NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saturday Slam: The Utah Jazz are playing exceptional team basketball

                                         (Getty Images) 

On Friday night, the Utah Jazz defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-91, advancing to the second round of the playoffs, where they will face the Houston Rockets on Sunday afternoon. Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell stole the show, scoring 38 points, 20 of which were scored in the 3rd quarter. With Ricky Rubio going out with a hamstring injury (possibly out for a few weeks) and Russell Westbrook in full attack mode, the Jazz needed a big game from Mitchell and boy did he deliver.
What made Mitchell's performance so special was the way he took over the game. He did it all, hitting deep threes, throwing down vicious dunks, and slicing through defenders to make ridiculous layups around the basket. The amount of English he put on some of those shots was tantamount to what you'd see in a game of billiards. He was having one of those nights where nearly anything he threw at the basket found a way to go in.

Yet as well as Mitchell played, the Jazz didn't win this game by his performance alone. After all, Russell Westbrook was the top performer of the night, finishing with 46 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. What got the Jazz past the Thunder both on Friday and in this series was their selflessness and commitment to team basketball. Everyone found a way to contribute, whether it was Joe Ingles knocking down clutch threes, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert controlling the paint, or Ricky Rubio setting up others for easy baskets. Even Alec Burks got in on the action, scoring 11 points on Friday in 17 minutes of action.

What allows the Jazz to play this type of team basketball is the system put in place by head coach Quin Snyder, which demands lots of ball movement, cutting, and stellar defense. The Jazz realize that when they play the way Snyder wants them to, that brings out the best in them both as a team and as individuals. It takes a certain type of player to buy into this philosophy and the Jazz front office has done a stellar job of bringing in guys who embrace it.

As for whether or not the Jazz can actually take out the Houston Rockets, I personally expect the Rockets to win only because they have more talent. James Harden will be the best player in the series and Chris Paul could be the second best player. That all said, if the Jazz play the way they did against the Thunder and continue to execute the way Quin Snyder wants them to, they could make this an interesting series. As good as the Rockets look, they did show moments of vulnerability against the Timberwolves. They will definitely need to play a lot better if they want to avoid a competitive and close series with the Jazz.

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

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday Slam: Breaking down all 16 teams in the NBA Playoffs

With the NBA Playoffs beginning on Saturday, it's time for me to do my preview for the first round. I won't lie, it's a real challenge to write a preview for each first round series, so I'm going to mix things up this year and instead address all 16 teams in one post, separating them into four different categories.

One of these teams will likely be your NBA champion 

Houston Rockets (65-17): The Houston Rockets have the best record in the NBA and are coming into the playoffs hot, having won seven of their last 10 games. James Harden is playing like a legitimate NBA MVP, averaging 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.4 rebounds per game on 44.9% shooting from the field, 36.7% shooting from 3-point range, and 85.8% shooting from the foul line. Chris Paul is also having a good season himself, averaging 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game. Together, Harden and Paul have the Rockets knocking on the door to win their first NBA title since the mid 1990s.

Golden State Warriors (58-24): Despite their injury woes, most notably Stephen Curry (sprained left MCL), the Golden State Warriors are still the most loaded team in the NBA. Kevin Durant is having another sensational season, averaging 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry are still playing really good basketball when at full strength. The Warriors got a little complacent at the end of the season and weren't able to recapture the top seed in the Western Conference, but don't let that fool you. These guys are very dangerous and should not be counted out.

Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32): The Cleveland Cavaliers have the 4th best record in the Eastern Conference and really appear to have lost their edge. That said, they still have LeBron James and that alone is why they make this first tier. You can never count out a team with LeBron James on it and with the Eastern Conference lacking a true front runner, it's hard to not see the Cavaliers finding a way to get back to the NBA Finals once again.

Toronto Raptors (59-23): Led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors have clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, which means that the road to the NBA Finals in the East goes through them. I know the Raptors have come up short during the past few seasons, but this year looks like it could be different for them. They've been through enough playoffs battles and could be on the verge of having a breakthrough postseason run.


Boston Celtics (55-27): If it wasn't for the injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, the Celtics would have joined the top tier. Without those guys, it's tough to see the Celtics going all the way to win the NBA championship. It just doesn't look like it's their year. That said, Brad Stevens is one hell of a coach and his guys are all buying into system. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford are all playing well and they've seen other guys like Jabari Bird and Terry Rozier step up. While I don't see the Celtics winning it all this year, they still qualify as a sleeper team. 

