Three things we learned on Tuesday: Kyle Korver, rest of Cavs reminded Jazz defense is good

3 Comments

Here’s what you missed around the NBA while trying to figure out why Prince left behind $1 million in gold bars but not one raspberry beret….

1) Kyle Korver makes Cavaliers debut, but Gordon Hayward, Jazz defense steal spotlight. Here’s the big takeaway from Kyle Korver’s first game as a Cavalier — the Jazz are very good.

Korver will be good for the Cavaliers, too, but he hadn’t even practiced with the team so visions of a lights-out debut were always a fairy tale. He was 1-of-5 in 18 minutes in his debut, going 0-of-2 from three (and 0-of-3 on uncontested looks). He will find a rhythm, and he will sync up with the Cavaliers.

Expect Korver to look a lot better Wednesday night when he and the Cavaliers face the Portland defense — the Utah defense is the best in the NBA this season and the Cavaliers found out first hand. Cleveland had just 12 points in the second quarter and shot 36.5 percent as a team for the game, struggling to score inside and get easy buckets thanks to the defensive presence of Rudy Gobert. Check out the Cavaliers’ shot chart.

Cavaliers shotchart

Cleveland took a brief third quarter lead when LeBron James just took over the game (he finished with 29 points, although Joe Ingles did a surprisingly good job on him defensively for stretches) and the team went on a 17-0 run. But the Jazz responded with a 16-0 run of their own behind Gordon Hayward, who finished with 28. Utah is a sleepy good team, one of only three teams with a top 10 offense and defense (the Cavs are not one of them, their defense is 14th) and come the playoffs they are going to make some noise. Defense and ball movement will do that. Just ask the Cavaliers.

2) DeMar DeRozan, Raptors remind Celtics who is second best team in East (at least for now). The Eastern Conference has Cleveland alone on the top tier, and so long as LeBron is not in a full body cast they will be the team that comes out of the East to the Finals. For most of the last two seasons, the second tier in the East has belonged to the Toronto Raptors alone, but of late Boston has made a push to climb up to that level.

And for a while Tuesday night, it looked like they would climb right past the Raptors, taking a 16-point third quarter lead thanks to another strong night from Isaiah Thomas (he finished with 27) and Al Horford (14 points and nine rebounds), Then DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors happened. DeRozan was brilliant and had 19 points in the third quarter to spark the comeback, Jonas Valanciunas was big (literally) and finished with 18 points and 23 rebounds, and finally Kyle Lowry added nine of his 24 in the fourth and Toronto came back to secure a 114-106 win at home.

I can’t wait for the second-round playoff matchup between these teams — that is going to be fun.

3) James Harden drops 11th triple-double of season, second straight with 40 points, Rockets win ninth straight. Who is the MVP again? Midway through the season (an we’re almost there) you can finally have an MVP conversation with some depth to it, and the race comes down to this — Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Everyone else in the conversation — Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, etc. — are all a couple of steps back.

Harden has been on a roll of late — he led the Rockets to their ninth-straight win Tuesday night dropping a 40-15-10 line on good Charlotte defense. He is now just the fourth player in NBA history to have back-to-back triple-doubles with at least 40 points (Westbrook, Michael Jordan, and Pete Maravich are the others). Harden is in attack mode, he is seeing the floor, and his MVP case is that he has the numbers and the Rockets on pace to win more than 60 games. It’s a damn good case.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

Getty Images
5 Comments

LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
3 Comments

Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

Harry How/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

2 Comments

The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.