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.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.