Three Things to Watch Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics


Typically when the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in a conference meet in said conference’s finals, we are pumped because it means a close, hard-fought series with the Finals on the line. Not this time. Boston may be the No. 1 seed, but from oddsmakers in Vegas through talk show hosts anywhere outside New England, most people give the Celtics about as much chance as Marie-Antoinette vs. the guillotine. Here are the three things to watch, and it paints a roadmap for Boston if they are to have a chance this series.

1. How do the Celtics slow LeBron James? LeBron has been the playoffs MVP so far, the best player on any team, and he has lifted the Cavaliers up with him. Through eight games (sweeps in the first two rounds), LeBron is averaging 34.4 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Those aren’t volume numbers, he’s been incredibly efficient shooting 57 overall from the field and 46.8 percent from three. He has been a force of nature running the pick-and-roll, neither the Pacers nor Raptors had any answer for dealing with him in that two-man game. If you don’t think he can do that to the Celtics, remember he averaged more than 29 points a game in the four meetings in the regular season and had a triple-double (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) in the one game Boston won.

The Celtics have needed LeBron to be this good because Kyrie Irving has yet to get on track this postseason. It just hasn’t mattered. Yet.

Brad Stevens will scheme, and expect a lot of Jae Crowder to start on LeBron, with Marcus Smart likely getting a chance. If he gets desperate, maybe Stevens tries the athletic Gerald Green. The problem is Cleveland will decide who they want to guard LeBron and have that man’s mark come out and set the pick for LeBron. Think back to the Finals last year: Cleveland wanted Stephen Curry on LeBron, so Curry’s man always set the pick, no matter who it was, to force the switch. If the Cavaliers want to target Isaiah Thomas or anyone else, they will just force a two-man game and try to get the switch.

Boston provides a counter problem on the other end — Isaiah Thomas tore up the Cavaliers this season averaging 29.5 points per game in reg season against them. How Cleveland chooses to defend him and how many bodies they throw at him and dare others to beat them (Washington’s plan in the last round) remains to be seen. What we do know is Cleveland is back to playing good defense, and they are much better at it than the Wizards.

2. Which teams defends the three-point line better? Through the playoffs, the Boston Celtics have taken 456 total threes — 42.1 percent of their shot attempts come from three (only Houston had a higher percentage). Cleveland is right on their heels — 40.8 percent of their shot attempts have come from three. The Cavs have shot 43.4 percent from beyond the arc, the Celtics 37.3 percent.

The three is key to both team’s attacks. Whichever team can do a better job chasing their opponent off the arc, and contesting the shots they do take from deep, will have a huge advantage.

Boston’s opponents have shot just 31 percent from three through two rounds, although to be fair they played the shooting-challenged Bulls in the first round so it skews the numbers. It’s also going to be a different thing to do it against a Cavaliers team that has Channing Frye, who is shooting 55 percent from three in the playoffs, Kyle Korver (48 percent), LeBron (47 percent) and J.R. Smith (44 percent). What’s more, the Cavaliers have targeted the corner three heavily in the postseason and as a team are shooting 54 percent from there. LeBron has 16 assists to corner threes through eight games.

3. Boston has to be strong on the glass to have any chance in this series. Rebounding has been the Achilles heel of the Celtics all season long, and that has continued through the playoffs — they have won the rebounding battle once in 13 postseason games. The Celtics have grabbed 45.7 percent of total available rebounds these playoffs, the lowest percentage of any team in the postseason.

Now the Celtics go up against a team that starts Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson — the Cavaliers are beasts on the glass.

It may slow their transition game some, but the Celtics must gang rebound and make it a priority. Thompson, in particular, is active on the offensive glass and will be a real problem for Boston, who wants to play small but if they do too much Thompson could challenge Moses Malone’s record of 27 offensive rebounds in a series (1983 NBA Finals vs. the Lakers).  It may be heresy to quote Pat Riley to Boston, but his mantra “rebounds=rings” applies to them.

Prediction: Cavaliers in Five. I know that saying it ends in five means Cleveland wins twice in Boston, but honestly, I think four games is more likely than six. I’ll give Boston one of the first two. But the fact is that while Boston is a good team they have flaws that the Cavaliers will exploit and, to be honest, Cleveland is just the better team.

