PBT Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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SEASON RECORDS

Hawks: 60-22, first place in Eastern Conference.

Cavaliers: 53-29, second place in Eastern Conference.

Atlanta won the season series, 3-1.

KEY INJURIES

Hawks: Thabo Sefolosha is done for the year after a leg injury suffered during a nightclub incident in New York in April.

Cavaliers: Kevin Love (shoulder) is out for the season. Kyrie Irving is expected to play in Game 1, but he was limited in the Bulls series by foot and knee issues.

OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE RANKINGS (THROUGH FIRST TWO ROUNDS OF PLAYOFFS)

Hawks: 102 points scored per 100 possessions (9th in NBA); 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions (2nd in NBA).

Cavaliers: 108.2 points scored per 100 possessions (1st in NBA); 98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. How much help will LeBron get? With Irving hobbled, the Cavs are going to need plenty of help from their supporting cast. J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and even Matthew Dellavedova all stepped up at various points in the Bulls series, which was enough to make up for a relatively inefficient showing from James. DeMarre Carroll will be in the Jimmy Butler “LeBron stopper” role this series, and if he’s able to slow James down, it’s going to come down to how the secondary pieces fare. If LeBron has to win this series by himself, it’s not going to be an easy task against a team as deep as the Hawks.

2. The point guard battle: In February, a matchup between Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague would have been the most exciting part of this series, when they were both All-Stars. But Irving has been hurt and largely ineffective, and Teague, who normally jumps a level in the playoffs, has been wildly inconsistent through the first two rounds. What was once a position of strength for both teams has become perhaps their greatest liability, and whichever point guard can give more could end up swinging the series.

3. Can Atlanta’s offense expose Cleveland’s defense? The Cavs’ defense has been outstanding in the first two rounds, but their strong performances came against an offensively limited Celtics team and a Bulls group that had been prone to long scoring droughts all season. Cleveland’s defense ranked 20th in the league in the regular season. In theory, Atlanta’s offense should shred them. But the Hawks haven’t been themselves on that end for most of the playoffs. Mike Budenholzer’s gameplan has remained the same, heavy on ball movement and a read-and-react philosophy—they just haven’t been able to execute it as effectively as they did in the regular season. If they can find that consistency, it will be very difficult for Cleveland to defend.

PREDICTION

It’s difficult to pick against LeBron, but Irving’s health is worrisome and Al Horford was outstanding at both ends of the floor in the Wizards series. Carroll is as capable as anyone when it comes to defending James, and if he can make him work for his points even close to the way Butler did in the second round, that places a heavy burden on Cleveland’s supporting cast. This could go either way but I’m going to take Hawks in 7.

Brandon Clarke named Summer League MVP, leads Grizzlies to Vegas title

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Brandon Clarke made his mark in Las Vegas.

The No. 21 pick in June out of Gonzaga, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in leading the Grizzlies to the championship game, and for that he was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

(That award has been won by Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and John Wall, but also Josh Shelby and Glen Rice Jr. Most winners of the award had good careers as role players — Randy Foye, Jerryd Bayless, whatever Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart become — but it’s a mistake to think it’s a precursor of NBA dominance.)

Clarke wasn’t done, he had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game, leading the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves 95-92. Memphis is your 2019 NBA Summer League Champions.

Memphis raced out to a 15-point lead early in the title game.

In the end, it was a balanced attack that won Memphis the game. Grayson Allen led the way 17 points, but Clarke, Bruno Caboclo, and Dusty Hannah’s all had 15 points, while Tyler Harvey added a dozen.

Minnesota was led by Kelan Martin with 19 points.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fined $50,000; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25,000

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The first rule of NBA ownership: Don’t talk about NBA ownership.

Or the business you do as an owner until it becomes official, even if by then everyone else has known for days and already moved on from the topic.

Monday was an expensive day for two of the NBA’s owners of teams in Texas. Mark Cuban was fined $50,000 for leaking information from the league’s Board of Governor’s meeting about the new coach’s challenge  — even though everybody knew what was going to happen — before the meeting officially ended. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported this story and had maybe the best quote of the summer to go with it.

The NBA office fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $50,000 after he admitted to leaking information from last week’s Board of Governors meeting to a reporter, sources told ESPN…

“I appreciate the irony of your reporting on a fine that someone should, but won’t, get fined for leaking to you,” Cuban told ESPN.

Sources said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed concern that information about the vote to allow coaches’ challenges was being reported while the meeting was still in session. Cuban immediately admitted that he had leaked the information, sources said.

Well played, Cuban.

This is a letter of the law fine, but was it a big deal that this got out? The vote was all but assured, a formality, but Cuban gets fined for telling people? Thanks, Vivek.

From the same “is this really a big deal” file we have the fine Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta got on Monday, $25,000 for talking about the Russell Westbrook trade before it was official. Even though everybody was talking about it. From Mark Stein of the New York Times.

Here is the oh-so-damaging quote:

Again, I get Fertitta crossed the official line because the trade had not gone through yet, but does that line really need to exist in these cases? It feels like the silly hat thing at the NBA Draft.

Damaging or even interesting information was not divulged in either case. The fines were not steep because of it, but the NBA’s process of what is and is not allowed around trades and free agency — and the odd Board of Governors meeting — seems behind the times.

 

Report: Clippers, Rockets both still interested in Andre Iguodala, but both at stalemate

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The Memphis Grizzlies don’t want to just waive veteran Andre Iguodala, they want to get something back in return. That is just turning out to be challenging.

The Clippers and Rockets are still interested, but both teams are at a stalemate, something Shams Charania of The Athletic broke down in a new video.

The story in a nutshell:

• The Rockets are interested, but Iguodala’s $17.2 million would take the team deep into the luxury tax (Houston is currently just shy of the tax line). Charania says any deal likely would involve a sign-and-trade, which implies Iman Shumpert, probably with a draft pick attached.

• The only Clippers’ salary that lines up cleanly is Mo Harkless (with some other players), but Los Angeles doesn’t want to give him up.

Memphis can afford to be patient and say they will just bring Iguodala into training camp, that they are willing to start the season with him.

This may take some time to get done and could ultimately involve a third team. Maybe Dallas gets back in the conversation, or other teams look at their roster and decide they want the veteran wing. This also could be something that drags into training camp, there are no easy answers lined up or the deal would be done already.

Warriors GM on D’Angelo Russell: “We didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him”

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From the moment the Warriors acquired D'Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade deal that cleared the path for Kevin Durant to go to Brooklyn, speculation about fit and an eventual trade cropped up. Does Russell’s game really fit with Stephen Curry and, eventually, Klay Thompson‘s, in a three-guard lineup? If not, how fast will they trade him? February at the trade deadline? Next summer?

From the start the Warriors have shot down the idea that they just planned to trade Russell, and on Monday Warriors GM Bob Myers repeated the same thing.

The Warriors plan has been to play Russell and Curry next to each other — they got an All-Star guard to soak up the minutes until Thompson can return (likely sometime after the All-Star break, if at all next season). Maybe the fit works, maybe it doesn’t, but the Warriors aren’t putting limitations or preconceived notions on the possibilities.

If it doesn’t work out, the trade option will still be there.

The Warriors do not head into this season the same juggernaut to be feared, but sleep on them at your own risk. As Meyers said, they believe they have a team that can compete with anyone.