The West Gets Wilder
By Bill Ingram
The Eastern Conference playoffs are going about as expected. The Miami HEAT are manhandling the Charlotte Bobcats, the Indiana Pacers’ struggles have continued and the middle brackets have been very competitive. In the Western Conference, however, things have been hot, heavy and strongly contested across the board. Overtime is almost expected when two West teams take the court, and most games have been decided either by an extra period or by key plays down the stretch. Saturday’s games were no different, as late-game heroics were the order of the day.
The biggest shot of the day came from none other than Vince Carter, who is little more than a footnote in Dallas these days. He brings it every night, but the stars of the team are Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, meaning Carter does most of his work without much fanfare. But that certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday, as he drained a three-pointer as time expired to give the Mavericks a 109-108 win and a 2-1 series lead over the visiting San Antonio Spurs.
How Far Can Wizards Advance?
By Alex Kennedy
Entering the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Washington Wizards were one of the biggest underdogs in the field. After winning just 44 games in the regular season and struggling with inconsistency throughout the year, the Wizards weren’t expected to defeat the Chicago Bulls in a seven-game series.
Now, four games into the first-round matchup, the Wizards lead the Bulls, 3-1. Washington has looked incredible early in the postseason, receiving huge contributions from a number of players.
The Wizards rely heavily on youngsters John Wall and Bradley Beal, but their backcourt duo is surrounded by experienced veterans such as Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Martell Webster among others. This balanced attack makes Washington very difficult to stop and has helped them overcome adversity throughout this series.
Studs and Duds From Week 2 of the Playoffs
By Moke Hamilton
As the hunt for the Larry O’Brien Trophy continues, the Indiana Pacers vs. San Antonio Spurs Finals that looked to be probable back in December is officially in trouble. Each of those respective teams enter Week 3 of their drive toward the 2014 NBA Finals trailing in their respective playoff series, while the story in both Houston and Brooklyn is one of missed opportunity and frustrating futility. The Oklahoma City Thunder have their hands full with the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Chicago Bulls must attempt to climb out of a hole that has proven to be too deep for the majority of teams in NBA History.
But alas, there can only be 10 of whom are called out for their performances (or lack thereof) through these playoffs.
Is The End For Donald Sterling Near?
By Steve Kyler
There are times in sports, especially as a sports writer and reporter where the stories we have to chase are not worth the effort. At Basketball Insiders we have made a pledge to stick to the news that affects the game. We do not chase DUI’s or altercations with girlfriends, we gladly concede the garbage to others. Not that covering those things are not important to some, but they simply are not what we care about. We care about basketball. We care about the things that materially affect basketball and how the game will be played. Over our years covering basketball we have taken some heat for not pouncing on a fringe story, but that’s simply not who we are as a group. We will gladly hand that off to those that are far better at digging in the garbage than we are.
So when news broke of a tape involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling spewing racially incentive comments that are downright demeaning and degrading, our initial response was that there wasn’t anything new here, mainly because of Sterling’s long track record of this sort of behavior. This wasn’t news so much as proof of what we’ve known for years. Water is wet, news at eleven.
Western Conference All-Underrated Team
By Jesse Blancarte
Players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the stars of the NBA are covered in depth and their accomplishments are micro-analyzed. This unfortunately leaves many other players under appreciated and unrecognized. Here are a few players in the Western Conference that have had a great season, but haven’t received the recognition they deserve. These players have been chosen for their overall impact, the amount of credit they receive relative to their team’s overall success and their value against the size of their contracts.
Owners, Players Applaud Silver
By Yannis Koutroupis
The collective NBA world held their breath today while awaiting Commissioner Adam Silver’s press conference and his announcement over what the punishment would be for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s damning tapes in which his racist views were exposed more vividly than ever. There was concern that Silver didn’t have the power to levy the kind of punishment everyone was calling for, that he would simply slap him on the wrist with an indefinite suspension and a fine that would barely make him blink. But, within seconds of his press conference beginning, Silver made it clear that nobody was more furious than he was over the matter.
An Open Letter To Donald Sterling
By Jabari Davis
Dear Donald Tokowitz (legally changed to Sterling):
Today’s judgment from NBA commissioner Adam Silver must have come as quite a surprise to you, just as it did to many of us. A $2.5 million fine may go relatively unnoticed by a billionaire such as yourself, but Silver’s decision to also impose a lifetime ban from the NBA would almost certainly grab the attention of even the most self-absorbed and detached individual imaginable.
While we can only praise and commend newly-appointed Commissioner Silver for possessing the courage to do what some of his predecessors and contemporaries failed to do in the past, it is not without consideration of how you might actually feel about the situation. Aside from any understandable bewilderment you may have surrounding how and why your “girlfriend” would allegedly turn the audio tapes over to a media outlet, it must have been equally as confusing to have the league finally react to one of the reprehensible acts you’ve managed to make a thing of commonplace throughout the years.
Pivotal Crossroad For Chicago Bulls
By Lang Greene
The Chicago Bulls entered this year’s playoffs as heavy favorites in their first round matchup versus the emerging Washington Wizards, but were unexpectedly dismantled in just five games. All things considered, despite the playoff flameout, the Bulls had a very solid season. Chicago managed to flirt with 50 wins even though former MVP Derrick Rose spent the majority of the campaign in designer suits and former All-Star forward Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland earlier in the season. Center Joakim Noah took home Defensive Player of the Year honors and others stepped up around him.
