Dan Feldman

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Pacers’ Jeff Teague: ‘We ain’t getting swept’

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The Pacers just suffered a historic loss, blowing a 26-point lead to the Cavaliers to fall behind 3-1 in their first-round series.

But Indiana still has its resolve – at least if you ask Pacers point guard Jeff Teague.

Teague, via Nate Taylor of IndyStar:

“We’re playing for pride now,” Jeff Teague said. “We’re all competitors in here and we all believe in one another. We ain’t getting swept.”

Let’s set a baseline expectation. Teams trailing a best-of-seven series 3-0 have gotten swept 60% of the time:

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But Indiana has played Cleveland extremely tough, losing 109-108, 117-111 and 119-114. In fact, the Pacers’ -12 combined point margin is the smallest ever for a team trailing a best-of-seven series 3-0.

Paul George has been excellent. The Cavaliers’ defense is extremely vulnerable. Sunday’s Game 4 is in Indiana (though most teams trailing 3-0 play at home).

The Pacers have a solid chance of winning Game 4. They’re just three-point underdogs.

But that’s only one game. Teague is almost certainly correct that Indiana is playing for pride – not to win the series.

Cavaliers’ defense historically bad… for a team up 3-0

AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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The Cavaliers entered the playoffs amid massive concern about their championship prospects.

Cleveland has answered those questions while building a 3-0 lead over the Pacers, right?

Hardly.

Despite winning each game in their first-round series, the Cavs have allowed 119.1 points per 100 possessions – the worst defensive rating by a team up 3-0 in a series since the NBA implemented a 16-team playoff in 1984. Here are the worst defensive rating with a 3-0 lead, per Basketball-Reference:

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The last 34 teams that allowed as many points per possessions as Cleveland in the first three game of a series were trailing. The last to lead with such a high defensive rating was the 1995 Magic, who allowed 123.8 points per 100 possessions while building a 2-1 advantage over the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. Orlando won in seven games.

The Cavaliers are obviously a different story, one game from a sweep.

LeBron James has led a high-octane offense, and Kyrie Irving (by volume) and Kevin Love (by efficiency) have made valuable scoring contributions. Cleveland’s supporting cast has also knocked down its open shots. The Cavs have made 15 3-pointers per game at a 44% clip.

That has masked the Cavaliers’ very real defensive issues. Indiana is torching Cleveland in the pick-and-roll, frequently leaving the Cavs looking confused about their latest breakdown. And the Pacers, who scored a middling 108.6 points per 100 possessions, are hardly some offensive juggernaut.

The Cavaliers might be suffering from some hot Indiana shooting. Here’s betting they defend better the rest of the series.

But there’s plenty of room for Cleveland’s defense to improve before it’s championship-caliber – even if the Cavs are up 3-0.

Marcus Smart: After flipping off fan, ‘I kind of lost my train of thought of what was said’

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Marcus Smart flipped off a fan late in the Celtics’ loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.

That earned Smart a $25,000 fine and, of course, some interrogation from the media.

Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

Smart:

Something was said and reacted a little differently than I should have.

What was said? Smart:

To be honest, after it happened, I kind of lost my train of thought of what was said. Can’t really remember.

This is why I said the Celtics shouldn’t just leave this up to the league to handle. They need Smart to channel his passion in a way that he’s remain focused.

It’s a fine line, one Smart doesn’t land on the right side of often enough.

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale: Kawhi Leonard a non-breathing, antifreeze-drinking robot (video)

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Kawhi Leonard – who’s averaging 35 points per game (33% usage percentage, 86% true shooting percentage) with seven rebounds and four assists per game – has been the best player of the 2017 NBA playoffs so far. His Spurs lead the Grizzlies, 2-0, and he has a full win share already. Nobody else has more than half a win share.

Memphis coach David Fizdale, via Grizzlies.com:

He was standing next to me the other night, and he wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t breathing. So, I’m going to check the rulebook and find out if robots are allowed to play in the NBA. Because somehow Pop and them have figured out – they know something I don’t know. I think he bleeds, like, antifreeze.

Fizdale didn’t know you could use robots in the playoffs? He got rooked again.

Pat Riley’s new approach to building Heat: ‘You don’t have have to go whale hunting’

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Last summer, Heat president Pat Riley stated his desire to land a “whale,” seemingly meaning Kevin Durant.

This year, Riley is taking a more modest approach to Miami’s offseason.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

On pursuing whales, Riley said: “I regret ever making that statement. The collective bargaining agreement is going to dictate a lot of things about free agency…. Today it’s a lot different than [2010]. Any great player will have to give great pause to walk away from $65 million to $70 million to walk away.”

“We are going to focus on our guys, really focus on this group of guys. We have found something about three of these guys, I felt they had something but never really had the platform. We will always observe what’s going on in free agency. We have that flexibility. When you have a draft pick and a lot of players on your team you like, you are in good position to move forward.”

“If you are looking at Golden State and Cleveland, those teams and Houston and San Anontio, the top four teams in the league, what happens to the other teams in the Eastern Conference, yes, you have to say to yourself, I want to get there as quickly as I can and contend,” he said.

“Even if you brought all of these guys back with the 14th pick and some kind of room exception, can you beat those teams? You will never know until you get there. I think the fans here appreciate what we do. They also appreciate we want to bring more quicker to the table. I want to play for that [championship]. That’s what we want to compete for. That’s what it has always been about. You don’t have have to go whale hunting. You can acquire key players via trade, instead of laying out $38 million for a guy. Some of these max numbers are ridicluous. That’s the nature of the collective bagraining agreement.”

The Heat emerged as a feel-good story with their incredible second-half turnaround. Role players like Dion Waiters and James Johnson clearly bought into Miami’s culture, and Waiters has already said he wants to re-sign.

And,  yes, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s designated-veteran-player rule will make it more difficult for the Heat to land star free agents.

But if the Heat win their eventual case that Chris Bosh can no longer safely play basketball, they’ll be guaranteed to have his salary removed from the cap only this offseason. This is their opportunity to upgrade the roster.

I’d caution against assuming this group of overachievers will overachieve again. Hassan Whiteside is a foundational piece, and Goran Dragic found his groove later in the season. Justise Winslow will return, too. But that’s not close to a championship core, and locking up Waiters and Johnson isn’t the ticket, either.

If the Heat are content being merely good right now, sure, keep this core together. They compete hard, and chemistry matters. This could be a fine team next year if it returns mostly intact.

But Miami is a market – with championship pedigree, no state income tax, warm weather and quality nightlife – that can dream bigger. This is a place that attracted LeBron James, Dwyane and Chris Bosh and, before that, Shaquille O’Neal (who approved his trade from the Lakers). Will Riley really shift his strategy so significantly?