NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday Slam: Can the Cleveland Cavaliers win in Boston without Kevin Love?

                                          (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports). 

On Sunday at 8:30 PM EST on ESPN, the Cleveland Cavaliers will try to steal a Game 7 in Boston against the Celtics to reach the NBA Finals. LeBron James is coming off a heroic Game 6 performance in which he scored 46 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 9 assists. He'll look to have a similar type of performance once again in a hostile environment. The big news going into Game 7 is the absence of Kevin Love, who is currently in the NBA's concussion protocol. Given that the Cavaliers lost their first three games in Boston by an average of 17 points, it's really hard to imagine them winning on Sunday without Love, who's been averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a piece about how tough the Celtics are to beat in Boston. While they've struggled on the road, they've been lights out at home. The whole team plays much better and really feeds off the energy from their home fans. Even if the Cavaliers were going into this game at full strength, it would still be dicey to pick them to win. But without Love, it just doesn't seem possible given all the numbers.

So, with that all being the case, why even write about the topic? Kevin Love is out and the Celtics are unbeatable at home. That means no chance for the Cavaliers, right?

As much as I want to guarantee that the Celtics will win on Sunday, the reason I cannot make such a guarantee is because the Cavaliers have LeBron James, who is the best player in the league. We've seen James carry his team on his back against all odds and to think he can't do it again would be disrespectful and foolish. While I do believe the Celtics should be favored to win tomorrow because of how tough they've been at home, that doesn't mean I believe the Cavaliers have no shot. So long as they have James out there, they have a shot. He's that good.

                                          (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) 


Now, that all stated, James can't literally win this game by himself. He's going to need help from both his teammates and the Celtics. With Love out, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver are both going to need to step up and get in a nice rhythm early on. If those guys are both able to heat up from beyond the arc, that will really help take the pressure off of James. In addition to those two guys, the Cavaliers will need to do a good job defending and controlling the glass. Tristan Thompson will need to have a big night on the glass and really limit the Celtics' second chance scoring opportunities.

In regards to the Celtics, they're going to need to help James out by choking, which could happen. They are a young team who hasn't been in this position before. It would be really easy for their young guys to tense up a bit and not play their best basketball. It will be key for the Celtics to come out of the gates strong and shake off their nerves. If they're playing tight basketball early on, that will really help LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers build the necessary confidence to steal this game.

My prediction for this game is that the Celtics will win because the odds say that they will. They're unbeaten at home in the playoffs and as such deserve to be favored. That said, if there's anyone who can beat the odds and pull off the upset, it's LeBron James. This is why I'll be tuning in to watch with keen interest.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Windmill: Can the Boston Celtics be stopped at home?



Despite being 1-6 on the road, the Boston Celtics are now 10-0 at home in the playoffs after Wednesday night's 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. After dropping two straight games in Cleveland, the Celtics bounced back like Drake, dominating the Cavaliers from the opening tip. Jayson Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 24 points and 7 rebounds while Jaylen Brown finished with 17 points of his own.

As frustrating as their road woes have been, the Celtics have made the most of their home court advantages in each series, winning every single game in Boston. As a result, they are now just one win away from reaching the NBA Finals with a Game 7 in Boston in their back pocket. With how these playoffs have gone, it is fair to wonder whether or not the Celtics can be stopped on their home floor.

10 years ago, the Celtics experienced a similar kind of situation, winning their first two series' 4-3 before defeating the Detroit Pistons in six games to win the Eastern Conference crown. We've seen this Jekyll and Hyde behavior from them before, but thanks to having home court advantage, they've been able to scrape by. Teams work all season to put themselves in the position to have home court advantage and the Celtics make the most of it, using up nearly every home game they have to advance.

The key to understanding this phenomenon is recognizing how difficult it is to win a road game in Boston. There's something about the place that makes it nearly impossible to get a win. The parquet floor, the retired jerseys, and all the championship banners give Boston an almost magical environment. It's like playing in a living museum. The fans are passionate and they get behind their team like few fan bases do.

                                         (Chad Finn. The Boston Globe) 
                           
When you combine that environment with an exciting young team, you have the recipe for home dominance.  Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Al Horford all feed off of the energy created by their home fans and play their best basketball as a result. Away from home the Celtics are very vulnerable, but at home they're nearly invincible. If anyone had any doubts about how much of an impact their home environment has, those doubts should be erased after what we saw on Wednesday.

