0-3

Inside the NBA’s 0-3 conundrum

The NBA playoffs have already yielded one sweep in the first round. Two more semifinals series are on the verge of ending in just four games.

It is well known that the NBA is the only one of the three major American sports which feature playoff series that has never seen an 0-3 comeback. The NHL and MLB have both had this unlikely event happen at least once.

Most intriguing is that this kind of comeback seems more likely in the NBA than either the NHL or MLB. The NHL relies on physicality, goal scoring and goalie play, one of which can usually stay consistent to complete a series win. The MLB, as any sports fan will tell you, is impossible to predict on a game-to-game basis. Momentum plays a huge roll and the team in the 0-3 hole has a massive task robbing the opposing team of it. On top of that, pitching and hitting needs to be near flawless for four games straight.

In the NBA, however, teams can flat-out go cold from the floor. A defense can be exploited, and shots falling can rattle even the best teams. As Brad Stevens of the Celtics has proven, a solid game plan can defeat better talent.

Here, we will take a look at the teams that are currently up 3-0, how they got there, and what the road to history looks like for the teams trying to claw out of that hole.

History

In the history of the NBA playoffs, teams up three games to none are 129-0 in their series.

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Antonio McDyess and P.J. Brown meet at the rim during the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals (Photo by Getty Images)

In those 129 series, only nine of them have seen the team down 0-3 get to a Game 6. Of those nine series, only three of them have gone to a Game 7. The most recent example is the 2007 Bulls-Pistons semifinal round when the Bulls forced a Game 6 after going down 0-3. The last forced Game 7 was back in 2003 when Portland came back against the Dallas Mavericks. Portland eventually lost by 12 points in the winner-take-all matchup.

Teams winning series after being down three games to one is much more common. In fact, in the 2016 NBA playoffs, it happened twice. The Golden State Warriors came back on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, that same Golden State team blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So where is the disconnect? Why is it so hard to win four NBA games in a row?

Common sense would say fatigue.

Of the three series that have gone to Game 7 after a team went up 3-0, the average margin of defeat in that Game 7 has been eight points. That stat suggests the losing team had enough to give to keep it close, but had spent enough to lose the hustle battle.

As stated earlier, game plans can beat talent. So playing a single team seven times in a row can allow either team to cancel out certain strategies. It is likely that this would come into play in a winner-take-all game more so than the games leading up to it.

Simply put, a lot of factors go into winning four games in a row. Defense, the ability to make shots, hustle plays and coaching. Coming back from an 0-3 deficit is not an impossibility, and the NBA will eventually see this kind of come back. It just simply has not happened yet.

0-3 Teams

In the semifinal round, both the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers are up on their opponents 3-0.

Boston, without its two best players, has bested the younger Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. All but written off, regardless of their second seed, this injured Boston team has proved NBA pundits wrong at every turn. In my series preview, I even picked the Sixers to win in six games.

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Dario Saric after the Celtics lost Game 3 in overtime. (Photo by Getty Images)

In a postgame interview on Saturday night, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN alleged that Brett Brown has lost the 76ers all three of these games. The latest mistake being unable to run a play in overtime that did not involve Joel Embiid being near the top of the key. On the inbound play, down by one, the Sixers had the ball stolen by Al Horford, which demanded free throws be taken to increase the Celtics’ cushion to three points.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are up by three games on the best team in the East, the Toronto Raptors. This is due to the ageless LeBron James, and some remedying of problems that plagued the Cavs in their seven-game series against Indiana.

James has scored 26, 43 and 38 points in the first three games respectively. This includes another incredible buzzer beater in Game 3. The Raptors have a reputation of falling apart against these Cavaliers, as they have lost to Cleveland in the last two NBA playoffs.

While the Cavs can become a steamroller during the playoffs, this Raptors team is definitely stronger than past iterations. They have a great bench, two legitimate stars and two great role players. While the Raptors lifted their Game 1 woes during their series against the Wizards, it seems like Cleveland may really be their kryptonite.

Road to Game 7

While a series win is obviously the goal, first these teams will have to reach Game 7. According to history, only 2.3 percent of teams down 0-3 have reached that point. Then, they have to win that game, which no one ever has.

For the 76ers, the road starts with finding better plays in late game situations. Embiid may be their best player, but he is not their only solid option. Belinelli was clutch in Game 3, with a buzzer-beating shot to send the game to overtime. His 3-pointer to try to tie the game in the closing seconds of overtime was almost good, too. Ben Simmons is struggling, and he is a terrible shooter anyway. But he does not need to be inbounding the ball on the final play. He should be cutting to the hoop or ready to pass.

The 76ers also blew a 22 point lead in Game 2. So saying that the Sixers need to build a lead is not enough. Their foot needs to stay on the gas, and they need to forgo the early shot clock jumpers that built them the lead. The Celtics are too well coached to be out of any individual game. Both teams play great defense, but Philly’s offense has been their Achilles’ Heel.

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Valanciunas goes to the floor during the Raptors’ Game 2 meltdown against the Cavaliers. (Photo by Nathan Dennette/Canadian Press via AP)

If they can find a way to stop their own bleeding and get out of their own way, they can make a comeback. As far as Game 7 goes, the Celtics will be formidable, as Brad Stevens’ game plan will almost assuredly be better than Brett Brown’s. But the Sixers have the raw talent necessary to maybe surprise everyone.

Speaking of getting out of their own way, the Raptors have to have some serious conversations with themselves about their identity if they don’t want to get swept out of this second round.

As the East’s top seed the Raptors were supposed to be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. As it stands now, it seems as if history is doomed to repeat itself. The last two years have seen Toronto be a stepping stone on Cleveland’s path towards the NBA Finals. Shockingly down 0-3, they must not only erase their own history but make NBA history in the process.

