Kurt Helin

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards - Game Six

Quote of the Day: Bradley Beal doesn’t want anyone to win the NBA title

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That’s the best answer.

One-handed John Wall was not enough to lift the Wizards past the inconsistent Hawks, so Washington is golfing for the summer. Except for Bradley Beal, who is still bitter about being home and is not taking out the clubs just yet.

You have to like that in a player. It bodes well for the Wizards’ future. (So would Randy Whittman using some of these playoff lineups that worked so well during the regular season.)

PBT Western Conference Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Trevor Ariza
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SEASON RECORDS

Warriors: 67-15 (first place in Western Conference)
Rockets: 56-26 (second place in Western Conference)
(The Warriors swept season series 4-0 (and won every game by double digits.)

KEY INJURIES

Warriors: Marreese Speights will miss at least Game 1 with a calf injury and could well miss much more of the series.

Rockets: Patrick Beverley had wrist surgery and is out for the postseason. Donatas Motiejunas is out for the playoffs (spinal surgery). K.J. McDaniels has a fractured elbow and will be out for this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (in first two rounds of playoffs)

Warriors: 107.4 points scored per 100 possessions (2nd in NBA); 98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (5th in NBA).
Rockets: 105.9 points scored per 100 possessions (6th in NBA); 106.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (12th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Who can defend the three ball? These are the No. 1 and 2 teams in the playoffs in made three pointers per game — sorry Phil Jackson, but the teams that lean heavily on the three are doing quite well this postseason. Both of these teams have the three pointer as a central part of their offense, and the defense that can better defend the arc will have taken a big step toward winning.

That favors the Warriors. During the regular season, the Warriors defended the three-point line well — they allowed 21.4 three point attempts a game (seventh fewest in the NBA) and their opponents shot 33.7 percent (fifth lowest). In the playoffs the Warriors have done even better — 17.5 shots allowed and a 29.4 shooting percentage. During the season, the Rockets allowed 22.8 threes a night (middle of the NBA pack) but teams shot a league-low 32.2 percent. In the playoffs, teams are still shooting 32 percent against the Rockets, but they are taking more shots, 27.6 per game (part of that is skewed by the shootouts with Dallas).

One other advantage for the Warriors: When Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson or Draymond Green get chased off the arc, they can drive to the basket or pull up in the midrange and knock down shots. Harden can do that for the Rockets, but guys like Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry, and Pablo Prigioni are far less versatile that way.

2) Can Klay Thompson slow James Harden? If James Harden wants to prove his point about the MVP race — that he deserved the honor because he did more for his team — he has the stage to do it. But it’s not going to be easy. Klay Thompson is a good man defender and he draws the primary assignment. Beyond that the Warriors will switch nearly every pick with another good defender, nobody helps and recovers as well as them defensively, and they have Andrew Bogut in the paint to clean up messes. It worked during the team’s regular season meetings — Harden shot 24.1 percent from three and had fewer shots in the restricted area (and more from the inefficient midrange) against the Warriors than he did on average. If Houston is going to win this series, Harden needs to be the MVP.

3) Dwight Howard has to be key for Houston’s offense. Dwight Howard had a good series against the Clippers, despite being matched up against the ultra-athletic DeAndre Jordan (who is a good defender). Howard needs to be more than good this series. Sure, Andrew Bogut is a quality defender, too, but not near the athlete Howard faced last round. Howard is going to be involved in a lot of pick-and-rolls with Harden, and he has to blow up the usually reliable Golden State defense. He needs to be aggressive and if he can get Bogut in foul trouble things will open up for Houston somewhat. Howard also needs to be fantastic defensively — move his feet to blow up pick-and-roll plays, plus defend the rim.

PREDICTION

Give the Rockets credit — they have made the plays when they’ve had to, their role players have stepped up, and they are playing their best basketball of the season. But this is a rough matchup for them. The Rockets have played at a faster pace than any other team in the playoffs, but now they face a team that will thrive at that tempo. Golden State is more diverse offensively and better defensively, plus they have depth and will not wilt as the series goes on. It’s been an impressive run by the Rockets, but this is where it ends. The Warriors in five.