The unfortunate reality for LeBron James and the Cavaliers is that if they want to get back to the NBA Finals, they're going to have to win a game in Boston and with the way things are going, the odds of that happening do not look likely. In each of the three games played in Boston during this series, the Celtics have won by an average of 17 points. That's as dominant as you can get.

As much as I want to believe in LeBron James' abilities to will his team back from the dead and beat the odds, it's really hard to ignore these numbers. The Celtics have been lights out at home and until some team cracks the code, they should be favored in every home game they play in these playoffs. Picking against them is not only disrespectful. It's flat out foolish.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: The Houston Rockets have some life

                                          (Getty Images)

On Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets stole a game in Golden State by the final score of 95-92, tying up the Western Conference Finals at 2-2. James Harden finished with 30 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals while Chris Paul finished with 27 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists on 5/9 shooting from 3-point range. As a result, the Rockets have won back home court advantage. If they hold serve at home in games five and seven, they'll win the series.

After getting down 12-0 to start the game, it looked like the Rockets had little chance of winning. Kevin Durant (27 points) and Stephen Curry (28 points) both had the Warriors in a nice rhythm early on while James Harden and Chris Paul had a tough time getting the Rockets going. James Harden really showed signs of nerves when he passed up a wide open 3-pointer, electing instead to dish it off to P.J.Tucker in the corner. As a result of their early struggles, the Rockets found themselves down 28-19 after the first quarter.

To their credit, the Rockets didn't give up.  James Harden woke up in the second quarter along with Chris Paul, outscoring the Warriors 34-18, giving themselves a 53-46 lead at halftime. The highlight of the first half was definitely the facial dunk that James Harden had over Draymond Green. It was almost like passing up that three in the first quarter caused James Harden to wake up. From then on, he was wide awake and in full attack mode.



The second half went similar to the first. The Warriors outscored the Rockets 34-17 in the third quarter, taking an 80-70 lead into the fourth quarter. It once again looked like the Warriors were going to pull away, but the Rockets found the strength and will to battle back for a second time, pulling out a 95-92 win thanks to some clutch baskets from Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and James Harden to go along with some stellar defense and rebounding.

P.J. Tucker was the x-factor in this game, finishing with 16 rebounds despite only scoring 4 points. Without his aggression on the glass and tenacity, the Rockets would not have pulled out this win. This game was as much about the Rockets' gritty defense as it was their clutch offense. To hold the Warriors to 92 points on their home floor is really impressive. The Rockets deserve a ton of credit for the way they defended tonight.

While a lot of people are still picking the Warriors to win this series, the Rockets have found new life after stealing this game in Oakland. They have home court advantage back on their side and will come home to a hungry and rabid fan base in game five. They got the game they needed to win and now it's a matter of them protecting their home court. If they bring the same determination and grit at home as they did tonight, I don't see the Warriors winning another game in Houston.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Slam: The Phoenix Suns need to draft DeAndre Ayton with the #1 pick



                                         (Getty Images) 

Earlier this week, the Phoenix Suns won the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in franchise history, giving them the top pick in June's NBA Draft. There is a lot of debate about what the Suns will do with the pick, some even suggesting that they might trade it to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Karl-Anthony Towns. While there are a lot of options on the table for the Suns to explore, they will be fools if they trade the pick or use it on a player other than DeAndre Ayton, the freshman center from Arizona.

As some of you know, I also cover Cal men's and women's basketball for Rivals.com, which gives me a chance to see the top players in the Pac-12 when they come to Berkeley. I got to watch DeAndre Ayton in person against Cal and I was amazed at how NBA ready he is. At 7'1", 250 pounds, Ayton moves like a gazelle and has phenomenal strength, allowing him to dominate his opponents down on the block. In addition to a tremendous physical profile, Ayton is showing that he can knock down open jumpers and stretch the floor.

Ayton was the whole package at Arizona, averaging 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game on 61.2% shooting from the field, 34.3% shooting from 3-point range, and 73.3% shooting from the foul line. He won both Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, taking the conference by storm. While there are things that he needs to improve on like getting better position in the post and being more alert on defense, he's as good of a prospect as anyone in this draft. If you are looking for a guy in this draft to build your franchise around, you won't find a better option than Ayton.


