Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Don’t laugh at idea of Cleveland, San Antonio Finals

23 Comments

If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while…

1) LeBron James drops triple-double, the Cavaliers feel like the class of the East. The Atlanta Hawks appear have taken their foot off the gas and are coasting into the playoffs (they are 5-5 in their last 10, although they did destroy Brooklyn in their last game). Then every time you watch the Cleveland Cavaliers they seem to be just a little bit better, a little more cohesive and comfortable. All this doesn’t mean too much — the last time the Hawks played the Cavaliers Atlanta took them to the woodshed. Still, it feels like the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East right now. You can pick apart the win over the Bulls Sunday — no Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich and it was still a single-digit game — but the Cavaliers just seem superior. Especially when LeBron is dropping triple-doubles, Timofey Mozgov is playing like a beast, and J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving and hitting half courters.

2) Consider this your 536th reminder the San Antonio Spurs are legitimate title contenders. You can’t read too much into one regular season game ever. This one included — this is not necessarily an indication of how a seven-game series turns out. That said, the Warriors had won 12 in a row, and the Spurs beat them handily, 107-92. It’s a reminder the Spurs are back if nothing else. The Spurs offense took apart the Warriors defense. The Spurs defense challenged the Warriors shooters — Klay Thompson was 3-of-11, Draymond Green 2-of-11. Yes, MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry was in the game but KAwhi Leonard was the best player on the court hands down. And Leonard did this to Curry to set the tone.

3) Paul George returns and suddenly the Pacers look far more interesting. Paul George returned from his horrific leg injury to the delight of Pacers fans, and every basketball fan everywhere. He scored 13 points, but with him in the lineup the Pacers throttled the Heat and with that tied Miami for the nine seed in the East, just one game back of eight seed Boston and one-and-a-half back of Brooklyn. The Pacers are still in this with 10 days left, and they just got a huge boost.

4) Could Memphis lose out on home court in the first round? After Sunday’s play, Memphis is the three seed in the West, and if you want to look on the bright side just one game back of Houston for the two seed. However, they also are just half-a-game game up on the five seed Clippers and one ahead of the six seed Spurs. (Portland is the four seed, with a worse record than all of them, but can fall no lower than the four seed because they won the Northwest Division. Why do we have divisions in the NBA again?) As David Aldridge of TNT pointed out, the Clippers have a soft schedule the rest of the way that includes a game against Memphis. Right there also the Spurs are surging. If Memphis continues its recent stumbles, they could end up the six seed in the West and starting the Western Conference playoffs on the road.

5) James Harden and Russell Westbrook dueled. Houston won because they are the better team. It seems we write this daily, but Russell Westbrook recorded another triple-double with 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. But as it has been of late, it wasn’t efficient, and it wasn’t enough. James Harden had 41 points, Dwight Howard was strong inside, the Rockets had 54 points in the paint (the Enes Kanter dillema), plus the Rockets had 26 points in transition. OKC did better in the second half and made the game intesting, but in the end it couldn’t stop Houston from doing what it wanted to do. The Rockets are just the better team and picked up the win to show for it. But this was fun to watch.

Bulls reportedly apply for cap relief from Omer Asik contract

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Omer Asik didn’t play a minute for the Bulls this season (they got him in the Nikola Mirotic trade). Back in training camp he ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, which had flared up last summer. Asik had played in just 49 games combined the two seasons before that.

Prior to this season, the Bulls waived Asik. He was paid his full $11.3 million for this season but had only $3 million guaranteed for next season. The Bulls have now applied for cap relief — meaning taking that $3 million off the books for next season — because of Asik’s injury, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One year after a player last appeared in a game, teams can apply for cap relief if a player’s injury or condition is determined to be career-ending. An independent doctor needs to verify that Asik could not play again to get the extra cap relief. Asik gets paid, it is still a guaranteed contract. Miami took this step with Chris Bosh, for example.

The Bulls have talked about being aggressive in free agency — finding guys to pair with Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Otto Porter — and while that $3 million is not a lot, it helps. The Bulls will have between $20 million and $23 million in cap space if/when the league approves Asik coming off the books (depending on what they do with a couple of players), according to our Dan Feldman. That’s not max contract money, but it can help bring in some depth and shooting to go around the young core in Chicago.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry top NBA jersey sales again

Getty Images
1 Comment

There are new names on and climbing the list: Joel Embiid is up to No. 5, Luka Doncic came in 13th as a rookie.

