Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Chris Paul

NBA Playoff Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Golden State Warriors: 51-3, six seed
Los Angeles Clippers: 57-25, three seed

KEY INJURIES

Andrew Bogut, Golden State. He has a fractured rib that has him out indefinitely, certainly for the start of the series and, if reports of the severity of the injury are to be believed, likely all of it. This is bad for Golden State — their defense is two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (going from elite to just pretty good) and their offense improves by 4.5 per 100 when he plays. That’s 6.5 points per 100 better when he is on the court, and he will not be on the court. Their other starting four with Jermaine O’Neal playing for Bogut has looked good this season but only played 62 minutes together, and now Hilton Armstrong and Marreese Speights will need to have huge series for the Warriors to have a chance.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Los Angeles Clippers: Offense 109.4 (1st in NBA), Defense 102.1 (7th in NBA)

Golden State Warriors: Offense 105.3 (12th in NBA), Defense 99.9 (3rd in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Can David Lee slow Blake Griffin? David Lee does not have the reputation of a defensive stopper. To put it kindly. Yet matched up on Blake Griffin this season he has had surprising success — Griffin has shot just 38 percent in the 21 minutes they were matched up this season (according to the NBA’s SportsVU camera data). Griffin had a breakout season, the kind of year that’s going to earn him some MVP votes (bottom couple spots on the ballot of five, but still). He needs to carry that over to the playoffs for the Clippers to be the contenders they think they are, if David Lee can neutralize him it would be huge for the Warriors. Also, Lee could see some time at the five if the Warriors try to go small ball on the Clippers for stretches and then his defense becomes even more important. Look for Draymond Green to get a lot of time on Griffin as well (especially if Lee struggles).

2) Warriors three point shooting vs. Clippers defense. The Clippers were the best team in the NBA at defending the three point line this season, allowing opponents to shoot just 33.2 percent (this was one of the biggest changes from the Vinny Del Negro era, the Clippers were 26th in the league last season). Yet Stephen Curry had success against the Clippers this season, hitting 17-of-29 (58.6 percent). With Bogut out and the Warriors playing more small ball (and their defense suffering because of it) Curry is going to need to be in video game mode, as is Klay Thompson, and they are going to have to rain threes as a team on the Clippers to win the series. They are capable of that for a game or two, but can they do it consistently?

3) Chris Paul vs. the world. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game today, the best game manager yet a guy capable of taking over games, and he averaged 28 points a contest against the Warriors this season. He carved up the Warriors in their meetings, with Klay Thompson often drawing the defensive assignment. CP3 not only got around Thompson (a pretty good defender) but also got Thompson in foul trouble at times. Doc Rivers did a masterful job this season convincing Paul that the Clippers are better when he gives up the rock a little more and trusts his teammates to make plays, but this could be the exception to the rule — an aggressive Chris Paul could and should own this series.

PREDICTION

Clippers in five. Maybe six, the Curry/Thompson combo can get hot for a couple games. This is going to be one of the most fun series to watch because there is real bad blood between these teams — expect one fight by Game 2. They hate each other, plus there is that whole Nor Cal/So Cal rivalry added in. With Bogut in the lineup the Warriors starting five gave the Clippers fits (+19.2 per 100 possessions), but the struggled without him this season and in this matchup (-15.9 per 100 when he sat vs. Clippers, via John Schuhmann of NBA.com). For the Warriors to have a chance they will need monster series from Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green — the small ball strategy is going to have to thrive. I just don’t think it will, not enough to win four of seven games. This is a series where one injury changes everything.

Seth Curry, Mavs hand Heat third loss in 19 games with 96-89 win

Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry (30) shoots against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. The Mavericks won 96-89. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) — Seth Curry scored 29 points, Harrison Barnes added 24 and the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami 96-89 on Monday night, handing the Heat just their third loss in 19 games.

Curry looked a little like famous older brother Stephen Curry of Golden State by hitting two long 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the latter giving Dallas a 90-89 lead. The Mavericks rallied from 14 points down in the first quarter and let an 11-point third-quarter lead get away.

Two games after scoring a career-high 31 points in a loss at Minnesota, Curry was 5 of 7 from long range to help the Mavericks improve to 2-0 with forward-center Nerlens Noel, who came from Philadelphia before the trade deadline.

Goran Dragic scored 24 points for the Heat, who went scoreless over the final 4:37 as a three-game winning streak ended.

Hassan Whiteside, a free agent target for Dallas last summer, had 19 points and 19 rebounds. Now the Mavericks are preparing for a future with the 22-year-old Noel, who had a crowd-energizing block from behind on Whiteside and finished with six points and six rebounds.

Dragic finished a 9-0 Heat run with a 3-pointer that bounced high off the front of the rim and went in for an 89-84 lead. But Miami missed its last seven shots, and the Mavericks scored the final six points on free throws after Curry’s go-ahead shot.

Curry scored 11 points in the second quarter, including a three-point play that gave Dallas its first lead at 48-46 after the Mavericks trailed by 14 in the first quarter. He had another flurry late in the third, hitting a long 3 and a pull-up jumper for the final five points as Dallas took a 78-69 lead into the final quarter.

