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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 1/18

Basketball Insiders looks back at articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Celtics Proactively Rebuilding

By Moke Hamilton

Doc Rivers looked on with a smirk. Satisfied and relieved, he exhaled as David Stern congratulated the Los Angeles Lakers on a well-played season.

As the tears streamed back in their locker room and Kobe Bryant plotted his revenge, Stern stood before the better than 17,500 fans in attendance and essentially serenaded them.

“…But there can only be one champion,” he said.

And that champion was, of course, the Boston Celtics.

As the seventh anniversary of that June 17 night approaches, the hope in Boston is that it will not take another seven years to experience that satisfaction again.

In all likelihood, it will not.

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Nikola Vucevic: An All-Star in the Coaches’ Eyes

By Yannis Koutroupis

On the heels of a career-best 34 points and 16 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic’s case to be an All-Star has never been stronger. He isn’t getting much love in the fan voting for the starters, receiving just over 68,000 total votes based off of last week’s most recent returns, but the head coaches from around the Eastern Conference who will be voting for the reserves are definitely taking note of his production.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Miami HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t just say he’s a good, young player anymore. He’s a very good NBA basketball player who is multi-skilled and a big target. There’s not a whole lot that he can’t do from the center position. He’s shooting the ball great and he’s a good passer and obviously he’s a very efficient post-up player.’’

“Vucevic has been a guy that you hear from multiple coaches around the league about how advanced he is,” Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added. “He may very well be an All-Star center in the East at some point soon.”

Vucevic is leading the Eastern Conference in double-doubles, putting up 18.4 points and 11.1 rebounds a night. He’s doing so while shooting a career-high 52 percent from the field, and handling the increased burden of being a primary offensive option for the Magic exceptionally well.

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It’s All About Contract Options

By Steve Kyler

As the NBA trade season kicks into full gear, not only are NBA teams concerned about would-be free agents, they are also concerned about those players with contract options.

There are 33 players with either player options or early termination options, but they both achieve the same thing: allowing a player to become a free agent. What they do is slightly different.

A player option is a notification to continue the agreement, meaning the player must submit a document stating they wish to stay longer. Where as an early termination option requires the player to submit a document announcing they are choosing to leave.

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Fantasy: Using Game Counts to Win Your League

By Joel Brigham

Fantasy basketball (the head-to-head kind, at least) is kind of weird in that it doesn’t always matter who the best players are; it matters which of the best players are playing the most games in a given week. If Andre Drummond plays five games in a week where Anthony Davis only plays three, Drummond probably is going to be the more valuable fantasy asset during that particular matchup.

Knowing that, it’s important to be aware how weekly game counts will play out the rest of the season for certain players and teams. Any trade you make from here on out should take this information into consideration, as there are some teams with great fantasy schedules down the stretch and some that aren’t quite so good.

More importantly, there are some teams with schedule issues during the most important part of the season: the playoffs.

Here’s a look at how game counts could come into play the rest of the fantasy season:

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The Journey of an Undrafted Rookie

By Alex Kennedy

Every kid who has picked up a basketball and taken the sport even semi-seriously has imagined being drafted. “With the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the [insert your favorite team] select [insert your name] from [insert your favorite college].” The fans in attendance are ecstatic. Your friends and family scream and celebrate. This one sentence from the NBA Commissioner’s mouth changes your life forever.

It’s all symbolic, of course, but it means you finally made it. It means all of your hard work paid off. It means you have joined an exclusive fraternity that millions can only dream about entering. It’s a moment often described as unforgettable – on par with getting married or holding your newborn child for the first time. It’s winning the lottery and realizing a lifelong dream all at once. It’s a fact that follows you for the rest of your life, whether it’s sitting proudly atop your biography or constantly coming up in conversations.

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Free Agent Head Coaches

By Cody Taylor

As the NBA season reaches its halfway point, teams out of the playoff race will begin to think about next season. With the trade deadline just over a month away, teams will begin trading off players for long-term assets and financial flexibility. In that same light, front offices will begin evaluating their coaching staff to determine if there is a better candidate out there that could lead them in the right direction. The process of bringing in a new head coach often takes place during the offseason when the coach can bring in his own staff and start looking for players that best suits his system. While head coaching positions could open up during the season, teams rarely bring in their long-term head coach mid-season and instead opt to promote an assistant until the end of the season.

This list looks at some of the best candidates currently not coaching. While we’re just focused on coaches who are unemployed, it’s worth noting that assistant coaches like Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan and Lawrence Frank could be mentioned as possible candidates down the road too.

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What Should the Celtics Do With All Their Draft Picks?

By Jessica Camerato

Asset (noun): a valuable person or thing; something that is owned by a person, company, etc.

