NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tomahawk Tuesday: Can the Golden State Warriors go all the way without Steve Kerr?

                                          (Keith Allison. Click here for source). 
The Golden State Warriors completed a 4-0 sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, winning by a final score of 128-103. With this upcoming week off as they await the winner of the Clippers-Jazz series, the biggest drama in Golden State deals with the health of their head coach Steve Kerr, who has been experiencing headaches and other symptoms stemming from his back surgery. Specifically, Kerr has dealt with spinal fluid leakage, which has triggered a lot of these symptoms.

Kerr has addressed the media saying that within the next week or two, he will make a final decision of as to whether or not he'll coach for the remainder of the playoffs. He doesn't want to be in and out of the lineup and be a distraction, so he'll either give it a go or Mike Brown will take over the coaching duties as he continues to recover.

The Warriors have gone without Steve Kerr before, but this could be the first time they'll be looking to a win a championship without him at the helm in the playoffs. While I'm sure he'd keep a strong presence if he's unable to go, his absence on the bench would still loom large. Mike Brown would have a ton of pressure on him to keep the Warriors in championship level form.

The good news for the Warriors is that in Kerr's absence, they've done very well. Under Luke Walton, they had the best record in the NBA and finished the season with an historic 73-9 record. During the playoffs this year, they've gone 2-0 without Kerr and seem to still be the same well-oiled machine that they've been during these past three seasons. Playing under Mike Brown will be different, but he's inheriting a great situation and system to work with. If he were to mess things up, one would almost have to wonder if he was trying to do so. All he needs to do is sit back, let the players do their thing, and offer reassuring words of encouragement should a game get close. There are so many leaders on this Warriors team in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green. These guys know what to do and really ought to make things as easy as possible for Mike Brown. 

In my opinion, the Warriors can absolutely win a championship without Steve Kerr and their ability to do so should not be taken as a slight to him. It should be taken as a compliment. He has created such an effective system for his players and gotten them to buy in to the point that they run on autopilot this late in the season. At this point, I think you could have Kermit the Frog in a suit and tie on the Warriors' bench and it wouldn't make a difference. They are that good. 

I think the only concern for the Warriors is whether or not Mike Brown makes the right decisions in crunch time, but in such moments, he can rely on the plethora of leaders he has on his team to help him make the right decisions. These guys know what to do late in games and so Mike Brown really shouldn't feel that much pressure when games get close. He just needs to make sure he keeps the Warriors in the same groove they've been in all season and not mess with anything. So long as he does this, I think the Warriors will be in great shape. 

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Monday, April 24, 2017 Podcast: Breaking down the 1st Round of the NBA Playoffs

On this week's episode of the podcast, I break down the 1st Round of the NBA Playoffs up until this point. I especially focus on the series' that are tied 2-2 (Celtics-Bulls, Raptors-Bucks, Spurs-Grizzlies, and Clippers-Jazz). 

Click here for the podcast if you are getting this via e-mail. 

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Skyhook Sunday: Can anyone in the East stop the Cleveland Cavaliers?

The Cleveland Cavaliers made quick work of the Indiana Pacers, completing their four-game sweep on Sunday by a final score of 106-102. LeBron James had another fabulous game, finishing with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists while Kyrie Irving finished with 28 points. The Pacers gave the Cavaliers a good scare in Game 1, losing 109-108 after C.J. Miles missed what would have been the game-winning shot from the elbow. After that game, the Cavaliers took firm control of the series and never looked back.

Going into the playoffs, the one team who we all thought had a chance at dethroning the Cavaliers in the East was the Boston Celtics and after the way we've seen them struggle with the Chicago Bulls (2-2 series at the moment), it's hard to see them finding a way to take out the Cavaliers even with home court advantage.

Earlier in the week on TNT, Charles Barkley made a great point, stating that the Cavaliers don't respect anybody in the East. He's right. The Cavaliers' sole mission is to make sure they are healthy and in a good groove come the NBA Finals. They respect whoever the Western Conference produces as their champion, but there isn't one team in the Eastern Conference who they respect.

That isn't to say there aren't players in their conference who they respect. I'm sure LeBron James has a lot of respect for Paul George, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and others, but that's different than respecting the teams that they play on. The bottom line is that the Cavaliers more or less believe it is a foregone conclusion that they'll be playing in the NBA Finals and as such treat the rest of the Eastern Conference as a mere afterthought. The Eastern Conference playoffs are merely hoops to jump through en route to the NBA Finals.

While the Cavaliers believe that they are virtually invincible in the Eastern Conference, is that really the case? Is there any team that has the ability to upset them? As much as I want to say that there is, it's pretty tough to think of any team who has a real shot at doing so. The Celtics as I've already mentioned are struggling to get out of the first round, the Raptors are likewise having a difficult time with the Bucks, and the Wizards I don't quite feel are ready to advance to the NBA Finals, though they are certainly putting together a championship caliber team.