The key is to stop LeBron James. This is possibly the toughest thing any team in the NBA could be asked to do, but it is truly the only way. James is currently averaging 34.8 points per game in the entire playoffs and 35.7 points in the series. DeRozan was benched in the fourth quarter of Game 3 due to lack of production, which cannot happen again, because Lowry and DeRozan need to be the ones to stop that bleeding.

Kevin Love is averaging 13.9 points per game, as Cleveland’s second best scoring option. If Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas can play up to their potential, that would cancel out Cleveland’s small, but important, safety valve. Past that, VanVleet, Anunoby and the rest of the role players just need to contribute consistently on both ends of the court.

The formula is deceptively simple for Toronto to find their way to Game 7. If that should come to pass, then they will have to get past elimination-game LeBron, who is, somehow, even better than the LeBron they have been seeing the past three games.

Summary

In conclusion, these will probably not be the series where the NBA finally sees an 0-3 comeback. It will eventually happen, just as a 16 seed upsetting a number one seed finally happened in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but the two teams that find themselves up 3-0 are too talented and driven to lose to their opponents.

Toronto may be able to force a Game 6, as they will pull out all the stops to halt LeBron’s historic performances, but James, as he always does, will eventually get the best of them.

Philadelphia is showing its youth. The coaching is simply not good, Simmons is playing horribly and teams cannot win against a Stevens-led team with just a center and some backup wing players. The injured Celtics will continue to defy all expectations and knock them out. As far as forcing a Game 5 or 6, the 76ers may be able to pull out a close one, but do not count on it.

Featured image by Getty Images

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playoffs

Celtics vs. 76ers series preview

The NBA playoffs roll on, and so does The Game Haus’ coverage. Spring basketball has not disappointed thus far, and the games will only get more contentious as teams chase a championship.

Monday will hold the first game between the second-seeded Boston Celtics and the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. While the 76ers took care of the Miami Heat in just five games, the shorthanded Celtics needed all seven games to get past the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite their contrasting attitudes on the court, these two teams match up well. Assuming both teams play to their fullest potential, this could be a classic semifinal round. Here is some analysis and a prediction of what this series could hold.

Boston Celtics

Milwaukee gave Boston all they could handle until Game 7.

In the winner-take-all contest, the Celtics did not quite run the Bucks out of the gym, but came out with a convincing 14-point win. As these things usually do, the game came down to coaching and defense. Brad Stevens’ game plan may not have come to full fruition, as Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe had 22 and 23, respectively. The eternal shooter Khris Middleton also added 32.

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Tatum and Brown celebrate against the Nuggets. (Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports)

Minus their star Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’ balanced attack overshadowed the young Bucks’ star power. Boston had three players with 20-plus scoring numbers, while three were in double digits or within one bucket.

All the games were closer than some of their scores might indicate. The Celtics needed overtime to stop Milwaukee in Game 1, and Game 4 and Game 5 were won by a combined total of seven points. The fact that Boston came out with a series win should be a jolt to the team because they have proven they can stop a legitimate superstar with a banged-up roster. It also solidifies Stevens’ place as the best coach in the league.

In their seven games, Boston has scored an average of 102.4 points per game, while holding the Bucks to 101.9 points. This is due to the double-digit losses the Celtics took in two of their three losing efforts. The defense is still good, but that offensive total will have to rise if they hope to beat the 76ers.

The three-point shooting has been shaky, at just 35 percent, which is only good for fifth worst out of all playoff teams. The only stat in which the Celtics claim a top-five ranking is turnovers. Obviously, the team has played well enough, but the real credit goes towards the coaching of Stevens in late game situations.

The 76ers should present even more of a challenge to them going forward.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers and their “process” came away with a series win in five games against the Dwayne Wade-led Heat. The firepower coupled with the brand of bully-ball that Joel Embiid plays were too much for this Miami team that was seemingly without an identity.

The one game that Erik Spoelstra’s Heat managed to steal, was a 10-point win in Philadelphia. It took a vintage Dwayne Wade and five other Heat players to have double-digit scoring nights to do it. That is actually a good sign for Philadelphia. If a team has to have an incredible night to beat you, then that is nothing to hang one’s head about.

In that game, five 76ers also scored in double digits, as well. But shots were not falling at opportune times as Wade took over.

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Embiid celebrates after hitting a three in his infamous protective mask. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Their four winning games came by margins of 27, 20, four and 13, respectively. Great news, considering offense was the main concern of this team going into the playoffs. The 76ers currently rank first in points per game in the playoffs at 114.2. They also hold the top spot in rebounds per game and are second in steals per game.

It seems as if the regular season was not a fluke for this ridiculously young team. The offense and defense have carried over from the regular season to the playoffs. Embiid is not letting his orbital fracture get in the way of his play. Ben Simmons also continues to pad his stat-line without hamstringing the rest of the team.

There is no way to tell whether this is an NBA Finals caliber roster just yet, but there is certainly plenty to be excited about in Philadelphia.

Preview and Predictions

As stated before, the attitudes of these teams contrast, but their style of play is largely similar. Both teams like to score in the paint but do their best to take advantage of open jump shots, rather than pass them up for tough low-post shots.

The most interesting player matchup to watch during this semifinal series will be Embiid versus whomever Stevens wants guarding him. It could be Jayson Tatum, who has the same quickness, but neither the length nor defensive prowess of Embiid. It might also be true center Al Horford, who overmatches Embiid in defensive experience but might struggle to score against him. Keep in mind, also, that Horford can stretch the floor, as well as Embiid, can.

Ben Simmons will likely walk all over whichever Celtic guards him. Rozier is playing fantastic basketball, but the likelihood of him guarding a 6-foot-10 point guard with any kind of efficiency is low. Smart can also pick up the slack, but double-teaming Simmons will leave his passing lanes wide open.

Small forward matchups will mostly be a wash, considering the length and shooting ability of all parties. The bench matchup will likely be won by Boston, because of the brilliance of Brad Stevens and his game planning.

