The road to the NBA Finals continues as the second round of the postseason has officially begun.
For the second straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the Toronto Raptors in what was expected by many to be an Eastern Conference Finals rematch coming into the 2016-17 season.
The two teams will meet in the conference semi-finals instead, but that won’t take away from a series that will feature plenty of hard-nosed competition. On both sides, there are a few different faces that will make a big impact outside the stars of the show.
While new players may be a similarity between these ball clubs, their road to the next round was not. The Raptors were stunned by the up-and-coming Milwaukee Bucks and trailed two games to one after Game 3. That type of adversity forced Dwayne Casey’s hand to make a significant change in the starting lineup, and it worked to perfection.
By adjusting to the Bucks’ lengthy group of five, Toronto found new life. Norman Powell rose up to the challenge in his first games as a postseason starter. In those three games, the sophomore guard posted a net rating of 24.4 points per 100 possessions and posted the highest true shooting percentage (80.5) among all starters in the first round.
The move for Powell resulted in Jonas Valanciunas’ demotion to the bench, but it did wonders for him after he struggled early in the series. Playing with the second unit, the Lithuanian big man posted the highest net rating among bench players with 20 minutes of action or higher. He’s seen his field goal percentage jump nearly thirty percent on almost three fewer shot attempts per game.
These moves were critical for the comeback series win, and of course, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan held their end of the bargain. Serge Ibaka’s new home at the center position proved to be a smart fix as well. It took every ounce of energy in Toronto to come back and win that series, which can be a boost as far as confidence and team morale go.
What awaits the Raptors, though, is a well-rested and ready Cavaliers squad. After sweeping the Indiana Pacers and getting a week of rest, LeBron James and company will look to once again move on to their third straight conference finals by beating a familiar foe.
It all starts with defense, which wasn’t exactly perfect against in the first round, and closing out games with leads. The play of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will certainly play an instrumental factor in this series, especially having had the opportunity to heal the knick-knack injuries both have endured.
J.R. Smith has been oddly bashful thus far in the playoffs, so there might be a more aggressive side of him that comes out for Cleveland. Tristan Thompson did a fine job on Myles Turner in round one by controlling the boards, and he’ll face another tough task with Ibaka.
The fight between these two teams should make for an exciting series, and the action starts on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
SEASON SERIES: CLE 3-1
Who Wins Game 1?
The last time the Raptors were in town, the Cavaliers were in a bad place. Before fan appreciation night, the wine-and-gold had limped through the final stretch of the regular season by losing three straight, and Toronto made it four with a blowout of Cleveland’s reserves.
“The North” was in a much different position with a four-game winning streak to end its year. Fast-forward to 19 days later and they’re back.
Ultimately, this game should be for the superstars to showcase their talents on the big stage, and that will happen. LeBron will make a plethora of highlight plays and probably have a few signature slams. Irving will dazzle in isolation with his amazing isolation skills. Lowry will make some ridiculously contested pull-up threes. DeRozan will be himself and knock down his trademark mid-rangers. We’ll see a bumping, bruising battle in the paint between Thompson and Ibaka.
But the battle of the benches is the most intriguing. According to NBA.com, these second units are the best in the league so far in the postseason at opposite ends of the floor. The Cavs are the top offensive team (127 ORTG) and the Raptors are the best defensive squad (98.1 DRTG) with their reserves on the court.
So maybe pay close attention to the matchup between Deron Williams and Cory Joseph, or the impact made from P.J. Tucker as a gritty on-ball defender. Kyle Korver was relatively quiet in his playoff series debut with the Cavaliers, and that could change. How will Tyronn Lue adjust to a 7-footer off the bench?
These are the scenarios to pay attention to throughout the series. The first game is the tone setter, though, so it’s hard to pick against the home team on a whole lot of rest. The Raptors bring forth a charge, but too much offensive firepower gives Cleveland a Game 1 victory.
NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role
The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.
The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.
On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.
Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.
“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .
Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.
Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.
“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.
In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.
Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.
“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”
If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.
Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.
“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”
After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.
Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.
Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd
The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bucks assistant coach Joe Prunty will be installed as interim coach, league sources tell ESPN. He will coach Bucks against Phoenix tonight.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2018
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17
Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.
It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.
There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
6. Hassan Whiteside
After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.
5. Anthony Davis
Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.
4. Josh Richardson
Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.
3. Kevin Durant
This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.
In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.
2. Joel Embiid
Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.
Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.
Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.
Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.
He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.
1. Paul George
Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.
Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.
“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.
“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”
Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.
“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”
That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.
Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.