There’s something about the negative reputation of the first round of the NBA Playoffs that’s bothersome. In an impatient sports world that just wants to get to the Finals, the path it takes to get there often gets overlooked.
With so many storylines surrounding this year’s opening slate of matchups, the association has so far delivered (and then some) with a highly competitive and highly entertaining start to the postseason.
As the remaining series close out this weekend heading into the conference semi-finals, there are plenty of moments to look back on.
Not that any team making the playoffs should be taken lightly, but surely many of us were stunned by the Chicago Bulls blindsiding the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first two games at the Garden. How about your reaction to the Milwaukee Bucks stunning the Toronto Raptors up north to begin their series?
If that didn’t do it for you, then the Utah Jazz upsetting the Los Angeles Clippers after Rudy Gobert went down 13 seconds into Game 1 had to, right? The Atlanta Hawks have even held their own against the highly touted Washington Wizards.
Too frequently we collectively predict first-round winners without giving the opposition any fair chance or consideration. Nearly everyone is guilty of it, but people have to realize that these are the playoffs. Regardless of whether teams enter on a six-game winning streak or on a four-game skid, it’s a brand new ball game after the regular season.
Scrolling through social media, you’ll find jargon such as “[Team X] should have blown them out” or “They barely got past [Team Y]. You think they’re worthy of being a contender?”
Sorry, but that’s a horribly generic and shortsighted take. Even the greatest of teams have been tested before making their way to the NBA Finals. Some teams are simply better matchups than others, so it doesn’t make sense to definitively use this type of analysis as a barometer for what may happen in later rounds. That, and each team in the postseason is highly motivated to achieve the same goal, so every series is going to be a hard-fought struggle (at least to some extent).
The intensity and gamesmanship between players is a staple of the playoffs, year-in, and year-out. On the court is one thing, but the subtle jabs while speaking to the press take it to the next level.
Just look at how Markieff Morris caught the attention of Paul Millsap by calling him a crybaby after Game 3. That series could now potentially go seven games.
After a dust-up in Game 4, Jimmy Butler dubbed Marcus Smart a fake tough guy and the Celtics have now won three straight after falling down two games to none.
Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley went at it all series long and spoke their peace on the matter after the Houston Rockets eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It doesn’t just stop at the players. Following up another loss on the road with his Memphis Grizzlies behind two games, David Fizdale presented some damning evidence to the media regarding unfair officiating. The “take that for data” quote was such a hit as soon as he left the room that it became a t-shirt less than 12 hours later.
Not only was it a memorable moment for the league but, more importantly, it galvanized his players and gave the team new life. Sure, they came up short against Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, but they gave every ounce of fight in them until the final whistle. Fiz is certainly a made man in that city.
Fizdale was one of two coaches to get fired up over the referees. After that same game where Butler fired off on Smart, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg complained about how unstoppable Isaiah Thomas is when he’s allowed to pick up his dribble. After dropping Game 5 in Boston, he was irked when a reporter referred back to it and stormed away from the media area.
It’ll be intriguing to see the next moments at the podium in round two with new matchups and fresh rivals.
Blast From The Past And Budding Superstars
Joe Johnson’s re-emergence in the playoffs has been such a joy to watch. At 35 years old, the man Quin Snyder refers to as “Joe Jesus” has not one, but two clutch go-ahead shots against the Clippers on their own home floor. Don’t look now, but the Jazz could close this thing out Friday night and he’s an enormous part of that.
Before going down with an unfortunate thumb injury, Rajon Rondo was carving up his former team as a floor general. Tony Parker took it upon himself to lock in offensively to help his team. When the Hawks have needed him most, Jose Calderon has given Mike Budenholzer some crucial minutes. Even Deron Williams found the fountain of youth and looked like his old spry self for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their sweep against the Indiana Pacers.
These guys are proving that they still have a ton left in the tank. The future, though, looks as bright as ever.
It goes without saying that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a top five player in the NBA very, very soon. His sheer dominance in the Toronto series alone showed that. Dwane Casey made a lineup adjustment that “slowed down” the Greek Freak, but it only took a couple of games for him to get right back into the swing of things. P.J. Tucker said himself that he is nearly impossible to stop, and once Antetokounmpo develops that outside shot more, he’ll take an even further leap toward greatness.
There’s another star in the making down in Atlanta, though. As the Hawks go deeper into their youth movement, they’ve given the reigns to Dennis. He hasn’t disappointed one bit. In his first five games as a starter in the postseason, the 23-year-old is the fourth-youngest player in league history to average at least 24 points and seven assists per game on over 45 percent shooting from the field.
Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas are the only players to do this at an age younger than Schroder, but keep in mind that one of those three had started in a playoff series before. This is Schroder’s first series ever with that kind of responsibility. As for other point guard names that join him, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton and his rival John Wall have accomplished this feat.
It’s a small sample size, but the sky could be the limit for the up-and-coming Schroder.
NBA Daily: Things To Watch Heading Into Trade Season
Two of our experts identify four teams and four players to keep an eye on during trade season.
With memories of DeMarcus Cousins being told that he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during his postgame availability at last season’s All-Star game, the NBA moved the trade deadline up.
This season, the deadline falls on February 8, and all there has been a lot of discussion leading into next month’s deadline.
We asked Moke Hamilton and Lang Greene to weigh in on some items to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.
Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors
This year’s trade deadline will probably lack big names getting moved, but teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets are within sniffing distance of a playoff berth for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if their respective front offices swing for the fences to achieve the goal.
There are three ways to improve a roster or prepare for the future in the NBA. The methods are free agency, trade and the annual draft. Trade deadline deals are risky. There are a lot of deals each season which involve players on the verge of hitting the free agent market. Teams acquiring these take the risk that they’re only “renting” those guys until the season concludes.
At the end of the day, though, the two biggest names we may see moved are Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Favors.
Mirotic has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but the fourth-year forward is by far having his best season as a professional despite his minutes remaining flat. On a per 36 minute basis, Mirotic is averaging 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.
Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis made headlines before the season for their fight, which led plenty of missed time for the forward. Mirotic’s name has been mentioned on the block ever since this incident, but it’s clear the Bulls have integrated him back into their rotation fully. Still, the team is believed to simply be waiting for the right time and trade partner and that Mirotic’s days in Chicago are numbered.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls plan to be patient in fielding calls for Mirotic, while the player has deflected all talks to his representatives.
“I didn’t talk to [the Bulls’ front office recently],” he said. “Probably my agents are talking, so I don’t know so far what’s going on, but I know my name is going to be out there. I’m doing my job, and I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s best for the team.”
Mirotic has a no-trade clause built into his contract and would have to waive it prior to completing any deal, unless the Bulls were to guarantee the team option on the final year of his contract for 2018-19. Don’t count on that, though.
With respect to Favors, he battled injuries the past two seasons but has remained relatively healthy to begin this campaign. The forward is shooting a career high from the field, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah Jazz have dangled him in trade talks since the beginning of the season.
Favors was one of the central parts of the Deron Williams trade years ago, but could be expendable because of the emergence of center Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward is on the books for $12.5 million this season and was most recently linked to the aforementioned Mirotic in trade talks between Utah and Chicago.
– Lang Greene
DeAndre Jordan and Paul George
Heading into deadline season, there’s not much out there to suggest that we’ll see any superstar-caliber players moved. With the likes of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving among the players that switched teams over the summer, it seems that most NBA teams that have difference-makers on their rosters are in construction mode—they’re trying to compete with the Cavs or the Warriors.
The two superstar players who merit some discussion, though, are DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.
With respect to Jordan, the Clippers find themselves in a very peculiar situation. With Chris Paul having defected to the Houston Rockets, it’s easy to conclude that the Clippers are no longer a true contender. Still, they’ve played so well over the past few weeks (including scoring a victory over Paul and his Rockets) that it seems a difficult proposition to proactively pull the plug.
Still, though, as written in this past Sunday’s column, it’s time for the Clippers to trade Jordan, mainly because a team that is heading toward a rebuild can’t afford to lose a player of his caliber for nothing, and that’s quite possible unless the Clippers fork over a max contract to Jordan this summer. The proposition wouldn’t be wise, particularly because it could cost the Clippers a first round pick in one of the upcoming drafts.
He’s definitely a player that should be watched.
Paul George, on the other hand, doesn’t appear likely to be headed out of Oklahoma City. The team is reportedly committed to keeping him for the duration of the season, with the hope being that the Thunder will get their act together and win a round or two in the playoffs. With the team still hovering around .500, it seems a long shot.
There are some, however, that believe that the Thunder should at least see what might be available to them in exchange for George, especially with the team trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That’s especially true with Oladipo closing in on what certainly appears to be his first All-Star selection.
– Moke Hamilton
Dallas Mavericks Are Open For Business
The Dallas Mavericks are in a clear rebuild and the prospect of making the playoffs is more dream than reality this season, but the team does have some things going for it.
The Mavs have roughly $13 million in cap space, which puts them in a prime spot to acquire talent at the deadline without giving up any of their players in return. In fact, Mark Cuban went on the record and said exactly that.
