The Golden State Warriors got lucky.
Whether you blame the referees, missed free throws or the ineptitude of certain players, the Warriors lucked out in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Blunders abound, Cavaliers not named LeBron James shot themselves in the foot to the Warrior’s benefit. But, can these Cavaliers make the Finals a watchable, interesting series?
Going into last night, many dreaded another Cavaliers-Warriors series. Cleveland arguably had the best player in the series but, in terms of overall talent and depth, the Warriors have them outclassed and outmatched. But things just didn’t seem that way in regulation (the overtime period was a different story, but the Cavaliers held their own during the first four quarters). It took a superhuman performance by James to keep things close — 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists — but, as many will tell you and as crazy as it may sound, he is capable of producing similar numbers moving forward. And there is even more to suggest that these Cavaliers could keep things compelling as the series moves along.
To start, the Warriors just looked off during Game 1, as they have on multiple occasions since Andre Iguodala went down with a left leg injury in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors struggled to shoot the ball in the first half (6-18 from three-point range), Kevin Durant (three points) was a no-show in the fourth quarter and they had no one who could match up with James defensively.
A lot of those struggles can be attributed to Iguodala’s absence. While many would argue the Warriors, with the sheer amount of talent they have on their roster, should be able to overcome his injury, it’s not as easy as you would think; Iguodala provides stability for the Warriors on the offensive end and is one of the few players that has shown the ability to stay in front of James defensively. He is a calming presence and, if he continues to miss time, his absence could loom large on the series.
For the Cavaliers, the most important thing is their ability to hold off the Warriors’ third quarter runs. Golden State hasn’t just been a tough out in the third, they have been historically dominant to start the second half over the course of the season and it has been their knock-out punch during these playoffs. While many teams have gone down in the third, Cavaliers took the Warriors biggest punch and kept fighting. So, while they lost the quarter 22-28, the fact that they were able to keep it close is big for Cleveland’s confidence and their chances in this series. Cleveland actually won the first and fourth quarters of the game (30-29 and 29-23), which should boost their confidence even further.
Cleveland also got some major contributions from non-James players. Kevin Love, in his first game back from a concussion in the Eastern Conference Finals, posted a nice line of 21 points and 13 rebounds and, while he struggled shooting the ball (1-8 from three point range), he kept the Cavaliers in the game when James hit the bench. Off the bench, Larry Nance posted nine points and 11 rebounds after averaging 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds across 16 playoffs games, affording the Cavaliers multiple second chances on offense.
The Cavaliers have struggled mightily to provide James offensive support this postseason, so Love and Nance’s contributions were, surely, a welcome site. If the others can pour in some points — the other three Cleveland starters combined for just 19 points, rotation players Kyle Korver and Jeff Green just 10 — the Cavaliers might be able to distance themselves from the Warriors if they sputter on the offensive end.
Another boon for the Cavaliers going forward will be their rebounding advantage; Cleveland dominated the glass all game, beating out the Warriors by a 53-38 margin and grabbing 19 offensive boards to the Warriors four thanks, mainly, to the aforementioned Love and Nance. James added four offensive rebounds of his own. The team that wins the rebounding battle, more often than not, will end up winning the game, so if the Cavaliers can continue to outbid the Warriors on the glass they should find themselves in a good position as the series continues.
There are definitely problems James and Cleveland will have to address going forward — the mental lapses cannot continue to happen if the team expects the series to remain competitive, neither can the bad, forced shots — but, the team clearly has a blueprint to disrupt the Warriors, and James et. al. did enough to keep the Golden State defense guessing. If they can continue to keep things interesting like they did in Game 1, the Finals could be more of a series than anyone expected.
NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Southeast Division
Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a break down of the Southeast Division.
The trade market has been an active one this season and, on December 15, trade chatter should only increase; players that signed contracts prior to September 15 will become eligible to be traded.
While some big names have already been moved — Jimmy Bulter, Kyle Korver, George Hill, etc. — anything could happen between now and the February Trade Deadline. One team could go on a hot streak and look to add talent, while another could watch their season nose dive and look to acquire assets to either retool or rebuild. But which teams should look to buy and which should look to sell?
Basketball Insiders has started a “Buyers and Sellers” series to find out just that. We’ve already looked at the Atlantic, Central and Northwest divisions, and today we will focus in on the Southeast.
