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.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.