TIP-INS

Heat: C Willie Reed won’t need a boot or crutches to treat bursitis in his right ankle. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Reed was day to day. … The visit to Dallas was the Miami’s last road game against the West this season.

Mavericks: Coach Rick Carlisle said G J.J. Barea is at least a week away from returning from a left calf strain that has sidelined him the past 16 games and for 33 of the 41 games he has missed this season. … G Quinn Cook, undrafted in 2015 out of Duke, made his NBA debut a day after signing a 10-day contract, getting two points and two assists in 17 minutes. … Seth Curry had a big night while his brother had a most miserable one. Stephen Curry was a career-worst 0 for 11 from deep in the Warriors’ win over Philadelphia on Monday.

 

LeBron James shakes off strep throat, leads Cavs past Bucks 102-95

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 27: Rashad Vaughn #20 of the Milwaukee Bucks guards LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 27, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bucks 102-95. 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)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James returned from a bout with strep throat and scored 24 points, Kyrie Irving added 25 and the Cleveland Cavaliers held off the Milwaukee Bucks 102-95 on Monday night.

James missed Saturday’s loss to Chicago – the Cavs fell to 0-4 this season without their superstar – and was listed as questionable before arriving at Quicken Loans Arena. He looked fit from the start, delivering an early dunk and adding one in the fourth that he capped by screaming, “That’s and one!” at MiIwaukee’s John Henson, who fouled him.

James’ dunk triggered an 11-0 run that helped put away the Bucks, who were within 86-85 midway through the fourth.

Malcolm Brogdon scored 20 to lead Milwaukee, and Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored just nine on 4-of-13 shooting.

The Bucks may have sustained a costly injury as forward Michael Beasley sprained his left knee in the first half. Beasley’s knee buckled grotesquely as he tried to defend James on the baseline. He scored 11 points before going down and had to be helped to Milwaukee’s locker room.

Looking to stay on top in the East, the Cavs signed free agent point guard Deron Williams before the game.

The three-time All-Star gives Cleveland depth, someone to lead its second unit and a reliable backup for Irving. Williams negotiated a buyout of his contract last week with Dallas before being waived and informing the Cavs he wanted to join them and try to win a title.

Cleveland is more than happy to add him to a bench that has improved in the last month with the additions of Kyle Korver and Derrick Williams, who combined for 27 points in the win.

There’s also a chance the Cavs could sign free agent center Andrew Bogut, who was waived by Philadelphia on Monday and is being courted by several teams.

Derrick Williams beat the horn ending the third quarter by dropping a 3-pointer from 35 feet to give Cleveland a 77-73 lead entering the fourth.

The Cavs were down by seven earlier in the quarter before going on a 13-0 run.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Beasley started for G Khris Middleton, who didn’t make the trip as part of the team’s plan to rest him in back-to-back games. He missed three months with a torn hamstring. … G Matthew Dellavedova spent part of the pregame meeting with former Cavs teammates and coaches. He received his diamond championship ring on Milwaukee’s previous visit. … Coach Jason Kidd said it’s a treat getting to watch Antetokounmpo develop. He’s the only NBA player leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. “It’s a great seat to have,” Kidd said. “When you’re able to see for the last three years, his growth and understanding, how fast he picked up things and how much he wants to be good in this league.”

Cavaliers: Irving became the eighth player in team history with 2,000 career assists. … While James was better, coach Tyronn Lue was under the weather and awaiting results on a strep test. … Deron Williams received a loud ovation when he was introduced during the fourth quarter. He has worn No. 8 throughout his career, but will don 31 for Cleveland. “My first high school number was 31,” he said. “I wanted a single number, but all of them were pretty much taken, so I went with 31.”

 

Dwight Howard pushes Al Horford, gets technical, later ejected for hanging on rim

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) drives past Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Associated Press
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It ended up working out for Atlanta — the Hawks went on a 22-11 run after Dwight Howard was ejected, then hung on for a comfortable win 114-98.

Still, Howard found a way to get tossed. He did it two separate technical fouls in the third quarter. The first came when he shoved Al Horford after the Celtic big fouled Howard under the basket (always a smart move rather than give up a dunk).

The next came a few minutes later when Howard slammed then pulled himself up like a pull-up on the rim, an automatic tech every time.

That’s technicals 10 and 11 on the season for Howard. He’s got some work to do to catch up with DeMarcus Cousins, but still he’s racked up a few.

It just didn’t matter on Monday, with Dennis Schroder leading the way with 21 points for the Hawks.

 

DeMar DeRozan drains game winner to cap 37-point night, Raptors beat Knicks 92-91

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With Kyle Lowry out until around the start of the playoffs, a lot is going to be asked of DeMar DeRozan. Monday night at Madison Square Garden, he delivered.

The Raptors needed a bucket as time ran down, not only got the ball to DeRozan but got the switch so Derrick Rose was guarding him, and that allowed the Raptors star to get to his spot, rise up and bury the midrange jumper for the win.

It capped off an impressive 37-point night for DeRozan — he’s going to need to do more of this in the coming weeks.