So, which teams are poised to make a postseason run and which should look to strip down the roster?
The Charlotte Hornets are in a tough spot.
Kemba Walker has played at an MVP level this season and any team with that kind of talent should be able to grab a top-eight seed with ease in the weaker Eastern Conference. However, the Hornets aren’t exactly a powerhouse; while they sit atop the Southeast Divison and sixth in the conference, they do so with just a 14-13 record. Their roster is middling at best, and most in their position would look to retool for next season, if not start a complete teardown.
But they can’t exactly do that now.
The Hornets made a win now move this offseason when they brought Tony Parker aboard. If they decided to tear it down now, not only would it be a slap in the face to Parker, but to the fans and, most importantly, Walker as well. Walker is on the last year of his deal and will look to cash in next offseason. If Charlotte can’t win some games, they could hurt their chances of retaining that All-Star point guard.
So, what should the Hornets prioritize as trade season looms? Rebounding.
Charlotte is eighth in the NBA in points per game and, while their defense could use some work, they are good enough that it shouldn’t be their top priority. However, they have some serious rebounding issues; Cody Zeller is the Hornets leading rebounder with just 5.6 per game. As a team, they are 21st in the NBA with just 43.8 per game.
The Hornets have plenty of bigs on the roster — Zeller, Marvin Williams, Willy Hernangomez, Bismack Biyombo — but none of them are having a big impact on the glass. If the team has an opportunity to swap out one of the duds for an interior threat, they should take it while they can.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Tony Parker
Like the Hornets, the Orlando Magic are at best a middling roster that, as of now, is vying for a playoff spot. But, unlike the Hornets, they aren’t in a position where the need to win now.
The future in Orlando resides with Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba, but they aren’t already to make an impact at the highest level. So, at 13-15, the Magic should go into asset collection mode and sell off some pieces while they still have value. Draft compensation should be the primary goal, but it wouldn’t be the worst if Orlando took a chance on some young could-be contributors.
Nikola Vucevic, an unrestricted free agent next season, has increased his value with a dominant season thus far and could return some premium assets. His departure would open up heavy minutes to be split amongst Isaac and Bamba, which could be a major boon to their development, and it would provide the Magic with some sort of return rather than losing him for nothing next offseason.
Evan Fournier is another piece that could be a major boost for a contender — the 26-year-old has averaged 14.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season — and could probably be had for a reasonable return. With the Magic expected to find their home in the lottery in a forward-heavy draft, the absence of Fournier could open up immediate playing time for whomever they select.
D.J. Augustin, Terrance Ross and Jonathon Simmons are just a few of the other role players that could be had from the Magic roster.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Isaiah Briscoe
The Dwyane Wade farewell tour, thus far, has been a success. The same can’t be said for the Miami HEAT season.
After they made the postseason a year ago, the HEAT find themselves at just 11-16 on the year. And, with no major reinforcements on the way, things probably won’t get much better from here. That being said, they have some quality pieces they could move for future assets.
Goran Dragic could be a major addition for any team looking for point guard help. While the contract may be tough to stomach, Hassan Whiteside could be a major force inside if active and engaged on both ends. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk could provide major depth for any team looking to make a playoff push.
Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo are a solid core to build around and, while it may be sad to see the last season of Wade squandered, it would be best for the HEAT to focus on those three and build around them for the future. If they can add another young, impact guard to the mix — either via trade or the draft — that future could be a bright one.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem and Derrick Jones
The sky was falling for the Washington Wizards at the start of the season. Things haven’t improved much since, but they have perked up a bit.
The Wizards are in a No Man’s Land of sorts; the postseason is within reach — and they have the NBA talent to get there — but how far could they really go? John Wall hasn’t looked himself at times, but he and Bradley Beal are still one of the better one-two punches in the NBA. But, while the rest of the roster may do enough to get them to the postseason, it may not do enough to push much further.
So what should the Wizards do? It starts with Otto Porter Jr.
The Wizards signed Porter to a max-deal in 2017, and their return on investment hasn’t been great; Porter averaged 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and shot 44.1 percent from three in the first year of his new deal, but has seen the majority of his numbers — most importantly, his scoring numbers and shooting percentages — dip this season.
