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Brief 2017 NBA Playoff Recaps: Volume 1 (Opening Weekend)

Four games in each day, to launch the 2017 NBA Playoffs. One paragraph per game, that’s all time will allow.

Saturday, April 15

Cleveland Cavs 109, Indiana Pacers 108 (Miles To Go Before I Sleep…)

(CLE leads, 1–0)

LeBron very good, rest of Cavs looked rusty…Kyrie 1 of 9 from deep…Cleveland dodges bullet when C.J. Miles misses fade-away at buzzer. Paul George is mad at C.J. Miles for taking a good look. Too bad Sir Lance couldn’t steal one for Indiana, that would’ve made things dramatic. (Lance is bringing it back to 2013, by the way)…Kevin Seraphin got 16 playoff minutes! Don’t wake the monster…

Milwaukee Bucks 97, Toronto Raptors 83 (Sir Brogdon At Your Service…)

(MIL leads 1–0)

Giannis in attack mode, such a beautiful sight. Half court to the rim in 3 strides. 28 on 18 shots…President Malcolm Brogdon ain’t a rookie, he’s a savvy vet! What do you need? I got your defense, your timely shooting, your smart passing. Just tell me what you need…Khris Middleton is the only human on the planet who can shoot 4 of 15 and finish +27 on the night. Three blocks by Maker made me squeal with delight. Lowry 2 of 11 and 0 of 6 from deep. Wrist rust be a problem. Casey needs to get Valanciunas more than 5 shots. This is going 7.

Dwayne Casey needs to figure some things out before Game 2


San Antonio Spurs 111, Memphis Grizzlies 82 (Kawhi Can’t This be a Forfeit?)

(SA leads 1–0….soon to be 4–0)

When we heard Tony Allen was out for the series, we stopped holding out any hope that this would be competitive. The Spurs were ordered by Adam Silver to wait until the 2nd quarter to annihilate the Grizzlies, so they cooperated, ending the first with a 5 point deficit. Then San Antonio won the next three quarters by 34. When you want to watch every series, it helps to have one like this.

Utah Jazz 97, Los Angeles Clippers 95 (Win One for the Gobert!)

(UTAH leads 1–0)

17 seconds after tip and The Gentle Giant, Gobert the Great, was on the ground, crawling and shaking his head. It was a painful, deflating sight. Anyone who was rooting for the Jazz felt hollow inside. Quin Snyder’s expression was more than concerned. Not exactly panicked, though. He held himself together, and the Jazz held themselves together. Players like Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, George Hill, and Derrick Favors…pulled this one out. What a wonderful game. The Clippers have all the talent and the Jazz have all the grit. The Clippers are an empty vessel, with a ferocious point guard at the helm. They are less than the sum of their parts, while the Jazz are more than just a couple of Joes. What sweet music, Game One brought us. Joe Johnson has been reborn. Joe Ingles is the best YMCA gym rat in the NBA.

Slow-Motion Joe Goes With the Flow


Sunday, April 16

Golden St Warriors 121, Portland Trail Blazers 109 (McCollum Merely One Man…)

(GS leads 1–0)

C.J. McCollum was Golden State’s Gollum, they were never sure which way he’d go. Dropping 41 points on 28 shots, McCollum and his pal Lillard kept the Blazers afloat until the 15–2 Warrior avalanche began the 4th. Defensive Draymond opened the gates and the unassuming Ian Clark chipped in 7 of those 15. The first 36 minutes of the series may be the closest, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Blazers backcourt pull one out in the Rose Quarter.

Washington Wizards 114, Atlanta Hawks 107 (Chief Markieff Offers Relief)

(WAS leads 1–0)

The Wizards are probably the better team, and certainly the more interesting one of the two, but with time slipping away at the end of the half, the Hawks led, 48–42, and Washington’s Markieff Morris missed a contested corner three. The ensuing review showed that Morris had been fouled as time expired on the shot. Three free-throws and the lead was cut to 3, as they strolled toward the locker rooms. After the half, Morris opened up by hitting a 3, and the game was tied. Sometimes a game swings when you least expect it. The Hawks have little margin for error. The Wizards bench came up completely empty (except for Mr. Oubre). A few Tim Hardaway threes (0 of 6) and the Hawks might have pulled it out. Instead, Washington still holds home court for now.