On the surface it would appear the team’s future is filled with promise. However, the summer of 2014 will be a pivotal time for the organization if it wants to be mentioned among the league’s elite and contend for a title in the years to come.
Examining the NBA’s Formerly Secret Constitution
By Nate Duncan
The Donald Sterling fiasco has shined an unexpectedly severe spotlight on a document most had never heard of until a few days ago. The NBA Constitution and By-Laws were secret league documents that suddenly captured the nation’s fascination since they governed the potential punishment of Sterling. These documents were kept so close to the vest that not even the players’ association appeared to know their full contents, as one of Kevin Johnson’s talking points on Sunday afternoon was a need to understand the full extent of the punishment the league could levy.
But as part of dealing with the Sterling situation and perhaps as part of a new era of transparency under Adam Silver, the league unexpectedly decided to release the entire Constitution and By-Laws on Tuesday. This was Christmas in April for CBA nerds for all the information it provided completely unrelated to the Sterling situation. Over the past 24 hours I conducted a quick review of the Constitution, and found a number of interesting provisions.
What’s Wrong With Kevin Durant?
By Susan Bible
An unexpected event is perilously close to making its way into the NBA history books in the very near future. If indeed Kevin Durant is named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the 2013-14 NBA season as projected, his Oklahoma City Thunder may have already been eliminated from the playoffs.
This has occurred only one other time since the league adopted its current playoff format 30 years ago. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks was named the league’s 2006-07 MVP on May 15, 2007; Dallas was eliminated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors (4-2) on May 3rd.
The Thunder are in a wild first-round battle with the Memphis Grizzlies, with four of the five contests going into overtime. The Grizzlies have come away with three wins and may end the Thunder’s season in the next meeting.
To say this is surprising is an understatement of considerable proportions. The Thunder were projected to at least make it to the Western Conference Finals, and maybe even best the Miami HEAT to capture the NBA title this season. All the pieces were in place with a healthy roster, tons of playoff experience, veteran leadership and a superstar in Durant at the helm.
So what’s happening?
Proved You Wrong: Wizards Postseason Success Not a Fluke
By Jessica Camerato
A 23-year-old leader who had never been to the playoffs, a second-year standout who wasn’t old enough to drive the last time the team made it out of the first round, a 12th-year big man who suffered a sprained MCL this season and a point guard two years shy of 40.
Their stars were too young and inexperienced, their veterans were too old. At least that’s how they looked on paper.
The Washington Wizards erased all judgments of age and experience with their attention-grabbing 4-1 first round upset over the Chicago Bulls. Aside from the Miami HEAT’s sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, they were only the team in the NBA to wrap up their series in five games.
Eastern Conference All-Underrated Team
By John Zitzler
The Eastern Conference may have been down this year, but there was still a nice crop of players outside of the usual suspects that had impressive seasons. These All-Underrated players were chosen based off their team’s overall success, their total contribution to that success and their personal performance throughout the regular season. While some of the players listed may be known commodities around the league, they still may not be receiving all the credit they deserve when measured against the impact they had for their teams.
Kevin Durant Delivers in Game 6
By Tommy Beer
This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “reliable:” able to be trusted to do or provide what is needed; able to be relied on. Giving the same result on successive trials…
Kevin Durant has started 447 games (out a possible 453) for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the past five years, and has averaged over 29 points per game in those contests – the highest scoring average in the entire league over this stretch. Earlier this season, From January 5-April 6, Durant went on a historical scoring binge. He surpassed Michael Jordan’s modern day record by scoring 25 or more points in 41 consecutive games. The multi-dimensional Durant also stuffed the stat sheet only a daily basis. In fact, Durant joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin and Elgin Baylor as just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 32 points, 7 rebounds, and five assists per game over the course of a full season. Durant also remained incredibly efficient. He joined Jordan as the only player since 1985 to average 32 points per game while also shooting above 50 percent from the floor.
And his remarkably consistent success certainly isn’t limited to the regular season. Over the Thunder’s last 50 playoff games, Durant is averaging 29.2 points, 8.2 assists, and four rebounds. He’s scored in double-figures in every postseason game he’s ever played in.
In many ways, Durant is the NBA epitome of “reliable,” which is why it was laughable to see the headline “Mr. Unreliable” plastered above a picture of Durant on the cover of The Oklahoman Thursday morning.
The Biggest Playoff Upsets in NBA History
By Joel Brigham
If the Atlanta Hawks and/or Dallas Mavericks win their series this weekend, they’ll be among a small handful of eight-seeds to topple one-seeds in the history of the NBA playoffs.
If Atlanta complete the series win over the once-mighty Pacers, for example, it will have to be considered one of the best playoff upsets ever considering Atlanta entered the postseason with only 38 regular seasons wins—the only team to make the final 16 not to have at least a .500 record.
San Antonio, meanwhile, is only a few years removed from losing a playoff series as a one-seed, and since it’s only happened four times before this season, they’d be the only team to ever get upset by an eight-seed twice.
Whatever happens, both eight-seeds have put up strong fights, and if they do beat the Pacers and Spurs, they’ll join this list of the great upsets in league history:
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.