The Cleveland Cavaliers are on a tear this postseason, having won their first eight games without a single loss and posing a real threat of running straight to the NBA Finals with an undefeated record.
If they were able to pull off such a feat (and when they’re averaging over 19 three-pointers a game over their last four contests at just shy of 51 percent, it’s certainly possible), they’d head into the Finals at 12-0 with an interesting opportunity to place themselves among some of the most dominant playoff teams in NBA history.
Nobody has ever run the table in an NBA postseason, but a handful of teams have come pretty darn close. We all know that, should Cleveland make the Finals, there’s about a zero percent chance that they’d have a shot at sweeping any of the remaining Western Conference teams, including Portland. Still, they’re halfway there, which makes this sort of thing just interesting enough to consider.
Wherever the Cavs end up, here’s a look at the most dominant playoff teams in league history:
#5: 1990-1991 Chicago Bulls (15-2) – Of all the Bulls’ six championships, the first one proved the easiest. They tore through the postseason competition that year like blustering cyclones, opening the playoffs with a 41-point demolition of the New York Knicks. Their only loss outside of the Finals came at the hands of Charles Barkley’s Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, but they swept Isiah Thomas’ defending champion Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and then lost just Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Magic Johnson’s L.A. Lakers before sweeping the next four, including the last two on the road. And that was how Michael Jordan got his first ring.
#4: 1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks (12-2) – The 1970s were a different era of basketball, but putting Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson on the same team in any decade would probably still result in a whole lot of wins and probably a championship too. In the 1971 playoffs, Milwaukee absolutely steamrolled through the competition, winning all but one of those 12 victories by double digits. Following their first loss of the postseason, Milwaukee responded by decimating the San Francisco Warriors by 50 points. Then, in the Western Conference Finals, they failed to win any game against the L.A. Lakers by fewer than 18 points. In the Finals they didn’t lose a game, which proved a fitting end of the year for one of the most successful playoff teams ever.
#3: 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls (15-3) – Through three games of the 1996 NBA Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics, the Chicago Bulls were 14-1, making it look like a sure thing that they’d be the first team to lose only one postseason game since the playoffs expanded to four rounds. That 72-win squad blew through the playoffs, losing their only game in the first three rounds to the New York Knicks in overtime. The Conference Finals were an embarrassment, as the Bulls toppled the Orlando Magic by 38 points in the first game, and between that sweep and their three consecutive wins to open the Finals, they won seven straight games against teams that had won 60+ wins in the regular season. Those two losses in the Finals brought their momentum to a screeching halt in Games 4 and 5, but they still closed things out for the first of Michael Jordan’s second trio of titles.
#2: 1982-1983 Philadelphia 76ers (12-1) – Any longtime fan of basketball will remember this as the postseason that Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone once projected would go “Fo, fo, fo” – his way of predicting the Sixers wouldn’t lose a single game in the playoffs that year. Coming off a 65-17 season it was audacious but not ridiculous, as Philly had made the Finals and lost just a year ago with Julius Erving, Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney leading the charge, but then they obtained Malone in the offseason and things really got going from there. Only the Milwaukee Bucks would beat them in those playoffs, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but “Fo, fi, fo” is still pretty impressive and more than enough to place that championship Sixers team among the most successful playoff teams of all time.
#1: 2000-2001 L.A. Lakers (15-1) – No offense to any of these other great teams, but this particular Lakers squad ran though the postseason like no team had ever done before or has done since. Behind Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the 2001 Lakers blasted through the entire Western Conference without losing a single game. The Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs all fell victim to the Lake-Show in four games apiece, with only four of those 12 wins coming within 10 points. The Finals weren’t much different. The only L.A. loss was in Game 1, where it took an overtime and 46 points from Allen Iverson just to win a single contest. The end result was a second-straight ring for Kobe and Shaq, as well as a record .938 playoff winning percentage.
Honorable Mention: 1988-1989 Detroit Pistons (15-2), 1981-1982 L.A. Lakers (12-2), 1998-1999 San Antonio Spurs (15-2), 1986-1987 L.A. Lakers (15-3)
With San Antonio and Golden State still hanging around, Cleveland probably doesn’t have a chance of sniffing history like the aforementioned teams, but through eight games they’ve kept it a possibility. Crazier things certainly have happened.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN