Getty Images

Three Things to Know: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s friendship changed the NBA

7 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s friendship changed the NBA. Monday night at Staples Center was the final time LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will share the court together.

It was a bittersweet moment appreciated by the Lakers fans (people new to LeBron fandom), who gave Wade a standing ovation when he entered the game.

Then those fans got to watch the old friends duel on the court like old times. (The pair came into this game 15-15 in head-to-head meetings, but LeBron now finishes with those bragging rights.)

Then, after Wade missed a desperation shot to tie the game late, the two men embraced and exchanged jerseys.

It was a fitting and emotional end to two Hall of Fame careers — ones that forever altered the league.

LeBron and Wade, along with Chris Bosh, fundamentally changed the NBA — they were the players that decided “we’re getting together and forming a super team.” Those players took charge of their destiny, they were not leaving it up to the white guys in suits to decide what they should do (although Pat Riley deserves credit for creating the space to give all three a landing spot). Then they went out and won rings (plural). Other superstars took note, and it’s not just Kevin Durant to the Warriors, it’s the shape of the NBA that is changing because these players owned their power.

Wade and LeBron formed a legendary Heat team that went to four straight Finals, winning two, and providing us with some of the greatest moments and memories in Finals history.

In a few years, they will be sitting on the back deck of Wade’s house in Miami, sharing a bottle of wine that you and I can’t afford, and reminiscing about those days and what they did. They earned that moment. And players who come after them should thank them for showing just how much leverage the players really have.

2) Celtics starting to figure it out, won sixth in a row while their fans dreamed of Anthony Davis. A couple of weeks ago, one of the hot discussion topics around the NBA was “what is wrong with the Boston Celtics?” They were 10-10 and struggling to score enough buckets to win.

Nobody is asking anymore. The Celtics have won six in a row, outscoring teams by a ridiculous 25.6 points per 100 possessions in that stretch.

Monday night — shorthanded without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford — they knocked off Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, 113-100. It was the kind of team win we have come to expect from the Celtics, with elite defense and someone stepping up on offense. This time it was Marcus Morris with 31 points.

That said, Anthony Davis had Celtics fans dreaming of what could be, scoring 41 and looking like the MVP candidate he is. Celtics fans cheered his introduction, and the Davis to Boston rumors will not die, even though Davis is not and will not be available for trade during this season (and Boston can’t trade for him during the season without sacrificing Irving due to CBA rules anyway).

While Davis was the best player on the court, the play everyone is talking out of this is Boston rookie Robert Williams blocking Davis.

The Celtics are racking up these wins through a soft part of their schedule, and that continues for a while (Wizards, Haws, the suddenly struggling Pistons, and the Suns make up their next four).

3) The Warriors are healthy and all back on the court together. Monday night Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green all took the court together for the first time since Nov. 5 — the Warriors are back.

Predictably, that was bad news for the visiting Timberwolves, who fell 116-108. Curry was doing Curry things again and had 38 points.

The Warriors have won four in a row. More telling, however, is how we have talked about Green’s and Curry’s injuries, tried to psychoanalyze the relationship between Green and Durant, and talked about their “problems” and yet here they are, 19-9 and just percentage points out of first in the West, and just starting to come together. Their “problems” have been overblown, and the league is now about to watch them get their legs under them again and go on a run.

Never doubt this is the best team in the NBA and if your team is dreaming of the Larry O’Brien trophy you’re going to have to pry it out of the Warriors’ hands.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Boban Marjanovic‘s shot can be blocked? Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton is filling up the box score as a rookie, but his defense has a long, long way to go. That said, he had what many thought was the impossible blocked shot on Monday night, shutting down 7’3” Boban Marjanovic.

Now we’ve seen everything.

Raptors bench play key reason Toronto on cusp of first trip to NBA Finals

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There are multiple reasons the Toronto Raptors have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks three times in a row and now are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and his play — particularly his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — is a huge one. So is the Raptors incredible halfcourt defense, which has held the Bucks to an 84.3 net rating on halfcourt possessions in this series. When the Raptors have been able to slow the game down (which they have done very well the last two games, with possession totals in the mid-90s) they win.

Just don’t forget about the Raptors bench.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell — the three guys coach Nick Nurse leans on in his regular rotations — have been critical for the Raptors, and if they are again on Saturday night in Toronto it will lift the franchise to a place it has never been before.

Toronto’s starters are -23 in this series. That fivesome — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — were -10 in Game 5, struggling against an impressive Milwaukee starting lineup.

In Game 5, it was the Raptors’ bench that led the comeback after the Bucks’ fast start. It has been that way all series. Lineups that have at least one of those core three Raptors bench guys on the floor are +30 this series. Lineups with all three of them on the court together are +12.

Different guys are stepping up each game. In Game 5 it was VanVleet’s turn. After a rough few games in this series, he got to Milwaukee late after being with his wife for the birth of their son, then proceeded to knock down 7-of-9 threes in Toronto’s come-from-behind win.

“He oozes the confidence that spreads to the other guys,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “Again, he just stepped into the shots that were there tonight, and he was probably due to get hot in these playoffs. It’s been probably a long time coming. Great game by him.”

