NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday Windmill: Three things the Toronto Raptors need to do to defeat the Golden State Warriors

Yesterday, I provided my list of three things the Golden State Warriors need to do in order to defeat the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals. If you didn't read that, click here.  Today I'm looking at this series through the lens of the Raptors and what they need to do to knock off the Warriors. And yes, just like yesterday, I'm going with the old school logo!

#1. Kawhi Leonard needs to go wild: If the Raptors want any chance of winning this series, they need Kawhi Leonard to have the series of a lifetime. What allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to knock off the 73-9 Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals was the surreal performance of LeBron James. Leonard has more pieces around him than James did, but that doesn't lighten the burden that is on him to deliver the goods. Leonard needs to be averaging 30+ points per game in this series while also playing lock down defense.

#2. Defend Jurassic Park: If you've been reading my recent blog posts, you would know that I've been hammering home the fact that the Warriors will not have home court in the NBA Finals regardless of whether it's the Bucks or Raptors that they face. Of all the major sports leagues in America, home court/field/ice advantage is most important in the NBA. For whatever reason, home teams do better in the NBA than they do in the NFL, MLB, and NHL. I think a lot of it has to do with the influence that home court has on the officiating and the way stars get calls.

So long as the Raptors are able to defend their home floor, they will continue to have the advantage in this series. They need to defend their home floor like a pod of velociraptors protecting their nest from the egg snatching oviraptorsaurs. If the Warriors steal a game or get an egg, the Raptors will be in a really difficult spot.

#3. Role players need to step up: As important as it is for Kawhi Leonard to carry the load, he can't win this series all by himself. He's going to need help from his supporting cast. Especially Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, and Kyle Lowry. Those three guys in particular need to have a big series. If those guys step up and take the edge off Leonard, the Raptors will be tough to stop.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: Three things the Golden State Warriors need to do to defeat the Toronto Raptors

The NBA Finals begins on Thursday and in order to preview the event, I want to quickly address what the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors each need to do to win the series. I'll be keeping it simple by listing three keys to the series for each team. Up first is the Warriors and yes, I'm going old school with the logo because I love old school NBA logos!

#1. Clamp down on Kawhi Leonard: If the Golden State Warriors want to win this series, the first thing they need to do is make sure they put the clamps on Kawhi Leonard, who has been having an amazing run in these playoffs averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on 50.7% shooting from the field, 38.8% shooting from 3-point range, and 87.5% shooting from the foul line. If he goes wild, the Warriors will be leaving the door open for the Raptors to win.

#2. Get a split in Toronto: Everyone seems to think the Warriors are going to cruise to a third straight NBA championship, but that's no guarantee considering the fact that the Raptors have home court advantage. If the Warriors are unable to win one of the first two games in Toronto, I don't see them winning. Especially since they haven't been invincible at home in the playoffs.

#3. Play Warriors basketball: The third key to the Warriors winning this series is to play the same style of basketball they've been playing ever since Kevin Durant went out. That style, predicated on ball movement, defense, and frenetic shooting, is incredibly tough to stop given their unique personnel. When you got Stephen Curry nailing threes while also creating scoring opportunities for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, it's game over. When the Warriors get stagnant, don't move the ball, and get sloppy, that's when they become mortal.

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Mock Draft Monday: Is Nassir Little the next Kawhi Leonard?

                                         (Credit: Getty Images) 

Back in June of 2016,  I interviewed a class of 2018 4-star small forward out of Oakleaf High School in Jacksonville, Florida named Nassir Little for Cal was expressing a little bit of interest in him at the time and as is my job over at GBR (a.k.a. Cal Rivals), I interviewed him to get a feel for where Cal fit in his recruiting picture.

I wrote about Little: "At 6'6", 195 pounds, Little has a great physical profile. He has great length, quickness, and explosive athleticism. He does a fabulous job of scoring inside and getting to the rim on offense while providing energy on defense. In short, he is a prototypical two-way player." 