“I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. “We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play.”
The Mavericks have the second-lowest payroll in the league, but Cuban has been known to spend money to acquire relevant talent. The team hasn’t had much success in in attracting free agents in recent years, and with the Hall of Fame career of Dirk Nowitzki coming to an end, the team is undoubtedly looking to retool.
– Lang Greene
Cavs and Lakers Each Likely To Do Something
It’s a poorly kept secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have had their sights set on acquiring a superstar or two this coming summer. With Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James among those who could hit the market in July, the Lakers have quite a bit of incentive to try to rid themselves of the contracts of Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson.
Where things get interesting for the Lakers is with the emergence of several of their young players this season. Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and to a lesser extent Josh Hart have each given the team impressive minutes this season. If the Lakers feel they have a real shot at signing James and, say, DeMarcus Cousins, it may be enough for them to package Deng and/or Clarkson with one of their promising young players and perhaps a future draft pick.
It’s certainly something I’d keep my eyes on.
And speaking of future draft picks, with the Cavs not taking their standing in the Eastern Conference for granted, one can only wonder the extent to which the Nets’ first round pick this coming season is burning a hole in their pockets. Aside from the Nets pick, though, the Cavs do own their own first round pick, which could be enough for them to pry the likes of a player like Mirotic or Favors from their current team.
There has also been some conjecture revolving around the availability of Tristan Thompson, with one interesting scenario having the Cavs and Clippers at least contemplating a trade involving Thompson and Jordan.
The Cavs and Lakers each have too much at stake to not do something.
– Moke Hamilton
Only 21 Days To Go…
With the trade deadline exactly three weeks from today, talks will certainly heat up.
For now, though, the Mavs, Cavs and Lakers appear to be the teams most involved in conversations, with Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Favors and DeAndre Jordan among those most likely to be dealt.
Young Glad To Reunite With McGee, Embracing Chance With Warriors
Spencer Davies chats with JaVale McGee and Nick Young about the sharpshooter’s first year with the Warriors.
You never forget where you started.
As first-round draft picks with only a year apart between them, Nick Young and JaVale McGee began their respective careers in our nation’s capital with the Washington Wizards.
That’s where a bond began. Despite a tumultuous four-year stay with an organization that never sniffed the playoffs and finished dead last in the Central Division three times in the span, the two remained close friends.
Almost a decade later, “Swaggy P” and “Pierre” are reunited. Only this time, it’s with the NBA’s defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“Just shows,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve both been in this league for a long time and people didn’t think we was gonna make it this far and that’s a blessing. We’ll continue to do it and prove people wrong. From the bottom to the top, you know what I’m sayin’?”
McGee agrees wholeheartedly. Winning his first title with the Warriors last summer, he’s learned quite a few things about the healthy climate within the organization that Young, at first, was surprised by.
“It’s definitely a different environment,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Even when he came here, he asked certain questions of stuff he could and couldn’t do just because the environment that we used to be in was real restrictive of things that really didn’t have to do with basketball.
“Here it’s a player’s team, so they do a really good job of catering to us.”
In regards to his on-court fit with Golden State, McGee feels that Young has adjusted accordingly throughout the season.
“I feel like he’s fit in well,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Definitely got his conditioning right and he’s pretty good getting in the system, figuring out the screen system that we have here, so he’s doing a pretty good job.”
Though he hasn’t played as much as he’s used to, Young is truly enjoying his transition with the Warriors. He says it’s been the most fun he’s had in his career.
“Just being in the winning circle,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Being around good teammates, good people and just competing for a championship man. We fightin’ for something big. It’s my first time being a part of something like this.”
As for what’s stood out to him about Steve Kerr’s system, it’s been the unselfishness from everybody on the roster, coaches and players alike.
“They embrace me good,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the one thing I like is a good team, good teammates. Pretty much just everybody knowing their roles. Nobody’s bringing negative energies to the locker room and it’s just a good vibe.”
Once asked about who the best shooter on the team is, Young went with Kerr as his answer. He told Basketball Insiders that he’s “still going with Steve,” but probably anybody else would have to give Stephen Curry the nod.
Curry’s been playing out of his mind this year. Kevin Durant’s done the same. There have been multiple times where one or the other has been out due to rest or, most recently, nagging injuries. It’s allowed for others to step in and get some extra minutes, and Young’s been the beneficiary of that multiple times.
So with Curry in and Durant out or vice versa, how would he compare and contrast the periods?
“It’s a different game,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Of course, different styles. Both of ‘em draw so much attention that leaves guys like me open, but when one of ‘em’s out we’ve still got enough depth to keep up with anybody.”
Recently after Curry scored 45 points in three quarters against the Los Angeles Clippers and didn’t even play in the fourth, Young was baffled. His only explanation for the outburst was that he was from another planet.
And yes, Young believes Curry’s “got a shot,” as does Durant, when it comes to the MVP conversation because of where the Warriors are at this point of the season.
The belief goes both ways. Just as Young is ecstatic watching his teammates succeed, so are they for him. McGee recalls his friend’s debut for Golden State at Oracle Arena on opening night.
It was a night of celebration for the Bay Area, as the crowd cheered during the pre-game championship ceremony to commemorate the team. Young ended up dropping 23 points on 8-for-9 from the field in his first game for the Dubs. The Houston Rockets spoiled the party with a win, but the moment was special for the two.
“I was excited,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “I always get excited when he’s out there scoring and doing his thing. I’m always happy for him. That’s my friend, long-time friend, and it was dope that he could be out here.”
Though you wouldn’t know it by his performance, Young had butterflies in his stomach before it all started.
“Ah man it was unbelievable,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. First time playing for the Warriors opening night. Had my family there. It was ring night, so I didn’t think I was gonna play that much, but I got an opportunity and I just took advantage.”
Since that game, Young hasn’t eclipsed the 20-point mark. But to his defense, that first game was his season-high in minutes thus far. Kerr understands the depth of his team makes it difficult for him to get consistent playing time, but he’s taken it in stride and been a good teammate.
But we all know how he shoots the rock when he finds a groove. So how many games like the opener does he have in store for us?
“I don’t know,” Young told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “I just gotta get hot, so it could be any night.”
And whenever that night comes, expect to see him smiling as he drains those buckets.
NBA Daily: Are The HEAT Getting Into The Fray?
Things in the NBA trade world are starting to heat up, and there are some new situations worth watching as the NBA trade market starts to take shape.
The Latest On The Trade Front
With the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline ticking ever so closer, there are a few stories worth watching as teams start to zero in on the changes they may consider making.
Clippers Not Ready To Blow It Up
For most of the season, there has been talk in NBA circles and the media that the Clippers would likely move on from center DeAndre Jordan. While that still seems to be more likely than not at this point, the message from the Clippers’ side of things is they are not ready to blow up the team, and moving off Jordan is far from assured.
The narrative from around the Clippers is they are going to evaluate the team a little closer to the deadline and see what’s really available to them, but until then they seem more than happy to see if this team can actually compete, which they have been doing.
A league source close to the situation said recently that as much as Clipper fans might want to see the team blown up, ownership and senior leadership does not seem open to that concept at all. In fact, they believe that its better to be competitive and one player away than trying to go through the teardown route, knowing that no one is bailing out their $119 million roster commitment.
The Clippers invested heavily into forwards Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari this past summer, and the belief is that they will invest even more into guard Lou Williams.
Equally, the prevailing thought on Jordan is that while he does have a Player Option for free agency in July, there isn’t much beleif that he’ll land anything close to the $24.1 million he is owed next season, making it more likely he opts into his deal than walks away.
There are no shortage of teams hovering around the Clippers if they opt to change course. The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets both have eyes for Jordan if the Clippers opt to deal, while several teams seem keen on Williams, who is on an ending deal and would have Bird Rights for a team with limited cap flexibility. There has been talk that a couple of teams have had introductory talks on Griffin. However, it seems highly unlikely the Clippers seriously consider those situations.
If the Clippers wanted to blow up the team, it seems there are options for them, but the talk from the Clippers side is they don’t seem to be as open to the idea as some would like them to be.
Want A Veteran? Kings Have Some
The Sacramento Kings have told their veterans that they are going to start focusing more and more playing time on the younger players and that as many as three of the proven vets may not see action on a night to night basis.
There has been talk for weeks that guard George Hill is unhappy and seeking an exit from the Kings. However, his injury history and whopper of a salary seems to make it unlikely that he and the Kings will find a trade.
Veterans Vince Carter and Zach Randolph have handled the situation better, but league sources said it very possible both could be moved before the deadline, which apparently was suggested to both when they signed back in July.
The Kings have also been sniffing around for deals involving center Kosta Koufos and guard Garrett Temple; both have Player Options next season, which makes their value tough for the Kings, as most teams don’t value the uncertainty well.
Sources close to the situation said the Kings seem to be trying to help their veterans find better situations, especially as they are falling out of the rotation.
One long-time agent with a player on the roster commended the Kings for being smart about the situation, saying they seem to be going out of their way to try and help resolve the situation. Time will tell if there is a real market for any of those players and their somewhat hefty contracts.