Philadelphia 76ers (52-30): The Philadelphia 76ers have had a remarkable turnaround this year and it largely seems to be due to the tanking job orchestrated by former general manager Sam Hinkie. Ben Simmons is looking like the real deal while Joel Embiid is showing why the 76ers were smart to draft him with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. As an added bonus, rookie point guard Markelle Fultz is starting to come into his own as well. The biggest concern with the 76ers is their lack of playoff experience. These guys could win a title in a couple of years, but I just don't see them doing it this year.

Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34): Things haven't gone the way the Oklahoma City Thunder envisioned when they got Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George, but they still found a way to get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. On paper, the talent is there to give someone a serious scare, but the lack of depth is why I don't see them going the distance.

Portland Trail Blazers (49-33): Similar to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers don't have a ton of depth. This is pretty much the Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum show. If those guys don't combine for over 50 points, the Trail Blazers have no chance of beating anybody elite. Jusuf Nurkic gives them a solid post presence, but he isn't enough. The Trail Blazers have done an incredible job of getting the most out of their roster, but now that it's playoff time, they'll find out that they just don't have the horses.

Utah Jazz (48-34): Quin Snyder has done a phenomenal job at coaching this team and Donovan Mitchell should be rookie of the year. During the second half of the season, the Utah Jazz were one of the best teams in the NBA and far exceeded their expectations after losing Gordon Hayward.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them give the Rockets a bit of a scare if they are able to get past the Thunder in the first round.

Milwaukee Bucks (44-38): The Milwaukee Bucks are seeded 7th in the Eastern Conference, but I wouldn't be shocked to see them upset the Celtics in the first round considering all the injuries that they've had. Giannis Antetokounmpo is no longer arriving, he's arrived and he's only going to get better. If the Bucks can pull off a first round upset over the Celtics, a run to the Eastern Conference Finals is totally conceivable.

Here to play spoiler 

Indiana Pacers (48-34): As the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers find themselves up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. The Cavaliers will be vulnerable in the first round and if they're not careful, they could fall prey to a first round upset. If Victor Oladipo has a big series and Lance Stephenson has a playoff renaissance against LeBron James, the Pacers could spoil the Cavaliers' quest for a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

New Orleans Pelicans (48-34): The fact that the New Orleans Pelicans made the playoffs without DeMarcus Cousins is remarkable. I could put them in the next category, but I think these guys have the potential to take out the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Jrue Holiday is playing really well and Anthony Davis is arguably the best player in the NBA. The Pelicans are dangerous and quite honestly could have made the "sleeper" category had they gotten a higher seed.

Miami Heat (44-38): The Miami Heat would be thrilled to play spoiler and send the 76ers home packing in the first round. I don't see it happening, but with Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Dwyane Wade, they have no reason to doubt themselves. This is actually a pretty solid team. The problem is they lack a superstar that they can lean on in a playoff series.

They should just be happy to be in the playoffs 

Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35): The Minnesota Timberwolves are playoff bound for the first time since 2004 and that alone is reason for them to celebrate. This is a cool moment for their fans and you know the Target Center is going to be rocking. They have a nice young core consisting of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler, but they have work to do if they want to contend for a championship. That all said, reaching the playoffs is the first step towards that goal and for that reason, they should be happy.

Their front office probably wishes they were in the NBA draft lottery instead 

San Antonio Spurs (47-35): The only reason the San Antonio Spurs should be happy to make the playoffs is because it kept their now 21 year streak of making the playoffs alive. Outside of that, their front office probably wishes they were in the NBA draft lottery with the chance to get a top three pick. Kawhi Leonard likely misses the post season and appears to be on his way out. These guys need a new piece to build around more than they need to keep a streak alive.

Washington Wizards (43-39): The Washington Wizards would love a shot at a top three pick in the NBA draft to give themselves another piece to put around John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, Jr. The Wizards have nothing to gain from being in the playoffs other than generating some ticket sales and selling some playoff merchandise. I can guarantee their front office wishes they finished 9th in the standings.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Saturday Slam: How much pressure is on the Toronto Raptors?

The Toronto Raptors have clinched the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference with an impressive 57-22 record and are hoping to accomplish something that no other Raptors team has done before, which is to reach the NBA Finals. DeMar DeRozan is leading the way for the Raptors, averaging 23.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game on 45.7% shooting from the field, 31.1% shooting from 3-point range, and 82.5% shooting from the foul line while Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, and Serge Ibaka are proving themselves to be a strong supporting cast.