Chicago Bulls 106, Boston Celtics 102 (Tragic Turn for Cs but Baby Please…)

(CHI leads 1–0)

What an awful turn of events for Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. A tragedy clouded what should have been an exuberant first round home game in Boston. Despite it all, Isaiah showed up and did what he always does: scored. 33 points on 18 shots, 10 of 12 from the line, and 3 from deep. Isaiah finished with a +12. So did Bobby Portis, the Bulls 22 year-old who came off the bench with a fury. Those ten minutes without Isaiah belonged to Portis, who scored 19 on 8 of 10, grabbing 9 boards, dishing 3 assists and blocking 2 shots. After the Bulls sent Gibson and McDermott packing, Portis has seen his minutes grow. Once he started knocking down threes at the end of the regular season, his confidence apparently grew as well. Boston’s 53-wins and home court advantage are in the rear-view now, as they fight off Jimmy Butler and Bobby Portis, looking to even things on Tuesday night. Bradley and Horford did their parts, along with Isaiah. Crowder, Smart, Olynyk, and Jaylen have to give more.

Houston Rockets 118, OKC Thunder 87 (Roll the Thunder, Hear Their Cry)

(HOU leads 1–0)

No more debates, no more MVP concerns, just throw the ball up and play. The better team won. The better team has Patrick Beverley, whose offensive contributions (21 points on 13 shots) pale in comparison to the impact of his Westbrook-hounding. Russell can rampage all over the regular season, but he won’t rampage all over Mr. Beverley, who has never known the concept of fear or intimidation. Westbrook’s 6 of 23 line, and 9 turnovers were a big part of the problem. His sidekick, Victor Oladipo, was a dreadful 1 of 12 from the field, misfiring on all 6 three-pointers. OKC’s only hope is to contain Houston’s relentless attack, in which James Harden dissects their defense and makes life simple and breezy for Clint Capela and Nene, who shot a combined 14 of 17, feasting on lay-ups and dunks. Either redirect Harden away from the paint, or Westbrook has to play three times as well as he did tonight and Oladipo needs to wake up. This could be over in 5.


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Will update on a weekly basis.

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End of Season NBA Predictions: Eastern Conference Stretch Run

With 25 games left in the NBA’s overly-long 82-game season, we’re back in action after the restful All-Star Break. The trade deadline proved about as exciting as a Nets-Suns match-up. Tobias Harris will be a useful addition over time in Detroit, but he won’t impact Detroit’s possible series with Cleveland (1 vs 8).

Meanwhile, no the Boston Celtics did not make a splashy trade at the deadline. As a Celtics fan, I’m relieved they didn’t trade the Brooklyn pick for a short-term upgrade and a better shot at Toronto/Cleveland this year. Realistically, the Celtics need to win one playoff series with this new young core before they think about short-term improvements. If they have a chance to land Blake Griffin or Kevin Love, that would change the equation. Even if the Brooklyn pick turns into the 2nd or 3rd overall selection, the Celtics could certainly build around Simmons, Ingram, or Bender, each of whom could play power forward. If it ends up 4th or 5th (Damn you, Suns!), Ainge may be more likely to package that pick with other 1st rounders and other young Celtics. We shall see. The prospect of drafting three more rookies (they will have Dallas’ pick as well as their own and Brooklyn’s) would seem to make for an extra crowded training camp, and a very young team.

Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavs will coast into the playoffs, incorporating Channing Frye’s shooting off the bench. Kyrie and Love will allow LeBron to sit most of the final week of the regular season, with the top seed wrapped up.

Cleveland Prediction: 60 wins, 1st in East.

