Month: February 2024

Community Shootaround: Playoff Check-In

When we checked in on the NBA playoffs last Monday, we were coming off a weekend of upsets in the Western Conference, where the underdogs had taken a 1-0 lead in all four series.

A week later, the favorites have all won a couple games, but none have taken full control of their respective series.

The closest thing to an overwhelming favorite in the West’s first round? The Jazz, who rebounded from a Game 1 loss to the Grizzlies by winning the next two games and taking a 2-1 lead. Donovan Mitchell‘s return has helped buoy the team’s offense, and with a couple more wins, it’ll be easy to forget that things between him and the Jazz were pretty tense after he was held out of Game 1.

The other three series in the West, however, are all tied at 2-2 and remain very much up for grabs. The Trail Blazers/Nuggets matchup has been particularly back and forth, with betting site BetOnline.ag having made Portland a slight favorite despite the fact that two of the next three games will be played in Denver.

Unfortunately, injuries loom as a major factor in the other two Western series. A healthy Luka Doncic led the Mavericks to an impressive 2-0 lead vs. the Clippers, but a cervical strain hampered him in Los Angeles as Kawhi Leonard‘s squad stormed back to tie the series. If Doncic isn’t his usual self going forward, Dallas might not win another game this postseason.

Meanwhile, the Suns and Lakers are both dealing with injuries. Battling a shoulder ailment, Chris Paul has averaged just 9.5 PPG on .417/.250/.700 shooting in four games following an All-NBA caliber season. While Paul’s limitations seemed to be opening the door for a No. 7 seed to advance, Anthony Davisgroin strain will be a major factor going forward, as there’s no guarantee he’ll be available for Game 5. BetOnline.ag has the Suns as slight favorites here.

Over in the Eastern Conference, things aren’t so up in the air. The Bucks have already advanced, and the Sixers and Nets appear on the verge of following suit. Outside of a lone Boston win in Game 3, Philadelphia and Brooklyn have outclassed the Celtics and Wizards so far and seem very unlikely to collapse.

The East’s other series is also potentially just one game away from ending, but the Hawks aren’t viewed as a lock like those top seeds. Still, even though Julius Randle and the Knicks are more evenly matched with their opponents and could still make things interesting, they’ve struggled to match their regular season success so far in the playoffs. Randle, the team’s MVP, is shooting a dismal 27.4% from the floor.

We want to know what you think. Can we pencil in the Sixers, Nets, Hawks, and Jazz for the second round, or is still too early to call one or more of those series? How about the Blazers and Nuggets, the Suns and Lakers, and the Clippers and Mavs? How big a factor will those injuries be? Who do you see advancing beyond the first round?

Take to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Eastern Notes: Irving, Celtics, Bucks, Cavaliers

After having to address a series of fan-related incidents at games last week, the NBA is dealing with another one to start this week. As the Nets were leaving the TD Garden court on Sunday following a win over the Celtics, a fan threw a water bottle at Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving.

A TD Garden spokesperson announced late last night that the individual who threw the water bottle was arrested and is subject to a lifetime ban from the arena (link via Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe). The 21-year-old male is facing charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and will be arraigned on Tuesday, according to Boston PD (Twitter link via Shams Charania of The Athletic).

The bottle missed hitting Irving, who had spoken prior to Game 3 about hoping that fans would keep heckling and jeering “strictly basketball” in his return to Boston.

“You can see that people just feel very entitled out here,” Irving said after Game 4, per Malika Andrews and Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “They paid for their tickets — great, I’m grateful that they’re coming in to watch a great performance. But we’re not at the theater. We’re not throwing tomatoes and other random stuff at the people that are performing.”

The water bottle toss was the latest in a series of incidents involving fans. Fans in Philadelphia and New York received indefinite arena bans last week for dumping popcorn on Russell Westbrook and spitting on Trae Young, respectively. Ja Morant‘s father also said that he and his wife had racist, vulgar comments directed toward them in Utah, as Andrews and Bontemps note.

“I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out, but when you come to these games, you have to realize these men are human,” Kevin Durant said on Sunday. “We are not animals; we are not in the circus. You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan. So, have some respect for the game. Have some respect for the human beings, and have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn’t be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players or spitting on players or tossing popcorn.”

