Kurt Helin

Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Sunday: Stephen Curry is back, Houston’s defense is in trouble

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You don’t need Postmates to deliver this NBA preview to you.

1) Stephen Curry is back, Houston better find an improved defense. Fast. In the just 20 minutes Stephen Curry has played in this series, the Warriors have had an offensive rating of 119 points per 100 possessions, and they outscored the Rockets by 17.9 points per 100. It’s a small sample size, but it follows what Curry did in the two games he played against them in the regular season when he averaged 30 points a game with a 70 percent true shooting percentage. Like a lot of teams, the Rockets have no real answer for defending Curry, and his gravity drawing defenders opens up the floor for the rest of the Warriors players.

The Rockets won Game 3 in Houston on a James Harden shot with 2.7 seconds left, but this game will be very different. Expect a sharper Golden State defense, expect a better game from Draymond Green who was frustrated with his turnovers in the last contest, and expect a much more potent Warriors offense. Houston will be physical with Curry using Patrick Beverley, James Harden will get his points and attack, the Houston crowd will be loud and energized after Game 3. But if the Rockets do not find a much better defense quickly, this series will be over in five.

2) San Antonio will close out their series, can Cleveland do the same? Today will be the final game of the Memphis Grizzlies season. Credit them for playing all out just to make the playoffs despite a barrage of injuries, coach Dave Joerger has been brilliant, Matt Barnes and Tony Allen have epitomized “grit and grind,” but they are vastly overmatched, and this will be their final game.

The more interesting question is if Cleveland can close out a feisty Detroit Pistons team Sunday. You know Andre Drummond is going to get his (except in the fourth quarter, when he is forced to the bench by hack-a-Drummond), but the Pistons have had a balanced attack with Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris all playing well. It took a lot of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving for Cleveland to win Game 3 on the road, but the Pistons are not going to roll over in Game 4.

Cleveland has outscored Detroit by 34 in the second half through three games; that is where they have won. By going more with Kevin Love at center and keeping Drummond on the bench, Cleveland has found ways in the second half; the Pistons need to change that around if they plan to play another day. Cleveland’s other advantage? LeBron tends to step it up in close out games.

3) Can Atlanta get back to shutting down Isaiah Thomas and Boston’s offense? Boston shot better at home in Game 3, but not great — 8-of-19 from the midrange, 11-of-32 from three. It was enough. The threat of Jonas Jerebko (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Evan Turner (16 points) created space that was missing with Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk out injured. That opened the door for Isaiah Thomas to go off for 42. Expect the Hawks and their ruthless defense to get back to packing the paint, taking away Thomas’ driving lanes and living with the Celtics’ shooters beating them. The question becomes can the Celtics shooters make them pay? Can Boston’s defense hold the Hawks front line stars in check again and even the series? Or, maybe the better question for the Hawks offense: Can they start to hit open jumpers? It’s become a thing with this team.

If you’re going to watch one game today, make it this one. This is the best playoff series going — evenly matched teams that are chippy with one another. The Boston crowd is raucous. The Celtics have a chance to even the series and make this a best-of-three, but they will need a better game from guys not named Thomas to make that happen, another scorer needs to step up.

Watch 18-0 run that won Charlotte first playoff game in nearly 14 years

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It’s been a long, long 14-year playoff win drought in Charlotte — in part because the old team moved to New Orleans, so an expansion team was brought in — but that ended on Saturday night with a win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of their first-round series.

It happened because of this 18-0 run in the third quarter.

The game had been fairly close until that point, but Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin helped spark the run that made this a series again — 2-1 Miami, with Game 4 Monday in Charlotte. We’ll see if Miami can squelch any runs in that game.

Report: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony agree to play in Rio Olympics

US forward LeBron James celebrates after
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Officially, LeBron James has said he hasn’t made a decision about playing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, saying he would decide after the season (when he likely will have made his sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals).

Carmelo Anthony has said he’d like to go to Rio if he can make Team USA.

Now comes a report both have said they are in, via the veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey.

If true, it’s not a surprise that Anthony would say yes. He also has been fantastic in the last two Olympics, being willing to share the ball and play a team game for Mike Krzyzewski like Knicks coaches have only dreamed about.

LeBron isn’t a huge surprise, but there certainly is more question about whether he would go. He has two gold medals (and bronze from 2004) and likely will have played into June six straight seasons by the time the Cavaliers season ends. He may want rest more than another medal. On the other hand, LeBron is in the legacy building stage of his career, and no men’s USA Basketball player has been to four Olympics nor have three gold medals.

Things can change between now and April, but don’t be shocked to see good friends LeBron and ‘Melo in Rio.

Kevin Durant ejected after blow to Justin Anderson’s head, league will review

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The NBA sent out a memo to teams before the playoffs started emphasizing something they had told them before the season started: There would be a crackdown on blows to the head. Intentional or not.

Which is what happened with Kevin Durant late in the Thunder’s Game 4 win against the Mavericks.

Durant was clearly trying to block Dallas’ Justin Anderson‘s shot from behind and in doing so just fouled him across the head. I’m not sold that warranted a Flagrant 2 and an ejection — the bar to clear is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and I’m not sold on excessive — that is how the league has told the referees to rule.

The league office will review this foul and could suspend Durant for Game 5. I don’t expect that, but predicting the league’s suspension policy is a fool’s errand.

Too much Thunder offense leads to 119-108 win, Oklahoma City up 3-1 in series

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 23:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates a three-point shot against the Dallas Mavericks during game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 23, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Coming into this series the big question was could Dallas get stops. This series featured the second best offense in the NBA this season in Oklahoma City vs. a pedestrian defense in Dallas (16th in NBA). Dallas’ defense was worse after the All-Star break by almost three points per 100 possessions than it was earlier in the season.

That difference was the issue again Saturday night in Dallas.

The Mavericks could not stop the top Thunder scorers — Russell Westbrook finished with 25 points and 15 assists, Kanter had 28 points off the bench, and Kevin Durant added 19 points. The Thunder ran a lot of spread pick-and-roll to expose the Dallas bigs inability to defend on the perimeter, and it worked. OKC finished with an offensive rating of 125.3 (points per 100 possessions) in this game.

They also finished with a 119-108 win that has the Thunder up 3-1 in the series. Oklahoma City can close out the series at home in Game 5 Monday night.

The game saw Durant’s streak of games where he scored 20 or more points end at 67 games, he finished one point short. He didn’t get the chance to pad that number in the final minute after he was ejected for a blow to the head of Justin Anderson. The league will review this foul and could suspend him for Game 5 (although that seems extreme, this was a guy going for a block from behind and not making an intentional blow to the head).

Dallas, coming off a hard-fought win in Game 3, did a good job of keeping the tempo under control, and their effort can’t be questioned. Particularly Dirk Nowitzki who finished the game with 27 points, eight rebounds, and he left every ounce of energy he had on the court. At age 37, he was the best and most energetic Mavericks player — he played it like it could be the last Dallas home game of the season (and maybe his last home playoff game in the building).

But he can’t defend like he used to, and the Thunder dragged him into every pick-and-roll they could. He was paired with David Lee for stretches, and that was a defensive disaster. Dallas got some good bench play out of Salah Mejri, however, he injured his hip and had to leave the game. His status for Game 5 is unknown.

The Thunder got 12 points and eight rebounds from Steven Adams, and he led the Thunder’s continued physical play that has bothered Dallas. That’s not going to change no matter how much Rick Carlisle complains.

He’s not going to have to complain about it much longer.