NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wednesday Windmill: Can either the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors take out the Golden State Warriors?



At the moment, the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors are engaged in an epic series that is tied 2-2. The home team has won every game, which means we're on track for a Game 7 in Milwaukee. While these two teams fight for Eastern Conference supremacy, the Golden State Warriors are relaxing and waiting to see who they'll face in the NBA Finals. Given how dominant the Warriors have been, it's fair to ask whether or not it matters who they'll face. What I want to do in this blog post is quickly breakdown what threat each team poses and what the odds are that they actually take out the Warriors.

Starting with the Bucks, one thing they'll have to their advantage should they reach the NBA Finals is home court advantage (the Raptors will have this as well). Should they win Game 1 of the series, they'll have around 85% odds to win the series and should the series go to a Game 7, they'll have around 80% odds to win. These numbers are based on NBA playoff history as a whole. I wasn't able to find the exact numbers for the NBA Finals. Whatever the exact numbers are, the bottom line is having home court advantage is nice. If you can defend home court in Game 1, history says you'll win. If you host a Game 7 on your home floor, history also says you'll win.

Aside from the home court, the Bucks do have perhaps the best player in the game in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is a matchup nightmare for whatever team they face. The Warriors will have a difficult time taking out the Bucks because of Giannis alone. He handles the ball extremely well in transition, can play multiple positions, and is exactly what his nickname bills him to be. He's a freak.

When you add guys like Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, Nikola Mirotic, Khris Middleton, and George Hill to the mix, you have a team that's going to be a tough out. This Bucks teams has a lot of depth and that more than anything could make the difference.

As for the Raptors, aside from the home court advantage that I touched on earlier, it all boils down to whether or not Kawhi Leonard can stay healthy. If he's healthy, they got a shot. Especially since they have a solid supporting cast of their own in Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Danny Green, and Fred VanVleet. Leonard is also in discussion for best player in the game and when he gets going, the Raptors should feel like they can beat any team in the league.

I still have my money on the Warriors to win the NBA championship, but it's not going to be easy. They'll have to go on the road and win in very hostile environments to get home court advantage on their side. The best thing they can hope for is that this series goes the distance and that their opponent will be fatigued and a bit banged up from the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now what you're probably hoping for is my prediction for this Bucks-Raptors series. I think it could go either way, but I still have the Bucks pulling it out. They have home court advantage on their side and I have a tough time seeing the Raptors win four straight games. This one is probably going the distance and in a Game 7, you gotta roll with the home team.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: Are the Golden State Warriors better with Stephen Curry as their featured player?

                                          (Credit: Michael Hickey-Getty Images) 

The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals for the fifth straight season after sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. The last team to reach the NBA Finals five straight seasons was the Boston Celtics led by Bill Russell. Those Celtics teams reached the NBA Finals 10 seasons in a row from 1957-1966.

The Warriors' sweep of the Trail Blazers was actually their easiest series of the playoffs. What makes that funny is they did so without their best player Kevin Durant, who remains out indefinitely with a calf injury. The Warriors' dominance without Durant has created a debate among fans and analysts regarding which team is better: the Dubs with Kevin Durant as the featured player or the Dubs with Stephen Curry as the featured player. On the surface it seems like a silly question, but when you learn that the Warriors have won 31 of their last 32 games in which Stephen Curry plays and Kevin Durant does not, you have to take the question a lot more seriously.

Personally, I think it's pretty clear that when Durant is not on the floor, the Warriors play better team basketball. The ball moves much better, everyone gets more touches, and the flow is better. Stephen Curry feeds off of this flow and gets energized by getting everyone involved in the offense. The better the ball movement, the more dangerous Curry is. While Kevin Durant needs to dominate the ball and grind things to a halt, taking guys one-on-one, Curry is the exact opposite, which benefits the rest of the team.

Don't get me wrong, with Kevin Durant, the Warriors are really really scary. They've won two straight titles with him and have an overload of talent that no team in the NBA can handle. But that overload of talent changes the dynamic of the team in a way that appears to make everyone play more stagnant. There tends to be more room for error when Durant is on the court because everyone knows he'll bail them out. When he's off the court, everyone is forced to play sharper and more on point.

