NBA Playoff Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Golden State Warriors: 51-3, six seed
Los Angeles Clippers: 57-25, three seed

KEY INJURIES

Andrew Bogut, Golden State. He has a fractured rib that has him out indefinitely, certainly for the start of the series and, if reports of the severity of the injury are to be believed, likely all of it. This is bad for Golden State — their defense is two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (going from elite to just pretty good) and their offense improves by 4.5 per 100 when he plays. That’s 6.5 points per 100 better when he is on the court, and he will not be on the court. Their other starting four with Jermaine O’Neal playing for Bogut has looked good this season but only played 62 minutes together, and now Hilton Armstrong and Marreese Speights will need to have huge series for the Warriors to have a chance.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Los Angeles Clippers: Offense 109.4 (1st in NBA), Defense 102.1 (7th in NBA)

Golden State Warriors: Offense 105.3 (12th in NBA), Defense 99.9 (3rd in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Can David Lee slow Blake Griffin? David Lee does not have the reputation of a defensive stopper. To put it kindly. Yet matched up on Blake Griffin this season he has had surprising success — Griffin has shot just 38 percent in the 21 minutes they were matched up this season (according to the NBA’s SportsVU camera data). Griffin had a breakout season, the kind of year that’s going to earn him some MVP votes (bottom couple spots on the ballot of five, but still). He needs to carry that over to the playoffs for the Clippers to be the contenders they think they are, if David Lee can neutralize him it would be huge for the Warriors. Also, Lee could see some time at the five if the Warriors try to go small ball on the Clippers for stretches and then his defense becomes even more important. Look for Draymond Green to get a lot of time on Griffin as well (especially if Lee struggles).

2) Warriors three point shooting vs. Clippers defense. The Clippers were the best team in the NBA at defending the three point line this season, allowing opponents to shoot just 33.2 percent (this was one of the biggest changes from the Vinny Del Negro era, the Clippers were 26th in the league last season). Yet Stephen Curry had success against the Clippers this season, hitting 17-of-29 (58.6 percent). With Bogut out and the Warriors playing more small ball (and their defense suffering because of it) Curry is going to need to be in video game mode, as is Klay Thompson, and they are going to have to rain threes as a team on the Clippers to win the series. They are capable of that for a game or two, but can they do it consistently?

3) Chris Paul vs. the world. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game today, the best game manager yet a guy capable of taking over games, and he averaged 28 points a contest against the Warriors this season. He carved up the Warriors in their meetings, with Klay Thompson often drawing the defensive assignment. CP3 not only got around Thompson (a pretty good defender) but also got Thompson in foul trouble at times. Doc Rivers did a masterful job this season convincing Paul that the Clippers are better when he gives up the rock a little more and trusts his teammates to make plays, but this could be the exception to the rule — an aggressive Chris Paul could and should own this series.

PREDICTION

Clippers in five. Maybe six, the Curry/Thompson combo can get hot for a couple games. This is going to be one of the most fun series to watch because there is real bad blood between these teams — expect one fight by Game 2. They hate each other, plus there is that whole Nor Cal/So Cal rivalry added in. With Bogut in the lineup the Warriors starting five gave the Clippers fits (+19.2 per 100 possessions), but the struggled without him this season and in this matchup (-15.9 per 100 when he sat vs. Clippers, via John Schuhmann of NBA.com). For the Warriors to have a chance they will need monster series from Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green — the small ball strategy is going to have to thrive. I just don’t think it will, not enough to win four of seven games. This is a series where one injury changes everything.

New Orleans Pelicans fire head coach Alvin Gentry

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No team entered the NBA restart bubble in Orlando with the buzz of the New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson was back, they had an All-Star in Brandon Ingram and solid veterans such as J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday around them. With all that, no team was as disappointing in the bubble as the Pelicans, who went 2-6. They looked like they were going through the motions, and all season long were less than the sum of their parts.

Saturday New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry paid the price for that and was fired, the team announced. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez of ESPN and soon after confirmed by the organization.

It was not a surprise. Gentry was considered on shaky ground before teams flew to Florida and the disappointing play of his team while there led to team VP of basketball operations David Griffin making the change. (A sitting coach is always on shaky ground when the management above him changes, as happened with Gentry.) While Zion was not in the bubble the entire time, this is still a talented roster, one that came out like it was just going through the motions, with Lonzo Ball reportedly having checked out. No one seemed focused on the opportunity to make the postseason. That attitude is why the Pelicans fired their coach.

“I want to thank Alvin for his contributions to the Pelicans and the New Orleans community,” Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson said in a statement. “We believe that making a head coaching change is necessary at this time. I truly appreciate Alvin’s leadership, dedication and perseverance through some challenging circumstances over the past five seasons. He will always be a part of our Pelicans family, and we wish him and his family all the best in the future. Our intention moving forward is to find the right head coach that will guide this Pelicans team to compete for championships. That is what our fans deserve.”

Clippers lead assistant Tyronn Lue and Lakers lead assistant Jason Kidd — two veteran coaches who are considered player-friendly — were mentioned as potential replacements by ESPN and Marc Stein of the New York Times. Lue and Kidd have both been mentioned in connection with the open Brooklyn Nets coaching job. Both also are in the Orlando bubble with their respective teams as the playoffs are about to begin (and both likely will be there for a while). Another name to watch is current Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni, who is not expected to be brought back with the Rockets and favors the kind of up-tempo system that would suit Zion. n

The challenge with big-name replacements in New Orleans is money — this is the smallest market in the NBA and ownership has been hit hard by the economic slowdown in the wake of the coronavirus. Lue, Kidd, and D’Antoni will be expensive and demand five-year contracts. The Pelicans could look at seasoned assistant coaches who have not yet held a top spot — Sam Cassell, Ime Udoka, and there are many others — who could do the job and come at a price more within their budget.