Raptor-Mania will ensue when the Toronto Raptors win their first playoff series in too many years. DeMarre Carroll will return from arthroscopic knee surgery by the end of March, in order to get up to speed by playoff time. Last year’s Raptors started 22-5, before crumbling in the 2nd half, but that won’t happen this year. Lowry’s conditioning and core strength are hugely improved, and DeMar DeRozan’s improvement has been well documented. Perhaps most importantly, the depth and defensive intensity of the Raptors bench will keep them ahead of the pack.

Toronto Prediction: 53 wins, 2nd in East.

The progress of these Boston Celtics has been rapid and consistent since acquiring PG Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix last February. After beating up on a weaker Eastern Conference to finish last season 24-12, Boston is now 33-24, on pace for 47 wins and home court in a first round series. Thanks to Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and addition Amir Johnson, the Celtics are one of the more physical defensive teams in the Association. Their cohesion and intensity has led to the league’s 4th best eFG% against (48.1%) and they force the 3rd-most turnovers per game. Boston still struggles with the rare traditional post-up big man, which could become an issue if they face Valanciunas and Toronto in the 2nd round. If the Celtics hold on to the third seed, who will they face in the first round remains to be seen, as seven teams have a legit chance to finish 4th-8th, and they may all finish within three games of each other.

Boston Prediction: 48 wins, 3rd in East.

The Indiana Pacers will catch fire as their schedule softens during the stretch run. Most forget the Pacers started 12-5, with Paul George shooting the lights out in November. As the season wore on, Indiana wore down, and their December schedule snuffed out that early start. Fast forward to Friday night in Oklahoma City: Paul George’s fresh legs, Monta Ellis’ scoring, and rookie Myles Turner’s 6 blocks and timely outside shooting (stretch 5!) led to a statement win for the young Pacers. Considering where they were a year ago, the progress and future-positivity is a testament to Larry Bird’s vision, Frank Vogel’s coaching acumen, and a host of shooters surrounding the potent Paul George. Myles Turner’s energy and versatility will become obvious, but he may hit the rookie wall by April. The Pacers are an enigmatic young bunch, but can they win close playoff games?

Indiana Prediction: 47 wins, 4th in East.

The Chicago Bulls are injured. “We’ve heard that song before!” you shout. Yes, they need a new song, I agree. Jimmy Butler is out for another few weeks with a sprained knee. Mike Dunleavy has a creaky back, and has been missed on the perimeter. Derrick Rose can’t absorb contact anymore, so he avoids it, and is limited defensively. Still…Pau Gasol is Pau Gasol. Butler has become capable of lifting the Bulls all by himself (see Philadelphia game, 53 points on 26 free-throws). Derrick Rose can still score, and Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic can both shoot. There is enough here to keep the Bulls afloat, even if floating is not at all what they’d hoped for in November.

Chicago Prediction: 45 wins, 5th in East.

Chris Bosh’s uncertain health status, the up-and-down Goran Dragic, and the aging Dwyane Wade will make it tough for the Miami Heat to make a real run, despite their light last 15 games. Miami will land somewhere between 5th and 7th in the East. If Bosh is able to play at full strength, and Dragic gets his confidence and health back, the Heat could put a first round scare into Toronto or Boston, and would make life extra difficult for the Pacers.

Miami Prediction: 44 wins, 6th in East.

The Atlanta Hawks will fail to regain their swagger from last year as the lost season continues even after the trade rumors die down. Atlanta has the 3rd-toughest schedule remaining in the NBA. The Hawks will fall to 7th or 8th in the East in what will be an insanely-packed end of season battle between Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, and Washington for two spots. DeMarre Carroll’s absence and Jeff Teague’s struggles come into focus by season’s end. I wish things got better for Horford, Millsap, and Korver. What a great story they were last year.

Atlanta Prediction: 43 wins, 7th in East.