Here’s more from around the East:

  • The Celtics played without Kemba Walker (left knee bone bruise) and Robert Williams (turf toe, sprained left ankle) during Sunday’s loss, as Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes, and it’s not clear whether one or both players will be available for the team’s win-or-game-home Game 5 on Tuesday.
  • The transformation the Bucks‘ roster underwent during the 2020 offseason paid off in the first round of the 2021 postseason, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. The team – which added Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Bryn Forbes last fall – figures to face a tougher test in round two, with a potential matchup vs. Brooklyn on tap.
  • Jason Lloyd of The Athletic pushes back against GM Koby Altman‘s assertion that the Cavaliers had no young talent or draft assets in place when the team’s rebuild began in 2018 following LeBron James‘ departure. As Lloyd observes, rather than going all-in during LeBron’s final years in Cleveland, as they did during his first stint with the franchise, the Cavs had already traded Kyrie Irving for a lottery pick and had swapped out some veterans for younger players like Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance.

Western Notes: Doncic, K. Antetokounmpo, Ibaka, Warriors

Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic was available to play in Game 4 against the Clippers on Sunday night, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported he would. Doncic suffered a strained neck in Game 3 and his status was uncertain at the time.

“It’s just weird,” Doncic said of his injury, which also caused some pain in his left arm. “Just some massage, some ice and hopefully it will be good.”

Doncic has played some of the best basketball of his career this series, averaging 38 points, 8.7 rebounds and nine assists through three games. He’s also shot 52% from the floor and 46% from behind-the-arc.

There’s more from the Western Conference tonight:

  • Lakers forward Kostas Antetokounmpo has been attending to a personal matter in Greece, explaining his recent absence from the team, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Antetokoumpo is currently on a two-way contract with the club. There’s optimism that he could return if the Lakers advance past the Suns in the first round, the duo notes.
  • Clippers big man Serge Ibaka missed Game 4 due to lingering back soreness, as first reported by Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Ibaka has provided valuable production when healthy, averaging 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 23.3 minutes in 41 games this season.
  • The Warriors still have a ways to go before returning to contention, says Moke Hamilton of Basketball News. Golden State played without Klay Thompson (torn Achilles’ rehab) this season, though Thompson is expected to return for 2021-22. The team would have its championship trio of Stephen Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green to build around for the future.

Draft Notes: Njie, Chougkaz, Alocen, Diop, Diouf, Camara

International point guard Barra Njie is declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft after spending last season in Sweden, agent Jerry Dianis told Hoops Rumors.

The 6’3″ Njie was the Rookie of the Year in the Swedish Basketball League, averaging 17.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. His impressive athleticism and crafty scoring ability are two intriguing pieces of his game, possessing a 6’10” wingspan at just 20 years of age.

Njie attended St. Benedict’s Preparatory School before heading overseas. He was also teammates with Precious Achiuwa in 2018-19. Achiuwa was drafted No. 20 overall by Miami in last year’s event.

Here are some other draft decisions announced today:

  • Greek forward Nikos Chougkaz has declared for the draft, as relayed by Sportando. Chougkaz plans to keep his name in this year’s pool after averaging 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game with Ionikos in the Greek Basket League last season.
  • Spanish senior national team guard Carlos Alocen has also declared for the draft, Jonathan Givony of ESPN tweets. Alocen appeared in 63 games for Real Madrid during the Euroleague, ACB and domestic cups this past season.
  • In addition to Njie, Chougkaz and Alocen, Italian-based players Ousmane Diop, Mouhamet Diouf and Gora Camara have also declared for the draft, Givony reports (via Twitter). The deadline for early entrants to declare for the draft is Sunday night at 11:59pm ET. This year’s draft is set to be held on Thursday, July 29.

Heat Notes: Leonard, Butler, Lowry, Free Agency

Jimmy Butler‘s ties to Kawhi Leonard could impact what the two-time NBA champion decides to do if he reaches free agency this summer, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel speculates.

Leonard holds a $36MM player option for the 2021/22 season and could choose to sign elsewhere — especially if the Clippers lose in the first round. Los Angeles is currently trailing Dallas 2-1 in its series.

Miami lost all four games to Milwaukee in its own series, becoming the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs despite reaching the Finals last fall. If Leonard chooses to explore his options, the Heat could offer a compelling role alongside Butler, Bam Adebayo and others — though the team would need to create sufficient salary-cap space for him first.

There’s more out of Miami tonight:

  • The Heat could also pursue Kyle Lowry in free agency, though that situation is more complicated than some may realize, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald explores. The team expressed interest in Lowry prior to the trade deadline, ultimately opting not to make a deal.
  • Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel examines whether a playoff lineup change is a sign of things to come in free agency. Miami opted to start Goran Dragic in place of Kendrick Nunn during the team’s final two games of the series against Milwaukee, though Dragic mostly struggled. Nunn will enter restricted free agency this offseason, while Dragic has a $19.4MM team option for 2021/22.
  • Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald looks back on the Heat’s underwhelming season and what comes next. Miami dealt with a shortened offseason, COVID issues and multiple injuries throughout the campaign, complicating the club’s season from the start.

