Cavaliers hiding unimpressive defense behind record-setting playoff offense

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So much attention has been paid to the Cavaliers’ Swiss-cheese defense – for good reason.

If the Cavs win the title, Cleveland’s defense in the regular season would the worst or second-worst (in the running with the 2000-01 Lakers) for an eventual NBA champion. Cleveland allowed 115.5 points per 100 possessions to a middling Pacers in the first round – the worst defensive rating in a four-game sweep since at least 1984, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go. The Cavaliers clamped down against the Raptors in the second round, but Toronto’s offense falls apart in the playoffs annually. Against the Celtics in the conference finals, Cleveland looked its worst defensively after Isaiah Thomas got hurt and Boston switched to an equalitarian style that more closely resembles the Warriors.

Yet, the Cavs are here, four wins from their second straight NBA title.

Maybe we should give their offense a little more credit. Its carrying a historic load.

The Cavaliers are scoring 123.2 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs – on pace to smash the record in the 16-team postseason format (enacted in 1984). The difference between Cleveland’s offensive rating and No. 2 (1987 Lakers, 120.3) is greater than the difference between No. 2 and No. 11.

In simplest terms, the Cavs offense is built around LeBron James. If single-covered, he scores. If double-teamed, he passes to usually-open, usually-good 3-point-shooting team. Mix in Kyrie Irving‘s isolations, Kevin Love‘s outside-inside game and Tristan Thompson‘s offensive rebounding, and it’s just too much for opponents to handle.

The Cavaliers have made 43% of their 3-pointers and 56% of their 2-pointers and generated 27 free-throw attempts per game this postseason.

Their playoff offensive rating is 14.4 points better than the regular-season league average. That scoring has propped up a playoff defense at the regular-season league average.

The 2004 Pistons (playoff offensive rating 4.0 points worse than the regular-season league average that year, playoff defensive rating 10.5 points better) are the only team to reach the NBA Finals in the 16-team format with a great offense-defense disparity. Detroit is also the only team on the leaderboard with a better defense than offense.

Here are NBA Finalists since 1984 with the greatest disparity between playoff offensive and defensive ratings (relative to regular-season league average that year) through the first three rounds. The worse side of the ball is on the on the left, better side of the ball on the right and the difference in the middle:

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Cleveland rode a similar style to the title last year, but the split is even more pronounced this year.

Golden State also appears even more equipped to stop the Cavs. The Warriors had the second-best regular-season defense (up from fifth last year), and their defensive rating is tops in the playoffs.

Can the Cavaliers keep scoring at such a high rate? Can their defense flip the switch just enough in the Finals, as it did last year?

How the Cavs finish their season is still to be determined, but their path here sure was distinctive.

Report: Knicks sign Nigel Hayes to partially guaranteed deal

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Nigel Hayes became a cult hero at Wisconsin for bringing a “BROKE COLLEGE ATHLETE ANYTHING HELPS” sign to GameDay and soliciting Venmo donations, challenging the stenographer in a press conference and “accidentally” calling a stenographer beautiful in front of a hot mic.

After going undrafted, Hayes and his colorful personality are headed to New York, where Knicks fans are starving for fun.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Could Hayes stick into the regular season? The Knicks have just 14 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving one more spot for a player on an standard contract. Chasson Randle has an unguaranteed salary that becomes partially guaranteed around the time training camp opens. The Knicks could also sign other players, though they’re down to just minimum exceptions.

Hayes – a 6-foot-8 forward – has a chance, but he’s most likely ticketed to New York’s minor-league affiliate after being waived by the parent club.

Who is betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year? Lonzo Ball? Ben Simmons? Depends.

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The Rookie of the Year race is wide open heading into next season.

It’s that way every year — if you had predicted Malcolm Brogdon was going to win a year ago, you would have been laughed out of the building — but this coming season has a lot of talent at the top of the board who could win. Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum all have a real shot — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Who is the better favorite? Depends on where you do your betting.

The William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook (which works with a number of Las Vegas casinos, such as the SLS), has this (hat tip ESPN):

Lonzo Ball 9-5
Ben Simmons 5-2
Dennis Smith Jr. 4-1
Markelle Fultz 13-2
De'Aaron Fox 8-1
Jayson Tatum 8-1

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas has Simmons as the betting line favorite at 9-4

The online betting site Bovda.lv has this line

Lonzo Ball 9-4
Dennis Smith 3-1
Ben Simmons 5-1
Jayson Tatum 5-1
Markelle Fultz 8-1

Traditionally, Rookie of the Year goes to a guy who has the ball in his hands, is aggressive, and puts up raw numbers. It celebrates scorers.

This year a whole lot of guys can fit that bill, more than are mentioned here. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Check out the first NBA 2K18 trailer (VIDEO)

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The NBA season is coming… and that means NBA 2K18 also coming.

To whet the appetite of you gamers out there, check out the first trailer for the upcoming game, with music by Mobb Deep.

You can pre-order the game now.

Aging Pelicans’ owner couldn’t remember Anthony Davis’ name in deposition

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Tom Benson, the now 90-year-old owner of the New Orleans Pelicans and the NFL’s Saints, a few years back changed around the succession of control of the team after his passing — his wife Gayle will take control. Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter and former handpicked successor, sued saying Benson had been manipulated. After meeting privately with Benson, a judge ruled that while Benson suffered some “cognitive impairment” he was capable of making his own decisions and that Gayle remained the successor.

Benson has been sued multiple times since then, including by former Saints employee Rodney Henry, and the then-89-year-old Benson was deposed in that case last year.

Someone broke the gag order and sent a copy of the deposition to The Advocate of New Orleans, and it shows that Benson’s mental acuity is fading. He couldn’t remember who Anthony Davis was by name.

During another set of questions, apparently aimed at establishing how close Benson and Henry had been, Benson was shown a photo of the two men with Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

“Who is this?” Williams asked.

“It’s Rodney and a basketball player,” Benson said. “Oh, hell, I forget his name. Let me — he’s a great player for us. Tell me his name, and I will tell you yes or no.”

When asked “is it Anthony Davis,” Benson said yes. The man is 90, I’m not sure that we should expect much. He had the foresight to bring in people to run his businesses — including his sports teams — and set up a line of succession for when he does pass. Smart moves.

Would Benson’s mental state impact potential changes coming to the Pelicans? Probably not. New Orleans’ GM Dell Demps bet big on going big in a league trending smaller, pairing Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. If that doesn’t work out, plenty of people around the league expect a house cleaning on the basketball side with the Pelicans. Benson’s mental state, whatever it may be, does not impact that.

The deposition leak came from an anonymous source (and anonymous email account, the paper verified the document before publishing). Who leaked it? It may be nearly impossible to find out, but only one side benefits from all this becoming public. And it’s not Benson.