Three games on Wednesday night, two series where Game 1 followed form and one — Portland beating Houston — that could be shaping up as one of the best first round series in either conference.
Charlotte Bobcats at Miami Heat (Heat lead series 1-0). Al Jefferson says he is going to play, but after two injections in his foot to kill pain and a couple days in a walking boot, how effective he can be remains to be seen. If he is off his game, the Bobcats are in trouble because you know the Heat will continue to attack the rim, and if that goes well and the defense is drawn in they will kick out for good look threes. If Jefferson is off his game, expect to see a whole lot of Chris Bosh featured by the Heat (he was 4-of-13 shooting despite advantages in Game 1). Without peak Jefferson the Bobcats need to find offense from somewhere — that could be a lot of Kemba Walker, but it needs to come from somewhere. It’s going to be a tough series for Charlotte, but expect the Bobcats to put up a fight, They did all season.
Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs (Spurs lead series 1-0). The question for Game 2 is the same key one we had before the series: How can the Mavericks slow down the Spurs offense? In Game 1 the Spurs leaned on its biggest names — Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili accounted for 65 of the team’s’ 90 points, and 25 of the team’s 35 field goals — but in Game 2 you can expect more from Kawhi Leonard and others. Expect less isolation and for Danny Green to have a better game.
On the other side Dallas has to keep Tony Parker out of the paint, he broke down their defense off the pick-and-roll all night — Dallas switched everything and Parker just tore apart the mismatches. Shawn Marion will again get the start on Parker, but expect more Devin Harris in that role as well. With Dirk Nowitzki and an expected better game from Monta Ellis the Mavericks will get points. The question remains can they get stops, or will they go home down 0-2.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets (Blazers lead series 1-0). Is LaMarcus Aldridge ready to put the Portland Trail Blazers on his back and keep them there?
Aldridge returned to early season MVP-ballot-worth form with 46 points and 18 rebounds in Portland’s Game 1 overtime victory, and the Trail Blazers might need another heroic effort from their power forward to win Game 2 tonight. With Dwight Howard and James Harden both pledging to get more aggressive offensively, Aldridge’s defense could be pivotal. He can double team Howard with Robin Lopez and rotate to help cut off Harden’s drives.
If that saps Aldridge’s energy on the other end, Damian Lillard should test the hobbled Patrick Beverley. How healthy Houston’s top stopper is could go a long way in determining Game 2 and the series.
Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?
Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.
The Cavs’ stance might.
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:
While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.
Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:
- Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
- Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
- The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.
But a few things have changed:
- Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
- The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
- Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.
So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?
Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.
For one more season.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:
Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.
Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.
There are two possibilities:
1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.
2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.
The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.
But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.
At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.
Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.
The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.
The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.
It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.
The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.
Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.
*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.
The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.
Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?
I know I do.
Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.
His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.
But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.
Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.
Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.
Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:
“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”
Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.
But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.
For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.
I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.