In the end, Philadelphia seems like a team on a mission. Their on-court presence is just as boisterous as it is off-court, and they want to prove to the NBA that “The Process” is officially complete.

76ers in six

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The Wade Train: To ride or not to ride?

The sixth-seeded Miami Heat currently trail the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers by a single game after falling short in Game 3. They were victim of a Philly outburst in which a 32-14 fourth quarter was involved, and saw guys like Simmons and Embiid go off. There is a very common variable in Miami’s success versus failures this series, and this variable is a player named Dwyane Wade. Let’s take a look at his numbers and the implications they have on the series and possibly his career.

When does Wade fade?

Anyone keeping up with this series at all knows that Dwyane Wade had a very different Game 2 than he did Games 1 and 3.  Here are his numbers:

Game 1:  11 points on 4/7 shooting, four rebounds, and nothing else in 19 minutes

Game 2:  28 points on 69 percent shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 26 minutes

Game 3:  Eight points on 20 percent from the floor, two rebounds, five assists, one steal, one block

Yes, it is a small sample size, but so far this series Wade has not been consistent at all. Or, he hates odd numbers and he is about to go off again in Game 4?  Your guess is as good as mine, but the Heat apparently need Wade to play well for them.

In the two games where he didn’t do much at all, the Heat lost by a combined 47 points.  For just two games worth of point differential in what people thought would be a highly competitive series, this is pretty crazy.  But his 28-point outburst in Game 2?  Heat win by 10 and everyone plays better when Wade does.

Photo source: www.urbanbellemag.com

Which Wade?

It is tough to say if 1) Wade has unluckily had two not-so-great games or 2) his 28-point Game 2 was an anomaly. As I said, so far it appears that this team needs the 36-year-old to play well if the team wants to play well. Then again, let’s take a look back at the most important of the preceding sentence: The number 36. Dwyane Wade has been in the league for 14 years, and while “Vintage D-Wade” and “Flash” can come out at any given moment, the team should not be solely relying on the veteran to propel them to success and wins.

Miami has a lot more weapons, especially at the guard spot, that should be suitable for beating most teams. Then again, maybe they got a bit unlucky in having to play the Sixers, who are the scariest team in the Eastern Conference and have a ceiling higher than the ozone.

What if he doesn’t show up?

Photo source: www.hoopshype.com

The rest of the Heat team has been pretty good, but have just been outplayed by the Sixers. And they’re extremely outplayed when Wade doesn’t play well (47 points outplayed, to be exact). Goran Dragic has played well consistently, but only sometimes does the team get good stuff out of guys like Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. Justise Winslow had a great Game 3, Kelly Olynyk has played big minutes and great defense, and James Johnson is solid as always, but they are just no match for everything the 76ers bring to the table.

The biggest surprise for this team, and arguably the biggest of the postseason thus far, is Miami center Hassan Whiteside. He had an injury-plagued regular season but played very well in limited minutes when he was on the court. The playoffs, however, are not treating him all that nicely.  Here are his averages through the first three games:

3.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 3.0 fouls, and 2.3 turnovers in 13.7 minutes.

Not good. He has 11 points the entire series and is on the floor for just over a quarter’s worth of time each night. Part of it is due to foul trouble, part is due to small-ball, but I think a lot of it is how much of a liability he can be on defense. Yes, he’s a great shot blocker, but if he goes up at Joel Embiid every time, he might get him once or twice, and Embiid will figure him out in a second. He could have a breakout game, but the way Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are playing, this is quite doubtful.

Career

Dwyane Wade came to Miami from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the middle of the season, and he made it clear that this was his last stop before retirement. So does this mean if Wade and the Heat take a first-round exit this postseason that this is it for him?  Or does he still have something left? If Miami advances at least another round and Wade plays well, you have to think he sticks around for at least another season to see what he can bring to Miami.

Conclusion

There are plenty of question marks surrounding what kind of series Dwyane Wade will have from here on out and, unfortunately for him, this series might slightly affect his career. First-round elimination does not automatically mean retirement for Wade, but the likelihood increases a bit. I think he still has enough swagger in his step to last another season or two, and let’s hope the Game 2 28-point Dwyane Wade shows up to play more often than not to make this series what everyone hoped it would be.

 

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first round

NBA playoff roundup: Summaries and analysis after two games

The first round of the NBA playoffs is here.

With every series shifting to the lower seeded team’s home court, it is time to take a look at where each team stands matching up with their opponent, some potential focus changes and predictions on how the next games will shake out.

Here is a summary of every series now that the first two games are in the books.

Eastern Conference

Raptors vs. Wizards

The Toronto Raptors finally shook the first game monkey off of their backs.

Up until Saturday, the franchise had never won the first game of a playoff series. Now, they hold their first-ever 2-0 lead.

Game 1 ended in a 116-104 win for the Raptors, although the final score does not quite tell the whole story. Toronto started off well, and got out to an early lead. By the end of the third, though, they only lead by one point. The bench players sealed the win in the fourth quarter, which is unsurprising, as Toronto’s bench has been fantastic all season.

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Lowry guards Wall during Game 1. (Photo by Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Game 2 was all Raptors, as the Wizards could not keep up after Toronto put up a 44-point first quarter. DeRozan led all scorers with 37 points, as the game wrapped with a 130-119 final score.

Although players like Serge Ibaka and Mike Scott have been terrific, the real story here is the battle of the backcourts. DeRozan and Lowry are winning this battle handily. Lowry is averaging 12 points and 10.5 assists, and DeRozan is giving the Raptors 27 points and 5 assists.

Wall seems to have no more rust to shake off, however, as he is putting up 26 points per game, and distributing at a clip of 12.5 assists per game. While Beal, who has played all year and earned his first All-Star appearance, can only muster 14 points and 3.5 assists.

