Memphis Grizzlies 2018 NBA Draft profile

The NBA Draft is under a month away, which means NBA Draftmas is back. Each day, The Game Haus will review a team’s past season, their team needs and targets. Draftmas continues today with the Memphis Grizzlies 2018 NBA draft profile.

Summary

Courtesy of: Beale Street Bears

Only a year removed from the playoffs, many Memphis fans expected this team to at least be competitive heading into the 2017-2018 season. This would not be the case. Memphis finished with the second-worst record in the NBA due to an anemic offense that couldn’t even manage to score 100 points per game.

The leaders like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley played fine for most of the season and they were able to get help out of Tyreke Evans but the rest of their rotation left a lot to be desired.

The Grizzlies did not have a first-round pick last year but did have two seconds in Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks. Brooks played in a lot of games this year and showed flashes but, is not a franchise type player and honestly is probably better suited coming off the bench. Rabb rarely played at all throughout the season.

This team needs to start a full rebuild after finishing in the bottom five in points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists. Not only that but Gasol is 33, Conley will be 31 early in the season and Evans will be 29 as well. This team needs to get young and draft at least one core player they can start rebuilding around.

Picks and Needs

As of now, the Grizzlies have two picks in this year’s draft.

First Round: No. 4

Second Round: No. 32

Memphis may field offers for number four as they need much more than just one player or potential superstar to be good. It is unlikely however that they would trade it until draft night in case someone who they love falls to them. Having two picks in the first 32 can definitely help them find some quality players. Especially considering their first pick last season wasn’t until 35.

Targets and thoughts

Pick No. 4: Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia

As stated before Memphis needs just about everything so, they will go with the best player on the board. In this scenario, it is Luka Doncic. If he were to fall to the Grizzlies, then Memphis fans should be elated. There are many out there who think he could make sense as the first pick.

Courtesy of: Heavy.com

This 19-year-old can do it all, score, pass, rebound, play defense, etc. He is not necessarily going to excel in one area at the moment but a player with his skill set can set up a team in need of a piece to build around very well.

He also slots right into a starting role as he won’t be taking Conley or Gasol’s spot. Many see him playing a similar role to Ben Simmons who also can do everything while still having holes in his game.

Doncic will need to become a better scorer not only as a finisher but, also as a three-point shooter. Luckily he will be given the time to develop on a team that shouldn’t expect to contend for a few years in the stacked Western Conference.

For a team that needs a major piece to officially start their rebuild, the Grizzlies couldn’t be luckier as the top seven players in this draft all have major impact potential. Doncic can especially bring his impressive skill-set to a team that is sorely lacking in a lot of areas.

Pick No. 32: Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Another European coming to Memphis. While he did play at Michigan for the last three years, Wagner hails from Berlin. With Gasol getting old and this team needing some bodies in the paint, Moritz fits in well. His 6’10, 240+ frame was a major reason why he was able to nab 7.1 boards per game in his last year at Michigan.

The big man out of Michigan also showed on multiple occasions that he can score in a variety of ways. While he did not take a lot of three-pointers he did shoot 38.5% from behind the arc in his career. This went along with a 53% field-goal percentage overall and almost 15 points per game.

There are some pretty glaring holes in his game though. During a decent amount of the tournament, Wagner was nowhere to be found early on. He would step it up later on including having a solid game in the National Championship but, his struggles are still worth noting.

His biggest weakness comes at the stripe. Not only did he rarely get there, 2.8 attempts for his career but, when he did he only made about 70% of them. Wagner is going to have to learn to not only draw more fouls but, also make a higher percentage of them. For a man who can shoot so well from three, it is unacceptable to not be a better free-throw shooter.

Conclusion

The Memphis Grizzlies will only just be starting their rebuild. That means that patience will be required from fans as they wait for the Western Conference to slow down a bit and for their younger players to develop.

Memphis will be addressing their scoring issues in a big way with this type of a draft. Both of these players have solid potential, Doncic could be an absolute monster. If they turn out this haul, then their first draft of the rebuild will be a huge success.

That concludes the Memphis Grizzlies 2018 NBA Draft profile. Be sure to check back tomorrow to read the Dallas Mavericks 2018 NBA Draft profile!

 

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2018 Atlanta Hawks

2018 Atlanta Hawks NBA Draft profile

The NBA Draft is under a month away, which means NBA Draftmas is back. Each day, The Game Haus will review a team’s past season, their team needs and targets. Draftmas continues today with the 2018 Atlanta Hawks NBA draft profile.

Summary

Entering the 2017 season, the Atlanta Hawks had one goal: accumulate as many ping pong balls as possible. As the NBA is currently constructed, tanking is the best way to create sustained success.

If this strategy was ever in doubt, it certainly was not after the Hawks’ first 20 games. In those first 20 games, the Hawks went 4-16, with two of those wins coming over the Mavericks and Kings, who were also tanking. As a result, the Hawks finished with a 24-58 record, giving them the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

2018 Atlanta Hawks

(Photo from allongeorgia.com)

While it might seem hopeless, there is light at the end of the tunnel for this franchise. In 2013, they were able to find a capable starting point guard at the 17th overall pick in Dennis Schroder. While he is not on a trajectory to be one of the league’s best point guards, he is a key piece to the future of this team’s success.

To the Hawks’ credit, they also hit on two other players in this range of the draft in Kelly Oubre, the 15th overall pick in 2015, and John Collins, the 19th overall pick in 2017. Collins was just named to the All-Rookie second team earlier this week and fits the mold of what the current NBA power forward is: long, athletic and shoots above 30 percent from the 3-point line.

However, they have plenty of room to improve regardless of which players they pick in this year’s draft. The Hawks finished this season 25th in points per game and 23rd in opponent points per game. On the other hand, the Hawks were 10th in pace.

It is important to keep in mind that the hiring of Lloyd Pierce as the head coach could render all of these statistics irrelevant. This will be Pierce’s first stint as a head coach in the NBA. He might be just what the doctor ordered given his experience with the 76ers’ process. His focus on defense also can help build a winning foundation.

Picks and Needs

The 2018 Atlanta Hawks have four picks in this year’s draft.

