Getty Images

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Down 0-2, it’s hard to see Houston’s path past Warriors

3 Comments

The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Down 0-2, it’s hard to see Houston’s path past Warriors. And that’s not because of Harden’s eye. At some point, the Houston Rockets need to win a game in Oracle Arena to take the series from Golden State.

However, it feels like they had their chances and missed. The Warriors came into Game 1 on short rest, with bad ankles, turned the ball over 20 times, and still won. Game 2 is where the Rockets started to find their flow from distance, hitting 17 threes and shooting 42.5 percent from deep. On the season, the Rockets were 26-7 when making at least 17 threes (and 2-0 when they made exactly 17 threes). Houston racked up a 114.7 offensive rating in Game 2 that was right at their elite regular-season average.

Yet the Rockets head home for Game 3 down 0-2. The Warriors won Game 2 115-109 and seemed in control most of the way.

Houston has to win 4-of-5 in this series and the Warriors have yet to have that monster, can’t-miss-a-shot breakout game we all know is coming at some point.

Well, Warriors not named Kevin Durant have not had those games. KD has been the best player on the floor in this series — through two games he has matched James Harden’s 64 point total, plus KD has provided key defense and rebounds.

Steve Kerr was not messing around this series, he went all in from the opening tip — he started the Hamptons’ five lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant, and Draymond Green — in both games. And leaned on that group. In Game 2 that lineup played just shy of half the game (23.7 minutes) and was a +12.

Iguodala has had a bounce in his step at age 35 and played well, with 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, and some good defense in Game 2. The Warriors also were dominant on the offensive glass in Game 2, with 18 offensive rebounds, creating second chances on 37 percent of missed shots. Houston cannot allow that many extra shots and chances for Golden State.

Despite that, the Rockets hung around in this one, and there are things that can improve at home. Chris Paul has been good — 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and some good defense in Game 2 — and has matched Curry’s output. However, the Rockets need last season’s CP3. Austin Rivers had an impressive night off the bench. Eric Gordon has been knocking down shots and can get hot.

If those guys can take a step forward alongside a healthy Harden — more on that in item No. 2 — and the Rockets can win Game 3 at home. They need to win Game 3 at home. Or this series is really over.

One other note on Game 2: Notice we have not mentioned the officiating. Both teams were on their best behavior, there was very little chirping at the officiating crew about calls. Clearly, that came as a directive from both coaches and through team leaders — focus on the game — plus the quick-trigger, no-nonsense crew of Scott Foster being there had teams thinking twice about complaining. It was a nice change of pace from Game 1.

2) James Harden gets hit in the eye and bled from it. It bothered him in Game 2, and he doesn’t know what comes next. The Rockets need the full James Harden experience in Game 3 to keep their season hopes alive.

But he needs to be able to see the basket clearly for that to happen. Will he be able to? After the game he was squinting and bothered by the camera lights in the interview room.

“It hurt,” Harden said of the inadvertent swipe by Draymond Green that injured his left eye. “I could barely see. Just try to go out there and do what I can to help my teammates. It’s pretty blurry right now.

“Can’t see nothing. Barely can see.”

Will that be better by Game 3 on Saturday? Hopefully. Time off should help. But nobody really knows.

Harden still had 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting after the injury, he got to the rim and made threes, but his eye was clearly bothering him. To win in this series the Rockets need Harden to be the best player on the floor, to dominate, and his eye injury is not going to help with that.

Green, to his credit, checked in on Harden both on the court at the time of the injury and after the game.

There is one other injury to track — Stephen Curry dislocated the middle finger on his left (non-shooting) hand in the first quarter.

The training staff popped it back in, taped up his finger and Curry was back out there. Still, it’s worth watching to see if that impacts Curry’s ball handling or flow in Game 3.

3) Milwaukee makes its adjustments, dominates third quarter, evens series at 1-1. Brad Stevens, the ball is in your court.

That’s because Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer made his adjustments for Game 2. For one, he started Nikola Mirotic in place of Sterling Brown. However, the bigger change was going to a switching-heavy defense, something Milwaukee did little of in Game 1 (and not a bunch during the season).

“I mean they’ve got the guys who can do that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said from the podium after the game. “They did it last year a lot and so that’s an easy thing for them to adjust to. And I thought they did a really good job of it. Basically, Giannis and smaller were doing that.”

It worked. The game was close until Milwaukee went on a 24-2 run in the third quarter. Boston scored just two points in the final seven minutes of the third, and those misses (and a few turnovers) fueled chances for the Bucks to get out and run, and we all know Giannis Antetokounmpo is unstoppable in transition.

The Bucks won 123-102, dominating the second half and tying the series at 1-1 heading back to Boston.