Klay Thompson and Draymond Green take on bigger roles with Durant out. Roles that they're eager to have. Thompson gets more touches and more opportunities to heat up from beyond the arc while Green is able to do more of what he does best which is rebound, defend, and find open shooters.

It's not just Thompson and Green that take on bigger roles. Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevon Looney, and Shaun Livingston have also stepped up, doing whatever Steve Kerr asks of them. While some teams would wither without their star player, the way this Warriors team is composed, everyone embraces the challenge and actually elevates their level of play.

I know a lot of analysts are too afraid to say it because of how good Kevin Durant is, but the harsh truth is this Warriors team is actually better with Stephen Curry as their featured player. It's not just that Curry plays better, it's that everyone plays better, which in turn makes Curry play better. If I'm the Warriors, I really wouldn't worry too much about Durant returning for the rest of the season. If anything, I might secretly be hoping he doesn't come back at all and signs with the New York Knicks in the offseason.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Mock Draft Monday: Zion Williamson would be foolish to return to school

                                          (Credit: NBAE/Getty Images) 

I'm kicking off a new segment on NBALord.com that I hope people will find entertaining and informative. The NBA Draft is an area I would like to explore more on here. Especially since I already do a lot of prospect evaluations for NBADraft.net and also recruiting coverage covering Cal basketball for Rivals.com. With that said as a brief intro into this new segment, what better way for me to kick things off than some discussion on Zion Williamson?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know who Zion Williamson is. I really shouldn't need to tell you who the Duke superstar freshman is. He's been all over ESPN and Sports Center for the past nine months and is projected by virtually every NBA Draft expert to go #1 overall in the upcoming draft.

The only "drama" in the whole thing is will he spurn the New Orleans Pelicans and return to school in hopes of landing with a better market. While none of us expected the Pelicans to win the lottery, they won it fair and square and deserve the chance to draft Williamson, making him their main franchise piece for the future. Don't get me wrong. If I was Williamson, I would have also been hoping for Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. But the downside of going to New Orleans instead doesn't outweigh the risk of returning to school for another year (remember his shoe blowing up?)

Furthermore, while New Orleans isn't as exciting of a landing spot as those major markets are, it's also a better landing spot from a pure basketball standpoint: David Griffin is a well respected basketball executive leading the front office while Anthony Davis is also there as one of the top players in the NBA. Putting aside the drama surrounding Davis and his future, assuming Griffin can convince "The Brow" to stay in New Orleans, the Pelicans could really be cooking with gas should they draft Williamson. They could be looking at a playoff appearance next season and before long find themselves competing with the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, and Warriors to come out of the Western Conference.



If Williamson were to return to school, he would have nothing to gain other than possibly going to a better city in 2020. On the flip side, he would risk injury, not developing his game as well as NBA scouts would hope, and perhaps even going to a worse situation than New Orleans (E.g. Cleveland). It would be a stupid move to return to Duke and even he knows it.

As much as New Orleans may not excite him, Zion Williamson should be excited about the chance to put on a Pelicans uniform. He'll get a chance to convince Anthony Davis to stay and help put a relatively new NBA franchise on the map. All in all, it's actually a pretty good spot for him.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Skyhook Sunday: C.J. McCollum and Kawhi Leonard came to play

                                         (Credit: John Leyba/The Associated Press) 

Before I share my thoughts on Sunday's incredible Game 7s, let me first wish all the mothers out there a Happy Mother's Day! Also, I send my condolences to those who have lost their mothers. I know this can also be a hard day.

If you were able to watch Sunday's Game 7s, you were given a real treat! Both games were close with wild finishes as the Portland Trail Blazers edged out the Denver Nuggets on the road 100-96 and the Toronto Raptors hung on for dear life to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 92-90. While there were many heroes who stepped up today, two stood out from all the rest: Portland's C.J. McCollum and Toronto's Kawhi Leonard.