Despite the Raptors' strong regular season, many people including myself are skeptical of their title chances. Despite making the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, the Raptors have only made the Eastern Conference finals once in their history, which was two seasons ago. The Raptors have been a strong regular season team for quite a while, but they seem to keep finding ways to blow it in the playoffs. They even managed to get swept by the Washington Wizards in 2015 while also having home court advantage. You can't blow it anymore than that.

2018 has the chance to be different for this Raptors team. They seem to have matured and the Eastern Conference also isn't as strong as it has been in recent years. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been struggling a bit and the Boston Celtics are going to have to soldier on without Kyrie Irving, who will need 4-5 months to recover from a knee operation. When looking at the current landscape of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors really couldn't ask to be in a better position. If they don't reach the NBA Finals this year, it will be fair to wonder whether or not this team has the moxie to do so.

The amount of pressure on this Raptors team to breakthrough and reach the NBA Finals is huge. They have home court advantage, their biggest foes are banged up, and they are also healthy. The Raptors don't need to win the NBA championship considering how good the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are, but they do need to be the ones who represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals if they want to feel good about their season.

In order for the Raptors to deliver the goods, they'll really need DeMar DeRozan to step up and be the man. In the NBA playoffs, your stars have to deliver and so DeRozan in particular will be the one shouldering the pressure. He sees himself as a tier one guy and it's all teed up for him to prove that he is. If the Raptors reach the NBA Finals, DeRozan will finally be able to silence his critics, but if they don't there will be those calling him overrated.

While I don't personally see the Raptors getting it done given their recent history, I'd be happy to be proven wrong. The Raptors have a strong fan base that is thirsty for an NBA title and the NBA desperately needs some new blood in the NBA Finals. If the Raptors reach the NBA Finals, I'll be just as happy as anyone. It's just that as of right now, I'm not getting my hopes up.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday Windmill: Taking a quick look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture

With the NBA regular season wrapping up on April 10th, I thought it would also be a good idea to take a quick look at where things sit in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as we head into the final week of the regular season. Things are a bit more settled in the Eastern Conference, but teams are still battling for position and seeding with the 8th seed still up for grabs.

Who's clinched 

At the moment, seven teams have clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference: Toronto Raptors (55-22), Boston Celtics (53-24), Cleveland Cavaliers (48-30), Philadelphia 76ers (47-30), Indiana Pacers (46-31), Miami Heat (42-36), and Washington Wizards (42-36).

As you can see, it is a bit tiered among the teams who have cliched. The Raptors and Celtics are in a battle for first place while the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are battling to get home court advantage in the first round. As for the Heat and Wizards, their primary focus is to avoid the 8th seed. If they can get the 6th seed, they'll put themselves in a position to possibly pull off a first round upset. Especially if they're not having to face the Cavaliers, who despite a rocky regular season are still the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.

The most interesting race is who gets home court advantage between the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers. While the Cavaliers are favored to come out of the East, that could change if they don't get home court advantage in the first round. Even with LeBron James, they'll still be putting themselves behind the eight ball if they have to go on the road in their first series.

As for the race for the top seed, with Kyrie Irving out for the rest of the regular season, it's unlikely that the Celtics catch the Raptors for the top seed. At this point, the main focus for the Celtics is to make sure everyone else on their team stays healthy and doesn't get hurt before the playoffs start. Even without home court advantage, the Celtics should like their chances against the Raptors in a series, assuming Kyrie Irving is healthy.

Who's expected to clinch 

The Milwaukee Bucks sit in the 8th spot with a 42-36 record, the same record as the 7th seeded Wizards. For whatever reason, the Bucks haven't yet mathematically clinched, but all signs point to them doing so. The Bucks are more in the mode of improving their seed and trying to avoid the 8th seed. That said, the Raptors are as vulnerable of a top seed as you'll see in the NBA playoffs. Maybe the Bucks like where they sit and have no issue with going into Toronto to start the playoffs.

Who's mathematically alive 

Despite being 37-40, the Detroit Pistons are still mathematically alive. They obviously need the Bucks to totally collapse and on top of that they need to win out. The Pistons' remaining schedule is as follows: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Dallas, @Memphis, vs. Toronto, and @Chicago. Given that they need to win all of these games and do so without Blake Griffin (right ankle contusion), I think this is as good of a schedule as they could really ask for. I don't see the Pistons making the playoffs, but if they can win all of their remaining games, you never know.

