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Game 5 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz

Joe Johnson turned back the block and willed Utah to victory in Game 4. Now the series moves back to L.A. for a crucial Game 5.

James Blancarte

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Blake Griffin is out for the series, Rudy Gobert returned for Game 4 and Gordon Hayward only managed to play in nine minutes due to food poisoning on Sunday night. Each team needed a boost in production from one or several role players with key guys injured or limited. The Los Angeles Clippers got that boost from Jamal Crawford, who finally had a breakout performance in the postseason. However, Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson stepped up for the Utah Jazz and led their team to a 105-98 victory on Sunday night.

Joe Johnson was the hero in this game for Utah, posting 28 points, five rebounds, five assists and one steal, while shooting 12-17 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc. His box score stats are impressive but it was his fourth-quarter performance that is the real story of the game. With Hayward out of the game, Johnson went into vintage “Iso Joe” mode. The Clippers deployed ace defender Luc Mbah a Moute to slow down Johnson but even he couldn’t slow down the veteran forward.

Johnson scored 11 straight points during Utah’s fourth-quarter run, punctuated by a pull-up jumper that gave Utah a 91-90 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the game. Johnson then started dishing out timely assists to teammates as the Clippers scrambled their defenders to keep Mbah a Moute on Johnson. With a little over two minutes left, Johnson got Mbah a Moute caught on a pick, leaving him one-on-one with J.J. Redick. Mbah a Moute left Hood at the three-point line to switch back onto Johnson. Johnson swung a quick pass to a wide-open Hood, who buried the three-pointer. Hood then came back on the next possession and got another bucket, extending Utah’s lead to seven with a minute and a half remaining in the game.

Johnson’s fourth quarter performance may have been the story of the game, but there were other significant factors from Game 4 that need to be noted as well.

The Jazz got Rudy Gobert back after he missed the first three games of the series with a knee injury. Gobert was effective in his return, contributing 15 points, 13 rebounds, one assist and two blocks in 24 minutes of action. Gobert looked decently mobile and seemed to get more comfortable as the game progressed. If he can maintain this level of play, or even improve on it, he is going to be a big boost for the Jazz moving forward after missing the first three games of the series.

Hood notched 18 points and his three of his five attempts from downtown. However, he struggled with his shooting overall, going just 6-16 from the field. Hood had plenty of open looks, but simply missed several of them. However, Hood hit some big shots down the stretch and was a difference-maker for the Jazz in Game 4.

Aside from Johnson, the biggest contributor of the night for Utah was Ingles. Ingles has played well this series and notched eight points, a career-high 11 assists, six rebounds, two steals and one block in 38 minutes of action. Ingles was extremely effective as a ball-handler and playmaker for Utah’s offense, often finding Gobert for easy looks at the basket. Ingles’ continues to play solid defense while facilitating Utah’s offense, which has been a major factor in this series.

While Utah ultimately won Game 4, the Clippers got some nice performances from key players as well.

Chris Paul was his usual self, contributing 27 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists and one steal while shooting 10-21 from the field and 1-6 from beyond the arc. Paul was a matchup problem for the Jazz most of the night and generated easy looks for teammates consistently. However, he wasn’t able to maintain the Clippers’ lead in the fourth quarter as Johnson and the Jazz caught fire at just the right time.

Jamal Crawford also stepped up in Game 4, posting 25 points, one rebound and two assists while shooting 9-13 from the field and 5-7 from three. He hit his first five shots (3-3 from beyond the arc) missing his first shot towards the end of the second quarter. It’s unfortunate for Los Angeles that they couldn’t capitalize on Crawford’s performance considering how inconsistent he and fellow guard J.J. Redick have been in this series. Speaking of Redick, he struggled again, going just 3-11 from the field. He struggled to create space between himself and Utah’s long wing-defenders and couldn’t knock down the few open looks he managed to get in Game 4. Redick has been a major catalyst for the Clippers’ offense for several years, so he’ll need to get his shot back on track if Los Angeles hopes to pull advance past Utah.

Now the series heads back to Los Angeles with the teams tied 2-2. With Gobert back, Hayward recovering from his illness and Ingles and Johnson clicking, Utah should feel very confidence about their chances in this series. The Clippers will look to bounce back behind the efforts of Paul and DeAndre Jordan, who was effective in Game 4 but often looked fatigued and unable to give consistent effort on defense. Los Angeles too can feel confident in the fact that they controlled most of Game 4 and but for a vintage performance from Johnson would likely have a commanding 3-1 lead in this series. However, they’ll need another big time performance from guys like Crawford, Redick or someone else outside of Paul.

Who Wins Game 5?

Utah has the momentum heading into Game 5, but the Clippers should benefit from a return to their home court. Behind another strong performance from Paul, a more consistent effort from Jordan and more effective defense from Mbah a Moute, the Clippers will take a narrow victory in Game 5.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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NBA AM: 50 NBA Predictions for 2017-2018

As he always does, Joel Brigham makes 50 predictions for the forthcoming NBA season.

Joel Brigham

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If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making NBA predictions that end up being correct right about half the time. Every season for as long as I’ve been writing about basketball, I’ve made 50 predictions about the forthcoming season, only to return to those predictions in the spring and berate myself for believing the things I believed back in the fall. It’s an annual emotional rollercoaster.

Well, it’s the fall, which means regardless of whether or not readers agree with these predictions, most can at least see how a good deal of them could come to fruition. Flip a coin, though, because last season I only went 21-for-42. Here’s to hoping I do a little better than that this season.