Let me first start with McCollum, who finished with 37 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 incredible chase down block. In a game where Damian Lillard struggled to get going, McCollum was brilliant from start to finish, scoring 15 of his 37 points in the first half. Thanks to him, the Trail Blazers trailed by just nine points (48-39) at halftime as opposed to 20.

In the second half, McCollum was even more incredible. He scored 22 points and found a way to stave off the Nuggets in the final minutes of the game, making several clutch jumpers to go along with a LeBron-esque chase down block. While he often gets overshadowed by Lillard, McCollum was the one who owned the moment in this crucial Game 7 for Portland. He elevated himself from a borderline All-Star to a legitimate superstar. It was incredibly fun to watch!





                                         (Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports) 

As for Kawhi Leonard, he had storybook performance, finishing with 41 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and a game winner that reminded me of Tiger Woods' epic chip in at the 16th hole of the Masters. It was the first buzzer beater in a Game 7! Leonard owned the moment in every way today and showed why the Raptors traded for him. Without his off the charts performance, they wouldn't have won this series. Earlier in the week, Max Kellerman received criticism for saying Leonard was more clutch than Kobe Bryant and while that comparison is still a bit premature, Leonard made Kellerman's case a lot easier after today.

It wasn't just Leonard's amazing game winner that was spectacular. There was a ridiculous layup reminiscent of Michael Jordan, a stripping of Joel Embiid that led to a breakaway jam, and many other eye-popping plays. Like McCollum, Leonard owned the moment and reminded us of why he's one of the best players, if not the best player in the NBA.



Regardless of how the conference finals go, we shouldn't forget these amazing performances by C.J. McCollum and Kawhi Leonard. Both guys played like absolute studs and deserve all the praise in the world for stepping up like they did on such a big stage. While I think we're in for a Warriors-Bucks finals, don't count out the Trail Blazers or the Raptors. When you have guys like McCollum and Leonard on your team, you definitely have a shot to win a title.

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Saturday Slam: Can the Denver Nuggets recover from Friday?

                                         (Credit: AP-Craig Mitchelldyer) 

On Friday, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets 140-137 in an epic quadruple-overtime thriller to go up 2-1. It was the second quadruple-overtime game in NBA playoff history and the first since 1953. While it was an absolutely surreal win for the Trail Blazers, it was an equally stinging loss for the Nuggets, who despite battling valiantly found themselves on the short end of the stick.

History tells us that the Trail Blazers will build on this emotional win and carry that into Sunday, likely resulting in a 3-1 series lead. It's very tough for teams in the Nuggets' position to shift things back in their favor. When you lose a game like they did on Friday, it's very hard to put it behind you and focus on the next game.

That all said, I'm not here to write about why the Nuggets are toast or why this series is over. It's not. I'm actually here to write about the exact opposite. Why the Nuggets can still win this series.

First off, I felt like there were good odds of this series going seven games when it began. Both teams are pretty evenly matched and while the Trail Blazers have more playoff experience than the Nuggets, it's not like they've been making deep runs over the years. They've typically been a team that maybe wins a series before getting eliminated in the second round, so for both teams, a trip to the Western Conference Finals would be entering uncharted territory.

Secondly, as good as the Trail Blazers played on Friday, the Nuggets were right there with them. Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray have all shown that they're ready to shine on the big stage. They're not afraid to take big shots and have done an admirable job of leading their team. They seem like a pretty resilient bunch that is more than capable of bouncing back from a tough loss.

Third, all the Nuggets need is one win in Portland to reclaim home court. With how this series has gone, it's hard to see the Trail Blazers winning all three games at home to close this series out in six games. The law of averages seems to be on the Nuggets' side that if you give them three games in Portland, they're bound to get at least one win. If the Nuggets are able to reclaim home court advantage and force a game seven in Denver, I think odds are good they'll win.

As much as momentum is in favor of the Trail Blazers right now, it would be foolish to rule out this Nuggets team. They're too talented to discount and it wouldn't be surprising at all for them to win on Sunday to tie things up 2-2 or even win a game six in Portland to force a game seven. This series still projects to have more twists and turns, giving the Nuggets ample opportunity to reach the Western Conference Finals.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: Damian Lillard is one bad man

                                          (Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports)

When talking about the best players in the NBA, I feel like Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard doesn't get enough respect and tonight's ridiculous game winner to send the Oklahoma City Thunder packing is a prime example.