Mirotic Has Veto Power, Sort Of
The Chicago Bulls have had the ability to trade forward Nikola Mirotic for a few days now, as he was one of the players who became trade-eligible on January 15. League sources said the Bulls had gotten pretty far down the road with both the Utah Jazz, on a deal centered on the expiring contract of Derrick Favors, and with the Detroit Pistons.
It’s unclear who the Pistons were really offering; there had been reports that the Pistons were dangling rookie Luke Kennard as the juice of a deal, with possibly Jon Leuer and his $10.4 million salary being the cap dollars included to make it work under the cap.
The Bulls seem to be holding out for a first-round draft pick in a Mirotic deal. However, league sources say the real hold up may be Mirotic himself.
The Bulls did a creative contract structure with Mirotic in that he has a team option in year two of the deal. Unless the Bulls exercise that option, Mirotic has veto rights. If the Bulls pick up that option, something league sources said Mirotic’s camp is pushing for, the veto power comes off the table, and the Bulls can completely control the process.
There has been considerable talk that Mirotic wants out of Chicago, but it seems some business may be holding up a potential deal.
It was never likely that the Bulls were going to immediately trigger a deal for Mirotic, so the timing of this may simply be the poker of deal-making in the NBA.
There is also something to be said about how teams would value Mirotic as a potential ending contract, versus a player with one more fully guaranteed year.
Equally, the Bulls haven’t closed the phones on offers either. While Utah and Detroit seem motivated, the Bulls may be smart to wait a few more weeks and see who is willing to meet their true asking price before they decide to pick up the Mirotic option to control the process.
Reading what the Miami HEAT will really do is always tough. The HEAT have a long track record of misdirection and clandestine processes. That said there is growing talk that the HEAT are more than open to a trade involving center Hassan Whiteside, especially if would help them clear out his cap dollars.
Whiteside is owed $23.7 million this year and has a fully guaranteed $25.4 million salary next season, plus a $27.09 million Player Option after that. That’s big money for almost everyone in the league.
The HEAT are not fire selling Whiteside, but there is a growing sense that if Whiteside could be moved for the right combination of ending contracts and upside youth, the HEAT would explore it.
This becomes interesting when you consider the Milwaukee Bucks have been after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and that Cleveland Cavaliers have been linked to Jazz big man Derrick Favors.
Making a deal for a salary of Whiteside’s size would be massively tough for both the Bucks and the Cavs, but considering both ownership groups seem to be looking for a big splashy move, Whiteside could be the consolation prize if neither of the first options works out.
A Milwaukee deal for Jordan was said to be built around John Henson and Mirza Teletovic, who may be forced to medically retire due to a second recurrence of blood clots in his lungs. A Bucks deal would also likely include some combination of rookie scale players such as Thon Maker, Rashad Vaughn or D.J. Wilson, according to sources.
While on the surface none of that seems overly enticing, would clearing that kind of space be appealing to the HEAT? It does not seem to be for the Clippers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been sniffing around deals offering up both Tristan Thompson and guard Iman Shumpert. The inclusion of the Cavaliers’ own first-round draft pick was mentioned earlier in the season when the Cavs were linked to Jordan and the Clippers. Is that enough value for the HEAT? Equally, the challenge for the Cavs is they have set up the roster with a ton of expiring players, which makes sense with the uncertainty of LeBron James’ future in Cleveland. Do the Cavs want to be holding Whiteside for two years after a potential James exit?
Of all the things being talked about in NBA circles, this one is interesting to watch, not only because the HEAT seems to be willing to deal, but because Whiteside could be the answer to serious problems for good teams vying for a legitimate shot at the NBA Finals, especially this year.
Dallas Is Open For Business
The Dallas Mavericks are open for business. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed as much to reporters, saying the Mavericks would be open to leveraging their potential cap space next summer if it returned the right assets.
The Mavericks have several ending contracts they are dangling and seem to be looking for not only a promising rookie scale player, but future draft picks.
The Mavericks have held onto some salary cap holds to technically keep them above the salary cap line, but they could renounce those holds and get under the cap now. That cap flexibility makes them interesting to watch, as they could absorb up to roughly $13 million in salary before including ending deals like Josh McRoberts, Devin Harris, and Nerlens Noel, who has veto rights on a trade.
Historically the Mavericks have done a deal every year at the deadline. With some much flexibility, they could be the centerpiece to a big transaction because they can absorb cap dollars others teams simply can’t.
Keep in mind that trades and trade talks are a fluid thing; what can be a very hard “No” today can turn into a “Yes” quickly, so until something is done, keep in mind, it’s not done no matter how much it may make sense.
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