Associated Press

NBA awards predictions: Defensive Player of Year, Coach of Year, Sixth Man

2 Comments

It’s that time of year — prediction time. While we understand that making NBA preseason awards predictions is the equivalent of nailing Jell-O to a tree, but we soldier ahead in the face of futility anyway. Because that’s what we do.

Monday we made our picks for MVP and Rookie of the Year.

Now we move on to the defensive player, coach, and sixth man awards.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers). He came close last season (missing those final eight games while Rudy Gobert was on a tear hurt) but this season he is fully healthy and if he plays more than 63 games (*knocks on wood*) he can win this award. Beyond that, with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup instead of J.J. Redick (at least to start the season), the Sixers should be an elite defensive team, maybe best in the league, and Embiid will be its anchor. One other candidate to watch: Kawhi Leonard.

Dan Feldman Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz). The NBA’s three best defenders are Gobert, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard. I’m more convinced Gobert will be healthy and motivated during the regular season than I am with Green and Leonard, though I wouldn’t be surprised if either Green or Leonard wins this award. Green especially could chase it to become eligible for a super-max extension. But he also has his eyes on a long playoff run. Coming off his injury last season and one season from free agency, Leonard is a mystery.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks). The Bucks have been loaded with talent for a while now but the past few years they have played too slowly, not shot enough threes (or had enough three-point shooters), and played a defensive system the best teams could easily exploit. Coach Bud is going to change all that, Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to look even more like an MVP candidate, and Budenholzer will get credit for the improvement.

Dan Feldman Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks). Budenholzer is a good coach in position to prove it. The Bucks needed a coaching upgrade, so they give him a chance to shine. Jazz coach Quin Snyder is another strong contender, but he might have set his bar too high last season. Arguably the NBA’s best coach, Gregg Popovich has a path to winning the award this season if he guides the reworked Spurs into the playoffs.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: J.J. Redick (Philadelphia 76ers). This pick is based on the presumption that Markelle Fultz will stay in the Sixers starting lineup for most, if not all, of the season (an experiment that may not last that long). Redick will get second unit time with T.J. McConnell and Fultz (who I think will play with that unit a decent amount each night), and they will love feeding him as he curls off screens that second-team defenders can’t or won’t follow him through. Tyreke Evans is my second choice here, I think he’ll have a big season in Indiana.

Dan FeldmanLou Wiliams (Los Angeles Clippers). Last season, Williams was the rare reserve to receive All-Star consideration. He has figured out how to come off the bench, play within himself and contribute to winning. Importantly, he does it through scoring — the area voters care most about.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
3 Comments

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.

image

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.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

image

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

3 Comments

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

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
5 Comments

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.