While the Suns would be crazy to not take Ayton purely because of his abilities, what should be the nail in the coffin is the fact that he played his college ball at Arizona. The possibility of having a former Arizona Wildcat as the face of their franchise should make this a no-brainer decision for the Suns. If the Suns draft Ayton, ticket sales will increase and there will be a buzz around their franchise that they haven't had since the Steve Nash era. Arizona Wildcats fans who previously didn't give a lick about Suns basketball will suddenly have interest in them purely because of Ayton. Arizona fans are some of the best fans in the Pac-12. To have more of their support would be fantastic for the Suns franchise.

This post isn't intended to show any disrespect to the other options that the Suns have. If they draft Luka Doncic or trade the pick for Karl-Anthony Towns, those wouldn't be bad decisions. It's just that DeAndre Ayton offers a package that nobody else in this draft offers. It's not quite a LeBron James to Cleveland type of situation, but it's in that neighborhood. The Suns were gifted a golden opportunity by getting the top pick in this year's draft and if they decide to not get Ayton, they'll regret that decision for the next 15 years.

Note: I also provided some analysis of DeAndre Ayton for NBADraft.net. Click here to check it out. 

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday Slam: Can either the Boston Celtics or Houston Rockets reach the NBA Finals?



On Sunday at 3:30 PM EST on ABC, the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers will play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston. On Monday at 9:00 PM EST on TNT, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors will play Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in Houston. Despite not having home court advantage, both the Cavaliers and Warriors are expected to reach the NBA Finals and face off once again for the fourth consecutive season.

While Warriors fans and Cavaliers fans would probably prefer another rematch, the rest of the NBA's fans are dying to see a different NBA Finals match up, preferably Rockets vs. Celtics. While the odds are stacked against them, it is possible that the Celtics and Rockets both reach the NBA Finals. It's just a matter of them playing up to their maximum potential and getting a little bit of luck to go their way.

First, let me address the Celtics and what they need to do. While they don't have LeBron James on their side, they do appear to have the deeper team even without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Terry Rozier has done a fabulous job of stepping in for Irving as the team's floor general, averaging 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game in the playoffs while Al Horford has also stepped up his game, averaging 17.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs. In addition to the stellar play of Rozier and Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have also stepped up their play, both averaging around 18 points per game.

The key for the Celtics more than anything will be to not get psyched out by the Cavaliers and just play their brand of basketball, which is predicated on crisp ball movement and gritty defense. If they come out with a lot of energy in Game 1 and play the way Brad Stevens has been coaching them to play, they could sneak out with a Game 1 victory and build some momentum from there.

While I do think the Cavaliers will win the series, I do think that the Celtics have the ability to make this series a lot more interesting than people expect. Unlike the Raptors, the Celtics seem to believe in their abilities and do a good job executing the game plan outlined by their head coach. It's just a matter of them continuing to do what they do well and not let LeBron James get in their heads. So long as they are able to contain him and do what they do, they could find themselves playing into June.

In regards to the Rockets and their series with the Warriors, they too need to buy into what they've done all season and not let the Warriors get in their heads. When Chris Paul and James Harden are playing up to their maximum potential, the Rockets are scary good. They move the ball really well, knock down threes, and are a handful in the transition. The brand of basketball that they play is both exciting and effective.

If I could label anyone as an x-factor for the Rockets, it would be Clint Capela, who is averaging 14.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in the playoffs. He's really blossomed into one of the best big men in the NBA due to his combination of size, quickness, athleticism, and skill. He's very difficult to stop when he's down on the block and in turn, he does a great job of protecting the rim and controlling the glass. The Warriors will not have an easy time containing him. He more than any other player on this Rockets team could make the difference in this series.

I think the Warriors will likely win this series, but the Rockets should not be underestimated. They have a fantastic backcourt in Chris Paul and James Harden to go along with one of the league's best big men in Clint Capela. On top of that, the Rockets have some really solid role players in Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Trevor Ariza. Similar to the Celtics, the Rockets have the pieces to reach the NBA Finals, it's just a matter of them executing their game plan and not panicking when the Warriors go on a run.

To go back to something I touched on earlier, the fact that both the Celtics and Rockets have home court advantage should not be understated. Home court advantage matters more in the NBA than any other league. As long as the Celtics and Rockets can hold serve at home, they'll be just fine. While they want to win every game at home, Game 1 will be especially crucial for both teams. If the Cavaliers and Warriors both steal Game 1 on the road, it's going to be tough sledding for the Celtics and Rockets. If on the other hand, the Celtics and Rockets win Game 1, they'll establish authority early on and give themselves some much needed confidence to win their respective series.