The good news for the Celtics is they have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. GM Danny Ainge has to watch this series and ask himself, “Are we one player away if I trade this pick for an established star? Or are we better off drafting a potential star and trying to peak three years from now when LeBron is fading?”


DeRozan has 29, Raptors win 11th straight, beat Mavs 122-115

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan made the game-winning basket in overtime and the Toronto Raptors rallied to match the longest winning streak in franchise history, extending their season-best run to 11 by beating the Dallas Mavericks 122-115 on Friday night.

DeRozan scored 29 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 21 points and 12 rebounds as the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors won for the 18th time in 19 games. Kyle Lowry got the night off to rest as the Raptors played the second game of the back-to-back.

Delon Wright had 15 points and Fred VanVleet scored 14, helping Toronto improved to an NBA-best 29-5 at home.

Dallas had won three of four. Harrison Barnes scored 27 points for the Mavericks, Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 and J.J. Barea 18.

Up 84-78 to begin the fourth, Dallas stretched its lead to 101-93 on a jump shot by Barnes with 5:43 remaining, but four points from DeRozan cut it to 101-97 with 4:32 left.

Toronto kept coming, pulling within two on a pair of free throws by DeRozan and, after a Dallas turnover, tying it at 106 on DeRozan’s jumper with 1:15 to go in regulation.

Each team turned the ball over before Barnes missed a jumper with 24 seconds left and VanVleet grabbed the rebound. After a timeout, DeRozan let the clock wind down before driving and kicking to Serge Ibaka, who missed a potential game-winning shot. DeRozan also missed before the buzzer, sending it to overtime.

VanVleet and Dallas’ Dwight Powell each made a 3 in overtime before DeRozan drove for the tiebreaking basket with 53 seconds left.

Valanciunas sealed it by making five of six at the free-throw line in the final 10 seconds.

Toronto also extended its franchise-record streak of games with 100 or more points to 22.


Kevin Durant has fractured ribs, out a couple of weeks

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The injury bug is hitting the Warriors hard — not with anything that seems like it will last into the playoffs, but it’s still a concern.

Stephen Curry (ankle) and Klay Thompson (fractured thumb), Draymond Green is just returning to the rotation (along with David West and Jordan Bell), and now this — Kevin Durant is going to be out a couple of weeks.

What incomplete means is it is nondisplaced, or to use the slang it is a cracked rib. The bone was not moved out of place and does not need to be reset.

The good news for Warriors fans about all these injuries are they should heal up in a couple of weeks and the Warriors should be fully loaded for bear come the playoffs. And no doubt this team knows what it needs to do to win, it can get back into its groove quickly.

So long as we’re not talking about all these injuries in the second week of April, Warriors fans do not need to worry.

Baseline jumper gives Dirk Nowitzki 11,000 made baskets in NBA

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We need to savor these final years — potentially final games — of Dirk Nowitzki‘s career. The future Hall of Famers is one of the great pure shooters, and probably the greatest shooting big man, in NBA history.

The Maverick’s star hit another milestone Friday night, 11,000 made NBA baskets. Only eight others have reached that mark, and Nowitzki did it with a high arc baseline jumper.

The man is a marvel.

Dallas was up 60-54 on Toronto at the half.

Report: Jazz to sign David Stockton, son of Utah legend John Stockton, to 10-day contract

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The Utah Jazz have been on a roll — they have gone 20-2 of late — but the point guard ranks are getting thin. Ricky Rubio has a knee contusion that may keep him out for a game or two, and his backup Raul Neto is out with a fractured wrist. This is where the Jazz are making a smart move, bringing in a 10-day contract guy for depth and getting a look at him.

That guy? David Stockton. Son of Hall-of-Famer and Jazz legend John Stockton. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

G League guard David Stockton, son of Utah Jazz legend John Stockton, is signing a 10-day contract with the team, league sources told ESPN. Stockton, 25, is expected to join the Jazz today, sources said.

Stockton, who played his college ball at Gonzaga like his father, has spent most of this season with the Reno Big Horns and averaged 16.3 points and 5.2 assists a night. Watching him in Summer League, Stockton is a smart, floor general kind of point guard who knows how to run a team. He is not as athletic as most of the guys he has gone up against, but he knows how to compensate.

However long this lasts, it’s good to see a Stockton in a Jazz uniform again.