First round: No. 3, No. 19, No. 30

Second round: No. 33

Like most NBA teams, the Atlanta Hawks lack a player with superstar potential. They have youth all over this roster with good, but not great potential. However, none of the current players have the upside to carry a team to contender status in the Eastern Conference. Given that fact, the Hawks need to pick the player available with the highest upside. They already have a promising group of young players, so to use some baseball terminology, it is time to change their launch angle, elevate the ball and hit it out of the park.

Targets and thoughts

Pick No. 3: Michael Porter Jr., SF, Missouri

I’m respecting the fact that our writer, Josh Burris, has the Kings taking Marvin Bagley at the second pick. If that is how the draft plays out, Michael Porter Jr. is the player with the most upside left. However, if the Hawks can acquire a current NBA player in a deal that allows them to trade down, that would be a viable option as well.

2018 Atlanta Hawks

(Photo from NBA.com)

Porter is an unusual talent and would be in the discussion for this pick if he did not have the back injury. Yes, I know that is a big if, but it is true.

As a prospect, Porter is a 6-foot-10 forward who is an above average shooter from almost everywhere on the floor. Not to mention, he has competent enough ball-handling skills to be a secondary offense initiator as a change of pace, or if Schroder needs a break.

While there are many pros in Porter’s game, there are some legitimate questions. For one, a back injury can have career-altering effects, especially on a player so young and developing physically. He seems to be strong enough mentally to overcome such an injury, but the Hawks will have to trust their medical staff if Porter is picked here. There are also questions about his physicality and decision making when it comes to shot selection.

Overall, this pick makes sense for the Hawks because it gives them a player in the Eastern Conference that teams do not have an answer for. You have to compete with players that present unique matchup problems like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and for now, LeBron James. Michael Porter Jr. would give the 2018 Atlanta Hawks a similar problem to their opponents because of his size, skill and athletic ability at small forward.

Pick No. 19: Bruce Brown Jr., SG, Miami

The Hawks have a history of finding productive players at this spot in the draft. So whoever they pick at this spot, they should get the benefit of the doubt. In this instance, Bruce Brown Jr. would be a good fit for the Hawks.

Lloyd Pierce has already mentioned his focus is going to be on defense. Brown is already a high-level defensive player and could be turned into a 3-and-D guy. Yes, his shooting suffered in his sophomore season, but he has the tools and shooting technique to grow into that role.

Pick No. 30*: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky

Keep in mind that this selection could be the 28th or 29th pick depending on how the playoffs finish. While they are at the 30th spot, the Hawks could take another player at the shooting guard position. This pick is more of a product of the other players available than the talent of Diallo. He has the potential to be an injection of offense off the bench if he can become more consistent with his shot.

Pick No. 33*: Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland 

Bruno Fernando fits into the mold of Pierce’s defensive philosophy. Fernando is an exceptional above-the-rim player and has good second-jump ability. For those who do not know, that means the ability to jump and then immediately jump again upon hitting the ground. That kind of reaction and explosion is something that players do or do not have. Unfortunately, Fernando would require a ton of development on his offensive arsenal if he were to ever become a starter.

 

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Sacramento Kings 2018 NBA Draft profile

Sacramento Kings 2018 NBA Draft profile

The NBA Draft is under a month away, which means NBA Draftmas is back. Each day, The Game Haus will review a team’s past season, their team needs and targets. We will continue with the team that has the No. 2 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings.

Summary

You would think with all the high draft picks the Kings have had over the years, they would eventually figure out how to draft. Unfortunately for Sacramento fans, that has not really happened.

Sacramento Kings 2018 NBA Draft profile

To say things have been rough in Sacramento is an understatement. (Photo by Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY Sports Images)

The Kings have not had a winning season since the 2005-06 season. They have not topped 35 wins since the 2007-08 season when they won 38. They have won less than 30 games eight different times during this stretch of missing the postseason. Sacramento has also had nine different head coaches during this period. The franchise is a dumpster fire.

The Kings have had plenty of top 10 picks lately and have flopped on most of them. However, they really have a chance to get a star with the second overall pick.

This season, the Kings were last in points, 14th in points allowed, 22nd in field goal percentage, third in 3-point percentage, 28th in rebounds, 25th in assists, 11th in steals and 25th in blocks. They rank surprisingly high in a few of those categories, but it is easy to see why this team finished just 27-55.

The Kings need to capitalize of this draft. After taking De’Aaron Fox last season, they need to find another young star to pair him up with.

Picks and needs

First round: No. 2

Second round: No. 36

At this point, the Kings just need some talent on their roster. With the second pick, they should take the best player available. Most likely, that will be a big man, and the Kings could sure use one.

Most of the Kings’ talent comes in guard form, and they could use a big to compliment them. Stats like the rebounding and blocks, as well as the fact they rank 22nd in both points in the paint and second-chance points, show the need for a big.

Targets and thoughts

Pick No. 2: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke

If DeAndre Ayton is still on the board, the Kings should take him. However, with Ayton most likely going first, the Kings should take the power forward from Duke.

Sacramento Kings 2018 NBA Draft profile

Bagley is one of the greatest freshmen in Duke history. (Photo by Getty Images)

Marvin Bagley had an incredible freshman season at Duke. He set nine Duke freshman records, including his 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He was also just one of four players this past season to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He ranked third in the NCAA in double-doubles as well with 22. He was also dominant in the paint with 98 dunks, which is a Duke single-season record.

The 6-foot-11, 235-pound power forward is just what the Kings need. He can definitely help the team with their scoring and rebounding problems. He also brings a dominating presence inside that the Kings do not have.

Bagley can also be a threat outside the paint as he shot 39.7 percent from the 3-point line as well. The Kings have screwed up plenty of draft picks, this cannot be one of them.

Pick No. 36: Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

Bates-Diop is projected anywhere from late in the first round to early in the second. If Bates-Diop falls to pick No. 36, the Kings should definitely take advantage.

Last season as a redshirt junior, Bates-Diop averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He also shot 48 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from the 3-point line.

Bates-Diop can also get things done defensively. At 6-foot-7, he can guard almost any opponent. He also averaged 1.6 blocks per game. Like Bagley, he could really help out the Kings with scoring and rebounding.

If Bates-Diop is already selected, other top prospects that could be available include Grayson Allen (Duke) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech).

Conclusion

The Kings have been pretty bad for a while now, making it hard to attract top free agents. They are a young team and will need to continue building through the draft. 

Sacramento needs to address their offensive struggles. With the No. 2 pick, they have an opportunity to add a future face of the franchise. That man is Marvin Bagley. Hopefully, Bagley and other young prospects like De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Buddy Hield all pan out for the franchise. 