While it is likely that we once again see another Warriors/Cavaliers finals, it would be foolish to instantly write off the Celtics and Rockets. These teams have home court advantage for a reason and need to  be respected as a result. If the Warriors and Cavaliers want to get back to the finals, they're going to have to earn their way back and take out a very quality opponent. It's going to be fun to see how this all unfolds.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: Chris Paul finally reaches the conference finals

                                         (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press) 

Amid all of his career achievements, Chris Paul has never played in a conference finals game. That will change next Monday when the Houston Rockets host the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. To get to this point, Chris Paul had to lead the Houston Rockets past a gritty Utah Jazz team, putting up 41 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists in Tuesday's 112-102 series clinching win. When watching the game, it was clear that Chris Paul was determined to not let his team down, hitting several clutch shots in a row to put the Jazz away in the fourth quarter.

What's most impressive about Chris Paul is the fire and passion that he plays with every night. Listed at 6'0", 170 pounds, Paul has been undersized his whole career, but that hasn't stopped him from being the best point guard in the NBA since John Stockton. He has a tremendous feel for the game and always looks to make the right play. Like Stockton, Paul excels at setting up his teammates but also knows when to score and take over a game.

Whether or not Paul can guide the Rockets past the Golden State Warriors remains to be seen, but regardless, he deserves a ton of credit for accomplishing what he has this season. For those that have followed his career closely, seeing Paul excel like this in the playoffs is nothing new. He's always been a clutch performer. It's just that he's never had the pieces around him to get over the hump. Now that he has better pieces in Houston, he's proving himself to be a legitimate franchise player and one who can do big things in the playoffs.

While I am from the Bay Area, a part of me is rooting for Chris Paul to lead the Rockets all the way. I not only like the way he plays, I like the way he conducts himself. Throughout the duration of his career, Paul has been a class act and has always conducted himself in a professional manner. He hasn't complained about his short comings, but instead brings his hard hat to work and vows to get better with each season. It's easy to root for guys like that.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Skyhook Sunday: The Toronto Raptors need a bad boy


Once again, the Toronto Raptors fell victim to the late game of heroics of LeBron James, watching him bank in a game winner to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 3-0 lead in the series.



While LeBron James continues to show why he's the best player in the NBA, the Raptors continue to show that they are lacking a key ingredient necessary for them to win a championship. While losing at the hands of one of the games' greatest players isn't reason to hit the reset button, the Raptors clearly have work to do in the offseason to get themselves over the hump next year.

While some may say that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry isn't enough of a one-two punch, I don't think talent is where the Raptors are lacking. They have plenty of talent. The issue lies in them not having an irritant. Somebody who can play dirty and get under the skin of LeBron James a bit.

Nobody on this team is willing to muck things up or even so much as attempt to get inside the head of LeBron James. The Raptors are like a boy band without a bad boy. They need a bad boy. Somebody to give them an edge.

When you look back on some of the most recent teams to win NBA championships, almost all of them had a guy who qualified as a bad boy/irritant. The Golden State Warriors have Draymond Green, the Cavaliers have JR Smith, the Dallas Mavericks had DeShawn Stevenson, the Chicago Bulls had Dennis Rodman, etc. Even more recently, the Indiana Pacers were able to make things competitive against LeBron James thanks to the presence of Lance Stephenson, who isn't afraid to go off the rails and get in LeBron James' grill.

                                         (Screenshot from YouTube) 

As presently constructed, the Raptors are too afraid to even so much as lay a hand on LeBron James. They don't stand up to him. They let him walk all over them and then when he hits a game winning shot, they act all stunned and surprised, expecting us to feel sorry for them. This attitude needs to change. The Raptors need someone on their team to get angry and not tolerate getting beat like this. They need somebody to start a fight, throw a punch, do something to create some competitive tension.

I'm not advocating the Raptors clothesline LeBron James or anything like that. But what I am advocating for is somebody to stand up to him and make it clear that they aren't going to back down. They need somebody to try to wrestle a ball away from him, blow in his ear, or do anything that might upset him. Winning in sports is as much about the mental side as it is the physical side and right now, the Raptors have nobody that gives them any sort of mental edge over the Cavaliers.

If the Raptors can't draft a bad boy, they need to either pick one up in free agency or via trade. They have to do it. They can keep their core together, but they need to trade a bench player or two for someone who gives them the type of toughness that I'm describing. If they go out and make such an acquisition, I think they'll be poised to make a serious run at a title. If they don't, they'll continue to be a soft team that lacks a spine.

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