However, for the most part, the names on the list of the most sold jerseys in the NBA look very familiar.

With LeBron James jumping teams to the Los Angeles Lakers, it should be no surprise he tops the list of most-sold jerseys (based on NBAStore.com sales since the start of the season). Stephen Curry is second, and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo climbed up to third.

Here are the top 15 in jersey sales this season.

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
4. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
6. James Harden, Houston Rockets
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
9. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
10. Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia 76ers
11. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
12. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
14. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
15. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Three Sixers made the list (Embiid, Simmons, Butler), the most of any team. Also, Wade went out in the top 15 after his Last Dance farewell tour.

Here are the top 10 franchises in team merchandise sales:

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Boston Celtics
4. Philadelphia 76ers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
6. Chicago Bulls
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Houston Rockets
9. Toronto Raptors
10. New York Knicks

Malcom Brogdon out for Bucks-Celtics Games 1 and 2

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Malcolm Brogdon suffered a foot injury that’d sideline him for the start of the playoffs.

The Bucks (vs. Pistons) and Celtics (vs. Pacers) won their first-round series too quickly.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals and first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007. So, the Bucks-Celtics series will begin Sunday, the second-earliest of four possible dates.

Which means no Brogdon to begin the series.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Game 1 is Sunday, and Game 2 is Tuesday. That leaves open the possibility of Brogdon returning for Game 3 Friday, May 3.

Brogdon is a good shooting guard, but the Bucks were just fine without him in the first round. Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton played well against Detroit, and Tony Snell could enter the rotation as he gets healthy.

But the Celtics are a far bigger challenge. Milwaukee won’t necessarily need Brogdon against Boston, but the Bucks’ chances are much higher if he returns to full strength.

Russell Westbrook to critics: ‘I don’t really care what people say’

Getty Images
4 Comments

Russell Westbrook has faced a lot of criticism this season, a chorus that grew louder in the first round of the playoffs.

While he averaged a triple-double for the third straight season, his shooting degenerated and his efficiency dropped. This is Westbrook’s shot chart for the regular season.

Which was better than his playoff shot chart.

The results of his shooting woes were obvious in the playoffs. Portland big man Enes Kanter can be exposed as a pick-and-roll defender if pulled out on the perimeter to deal with a ball handler, but the Trail Blazers didn’t have to do that. Kanter would sag back, clog the paint, and dare Westbrook to take jumpers or drive past him. Even when Westbrook drove there were not clear lanes and he struggled to finish.

That swelled the volume of criticism of Westbrook. Not that he cares. Did anyone actually expect him to be bothered? Westbrook brushed off his critics speaking with the media after his exit interview on Thursday. Via Royce Young of ESPN.

“There used to be conversations if I was a ball hog, but now I lead the league in assists for the past three years or whatever it is, that’s getting squashed out,” he said. “So now the conversation is about shooting. Next year I’m going to become a better shooter. After that it’ll be probably, f—, my left foot is bigger than my right one. Who knows.

“So that’s why, back to your point, I don’t really care what people say, what they think about me, because it doesn’t really matter. I know what I’m able to do and know what I’m able to do at a high level every night, and nobody else can do what I can do on a night-in, night-out basis, and I truly believe that. If they could, I’m pretty sure they would. But I know for a fact that nobody can.”

Westbrook still impacts the game with his drives and athleticism, he is still an All-NBA level guard in this league, if not MVP level anymore. He is still one of the game’s elite players. However, as he was getting outplayed by Damian Lillard in the first round the questions came up again, “just how far can the Thunder go with Westbrook as their primary option?” After four surgeries in six years, can he still carry a team deep into the playoffs?

When Westbrook was on the floor without Paul George this season, the Thunder struggled. When it was George without Westbrook, they still played well. It’s become clear that not only must Westbrook improve his shooting — not to Curry levels, but closer to his MVP self that shot better from the midrange — but also Sam Presti and Thunder management need to find a way to get more shooting around Westbrook. A stretch-five, in particular, would help (Stephen Adams is good at a lot of things, but spacing the floor is not one of them). OKC needs shooters around Westbrook.

How the Thunder pull that off with a capped-out team — they have the second-highest payroll in the league this season and Westbrook and George are maxed out for years — is going to require some real creativity. But if the Thunder are going to be more than a first-round-exit team in the West, they need to find a way.