NBA Playoffs: Utah looks to close out the series at home

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Up 3-2 in their series against the Denver Nuggets and coming back home to Salt Lake, the Utah Jazz have a great chance to close out their first-round series tonight. It’s not the time for them to rest on their laurels, however, as they don’t want to have to go back to Denver for a game seven. Here’s what the Jazz need to do to advance to the second round and avoid a game seven, and what Denver needs to do to stave off elimination:

Utah:

-Offensive Balance. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer both had great games for the Jazz in game five. That wasn’t enough. The Nuggets are going to put points on the board; if the Jazz want to win, they need to have more balance offensively and have everybody on the floor be a threat to score.
-Control the paint on both sides of the floor. Denver was having trouble getting frontcourt production before Nene went down, and they’ve struggled to prevent penetration all series. Even without Kirilienko and Okur, the Jazz have an advantage inside. They need to press it. 
-Win the first quarter. The Nuggets have panicked when forced to play from behind, especially on the road. If Utah makes an early run and opens up a lead, they could cruise to a game six victory. 
-Get to the line. The Jazz shot 35 free throws in both game three and game four. In their game five loss, they only shot 25 free throws. The Jazz are the more physical team — they need to exploit that by taking the ball right at Denver’s interior defenders. 
Denver:

Offensive execution. When they move the ball and work pick-and-rolls or low isolations, they’ve looked great. Their interior passing at the beginning of game five was a revelation. This team has a lot of talented scorers, but they won’t be able to put up enough points to win without playing team basketball on offense.
-Get J.R. Smith going. He’s had two good games in this series. The Nuggets won both of them. That’s not a coincidence. Getting something out of Lawson will be important as well.
-Stay calm. The Nuggets have looked bad when they’ve fallen behind in this series. If the Jazz get a lead, they need to stay patient and not try to get all their points back at once. 
-Crowd the paint. Deron Williams is going to get his regardless of what the Nuggets do against him. Outside of Deron, the Jazz would much rather rely on Paul Milsap and Carlos Boozer than C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews. The Nuggets obviously don’t have a ton of size. Still, they can make an effort to front Boozer and Milsap, bring doubles, and make them work for their points in the paint. 
-Play with confidence. The Nuggets were in a 3-1 hole, but now they have a chance to make Utah come to their house for a game seven. If they play 48 minutes of good ball, they can do it. But they have to believe that they can. 

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: ‘NBA has never drafted a player for defense’

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Syracuse lost to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

So, now Syracuse returns to recruiting. That means convincing prospects with NBA aspirations that Syracuse’s infamous zone defense won’t interfere with their pro path.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, via ASAP Sports:

What I do when I start out, I say the NBA drafts for one reason: Offense. The NBA has never drafted a player for defense. At any position, even at center. Like when they drafted Tim Duncan or David Robinson, or Olajuwon or Shaq, they didn’t get one of those guys because of their defense. They didn’t draft Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, go down the list. They didn’t draft one guy because of defense; they draft because of offense.
We had more first-round picks in the old Big East than any school because they draft guys based on their offense. That’s what we tell recruits and that’s the truth.

There are degrees of truth here. NBA teams generally value offense more than defense and more than they should.

But defense absolutely affects players’ draft position. Some players are drafted primarily for defense.

Maybe Syracuse’s zone helps players look good to NBA teams. But it’s a tough sell the zone actually prepares the players for the next level.

Syracuse’s first-round picks since Carmelo Anthony:

  • Tyler Lydon (No. 24 in 2018)
  • Malachi Richardson (No. 22 in 2017)
  • Chris McCullough (No. 29 in 2016)
  • Tyler Ennis (No. 18 in 2015)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11 in 2014)
  • Fab Melo (No. 22 in 2013)
  • Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2013)
  • Wesley Johnson (No. 4 in 2011)
  • Jonny Flynn (No. 6 in 2010)
  • Donte Greene (No. 28 in 2009)
  • Hakim Warrick (No. 19 in 2006)

We can’t know how those players would have turned out if they played elsewhere in college, but that’s an extremely uninspiring list. I would not advise a recruit on track to make the NBA to pick Syracuse.

Obviously, Boeheim is strongly incentivized to spin it the other way. He has made millions of dollars by convincing good players to help him win games.

There’s something to his sentiment here. But he goes way too far, to the point he’s wrong – as per usual.

Court reverses nearly $1.5M oil-spill award to David West

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NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court says former NBA star David West is not entitled to a nearly $1.5 million award stemming from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Court records show West submitted a claim under the terms of a settlement BP entered after the spill to avoid prolonged litigation with those claiming spill-related losses. The claim was based on his compensation as a member of the NBA’s New Orleans franchise having dropped after the spill.

BP challenged the award, saying West earned what he was expected to earn under a “front-loaded” contract he signed years before the spill. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday that there was no loss. West’s attorneys did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

James Harden: I want to play in 2019 World Cup

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James Harden skipped the 2016 Olympics.

But he sounds ready to rejoin Team USA for the 2019 World Cup.

Harden, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Of course I want to play,” Harden said. “It’s an opportunity to represent your country, go out there and play basketball. It’s something I love doing. If that opportunity presents itself, I’ll be in. Not everyone gets that opportunity. As a basketball player, that’s one of the highest points you can get for basketball.

Harden is among 35 players listed as in consideration for a roster spot, but the MVP candidate is likely a lock if he wants to play. He won gold at the 2012 Olympics and led Team USA to another gold medal in the 2014 World Cup.

With the World Cup being held in China, where there are lucrative marketing opportunities, expect many other stars to participate. The competition for Team USA roster spots could be intense.

But Harden is good enough and has proven his commitment to USA Basketball. He’s probably safely in.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving says he’ll rest before playoffs: ‘Makes no sense’ to emphasize regular-season games

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Remember when Kyrie Irving asked whether a November 2014 Cavaliers-Bulls game felt like a playoff game?

He has come a long way since.

Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Irving hadn’t made the playoffs. Three NBA Finals and a trade to the Celtics later, Irving is focused on the postseason.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. “Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

Irving will probably be more effective in the playoffs with additional rest.

But will the Celtics be more effective in the playoffs if Irving rests now?

Boston is fifth in the East. If that holds, that’d mean not having home-court advantage in any Eastern Conference playoff series and likely facing the Bucks – who’ve been the NBA’s best team throughout the regular season – in the second round.

That might not daunt Irving. After all, when asked why he’s so confident about the Celtics’ postseason chances, he said, “Because I’m here.”*
*That sounded a lot like LeBron.

But his teammates might benefit significantly from a better seed. Without Irving, Boston went 10-1 at home 1-7 on the road in last year’s playoffs – a historic split.

Catching the 76ers for the No. 3 seed is probably farfetched. But the Celtics are only a half game behind the Pacers for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

Boston’s closing schedule is easier than Indiana’s. The teams even face each other twice. So, there’s an opportunity for the Celtics to clinch the No. 4 seed and rest Irving.

But little has gone to plan this season in Boston. If the Celtics’ seed is still up for grabs late in the regular season, will they rest Irving or keep pushing for a better record?