Kurt Helin

2015 NBA Finals - Game Four

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors preview: Five things to watch in Game 5

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OAKLAND — Since 1985 in the NBA Finals, when the series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 went on to win the series seven out of 11 times. That’s 64 percent of the time.

It’s technically not a must win, but if the Cavaliers win LeBron James will have two chances to close out the series, including one on his home court. If the Warriors win at home, well, it would hard to imagine them suddenly losing two in a row.

Following a couple days of rest, Game 5 should be a more true test of these teams. Here are five key areas to watch:

1) You know it’s all about that pace, ’bout that pace. Game 4 was not played as fast as it seemed, but the Warriors improved ball movement — they made the smart passes and hit the shots off them — made the game feel that way. Heading into Game 5, the Warriors will again go small and try to run more at home, the Cavaliers will counter by going big, banging the ball inside and trying to go deep in the clock.

“I think we allowed their (small) lineup to get us out of what we did in Games 1, 2, and 3, and that was control the pace and put the ball into the post,” LeBron James said. “We shot 27 threes. So I would say half of those or even more than half were some good shots, but a few of them we wish we could have back.”

2) Can the Cavaliers hit their open threes and jumpers? Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova, we’re looking at you. In Game 3 LeBron found the open man when the double team came, but nobody could convert. The Cavaliers were 4-of-27 from three and 6-of-29 on uncontested looks. Maybe that was the fatigue of the series and the short bench getting to the legs of the shooters, and they extra day off will change that. Maybe it was just one of those things. Whatever the reason, whatever the fix, the Cavaliers cannot have another shooting night like that and win.

3) Cleveland is going to try and pound the Warriors small lineup. Expect to see more LeBron James in the post. Expect another big game from Timofey Mozgov getting deep position on Draymond Green and scoring. If the Warriors are going to go small, the Cavaliers are not going to match that but rather try to exploit it. Frankly, that’s their only real option.

“We’re going to play our game,” LeBron said. “We’ve gotten to this point by playing the way we play, and we’re not going to change.  We’ll make adjustments throughout the game, but we won’t change our starting lineup.”

4) Did two days off between games refresh a fatigued Cavaliers team? Will Blatt go deeper into his bench? One of the storylines of Game 4 was fatigue — the Cavaliers just looked tired. LeBron stopped driving and settled for fadeaways in the fourth quarter. Dellavedova looked flat-footed trying to stop Stephen Curry (and Curry attacked him early in isolations, before the help could come). With an extra day off between games, will the Cavaliers be fresher for Game 5?

“It certainly helps,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “Doesn’t guarantee anything.  You’ve still got to come and play.  But it certainly helps.”

The other question for Blatt is will he trust the veterans on his bench more in Game 5? He’s got Shawn Marion and Mike Miller, who are itching to get more run, but Blatt hasn’t trusted them through most of the playoffs. Does the situation and the tired legs from his seven-man rotation change that dynamic?

5) Have the Warriors figured it out? In every other Warriors’ series these playoffs, there has come a point where Golden State made it’s adjustments, figured out what it would take to win, and then never looked back and won relatively comfortably. In this series, they are the deeper, more talented team, and they made their big adjustment.

“Even more so than the lineup change, we competed,” Warriors’ assistant coach Luke Walton said. “I think the first three games, we hadn’t really adjusted to what it takes, and the amount of effort on every possession it takes to win in the NBA Finals. Last game our guys fought and scrapped all game long and I think that’s why Draymond (Green) had a better game, that’s why Andre (Iguodala) had a great game.”

“I think if we played as hard as we were playing the last couple of games, it would have won us probably 67 regular season games, but it would have lost us The Finals 4-1,” Green echoed. “And that’s what we had to change. And we were able to do that (in Game 4). That’s what helped us out a lot. That’s what helped me out.”

The Warriors fully expect to play a better game back home for Game 5. If they do, there may be nothing the Cavaliers can do about it.

After sitting out all of last season, Joel Embiid suffers setback with foot recovery

Joel Embiid
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I think I speak for everyone when I say: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid sat out all of last season following surgery to left foot, but was on target to return to the court for Summer League (he looked good in warm ups). No longer. He has had a setback, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and later confirmed by the team. From Wojnarowski:

After weeks of rigorous workouts, Embiid had not felt pain in the foot, but a recent CT scan revealed an issue in the healing process, sources said. Philadelphia is consulting with doctors on how to best proceed, and it’s still premature to speculate on the possibility of another surgical procedure that could sideline Embiid, sources said.

Embiid had been expected to participate with Sixers’ summer league teams in July, but that could jeopardized now, sources said. For now, it is too soon to tell how long Embiid will be kept out.

