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NBA AM: How Suspensions Affect Series

Draymond Green’s suspension is bad for Game 5, but history shows it likely won’t affect the series’ outcome.

Joel Brigham

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Twitter can attempt to #FreeDraymond all they want, but the fact of the matter is that the guy can’t seem to help himself when it comes to throwing low blows. After a certain number of flagrant fouls, suspensions happen. Don’t be mad at the scorekeepers, folks.

Regardless of how you feel about Green’s forthcoming suspension in Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals, we do know that Green’s absence gives Cleveland a great chance to extend the series. Whether they can win the last two with Green back in the lineup is a completely different story, but for now we’re looking at one of the best players in the league missing a potential series-clinching game on a suspension. The implications of this are pretty huge.

It is not, of course, the first time that a big-name player has been forced to miss an important playoff game due to suspension. Here’s a look at some of the most notable recent NBA playoff suspensions and what kind of an effect that suspension had on the outcome of the series:

J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2015 – Not that J.R. Smith is any stranger to postseason suspensions (he also was held out of a postseason game in 2013 for getting into it with Jason Terry, then of the Boston Celtics), but it was just a year ago that he found himself smack-dab in the middle of controversy for a nasty elbow that he delivered to the face of Celtics guard Jae Crowder. Considering the Cavaliers had a 21-point lead in the second half of a Game 4 that would eventually complete a second-round sweep of Boston, it was a deeply impulsive and irresponsible thing to do, and it resulted in a two-game suspension to start the Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls.

With Kevin Love out for the postseason after separating his shoulder in the Boston series and Kyrie Irving playing at less than 100 percent, Cleveland could have used Smith in those first two home games against the Bulls. Chicago looked great and stole Game 1 on the road with Smith not even in the building, but fortunately for the Cavaliers, they overcame Smith’s suspension and moved on to the Finals anyway.

Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies, 2014 – The Grizzlies without Randolph back in 2014 weren’t so lucky. Granted, it was “just” a first-round series, but four of the first five games in that series were overtime games, and coming into Game 6, Memphis headed home with a chance to clinch against a really tough OKC squad. Down by 17 halfway through the fourth quarter, though, rookie Steven Adams got under Randolph’s skin enough to get the big man to throw a punch. Rules are rules in the NBA, and making malicious contact with another player’s face or head means a one-game suspension, no questions asked. That means Randolph and his 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds average for the first six games of that series had to miss the deciding Game 7 in Oklahoma City. The Thunder won that game and the series.

Amar’e Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, Phoenix Suns | Robert Horry, San Antonio Spurs, 2007 – While we mostly remember “Big Shot Rob” Horry for the insane clutch shots he seemed to knock down in every NBA Finals he played in, one of the darker spots on his resume includes a nasty body check to reigning two-time MVP Steve Nash during Game 4 of the 2007 Western Conference Finals, which was enough to get himself and a couple of Phoenix Suns suspended in very controversial fashion.

The NBA had a rule that would suspend any player for stepping foot onto the court during an altercation, with the hopeful outcome being that bench-clearing brawls would become a thing of the past. Both Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw got some toes over the line in trying to see what happened with Nash on the sidelines, so upon review the league came down hard and took those two guys out of Game 5, along with Horry, naturally.

With two of Phoenix’s best players out of the lineup, San Antonio cut through the Suns like a hot knife through butter, and Phoenix would never recover in that series. That was supposed to be that year’s pseudo-Finals, but the series took a dark turn after that play and just never recovered.

Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks, 2006 – Mavericks fans would rather just pretend like 2006 never happened, which might be for the best considering all the awfulness they experienced in that year’s playoffs. Terry, in a scrum for a loose ball during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals that year, sent a below-the-belt fist-bump to San Antonio Spurs swingman Michael Finley. The refs missed it during the game but dished out the suspension after reviewing the footage. Terry did what he did, and it cost him a game.

That game just so happened to be Game 6, which the Mavericks lost, sending the series to a Game 7. Dirk Nowitzki’s herculean efforts saved them and pushed them to their first-ever Finals appearance, which would have been great had they not undergone one of the league’s most historic playoff collapses. Before all of that, though, the Terry suspension stung.

Larry Johnson, New York Knicks | Alonzo Mourning, Miami HEAT, 1998 – Anybody who grew up watching basketball in the early 1990s loved watching Zo and LJ play together for the Charlotte Hornets, but by 1998 they both had moved onto different teams that just so happened to face up against each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. With mere seconds to go in Game 4 of that series, Johnson and Mourning got tangled up in a way that led to actual, horrifying haymakers getting thrown. None of the punches actually landed, which is great news for the health of both of these gigantic men’s brains.

However, it wasn’t great news for their availability in Game 5, and since Mourning was so much more important to his team (Miami had no viable backup center that season), the Knicks cruised to a 17-point win Game 5.

Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, John Starks and Charlie Ward, New York Knicks, 1997 – The Knicks were the bad boys of the ‘90s and constantly found themselves mired in controversy following on-court boxing matches. The year before the big Zo/LJ fight, the Knicks and HEAT once again faced each other, this time in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It got ugly in the fourth quarter of Game 5, when Charles Oakley showed his frustration, down 10 in the fourth quarter with just a couple of minutes left to play, by shoving around Mourning enough to get himself ejected. A few moments later, all hell broke loose when HEAT forward P.J. Brown body-slammed Knicks point guard Charlie Ward into photographers’ row, as that led to just about every Knicks star clearing the bench (they had been sitting because the game was out of hand) and injecting themselves into the fray.

Ewing, Houston, Johnson, Starks and Ward all received one-game suspensions from the league, who actually had to stagger the missed games just to give New York a puncher’s chance the rest of the series. Some players were suspended for Game 6, and others for Game 7. Remarkably, no HEAT players were given any sort of suspension.

It’s no wonder those teams were at it again just a year later, even deeper into the playoffs.

Derek Harper, New York Knicks, 1994 – In the first year after Michael Jordan’s first retirement, the Bulls bumped up against an extremely motivated New York Knicks team, but somehow New York’s Derek Harper ended up in a fight with a Bulls reserve named Jo Jo English. It cleared the benches (right in front of Commissioner David Stern, no less), but only Harper and English received suspensions. New York lost Game 4 of that series without their starting point guard, but would go onto to win the series in seven games.

***

In all of these games, the team that lost the better player(s) lost the first game in which they were suspended, which bodes well for Cleveland in Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals. What doesn’t often happen, however, is a suspension completely turning around the momentum of a playoff series. It has happened before, but more often than not the shorthanded team takes it lumps and then gets back on track.

Knowing this year’s Warriors, it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s exactly what ends up happening in these Finals.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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