Toronto’s bench — and Leonard — are key reasons that this team responded to adversity, going down 0-2 in the series and bouncing back. It’s the experience of having been there before, having dealt with the pressure before, learning about themselves because they have been tested like this in previous years. Leonard and Green have rings from San Antonio, Gasol has been to conference finals in Memphis, Lowry has been there through all the Raptors struggles in recent playoffs. On the bench, Ibaka has seen plenty, and these guys have not been fazed by the moment.

It’s the test the Bucks are facing now — this group had never been challenged like this. Their athleticism and Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level season propelled this team to the best record in the NBA, then they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. After that, they beat the Raptors the first two games of this series.

However, now they have lost three in a row for the first time all season and they are learning about their weaknesses. The Bucks entire offense is based around the idea that nobody can slow Antetokounmpo one-on-one, except that Leonard has done just that. The Greek Freak has shot 35.5 percent this series (11-of-31, via Second Spectrum data) when Leonard has been his primary defender. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t found shooters and those guys have not hit the passes he does make, particularly in the halfcourt. Toronto has controlled the tempo the past few games, and when Antetokounmpo isn’t getting easy buckets in transition the Milwaukee offense stumbles. Toronto also has taken care of the ball and hit shots, with Leonard getting to his spots on the floor, which has limited the Bucks transition chances.

The Bucks need to make adjustments — finding ways to get Antetokounmpo the ball with better matchups, not having him attack from the top of the key every time and giving him some picks to force switches — and they need another ball handler, such as Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, to have a monster game. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can and should do a little more shot creation.

And Milwaukee has to contain that Raptors bench and not get beat so badly when they are on the floor.

If not, the Bucks will be on vacation in Cabo next week while the Raptors are still playing.

Are Rockets trying to push Mike D’Antoni out the door?

Getty Images
4 Comments

After a slow start to the season, by the end the Houston Rockets had found their groove and were the second best team in the West. That still wasn’t good enough to get by the Warriors dynasty. That has led to some soul searching in Houston.

And some changes to the assistant coaching staff. First came the news Jeff Bzdelik would not return in his defensive coordinator role. Then on Friday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle put out a series of Tweets talking about the other coaching changes coming.

Cho had been with the Rockets for a decade. Roland worked closely with James Harden, among others.

This is a near total overhaul of Mike D’Antoni’s staff, which has led to speculation the Rockets are trying to push their coach out the door, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

D’Antoni has done an excellent job — and adapted his style — to coach these Rockets into being contenders. He is part of the reason this franchise is a contender. The Rockets have fallen short the last two seasons not because of D’Antoni, but rather because of the Warriors. Golden State is an all-time dynasty level team, they are beating everybody.

This feels like the East in recent years when coaches lost jobs and teams were broken up because they could not get past LeBron James‘ teams when the issue was really LeBron is one of the game’s all-time greats.

There could be other dynamics at play in Houston, but the challenge there is not the coach. If Tilman Fertitta is frustrated his team fell short again, he should start by looking in the mirror at the cost-cutting moves his team made this season to get under the tax line. That put a ceiling on this team more than anything D’Antoni did.

NBA makes it official, moves up free agency six hours to 6 p.m. June 30 (Eastern)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

I’d like to think this means we’ll all be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour on June 30. I also know better.

There is a frenzy of activity right as free agency opens (Tampering? There is no tampering in the NBA…), which traditionally has been as the clock turns to July 1 in New York, right at midnight. Things got so active that a lot of agents and players made sure they were in Los Angeles, even if they didn’t live there in the offseason, just so things started at the more reasonable hour of 9 p.m.

Now the NBA has made the rumors official: Free agency will begin at 6 p.m. Eastern on June 30. Six hours earlier than before.

This was done as an agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

This is going to be a wild July with a lot of big-name free agents — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler — and maybe a third of the players in the league on the market, plus there are a lot more teams with cap space to spend this season. It’s going to be a frenzy.

Now we know what time the wild times start.

Why does Kevin Durant respond on social media? “I’m qualified to talk about basketball”

Getty Images
4 Comments

Every NBA player gets ripped on social media, even the guys who are not on social media. Most of the time players just ignore it, the way they ignore fans yelling stuff courtside or distant family asking them for money.

Kevin Durant, however, gets into it sometimes, even with national media members (and even had a burner account). Which always becomes a thing.

Why? Why not just ignore it? From Durant himself at practice Friday, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Because I have social media,” Durant said Friday… “I mean, I’m a human being with a social media account. I could see if I ventured off into like politics, culinary arts or music and gave my input, but I’m sticking to something that I know. You know what I’m saying? This is all I know. I’m actually talking about stuff that I know. I’m qualified to talk about basketball.

“So when I respond to something, especially if it’s about me personally, of course I’m going to tell you if you wrong about it. When I’m on the training table getting treatment on my calf and I see a tweet that come by and I disagree — I don’t talk to people because I’m worried about what they say, it’s just that I’m interested. So if you talking about in-game or the NBA Finals, they’re the same to me, you know what I’m saying?”

Durant seems to have more time on hands to get into these spats while he is out injured. Which likely will last into the start of the NBA Finals.

Does this mean the Drake/Durant beef is inevitable?