Here is what Sixers GM Sam Hinkie said in the official release from the team:

“Recently, Joel and Sixers personnel traveled to Los Angeles for a series of routine exams with a number of physicians involved throughout this process. During his visit with Dr. Richard Ferkel, a standard CT scan on Joel’s right foot revealed less healing than anticipated at this point.

“Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career, and as such, they findings cause us to pause and reassess current activities. Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consoled with the experienced team of doctors who had been an integral part of his evaluations, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists.

“Discussions regarding the appropriate next steps are currently ongoing and we will share an update once it becomes available.”

Embiid had been considered a potential No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, but had surgery on his foot to repair a stress fracture just three days before the draft. He fell to No. 3, where the Sixers — with their tanking plan in place from management — were more than willing to wait a year to see what they had.

Now they may have to wait even longer.

If you’re wondering “could this injury impact what GM Sam Hinkie does in the draft?” well, that would involve predicting Hinkie was going to do in the first place. Good luck with that. Embiid had been sitting in on player interviews as the Sixers decide who to take with the No. 3 pick.

 

 

Golden State and the art of double teaming LeBron James

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OAKLAND — For three games, Golden State’s strategy was to make LeBron James work but make him a shooter — try not to let him rack up assists and get his teammates going. LeBron was single covered — by Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and occasionally others — and the other defenders mostly stayed home. This was moderately effective, LeBron wasn’t efficient, but he was putting up enough points to get the Cavaliers two wins.

In Game 4, the Warriors brought the help. They threw some double teams at LeBron.

However, there is an art to doubling LeBron — he is so gifted as a passer and scorer that if you don’t do it smartly he shreds your defense like Peyton Manning with time in the pocket. The Warriors were smart about it, having the doubles come from various areas and odd angles, plus at different times.

You’ve got to be smart about it because you know how smart he is in reading situations and being able to pick you apart with his drives and his court vision,” Stephen Curry said. “But once  definitely, once he’s committed to a move, he maybe puts his head down and tries to go through a guy, you can help in that situation because it’s harder to pass out of that type of offense.

“You don’t want to double when he’s facing up to the basket and can see everybody, because he obviously can make pretty much any pass in the book.  So if you allow him to see everything right in front of him, that’s where he hurts you.  So you want to avoid those situations.”

The other key Curry said was to be decisive — if the man coming to double is slow or hesitant, LeBron will destroy the plan.

The Warriors often took the man guarding Matthew Dellavedova or J.R. Smith — primarily Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston — and had them double LeBron and pressure him out of his comfort zone. The Cavaliers recognized what is happening, notice on the play below Iman Shumpert comes down and screens Stephen Curry to free up J.R. Smith, who could not hit the shot and make the Warriors pay.

Andre Iguodala has been on the front line guarding LeBron for much of the series and talked about plays like the one above, and how you have to push him out of his comfort zone at just the right time.

“A guy like LeBron who can pass the ball the way he can, you’ve got to see where his eyes are,” Iguodala said. “If he can see the whole floor, it’s tough to double a guy like that.  So it was more surprises.  Klay had a few random double teams that we didn’t even talk about as a scheme, and it worked out for us.  The majority of the time they worked.  But the one or two times we got bit because LeBron could see the floor.

“So it’s just about us being smart and, more importantly, communicating.  Because if I can hear a guy coming on double team, I know where to funnel.  We know how to rotate out of it, and it usually works for us.”

It worked to the tune of holding LeBron to 20 points on 22 shots, plus he had eight assists.

“It’s almost funny when you say a guy had a 20-point game it’s not up to par,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “That’s kind of funny.  But realistically we know that LeBron’s production is critical to us, and for the most part he’s given that and more, much more.”

That defense on LeBron takes a toll on the Warriors defenders as well (which makes Iguodala’s good shooting night in Game 4 even more impressive.

“(LeBron’s physicality) definitely takes your legs out, that’s when your shots come up a little short,” Harrison Barnes said. “That’s why I’ve focused this series to make sure I’ve got a wide base and get the shot up.”

The Warriors are going to bring the double teams again in Game 5 Sunday night at Oracle Arena. The questions are how will the Cavaliers adjust and handle it after watching the film, and will the open Cleveland players knock down their looks?

In Game 5, expect Cavaliers to go big (then go home)

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OAKLAND — When the Warriors went small in Game 4, the Cavaliers got sucked into the Warriors style of play for stretches.

“I think we allowed their lineup to get us out of what we did in Games 1, 2, and 3, and that was control the pace and put the ball into the post,” LeBron James said Saturday before the Cavaliers’ practice. “We shot 27 threes. So I would say half of those or even more than half were some good shots, but a few of them we wish we could have back.”