On to this season’s NBA predictions:

Individual Predictions

1. James Harden will lead the league in scoring this season.

2. Both he and Russell Westbrook will top 30 points per game.

3. DeAndre Jordan will lead the league in rebounds.

4. John Wall will be the only player in the league to average 10.0 or more assists per game.

5. J.J. Redick will be among the top eight players in the league in terms of three-pointers made.

6. Rudy Gobert will lead the league in blocks.

Team Predictions

7. Once again, the Boston Celtics (not the Cleveland Cavaliers) will post the best record in the Eastern Conference.

8. Last season the Houston Rockets broke the record for most three-pointers attempted in an NBA season. They’re going to break that record again.

9. The Golden State Warriors are going to win a ton of games in 2017-2018, as they always do, but once again they will fall just a touch shy of 70 wins.

10. The Northwest Division (Denver, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Portland and Utah) will have more collective wins than any other division in basketball.

11. The Minnesota Timberwolves will win at least 20 more games than they did last season.

12. The three top scoring teams in the league all will be in the Western Conference.

Rookie Predictions

13. Dennis Smith will be Rookie of the Year.

14. He also is going to lead all rookies in scoring.

15. Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball both will average more than 6.5 assists per game.

16. Simmons and Philadelphia teammate Markelle Fultz both will be on the All-Rookie First Team.

17. John Collins will lead all rookies in rebounds and blocks.

18. Lauri Markkanen will lead all rookies in made three-pointers.

19. Jordan Bell will be this year’s most successful second-rounder.

Playoff Predictions

20. One game or fewer will determine which team will be the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs and which team will have the least ping pong balls in the lottery that year.

21 Milwaukee will be a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and will have homecourt advantage in the first round.

22. Philadelphia does make the postseason, but as a seventh or eighth seed.

23. For the fourth season in a row, it will be the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers playing in the NBA Finals.

24. The Golden State Warriors will (once again) win the NBA championship.

Awards Predictions

25. Giannis Antetokounmpo will win the MVP award this year. With LeBron James likely being more restful than ever in the regular season and Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden deferring more often to other superstars on their respective teams, Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard have the clearest road to individual dominance this year. Something tells me Giannis is on the precipice of doing some truly amazing things, both physically and statistically.

26. Kawhi Leonard will win Defensive Player of the Year. His streak was broken by Draymond Green a year ago. He’ll get it going again with a win in 2018.

27. Brad Stevens will win NBA Coach of the Year.

28. J.R. Smith is going to win Sixth Man of the Year. This award typically values scorers on good teams, and that’s exactly what J.R. is to going to be this year. If he had to get booted to the reserves, he may as well be the best one, right?

29. The Most Improved Player typically is someone who goes from being good to being elite, and that guy this year looks like it will be Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis or Nikola Jokic. For the sake of settling on one, I’ll say Porzingis.

30. Danny Ainge will win Executive of the Year. Getting his hands on Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward without giving up much and landing a top rookie prospect in Jayson Tatum is about as good as it gets.

Trade Predictions

31. After finding himself in just about every single Phoenix Suns trade rumor over the course of the last three seasons, this is the year Eric Bledsoe finally gets moved midseason.

32. There are big questions surrounding New Orleans’ roster, which likely will lead to some DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors. The Pelicans will not, however, trade the All-Star big man.

33. In the midst of their rebuild, Atlanta will try to move Kent Bazemore, the most expensive player on their roster. They will not succeed in this.

34. There has been a Kenneth Faried mention in the trade predictions section of this article seemingly every year, so let’s keep it going. This is the year Faried finally gets shipped from Denver.

35. Jahlil Okafor will be a Chicago Bull by the end of the season.

36. Portland’s frontcourt is absolutely loaded. As such, at least one of their big men will get shipped by the deadline.

37. At least one of the Lopez twins will not finish the season on the same team he started the year playing with.

38. Cleveland’s “Brooklyn Pick,” despite being a hot commodity with the potential to bring in another star player for a championship run, will not change hands. That pick stays with Cleveland.

Miscellaneous Predictions

39. The Chicago Bulls have led the league in attendance for years, but not this season. If the Chicago Bears still are going to have tickets available on game day, so are the Bulls. This season, Cleveland leads the league in attendance for the first time ever.

40. The Atlanta Hawks will win the draft lottery.

Insiders Predictions

For the second year in a row, my fellow writers at Basketball Insiders will bear the burden of making these predictions, and they too will be held accountable when we revisit these in the spring. Here’s a look at some of their bold predictions:

41. Joel Embiid will play at least 70 games this year. (Dennis Chambers).

42. Joel Embiid will not play 60 games. In the games he does play he will look awesome and put up amazing stats, but his absences will ultimately cost the Sixers the playoffs. (Steve Kyler).

43. Marcus Smart will shoot at least a league average percentage on deep balls this season. (Shane Rhodes).

44. Giannis Antetokounmpo will become the first player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in back-to-back seasons (Tommy Beer).

45. This will be the first time in Carmelo Anthony’s Hall of Fame career that he will not average 20 points per game. (Lang Greene).

46. The Wizards will finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Brian Fritz).

47. Blake Griffin and Danillo Gallinari both will play in at least 60 games this year. (Jesse Blancarte).

48. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons each will have at least ten triple doubles this season. (Michael Scotto).

49. Bogdan Bogdanovic will finish among the top three in Rookie of the Year voting. (Benny Nadeau).

50. The Memphis Grizzlies will miss the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. (Spencer Davies).

***

You’re going to read a lot of predictions articles this time of year, but I’m the only one who will come to these predictions at the end of the season to gauge how smart (or, more likely, how completely and utterly stupid) I was in making some of these. Check back in June for the wrap-up, and here’s to another great season of NBA basketball!

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