Three things to watch in playoffs Monday: Stephen Curry’s return?

1 Comment

1) Get ready for the small-ball experience in Heat/Raptors Game 4. Probably. Here’s what we know about Game 4: The Heat are without Hassan Whiteside, and the Raptors are without Jonas Valanciunas. The big men had played prominent roles in this series — particularly Whiteside’s rim protection, and Valanciunas on the glass and setting screens (he has also been the Raptors most efficient scorer this series). Now what? Nobody knows. Coaches Erik Spoelstra and Dwane Casey have an idea what they want to do, but both know they will have to adjust on the fly as this series enters uncharted water. Funky lineups and experimentation will be the norm.

Expect a lot of small ball from both teams — both played this way a chunk during the season, it’s not completely new to them. The Raptors likely start Bismack Biyombo but expect them to go with Patrick Patterson, maybe Norman Powell and James Johnson at center for long stretches. If Toronto can get offensive production elsewhere (or builds a nice lead), Biyombo becomes a good defensive option inside, but he hurts the offense badly. The Raptors have the depth to play around with lineups and see what works. Also, they have Kyle Lowry, who started to get hot last game (5-of-8 from three) and will benefit more than anyone that there is no Whiteside in the paint. The loss of Whiteside hurts the Heat more than the loss of Valanciunas does Toronto, because the Heat have no other rim protectors.

Spoelstra’s options at the five for Miami are older and less versatile: Udonis Haslem, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Josh McRoberts. One or more of them needs to step up, and expect some five-wing lineups. The bottom line may be whichever team can get better defense out of their small ball lineups will win this game and likely have a leg up in the series. It just feels like the Raptors may have an advantage there.

-Kurt Helin

2) Will Stephen Curry play? Curry’s health been the storyline of the playoffs so far, and the Warriors just upgraded him from doubtful to questionable for Game 4 against the Trail Blazers. Reading the tea leaves, when a team upgrades a player’s status on game day, he usually plays.

There are bigger questions at stake than just Curry’s availability. How well does he move? Is he rusty? Most importantly, how prepared will he be for the for the conference finals?

Golden State is still favored, though not invincible, against Portland. The Warriors are far more likely to need Curry at or near full strength in the next round

3) Outside shooting of Trail Blazers’ forwards. Curry or no Curry, the Trail Blazers still have a dangerous offense that can give Golden State trouble. Guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum attract so much attention, their frontcourt teammates are often left open on the perimeter. After shooting 11-for-31 (35%) on 3-pointers in Games 1 and 2, Portland forwards combined to shoot 8-for-12 (67%) from beyond the arc in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 win:

Henderson and Crabbe also play guard, but with Lillard and McCollum logging so many minutes, Henderson and Crabbe are spending most of their time in the frontcourt. It’s a nice wrinkle that gives Portland more shooting.

But when Aminu and Harkless are hitting from outside – and providing the benefits of being true forwards – the Trail Blazers are a tough out.

Damian Lillard on shot to beat Thunder: ‘That was for Seattle’

1 Comment

Damian Lillard is a legend in Portland. He’s a legend in Oakland.

And now he’ll be a legend in Seattle.

The Trail Blazers star’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer wave goodbye ended the season for the Thunder, who moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle 12 years ago.

Lillard on Sports Business Radio Podcast:

What can I say? That was for Seattle.

Just when I thought Lillard’s shot and celebration were as cold as could be.

Clippers executive Jerry West: ‘I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one’

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jerry West played 14 years for the Lakers, making the All-Star game every year and winning a championship in a Hall of Fame career. He coached the Lakers to a few playoff seasons. Then, he ran the Lakers’ front office for 18 years, winning five titles and setting the stage for several more by acquiring Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Now, West works for Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

West on The Dan Patrick Show:

Steve Ballmer has really put together an unbelievably terrific organization. He’s spared no expense. It’s a really fun place to be. There’s not ego-driven at all. It’s just a fun place to be, and he’s got an awful lot of basketball people over there.

He’s just a great owner and one of the nicest men I’ve ever been around in my life. I’ve never seen a person like this with his success. It’s just remarkable how even-keeled he is. If people knew how philanthropic he was. He keeps all that stuff quiet. I guess he’ll get mad at me for mentioning it. But he’s just a remarkable man himself.

People always ask me what he’s like. And I say he’s just like you and I, normal. I’ve never seen – he’s willing to spend on players. He’s willing to spend on personnel within the front office. And as I mentioned before, I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one. That’s for sure.

Maybe West is bitter at the Lakers. Maybe West is just gushing about his current boss, because that’s who pays him now.

But the wider respect held for the Clippers is evident in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George picking them without the team first getting an incumbent star. That says a lot about the organization, one that Ballmer has put his stamp on.

This also feels like a shot at the Lakers, whether or not West intended it. Many consider them to be the NBA’s golden franchise.

But their operations have had no shortage of problems lately.

The Lakers would have a stronger relative case further back, when West worked for them. However, organizations generally run better now. The league is more advanced. Maybe West is considering that.

Biases aside, his endorsement of the Clippers might be accurate.

West also worked for the Grizzlies.

Spencer Dinwiddie: Kyrie Irving tipped me off on his Nets interest in December

Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

In early December, Spencer Dinwiddie had yet to sign a contract extension with the Nets. Kyrie Irving had recently pledged to re-sign with the Celtics.

But groundwork was already being laid for those two to team up in Brooklyn.

Dinwiddie signed a three-year, $34 million extension later in December. Irving and Kevin Durant joined the Nets this summer.

How did it all come together?

Dinwiddie revealed details of his recruitment of Irving.

Dinwiddie, via The Athletic:

The first time he reached out was probably maybe like December, in terms of just loosely talking about it. Because he’s still obviously super focused on his season and everything. But you could just tell from his conversation that it was a little bit different. It was on his mind. Obviously, free agency was coming up. So, that’s kind of what it was. Just asking a friend about his current situation and what he thought.

Actually, no. It definitely was December. Because he made a comment to me. He was like, “New York might be real fun next year.” Because I hadn’t signed yet. And I was like, “Brother, I don’t know if they’re going to extend me or not.” He was like, “I think New York might be real fun next year.”

At the time, I was like, “You all going to the Knicks. That’s what’s happening. Are you and the monster going to the Knicks?”

That’s when I was first tipped off to the whole thing.

When he made the comment, that’s when I was like, “OK, things have changed.” Obviously at that point in time, it’s too early to be like he’s for sure leaving or he’s this, that or the third. But it’s just like, OK, something happened.

What happened in Boston? That’s the big question Irving has yet to answer.

Irving seemed checked out with the Celtics long before their season ended. It’s fair to question whether he was fully committed to winning with them.

There’s nothing wrong with Irving talking to Dinwiddie about New York as early as December. Irving faced a life-changing choice in free agency. Of course he was going to consider it throughout the season.

But in context of everything else that happened with Irving in Boston, this is more evidence he was pretty set on leaving for a long time.