Western Conference Finals subplot: Who is more valuable, Curry or Harden?

Serbia v USA - 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championship
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Stephen Curry was the perfect leader for a modern NBA offense — he can shoot off the dribble, he can catch-and-shoot, he has fantastic playmaking skills, he likes to play up-tempo, and he knows how to use his skills and gravity to draw defenders to get his teammates open looks. He did all that leading the Warriors to 67 wins.

James Harden led a team ravaged by injuries to 56 wins, the Southwest Division title and the No. 2 seed. He rolled downhill off the pick-and-roll all season, making plays when every team’s scouting report focused on stopping him and letting anyone else beat them. He was efficient, attacking the basket and drawing fouls, while also hitting threes.

In the end, Curry was voted the league MVP. James Harden came in second — and was hurt by that. Harden felt he did more to carry his team without the help Curry had from a deeper team.

Which leads to an interesting subplot in the Western Conference Finals:

Is Curry really more valuable than Harden?

This is not a battle that will be determined head-to-head, they will rarely be matched up on each other. (During the meetings in the regular season, Klay Thompson was the primary defender on Harden; Houston has to decide if Trevor Ariza guards Curry or Thompson, and which one Jason Terry tries to stay with.)

Curry vs. Harden will be a narrative for the series.

It’s hard to read much of anything into the regular season meetings of these teams — this is a very different Rockets team playing very different lineups — but if it’s instructive about how Curry and Harden play it will bolster Curry’s case. Curry averaged 25.8 points and shot a ridiculous 51.9 percent from three in the four meetings.

In their meetings this season, Harden averaged 25.3 points and hit 24.1 percent from three — below his season averages. Harden took fewer shots near the basket and more from the midrange than his season averages in those games. Plus, the Warriors have said their goal in this series is to keep Harden off the free throw line.

For the Rockets to win this series (or even get to a seventh game) Harden is going to have to be more efficient than he was in those four meetings. He’ll have more help — this Dwight Howard was not the one the Warriors saw, plus remember Harden sat for the dramatic Game 6 comeback — but Harden is going to have to put up big numbers efficiently against an elite defense if Houston is to advance.

Harden will have to prove his value.

Expect both men to make some spectacular plays, to lead their teams to strong stretches, to have their moments.

In the end, it is likely the Warriors win the series for the reason many thought Harden should have been MVP — Curry has a lot more talent around him.

But if Harden wants to change the MVP narrative, the stage is his.

John Wall doesn’t think he’ll need surgery on hand, wrist

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards-Game Six
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Wizards fans are convinced that if they had John Wall healthy and he played all series, they would have beaten the Atlanta Hawks. You can debate that while sitting on your barstools for the rest of the summer (or in Washington until everyone starts discussing what is wrong with the Redskins).

The good news for Wall and the Wizards: It looks like he didn’t further injure the hand by coming back, and will avoid surgery on his fractured hand and wrist.

That’s what he told J. Michael at CSNWashington.com.

“I’m going to go to Cleveland (Clinic) to see a specialist but I’m still doing the normal treatment routine I was doing like I was playing … letting the bones heal on its own,” said Wall, who fell in the second quarter of Game 1 and had five non-displaced fractures in the hand and wrist….

“It was tough. It was very sore,” said Wall, who averaged 17.5 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals with a broken wrist. “At times it gets hit, it would get aggravated. I knew if I played it was going to happen.”

Making things worse was always the concern with bringing him back this series — a blow or fall would happen that require surgery, which could impact next season.

The Wizards didn’t get the series, but at least they avoided the worst possible outcome.

PBT Extra: Previewing Golden State vs. Houston Conference Finals

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six
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The good news for Houston fans: I don’t think those four regular-season losses to Golden State are much of a predictor of the playoff series between these two teams.

The bad news for Houston fans: I still think this is a tough matchup for them, and they are going to win just one game in this series. That’s what I told Jenna Corrado in this latest PBT Extra.

What didn’t change between the regular season and the postseason is the Golden State defense, which was the best in the NBA during the regular season and has been the second best in the playoffs. Houston’s defense has been inconsistent. I think that and the versatility of the Warriors guards and attack will expose holes in the Rockets they simply cannot plug.