Kevin Durant is scoring 28.5 points a game, but one of the most efficient elite scorers ever — he had a ridiculous true shooting percentage of .635 this season — has been slowed down in the playoffs.
With Tony Allen being physical on him and good help defense (including Marc Gasol) Durant is shooting 39.6 percent this postseason, with a true shooting percentage of .493. He was 5-of-21 shooting in Game 4. You can see it is bothering him, with Durant rushing his usually fluid shot. The only games they are winning is when someone other than Durant or Russell Westbrook step up (such as Reggie Jackson’s 32 in Game 4).
“I’m worrying about a guy coming from behind trying to block the shot,” Durant said. “I’ve just got to focus in on the rim and my shot. I can’t go out there and think too much, I have to let my instincts take over….
“I’m not being disciplined enough in my shot,” Durant said. “I’m either pulling it back too quick or shooting too quick.”
Can Durant find a comfort zone back at home in Game 5? You can say, “the Grizzlies can’t hold this great a scorer down forever” but they don’t need to hold him down forever, just keep him in check three more games. Don’t let him become the super efficient Durant from the regular season.
What matters more is if Durant gets some help. If it’s just him and Westbrook against the world Memphis will have the upper hand.
Stephen Curry loses bet to JaVale McGee, must wear fanny pack to three games
I’m not sure any LeBron James team can fly under the radar, but the Cavaliers have relatively quietly won five in a row. Most importantly, in those five games, Cleveland’s defense is 8.6 points per 100 possessions better than their season average (and eighth in the league in that stretch). The Cavaliers may be finding their groove.
Not that anyone is noticing because Boston has rattled off 16 wins in a row to have the best record in the NBA.
“Nah,” JR Smith told B/R when asked if they’re paying attention to the league-leading Celtics. “It’s too early. Too early. We don’t start paying attention until after All-Star break when you see teams spacing out (in the standings). You start getting your best shot after the All-Star break.”
Cleveland, even after the win streak, is 5.5 games back of the Celtics. While it’s too early to say anything with certainty, much like last season it seems probable that Boston will be the No. 1 seed and the Cavaliers will need to go on the road to secure another trip to the Finals. Which is just fine with the Cavs if they can be healthy and rested when the postseason rolls around.
Healthy means getting LeBron a little more rest at some point — he leads the NBA in minutes played at 37.9 per game, and he’s in his 15th season. He’s played more regular season games than Michael Jordan. At some point, the Cavaliers need to get him some rest.
But LeBron said postgame he’s not playing the hard minutes, yet.
“Are all 40-minute (games) created equal?” James repeated.
Dwyane Wade elaborated: “If you play 40 minutes and you’re banging around, or you play 40 minutes, an easy up-and-down? You still play 40 but it’s different.”
James: “Forty minutes in a playoff game and 40 in a regular-season game is totally different. For me and him, we don’t just sit on the perimeter. We’re slashing.”
Bucks’ Mirza Teletovic out 4 weeks; Henson to miss Suns game
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) After beating Bulls, if playoffs started today Lakers would be the eight seed. The Lakers have been better than advertised this young season… but a playoff team?
Yes. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would be the eighth seed.
While everyone seems to focus on Lonzo Ball’s lack of a jumper (he was 3-of-13 Tuesday, 2-of-8 from three), the Lakers have produced the fourth-best defense in the NBA, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s a shocking improvement from the team with the worst defense in the NBA last season, they are allowing 10.3 points fewer per 100 possessions than a season ago. Los Angeles runs out a long, athletic lineup with a well-positioned backstop big in Brook Lopez in the paint. Maybe fourth in the NBA is not sustainable (teams are shooting just 31.9 percent from three against L.A., and that’s not so much defense as luck), but the Lakers are improved defensively.
That defense keeps the Lakers in games, then thanks to flurries from an inconsistent offense the Lakers 8-10 to start the season after knocking off the Chicago Bulls 103-94. Chicago led by 19 in the second and early third, but the Lakers rallied behind Julius Randle and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Western Conference that was expected to be so deep going into the season is watching good teams stumble (Oklahoma City) and other teams struggle with injuries (Memphis, Utah, L.A. Clippers). It has opened the door for now, and the Lakers have stepped in. Or, at least not fallen out.
I still don’t expect the Lakers in the postseason when we get to April, and their young core is still a work in progress, but this start is a big boost to the confidence of the team. It’s a step in the direction they want to go.
2) Denver loses Paul Millsap for three months due to wrist surgery. Last season, Denver had one of the worst defenses in the NBA. This season they are middle of the pack — a substantial improvement. Paul Millsap is a big part of that, the Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season.
Which is why it’s going to hurt so much that he is out to have wrist surgery, he is out three months or so (think return after the All-Star Game).
Millsap inked a team-friendly three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer (the third season is not guaranteed). He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, numbers are down a little from previous years (as were his shots as he adjusted), but things have looked up lately. Millsap seemed to be finding a groove during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together. Now that is on hold, and Denver goes from a team that looked like a playoff lock in the West to one to watch. Injuries are shaping the West playoff race right now in a massive way.
3) Worst. Free throw. Ever. This was on Shaqtin’ last week, but it is too good not to post, in case you haven’t seen it.