The Kings can also add a key role player early in the second round. Keita Bates-Diop could be a great pick if he falls to that far.

That concludes the Sacramento Kings 2018 NBA Draft profile. Be sure to check back tomorrow to read the Atlanta Hawks 2018 NBA Draft profile!

 

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Phoenix Suns 2018 NBA Draft profile

The NBA Draft is under a month away, which means NBA Draftmas is back. Each day the Game Haus will review a team’s past season, their team needs and targets. We will start off with the team that has the number one overall pick, the Phoenix Suns.

Summary

Devin Booker Dribbling for suns

Devin Booker (Photo by valleyofthesuns.com)

Phoenix had the worst record in the NBA at 21-61 this season and were able to win the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery. They are a long way from competing in the Western Conference but have some nice young pieces to build for the future.

The Suns have a star in Devin Booker, who averaged 24.9 points per game and also helped create for his teammates from the shooting guard position with 4.7 assists per game. With their next leading scorers being T.J. Warren (19.6 ppg) and Josh Jackson (13.1 ppg), they are set on the win for years to come.

This season the Suns traded away Eric Bledsoe and now need to replace him. They did trade for Elfrid Payton, but his career hasn’t come to fruition yet. With time he could be a solid starting point guard for the Suns, but he currently isn’t under contract for the 2018-2019 season, as their is a club option that needs to be picked up. Brandon Knight returns next season as the teams highest paid player. He can run the point and score in bunches when given the opportunity (proven in his 2015-16 campaign in Phoenix). Phoenix however still may want to improve the point guard position in this draft.

The interior play of the Suns has not been great, with a lot of aging veterans and young draft picks that haven’t worked out. That will be a place that is addressed again in the draft, it’s just a matter of when.

On defense, Phoenix had the worst unit in the league allowing 113.3 points per game. The only major stat where they ranked in the top half of the league as a team (between points allowed, points scored, rebounds and assists), was rebounds per game, in which they ranked 12th.

This team will not likely be a great contender next season but can be vastly improved in the draft.

Phoenix Suns Draft picks and needs

The Suns have four picks in the 2018 NBA Draft.

First round: No. 1, No. 16

Second round: No. 31, No. 59

If the Suns want to compete they need to improve their defense, point guard play and interior play. With the number of picks they have in this draft, Phoenix should be able to address the point guard and interior, although improving the defense could be a long process.

The draft will tell how they feel about Brandon Knight returning to the fold and Payton’s status as the team’s point guard. If they draft a big with their first pick, Knight and Payton will likely still be key parts of the team and its future. If they take a point guard, or rather a play-making player from Real Madrid who needs to have the ball in his hands to be successful, Knight and possibly Payton will likely be traded, as there will be limited minutes for one, if not both, of them.

Targets

Pick No. 1: DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona

DeAndre Ayton Arizona screaming

DeAndre Ayton (Photo by zonazealots.com)

There is mounting buzz that this pick may be used in a trade to acquire Karl Anthony Towns. If that’s a possibility and not too much more is needed to give up to the Timberwolves, the Suns need to take the deal immediately. These profiles will not predict trades though.

Picking Ayton would immediately improve the interior play of the Suns. He physically dominated college competition with his scoring and rebounding. Ayton can also stretch the floor as he shot 34.3% from deep. Devin Booker has already mentioned that it would be cool to team up with Ayton. Those two could create a great one-two punch for the future. The starting lineup next season could look like this: Knight, Booker, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, DeAndre Ayton.

Pick No. 16: Anfernee Simons, PG, USA

Simons is able to go to the NBA Draft after playing a year at a prep school. This is an uncommon route and NBA teams will have to find out if taking the gamble of him not playing against good competition in college, or overseas, is worth it. He would have been one of the best point guards in the freshman class but now gets to take his chance in the pros.

The Suns can take the risk on a point guard like Simons with their second pick because they took Ayton with their first pick and have Knight returning. Simons could sit behind Knight or Payton (or even Tyler Ulis if need be) and learn while picking up spot minutes.

Pick No. 31: Grayson Allen, SG, Duke

Another way that the Suns can improve is their three-point shooting. They ranked last in the league in that category and need to have more shooters as threats so opposing defenses can’t pack in the defense, or just focus on Booker. Spreading the floor would also help take some pressure off of Ayton.

Allen has been the most polarizing figure in college basketball for the last four seasons with his spectacular play and his immaturity. He has tripped players, been a catalyst in a National Championship Duke team and has been a constant player covered in the media. He can play on or off ball but the most important thing is he can stretch the floor, hitting 38% of his shots from three-point range in his college career.

Pick No. 59: Kevin Hervey, PF, UT-Arlington

Hervey is an undersized power forward who is UT-Arlington’s most decorated player. He averaged at least 17 points in each of the last three seasons in college. To add to the points, he also averaged 8.0 rebounds per game during his career. His upside is limited but he can knock down the outside shot, hitting on around 34% of his threes the last two season.

 

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NBA Draft steals

The best NBA draft prospects outside the lottery

Year after year, NBA front offices look for a diamond in the rough. Drafting is hard enough to pull off as it is, but some draftees fall under the radar.

Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Thomas and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all examples of non-lottery picks that have turned into stars. Some of the biggest steals fall in the draft.

It is up to the front offices to put the right guys in the right systems. Here are some of the best underrated players in the 2018 NBA draft class.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

Projection: Late first round

The NBA loves a guy who can play inside out. Bates-Diop is one of the more offensively complete college players in this draft class. He went from being a good prospect his sophomore year to a great prospect his junior year.

He averaged 19.8 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game his junior season. He will have to be more of a small forward in his transition into the NBA. But with a 6-foot-7 frame and high release, he should have no problem shooting over defenders.

He scored 20 or more points in 15 of the 34 games he played in his junior season and scored under 10 just twice. He recorded 13 double-doubles and shot 48 percent from the field, 35.9 percent from the 3-point line and 79.4 percent from the free-throw line. Bates-Diop’s game transitions extremely well to the NBA.

He has a very polished offensive game and has the ability to guard almost anyone on defense. His draft stock is rising fast, as it should. Bates-Diop has one of the best all-around games in the 2018 draft class.

