Five Things to Watch in Playoffs Wednesday: Kevin Love at center, Clippers trapping Damian Lillard

Associated Press
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As we will every day through the rest of the playoffs — because we care about you and your NBA viewing experience… plus, it’s more interesting than another post about the Kings’ coaching situation — here are five things to watch heading into Wednesday night in the NBA.

1) Kevin Love is going to spend more time at center, will Detroit have an answer for it? In the fourth quarter of Game 1 with the Pistons up seven, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lou went deep into his bag of tricks and broke out the small ball putting Kevin Love at center. It worked — Cleveland was +13 the rest of the way with that lineup and won the game. Andre Drummond struggled to chase Love out at the three-point line, and eventually Stan Van Gundy benched him (although he didn’t match going small, Aron Baynes was on the floor). It’s a small sample size from one game, but you can bet the Lue will dial this lineup again in Game 2 at some point — if something works in the playoffs you use it until the other team proves to you they stop it. No mercy.

Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons know it’s coming, but what are they going to do about it? This is not a team built to go small, and they are not the same without Drummond on the floor. Maybe play some zone. Certainly they need to punish Love defensively where he is weak, not just simple post ups but more likely have Drummond setting high picks and make Love defend the pick-and-roll. You know SVG will have a counter, but how well will it work? This is going to be the fun part of the chess match.

2) Can Detroit get into the paint with the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick-and-roll? Cleveland’s game plan on the Pistons ultimately worked — do not let the dangerous Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick-and-roll get into the middle of the paint, make the Pistons’ shooters — Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, etc. — beat you with their inconsistent jumpers. The Pistons did just that for the first half and into the third quarter for a while, but when that didn’t work in the fourth Jackson tried to take it upon himself and get to the rim. Jackson had 10 fourth quarter points, but it wasn’t enough. Stan Van Gundy needs to get the Jackson playing downhill and Drummond better positions inside (Tristan Thompson did a solid job on him defensively). It will be interesting to see what Stan Van Gundy and staff draw up as an adjustment.

3) How will Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum deal with aggressive Clippers traps? The Trail Blazers knew it was coming — virtually every team does it to a degree, the Clippers were just more aggressive — but Portland’s guards did not deal with it well. The Clippers trapped to force the ball out of the hands of Lillard and McCollum — the pair still took 33 percent of the Portland’s shots, but that’s down from their 41 percent regular season average. Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson both had more shots than McCollum and they didn’t make the Clippers pay the price for those traps (Aminu was 3-of-12 from the floor).

Welcome to playoff basketball — the Clippers will do all they can to take away those first two options of the Blazers’ offense. Expect some tweaks by Terry Stotts to get his guards better looks, but at the end of the day the other Blazers need to knock down their looks.

“It’s obvious they were really pressuring Damian and C.J., on pick-and-rolls, doubling them and forcing them to pass out,” Stotts said after Game 1. “We had some threes on the weak side, we had some rolls to the basket and weren’t able to finish them. But if they’re going to double team Damian and C.J., then other players are going to have to make plays for us.”

4) Is Portland’s defense good enough to slow Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan? While the Clippers’ defense did a respectable job limiting Portland’s first and second options — classic playoff basketball: make options three and four beat you — Portland did no such thing on defense. In Game 1 the Clippers got 28 points and 11 assists from Chris Paul, 19 points from Blake Griffin (who had his best game by far since returning from injury) while DeAndre Jordan added 18 points and 12 rebounds. Those are three All-Star/All-NBA level players, and they are going to put up some numbers, but Portland has to do a better job slowing them down.

The Trail Blazers switched a lot of pick-and-rolls in Game 1 but the Clippers were prepared and responded by posting up Griffin (against Aminu or anyone else smaller on him) and taking advantage of his size and power. Expect the Trail Blazers may move Aminu or Maurice Harkless to guard Paul but that still leaves either McCollum or Lillard to chase J.J. Redick off 47 screens and get worn down. It will be interesting to see how Portland adjusts, but they are not a team loaded with defensive stoppers. Stotts is a fantastic coach, but his is limited with what he can do defensively.

5) Can Charlotte get back to taking, making threes to drive its offense?
On the season, Charlotte was fourth in the league averaging 29.4 three-point attempts per game — and hitting 10.7 of those (36.2 percent). In Game 1 Miami did an excellent job of trying to take that away — Charlotte was 6-of-17 from three. And with that were never really in the game. I expect Charlotte will work to drag Hassan Whiteside into as many pick-and-rolls as they can — he prefers to lay back and protect the paint rather than hedge out, and if/when he does that should open up good looks for Kemba Walker from three. Nicolas Batum needs his looks from deep as well, and Charlotte’s ball movement was not nearly as good as it was during the regular season.

Charlotte was a much better home team than road one this season, but in this best-of-seven they need to win one game in Miami. To do that, they need to bring the long ball back. Chicks dig the long ball, Charlotte needs to, too.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.