The key for whoever gets the head coaching job is to form a strong bond with Zion, the future of the franchise, and figure out how to get the most out of him.

 

 

 

Portland, Memphis where they want to be as play-in series tips-off

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Heroics were needed to get Portland and Memphis on the doorstep of the playoffs.

For the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard averaged more than 50 points — with a shot from a step inside midcourt in there as one of his many highlights — to lead the way in three consecutive down-to-the-wire, season-on-the-line victories.

For the Grizzlies, Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas became the first teammates in Memphis history to post triple-doubles in what turned out to be a must-win game as well.

And now, the mission isn’t done yet for either club. Portland and Memphis meet Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (Eastern) in Game 1 of the Western Conference play-in series. The Trail Blazers have the upper hand by finishing the seeding-game portion of the NBA’s restart ahead of the Grizzlies. Portland needs one win, Memphis needs two to advance to a first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We’re where we want to be,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “And so, I don’t think anybody’s over the moon right now. We know that we’ve got a tough opponent in Memphis, so there was no time to really celebrate.”

Had the Blazers lost any of their last three games, they could be home already. Lillard has scored 51, 61 and 42 points, respectively, in those three games — and had to sweat out a last-second shot by Brooklyn in a one-point Portland win on Thursday night that determined their play-in fate.

“I think mentally I’ll be fine,” Lillard said. “I think physically, it’ll obviously be some fatigue here. But I think it won’t be as hard as you might think because there’s a lot riding on these games. Every game that we’ve been playing, our last three or four games, has been like our season is on the line.”

The Grizzlies came into the restart at Walt Disney World in control of the play-in race, then sputtered before winning the game they needed to on Thursday against Milwaukee to clinch a spot.

Morant said he remembers when the Grizzlies were ranked 27th coming into the season in a 30-team league. He’s used that slight as fuel ever since.

“Now look at us,” Morant said. “Being that underdog doesn’t matter to us at all. We love being the underdog. It’s just extra motivation, fuel to the fire. It just makes our success even better, coming in and being the underdog.”

Game 2, if necessary, will be Sunday. The series for the play-in winner against the Lakers begins Tuesday.

Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell expected to play Monday against Dallas

Montrezl Harrell play
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When the Clippers take the court Monday for their first playoff game in the bubble, going against Luka Doncic and a dangerous Mavericks’ team, Montrezl Harrell will be suited up and ready to play.

The Clippers’ Sixth Man of the Year candidate, who excused from the bubble due to the death of his grandmother and missed all eight seeding games, will be out of quarantine and cleared to play, report Adrian Wojnarowski and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Doc Rivers said he plans to play Harrell against an active Dallas front line.

“I’m just going to throw him in there, he’s earned that right,” Rivers said. “The challenge will be just how ready he is. I don’t know if I have ever had a guy that hasn’t played in eight games or whatever and hasn’t had any practice and we’re just going to throw him out on the floor in a playoff game. We’re hoping that at this point.”

Harrell came off the bench to average 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Clippers this season. Harrell was often part of the Clippers closing lineup this season because of his improved defense, but he always brought relentless energy off the bench that lifted the Clippers nightly. The Harrell/Lou Williams pick-and-roll remains one of the smoothest and most dangerous in the league.

Harrell also gives Doc Rivers a lot of versatility and options on how to close games — the Clippers can go big, go small, and do either well. They will need that against a Dallas team that rolls out a front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and former Clipper Boban Marjanovic.

Not having Harrell for eight games in the bubble added to that versatility, Rivers said.

“We got to play JaMychal [Green] at the five far more than we ever thought we would. We needed to work on that because he’s such a floor spacer,” Rivers said. “We got way more work on that than we thought, but we actually liked it.”

Expect to see more of that — and some Harrell — against Dallas starting Monday.

Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin denies ex-wife’s abuse accusations

Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin
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Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin – filling in for Nick Nurse – served as Toronto’s acting head coach for a win over the 76ers on Wednesday. “For one night, I felt like Cinderella,” Griffin said afterward.

Griffin’s moment in the spotlight drew attention to abuse claims his ex-wife, Audrey Griffin, had been making online for months.

Audrey Griffin:

Raptors release:

The Toronto Raptors and lead assistant coach Adrian Griffin have issued a joint statement addressing accusations of domestic abuse shared in social media posts by Griffin’s ex-wife on Thursday, Aug. 14.

Statement from Adrian Griffin:

“This morning, accusations were made against me on social media by my former wife that I vehemently deny. We are involved in a longstanding legal dispute over alimony and child support arrangements. I am disappointed to have to address false accusations in this way, and I apologize for any distraction this has potentially caused for our team at this important time.”

Statement from the Toronto Raptors:

“When we saw these allegations this morning, we were dismayed – Adrian is a valuable member of our team. Our leadership immediately spoke with him, and he flatly denied the allegations in the posts. We will support the process as he and his former partner settle these matters.”

Griffin was also reportedly a candidate for the Bulls head-coaching job, which opened today.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge and justice will be served.