Omari Spellman, Villanova

Projection: Late first round

We go from a very proven college athlete to a young guy. Omari Spellman is a first-year player out of Villanova. He averaged 10.9 points and eight rebounds in his only season. Spellman also shot 47.6 percent from the field and shot a very impressive 43.3 percent from the 3-point line. His totaled just one less 3-pointer made than Bates-Diop, but shot less of them.

What makes Spellman interesting to NBA scouts is his athletic ability as well as his ceiling. In almost an opposite direction from Bates-Diop, going to the NBA now makes using the unpredictable an advantage. Spellman played so well with a group of stars and was a key part to a National Championship. It was his best move to advance to the NBA.

Spellman’s ceiling really falls within his athleticism. He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan even though he stands at just 6-foot-9. He is very explosive around the rim, but does not necessarily have an above-the-rim game. He has a great nose on the boards despite being undersized for his position.

He does not have a complete game in the sense that he is not a back-to-the-basket player. However, he is very comfortable away from the basket and is also comfortable facing the basket. Those two things translate extremely well to the NBA’s style of play.

Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Projection: Mid-second round

NBA Draft steals

Brandon McCoy (Photo from Review Journal)

Here is a guy that many people might not know of. Brandon McCoy is extremely skilled as a 7-foot-1 traditional center. He is 250 pounds and is a monster on the boards. He has not necessarily had his chances against Power-Five competition. However, against projected No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, he put up 33 points and 10 rebounds.

McCoy averaged 16.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his freshman season. He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.

In a way, he is similar to Dwight Howard when he came into the league. He is extremely strong, but is also offensively raw and does not have too much diversity in his game. He is very good in the pick and roll and is also very good with his back to the basket due to his size.

He does not have a fantastic face-up game. However, he did show he could make a three, he just never had the confidence to shoot in bulk.

McCoy has the ability to dominate the paint given the right system. He is extremely raw, but can still come into his own given some time. After all, he is only 19 years old.

Malik Newman, Kansas

Projection: Late second round

Malik Newman started at Mississippi State and finished at Kansas. If you look at the difference in statistics, he looks like a completely different person.

Since his Mississippi State days, he has improved all his statistics drastically. In one season, he went from shooting 68.7 percent from the free-throw line and improved all the way to 83.5 percent at the end of his sophomore season.

His sophomore year percentages were 46.3 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three and 83.5 percent from the free-throw line. He averaged 14.2 points, five rebounds and 2.1 assists. The thing that makes him most interesting is that during the back half of his sophomore season, his statistics skyrocketed.

Newman can be an important piece to any NBA roster. He reminds many of former Jayhawk Ben McLemore. He has a great jump shot and also has a ton of athletic ability.

 

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Cavaliers

Cavaliers’ blueprint to beating the Celtics

The Cavaliers are down 0-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. With Game 3 looming, the Cavaliers have some adjustments to make if they want to secure LeBron’s eighth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

Game 1 ended in a veritable blowout, as the Celtics won by 25 points. Game 2 was not much better, as Boston put together another double-digit victory.

As history has taught us, going down 0-3 is a virtual death sentence. Teams that have accrued a 3-0 lead are 131-0 in the history of the NBA playoffs. In only three cases have the teams in the three-game hole forced a Game 7.

Those stats make this Game 3 a must-win for Cleveland. Here is how LeBron and company can potentially right their ship and get back into the series.

Someone help LeBron

In Game 1’s 108-83 drubbing, four Cavaliers scored in double digits. The Celtics somehow held The King to only 15 points, leaving Kevin Love to outscore him by two points. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood added 11 and 10 points respectively.

While all evidence points to the opposite, James is only human. It is absolutely going to take more of an effort from the supporting cast to beat the supremely well-coached Celtics. Especially if LeBron has an off game.

In Game 2, only three Cavaliers scored in double digits. LeBron had a 42-point triple-double performance. Kevin Love added a respectable 22 points, and Korver fulfilled his duties by putting up 11 points.

Cavaliers

LeBron drives to the hoop against Aron Baynes. (Photo by Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Outside of every performance mentioned above, every other Cavalier has failed to put up more than eight points in this series. That simply is not going to get it done, even against this banged up Celtics roster.

It’s hard to tell which is more egregious; the fact that Cleveland cannot muster enough offense to win when James scores 42, or that they cannot pick up any kind of slack when he scores under 20.

J.R. Smith has only scored a total of 4 points against Boston. Tristan Thompson has only been good for eight points in each game. The trade deadline acquisitions of Nance, Jr., Clarkson, Hood and Hill have put up a combined 31 points in both games put together. Clarkson did not even see the floor in Game 2.

LeBron James can propel the Cavaliers to victory, but he cannot do everything alone. It is simply not too much to ask for just a little help from the rest of the team. The one upside is, though, if the Cavaliers make it to (or win) the NBA Finals, this postseason performance will only further immortalize James.

Tyronn Lue

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has the unenviable task of going against the best coach in the NBA. Usually, the word “arguably” precedes a statement like that, but with the evidence mounting, it seems almost disingenuous to qualify his status as “arguable.”

Stevens has done more with this banged up roster than most NBA coaches could have done with a full-strength Celtics team. As such, they find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals, up 2-0, without their two best players.

Enough cannot be said about what Stevens can do. But what can be said is what Lue can do against him.

Giving LeBron the ball and seeing what happens can work early in games, and late in games. But James cannot try and iso his way to a win against this team, while all of the other Cavaliers wait outside the three-point line just in case he passes the ball.

Cavaliers

Lue coaches LeBron mid-game. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Lue needs to trust his guards in Hill, Smith and Hood. Primarily because that is probably the last thing Stevens (and any NBA coach, player or fan, really) expects the Cavaliers to do. Plays need to be drawn up for Thompson and Love. LeBron moves well without the ball, too, so let him make cuts to the basket.

All in all, the offense needs to change, because the Celtics’ defense is still as good in the playoffs as it was in the regular season. Most importantly though, Stevens knows he cannot stop LeBron, so attempting to limit him and smothering the rest of the roster is his only option.

If Lue dips into his coaching bag, though, he may be able to take Boston’s players by surprise. Even if he probably will not ever be able to catch their coach off guard.

Three-and-D

Of the teams remaining in the playoffs, Boston has the highest three-point percentage at 35.8 percent. They also are besting the Cavaliers in defensive rebounds, blocks and steals per game.