The series is now shifting to Washington, but that is not necessarily a gigantic advantage. The Raptors away record is two games better than the Wizards’ home record. Expect the home crowd to give the Wiz a boost, but if the Raptors continue their trend of incredibly timely scoring, this series could be over in four or five games.

Celtics vs. Bucks

Although the Celtics are up 2-0 in the series, it has not been as lopsided as the record indicates.

In Game 1, Boston needed overtime to beat the seventh-seeded Bucks, after Khris Middleton knocked down a Hail Mary 3-pointer with 0.5 on the clock. It was a game of runs, as Boston had a 15-0 run to end the first quarter, with Milwaukee answering with a 21-5 run in the second. It was only fitting that a game that back and forth got an extra period.

As the old adage goes, though, better teams win in overtime. The Celtics outscored the Bucks 14-8 in bonus time, and took the win.

Game 2 ended with a 120-106 Celtics victory, but the Bucks were not hopelessly behind for the entire game. Rather, they hung around, but just could not muster the defense necessary to hold off Boston’s balanced attack.

As expected, Antetokounmpo has been the driving force behind Milwaukee, averaging 32.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two games. Middleton, the Game 1 hero, has been a scoring machine, giving the Bucks 31 points in the first game and 25 in the second. Outside of the Greek Freak’s 13 rebound performance in Game 1, though, no other Buck has had a double-digit rebound game. This likely has contributed to their 0-2 hole.

Without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have looked just fine. In Game 1, four Celtics scored 20 or more, with Jayson Tatum only being one point shy of making it five. Six of Boston’s players had double-digit scoring games in Game 2. Not bad for an injury-laden team whose offense was written off after the All-Star break.

If the Bucks can break out of some bad habits and lackluster defense, they could even this series at home. But look for the Celtics to take the series with their more complete team and better coaching. Biding time until Marcus Smart can return in May, Boston has a lot to play for.

76ers vs. Heat

This series has been great, and will likely stay that way.

The “watchability” factor is due in part to the fact that Game 1 was an absolute blowout. The 76ers carried their cocky attitude and potent offensive attack into the playoffs to the tune of a 130-103 win. Even without Embiid locking down the paint, this young Sixers team found ways to score and keep Miami from doing much offensively.

Veterans and newbies stepped up for Philadelphia in the 27-point drubbing of Miami. Redick and Belinelli contributed 28 and 25 points, respectively, while Saric gave a 20-point performance. Ben Simmons, the possible Rookie of the Year, was one rebound shy of a triple-double, and Ilyasova turned in a double-double. There is not much an opposing team can do about that.

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Wade against Simmons in Game 2. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The story of Game 2 was vintage Dwyane Wade rearing his head. Wade played outside of his mind, scoring 28 points. He was playing off of the ball, however, only tallying three assists. Five other Miami players scored in double figures, including Dragic’s 20-point performance.

Saric and Simmons both had good second games, but while they received support scoring-wise, the defense was not enough to stop the Heat.

As the series moves to Miami, it will be the talk of the NBA if Wade can keep playing at this level. With Embiid still out, the series is up for grabs, as the mixed veteran and young talent of Miami tries to take advantage of the 76ers’ mostly inexperienced roster.

Hopefully, we are looking at a classic seven-game first round series.

Cavaliers vs. Pacers

The Pacers put an end to LeBron’s historic 21-game first round winning streak in Game 1 of this series. Considering all of Cleveland’s struggles this season, it is not really that surprising this is the year it came to an end.

In Game 1, the Pacers were on a mission to earn some respect. In the first quarter, they outscored the Cavs 33-14, and did not look back. Victor Oladipo, as he has been all year, was the focal point of Indiana’s offense. He scored 32 easily, while Stephenson, Turner and Bogdanovic all had double-digit scoring games.

LeBron had a triple-double, putting the Cavs on his back. It was not nearly enough, however, as they lost by 18 points on their home court. Only two other Cavaliers scored more than nine points, which cued the calls of “LeBron needs more help.”

Game 2 was a full-fledged LeBron takeover, though, as he was determined to not go down 0-2. James had 46 points and 12 rebounds, and outscored the entire Pacers team in the first quarter. As the Pacers cut an 18-point lead down to just four, more LeBron heroics sealed the win, as the Cavs came away with the three-point victory.

Any series featuring this Cavaliers team will be put under a microscope. The issues this team has had are not only well-documented but numerous. The second half of their season was less tumultuous, but it is generally agreed upon that 2018 could possibly put an end to LeBron’s streak of seven straight NBA Finals appearances.

Are the Pacers good enough to knock this battle-tested Cleveland team out in the first round, though? Probably not. Especially if LeBron continues his ageless 2018 campaign. Indiana does have a six-game advantage at home, versus Cleveland’s road record. But the Pacers continue to lean heavily on Oladipo.

Averaging 26 points in these first two games, probable Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo, has no choice but to keep playing this well if the Pacers want to keep winning. Everyone knows what the Cavaliers can do when they put it all together, so, even though NBA pundits will say otherwise, the pressure is on Indiana to continue to impress.

 

Western Conference

Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans

The Pelicans have taken a surprising 2-0 lead in this third versus sixth seed first round series. It is magnified by the fact that both of these games have taken place in Portland, which features a fantastic home court advantage.

The first game was close, but the margin of victory would have been two possessions, if McCollum did not hit a prayer of a three-pointer at the buzzer. As with many NBA games, the final two minutes were the most exciting of the game. The Trail Blazers were within one point with one minute left, after a McCollum three.

The last minute was punctuated by poor decisions and turnovers by Portland. Not to be overshadowed, though, was some excellent defense by Jrue Holliday, which included a massive block with nine seconds left.

Another bad second half cost Portland Game 2 as well. The Pelicans dominated the turnover game and took advantage of every opportunity handed to them. Playoff Rondo is back in full force, falling one assist shy of a triple-double in Game 2, and had a massive 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter. He even stole the spotlight from Anthony Davis, which is no easy task.

