PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

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SEASON RECORDS

Cleveland Cavaliers: 53-29

Boston Celtics: 40-42

KEY INJURIES

Cleveland Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao is out for the season.

Boston Celtics: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Cleveland Cavaliers: Offense 107.7 (4th in NBA), Defense 104.1 (20th in NBA)

Boston Celtics: Offense 101.7 (20th in NBA), Defense 102.1 (14th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Will the Cavaliers remain cohesive?

Remember that time Kevin Love visited Boston last summer? You can bet people covering this series do, especially because the Celtics are still reportedly interested in Love if he opts out this summer.

Questions about Love’s fit have fallen by the wayside as the Cavaliers have surged since acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. But if the Celtics challenge Cleveland, expect the issue to reemerge – maybe even internally.

It’s not enough for the Cavaliers to beat Boston. They have to keep their good feelings going in later rounds, and given the fragility Cleveland showed earlier in the season, that might require a quick series.

If this drags out, that’s just more for the Cavaliers to ponder what’s going wrong – because for this to drag out, something must go wrong. They’re clearly the better team.

2) Which first-time playoff coach learns the nuances most quickly?

David Blatt had a storied overseas career, and Brad Stevens turned Butler into a national power.

But an NBA playoff series – with game-to-game adjustments against the same team four to seven times – is a new experience for both.

Stevens had a head start on the NBA game, coaching the Celtics to the lottery last year. He says he’s watched plenty of playoff basketball and has a sense how to handle it.

Blatt, an NBA rookie, has improved throughout the season – just as you’d expect a rookie to do. Stevens went through it last year, though Blatt’s learning period has been higher-profile (and probably more poorly handled).

My money is on Stevens holding the edge, but…

3) LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love

This isn’t even a question. The Cavaliers have the three best players in this series.

Heck, Tristan Thompson posted more win shares than any Celtic this season.

The talent gap here is wide, and Boston isn’t deep enough to erase the gap. Stars matter.

PREDICTION

The Celtics play hard and are well-coached, and it’s a fantastic accomplishment they made the playoffs.

But they just don’t have the talent to win four games unless Cleveland completely collapses. The way the Cavaliers have played lately, I don’t see that happening, and the only real debate was whether Boston would steal a game or not.

Cavaliers in 5

Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing with brothers: ‘Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome’

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Lakers
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Giannis Antetokounmpo – on the elite Bucks and nearing his super-max decision – has the NBA by the tail.

Teams are trying to impress the family-oriented superstar. Milwaukee signed his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers added another brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo. (The Knicks drafted Thanasis, but Thanasis’ tenure in New York reportedly left a sour taste in Giannis’ mouth.)

Now, Giannis – who once said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – is singing a slightly different tune

USA Today:

Antetokounmpo:

I think that would be amazing. Obviously, we’d spend more time together, and I’m 100 percent sure my mom would love that. But if we could team up on a team – Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome.

Maybe Antetokounmpo is just paying lip service to the Lakers, because they added Kostas. But at this point, that’s progress for Los Angeles.

Considering Giannis’ agent just said “everything is open,” it seems Giannis could be planting the seeds for leaving Milwaukee. He could definitely stay. But by at least mentioning other possibilities, he’d soften the blow if he chooses to depart.

Giannis’ views on loyalty have always been more complex than people realized. Tastes change. It sounds as if Giannis isn’t quite as averse to Los Angeles as he once was.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between that and actually joining the Lakers. Giannis hasn’t suddenly transformed into a totally different person.

But this quote will keep the candle of hope burning in Los Angeles.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls’ starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.

Rui Hachimura gets destroyed by kid in Pop-A-Shot-like game (video)

Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura
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Rui Hachimura got kicked so hard in the groin by a teammate, the Wizards rookie needed surgery.

That’s pretty awful. Yet, there’s still a new contender for the worst moment of Hachimura’s season.

At All-Star Weekend in Chicago for Rising Stars, Hachimura faced a kid in a Pop-A-Shot-like game. It didn’t go well for Hachimura.

Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News:

An NBA player losing to a kid is bad enough. Twice, we’re entering troubling territory.

But claiming the game is cheating, demanding to switch sides and still getting routed?

That’s a ROUGH look.