tied with Cleveland for the top seed in the East (Boston has one more win, Cleveland has one fewer loss).

Boston may well finish on top, it has an easier schedule to close out the season. However, the big game — and what will determine who has the tiebreaker between the two — comes when the Celtics and Cavaliers play on April 5.

The Celtics got the win because they made crucial shots down the stretch, like this driving floater by Isaiah Thomas (who finished the night with 30 points).

Then Al Horford‘s block sealed the 112-108 victory.

For Miami, even with the loss they sit as the eight seed in the East, the final playoff spot, but Chicago is just half a game back, and the Pistons one game back. While the race could go any direction, the Bulls have the softest schedule the rest of the way of any of those three teams.

3) Blazers win, Nuggets lose, teams now tied for the eighth seed in the West. The race to be the team destroyed by the Golden State Warriors in the first round out West is heating up — Denver and Portland are now tied for the eight seed.

On Sunday, Denver had a sloppy loss at home as New Orleans came to town without DeMarcus Cousins, and yet Anthony Davis dropped 31 and the Pelicans won.

Portland got 22 from Damian Lillard and pulled away in the third quarter to beat the hapless Lakers, 97-81.

Denver and Portland play Tuesday night in what will be a huge game in that race.