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Jrue Holliday celebrates after a late foul was called against Portland. (Photo by Sean Meagher/Oregon Live)

It is hard to pick the brightest spot on the Pelicans roster over the first two games. Mirotic has proven to be an important addition, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Jrue Holliday, as mentioned earlier, is playing well on both ends of the floor. Rondo contributed with his passing in Game 1, with 17 assists, and in all areas in Game 2. And of course, Davis has gotten his, with a 35-point, 14 rebound first game, and a 22-point, 13 rebound second game.

On the flip side, it is easy to pick out the problems for the Blazers. Lillard and McCollum have outright failed to carry the team the way that they did during the regular season.

Lillard is averaging 17.5 points, and McCollum has just a 15 point average. This is a far cry from Lillard’s 26.9 point and McCollum’s 21.4 point regular season average. These two simply need to play better, because when they do, the rest of the team feeds off of them. This is not an easy task, however, if Holliday and Rondo are going to continue to guard them as well as they are.

Yet another problem for the Blazers, is that the series now shifts to New Orleans. Not having the home court fans behind them has been a problem for Portland. The team is only one game above .500 on the road. The Pelicans only hold a three-game advantage at home, so expect the series to stay hotly contested.

Thunder vs. Jazz

Back-and-forth games have been the calling card of this series. Both games have been closer than their final scores indicate, due to late-game fouls and free throws. Lead changes are at a premium, and it appears that these two teams are evenly matched.

Game 1 featured two of the “OK3” have terrific nights. Paul George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points and 20 assists by themselves. Carmelo Anthony added 15 points and 7 rebounds, which helped carry the Thunder to a win.

Donovan Mitchell continued his dismantling of NBA defenses, with a 27-point night. He was also good for a double-double as he notched 10 rebounds. Six other Jazz players were in double figures in the scoring column, but the OK3’s 80 points were too much for the rookie-led Utah team. Both teams scored over 100, setting the stage for, possibly, the most exciting first-round series, depending on preference.

Continuing that trend, Mitchell did it again on Wednesday, earning 28 points. Derrick Favors turned in a double-double, and Ricky Rubio flirted with a triple-double. There were 13 lead changes in the game, but the last one in the fourth quarter belonged to the Jazz.

Westbrook, George and Anthony combined for 54 in Game 2. But Utah’s scoring was much more timely. The Thunder played well on the offensive end, as they usually do, but the defense that the Jazz are known for kept them ahead when it counted.

If the Thunder’s big three can continue averaging 67 points per game, it simply will be up to the Thunder’s bench to outscore Mitchell. The other big obstacle is Rudy Gobert, who locks down the paint with the best of them.

Utah’s home court advantage is significant, but the Thunder can score anywhere. Westbrook will have to continue to get his teammates involved, and Mitchell will have to play his brand of basketball to keep this series as fascinating as it has been.

Much like the Sixers-Heat series, we could be in line for a seven-game shootout here in the first round.

Warriors vs. Spurs

It seems as if the Warriors are doing just fine without Stephen Curry.

This is looking like the most lopsided series in the first round of the playoffs, because neither Game 1 nor Game 2 were close. The Spurs took minimal leads during Game 2, but they were short-lived. Other than those few instances, it has been all Warriors.

Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are showing their age, and the absence of Kawhi Leonard is glaring. Even the Warriors’ bench is looking to be too much for San Antonio. The Spurs have lost both games by 21 and 15, respectively.

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McGee and Thompson both go up for a block on Dejounte Murray. (Photo by Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

They allowed Durant and Thompson to score over 30 in Game 2. Their only real scoring threat on a consistent basis is LaMarcus Aldridge. Even so, the Warriors can allow him to score whatever he wants as long as they continue to lock down the rest of the offense.

Meanwhile, the Warriors are playing so well that they have managed to take over the series despite just one double-double from any player in either game (Draymond Green, 12 points, 11 assists). Steve Kerr and this Warriors team are not only accustomed to the playoffs, but they have grown used to playing without Curry. Playing without the two-time MVP may not even cost them a game in this round.

The Warriors might perform sweeps of the Spurs in back to back years. Their only hope of salvaging a game is hoping Aldridge can keep repeating his 34 point, 12 rebound performance he put up in Game 2. Along with that, they will need Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili to score 15 or more while playing good defense.

Other than that, all the Spurs have to look forward to is the trip home, where they play well. But it is very likely the advantage will not mean much.

Rockets vs. Timberwolves

Game 1 of this series saw what is probably the closest the Timberwolves will come to snatching a victory away from the best team in the NBA.

Losing by only three points, the Wolves lost their chance to tie on an abysmal final possession that ended with Andrew Wiggins losing the ball out of bounds with less than a second remaining on the clock. Minnesota played well, and Houston played as poorly as they are going to, and it still was not enough.

James Harden went off for 44 points, as he essentially scores at will. Only Capela and Paul could muster offense worth mentioning, as Harden was option number one, two and three for the Rockets.

Burgeoning star Karl-Anthony Towns only took nine shots in the entire game, making three of them. That is not winning basketball for the Wolves. It seems as if their only hope is to overpower the Rockets with Towns in the paint, as Capela makes his shots, but gets no plays ran for him.

Game 2 was the kind of blowout one might expect for the one seed versus eight seed matchups.

The Rockets won by 20, and only needed 12 points from James Harden to do it. Chris Paul was the standout in this game, backed up by Gerald Green. Only three Wolves scored in double-digits, none of them scoring 20 or more.

Frankly, the Timberwolves are outmatched and outclassed. As the series moves to Minneapolis, a crowd that has not seen a playoff game in 14 years may shake the Rockets enough to allow Minnesota to steal a game away, though.

It is going to take more than 6.5 points per game from Towns to do it, though.

