Monday NBA playoff previews: Expect a different looking Clippers/Warriors game.

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Two Game 2s on the docket for Monday night. Here’s what to look for.

Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder lead 1-0). Oklahoma City is not going to get a soft first half from the Grizzlies where OKC can race out to a big lead like it did in Game 1. Expect this to be a meaner, more physical Memphis team from the opening tip. Memphis knows it doesn’t have the offensive weapons to dig out of a big hole and win against the Thunder, they instead are going to try to grind this game down.

Memphis needs a better outing from Zach Randolph, who was rushed and pressured by Serge Ibaka (Randolph had 21 points but on 21 shots). Also expect a healthy Tayshaun Prince for Memphis (he practiced Sunday)… who still should give way to Tony Allen early (he was the best Memphis player Game 1). Memphis also needs much more out of their role players — Beno Udrih, Mike Miller and Courtney Lee were no help in Game 1. That lack of depth was a big issue in Memphis not being able to maintain their third quarter run.

You know Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will put up numbers again for OKC, but they need another high energy game out of Serge Ibaka and another rock solid steady game from Caron Butler (who played 31 minutes in Game 1). Ibaka was flying all over the place protecting the rim (he had four blocks) and he helped even the balance with the Grizzlies in the paint. He needs to do that again, if the Grizzlies own the paint completely they win.

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers (Warriors lead 1-0). Don’t expect Game 2 to look like Game 1. Blake Griffin will play more than 19 minutes (he was limited by foul trouble). Stephen Curry will have more than 14 points on 16 shots. Chris Paul will not have six turnovers and he will make better decisions late. The referees won’t call the game as tight (we can hope, in particular Griffin and Andre Iguodala picked up ticky-tack fouls that shouldn’t be fouls in the playoffs). Both teams were sloppy in the final couple minutes. We will see if any or all of that changes the outcome, but the game will look and feel different.

For the Clippers, they need more from Griffin who must dominate David Lee. They also need more consistent defense — they trapped Stephen Curry on the pick-and-roll but he did a good job finding the open guy, look for a coverage change from LA. Finally Los Angeles needs a lot better production from their bench — Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and Danny Granger combined to shoot 5-of-26. There is pressure on the Clippers — go down 2-0 at home and they are likely not advancing. (There is already pressure with this loss, they haven’t won at Golden State since Christmas Day 2011, that now has to change.) Golden State needs another big game from Klay Thompson to go with what we can expect as a much better game from Curry. Another quality Draymond Green outing wouldn’t hurt.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.