Front office executives stay tight-lipped on a lot of business matters. But Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn’t hide his feelings when it comes to one issue: the value of accumulating draft picks.

“Draft picks are always tradable, players are not,” he replied when asked if there is such a thing as too many picks on Monday. “Draft picks are always assets until sometimes they’re drafted, until they become players, or until they become paid.”

The Celtics have stockpiled an arsenal of future picks into next five years. Some are their own, others are owed, and a handful are conditional. Regardless of where they end up falling in the draft order, the Celtics view them as movable pieces that have value far beyond the players they are eventually used to select.

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How to Reform NBA Contract Extensions

By Nate Duncan

In the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, a priority for the owners was allowing teams to retain their own free agents in the wake of the Big Three convergence in Miami. They instituted a number of key reforms to encourage this, such as limiting sign-and-trades and increasing the amount the prior team could offer in raises relative to a new team. But, as noted in this piece, they almost completely undermined their efforts by limiting extensions in an effort to save them from themselves.

Under the previous CBA, teams gave out ludicrous eight-figure per year extensions to veteran players like Richard Hamilton and Stephen Jackson long before they were due to become free agents. In an effort to curb this, the new CBA limited any extensions for veterans (i.e., players not coming off rookie contracts) to four years, including the current season. Because the “current season” in this instance continues until June 30, the longest extension that can ever be given before a player becomes a free agent is three years.

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No Retirement Plans For Andre Miller

By Lang Greene

The NBA game continues to evolve. Gone are the days of dominant centers roaming the lane. Those guys have been replaced with stretch big men who can play a variety of roles and positions. But while the game on the floor continues to change one aspect of the league still holds true: The NBA is a young man’s league and even the greatest of athletes ultimately fall victim to Father Time.

Wizards point guard Andre Miller,  in his 16th NBA season, has been able to defy time and still remains highly effective in a young man’s game. The 38 year old floor general, in the final year of his current deal worth $4.6 million will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

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Let’s Trade Jose Calderon

By Jesse Blancarte

Yesterday, Marc Stein and Ian Begley of ESPN reported that the New York Knicks are looking to trade Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani as they continue to clear out their roster.

Calderon was acquired by the Knicks last offseason in the deal that sent Tyson Chandler back to the Dallas Mavericks. Calderon, age 33, has had a disappointing season so far in New York. However, as Stein and Begley pointed out, many teams around the league still value Calderon, who is a great shooter, good distributor and brings veteran experience (including international experience with the Spanish National team).

Calderon may have a limited market, however, considering his age and the fact that he is set to make an average of $7,250,000 per season through 2016-17. The remaining two years on Calderon’s deal limits his value, especially in a league where it seems like every team is set at point guard. Another issue is that any team trading for Calderon cannot send any contracts that go beyond this season back to the Knicks as they are looking to shed salary for the upcoming offseason.

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Cap 101 – The Stretch Provision and Offset

By Eric Pincus

On December 22, the Detroit Pistons waived forward Josh Smith, despite owing him a total of $40.5 million for the 2014-15 season all the way through 2016-17.

Surprisingly, the Pistons have since gone on a tear, climbing to 11th in the Eastern Conference at 14-25, just two games behind the eighth-place Brooklyn Nets after a dreadful start to the season.

Smith hooked up with the Houston Rockets, on a one-year deal via their $2.077 million Bi-Annual Exception.  The Pistons used the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s stretch provision on Smith’s salary.

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Taking the Phoenix Suns to the Next Level

By Jabari Davis

With significantly higher expectations this season following Coach Hornacek’s surprisingly successful initial campaign as a head coach, the Phoenix Suns find themselves in a battle to remain within the playoff picture in an ever-so-tough Western Conference. At 23-18 and currently in what would be the eighth seed, the Suns have relied heavily upon a high-energy and fast-paced, but balanced attack that has been strong enough to at least compete with opponents on most nights.

The million-dollar question around the Valley of the Sun is whether they will use some of their backcourt and swingman depth in order to at least attempt to not only place more distance between themselves and other teams in pursuit of what will eventually be the final playoff spot (the Nuggets are 3.5 games back, but the New Orleans Pelicans trail Phoenix by just one game in the loss column and the Oklahoma City Thunder are lurking close by as well), but also propel this scrappy bunch into a realistic discussion with some of the West’s stronger competition? It’s one thing to beat or compete with a team that’s in the midst of three games in four nights in January, but an entirely different proposition when evaluating whether the Suns are strong enough to beat some of the West’s ‘elite’ in a seven-game series.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

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At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

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Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

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NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor

James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor

Lang Greene

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The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.

But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.

All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.

The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.

While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.

Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.

“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.

When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”

Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.

“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”

Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.

The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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