On top of being a fantastically gifted athlete, Little was also a really serious student: 4.0 GPA with an interest in studying biology. High academic schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Vanderbilt would go on to offer him a scholarship, but Cal never did. It puzzled me since he seemed like such a perfect fit for what Cal is supposed to be all about: High level athletics and high level academics.

When Little got bumped up to 5-star status, became a McDonald's All-American, and landed at an elite North Carolina program, I wasn't surprised. I was super high on him from the moment I watched his tape as a 4-star recruit. He had it all: Size, athleticism, motor, and brains. It was fun to see him blow up the way he did considering that I got to interview him before he really gained national attention.

Similar to June of 2016, I feel that Little is once again getting overlooked as he enters the 2019 NBA draft. There are good odds he doesn't go in the top ten when in truth, he might end up being the best player in this entire draft class (Yes, better than Zion Williamson). He has all the pieces to be an elite two-way player in the NBA. The only knock on him is he isn't the most polished player.

Flash back a few years to the 2011 NBA draft: There was a supremely athletic small forward that I was really high on named Kawhi Leonard out of San Diego State. He had great length, freakish athleticism, and a really high motor. Despite having a lot of work to do in terms of polishing his game, I wanted the Utah Jazz to draft Leonard with the #3 overall pick. He reminded me a lot of Andrei Kirilenko and seemed to have all the tools to be an elite two-way player in the NBA. The Jazz ended up passing on Leonard twice, drafting Enes Kanter at #3 and Alec Burks at #12.

The parallels between Leonard and Little don't end there. In his freshman year at San Diego State, Leonard averaged 16.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and .9 blocks per 40 minutes on 45.5% shooting from the field, 20.5% shooting from 3-point range, and 72.6% shooting from the foul line. In his freshman year at North Carolina, Little averaged 21.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes on 47.8% shooting from the field, 26.9% shooting from 3-point range, and 77.0% shooting from the foul line.

The only real difference between the two of them is that Leonard was a sophomore entering the NBA draft while Little is a freshman. Outside of that, they're almost identical statistically and where they are/were projected to go in the draft. It's uncanny.

Just like how I felt Kawhi Leonard should have gone in the top three of the 2011 NBA draft, I feel like Nassir Little should go in the top three of the 2019 NBA draft. I know he won't because of where Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett are pegged, but I truly believe when we look back on the 2019 NBA draft, we will be asking ourselves why Little didn't go a lot higher than he did. He has all the physical tools and intangibles to be the next Kawhi Leonard. It's just a matter of him putting in the work and staying hungry. Just like he did when he was a 4-star recruit.

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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Saturday Slam: The Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time

For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA Finals, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 100-94 on Saturday night to win the Eastern Conference title. Kawhi Leonard was sensational with 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. It was one of those performances that all-time legends have.

The Raptors' first season was in the 1995-96 season, finishing 21-61. The one bright spot in that season was their 109-108 victory on March 24 over the Chicago Bulls, who would go on to finish the season 72-10 and win their fourth NBA championship. Damon Stoudamire led the way for the Raptors that night with 30 points while Michael Jordan had 36 points for the Bulls (click here to watch the highlights). What's rather ironic in all of this is that their NBA Finals opponent Golden State Warriors went on to have the best regular season record in NBA history (73-9) in the 2015-16 season in part because of that victory. As we all know, that Warriors team would later fall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

After indirectly helping the Warriors make history in 2016, the Raptors are out to make history for themselves in the 2019 NBA Finals. After years and years of choking and not getting over the hump, the Raptors finally have a championship caliber team and home court advantage in the NBA Finals. Their turnaround has been really fun to watch and while Kawhi Leonard deserves a lot of the credit, it's really been a complete team effort from president Masai Ujiri to head coach Nick Nurse to Kyle Lowry to undrafted guard Fred VanVleet.

                                         (Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) 

Even though I already got into NBA Finals predictions in my most recent Wednesday Windmill piece, I don't want to do that here. I just want to congratulate the Raptors on finally reaching their first NBA Finals in franchise history. This is a big moment for them and tonight I want to focus all of my attention on this monumental accomplishment. We can talk more about the Warriors next week.

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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 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 and also recruiting coverage covering Cal basketball for 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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