As of right now, there really doesn't appear to be a team in the Eastern Conference capable of knocking off the Cavaliers. That isn't to say there aren't other good teams worth watching. The Bucks are developing into a serious contender as are the Wizards and Celtics. It's just that none of those teams are there yet. Give them a couple more years and it very well might be a different story. But as of right now, expect it to be smooth sailing for the Cavaliers all the way until the NBA Finals.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Slam: The Memphis Grizzlies won't go down without a fight

On Saturday night, the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-108 in overtime to even the series at 2-2. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley and Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard dueled it out down the stretch and in the end, it was Grizzlies center Marc Gasol who hit the game winning shot, leaving the Spurs with just .7 seconds on the clock to go the length of the floor.

Mike Conley finished with 35 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists while Kawhi Leonard finished with 43 points and 8 rebounds. Both guys played an amazing game and left it all out there on the floor. It was definitely the best game of the playoffs so far.

This win by the Grizzlies encompasses what they are all about, which is playing hard and never quitting. The Grizzlies could have easily packed this one in and given up considering the brilliant play of Kawhi Leonard. Instead, Mike Conley lived up to his record-breaking contract and delivered the goods down the stretch, hitting multiple clutch floaters in the lane and doing everything he could to get his team the win.

In my series preview, I picked the Spurs to win in six games and I stand by that pick. The Spurs are the more talented team and in the end, that is what I think will make the difference. That said, the Grizzlies are showing a lot of fight in this series and certainly have a great chance to take the Spurs to a Game 7.

At that point, anything can happen. Mike Conley is proving his worth and he's getting good support from the likes of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and JaMychal Green. Andrew Harrison stepped up with a key block from behind down the stretch, so the Grizzlies really are making winning plays on both ends of the floor.

You don't have to be a Grizzlies fan to respect them. They play hard, they don't give up, and they play as a team. They aren't flashy but what they do works. They only care about winning games and they don't care how ugly they need to play to get the win. Tonight, they made winning plays down the stretch and didn't back down. Whether or not the Grizzlies actually come out on top in this series remains to be seen, but what is certain is that they won't go down without a fight.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Fadeaway Friday: 2017 NBA D-League Finals Preview: Raptors 905 vs. Rio Grande Valley Vipers

On Sunday at 8:00 PM EST on ESPNU, Game 1 of the 2017 NBA D-League Finals will tip off as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (32-18) take on the Raptors 905 (39-11). Game 2 will air on Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU and Game 3 (If necessary) will air on Thursday at 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU. Above is the bracket of the 2017 D-League playoffs, each round being a best of three games series with the lower seed getting the first game at home and the higher seed getting the last two games at home. As the higher seed, the Raptors will get Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary) at home.

When looking at this series, what first stands out is the difference in pace that these two teams play at. The Vipers are averaging 120.1 points per game, which leads the D-League while the Raptors are averaging 106.8 points per game, which is 14th in the D-League. Both teams have gotten to the championship game playing at very different paces and so it will be really interesting to see whether the Vipers get the Raptors to speed up the tempo or if the Raptors can get the Vipers to play at a slower tempo. In matchups like this, whichever team is able to dictate the pace usually has the edge.

In a way, both teams are a good reflection of their NBA affiliates. The Houston Rockets are the second highest scoring team in the NBA and play at a very fast pace whereas the Toronto Raptors rank 10th in scoring and don't rely as much on their ability to score. In the D-League, teams ideally run systems similar if not identical to their NBA affiliate so as to better prepare potential call-ups for the NBA. It's always fun to see these type of similarities between the NBA and its developmental league.

As far as what players there are to watch for, the main player to watch for is Raptors small forward Bruno Caboclo, who was taken in the 1st round of the 2014 NBA Draft to the shock of literally everyone watching. The Raptors drafted him knowing he'd be a project. If you are a Raptors fan, you should watch this series just to see how Caboclo does since he has the potential to be a major part of the team's future going forward.

You might be wondering what kind of future Caboclo has if he's still in the D-League, but at just 21 years of age, he's like a minor league baseball prospect that could still be a junior in college. Rather than playing college basketball, Caboclo has gotten seasoning in the D-League and currently has the opportunity to get a taste of championship level basketball in the D-League Finals. It will be interesting to see how Caboclo does in this series and whether or not he can have a coming out party of sorts.

Another player to watch for if you are a Raptors fan is Pascal Siakam, a power forward who was taken in the first round by the Raptors in the 2016 NBA Draft. In addition to how Bruno Caboclo does, it will be important to see how Siakam does as he too looks to become a part of the Raptors' future. If both guys have a big series, that will be a very good sign for the future of this Raptors organization.

While this series doesn't have the weight of an NBA playoff series, it's still a championship series and should prove to be entertaining. The Vipers play a very entertaining style of basketball and the Raptors have two very important pieces playing in this series. Plus, Jerry Stackhouse is coaching the Raptors, so there's even something for those who crave a little throwback action. While I understand that NBA playoffs action is more important, do try to find time to watch some of this series. Especially if you are a fan of either the Houston Rockets or Toronto Raptors looking for a window into your team's future.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Windmill: Can the Chicago Bulls reach the Eastern Conference Finals?