Featured image by Ravell Call/Deseret News

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Dwyane Wade playoffs

Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat’s chances of upsetting the Sixers

Vintage Flash 

On Monday night, Dwyane Wade turned back the clock and led the Heat to a 113-103 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, tying the series at one. At 36 years young, Wade finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes off the bench. After the first 15 minutes in the game, Wade had outscored the entire Sixers team, 21-20, while shooting 8-for-9 from the floor.

“Flash” joined Jamal Crawford, Eddie Johnson, Vince Carter and Andre Miller as the only players in postseason history, age 36 or older, to finish with at least 28 points while coming off the bench. Nene Hilario is the only other reserve in NBA history with 28 points and seven rebounds in under 30 minutes of play.

During the first half of his legendary performance, Wade passed Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics legend, Larry Bird, in career postseason points. He is now 10th all time and is just 106 points shy of tying Tony Parker for ninth in NBA history. While Parker is currently still playing as well, this is clearly in reach if Miami can get past Philadelphia.

Wade has yet to commit to playing another season in the NBA, so it is only right we look back at how legendary this man’s career has been, if he decides to hang the shoes up after the playoffs.

D-Wade

In all honesty, Dwyane Wade’s resume is good enough to be considered a top-five shooting guard in NBA history. According to FS1 analyst and co-host of First Things First, Nick Wright, Wade is the fourth best shooting guard this league has ever seen, trailing Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West.

Dwyane Wade playoffs

Wade put on a performance for the ages in his first NBA Finals. (Photo from Sneaker History)

The former fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, “Father Prime” is a three-time NBA champ, three-time All-Defensive, eight-time All-NBA and 12-time All-Star. In 2008-09, Wade led the league in scoring with 30.2 points per game. The following season, he won the All-Star Game MVP.

In his first NBA Finals appearance against the Dallas Mavericks, Wade and the Miami Heat faced adversity early on, trailing 2-0 to start the series. Wade put the team on his back in Games 3, 4 and 5, erupting for 42, 36 and 43 points in those respective games. In Game 6, Wade dropped 36 points, and the Miami Heat won the series 4-2.

Flash became the fifth youngest player to earn NBA Finals MVP honors. His 34.7 points per game ranks third in terms of highest scoring average by a player in his first NBA Finals. According to ESPN’s John Hollinger, Wade’s 33.8 PER in the NBA Finals is noted as the greatest Finals performance since the NBA-ABA merger.

During the 2005-06 championship run, Wade joined Allen Iverson as the only two players in NBA history to finish the postseason with at least 650 points, 50 steals and 130 assists. In Miami’s Big 3 era, Wade won two more rings, as Miami went back-to-back in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Players with at least 3,900 points, 900 rebounds, 850 assists and 250 steals in the postseason
MICHAEL JORDAN
KOBE BRYANT
LEBRON JAMES
DWYANE WADE

While his playoff totals are among the best, Wade made 12 straight All-Star appearances from 2005-16. During that stretch, Wade was named First Team All-NBA in two seasons and Second Team three times, as well as Second Team All-Defensive three times. Over his storied career, Wade has six seasons averaging at least 24 points, five assists, four rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He trails just LeBron James (11) and Michael Jordan (eight) in this category.

Players with 22,000 points, 5,000 assists, 4,500 rebounds and 1,500 steals
Clyde Drexler
Michael Jordan
Karl Malone
Kevin Garnett
Kobe Bryant
Dwyane Wade
LeBron James

As you can tell from the tables above, D-Wade is one of the most complete players we have ever seen. Whether he retires or not, Wade will go down as a legend. Does he have enough in the tank to help propel the Heat past the 76ers?

Miami vs. Philadelphia

With the series knotted at one, Miami sits right in the driver’s seat, as they head home for Game 3 and 4. During the Big 3 ERA, Miami went 38-9 at home in the playoffs. Even without LeBron, coach Erik Spoelstra is 8-4 at home during the postseason. During the regular season, Miami went 26-15 at American Airlines Arena. However, the Sixers are a solid road team, finishing the season 22-19 averaging 108 points away from Philly.

Dwyane Wade playoffs

Will Embiid return for Game 3? (Photo from Liberty Ballers)

While Wade most likely won’t put on another historic performance, Philly needs Joel Embiid back if they expect to win this series. After the Game 2 loss, Embiid took to social media and wrote “(expletive) sick and tired of being babied.”

This series will come down to 3-point shooting. In Game 1, Philly went 18-for-28 (64.3 percent) from beyond the arc. The following game, Philly went an abysmal 7-for-36 (19.4 percent). If Philly hits their threes, there is no reason why they should not win. They have the best player on the floor in Ben Simmons, as well as prolific 3-point shooters like JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, Robert Covington and Dario Saric.

If Embiid does in fact return, Miami will need more out of Hassan Whiteside, who seems to rise to the challenge when facing Philly’s star big man. These are two of the top defensive teams in terms of defensive rating, so expect some close games the rest of the way. To keep it simple, if Philly’s shooting is off, Miami will win this series. If the Sixers knock down deep shots, Miami will be in trouble.

Prediction: Miami in six

 

Featured image from The New York Times 

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NBA Rookie of the Year

2017-18 NBA rookies: Behind the numbers

Throughout the regular season, we have seen excellent performances out of the first-year players. Now in the playoffs, we are getting a taste of what these rookies are capable of under the bright lights.

In Game 1 against the Miami Heat, Sixers star Ben Simmons was a rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in his playoff debut. He joined Spud Webb as the only rookies to finish a playoff game with at least 17 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. He then followed up that performance with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in Game 2.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Jayson Tatum’s clutch plays helped injury-riddled Boston defeat the Bucks in Game 1. (Photo from CelticsLife.com)

Although his performance was not enough to overcome Oklahoma City and Game 1, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell put on a show in the loss. The 21-year-old had 27 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. He is the first rookie since Tim Duncan to score at least 25 points on 50 percent shooting or better, while corralling 10 boards.

