PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

kurthelin

Associated Press

Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Warriors, Trail Blazers, Heat all help their playoff causes

1 Comment

Tuesday was a big night for playoff chase games, so much so that the Wizards clinching the division title — their first since 1979 — or the bad night for the Pacers dropping them to seventh in the East didn’t even make the cut here. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.

1) In a battle of elite offenses, Warriors’ defense gets them key win in the race for the top seed. Wednesday night comes the game that will get a lot of media attention — Golden State heads into San Antonio in a battle of the two top teams in the NBA. The Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the West and all of basketball, any hope they have of catching Golden State requires a win tonight.

Except it may too late for the Spurs — with their win Tuesday night, the Warriors made it tough to catch them. Fivethirtyeight.com now has Golden State with a 93 percent chance to retain the top seed in the West.

Golden State held on to beat Houston on the road Tuesday, 113-106, in a battle of the NBA’s top two offenses. However, it was Golden State’s elite defense that was the difference — the Warriors held the Rockets to 38.8 percent shooting overall and 16.1 percent from three. The Warriors crowd Harden with multiple defenders, and while he still puts up numbers — he had a triple-double in this game — he’s not as efficient.

Not that there wasn’t an offensive show, between Harden’s triple-double and Stephen Curry dropping 32 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Those two put on a show.

Golden State raced out to a fast lead and pushed that margin up to 22 by getting stops (and the Rockets just missing looks, they were 2-of-16 from deep in the first 24 minutes), then turning their defensive stops into transition buckets. Credit the Rockets because they battled back, started getting to the line, grinding a little, and by halftime it was just an eight-point Golden State lead. The game stayed in single digits through most of the second half, but the Warriors always kept the lead, and with a little push late got the win.

Which brings us back to the showdown Wednesday with San Antonio. If the Spurs win, they will be 1.5 games behind the Warriors, one game back in the loss column, with seven to play. The Spurs will have the tie breaker, but San Antonio would still need to win out (and Gregg Popovich has said he will rest players) and hope Golden State loses again (they have now won eight in a row heading into San Antonio). Certainly not impossible, but also not likely. By at least getting a split in their Texas two-step, the Warriors have probably earned themselves the top seed in the West.

2) Portland beats Denver, essentially ending the Nuggets’ playoff dreams. This wasn’t a must-win game for Denver in the purest sense — the Nuggets are mathematically alive for the eighth seed, just one game back of the Trail Blazers.

However, in the practical world, Tuesday night was a must-win game for the Nuggets.

And the Trail Blazers beat them. Beat then because of the guy Denver traded them at the deadline — Jusuf Nurkic had a career-high 33 points plus pulled down 16 rebounds, six offensive. After the game, he wasn’t shy telling his former team to enjoy their summer.

Going into the game Portland and Denver were tied for the eighth seed in the West, the final playoff spot. With the win, the Nuggets are one game up and have the tie-breaker, so it is, in essence, a two-game lead with eight to play. The challenge for Denver is six of their eight games are on the road, while Portland has just two of their eight away from home.

Fivethirtyeight.com now has the Blazers a 92 percent chance to make the postseason, the Nuggets get 8 percent. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.

3) Hassan Whiteside’s tip in keeps Heat in eighth seed, all but ends Detroit’s playoff hopes. This one play was the dagger shot to Detroit’s playoff chances. They had what amounted to a must-win game Tuesday against Miami, the Pistons needed one stop at the end, and this happened.

If I’m Stan Van Gundy, what keeps me up is not even the Hassan Whiteside tip-in, it’s little Goran Dragic pulling down the first rebound in and amongst the trees. How do you let him get that?

It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing game that caps off a disappointing season in Detroit. This team should be better than this, but here we are.  Detroit is now 2.5 games out of the playoffs with seven games to play. That’s too much. Fivethirtyeight.com has Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs at 1 percent.

Miami, on the other hand, has a 74 percent chance of making the postseason, according to the same site. The Heat’s biggest concern should be they are just one game ahead of Chicago for that last playoff spot, and the Bulls have a softer ending to the season (Miami’s last four games are Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and Washington, although those teams could be resting guys at that point).

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

Getty Images
2 Comments

This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

8 Comments

James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

8 Comments

For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

Three Things We Learned Monday: Spurs look like contenders, Cavaliers look lost in rout

Associated Press
6 Comments

Maybe you were busy Monday night having flaming food shoved in your mouth and didn’t have time to watch the night’s slate of NBA games. We’ve got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Spurs look like title contenders, Cavaliers look overwhelmed in rout. Cleveland falls to second in Eastern Conference. Is it time to worry yet, Cleveland? Because it’s feeling a lot like it’s time to worry. Not full on hit the panic button mode, more make sure you know where it’s located level of worry.

