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.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.