David West’s mid-range jumpers carry Pacers into conference-finals matchup with Miami Heat

58 Comments

Bradley Beal snatched the ball right from Roy Hibbert’s hands.

The Wizards guard dribbled to the other end and buried a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, giving Washington its first lead since Thursday’s opening minutes. It looked like the type of sequence that defines a series.

On the next possession, David West made a mid-range jumper.

The Pacers looked weak, leaving Game 6 available for the taking, but the listless Wizards couldn’t seize it. Thanks to West scoring 29 points, Indiana led for all but 29 seconds of the final 44 minutes and finished off Washington, 93-80, in the six-game series.

The Pacers move onto their second straight Eastern Conference Finals, where they’ll face the Miami Heat in a postseason series for the third straight year.

“We’ve been talking about this series all year,” West said. “We’ve had a different path than they’ve had, but we’re here.”

Different is right.

The Heat needed nine games to win eight. The Pacers took 13 – and it weren’t for the Wizards’ lethargy, this series could have been headed toward a Game 7.

Indiana surprisingly easily built a 16-point lead early in the third quarter (on, you guessed it, a West mid-range jumper). For a long time, the Wizards didn’t show up, but they finally woke up.

John Wall got more aggressive, and that made everyone, especially Marcin Gortat, more effective.

There was just too much lousiness to overcome. Trevor Ariza (1-for-5 shooting, –24) looked particularly disjointed, and Washington’s bench shot just 4-for-15.

There was also too much West, who solidified Indiana’s offense on a night his teammates rarely looked in rhythm.

“I told them, ‘If you get in trouble, just find me at the top,’” said West, who took twice as many shots as his next closest teammate (Lance Stephenson, 13 shots for 17 points) and scored his most points in a playoff game in six years. “’I’m going to bring us home tonight.’”

Home will be much more welcoming for the Pacers than it was for Washington.

The Wizards won their most playoff games in 35 years, but it’s also still been that long since they won a home playoff game beyond the first round. Washington, which lost all three of its home games this series, was at least rewarded with an ovation in the final minute after receiving boos in Game 3.

Only time will tell whether this was a breakthrough season for a young and growing team or a subpar team taking advantage of a historically bad conference.

The Wizards seem likely to return a similar roster after surpassing their major goals, though the possibility of big turnover exists. Gortat, Ariza and coach Randy Wittman become free agents this summer.

For the Pacers, steadiness rules – even if they look incredibly unsteady in the process.  In fits and backward stumbles and forward steps, they keep trudging closer to their goal. The end is in sight, and Indiana was specifically designed to beat their next opponent.

Like a David West mid-range jumper, the Pacers aren’t a model of flashiness, but they’re working well enough. For now, at least.

Report: Duke guard Frank Jackson undergoes foot surgery before NBA draft

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
1 Comment

Duke guard Frank Jackson declared for the 2017 NBA draft with an outside shot of going in the first round and a likelihood of getting picked in the second-round.

This won’t help his stock.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Duke’s Frank Jackson, a well-regarded point guard in the 2017 NBA draft class, underwent right foot surgery and is expected to be fully recovered sometime in July.

When Jackson recovers will determine whether he plays in summer league, and that can affect transition to the pros as a rookie.

The bigger questions: Will this hinder his athleticism long-term? Does this put him at greater injury risk?

Jackson, a 6-foot-4 scoring guard, relies on a strong first step to attack the basket and high elevation on his jumper.

Report: 76ers, with No. 3 pick in NBA draft, like PGs De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

If there’s consensus on the top prospects in the 2017 NBA draft, it’s:

1. Markelle Fultz

2. Lonzo Ball

3. Josh Jackson

That squares nicely with the Celtics picking Fultz No. 1 and the Lakers taking Ball No. 2.

But what about the 76ers, who pick No. 3? They already have a playmaking forward with a shaky jumper in Ben Simmons. Jackson isn’t the cleanest fit. Even if they plan to deploy Simmons at point guard, they could still use a traditional point guard for support/insurance.

Enter De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

https://twitter.com/SBondyNYDN/status/867526157184491521

The 76ers could also get a workout with Ball. There will be point guard options.

I’m just unsure any of them, assuming Ball is off the board, trump Jackson.

Philadelphia’s starting small forward is Robert Covington – a nice player, but not someone who should influence draft decisions. We can lightly pencil Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into the 76ers’ starting lineup the next time the team gets good, but the rest of the lineup is open. Pondering Jackson’s fit into a half-blank canvass is overthinking. Embiid is an excellent outside shooter for a center, and Philadelphia’s eventual guards (or shooting guard and power forward if Simmons plays point guard) could be good shooters.

The 76ers’ should draft the best prospect available. If that’s Jackson, so be it. They should consider Fox’s and Smith’s fit only if those point guards are in the same tier as Jackson.

That said, don’t rule out the possibility of Fox and Smith working their way into that level. They’re intriguing players.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
2 Comments

When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Galit Rodan
Leave a comment

Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.