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Anthony Davis and Pelicans enter yet another season full of speculation about their future together

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA preview stories, with at least one a day appearing on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, today it is New Orleans.

In Anthony Davis‘ lifetime, 22 players have made an All-NBA first team during their first six seasons. Just seven did so without reaching a conference finals in that span. Of those seven, only one began his seventh season with his original team.

Anthony Davis is set to become the second.

Davis, a three-time All-NBA first-teamer, has made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once in six years with the Pelicans. He’s following the footsteps of Kevin Garnett, who spent his first 12 seasons with the Timberwolves while advancing in the playoffs only once with them, in his ninth season.

That’s the same Kevin Garnett whom Davis used as somewhat of a cautionary tale about remaining loyal to a franchise. And the most recent example of someone who became an All-NBA first-teamer so young without reaching the conference finals: Chris Paul, who engineered a trade from New Orleans after his sixth season there.

Uneasy parallels abound for the Pelicans as they try to keep Davis happy.

Of course, Davis is neither Paul nor Garnett nor anybody but Anthony Davis. Davis has mostly stayed on message: His priority is winning in New Orleans.

I believe that. But what if he determines he can’t win enough with the Pelicans? Will he choose them or a team he believes offers a better chance of on-court success. That, I don’t know.

The Pelicans should gain clarity next summer, when they can offer Davis a super-max extension that projects to be worth about $240 million over five years (about $48 million annually).

If he were to wait to leave in 2020 unrestricted free agency, Davis would have a projected max with another team of about $152 million over four years (about $38 million annually). Even if he got traded before then so he could re-sign with his new team in 2020, his projected max would still be “just” about $205 million over five years (about $41 million annually). He can get the super-max from only New Orleans.

If Davis is predisposed to stay with the Pelicans anyway, why wouldn’t he just take that monster offer next summer?

Again, speculation centers on New Orleans’ underwhelming results since drafting him No. 1 overall in 2012. The Pelicans have tried to fast-track their ascension around Davis, repeatedly trading first-round picks. They haven’t won enough to justify that strategy, and it has resulted in a roster primed for disappointment going forward.

Jrue Holiday is nice. Nikola Mirotic is underrated. Julius Randle could take another step. Otherwise, New Orleans’ supporting cast doesn’t make a convincing case.

Of course, the Pelicans could exceed expectations. They sure did last year, winning 48 games and sweeping the third-seeded Trail Blazers even after DeMarcus Cousins‘ injury.

Davis is locked up for two more years. If he makes another All-NBA team next season, he’ll be eligible to re-sign for the supermax in 2020 no matter how he performs during the 2019-20 season. Next season is not necessarily a breaking point.

But it’ll be another data point in Davis’ ongoing assessment of New Orleans. That assessment will be guided by a new agent (maybe Rich Paul, who represents Lakers superstar LeBron James) – which only adds variability to the equation.

The stakes are high. The small-market Pelicans would likely fall into into irrelevance if they lose Davis, which is precisely why they won’t rush to move him. But if they’re going to lose Davis, they’re better off trading him while his value nears its peak so they can get assets that will help in a new era. Whichever team gets Davis will likely vault up the championship-contention ladder.

Eyes will be on Davis and New Orleans, searching for any sign of discord. That might not be fair considering all Davis has done to fit in with the Pelicans, but it’s also reality. The vultures are swarming.

It has been this way for years now. Davis and the Pelicans are used to it, and neither he nor the team has budged much from their stated plan of sticking together.

But the super-max-extension window is around the corner with only the upcoming season in between. It’ll be a big one for determining whether everything in New Orleans is still on track.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

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After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

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Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Bucks wallop Pistons. Again.

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The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.

But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.

Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.

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The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.

Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).

The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

LeBron James named one of TIME’s 100 most-influential people

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LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.

But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.

LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.

That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential

Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:

I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.

There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.

Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.