Last season the Cavaliers went 13-7 over their last 20 games, and that includes some meaningless losses with guys resting to close out the season — they had flipped the switch and found a groove that they carried into the postseason. Starting at the same point this season they are 5-6 in their last 11 (with nine games left). They are 8-10 since the All-Star break with the second-worst defense in the NBA in that stretch (allowing 113.2 points per 100 possessions, barely better than the tanking Lakers). Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers say they can flip the switch, that getting guys rest is the priority. They hint that when they play good teams they are playing vanilla offenses so as not to give anything away. Lue and company want it to sound like this slump is nothing, it can be easily overcome, that it’s almost part of the plan.

Was the plan to fall behind Boston and become the second seed in the East?

Was part of the plan to get thrashed by the Spurs on national television?

Both those things happened Monday night. San Antonio looked like a contender getting in a playoff run groove. Cleveland looked like a guy standing in the middle of the street in Pamplona trying not to get run over by the stampede. San Antonio routed the Spurs 103-74 in a game that was never in doubt after the second quarter. The Spurs did whatever they wanted, check out this 10-0 run at one point in the second quarter.

The Cavaliers offense was a big problem in the first half – they had an offensive rating of just 85.1 at the half — but the larger issue became those bad shots led to the Spurs getting out and running, exposing the Cavaliers lackluster transition defense. Another problem was the Cavs’ bench, the Spurs won that first-half battle 28-0.

With the loss the Cavaliers fell half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East.

If the Cavaliers are playing like the Cavaliers can, extra road games are not a problem. Maybe there is a switch to flip, an adjustment here or there that changes everything. Cleveland’s defensive issues, and to a degree offensive ones as well, seem to be about effort. There is a sense of boredom as the team waits for the playoffs to start. Maybe that’s the case. But during the wins at the end of last season the Cavaliers were building good habits to fall back on when things did get tough in the postseason, these Cavaliers are doing no such thing.

It’s still tough not to pick Cleveland to come out of the East. But if things get tough against the Wizards in the second round, or against Boston or Toronto at some point in the postseason, those teams will be ready and think they know where they can find another gear. Will Cleveland?

2) Russell Westbrook makes an MVP statement: He racks up another triple-double, dominates end of game in Thunder’s comeback win. What made this game an impressive part of Russell Westbrook’sMVP resume was not his 37th triple-double of the season — 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but rather how he showed his value to the team at the end.

The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 on OKC with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The game looked over. Then Westbrook happened — he scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, capping it off hitting the game winner. On that shot, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender — because nobody was going to stop him.

It was an MVP-level performance. Whether that is enough to get him the award is another question.

3) Is Sam Hinkie possibly making a return to the NBA? With the Sacramento Kings?
With the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, the Sacramento Kings will be counting on fan loyalty, an amazing new building, and hope for the future to sell tickets the next few seasons. That’s because the Kings are in full on rebuilding mode… can you call it rebuilding if you haven’t been to the playoffs for a decade? Whatever you call this round of bottoming out, the Kings are restructuring their roster, Sacramento is doing it.

Do they trust Vlade Divac to lead that rebuilding?

They probably shouldn’t, based on track record. Plus stability at the top of the organization is not something owner Vivek Ranadive apparently considers important — again, based on his track record — and it’s been coming up on two years since there was a front office shakeup. So it wasn’t a shock when a report surfaced Monday night that the Kings were talking to former Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie about coming on board.

The Kings quickly denied this.

Which led to the Tweet of the night from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

A few things here. First, the number of times the Kings have said “we’re not doing” something then turn around and did it would require a spreadsheet to track, with the latest being trading DeMarcus Cousins. Second, the Kings are a leaky organization, so I don’t doubt the reports. Third, there has been a push from some minority owners to make changes at the top of the Kings basketball operations side, and Wojnarowski said the league has suggested the same thing because they want the Kings to be more professional.

Starting this summer, the Kings need someone in charge who understands rebuilding a team — that doesn’t have to be Hinkie, there are numerous other qualified candidates — but it needs to be someone. It shouldn’t be a big flashy name or personality, not someone a star-struck owner likes sitting next to and talking with, but someone who knows how to do the job. What the Kings need most of all, however, is to hire this person then have Ranadive get completely out of the way. Give the basketball person power, then get out of the way for four or five years. Let the rebuilding happen, and at that point assess what, if any, changes need to be made. Because the system going on in Sacramento now isn’t working on the court.

Powered by WordPress.com VIP