It is well-known that the Cavaliers were in the bottom five in defense all season, and their lackluster effort has carried into the playoffs. Also lacking is their three-point game. They sit at 33.6 percent from distance, which is third-worst ahead of Golden State.

Taking and making threes while LeBron puts on a show in the lane has been Cleveland’s identity throughout their three straight trips to the finals. This goes back to Tyronn Lue, but more plays need to be run to get shooters open. They seem to be last-ditch efforts when someone meets LeBron in the lane, forcing him to pass.

If the Cavaliers can get J.R. Smith going, while leaning on Korver and Love until he’s white-hot, then they can shoot Boston out of the gym. This will be because of the sheer volume of the shots they are taking and making. Boston will almost certainly not attempt to match them.

The defense is the real problem. It is often said that the best offense is a good defense. But Cleveland needs to try and flip that old adage if they want to win the series.

Cavaliers

Marcus Smart and J.R. Smith got into a shoving match in Game 2. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Cleveland’s defensive talent is just simply not there. The players are not defensively-minded, and, even if they are playing well on that end of the court, the Cavs cannot expect it to show up consistently.

Adding on, and defensive work the Cavaliers can do will almost certainly be canceled out by Stevens’ defense over the course of 48 minutes.

Steals and points off turnovers are where LeBron and the Cavs can do some damage to the Celtics. With their carousel of players at the point guard spot, the Celtics can be prone to turnovers if Hill or Hood can overwhelm them. With their pace of play, the Cavaliers can also push the ball up the court quickly and turn those into points.

Cleveland’s offense needs to defend them, though, as stated earlier, and throughout this article. The blueprint to beating Boston is simple: Score and keep scoring.

Featured image by Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

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2018 NBA mock draft May 17

The NBA Draft Lottery has finished and now teams can start putting their plans into place. With the NBA Draft in just over a month, who will some of these teams be targeting? Here is the 2018 NBA mock draft May 17:

1. Phoenix Suns- DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona

Ayton has said it would be cool to play with Devin Booker and how good of a one-two punch it would be. The Suns have a nice crop of young wing players in Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson, but they lack an inside presence. Ayton would give them that presence and then some. Ayton is a well-built and athletic big. He is a great rebounder, who often comes up with the ball with plenty of players around him.

2. Sacramento Kings- Marvin Bagley III, F, Duke

The 6’11” big man is athletic and can do everything on a basketball court, which includes shooting from deep at 39.7%. Sacramento was a lucky team in the lottery and can now get a real impact player. Bagley can slide in nicely with the Kings young core of De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein and Buddy Hield.

3. Atlanta Hawks- Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia

Doncic has the size of a wing player in the NBA but actually plays on-ball a lot for Real Madrid. He stands 6’6″ and is an excellent passer and playmaker. His three-point shooting has gone down over the last few years, so Doncic will have to work on that. The Hawks don’t have much talent on the roster and can play Doncic alongside Dennis Schroeder.

Michael Porter Missouri

Michael Porter Jr. (Photo by cbssports.com)

4. Memphis Grizzlies- Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri 

Porter can play the three or the four for the Grizzlies. He came back from his back injury and was rusty, but showed flashes of why he was rated so highly coming out of high school. Memphis has an aging roster and could use a young star like Porter, who can do almost anything asked of him on the court.

5. Dallas Mavericks- Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State

The Mavs tried to tank, but it backfired with the lottery results. Jackson is an athletic player, who protects the rim well. He can also stretch the floor, hitting nearly 40% of his threes over his one year at Michigan State.

6. Orlando Magic- Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

The Magic need good guard play and have a void after trading Elfrid Payton. Young brought life to college basketball with his electrifying play. He drives, passes and shoots like Steph Curry, but does turn the ball over too much. He also has struggled on defense, but the offense should make up for it.

7. Chicago Bulls- Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

Sexton is one of the best point guards in the class and is able to drive and distribute the ball well. This ability would fill in well with Lauri Markkanen for the future of the franchise.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers- Wendell Carter, PF/C, Duke

Carter can play the four and the five and presents a player who can even stretch the floor with his shooting. The Cavs will likely try to select Trae Young or Collin Sexton to get a point guard but may need to trade up to do it.

9. New York Knicks- Mo Bamaba, C, Texas

Bamba will be able to defend the paint, as he averages 5 blocks per 40 minutes. He has been compared to Rudy Gobert, with his good defense, and he’ll have to develop his offensive game. The Knicks can play him next to Kristaps Porzingis in what could be a dangerous frontcourt.

10. Philadelphia 76ers- Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky

Knox has good size and can shoot well. He is inconsistent though, as he can go off in some games and disappear in others. The 76ers can get another freakish player with this pick and Knox will help open up the game for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

11. Charlotte Hornets- Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova 

Bridges will walk in the door as a legitimate “3 and D” prospect but has a chance to develop into much more. He’s got good length but does need to add some more strength. The Hornets need to find pieces to fill in between Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Kentucky

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Photo by 94feetreport.com)

12. Los Angeles Clippers- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

He is a lanky point guard, who has a long wingspan, which helps him play good defense. SGA will need to work on his shooting and add some weight, but the length will get him selected early. The Clippers have Partick Beverly but need a point guard of the future.

13. Los Angeles Clippers- Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Williams displayed what he is capable of in the NCAA Tournament. He has great athleticism for a big but doesn’t have the best motor. The Clippers could use another productive big with the departure of Blake Griffin.

14. Denver Nuggets- Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Bridges is an athletic wing who already has an NBA body. He can shoot and drive and could fit in nice with the Nuggets’ young core.

15. Washington Wizards- Lonnie Walker IV, PG/SG, Miami

Walker doesn’t fill the biggest need for the Wizards, but he is a good value here. He didn’t produce a lot in his freshman year at Miami, but shows flashes of potential, making him worthy of consideration here.

16. Phoenix Suns- Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, USA

Simons has created some buzz after deciding to declare for the NBA Draft out of prep school. He can shoot and get to the basket well. The Suns will need a better point guard than Payton for the future.

17. Milwaukee Bucks- Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Robinson sat out this year to prepare for the draft after initially signing with Western Kentucky. Milwaukee could use a young developmental big.

18. San Antonio Spurs- Khyri Thomas, PG, Creighton 

The Spurs need a point guard to take over and lead the team. Thomas can get his own shots but needs to learn how to set his teammates up better.

Zhaire smith dunk

Zhaire Smith (Photo by blazersedge.com)

19. Atlanta Hawks- Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

In the NCAA Tournament, Smith electrified the crowd with his dunks, but he can also hit the three-point shot at a high percentage of 45%.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves- Gary Trent, SG, Duke

The Timberwolves need to spread the floor more and find some good shooters. Trent is a knockdown shooter who needs to improve his defense to see the floor in Minnesota.

21. Utah Jazz- Dzanan Musa, SG/SF, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Jazz have some young pieces but could use another wing player. They can also afford to have a draft and stash if Musa fits that bill.

22. Chicago Bulls- Jontay Porter, PF/C, Missouri

Porter doesn’t get as much publicity as his brother but had a solid season at Missouri. They got a guard with their first pick and can now get some depth for the frontcourt.

23. Indiana Pacers- Troy Brown, PG/SG, Oregon

Brown is a tall, athletic guard, but doesn’t shoot well from three-point range. He needs some development but could be a good player next to Victor Oladipo.

24. Portland Trail Blazers- Brandon McCoy, C, UNLV

The Trail Blazers don’t have a lot of size and can get McCoy and help him develop.

Jacob Evans NBA

Jacob Evans (Photo by downthedrive.com)

25. Los Angeles Lakers- Jacob Evans, G, Cincinnati

Evans is a “3 and D” player, who could find his way as a solid role player in the NBA.

26. Philadelphia 76ers- Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova

DiVincenzo can stay in Philly to help the 76ers spread the floor even more.

27. Boston Celtics- Trevon Duval, PG, Duke

The Celtics have good point guard play, but who knows how much longer they can keep Terry Rozier in a bench role behind Kyrie Irving after his performance in the playoffs. Marcus Smart will also likely not be retained.

28. Golden State Warriors- Tony Carr, PG, Penn State

Carr broke through this season and now has a chance to be drafted in the first round. He is a big guard, who can shoot and take over for Shaun Livingston.

29. Brooklyn Nets- Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Hutchison was a star at Boise State who did a little bit of everything for the Broncos. With the right coaching, he can turn into a solid NBA player.

30. Atlanta Hawks- Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova

Brunson won multiple Player of the Year awards. He is fundamentally sound and uses that to his advantage.

 

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Western Conference Playoff Preview

NBA Western Conference finals preview

And now, the matchup you’ve all been waiting for; The clash of the Titans; The metaphorical NBA Finals everyone has wanted to see all season is upon us. The Golden State Warriors will face the Houston Rockets in the NBA Western Conference Finals (Game 1 on Monday).

These two teams boast the best offenses in the league during the regular season. Both teams are Averaging at least 112 points per game, so casual fans can expect high scoring games and many shots to be taken. As for the diehard NBA fans, expect to watch the best offensive schemes the game has to offer. As basketball enthusiasts, we have been drooling over this possible matchup throughout the year, and we actually get to watch it, unlike in years past.

For those that need catching up on the NBA or just feel like reading for the buildup, continue reading as normal. For those that know these teams inside and out, feel free to skip the next section. WARNING: watching these two teams will feel like a school session, with the class specializing in movement off-the-ball. Take notes if you have to.

 DURING THE REGULAR SEASON

Western Conference finals preview

James Harden (Photo by businessinsider.com)

The Rockets secured the home court advantage as the top seed in the West with the best record in the league (65-17) and won the regular season series against Golden State (3-1). Superstar guard, James Harden, will probably end up the league’s MVP with the season he has had; posting numbers like 8.8 APG (assists per game), 5.4 RPG (rebounds per game), 86% FT (free throw) percentage, a league-leading PER (player efficiency rating) of 29.8, and career high in points per game with 30.4.

The question coming into this series is: Will Harden be able to lead his Rockets as the MVP past the Warriors? Or will the onslaught of Warriors’ famed “death lineup” be too much for his team to handle? While this discussion isn’t all about James Harden, he will certainly be the focusing point of this series for not just the Warriors, but for all basketball fans.

Harden will not be doing it all by himself; there are other key players he has in Houston, such as fellow guard and 9x all-star Chris Paul making his first ever conference finals (13 seasons) to help distribute the ball to his teammates and orchestrate the offense. Clint Capella has had a breakout season both offensively and defensively; second in blocks per game and first in FG% (granted most if not all of those baskets come from within five feet of the rim). And from the bench, Eric Gordon posted 18 PPG on 43% shooting. Houston have rotational players that fill the roles of deep threat shooting (Ryan Andersen and Gerald Green), defensive anchors (Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute) and size (Nene) needed to complete an NBA roster.

The Warriors dealt with injuries to Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Steph Curry throughout the season. Very rarely, did we see the healthy death lineup during the season. That apparently did not stop the Warriors being the highest scoring team in the league (113 PPG) despite having to settle for the no. 2 in the West.

Steph Curry, while injured during the final quarter of the season, still posted a good season averaging 26 PPG, 6 APG and 5 RPG. Kevin Durant posted almost identical numbers to Curry but switched the assist (5) and rebounding (6) numbers. The Warriors have utilized the veterans on the squad for rotation and that has been what has made them so dangerous in the past. From death lineup member Andre Iguodala all the way to rookie Jordan Bell and G-League call-up Kevon Looney, Steve Kerr has not been afraid to go deep into his bench this season.

HOW HAVE BOTH TEAMS LOOKED IN THE POSTSEASON?

Houston has conceded two losses thus far in the postseason (one in both previous rounds). Their versatile offense had proven incredibly difficult to defend for teams known for their defensive mindsets in Minnesota and Utah. The high pick and roll between James Harden/Chris Paul and Clint Capella/Nene has been their main staple and has usually caused defenders to switch and force mismatches. This draws attention from help defenders which can leave Houston’s shooters open for the two of the best passing guards to casually dish them the ball. And if help doesn’t come, that usually means a lob for Capella or an ISO finish from Harden/Paul.

One standout this postseason has been Clint Capella. The center is leading the playoffs in blocks with 2.9 per game and has won his matchups between Karl Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert; I am not saying Capella is by any means the second coming of Olajuwon, but his presence in the paint has been felt throughout the Rockets playoff run. Defense is what has been somewhat of a criticism of the Rockets in the past; especially with the system Mike D’Antoni has been famous for deploying. However, Capella looks to have become a major defensive catalyst for the Rockets high powered offense.

Western Conference finals preview

Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (Photo by fansided.com)

Golden State played the first six games of their postseason without Steph Curry (one series and the first game of the semifinals). The Warriors began their run by beating a Kawhi-less and partially Pop-less San Antonio in 5 games; Coach Gregg Popovich left the team indefinitely as his wife tragically died of illness during the series.

The following series they faced Anthony Davis and the red-hot Pelicans; Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo had helped Davis sweep Portland in the previous round. If the semifinals were a test, Golden State passed with flying colors conceding one loss and ending the series in five.

Steph was reinserted into the squad in Game 2 of that series and didn’t seem to have lost any of his shooting touch; at last, the death lineup was back for the playoffs. With the team seemingly now healthy and four games of being able to re-awaken their chemistry, these seem to be the championship Warriors of the past few seasons; a lot of movement away from the ball, back-door cuts, slip screens and threes… lots and lots of threes.

 

HOW WILL THE SERIES PLAY OUT?

Houston’s most effective lineup (defensively and offensively) will be Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker and Clint Capella. Eric Gordon is better coming off the bench. This allows him to be the focus of the offense when Harden or Paul needs a breather.

Harden and Paul will attempt to create switches to result in them being defended by a JaVale McGee, David West or Kevon Looney, as they are not good perimeter defenders and can be exploited with speed and finesse.

Their most effective lineup matches up well with Golden State’s death lineup in terms of size. The question will be can they keep up defensively with their movement away from the ball? Will Paul and Harden be able to chase Thompson and Curry all over the court? If they switch, what matchup are they willing to concede on that possession? This team may be able to keep up with Golden State offensively, but this series will come down to whether or not the Rockets can stop Golden State on defense.

Throughout this series, the Warriors will no doubt deploy the death lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. As we saw last season, this lineup appears unbeatable on both ends of the floor.

Green’s size and basketball IQ allow him to be able to defend almost any player on the court all while also being able to run the offense (Green is averaging close to a triple-double this postseason). Kevin Durant, while not the team’s leader, is the team’s most unstoppable force on the offensive end; the Rockets can only hope to slow down the 6’10” lanky forward. Iguodala (or “Iggy” as he is called), has been the team’s most gifted defender for the past few seasons now and can shoot from deep.

Houston will have a quite a task in stopping this team when it counts and I haven’t even talked about the Splash brothers yet; Klay and Steph have been touted by their previous coach, Mark Jackson, as the best shooting backcourt in the game’s history and don’t expect this series to be any different.

Shawn Livingston, David West, and McGee will be pivotal for the Warriors rotation in this series off the bench. One thing that will be interesting to see is if Kerr tries inserting rookie Jordan Bell to deter or hinder Capella with his heavier size and athleticism.

So, who wins? Who advances to the NBA Finals? While Houston may house the league’s probable MVP, his often-criticized individual defensive deficiencies may be his team’s undoing.

Expect the Warriors to try and get Harden to chase Klay or Steph around the court and make him expend more energy on the defensive end. What’s that Houston? You have Chris Paul now? That may be so, but this is also, for whatever reasons you want to come up with, his first ever conference finals.

Even if Houston matches up well defensively in size, that still leaves the most talented scorer in the game and his name is Kevin Durant. KD will not be stopped by any defender the Rockets have to offer as his size, ball handling, shooting and athleticism allows for him to have the advantage in nearly every situation this series could put in front of him.

And again, all of that without mentioning two of the best (if not the best) shooters this game has ever seen. Curry may not yet be completely healed from his knee sprain, but on this team, he may not have to.

The Warriors play a style that encourages individuals as much as it does teamwork, and that goes all the way to the end of the bench. The Warriors will be fresher and they have been to this stage many times in the past few seasons. Harden has disappeared in a key game in past series. Mike D’Antoni has made a conference final. What hasn’t happened are these Rockets getting past the Warriors when it matters most and don’t expect that to change.

Golden State wins in 6.

 

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Dwane Casey

Toronto fires Dwane Casey

Just two days after being awarded NBA’s Coach of the Year award, Dwane Casey was fired by the Toronto Raptors.

Casey led the Raptors to a franchise-best 59-23 record in 2018, securing them the East’s top seed. While they won their first-round series against the Washington Wizards, Toronto was swept by LeBron and the Cavaliers in the semifinals.

This marked the third time in three years Cleveland ousted Casey’s Raptors from the playoffs. It was also the second year in a row the Raptors were swept out of the second round. In the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Cavs and Raptors met in the Eastern Conference Finals (in Toronto’s first trip ever) before falling in six games.

Playoff woes

During his seven-year tenure with Toronto, Dwane Casey led the Raptors to playoff berths in five straight seasons. Three of those five playoff appearances ended in sweeps. In 2015 it came at the hands of the Washington Wizards. As previously mentioned, the other two were the work of James and the Cavaliers.

Dwane Casey

Casey coaches DeMar DeRozan. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Does this speak to a coach that fails to make adjustments? Or has it simply been bad luck?

The Raptors brass seems to believe it is the former. Their President, Masai Ujiri, released a statement today saying that “this is a very difficult, but necessary step the franchise must take,” as they try to get over the hump and find their way to the NBA Finals for the first time.

With the exception of a five-game dip from 2016 to 2017, Casey saw his team’s record improve with every season he was in Toronto. Culminating in the best regular season the Raptors have ever had.

Regular season records do not mean much, however, if the team does not hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Just ask the 2016 Golden State Warriors.

Coach of the Year?

Casey’s peers voted him Coach of the Year for 2018 on May 9. Two days later he is unemployed. What is worth noting is that, while the award is his, he has not accepted it yet. That comes on June 25th, at a special ceremony, which might end up being a little awkward.

Firing the Coach of the Year because he had the unenviable task of facing LeBron James is a questionable decision at best. After all, LeBron-led teams have blown through the rest of the Eastern Conference in seven straight seasons. By that logic, every coach that has faced LeBron since 2010 has grounds to be let go.

Given his credentials and his proven ability to increase win records, Casey will probably not be out of a job for long. It would be surprising if the summer ends without him holding some sort of coaching position.

Summary

NBA fans shouldn’t weep for Casey for long. Instead, they should take the time to appreciate LeBron James. He is, without a doubt, the driving force behind this firing. Because he took Toronto to task for three straight years, Dwane Casey no longer has a job.

Dwane Casey

Casey and Raptors superfan Drake stand courtside. (Photo by Richard Madonik/Toronto Star)

Another factor could be his inability to maximize Lowry and DeRozan, but that blame should be split 50-50 between the players and the coach. Casey can draw up the offensive sets, but he cannot make the ball go in the basket. He can suggest innovative ways to defend LeBron, but he cannot stop him from being the best player in the world.

All in all, Toronto has some soul searching to do. After shaking their Game 1 woes in their first-round series, the choker label was plastered on the franchise yet again after running into the NBA’s most consistent buzz saw. Needless to say, if the Pacers had not lost in their Game 7 against LeBron, Casey might still be holding a clipboard.

Featured image by Tony Dejak/Associated Press

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Celtics Cavaliers preview

Eastern Conference finals: Celtics vs. Cavaliers preview

It was nearly a month ago that NBA fans were predicting a Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers Eastern Conference finals. The Raptors were supposed to be a legit No. 1 seed and put their postseason struggles behind them. The 76ers were coming in hot with the longest winning streak in franchise history.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were too inconsistent and struggling defensively. The Boston Celtics were too banged up. There was not much of a chance either of these teams were getting past the first round.

Well, here we are. The Cavaliers and Celtics will be facing each other in the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight season, defying all odds and proving that the regular season is meaningless when talking about the playoffs. LeBron James has continued his postseason dominance, and Brad Stevens is making his case as the NBA’s top coach.

Here is a look at both teams as they prepare to face off for a shot at the NBA Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs have had a very interesting postseason to say the least. After surviving a series against the Indiana Pacers that went to Game 7, they swept the No. 1 seed Toronto Raptors.

What changed for the Cavs? LeBron James got some help. In the Indiana series, James averaged 34.4 points per game with the second highest average being 11.4. In the Toronto series, James averaged 34, but Kevin Love averaged 20.5, and Kyle Korver, JR Smith and Jeff Green each averaged over 12.

Celtics Cavaliers preview

(Photo by Getty Images)

Indiana was a tougher matchup defensively for the Cavs. They held the Cavs to 94.9 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting. They were much more physical than Toronto, and Lance Stephenson was doing everything he could to get in the Cavs’ heads. In the end, James proved why he is the league’s best player, and a nice boost from Tristan Thompson and George Hill in Game 7 helped push the Cavs to the semifinals.

Toronto was no match for Cleveland. For the third straight season, the Cavs eliminated the Raptors’ in the playoffs. The Cavs swept the Raptors and averaged 14.1 more points per game than them in the process.

Overall, Cleveland is averaging 103.5 points per game and allowing 102. The offense is not quite where it was at in the regular season, but the defense has really improved. The Cavs held Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to just 34.6 points per game combined.

Most importantly, LeBron James is dominating the postseason once again. Overall, James is averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, nine assists, 1.5 steals and a block per game. He is shooting 55.3 percent from the field and nailed two buzzer beaters in the Toronto series.

The matchup against Toronto really helped the Cavs come together as a team and figure things out. However, despite missing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, beating the Celtics will be no easy task.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics were doomed from the start of the season when Hayward went down with an injury in the season opener against the Cavs. Their chances of postseason success were shattered when Irving went down with an injury in early April.

At least, that was what was supposed to happen. Players like Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum have really stepped up for the team in the absence of their stars.

Celtics Cavaliers preview

(Photo by Stuart Cahill)

Like the Cavs, the Celtics struggled in their first-round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company took the No. 2 seed in the East to seven games. Home-court advantage proved to be a key factor as the home team won each game in the series.

Boston advanced to face the 76ers, who were hot coming in, but still inexperienced. To the surprise of many, Boston beat Philly in five games. The biggest key for Boston was shutting down rookie sensation Ben Simmons. Simmons was held to just 14.4 points per game and turned the ball over 24 times, which was by far more than anyone else in the series.

Tatum, who has also made noise as a rookie, led Boston in scoring in the series with 23.6 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting. Rozier contributed 19 points and 7.2 rebounds. Jaylen Brown added 15.3 points and five rebounds, and Boston’s lone All-Star, Al Horford, contributed 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in the series.

Overall, the Celtics are averaging 104.1 points per game on 44.6 percent shooting and allowing 102.5. They will be making their second straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals. A starting lineup that features Tatum, Brown, Horford, Rozier and Aron Baynes will not scare too many people.

However, you have to look at who is leading this team. The only explanation for how Boston has made it this far is Brad Stevens. Stevens has been making his case not just for Coach of the Year, but also for why he may be the NBA’s best coach. Not many coaches could get this far without their two best players.

Analysis

This will be the third time in the last four years that the Cavaliers and Celtics have met in the playoffs. It is a matchup most predicted at the start of the regular season, but not at the start of the postseason given the circumstances of both teams.

Really, there is not much that separates these teams statistically. Boston averages 3.9 more rebounds per game, 0.6 more points, 1.5 more assists, 0.3 more steals, 0.9 more blocks and 0.9 percent more shooting from three. The Cavs shoot 2.1 percent higher from the field, turn the ball over 0.2 times less, force 0.2 more turnovers and allow 0.5 points per game less.

The Cavs have more star power, although Kevin Love has struggled overall this postseason. He is averaging just 14.7 points per game on 39.4 percent shooting, but is still contributing 10.1 rebounds and shooting 38.5 percent from three.

However, the Celtics appear to be more balanced. Boston has six players averaging at least 10 points per game this postseason compared to just four on Cleveland. None of those six players on the Celtics really struggled offensively in the first round like the players on the Cavs. However, Indiana played much tougher defense than Milwaukee at the same time.

Prediction

This matchup is closer than people might think. Ultimately, it is going to depend on which version of the Cavs shows up this series.

Cleveland will be the toughest defense Boston has faced this postseason, while Boston will be in the middle of the pack for Cleveland. Boston was able to fluster a young player like Ben Simmons in the semifinals, but it is going to be tougher to do that against a veteran team like the Cavs.

Boston has home-court advantage for this series, but there is a three-day break between Game 2 and 3. An older team like Cleveland could really benefit from this break. If Cleveland can take one game in Boston, they can return to Cleveland fully charged and potentially jump ahead 3-1 when returning to Boston for Game 5.

Prediction: Cleveland in six

 

Featured image by Michael Dwyer/AP

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