The 8th seeded Chicago Bulls are stunning the NBA world right now by taking a 2-0 series lead over the 1st seeded Boston Celtics. With the next two games in Chicago, the Bulls have an excellent chance at sweeping the Celtics and pulling off one of the most monumental playoff upsets in NBA history. I don't care if the Celtics are regarded as one of the weakest top seeds ever. An 8 seed sweeping a 1 seed would be the biggest playoff upset in NBA history. The Bulls are two games away from doing the unthinkable and there's no reason to think they are done making history. 

When the NBA season began, I predicted that the Chicago Bulls would meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. At the time, I really thought they had the pieces. Jimmy Butler is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA, Dwyane Wade while aging still is capable of putting up 20 points per game, and they have some other quality pieces like Rajon Rondo, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez. Given how there was no clear #2 team in the Eastern Conference behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, I figured the Chicago Bulls were as good of a pick as any to get the #2 seed and take on the #1 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Things didn't exactly go the way I predicted. The Bulls had to wait until the last day of the regular season to find out if they would even make the playoffs. I picked the Celtics to sweep them in my series preview and thought that I was a fool for picking the Bulls to reach the Eastern Conference Finals at the beginning of the season. The Bulls looked like a team that was just lucky to squeak into the playoffs while the Celtics looked like a team poised to make a deep playoff run. 

During these past two games, the Bulls and Celtics have switched roles. The Bulls are looking like a team capable of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Celtics are looking like a team that could be swept. It's crazy how things can change so quickly after just two games. 

To answer the question that titles this article "Can the Chicago Bulls reach the Eastern Conference Finals?" the answer is yes they can. They have the pieces and those pieces are finally coming together. While Jimmy Butler is averaging 26 points per game during this series, he's not the only one who has come to play. In addition to Wade, Lopez, and Rondo, the Bulls have gotten double-digit scoring productions from the likes of Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser. It has truly been a team effort to go up 2-0 in this series. 

At this point, I like the Bulls' chances of winning this series and advancing to the second round, where they will likely face the Washington Wizards. As good as the Wizards are, they are no slam dunk to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. They are still a team that is learning and growing. Dwayne Wade's playoff experience could be the x-factor in a Bulls-Wizards series and be what pushes the Bulls into the Eastern Conference Finals. 

I understand there is a lot of basketball to be played and the Bulls still have to take care of business in their series against the Celtics. But that notwithstanding, it can't be ignored that the Bulls suddenly have a very clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals. They're playing good basketball and are finally looking like the team that I thought they would be at the beginning of the season. It will be interesting to see if they can sustain this. 

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tomahawk Tuesday: Can the Utah Jazz advance without Rudy Gobert?

                                        (Credit: Click here for source)

The Utah Jazz escaped with a 97-95 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday to take a 1-0 series lead after Joe Johnson rattled home the game winning shot. Unfortunately for the Jazz, their star big man Rudy Gobert went out for the game with a bone bruise and hyperextended left knee, leaving him out for an indefinite period of time that likely lasts the duration of the series. Gobert, who averages 14.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game is the fiercest defensive force the Jazz have had in the paint since Mark Eaton, who averaged a whopping 3.5 blocks per game for his career.

The question that is on the minds of everyone is whether or not the Jazz can win this series without Rudy Gobert. The answer to that question is yes they can, but obviously without him it will be a lot tougher. Fortunately, the Jazz have some things in their favor.

#1. They got the road win they needed: In my series preview, I stated that the Jazz needed just one win in Los Angeles to win this series because of how good they are at home. With or without Rudy Gobert, the Jazz should be able to hold down the fort in Salt Lake City. So long as they can just win out at home, where they are 29-12, they'll be fine.

#2. All the pressure is on the Clippers: The Jazz are playing with house money. The very fact that they made the playoffs is enough of a reason to call this season a success. They can just go out and play their style of basketball and see what happens. If they win the series, they exceed expectations and if they lose, they're still ahead of schedule in their rebuild process.

#3. They have some front court depth: Rudy Gobert is clearly the best big man on this Jazz team, but it isn't like he's their only big man. Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles, Boris Diaw, Jeff Withey, and even Joel Bolomboy can come in and give the Jazz good minutes in the front court. The Jazz have other guys who they can turn to in the post if needed.

#4. Rudy Gobert isn't done for the season: If MRI results had come back showing that Rudy Gobert had damage to his MCL, LCL, or ACL, it would be tough psychologically for the Jazz to win this series. Knowing that he isn't done for the season and that he will return if they can just hang on for a little while without him has to give them tremendous peace of mind. There are good odds Gobert is back for the second round of the playoffs, which is when they'll absolutely need him. The Jazz just need to weather this storm as best they can, knowing that if they do so well enough, the storm will cease and they'll get Gobert back.

The bottom line is that while it is a tough break for the Jazz to be without Rudy Gobert for an indefinite period of time, there are a lot of reasons to think they can still win this series without him. They already have a road win in the bag, very little pressure, quality reserves, and the knowledge that Gobert isn't out forever. I picked the Jazz to win this series in six games and I still stand by that pick.

Note: This article also appears on my Utah Jazz blog. Click here to check it out. 

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