Anthony Davis Suffers Left Groin Strain

Lakers superstar Anthony Davis missed the second half of Game 4 versus Phoenix after suffering a left groin strain, as relayed by Dave McMenamin of ESPN (Twitter link).

Davis will be listed as day-to-day going forward, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Davis, who sustained the injury at the end of the first half, finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists. The Lakers played without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope due to a knee contusion, and LeBron James also admitted this week that he needs around-the-clock treatment to keep his ankle ready.

Davis was dealing with a left knee sprain coming into the contest. He averaged 27 points and 9.3 rebounds per game (39.7 MPG) in the team’s first three games of the series, shooting 43% from the floor.

The Suns will host the Lakers in Game 5 on Tuesday after tying the series 2-2. Davis’ status is naturally uncertain.

Magic Notes: Anthony, Bacon, Bamba, Weltman

The offensive play of Magic rookie point guard Cole Anthony during the 2020/21 season proved he could be a valuable long-term addition for Orlando, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Anthony, who stepped into the role of starting point guard after Markelle Fultz tore his ACL early in the season, averaged 12.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 0.6 SPG across 27.1 MPG for the year. Anthony was an inefficient shooter, with a first-season slash line of .397/.337/.832, but that’s generally par for the course with rookie guards.

Depending on where the Magic land in the upcoming draft, there is a chance that Anthony could get extended run as a starter for at least part of the 2021/22 season while Fultz recovers. He will enjoy his first true offseason with the club this season, as COVID-19 precautions precluded a Summer League and limited offseason activies last year.

There’s more out of Orlando:

  • Do-everything Magic swingman Dwayne Bacon helped stabilize the Magic amid injuries and roster churn during his first season with the club, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Bacon was the sole Magic player to suit up for all 72 games for the team. Parry wonders if, thanks to the addition of rookie guard R.J. Hampton at the trade deadline and the possibility that the Magic could draft a high-upside young wing this summer, Orlando’s front office will opt to guarantee the second year of Bacon’s deal. Bacon’s limitations as an off-ball shooter could factor into this decision.
  • Magic center Mohamed Bamba finished the season on a high note, following the trade of Nikola Vucevic and the release of Khem Birch, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Operating as the primary backup behind new Orlando starting center Wendell Carter Jr., Bamba exhibited intriguing flashes of his offensive upside, plus some defensive promise as a rim protector.
  • Magic team president Jeff Weltman is reluctant to speculate about how long it will take his youth-heavy rebuilding club to develop, writes Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. “I don’t apply timelines,” Weltman said. “I don’t know what one person’s development is going to look like juxtaposed next to another, but I just believe that we have a lot of talent on this team, and a lot of character and a lot of guys that want to win and we have a lot of ways to add more of those guys.” Weltman will get to add some exciting new additions this offseason, with the Magic expected to net two lottery picks (their own and the Bulls’ selection, provided it does not move into the top four in the draft lottery).

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Wiz Series, Wells Fargo Center, Doc

All-Star Sixers center Joel Embiid showed off his MVP-caliber bona fides with his play in Game 3 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the Wizards, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Embiid scored his efficient 36 points in a variety of ways. He shot 14-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-4 from deep.

“Joel is a special talent,” Wizards All-Star swingman Bradley Beal acknowledged. “He plays like a guard, it’s kind of crazy.” The Sixers won in resounding fashion: the final score was 132-103.

There’s more out of the City of Brotherly Love:

  • The Sixers are exploiting a notable size advantage in their series against the Wizards, observes Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sixers reserve center Dwight Howard assessed his current team’s vertical edge against his former club. “I just think that the lineup we present with Joel being 7’2″, 300 [pounds is imposing],” Howard said. “We got some big guards. In our second unit, I’m a little bit undersized [6’10”] as a center, but I like the way we are set up.” The Wizards added 6’10” power forward Davis Bertans to their starting lineup and subtracted 6’1″ guard Raul Neto in an effort to counteract the size of the Sixers.
  • The Sixers will return to full fan capacity for their home floor, Wells Fargo Arena, on June 2, tweets Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Bodner adds that the previously-projected return date for full crowd attendance was June 11.
  • After striving to keep a Celtics superstar core happy en route to the 2008 title, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has thus far appeared up to the task in Philadelphia, too, says Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sielski notes that Rivers and his staff’s strategy has been to bring out the best from their top player, Embiid, while accentuating the skillset of ancillary star point guard Ben Simmons. “You just communicate it to them,” Rivers said. “But everyone doesn’t have it. A lot of guys want to play the way they play, no matter what. In my opinion, that eventually doesn’t work. If everybody on every team got to play the exact same way that they only wanted to play, I don’t know if you can win that way. It’s tough.”

