Kurt Helin

Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Wednesday: Who are these Clippers?


Now that you’re back from trying to run across the ocean, here’s what you need to know about Wednesday night’s NBA games.

1) Austin Rivers and Jeff Green are no Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but can they be close enough to beat the Trail Blazers? Tonight’s Clippers expected starting lineup — Austin Rivers, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan — has played exactly zero minutes together this season. The Clippers have never had a game where Redick, Jordan, Jamal Crawford suited up but Paul and Griffin didn’t. Which is to say, nobody knows exactly what to expect from the Clippers. Can that group (and the bench) generate an efficient offense? Can they continue to trap and defend Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and reduce their role in the game?

I expect this game to be close — for a couple of games against a team with holes in its lineup, these Clippers can step up and make it interesting. Maybe even win. Crawford could off. The Clippers are not going to just roll over. But the Blazers know what they have to do, and if they get another hot shooting night from Al-Farouq Aminu it will not matter.

2) Welcome to the final Houston Rockets game of the season.
Sure, it is technically possible that the Houston Rockets can beat a Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors team at Oracle Arena on Wednesday. We can even lay out a roadmap: Houston has to get its threes to fall (shooting just 29 percent from deep for the playoffs), Donatas Motiejunas has to dominate Draymond Green, James Harden needs to go off, the Rockets need to care on defense, Michael Beasley and Dwight Howard need to have their best games of the series.

Can you see all of that happening? Any of it? The Warriors without Curry are still a good team that can hit threes, and they owned the second half of Game 4 with this lineup. Expect the Warriors to take care of business Wednesday then sit back and watch the Clippers and Trail Blazers battle it out.

3) Nicolas Batum is back, will Charlotte keep getting their points in the paint? Can they keep Miami out of it? The Hornets will have Nicolas Batum back from injury faster than expected, a boost to their Game 5 chances on the road. But more than a French swingman, the thing to watch in this series is which team is getting their buckets inside.

Miami’s defense has prioritized chasing Charlotte off the three-point line — in the regular season Charlotte averaged 29.4 three point attempts a game (fourth most in the league), but in the playoffs that is down to 16.8 per game and they are making just four a night. Charlotte has countered that by going inside — Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin on the drive, Al Jefferson on post ups. While Hassan Whiteside gets some blocks, the strategy shift has worked well enough to get Charlotte a couple wins.

In Game 4, Miami took 26 shots inside eight feet of the rim and hit 53.8 percent of those shots. In Game 3 it was 29 shots, hitting just nine. Go back to Game 1 — Miami’s best offensive output of the playoffs — and they got 39 shots inside eight feet and hit two-thirds of them. Whether it was the insertion of Frank Kaminski into the lineup, or just passivity on the road, Miami settled too much the last two games on offense and now find themselves in a tight best-of-three series. The Heat need to attack again, and feed Whiteside so he gets chances in close.

Whichever team is getting its buckets inside will win.

Jordan reiterates Hornets opposed to discrimination

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan reiterated that the Charlotte Hornets are opposed to House Bill 2, which was recently passed in North Carolina and could prevent the NBA All-Star Game from coming to Charlotte.

Jordan said in a statement Tuesday to the Charlotte Observer that the Hornets “are opposed to discrimination in any form, and we have always sought to provide an inclusive environment.”

Some consider the law discriminatory toward the LGBT community.

“As has been the case since the building opened, we will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome while at work or attending NBA games and events at Time Warner Cable Arena,” Jordan said in the statement.

Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA believes a change in the law is necessary to bring All-Star weekend to Charlotte next February.

Raptors’ Norman Powell ties game in fourth with steal, Superman slam


That is how you fire up a crowd.

Indiana had seemed in control of this game, leading by 17 at one point, until a 21-2 run by Toronto to open the fourth quarter made it a game — one the Raptors won. Barely.

The highlight of that run may have been the steal and slam by Norman Powell, the rookie out of UCLA, who has stepped up and played well for the Raptors the second half of the season and into the playoffs. That is an impressive dunk.

Hawks find shooting touch midway through Game 5, Celtics never do; Atlanta takes 3-2 series lead

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The first quarter of this crucial Game 5 was not video that will be saved by the Hall of Fame — Boston was clearly the better team, and they shot 31.8 percent. After 12 minutes it was 20-15 Boston over Atlanta. Playoff basketball, we love it!

The rest of the game was not a whole lot better for Boston (40 percent shooting), however, the Hawks found their groove, shooting nearly 50 percent and hitting 13 three pointers (by seven different players) the rest of the way. That has always been the key to this series — Boston is daring some Hawks to shoot, and when their attack is balanced and those shots fall at even a decent result they win.

The end result was an easy 110-85 win for the Hawks, which gives Atlanta a 3-2 series lead heading to Boston for Game 6 Thursday.

Sorry Celtics fans, but from here on out the odds favor Atlanta. Heavily. From our own Dan Feldman:

Add to that Isaiah Thomas left Game 5 with a mild sprain of his left ankle. He almost certainly will play Thursday night, but if he’s not 100 percent that is one more thing tilting the scales toward the Hawks — Boston needs him to be fantastic to win. The Hawks were already throwing everything they had defensively at taking the ball out of Thomas’ hands and collapsing on his drives.  It worked Tuesday, he had 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting on the night.

This game was close for the first 18 minutes but the Hawks started to take control with a 26-6 run in the second quarter that had them up eight points at the half. Then midway through the third the Hawks went on a 20-2 run, part of a 42-point quarter for Atlanta, which made the rest of the game moot.

Mike Scott led the way with 17 points for Atlanta (he played with Millsap a fair amount during the season, and that pairing was dynamite in this game), while Jeff Teague and Kent Bazemore each had 16 for Atlanta. Evan Turner was high scorer on the Celtics with 15.

Brad Stevens would like to flush and forget the sloppy third quarter by the Celtics. Can’t blame him. But the Hawks All-Stars struggled in this one (Al Horford had zero first half points) and if they start to find a groove in Game 6 the Boston players can book their flights to Cancun because it will be over.


Chandler Parsons on Dwight Howard to Mavericks idea: “Why not come here?”

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Chandler Parsons went the full John Calipari in recruiting Dwight Howard to Houston a few years back. It worked. Well, the recruiting part worked, the fit with Howard on the Rockets has been a mess. But Parsons helped land the big fish.

Will he do that again trying to lure Dwight Howard to Dallas this summer?

Maybe. There’s a lot of questions here — including will free agent to be Parsons stay in Dallas himself — but he said in his exit interview it was possible. Here is the quote, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I think he can still dominate the game. I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston, so why not come here?”

While critics on Twitter shred Howard, he still has value on the court. Howard averaged  13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds a game this season, shooting 62 percent, and he has been the only Rocket playing defense for stretches of the season.

As always, this question ultimately comes down to money. And years.

Howard and his agent are reportedly letting it be known he wants max money (or close to it), which under the spiked salary cap this season will be in the $30 million range. That reportedly has Mark Cuban and the Mavericks saying “too rich for my blood” and staying away.

More interesting than the amount may be the years — how long will teams be willing to be committed to Howard, with his history of back issues (not to mention franchise culture clashes his last couple stops)? Will a team commit to four years but at a lower per-year sum? Three years? Two?

I could see something in the two-years, $40 million range, but maybe a GM who strikes out elsewhere comes in over the top.

What Howard can ultimately get is one of the most interesting questions of the off-season. In last year’s market Howard may have struggled to find anything near what he expected, but this year in a market where two-thirds of the teams will have space for a max salary and it’s a thin elite free agent class? It’s unpredictable.

And Dallas is not out of the question.