Porter has to prove to the Wizards that he is worth the money, and the Wizards have to push Porter to be the best player he can be. If one or the other can’t do their job, then a split may be best for both parties.
Beyond that, the Wizards have plenty of other problems to deal with. They rank just 27th in the NBA in three-point percentage and 28th in rebounding — that has to change if they want to compete. The sheer amount of money already tied into Wall, Beal and Porter will make any significant upgrades difficult, but the Wizards will have to try something; if they don’t, a roster reboot will be waiting for them.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Dwight Howard and Jeff Green
The Atlanta Hawks are bad. They know it, the league knows it. If anyone on their roster, outside the trio Trae Young, Taurean Prince and John Collins, isn’t able to be had for a future asset, they are doing this rebuilding thing wrong.
The Hawks should be hunting for draft picks, but looking for some depth on the wing wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Vince Carter is 41 going on 1 million, Kent Bazemore should be on the move and Justin Anderson and DeAndre Bembry are lower-level rotation players at best. There are some solid pieces in place, but the Hawks have a long way to go before they are buyers again.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on Dec. 15: Vince Carter, Alex Len and Daniel Hamilton
Trade season is long, and there is plenty of time for things to go the other way for some of these teams. And this is only the Southeast; teams all over the NBA could see their fortunes reversed between now and February. Either way, an interesting few months lie ahead, and they could have a major impact on the NBA landscape come seasons end.
Be on the lookout for the rest of our “Buyers or Sellers” breakdowns as well.
NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Atlantic Division
Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a break down of the Atlantic Division.
While teams are technically allowed to trade prior to December 15, NBA trade season really heats up on that day. And with trade season comes lots of goodies like rumors to sort through, player activity on Twitter and other social media sites and – most importantly – the changes to rosters across the league.
December 15 is the line of demarcation because as of then, free agent signees from last offseason are eligible to be traded. This means teams that may have buyer’s remorse can move on from deals they regret and other teams that may have missed on a free agent target get a second chance to land their player.
The Atlantic Division features three teams in a full-on arms race – Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto – and two others preparing their rosters to make a run at free agents this coming offseason.
The Sixers already drew first blood with their trade of Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler. Meanwhile, the Raptors are sitting pretty with the league’s best record through 30 games and the Celtics, at 7-3 in their last 10 games, seem to have figured out the rotational issues that have plagued them thus far.
We at Basketball Insiders began a new series examining each NBA team by division and identifying which teams should be looking to move or add salary as we quickly approach December 15. Let’s take a closer look at the teams in the Atlantic Division.
The Celtics roster is still in a delicate state. They just recently began playing consistently good basketball. They have a gluttony of talent, but there is probably limited interest in moving any of their core pieces for anyone not named Anthony Davis – as evidenced by their apprehension to involve themselves in dealings with the Pacers for Paul George prior to last year or with the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler prior to his trade to Philadelphia.
The one player that they should seriously consider moving, however, is Terry Rozier. Rozier is due for a raise. They could issue him the qualifying offer after the season and match the offer sheet he chooses to sign, but it is virtually an inevitability that someone will make him a lucrative offer – and one the Celtics would probably prefer to avoid paying due to luxury tax implications.
If the Celtics truly feel that Kyrie Irving is the long-term solution at point guard and that he will re-sign as he said he will, then they need to cash in Rozier. While his stock isn’t quite as high now as it was coming off of his play in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, he did nothing to hurt the perception of him. The Celtics could still probably pry some assets away from a team desperate for a point guard of the future. And considering the four first-round draft picks they control in 2019 and how onerous onboarding four rookies would be for a veteran team, the prudent move may be to package Rozier and picks for someone that fits better with the roster its timeline.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Aron Baynes, Jabari Bird and Brad Wanamaker
The Nets are in prime position to be sellers as they try to scrape together as much cap space for the free agency gold rush of 2019 as possible. Gone are the days of taking on overpaid role players in exchange for draft picks and other assets – even though they look to be a fringe playoff team and would love to get their young stars some playoff experience.
They must fight that urge. And for now, the Nets will probably stand pat. I’m sure they would like to get out from the Allen Crabbe contract considering is effect on their cap space moving forward, but that’s a tough pill for any team to swallow without sending out additional assets.
