NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

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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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Saturday Slam: What to look for in the 2019 NBA playoffs

The NBA playoffs begin on Saturday and rather than previewing each series, I wanted to provide a quick primer for the playoff as a whole, listing key things to look for. Before I begin my primer though, let me quickly list each series for those that aren't aware:

In the Eastern Conference, the top seeded Milwaukee Bucks face the eight seeded Detroit Pistons; the two seeded Toronto Raptors face the seven seeded Orlando Magic; the three seeded Philadelphia 76ers face the six seeded Brooklyn Nets; and the four seeded Boston Celtics face the five seeded Indiana Pacers. Out West, the top seeded Golden State Warriors face the eight seeded Los Angeles Clippers; the two seeded Denver Nuggets face the seven seeded San Antonio Spurs; the three seeded Portland Trail Blazers face the six seeded Oklahoma City Thunder; and the four seeded Houston Rockets face the five seeded Utah Jazz. One thing that is kinda comical is the Magic won the Southeast Division with a 42-40 record.

Can the Milwaukee Bucks navigate through their injuries? Last week, I went into more detail on this topic, so click here to check it out if you want those details. If you want the condensed version, here is the lowdown: Malcolm Brogdon (foot) remains out without a firm timetable while Nikola Mirotic (thumb) could possibly make his return in Sunday's Game 1 against the Pistons. Others are also out as well, but those are the two main guys to watch for. If they can get healthy, there's no reason to pick against this Bucks team to come out of the East. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the conference and appears ready to make a deep playoff run. 

Unlike the Bucks, the Golden State Warriors are entering the playoffs pretty healthy. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins are all in good shape while Draymond Green is day-to-day with a knee injury. This Warriors team is once again the most talented team in the NBA with a plethora of weapons. 

As has been the case for the past few years, it'll be interesting to see who gives the Warriors the most trouble. Teams that come to mind in that department are the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, and Milwaukee Bucks. The Rockets because of how close they were last year, the Utah Jazz because of their style, and the Bucks because of Antetokounmpo. Outside of those three teams, I don't see anyone giving the Warriors a serious scare. Fortunately for the Warriors, the Rockets and Jazz face off in the first round, so they'll only have to face one of those two teams assuming they get out of the first round. 

The Toronto Raptors got Kawhi Leonard specifically for this time of year. They wanted someone to get them over the hump and lead them to championship glory. They didn't feel they had the weapons before, so it's really put up or shut up time for them. If the Raptors can't get it done this year or at least reach the conference finals, they should just blow the whole thing up and go full blown tank mode. 

The Denver Nuggets have had a fabulous regular season and are well positioned to make a deep playoff run by securing the number two seed in the West. Paul Millsap is balling out and Nikola Jokic is one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA. The issue is they haven't really been through the fire yet. It'll be interesting to see how much damage this Nuggets team can do and whether or not they can become one of the teams to give the Warriors a serious run.

The Boston Celtics were picked by many to come out of the East after giving the Cavaliers such a scare last year. Instead, they've slipped and regressed. For them, they have to view the playoffs as a chance to hit the reset button. Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward form a really talented core that has the potential to make a deep run and come out of the East. It's just a matter of them putting it all together. One thing to look for is how they manage without Marcus Smart, who is dealing with an oblique injury. He is expected to miss at least a month of action.

Last season, the Houston Rockets were one healthy Chris Paul hamstring away from winning the Western Conference crown. Similar to the Celtics, they've regressed a bit from last year but still find themselves in the playoffs. If they can get past a tough Utah team, they'll get another crack at the Warriors only with a healthier CP3 (hopefully). If James Harden is able to go wild and Paul is healthy, it'll be interesting to see what they can do.

The Philadelphia 76ers have a different look from last year with the addition of Jimmy Butler, but whether or not it's better will be determined by how they do in the playoffs. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are the face of this team, but Butler is the big acquisition that is supposed to help them get over the hump. How much Butler affects them for good or for bad will be something to watch in these playoffs.

Finally, I want to quickly address my favorite team, the Utah Jazz. As a quick side note not related to the playoffs, do read Kyle Korver's piece in The Players' Tribune about white privilege if you have not already done so. I wanted to write a more in-depth piece about it, but I didn't find the time to do so. Let me just say it's excellent and worth the read. Click here to check that out.

As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Jazz are another team that have appeared to regress a bit after having an exciting 2018 season. That all said, they too find themselves in the playoffs with a chance to make some noise. What will be important to look for is if Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert can step up and establish themselves as a legit one-two punch. Mitchell is an explosive scorer that can create for others while Gobert is a fabulous shot blocker, rebounder, and rim-runner. These two guys are the future of the franchise and need to play like it.

One final note is that Ricky Rubio (quad) and Kyle Korver (knee) are both out indefinitely. When they're able to return is something to keep a close eye on if you're a Jazz fan.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: Magic Johnson's time as Lakers president was a total failure

                                         (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) 

Earlier today, news broke of Magic Johnson's abrupt decision to step down as president of the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson held a press conference announcing his decision, saying that he wasn't having fun in his role as president. He wanted to go back to being more of an ambassador for the organization and game of basketball as whole. While it was a tough decision, he said this was the right thing for him to do.

Given all that he's done for the sport and the Lakers organization, it's tough to see Magic Johnson's time as Lakers president go toes up like this. As great of a player as he was, he was a pretty horrible president. When Johnson took over as president back in 2017, the Lakers finished the season 26-56. The hope was that with him now at the helm, the organization would finally get back on the right track. Instead, they went 35-47 in the 2017-18 season and then 37-45 this season. That's not exactly the type of growth they were looking for.

During his first summer on the job, Johnson made the decision to part ways with former #2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell, who has since flourished with the Brooklyn Nets. This season, Russell averaged 21.1 points, 7.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game en route to his first All-Star Game appearance, making Johnson look like a fool for trading him.

On top of parting ways with Russell, Johnson also made the decision to allow Julius Randle to enter the waters of unrestricted free agency. During his first season with the New Orleans Pelicans, Randle has averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, once again making Johnson look foolish.

While Johnson does deserve some credit for getting LeBron James, the vibe I got is that James more or less recruited himself to Los Angeles. He wanted to be a Laker for the sake of being a Laker. I don't think the presence of Johnson played much of a role there. Even if it did, it's not like things got better with James on board. Injuries did play a role, but Johnson failed to put the right type of team around James, largely due to his decisions to part ways with Russell and Randle.

The bottom line is that Johnson's time as Lakers president was a total failure. The team struggled under him and he made personnel moves that were clearly ill-advised. Hopefully for the Lakers, they'll get someone in the front office that actually knows what they're doing.

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Saturday Slam: Can the Milwaukee Bucks navigate through their injuries?

The Milwaukee Bucks have clinched the top record in the NBA, giving them home court advantage all the way through the NBA Finals. It's been an historic season in Milwaukee and after years and years of rebuilding, they're finally starting to see the fruits of their labors. If you've been reading over the years, you would know that I've always believed in the trajectory of this Bucks team and that it would only be a matter of time before they seriously contend for a championship. They're young, hungry, and have a legitimate franchise player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is putting himself in the MVP discussion with his 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. They have all the pieces.

The only concern right now for this Bucks team is health. Malcolm Brogdon (15.6 points & 4.5 rebounds) is out indefinitely with a foot injury, Nikola Mirotic (15.2 points & 7.4 rebounds) is out for at least a couple more weeks due to a fractured thumb, Tony Snell (6.0 points) is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, Pau Gasol (3.9 points) is out indefinitely with a left ankle injury, and Donte DiVincenzo (4.9 points) is out for the rest of the season with a heel injury. The losses of Brogdon and Mirotic are the most significant, but when you add three more guys to the injury report as well, that really starts to take its toll.

Fortunately for the Bucks, they have that top seed and Antetokounmpo is healthy, so they should be able to get out of the first round of the playoffs regardless. That said, at this time of year, you want to be as healthy as possible since injuries could still loom ahead in the playoffs. Plus, even if these guys do all come back (aside from DiVincenzo), it's not yet clear how productive they'll be.

The Bucks are sort of in a weird spot. They should be feeling good about clinching the top seed in the NBA and yet at the same time be worried about the accumulation of injuries. With the way the NBA playoffs are structured, it's not only the best teams that come out on top, it's the healthiest. We saw that last year when Chris Paul's hamstring cost the Houston Rockets a trip to the NBA Finals.

At this point, all the Bucks can do is make sure they get through the first round as efficiently as possible. If they're able to get more rest and not have an elongated opening series, chances are they'll be able to have a relatively healthy squad come the second round. If instead they have a series that gets pushed to six or heaven forbid seven games, they could be looking at an early exit, even if they manage to squeak out of the first round. It'll be interesting to see how they handle things in the coming days and weeks.

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