What hurts is that the Bucks' schedule isn't  too bad: vs. Brooklyn, @New York, vs. Orlando, and @Philadelphia. It's really hard to envision Giannis Antetokounmpo letting his team down during this final week. If he has a big game even once, the Bucks will find themselves in the playoffs.


In regards to how this all shakes out, I think the Bucks will clinch the 8th seed. The Pistons just have too much ground to cover. I think the Raptors will get the top seed and I think it'll be the Cavaliers and 76ers who have home court advantage in the first round. The Cavaliers do not want to go on the road to start the playoffs and understand that doing so would put them in a really difficult spot.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: Taking a quick look at the Western Conference playoff picture

With the NBA regular season concluding next week (April 10th), I thought it would be good to take a quick look at where things sit in the Western Conference playoff picture. One week from now we'll know who's in, who's out, and who's playing who. Until then, it's going to be a wild week with teams jockeying for position.

Who's clinched

At this point, the following three teams have clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference playoffs: Houston Rockets (63-15), Golden State Warriors (57-21), and Portland Trail Blazers (48-30). The Rockets are locked into the #1 seed and the Warriors are locked into the #2 seed, so they can pretty much chill the rest of this week. With all the injuries the Warriors have had, they in particular would be wise to pump the brakes and go easy during this last week.

As for the Trail Blazers, while they have already clinched, they still have a little bit of work to do in order to hang onto the #3 seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  Their schedule is as follows: @Houston, @San Antonio, @ Denver, and vs. Utah. It's actually a pretty tough schedule, so the Trail Blazers should be looking to go hard all the way until the last night.

Who's in if it started today 

If the playoffs started today, the San Antonio Spurs (45-32), Utah Jazz (45-33), Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34), Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34), and New Orleans Pelicans (43-34) would all be in. The Spurs would have clinched on Tuesday had they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers and had the Denver Nuggets lost. Unfortunately for them, neither of those events happened. The Clippers outscored the Spurs 41-27 in the 4th quarter to win 113-110 and the Nuggets defeated the Indiana Pacers 107-104.

The Spurs still figure to make the playoffs, but they'll have to wait another day to officially punch their ticket. The Jazz are hoping to take advantage of the Spurs' loss and bump themselves up to the #4 seed, which would give them home court advantage in the first round. The Jazz have won three straight games including a 117-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers today. They have a moderately tough schedule coming up, so they could do it but it won't be a cakewalk: vs. Los Angeles Clippers, @Los Angeles Lakers, vs. Golden State, and @Portland.

As for the Thunder and Timberwolves, they have work to do as well, but they have the temporary luxury of being in front of the 8th seeded Pelicans, who are sinking like a stone as we speak. The Pelicans have lost four straight games and have five games remaining vs. Memphis, @Phoenix, @Golden State, @Los Angeles Clippers, and vs. San Antonio. Their last three games are no slam dunk, so they really need to take care of business against Memphis and Phoenix if they want to ensure that they still make the playoffs.

Who's on the outside trying to get in 

If any of the four teams above miss the playoffs, it'll either be the Denver Nuggets (42-35) or Los Angeles Clippers (41-36) who take their spot. The Nuggets have won three straight games and are only one game back of the Pelicans, really turning the heat up as of late. The Nuggets' remaining schedule is as follows: vs. Minnesota, @Los Angeles Clippers, vs. Portland, and @Minnesota. That's a pretty tough schedule, but considering how the Pelicans are playing, they should like their chances of sneaking in.

As for the Clippers, their 113-110 win over the Spurs tonight saved their season. Their remaining schedule is as follows: @Utah, vs. Denver, vs. New Orleans, and vs. Los Angeles Lakers. It's not an easy schedule, but what helps is they have a chance to gain a full game on both the Nuggets and Pelicans if they win those games. Playing at Salt Lake City won't be easy, but if they can somehow pull off a miracle in that game, they'll be well positioned to make up some ground and take out both the Nuggets and Pelicans.


My personal prediction is I think the Spurs, Jazz, Thunder, and Timberwolves will make the playoffs. They still have their work to do, but at the end of the day, I think they'll all make it. As for that 8th spot, I think that is too close to call right now. The Pelicans couldn't be hitting a four game losing skid at a worse time so I really am not feeling that they get in. If I had to make a final prediction, I think the Clippers will be the team that gets in. Their schedule is pretty friendly and tonight's win over the Spurs seems to be sign of things to come.

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