Old Cavaliers vs. young Celtics a battle for the ages

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Neither the Cavaliers nor the Celtics were satisfied with the 2017 Eastern Conference finals.

Cleveland doesn’t want to just beat Boston but not be able to hang with the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Celtics don’t want to try in vain to topple LeBron James.

So, both teams set out to change.

The Cavs traded star point guard Kyrie Irving, wound up with a messy locker room then made sweeping changes just before the trade deadline. In all the chaos, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is relying on his most-experienced players in the playoffs. Beyond, Cleveland is pinning its long-term hopes on the acquired-in-Irving-trade Nets’ first-round pick, which obviously isn’t contributing this postseason.

Boston acquired the stars it could, Gordon Hayward and Irving, without sacrificing its young core. When those stars got hurt, the Celtics gave greater responsibility to the young players – namely Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. Improbably, Boston won a couple playoff series.

So, the Cavaliers and Celtics meet again in the Eastern Conference finals – just with many new faces. Two-thirds of the players who played in last year’s series are no longer with the same team.

Amid the turnover, both teams have codified their position. The Cavaliers, trying to win now, are the oldest team in the postseason. The Celtics, with an eye toward the future, are the youngest.

This is the 14th time the oldest and youngest teams in the postseason have met in a series. The older team has gone 12-1.

Here’s each of those series with the teams’ average age* in parentheses:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers (30.4) vs. Boston Celtics (24.8) in 2018 conference finals
  • Dallas Mavericks (31.6) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (23.8) in 2011 conference finals, 4-1
  • Indiana Pacers (31.2) beat Philadelphia 76ers (25.9) in 1999 conference semifinals, 4-0
  • Utah Jazz (29.5) beat Denver Nuggets (24.8) in 1994 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Boston Celtics (29.5) beat Chicago Bulls (25.4) in 1987 first round, 3-0
  • Boston Celtics (29.3) beat Atlanta Hawks (25.1) in 1986 conference semifinals, 4-1
  • Washington Bullets (28.8) beat Atlanta Hawks (24.9) in 1979 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Los Angeles Lakers (29.4) beat Milwaukee Bucks (25.9) in 1972 conference finals, 4-2
  • Boston Celtics (29.8) beat New York Knicks (24.6) in 1967 division semifinals, 3-1
  • Boston Celtics (28.7) beat Cincinnati Royals (26.5) in 1966 division semifinals, 3-2
  • Boston Celtics (28.7) beat Los Angeles Lakers (25.7) in 1965 NBA Finals, 4-1
  • Boston Celtics (28.4) beat San Francisco Warriors (25.5) in 1964 NBA Finals, 4-1
  • Minneapolis Lakers (25.9) beat Detroit Pistons (27.5) in 1959 division semifinals, 2-1
  • St. Louis Hawks (27.7) beat Minneapolis Lakers (25.4) in 1957 division finals, 3-0

*Weighted by minutes played in the postseason, holding each player’s age constant as of Feb. 1 of that season

The Cavaliers’ and Celtics’ exact average ages will fluctuate as they finish their playoff runs. But Cleveland is much older and Boston is much younger than any other remaining teams. The Cavs and Celtics are pretty locked into their spots.

If the 5.6-year average-age gap holds, it’d be the 10th-largest ever between teams meeting in a playoff series. Here’s every series featuring an average-age gap above five years:

  • Dallas Mavericks (31.6) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (23.8) in 2011 conference finals, 4-1
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (25.7) beat Dallas Mavericks (32.6) in 2012 first round, 4-0
  • Houston Rockets (32.7) beat Minnesota Timberwolves (25.9) in 1997 first round, 3-0
  • Dallas Mavericks (26.1) beat Utah Jazz (32.6) in 2001 first round, 3-2
  • Los Angeles Lakers (29.0) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (22.9) in 2010 first round, 4-2
  • Indiana Pacers (30.0) beat Cleveland Cavaliers (23.9) in 1998 first round, 3-1
  • Los Angeles Lakers (25.9) beat Seattle SuperSonics (31.6) in 1998 conference semifinals, 4-1
  • Boston Celtics (30.7) beat New York Knicks (25.1) in 1988 first round, 3-1
  • Miami Heat (31.1) beat Charlotte Hornets (25.5) in 2014 first round, 4-0
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (30.4) vs. Boston Celtics (24.8) in 2018 conference finals
  • Miami Heat (29.4) beat Chicago Bulls (23.9) in 2006 first round, 4-2
  • Brooklyn Nets (30.7) beat Toronto Raptors (25.2) in 2014 first round, 4-3
  • Boston Celtics (30.1) beat Philadelphia 76ers (24.7) in 2012 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Indiana Pacers (31.2) beat Philadelphia 76ers (25.9) in 1999 conference semifinals, 4-0
  • Boston Celtics (29.8) beat New York Knicks (24.6) in 1967 division semifinals, 3-1
  • Chicago Bulls (30.8) beat Washington Bullets (25.7) in 1997 first round, 3-0
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (25.6) beat San Antonio Spurs (30.7) in 2016 conference semifinals, 4-2
  • Boston Celtics (28.9) beat Atlanta Hawks (23.8) in 2008 first round, 4-3

In those 17 series, the older team has gone 13-4.

It’s not as simple as experience winning out. Teams let themselves get old when they’re ready to win. They care more about a player’s current ability than his future potential.

That’s why the Cavs have traded for players like Kyle Korver (37) and George Hill (32) the last couple years. Cleveland wants to win now with LeBron.

The Celtics aren’t ready to accept that tradeoff. They want to win as much as they can while retaining long-term upside.

Eventually, LeBron’s dominance over the Eastern Conference will end. But the Cavaliers are committed to continuing it this year. The Celtics are more concerned with having next.

That shows in the teams ages, and it will probably show in the series.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.

Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead peaceful protest

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While many NBA players have spoken out on social media and attended rallies in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police, maybe none has been as vocal and active as the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown.

Saturday, he drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest at the Martin Luther King National Historic Park.

Brown was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Brown’s protest still had a run-in with Atlanta police.

This protest is one of many nationwide happening for a fifth straight night in the wake of the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. That death happened not long after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Brown, like many nationwide, hope these protests and this frustration can be channeled into real change. Something this nation needs.