What makes Lillard so special isn't just his scoring ability (50 points tonight!) or his ability to rebound and facilitate (7 rebounds and 6 assists). It's his willingness to take big shots and own the moment. Few players have that "it factor" or whatever you want to call "it." Whatever "it" is, he's got it.

He's a gamer. He's an assassin. He's a cold-blooded killer. He's a dream crusher. He's a 2-star recruit out of high school turned NBA All-Star. He's an Oakland native that got over-looked by his hometown school (Cal) and ended up playing at Weber State in Ogden, Utah. As I say in the title of this piece, he is one bad man. There is so much to like about this guy, which is why it's so easy to root for him.

It's impossible to overhype just how amazing Lillard's performance was tonight: 50 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists is just nuts. He did it all and closed the game in storybook fashion. Regardless of how far the Trail Blazers go, this moment will live on for a very long time.

As for what the Trail Blazers can do in the next round, I have to like their chances to reach the Western Conference Finals. Regardless of whether it's the Nuggets or the Spurs that they face, they should feel confident knowing they have one of the most clutch players in the game on their side.




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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: Could the Los Angeles Clippers knock off the Golden State Warriors?

                                                      (Credit: Getty Images)

On Monday night, the Los Angeles Clippers pulled off the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history, defeating the Golden State Warriors 135-131 after trailing 94-63 with 7:30 to go in the 3rd quarter. While the Warriors didn't blow a 3-1 series lead like they did to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they did blow a 31 point lead, so the numbers 3 and 1 aren't exactly the most friendly to the Warriors. While a lot of people are going to make this about the Warriors and their second half collapse, I want to make this all about the Clippers and focus on their chances to actually win this series.

On the surface, the odds of the Clippers winning this series still seem low. We've seen teams get a shocking split on the road only to fail to deliver the goods at home. What makes upsets in the NBA playoffs so tough is you gotta beat the better team four out of seven times, which is no easy task. Especially when you're trying to knock off a team that is as talented as the Warriors. That all said, there are some reasons to think the Clippers might actually shock the basketball world and advance to the second round.

The first reason is the Warriors are going to have to soldier on without DeMarcus Cousins, who is out indefinitely with a torn left quadriceps. With Cousins out, the Warriors don't have much of a presence in the paint, giving Montrezl Harrell a golden opportunity to make his presence felt inside. Harrell finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds on Monday, showing why he's one of the best post players in the game. If the Warriors can't find a way to better protect the paint, Harrell could eat them for lunch all series long.

The second reason is the Clippers have Patrick Beverley. As Charles Barkley once said, in order to find success in the playoffs, you need to have a crazy guy and the Clippers have one in Beverley. He's a grade-A irritant and a fantastic defender cut out of the DeShawn Stevenson cloth. Beverley appears to be getting in the Warriors' head a bit and has a real opportunity to give Draymond Green a little taste of his own medicine.

The third reason is Lou Williams ain't scared. Williams scored 36 points and dished out 11 assists on Monday, doing a fantastic job of willing his team back to victory. He hit a lot of clutch shots down the stretch and played like a guy that lives for the big moments. When you got a guy like that on your squad, you always got a chance.

The fourth reason is the Clippers have Doc Rivers, who I feel is the most under-appreciated coach in the NBA. After his inability to win a ring with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, many wrote off Rivers as one that could only win with the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. In truth, he's a fantastic coach and is doing his best work since his days in Boston. These Clippers are playing like a team and everyone is buying into Rivers' system. When you have a coach like Rivers, you got a shot to shock the world.

While the Warriors should be favored to win this series, they should not feel like they're guaranteed to win it. The Clippers are brimming with confidence after their historic comeback and now head to Los Angeles for two straight games. As crazy as this is to say, the Warriors are in real danger just two games into these playoffs.

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