Like the Celtics, the Nets have two quality point guards and should considering moving one. The Celtics situation is far more cut and dry, though. The Nets need to first identify who they hope to build around – D’Angelo Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie. Russell will cost more, but Dinwiddie is a bit more of a scoring point guard than a facilitator. Dinwiddie just signed an three-year, $34 million extension Thursday. While they could re-sign Russell and retain both guys, it would be prohibitive to their plans in free agency. And losing Russell for nothing would be a real missed opportunity to return future assets.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Ed Davis, Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier
New York Knicks
The Knicks plan to try their hand at shopping soon, too, but not yet. Now is actually prime time for the Knicks to be sellers. The team would obviously like to sign at least one superstar – if not more – this offseason. While they will likely have enough cap space to do so, part of their pitch will likely be the ability to sign a few contributors.
To make that a reality, the Knicks must trade either Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway has been more productive this season than ever before, but he is owed more money on a longer deal, so it’s more likely that Lee is the easier of the two to trade.
When healthy, Lee is still a productive and efficient wing who can still defend and who has shot at least .400 from three-point range in each of the last three seasons. He would be a welcome addition to virtually any contender.
Furthermore, the Knicks have at least one too many point guards. Moving on from or including either Trey Burke or Emmanuel Mudiay in a Courtney Lee trade would be ideal. While moving on from Burke or Mudiay doesn’t clear future cap space, they could make taking a gamble on Lee more appealing to a team like the Spurs or 76ers.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Mario Hezonja, Luke Kornet and Noah Vonleh
The 76ers just added Jimmy Butler to their roster in a blockbuster deal on November 11. They are 19-10 overall and 10-4 since adding Butler. They should be happy with their roster and should fight the urge to infuse it with more, new players.
I seriously doubt that the 76ers will make any other major deals. But don’t be surprised if Markelle Fultz’s name remains in trade rumors right up to the trade deadline. As recently as Thursday, Fultz was mentioned as a target of the Detroit Pistons by the Detroit Free Press. Both Fultz and the 76ers seem ready to move on. A Fultz trade seems likelier now than ever before.
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick
The Raptors’ major move came over the summer when they dealt DeMar DeRozan and netted Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The team has played even better this season than they did last year when they were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. What more do they need? They boast the best record in the league (23-7), they swept the defending champion Golden State Warriors in their season series (including a win Wednesday night sans Leonard) and they own the second-best margin of victory in basketball.
While crazier things have happened, don’t expect Toronto to make any trades. They do need more time together, though. They will continue to improve as they learn each other’s preferences and tendencies. How scary of a thought is that?
Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Lorenzo Brown and Greg Monroe
The Atlantic Division is among the most interesting given the depth of top-tier talent. One move can swing the balance of power in the division – and the conference – considerably. It will be interesting to see if any of the division’s juggernauts make any major moves, or if either of the New York-area teams can either nab a star or clear more space.
Make sure to follow along here at Basketball Insiders with the rest of the divisions as well as any trade news and reactions as they happen.
NBA Daily: OKC Sitting On Top Of Stacked West
The Thunder are currently hovering around the top of the West. Jordan Hicks takes a look at what has been helping them be successful up to this point in the season.
During the offseason, just about everyone had Paul George jumping ship and joining LeBron James in Los Angeles. It totally made sense. Oklahoma City had just gotten torched by the Utah Jazz in six games, the Thunder didn’t have much of a promising future if PG-13 stayed, they still had Carmelo Anthony’s atrocious contract to deal with and Billy Donovan was more-or-less on the hot seat.
To everyone’s surprise, George decided to stay, inking a four-year deal to buddy up with Russell Westbrook. Many questioned this move, pointing to the fact that it would be much easier to win a championship in LA with LeBron. Regardless of all the noise, George felt something special brewing with the Thunder and felt he had an opportunity to win now.
Fast forward through the first quarter of the season and Oklahoma City is sitting atop a stacked Western Conference with a record of 17-8. They’ve had dominating wins over the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz and even the Golden State Warriors.
Things didn’t appear to be peachy off-the-bat. Andre Roberson – their best defender – re-injured the same knee that received surgery last season and still hasn’t returned. They started off the season with four straight losses. But after rattling off seven straight wins, and 17 of their last 21, the Thunder seem to be back on the right track.