Antetokounmpo looked like an MVP to be with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but he got help. Khris Middleton was 7-of-10 from three. Eric Bledsoe was a force on both ends of the court.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving struggled going 4-of-18 shooting and not getting generating a call that sent him to the free throw line. He wasn’t alone in struggling, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier were each 2-of-10, Jaylen Brown 5-of-12, Gordon Hayward 1-of-5.

At home for Game 3, expect the Celtics to shoot better. Stevens will make some counter adjustments, and we are going to have a long and intense series on our hands.

Report: Knicks to interview former Knicks coach Mike Woodson

Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Knicks appear set on both hiring Tom Thibodeau and conducting a coaching search.

Mike Woodson, who coached New York from 2012-2014, will be part of the process.

Ian Begley of SNY:

New York also interviewed Woodson in 2018 before hiring David Fizdale. I understand why the Knicks can’t make up their mind on whether they want him as their coach.

Woodson won 58% of his games with New York, the third-best mark in franchise history (behind Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy). In 2012-13, Woodson did some really creative things with Carmelo Anthony at power forward and two-point guard lineups.

But by the end of that season, Woodson went away from what worked. His views became increasingly suspect the next season. When the Knicks fired him, it appeared to be time to move one.

Will New York return to Woodson? Probably not. The expectation remains Thibodeau will get this job. But Woodson will at least have an opportunity to make his case for a very-strange return.

When Charles Barkley tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to Auburn

Carolyn Herter/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dirk Nowitzki was not headed to an American college before the NBA. Like most of the best European players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, even going back to Tony Kukoc and others — he was taking a straight trip from his European team to the NBA.

That didn’t stop Charles Barkley from trying to get him to go to Auburn.

It wasn’t meant to be, but Saad Yousuf at the Athletic tells the story of Barkley trying.

The Auburn alum reflected on his first meeting with Nowitzki, in 1997 at a Nike exhibition game in Germany, in which the Big German put on an offensive clinic against a team featuring Barkley, Pippen, Michael Jordan and other NBA talents…

Barkley called Nike and made a strong push to get to Nowitzki through any channel, legal or not. “Just tell him, anything he wants, we’ll get it done,” Barkley recalled in 2012. “Just give him anything he wants; he’s got to go to Auburn.”

Barkley didn’t stop there, though. Nowitzki left such an impression on Auburn’s greatest hoops export that Barkley even talked to Cliff Ellis, Auburn’s coach at the time, to encourage the program to make a run at this relatively unknown teenager in Europe.

Ellis notes that in 1997 he couldn’t just jump on YouTube and find clips of a player, there wasn’t much film of European players. Still, the coach was willing to go on Barkley’s word and reached out.

Turns out Kentucky, Stanford and other colleges did as well, but to no avail. Nowitzki went straight into the 1988 NBA Draft, where the Bucks took him ninth overall then executed a draft-night trade sending the big German to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The rest is Hall of Fame history.

For Barkley, Ellis, and Auburn fans, it’s quite the “what if.” That was a 29-4 Auburn team in 1997-98 that was an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed led by a couple of future NBA players (Mamadou N’Diaye and Chris Porter). Add Nowitzki into that mix and… we will never know. But it could have been glorius.

 

How will, should player salaries be allocated as only some NBA teams resume?

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns and Mavericks star Luka Doncic
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Timberwolves will play 64 games this season. The Mavericks will play 75-77 games before the traditional playoffs.

Should Dallas players get paid a higher percentage of their salaries than Minnesota players?

That’s one of the thorny questions as the NBA resumes its season.

Though players have individual contracts with defined salaries, there’s an overriding factor in determining actual wages. The Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for players and owners to split revenue approximately 50-50. Salaries are adjusted to reach that 50-50 split.

Each year, the salary cap is set to a number designed to get total player salaries to about 50% of league-wide revenue. Obviously, that’s a difficult target to hit precisely. So, there are mechanisms to adjust the distribution of money if necessary. If their total slated salaries are higher than 50% of revenue, players don’t receive their full salaries. If their total salaries are lower than 50% of revenue, players get a shortfall check from owners.

Coronavirus has disrupted that well-oiled system

The league is missing a major chunk of revenue. Players’ slated salaries would call for them to earn WAY more than 50% of revenue. That’s why the NBA has been withholding a portion of players’ salaries. Force majeure allows teams to reduce players salaries for games canceled due to an epidemic.

The NBA’s reported plan reveals the number of lost games. There were 259 regular-season games remaining when the season was suspended. The continued season includes 88 regular-season games (eight each for the 22 continuing teams) plus 0-4 play-in games.* No playoff games are being canceled.

*I’m counting play-in games as regular-season games. It’s a gray area. Perhaps, owners and players will agree to count them as postseason games. It probably doesn’t matter here, anyway. In terms of force majeure, regular-season and playoff games count equally. So, it’s simple enough to count them as regular-season games.

That’s 167-171 canceled games.

Except not every team will have the same number of games canceled.

There’s a four-game spread in the number of games each team has played so far. The Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets are done now. Every other team will play at least eight more games. The Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns and Wizards could play up to two play-in games.

Based strictly on games played, here’s how much players on each team stand to lose in salary:

  • Timberwolves: 19%
  • Hornets: 18%
  • Bulls: 18%
  • Cavaliers: 18%
  • Warriors: 18%
  • Pistons: 17%
  • Knicks: 17%
  • Hawks: 16%
  • Lakers: 12%
  • Spurs: 10%-12%
  • Celtics: 11%
  • Rockets: 11%
  • Clippers: 11%
  • Thunder: 11%
  • Raptors: 11%
  • Jazz: 11%
  • Nets: 9%-11%
  • Pelicans: 9%-11%
  • Kings: 9%-11%
  • Wizards: 9%-11%
  • Nuggets: 10%
  • Pacers: 10%
  • Heat: 10%
  • Bucks: 10%
  • 76ers: 10%
  • Grizzlies: 8%-10%
  • Magic: 8%-10%
  • Suns: 8%-10%
  • Trail Blazers: 6%-9%
  • Mavericks: 5%-8%

Is that fair to players on the eight done teams? They didn’t ask for their season to end prematurely.

On the other hand, they don’t have to do any more work. Other players must travel to Orlando, live under restrictions, play games with heightened injury concerns and risk contracting coronavirus just so the league can increase its revenue. Should eliminated players reap the rewards while sitting home?

This tension also exists in normal times. Players across 16 playoff teams divvied up just $20 million total for competing in the 2018 playoffs, and the amount was similar last year. Player income is largely earned on the regular season, even though the players playing in the playoffs disproportionately draw the revenue that funds everyone.

But the disparity feels sharper now – with the worst teams not even finishing the regular season and playoff teams facing a far larger burden just to keep playing.

To a certain degree, this is a player problem. Owners are going to pay approximately 50% of league revenue to players. The CBA dictates how players on each team should have their salaries cut through force majeure. If players want to share the losses more evenly among each other, owners should accommodate.

Consider this similar to cap smoothing, which the union infamously rejected. Except in that case, it was more just luck which players were in the favored class. Now, the players who could earn more will actually be the ones putting in the additional work. Then again, there could be a push for everyone to share the losses more equally.

Like many things disrupted by coronavirus, there are no good answers.

Report: NBA planning to start next season on Christmas

NBA Christmas
Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The current NBA season – interrupted by coronavirus – could extend as late as Oct. 12. That means the league must delay next season. How long past the normal mid-October start? December was the popular notion, but that’s still a wide timeframe.

Now, we can pinpoint it.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If the N.B.A. can successfully complete the 2019-20 season under this structure, it is expected that the 2020 N.B.A. draft would be moved to October, with free agency to follow shortly thereafter and a tentative plan to establish Dec. 25 as opening day for the 2020-21 season.

Coronavirus can ruin the best-laid plans. Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said play would continue around a positive test, it’s unclear whether that would delay this season’s schedule – then the offseason then next season. It’s also unknown how the country will be handling coronavirus in December. The cold weather, pushing people indoors, could increase cases.

But it’s still interesting to know the plan, even if it’s tentative.

People fondly recall the NBA season starting on Christmas in 2011. Many have pointed to Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin’s idea of permanently opening in December to avoid overlap with the NFL, though he suggested mid-December – not Christmas.

That’s quite late.

This year, coronavirus has forced radical changes. A Christmas start might be totally reasonable for the 2020-21 season.

What about beyond?

If the NBA wants to begin each season on Christmas, this is the simplest time to shift. A different start date for future seasons would require altering the calendar to get on track.

There are plenty of issues with opening on Christmas in normal times, though:

  • Historically, TV viewership is down during the summer. That might be changing, but people might find other activities while it’s warm rather than attending or watching an indoor NBA game.
  • Would people really watch more NBA games just because fewer of them would compete with the highly popular NFL? The NBA regular season might just be too long to capture attention, no matter when it’s held.
  • By starting on Christmas, the NBA would reduce two marquee regular-season dates – opening day and Christmas – to one.
  • Many regional TV networks that carry NBA games also carry MLB games. Many of those networks already carry NHL games. But with baseball teams playing more games, there would be more conflicts.
  • With schools out, the American system is built on summer being more of a vacation time. People within the league – including players, especially those with children – might object to working during that time.