Pacific Notes: Morris Twins, Fox, KCP, CP3

Lakers power forward Markieff Morris and his twin brother, Clippers power forward Marcus Morris, are hoping to meet in the playoffs in a Western Conference Finals for the ages, writes J. Brady McCollough of the Los Angeles Times. Marcus’ club is currently down 2-1 to the ascendant, lower-seeded Mavericks. Markieff’s Los Angeles team, the 2020 champion, is up 2-1 against the higher-seeded Suns.

“That matchup wasn’t supposed to happen in the bubble,” Marcus said of the Lakers-Clippers all-Staples Center showdown that fans were denied in the Orlando restart season “bubble” in 2020. “That was supposed to happen in Staples Center.”

McCollough reveals that the Morris brothers and their families live just 10 minutes apart on the west side of Los Angeles County (near their clubs’ practice facilities), with Markieff in Playa del Rey and Marcus in nearby Manhattan Beach.

“[W]e know the importance of having your family around for your success in life, just having that backbone and that stability,” Marcus said. “Being in the same city has been amazing.”

How long the brothers will remain in the same city remains to be seen. Markieff inked a one-year, minimum-salary deal with the Lakers for this season and has remained a valuable stretch-four option off the bench for L.A. Clippers starter Marcus signed a four-year, $64MM extension ahead of the 2020/21 season, though McCollough acknowledges that the Clips may make roster changes if the team continues to underperform in the postseason.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Recently-extended Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox exhibited significant growth in his play and leadership, even amidst an otherwise-disappointing Sacramento season, writes James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area“Just trying to get to that level of consistency, where night in and night out you’re playing really good and if you’re not playing great, you’re still playing really good basketball and I don’t think I was there just yet,” Fox said. He averaged a career-best 25.2 PPG, to go along with 7.2 APG, 3.5 RPG and 1.5 SPG. Ham observes that Fox’s driving ability and his stroke on jumpers from 10-16 feet away from the bucket are high-level, though the rest of his shot chart is a bit more erratic.
  • Lakers starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been ruled out for this afternoon’s Game 4 matchup against the Suns due to a left knee contusion, tweets Mark Medina of USA Today. Veteran Wesley Matthews would make the most positional sense as a replacement starter, tweets Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Lakers All-Star power forward/center Anthony Davis, however, will be suiting up today as he plays through a knee injury, tweets Marc Stein of the New York Times.
  • Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul remains a game-time decision for today’s pivotal Game 4 against the Lakers, tweets Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Paul has been battling a shoulder injury since Game 1. The Suns are currently down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Paul’s output has taken a turn with reduced minutes since the injury. He is averaging 6.7 PPG, 6.3 APG, and 4.0 RPG for the series.

Wizards Notes: Westbrook, Beal, Bertans, Gafford

Russell Westbrook was a game-time decision Saturday because of an ankle sprain he suffered in Game 2, but his Wizards teammates never had any doubt that he would be ready, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Westbrook not only played, he recorded his 11th playoff triple-double, posting 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a loss to the Sixers.

I know Russ. If it’s not broke, he’s going to play,” Bradley Beal said. “So, I’m gonna be honest, I kind of knew after the last game he was going to play. Just knowing who he is, if he could play for two minutes then he was going to go out there and give it everything he had.”

Westbrook said after the game that his ankle felt “so-so” and he “just tried to go out and do what I can.” His status for Monday night’s Game 4 hasn’t been determined.

There’s more on the Wizards:

  • Beal has taken a major step this season in proving he can be a franchise player, according to Kareem Copeland of The Washington Post. Beal has been moving in that direction for years, but his status became clearer with the trade of John Wall. “I take pride in getting better each and every game and, obviously, in the offseason getting better,” Beal said. “… Coach trusts me, teammates and the organization trusts me to just continue to lead and kind of be the franchise focal point. Obviously, I still have a long way to go and still have a lot of room to go. But I’m definitely not the same player I was two years ago in that series.”
  • The Wizards moved Davis Bertans into the starting lineup to provide more size against a taller Philadelphia team, but his shooting woes prevented that move from being effective, notes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Bertans is normally one of the league’s most dangerous three-point threats, but he made just one of five shots from long distance in Game 3 after missing all four attempts in Game 2.
  • Sixers center Joel Embiid is putting up dominant numbers in the first-round series after being an MVP candidate during the regular season. It’s a tough matchup for Daniel Gafford, but coach Scott Brooks believes the experience will benefit the young center in the long run, Hughes tweets.