In an epic overtime thriller, Jayson Tatum stepped up big for the Celtics. The former Duke standout had 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals in Boston’s win over Milwaukee. Even OG Anunoby had a solid game off the bench for Toronto, finishing with 12 points in route to the Raptors victory over the Washington Wizards.

The league is getting younger, and these kids can really ball. The Rookie of the Year chase may be down to just Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, but let’s take a look at the rest of the field and how they fared throughout the 2017-18 NBA season.

The Field

Let’s start with the future of the Lakers, Kyle Kuzma, and the face of the Big Baller Brand, Lonzo Ball. Possibly the most scrutinized rookie of all time, Ball, who had an up-and-down season, ended up with 13 double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles. Say what you want about the kid, but the only rookies to average 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds are Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Ben Simmons and Ball. Without Ball in the lineup, the Lakers went 11-19.

Saying Kuzma exceeded expectations would be an understatement. The 27th pick in the draft, Kuzma became one of eight rookies since 2001 (Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol) to average at least 16 points and six rebounds. He had five games with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, which was the third-most by a rookie since 2011, behind Griffin and Towns.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, the future of the Lake Show. (Photo from NBC Sports)

Kuzma joined Jayson Tatum, Steve Francis and Shane Battier as the only rookies to score 1,100 points, 400 rebounds and 100 threes. Speaking of Tatum, the Celtics rookie finished second among rookies in win shares. Tatum was the complete package for Boston, and joined Towns, Dave Greenwood, Christian Laettner, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Larry Johnson as the only rookies to finish the season with 1,100 points, 400 rebounds, 100 assists, 80 steals, 50 blocks and a free-throw percentage greater than 80 percent.

What about the big men? Lauri Markkanen started the year on fire from deep. He set the rookie record for most threes in his first three career games. Only eight players this season ended the season with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 100 threes: LeBron James, Towns, Nikola Jokic, Dario Saric, Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol and Markkanen. Atlanta’s John Collins was the fifth rookie since 2012 (Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Davis) to finish with 700 points, 500 rebounds and 80 blocks.

How about some standout individual performances? Against the Toronto Raptors, Miami’s Bam Adebayo finished with 16 points on 57.1 percent shooting, 15 rebounds and five blocks. The only rookies to do that since 1998 are Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol and Towns.

The 2016-17 Horizon League Player of the Year, Valparaiso’s Alec Peters, had quite the stat line in Game 82 for the Phoenix Suns. The former Crusaders star, who averaged 23 points and 10.1 rebounds his senior year, became one of eight players in NBA history to score 36 points with at least eight threes, while shooting less than 15 from deep and also adding nine rebounds. That list includes Ray Allen, Kevin Love, Vernon Maxwell, Jason Kidd, Russell Westbrook, Jason Richardson and James Harden. While most people have never heard of this kid, that is quite a list to be on.

Let’s take a look at the top two rookies from this past season.

Donovan Mitchell

If we were to re-draft the 2017 NBA Draft, Donovan Mitchell would go No. 1 overall, as he was clearly the best player in his draft class. Mitchell set the rookie record for most three-pointers made in a season (187), passing Damian Lillard (185) and Steph Curry (166). He led the Utah Jazz to a 48-34 record, averaging 20.5 points per game. He is one of seven rookies, joining Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Walter Davis, Pete Maravich, and Mitch Redmond, to average 20 points, three rebounds and three assists with a free-throw percentage better than 80 percent.

Mitchell’s seven 30-point games were the most by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011. In a game against the Suns, Mitchell caught fire, finishing with 40 points, six assists and five rebounds, becoming one of 14 rookies in NBA history to post a game with at least 40 points, five rebounds and five assists. This was Mitchell’s second 40-point game of the season, which put him in elite company with Griffin and Allen Iverson as the only three rookies since 1985 to have multiple 40-point games in their rookie season.

Ben Simmons

In all honesty, this is a one-man race. All respect to Mitchell, who clearly had a tremendous rookie season, but Ben Simmons is a once-in-a-generation type of player. Barring injury, this guy is a lock for the Hall of Fame. While that may sound crazy, Simmons’ rookie season was one of the best we have ever seen. The Australian finished with the third-highest win shares as a rookie since 2005, behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Ben Simmons has arrived and is ready to takeover the league (SI.com)

Simmons led all rookies in rebounds, assists and steals. He became the first rookie in history to finish with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 50 blocks and 50 steals. His 12 triple-doubles were second most in NBA history by a rookie, ahead of Magic Johnson, who had seven. Simmons joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to do average 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists during their rookie seasons.

He also had a few legendary performances. Against LeBron James and the Cavs, the 6-foot-10 point guard collected 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. He did this while shooting 70.6 percent from the field. The only players to put up those numbers in a game are Wilt Chamberlin and Nikola Jokic.

Simmons also had four 15-assist games, including one against the Hornets in which he scored 20 points and added eight rebounds. He joined James, Westbrook and Jokic as the only players since 2014 to have a game with at least 20 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds while shooting over 55 percent.

Can Simmons carry the Sixers all the way into the NBA Finals? Time will tell.

 

Featured image by SLAM Magazine

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76ers and Cavaliers third seed

Sixers vs. Cavaliers: Third-seed edition

It is quite apparent that this NBA season’s playoff race has been unreal, full of stalemates and half-game leads that can disappear within a few hours of basketball. The West in particular has seen seeds three (Portland) through nine (Denver) in possibly the tightest playoff race a conference has ever seen. The East is full of good stuff too, with the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat tied for the sixth seed and the Wizards just a game behind them. One of the most interesting races, however, is the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers fighting for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Wait, what?