While the Cavaliers were not about to talk specifics of their adjustments for Game 5, LeBron said the starting lineup would remain the same. Speaking to players and coaches, the theme that came up again and again was getting back to what worked — playing big and slowing down the game.

Go big. Then the Cavaliers go home for Game 6 and hope to be in a position to finish the series off.

“We took some quick shots last game, and they got the game off the pace.” James Jones said. “But overall when we sit back and we look at it, that game defensively was still in reach for us…. So they played fast, and we tried to play fast.  And for some parts of the game we played too fast and for other parts of the game we slowed them down, which was to our advantage.”

At points in Game 4 the Cavaliers did try to counter the Warriors small lineup by pounding the ball inside more. Timofey Mozgov had 28 points as a result. He did a fantastic job doing his work early, getting deep position and sealing off Draymond Green or another defender, then finishing. Expect to see more of that.

Which is something the Warriors may be willing to live with.

“Mozgov scored 28 and he’s a good player, but we’d rather have Mozgov beat you than LeBron, who’s proven time-and-time again, year-after-year that he can beat you,” Draymond Green said.

The Cavaliers will go back to the LeBron in the post well more in Game 5. The Warriors doubled that more in Game 4, LeBron made the right passes out of it, but then the Cavs missed those looks.

That’s where some extra rest may come in. The Cavs players all said that having the extra day off between games has them feeling more rested, which should help their shooting — the Cavaliers were 6-of-29 on uncontested looks in Game 4. They expect that changes in Game 5.

The challenge with Mozgov and Tristan Thompson being on the floor together when the Warriors go small is on defense — Mozgov doesn’t like to stray far from the paint, yet he had to chase Iguodala out to the three point line. Then he couldn’t recover to protect the rim the same way. If you’re going to see significant adjustments from Cleveland, look for them on that end of the floor.

Certainly we’ve got to do a better job getting out and contesting shots and matching up in the ways we want to match up with so that the advantage plays well for us at both ends,” Blatt said. 

Blatt is going big, in part because he’s not flush with other options. While we may see a little more of Shawn Marion or Mike Miller in Game 5, the bottom line is that Steve Kerr just has far more versatility at his disposal. If small isn’t working for him in Game 5, Kerr can put Andrew Bogut back in the mix.

If he does, it’s because the Cavaliers went big and it worked.

D’Angelo Russell cancels workout with Sixers, reportedly due to illness

NBA Draft Prospects Workout 2015
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The Philadelphia 76ers have the No. 3 pick in the June 25 NBA Draft. The Timberwolves get to pick No. 1 and are expected to take Karl Anthony Towns; followed by the Lakers, who likely snap up Jahlil Okafor.

That puts Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell in play for the Sixers. Russell was set to work out for the Sixers over the weekend.

But he cancelled. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has the details.

D’Angelo Russell canceled this weekend’s scheduled workout with the 76ers after getting “real sick,” according to a source close to the former Ohio State standout. Another source said don’t rule out the franchise securing a workout with Russell in the near future….

However, Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie spent Friday at Impact Basketball to watch 7-1 power forward Kristaps Porzingis at the ASM Sports Pro Day. DraftExpress has the Sixers taking Porzingis third overall in the draft.

I see three likely possibilities here.

First, Russell actually is sick. That may have happened. I’m too big a cynic to think it’s the truth, but it certainly is possible.

Second, Russell got a promise from one of the teams with the top two picks. The Lakers have had rumors flying around that they like Russell, although I have heard they will take whichever big man Minnesota passes on. It seems unlikely either of the top teams would make such a promise, they have no reason to even if they wanted Russell.

Third, Russell’s agent is angling to land his client with the Knicks, who have the No. 4 pick. An agent trying to manipulate things to get his client to a major market? That I can see. There are certainly reports that Sixers GM Sam Hinkie likes Porzingas, but when push comes to shove is he going to pass up a promising guy to play the one in a point guard driven league?

Russell can score — 19.3 points a game, shoots 41 percent from three — plus is a gifted passer with phenomenal court vision. He’s also a big guard. His doubters note he is not a dynamic athlete, and that could be an issue at the NBA level where he will face those guys a lot of nights. 

Hinkie is the kind of GM who is willing to take a big risk on what he believes in, even if it’s a raw Euro big who doesn’t hang out in the paint and will freak out the fan base (Porzingas is not Andrea Bargnani, but that’s another post). Russell, however, seems the safer pick and one that fits with core pieces they already have in house.

Or, maybe we’re all just reading too much into a kid getting sick.