The Detroit Pistons are taking the shape of Stan Van Gundy. Let’s rephrase that. Stan Van Gundy, who has a round, slightly oblong shape, is a wise coach, and as GM, he is shaping his roster around his uber-talented center, Andre Drummond, and his very skillful point guard, Reggie Jackson. Detroit needed shooting. They traded for Marcus Morris to play 3/4. Morris is having a solid year. They had Jodie Meeks for balance off the bench. Injured for most of the year. They hoped Anthony Tolliver’s range would provide help. Not so much. So….Stan traded for Tobias Harris and Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas, whose back has been cranky all season in Houston, shot 37% from deep in 2014-15, and has an array of offensive moves. Harris is only 23, and is on a solid contract, which will look better as the cap imitates the ocean, and rises. Detroit needs to make the playoffs to prove to its fans that there is progress. The city needs it. The team needs it. It will happen.

Detroit Prediction: 43 wins, 8th in East.


Left out of the Playoffs in this mad dash for the final three seeds: Charlotte and Washington.

Within going into much detail, both Charlotte and Washington will finish within three games of the 7th/8th bunch. Washington is the big disappointment here, as the Wizards hoped to finish with 48+ wins after some impressive playoff performances last year. Bradley Beal’s youthful knee issues and Nene’s old-fella knee issues have forced the Wizards into extreme small-ball lineups that haven’t worked out as well as planned. The addition of Markieff Morris from Phoenix can’t hurt, but they’ll need some time to build chemistry.



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NBA Thoughts, Vol. 83 (Isaiah is an All-Star)

Celtics Thoughts

  • Isaiah Thomas is clearly deserving of an All-Star spot. And so is Jae Crowder…except defense is never equally valued and is still very tough to quantify, despite RPM, on-off numbers, and all the Synergy sports numbers you can find. Regardless of who makes the team, Celtics fans should appreciate both Isaiah and Jae. It’s fun to have the shortest All-Star in the NBA on the team I love.
  • Thomas takes 6.4 free-throws per game (and makes 5.7, 89%). As a team, the Celtics take 22.5 (t-16th). When Isaiah is out of the game, it becomes obvious how tough it is for Boston to create in the half-court.
  • Chris Forsberg (ESPN Boston) wrote a short piece about how casual Boston sports fans should enjoy the next few months of Celtics basketball. These types of articles annoy the shit out of me. I understand that promoting the local sports team is important, but the people need to be cajoled into caring about the team are the same ones who will boo when the team doesn’t play well in the first half of a playoff game. Having to beg non-hoops fans to enjoy the final three months of the regular season, instead of the last couple of weeks in April, heading into the playoffs feels cheap and ugly.
  • The Celtics are one of seven teams who will likely be fighting for The 5th through 8th playoff spots in the East. The other six: Miami, Detroit, Indiana, Washington, New York and Charlotte. It’s certainly possible Orlando could turn things back around, which would make it 8 teams for those 4 spots, but it doesn’t seem likely.
  • Marcus Smart‘s knee injury (out from 11/20-12/27) not only kept him off the court, but affected his conditioning. As one would expect when dealing with a somewhat serious knee injury, Smart was not in basketball shape upon returning. Watching him in late December and early January, as Stevens gradually increased his minutes, you could see the energy was there, but the crisp movement wasn’t. You could also see it in his shooting. Three-pointers were short, and his rhythm wasn’t there. As shooting coaches will tell you, it’s all in the footwork and the legs. After going 1 of 12 in his first five games back, it didn’t get much better in the following six games he was 4 of 22. During the recent snow day (the Sixers game was postponed on Saturday due to Weezer’s song “My Name is Jonas”), Smart said he planned on shooting threes in the gym all afternoon. In the two games since, he has made 5 of 11 from deep. Celtics fans hope that continues.
  • Kelly Olynyk (thanks, Eric) has been on a tear from deep since December. He’s up to 43.4% for the season. Olynyk provides much needed bench-scoring. In 44 games, Olynyk’s splits are noticeable.
    • 23 wins: 12.1 pts, 5.1 reb, 1.9 ast, 49.8 FG%, 45.3 3-PT%.
    • 21 losses: 7.8 pts, 3.6 reb, 1.2 ast, 41% FG, 41% 3-PT%
  • Olynyk‘s three-point percentages by month:
    • October 20%
    • November 35.6%
    • December 46.3%
    • January 51.1%
  • After experimenting with David Lee as a bench-unit facilitator early in the season, Stevens has given Jonas Jerebko and recently, Tyler Zeller, some minutes. In the last couple of weeks, Jerebko has found a groove (it seems like 15 minutes per game allows for getting into a flow, whereas 8-12 minutes per game doesn’t). Zeller, who shot 55% from the field last year, has made 10 of his last 16 shots.


Around the Association

  • Injuries continue to mount and the 82-game season is rarely mentioned lately. It’s obvious that the season should be shortened. We’d take 76, even though 70 or 66 makes more sense.
  • Tim Duncan not playing tonight in Oakland (sore knee that has been sore for all 44 games so far this year) is in keeping with Pop’s sourpuss, always-keep-your-hand-hidden philosophy of the regular season. Regardless of the outcome, Gregg Popovich can’t lose. If the Warriors win, the Spurs have an excuse. If the Spurs win, the Warriors have no excuse. In addition, the 7’3″ Serbian giant Boban Marjanovic and the well-rested David West get ample opportunities to audition.
  • The Toronto Raptors might not appear much different on the surface. DeMarre Carroll in (before he went out with a knee injury, probably connected to last May’s knee injury in the playoffs), Amir Johnson out, some bench help added in Biyombo, Scola, and Joseph. They may not appear entirely different, but their core has improved individually.
    • DeMar DeRozan is a scoring machine impersonating McGrady with his in-between game and attacking the rim;
    • Kyle Lowry‘s conditioning and patience on the court have improved.
    • Despite averaging only 14.8 assists (27th), the Raptors have an Offensive rating of 105.2 (tied with Cleveland for 5th overall, and best in East).
    • With Jonas Valanciunas healthy and scoring at will in the paint, the Raptors have gone 18-9.
  • Toronto has won 8 in a row, though they’ve had the luxury of mostly avoiding the top teams in that stretch (Celtics, Clippers without Griffin). If Toronto has truly taken a leap, they’ll need to show it against Chicago and Cleveland, who they face at the end of February.

Listen: The Vertical, new podcast with Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Woj).

No Defense for this Defenselessness

  • The bottom half of the Western Conference can’t play any defense. Of the NBA’s worst 9 defenses, 7 come from the West. Here they are, in order from completely awful to bad:
    • Lakers (108.4 rating): We knew going in that Kobe should have retired. We know going in they were full of rookies. We knew going in that Lou Williams and Nick Young haven’t heard of defense. We knew going in that Byron Scott was the coach.
    • Pelicans & Suns (106.2 rating): The Pelicans were not supposed to be this awful defensively. Omer Asik’s early retirement (while still playing a few ugly minutes each game) has contributed. Injuries certainly contributed. The Suns were supposed to run up and down the court really fast and then Tyson Chandler was supposed to save them. Tyson can’t play defense for the other four guys with Suns jerseys, can’t run like that, and probably isn’t exactly fired up. Then Eric Bledsoe got hurt and the Suns went up in flames.
    • Nuggets & Blazers (105.9, 105.6 rating). Emmanual Mudiay hasn’t exactly gotten off to a tantalizing start. More Muddy than anything. The Nuggets have offense-first players (Gallinari, Faried, and the surprisingly lithe Will Barton). Sadly, defense hasn’t come second. The Blazers are terribly young, and C.J. McCollum, though he seems like a nice young gentleman, should probably be sparking the bench, rather than trying to defend taller shooting guards.
    • Rockets & Kings (105.5, 104.9). Both teams are too busy trying to score points to worry about defense. Kevin McHale is probably still wondering what happened. George Karl is afraid of getting his hopes up…he’s been around too long for that. But don’t look now, the Kings have won 8 of 11, and DeMarcus Cousins is the hottest big man in the game in January, averaging 32.5, 13.7 rebounds while shooting 50% overall and 47% from deep (!).
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