67RIEFNS No. 56: Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the playoffs

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Kevin Love might be the best player ever to miss the playoffs his first six seasons. The way the Cavaliers were going, Kyrie Irving was on pace to join the discussion.

Obviously, playing for the Cavaliers with LeBron James, Love and Irving will break that trend this season. That, in itself, is a good thing. It’s fun to see the NBA’s stars playing such meaningful games.

But just how much can two players without any postseason experience help in late April and beyond?

Since the NBA adopted its current eight-teams-per-conference playoff format in 1984, 47 teams have reached the playoffs with at least two of its top three players (judged by win shares) lacking postseason experience. Of those 47, just three have reached the conference finals (players without postseason experience marked with asterisk):

  • 1989 Suns (Kevin Johnson*, Tom Chambers, Jeff Hornacek*)
  • 2002 Celtics (Paul Pierce*, Antoine Walker*, Tony Battie*
  • 2007 Jazz (Carlos Boozer*, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams*)

Those might seem like low odds, but consider: Teams led by players lacking playoff experience usually aren’t that good to begin with. Many just sneak into the playoffs with a low seed.

On a whole, the playoff teams with at least two top players making their postseason debuts actually advanced further than their seed would have projected. Here are all 47 such teams with their expected number of playoff series (gold) and actual number of playoff series (wine):

 

 

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  • 2014 TOR: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan*, Jonas Valanciunas*
  • 2013 GSW: Stephen Curry*, David Lee*, Carl Landry
  • 2012 LAC: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin*, DeAndre Jordan*
  • 2011 NYK: Amar’e Stoudemire, Landry Fields*, Danilo Gallinari*
  • 2011 MEM: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol*, Mike Conley*
  • 2011 IND: Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts*, Mike Dunleavy*
  • 2010 OKC: Kevin Durant*, Jeff Green*, Russell Westbrook*
  • 2009 POR: Brandon Roy*, LaMarcus Aldridge*, Joel Przybilla
  • 2009 CHI: Ben Gordon, Joakim Noah*, Derrick Rose*
  • 2008 ATL: Josh Childress*, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith*
  • 2007 UTA: Carlos Boozer*, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams*
  • 2007 TOR: Chris Bosh*, Anthony Parker*, Jose Calderon*
  • 2007 GSW: Andris Biedrins*, Baron Davis, Monta Ellis*
  • 2006 MIL: Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut*, Bobby Simmons*
  • 2006 LAC: Elton Brand*, Sam Cassell, Chris Kaman*
  • 2005 PHI: Allen Iverson, Kyle Korver*, Andre Iguodala*
  • 2005 CHI: Tyson Chandler*, Kirk Hinrich*, Eddy Curry*
  • 2004 MEM: James Posey*, Pau Gasol*, Shane Battier*
  • 2004 HOU: Yao Ming*, Cuttino Mobley, Steve Francis*
  • 2004 DEN: Andre Miller*, Marcus Camby, Carmelo Anthony*
  • 2002 BOS: Paul Pierce*, Antoine Walker*, Tony Battie*
  • 2001 DAL: Dirk Nowitzki*, Michael Finley*, Steve Nash
  • 2000 TOR: Vince Carter*, Tracy McGrady*, Antonio Davis
  • 1999 MIL: Ray Allen*, Glenn Robinson*, Ervin Johnson
  • 1998 CLE: Wesley Person, Zydrunas Ilgauskas*, Brevin Knight*
  • 1997 MIN: Kevin Garnett*, Tom Gugliotta*, Dean Garrett*
  • 1997 LAC: Loy Vaught, Bo Outlaw*, Darrick Martin*
  • 1996 DET: Grant Hill*, Otis Thorpe, Allan Houston*
  • 1994 ORL: Shaquille O’Neal*, Nick Anderson*, Anfernee Hardaway*
  • 1994 GSW: Latrell Sprewell*, Chris Webber*, Billy Owens
  • 1994 DEN: Dikembe Mutombo*, LaPhonso Ellis*, Bryant Stith*
  • 1993 CHH: Larry Johnson*, Alonzo Mourning*, Muggsy Bogues
  • 1992 NJN: Drazen Petrovic, Derrick Coleman*, Mookie Blaylock*
  • 1992 MIA: Glen Rice*, Grant Long*, Rony Seikaly*
  • 1990 SAS: David Robinson*, Terry Cummings, Willie Anderson*
  • 1989 PHO: Kevin Johnson*, Tom Chambers, Jeff Hornacek*
  • 1988 SAS: Alvin Robertson, Johnny Dawkins*, Frank Brickowski*
  • 1988 NYK: Patrick Ewing*, Mark Jackson*, Bill Cartwright
  • 1988 CLE: Mark Price*, Brad Daugherty*, Hot Rod Williams*
  • 1987 IND: Steve Stipanovich*, Vern Fleming*, Wayman Tisdale*
  • 1987 GSW: Sleepy Floyd*, Larry Smith*, Chris Mullin*
  • 1985 HOU: Hakeem Olajuwon*, Rodney McCray*, Ralph Sampson*
  • 1985 CLE: World B. Free, Phil Hubbard*, Roy Hinson*
  • 1985 CHI: Michael Jordan*, Orlando Woolridge*, Steve Johnson*
  • 1984 KCK: Eddie Johnson*, LaSalle Thompson*, Larry Drew*
  • 1984 DET: Bill Laimbeer*, Isiah Thomas*, Kelly Tripucka*
  • 1984 DAL: Rolando Blackman*, Mark Aguirre*, Brad Davis*

Unlike many of those teams, the Cavaliers will actually be very good. Maybe Love’s and Irving’s inability to reach the postseason reveals defects in their games, but more than anything, I think it speaks to how poorly their franchises had built teams around them. With them – and LeBron – now joining forces, that has obviously changed.

Love and Irving will finally reach the playoffs. Once there, there’s no good reason to believe they can’t contribute to the Cavaliers advancing deep.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

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After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

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Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Bucks wallop Pistons. Again.

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The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.

But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.

Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.

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The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.

Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).

The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

LeBron James named one of TIME’s 100 most-influential people

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LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.

But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.

LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.

That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential

Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:

I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.

There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.

Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.