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why OKC is winning games – things that happened both before the season started and are continuing to happen throughout the course of the season thus far.
Offloading The Carmelo Anthony Contract
This move was great for many reasons – some of which will be explained later in this article – but the one we will focus on is actually getting Carmelo off the team. Not only did it save ownership a lot of money from the luxury tax, it actually made their roster better. Carmelo can still play basketball at a high level, but his role as a starter for OKC clearly didn’t work out, and they didn’t really have a need for him coming off the bench, especially considering the fact that they would have had to pay him roughly 28 million dollars.
The Rockets tried to employ Carmelo in a similar fashion, and we already saw how quickly that played out. Getting him off the roster was very important, and by doing so it opened the doors to a much-improved roster.
Trading For Dennis Schroder
By drafting Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks made a statement that Schroder was no longer part of their future plans. Whether or not you think his contract is bad, it doesn’t come close to as negative as Carmelo’s, even considering the fact that Carmelo’s was expiring after this season.
What most would consider as a blessing, the Thunder essentially flipped Carmelo’s deal to take on Schroder and his deal. The only difference, however, is that Schroder still has a lot to offer a team, especially when it comes to scoring off the bench.
His fit in the Thunder lineup has almost been seamless. Playing roughly 29.4 minutes a night, he’s averaging 16.8 points on 42.7 percent shooting. He’s behind only George and Westbrook in field goal attempts per game, and while he’s not as efficient as them, he’s not necessarily being asked to be.
On top of scoring off the bench, he’s notching 5 assists to only 2.8 turnovers and adding 1.2 steals a game, as well.
With Westbrook already having missed multiple games, plugging Schroder into a starting role that he is already comfortable with adds a much needed insurance policy-type benefit to this OKC roster. He clearly isn’t as talented as Westbrook, but he’s not necessarily a major drop off either. Oh yeah, he’s also shooting 34.3 percent from three compared to Westbrook’s depressing 21.8 percent.
Plugging Jerami Grant Into The Starting Five
After inking Grant to his new contract in the offseason, the writing was on the wall for Melo. There was no way the Thunder were going to keep him on and pay the unthinkable amount of luxury tax they would have owed.
The Thunder experimented with Patrick Patterson in the starting lineup the first few games, but plugging Grant in there essentially made them take off. He has an athletic, long frame that allows him to guard multiple positions. He’s playing highly efficient basketball on the offensive end of the floor, shooting 51 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. He’s third on the team in net rating at plus-11.5, second in true shooting percentage at 60.4 percent, and second in blocks at 1.2 per game.
His addition to the lineup clearly offers a plethora of more dimensions than what Carmelo brought with him. He might never be as good as “peak” Carmelo, but he’s certainly a lot more effective in today’s game.
Paul George Staying Put
This one is obvious. If George leaves, the Thunder are in a bad spot. Westbrook and Steven Adams aren’t enough to win a championship. Luckily for the franchise, George decided to stay long-term (or at least three more seasons).
His play this year has been otherworldly. He’s leading the NBA in steals at 2.2 per game. Per NBA stats, he’s first in defensive win shares. He’s currently 12th in scoring at 24.3 points a night. He dropped 47 points in Brooklyn against the Nets, including a game-winning three-pointer to seal the victory.
OKC currently has the number one defense in the NBA with a defensive rating of 101.6. Yes, Steven Adams is quite the force under the basket, but Paul George has been arguably the best defensive player on the team this season.
There are still plenty of games left to play, but if the beginning of this season has taught us anything, it’s that the Oklahoma City Thunder are surely going back to the playoffs. The odds of them finishing this season atop the Western Conference aren’t incredibly likely – they have had one of the easier schedules to start the season – but their style of play and the consistency at which they compete on the court night in and night-out surely point to them being a dangerous team come the postseason.
A handful of important pieces weren’t discussed in depth, but it will be the continued play of guys of Steven Adams and Terrance Ferguson, coupled with the return of defensive talent Andre Roberson, that will help the Thunder win games throughout the rest of the season.
As they continue on into December, the Thunder fanbase can find solace in one thing: this core is here to stay. Whatever success they have this season can only be built on next year.