Kurt Helin

NBA Finals Cavaliers vs. Warriors preview: Seven key questions that will decide series

26 Comments

Seven games to decide the NBA title. If that many are needed (they probably won’t be). Still to be symmetrical, we’ve got seven questions that will be at the heart of this series. If you want a more NBA Finals previews, check out our Podcast where myself and Dan Feldman break it all down.

1) Can Cleveland have success running and gunning against Golden State? There’s a simplistic line of thinking that goes “the Cavaliers pushed the Finals to six games last year without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, this is a better Cavs team, they will win.” No doubt, they are a better Cavaliers team than a year ago, and they do have a chance. The challenge is that with the return of those two stars the Cavaliers have started to play small and fast — Channing Frye is the backup center and coach Tyronn Lue likes to pair him with Kevin Love and put out a running, shooting lineup. It’s worked well through the playoffs.

But do the Cavaliers want to get into an up-and-down, small ball running game with the Warriors? Do they want to try to out Warrior the Warriors? Oklahoma City just tried that — with far better athletes and defenders up and down the roster — and got torched in the final two games going small, and they lost the series. Cleveland coach Lue has pushed this team to play fast and said that is not changing now.

“We just have to play our game. We’re not going to slow the ball down and be at ease. We’re going to push the pace, try to get easy baskets early in transition but make sure we’re taking good shots,” Lue said.

The question isn’t can the Cavaliers score playing this way; the question is can they get enough stops against a Warriors offense that thrives in these faster, more chaotic games? The Warriors destroy teams because of cross-matches forced by pace. I think by Game 3 you may see the Cavaliers looking to slow the game a down some, feed LeBron James in the post more, and we will start to see the Cavs play more like they did last year in the Finals.

2) How does Kevin Love handle pick-and-roll defense? There is nowhere to hide Kevin Love’s defense this series — he’s not good at defending the pick-and-roll and he is going to be dragged into one nearly every time down the court. Golden State’s versatility means whoever Love guards (Andrew Bogut is likely first), that guy can come up and set the pick (and in small ball situations, if he’s on Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala because LeBron is on Draymond Green, both those guys can be on either side of the P&R). Love is going to have to show out on a shooter like Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, then recover to his man, and history shows us that doesn’t go well. Oklahoma City — with their length and athleticism — did this as well as any team we’ve seen having bigs switch onto Curry and Thompson, and they still got torched from three the final two games. Love likely will start out guarding Bogut, but they use the big man to set picks all the time and if Love hangs back the Warriors could start feeling it early.

To be fair, Love did defend the pick-and-roll better against Toronto, showing out well and at points frustrating Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But the Raptors are not the Warriors — Golden State’s guards are better and have more options around them than the Raptors guards (Draymond Green on the half-roll, creating that 4-on-3). The Warriors know Love and Irving are traditionally a terrible pick-and-roll defending tandem, and they will go right at them. Coach Nick at BBallBreakdown shows you the problems.



3) Does Steve Kerr start Andre Iguodala or Harrison Barnes?
By Game 4 of the NBA Finals last year, Steve Kerr was done with the Barnes on LeBron experiment and started Andre Iguodala instead to at least make LeBron work for his points. By the second half of Game 6 against Oklahoma City last round, Kerr again was starting Iguodala for defensive reasons — and he also got points from the eventual Finals MVP. Does he wait that long this time, or just start Iguodala from the opening tip? Iguodala is their best defender on LeBron, but he’s also played more and harder minutes through the playoffs this season than he did a year ago, is he going to need more breaks? Whether he starts Game 1 or not, expect a lot of Iguodala on LeBron in one of the key matchups of the Finals. Which leads to another question along those lines…

4) Can anyone on the Warriors slow LeBron James? LeBron is on a mission: He has staked some of his legacy on ending Cleveland’s seemingly eternal championship drought. That doesn’t necessarily have to happen this year, but the window is not going to stay open that much longer, and LeBron knows it. He has pushed, pulled, and prodded this team to play its best ball — and when he’s had to, he’s put the Cavaliers on his shoulders and carried them. He had a PER of 35.7 in the last round of the playoffs, which is insane. He’s attacking the basket like he’s 24 again. He’s going to have to do that at times this series — which means attacking and getting to the rim, it means some time in the post (you’re going to see a lot of LeBron as a power forward, and frankly some time at center), and it means his jumper has to fall. LeBron can do all those things. The Warriors will counter with a combination is

5) Can Kyrie Irving slow down Stephen Curry? When you start to look at matchups, you’re left with Kyrie Irving on Curry because the other matchup combos lead to worse problems down the line for the Cavaliers. This puts a lot of pressure on him on both ends, he has to make Curry uncomfortable and get him to give up the ball. Irving can be a good defender when focused (he was in the first half of Game 1 of the Finals last season) but he tends to be inconsistent and have lapses. Take a mental five-minute vacation against the Warriors and they go on a 17-2 run. As noted in No. 2 above, Irving and Love are a poor pick-and-roll defensive combo that is going to be tested a lot this series. Irving has to have a tremendous, focused defensive effort all series long for the Cavaliers to have a chance, they can’t let the Golden State guards get hot or they are toast.

6) Can Draymond Green play with emotion but avoid a suspension? Green is the kind of player fans love to root against — unless he’s on your team, then he’s a celebrated hero and the opponents are just soft. He’s polarizing that way. But one more flagrant foul in the Finals and Green is suspended a game — a flagrant 2 and he is suspended two games. Green’s aggressive, irritant, emotional style of play skirts that line all the time, for example he could have gotten a flagrant for his takedown of Steven Adams in Game 7, but the league chose not to go there. Green has to play with his emotions on his sleeve to be himself and be effective — and the Warriors need him to be at his best this series. But he can’t pick up another flagrant, and you can be sure Matthew Dellavedova and the Cavaliers will try to bait him into one.

7) Can Cleveland dominate the glass against the Warriors? The book on how to beat the Warriors is out there, and chapter one talks about owning the offensive glass, and grabbing rebounds in general. The Warriors will go small and, as Oklahoma City showed, they can be punished with second chance points. Tristan Thompson can have a big series, and if he’s getting second chance points inside it means more court time for Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli (and maybe some Anderson Varejao, just so Cavs fans can see him again). Force the Warriors to play their bigs more and you take them out of their preferred game.  Look for the Cavaliers to have a big rebounding advantage in the games they win.

Prediction: Warriors in six. I’m leaning five games but will make it six out of respect for how well LeBron is playing. As noted above the book on how to beat the Warriors exists, written by the Spurs and Thunder, but the Cavaliers lack the athletes and defensive focus to execute it. The Cavaliers will play faster and score points, but I don’t see them getting enough stops to win.

James Harden: “I’m excited about what D’Antoni brings to our team”

Getty Images
4 Comments

Jason Terry has a new show on SiriusXM NBA Radio that debuted Wednesday, and the veteran guard reached into his contact list and pulled up a good one — James Harden.

The All-Star guard and his Houston Rockets had a disappointing season, missing the playoffs with a defense that could kindly be called porous. That meant changes, starting with Kevin McHale getting fired mid-season, and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff not being brought back after the season. Now in comes the run-and-gun style of Mike D’Antoni, which fits the style management wants to play but will mean significant roster changes are needed.

Harden is pumped about the change, he told Terry in the interview, as transcribed by the Jonathan Feigen Houston Chronicle.

“I’m excited,” Harden said on Sirius XM on Wednesday. “I’m excited about the opportunity. I’ve been hearing great things about him, what he brings to our team. Obviously, our assistant coaches (Jeff Bzdelik and Roy Rogers) as well. A new beginning and I’m excited about the opportunity…

“I’m excited about what D’Antoni brings to our team. (Assistant coach Jeff) Bzdelik is a great defensive-minded coach coming from Memphis who is going to help our defensive schemes. Then the players we’re going to get, it’s set up as a great season for our team next year.”

Excitement is a good beginning. Next season needs to start with Harden showing up in much better shape, and with a much more focused commitment to defense. The changes in the Rockets need to start with him.

Terry told Harden on air the bearded one should be a great fit in the D’Antoni offense because he is a playmaker, not just a scorer. Harden’s going to have the ball in his hands — which is what he wants — and he will have control of the offense, he just can be a ball stopper.

That Harden is excited is a good first step toward the kind of changes the Rockets need.

Shaq was an undercover Lyft driver — and some people didn’t recognize him

2 Comments

When Shaq walks into a room, you know. Not because of his big, playful personality — although he certainly has that — but because the man is just massive. He’s 7’1″, pushing 350 pounds, and when he shakes your hand his fingers come way up your arm. He’s also a fact that is all over your television — he’s a crossover media personality known by many.

Yet, when he wore some ridiculous disguises — and used some terrible accents — a couple of people did not recognize him as their Lyft driver, as you can see in the video above.

Lyft has done this before with famous sports stars — most notably Danica Patrick and Jerry Rice — but it’s a little easier to disguise them than the massive frame of Shaq. Still, a bunch of the passengers seemed fooled. Somehow.

The Big Lyft Driver makes for a funny video.

Check out NBA 2K17 covers with Paul George, Kobe Bryant

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What we told you may be coming on Wednesday is now official:

Paul George and Kobe Bryant are on the covers of NBA 2K17.

The people at 2K Sports made it official via Twitter on Wednesday night, complete with pictures of the cover.

It’s a fitting tribute to George, who has bounced back from a horrific leg injury to be one of the league’s biggest stars and best two-way players. George led the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs, where they pushed the Toronto Raptors to seven games. He was an All-Star and All-NBA third team averaging 23.1 points and 7 rebounds a game.

And Kobe, well he still sells. Can’t blame 2K for going with him one more time.

Sager surrounded by family for memorable return to Wrigley, sings “Take me out to the Ballgame”

2 Comments

CHICAGO (AP) — Craig Sager carried around a picture from his childhood with Billy Williams, and he showed it to the Hall of Fame slugger in the home dugout at Wrigley Field. He introduced his family to Cubs manager Joe Maddon and posed for a group picture with the iconic outfield serving as a backdrop.

This was no ordinary night, even for the beloved TNT broadcaster.

The 64-year-old Sager, who is being treated for a recurrence of leukemia, threw out a ceremonial first pitch before his hometown Cubs faced the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Dressed in a white suit with a blue shirt and a red and blue tie, Sager swapped out his jacket for a home Cubs jersey with No. 14 and his name on the back before throwing to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, also a cancer survivor.

He also led the seventh inning stretch rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which you can see above.