If you had told me I would be writing about these two teams fighting for a three seed, I would have called you crazy. But when all is said and done, the Cavs are still a great team despite their ups and downs. It looks like the 76ers are not willing to take too long to prove that they are the real deal as well.

Cleveland currently sits at the fourth seed, and is a full game behind Philadelphia. Most fans know to never bet against LeBron James in the postseason, because playoff LeBron is more beast than man. He takes his game to another level basically every time the playoffs come around, and with the way he is playing right now it is even hard to believe that there is room to go up. But believe me, he will.

Philadelphia just won their 14th straight game against the Dallas Mavericks, and have all the momentum in the world entering the playoffs. There are a million ways to state how scary this team is, and that still seems like it would not suffice. Oh, and they are missing Joel Embiid.

No Joel

76ers and Cavaliers third seed

(Photo from www.newsweek.com)

Sixers center Joel Embiid suffered an orbital fracture in late March and is expected to miss a few weeks of play. However, this has not stopped the 76ers from winning games, and keep in mind this young team has been winning game after game without one of the best centers in the league.

Unfortunately for the big man, he still does not have a timetable to return. The sooner the better for Embiid, this team and basketball in general.

Last contest

The Sixers and Cavs faced off on April 6, resulting in a thrilling 132-130 Sixers win to keep their streak alive and further assert their legitimacy. We saw some of the greatest statistical games this season from LeBron James and Ben Simmons, who also had plenty of help in the high scoring affair.

James had a triple-double with 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists while sinking 17 out of his 29 shots.  This combination of efficiency and volume is insane, and he makes it look easy every time he steps on the floor. And yes, he is in fact in his 15th season.

Simmons fooled around and had a triple-double of his own, consisting of 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13. Oh, and he shot over 70 percent from the field and added four steals and a block. The rookie is just ridiculous, and he has really taken this team and turned them into one of the funnest to watch.

And the best part? Simmons is a rookie, and we have another 15 or so years of greatness from him and this Sixers team.

Remaining schedules and possibilities

76ers and Cavaliers third seed

(Photo from www.cleveland.com)

The Cavaliers have two games remaining, both of them being against the lowly New York Knicks. This is great spot for Cleveland to be in, as these are two very winnable games to help them get to that third seed.

The 76ers also have two games remaining against the Hawks and the Bucks. While the Atlanta game should be a no-brainer, the Milwaukee game should be a great one with the Bucks likewise fighting for seeding as they are tied with Miami.

Assuming that these two teams each stay in the three and four seeds, the only way they can play each other would be in the Eastern Conference finals. Even though the Raptors do seem like the real deal this year, clinching the No. 1 seed and all that, this scenario is very possible. And if it comes to fruition, I cannot wait to be glued to my TV when the time comes.

Conclusion

The fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Philadelphia 76ers are fighting for the same playoff position is madness, and the reason I love basketball and the NBA so much.

Keep in mind that the same year the Cleveland Cavaliers won a championship, the Sixers were the worst team in the league and won just 10 games. Yes, their record was 10-72, winning just one more game than the Warriors lost the whole season.

Now fast forward just two seasons, and both of these teams look entirely different, but of equal competitive nature. The future of the teams, especially Philadelphia, is truly exciting. This would not be a 76ers-related article without signing off with these three words: Trust the Process.

 

Featured image from www.pressofatlanticcity.com

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finals

Why each Eastern Conference team can and can’t win the NBA Finals

The NBA Finals have seen the same two teams duke it out for supremacy three years in a row. With legitimate threats to both reigning conference champions on both sides, the landscape of the playoffs already seems different.

Every playoff team has the same goal entering spring basketball, the legitimacy of each team’s claim to the throne has to be weighed because they all do have a shot at the title, however long or short it may seem.

Here are the reasons each Eastern Conference team can and cannot win the 2018 NBA Finals.

No. 8 Seed – Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee has a young core centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo that has the ability to take teams by surprise. Their offense relies heavily on slashing to the basket, which translates to an extremely high field goal percentage.

Antetokounmpo is a certified superstar in the making, and he has the ability to put the team on his back if the jump shots aren’t falling. The other side of that particular coin involves the shooting talent around him being able to bail him out if he is, somehow, guarded successfully.

finals

Antetokounmpo is the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense and title contention hopes. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/AFP Photo)

What will hold them back from title aspirations is their defense. For every impressive offensive stat, there is a disappointing defensive one.

Their opponents are shooting almost 47 percent from the floor, and 37.1 percent from three-point range. Couple that with the lack of bench depth and inexperience, and the playoffs will be a tough hill to climb.

No. 7 Seed – Washington Wizards

The Wizards are perennial playoff contenders with a very talented roster. John Wall and Bradley Beal make up an impressive backcourt combination, and Marcin Gortat has the rebounding and put back abilities to make things interesting. The wing players, while prone to underachieving, also have high ceilings when they play well.

They are well-coached by Scott Brooks and, hopefully, entering the playoffs at full strength. The Wizards could be a dark horse betting candidates to make a deep playoff run. With enough confidence and momentum behind them, it is not out of the realm of possibility for Washington to compete for a title.

There has been turmoil in the locker room, however. John Wall is just now returning to basketball activities, so the Wizards’ best player will have significant rust to shake off.

That is not a good thing, considering they have to shoot themselves out of deficits more often than they would like. This is due to the same kinds of issues that Milwaukee has had to deal with. Impressive offense is only impressive if a team can keep themselves above water defensively.

No. 6 Seed – Miami Heat

Erik Spoelstra is proving four straight trips to the NBA Finals had more to do with him than NBA fans like to think. Many attribute those accolades solely to having James, Wade and Bosh leading the way.

finals

Erik Spoelstra and Goran Dragic are big reasons the Heat are back in the playoffs. (Photo by Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

This young team, though is rising above expectations sooner than expected. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are an excellent frontcourt tandem. The Heat are finding their identity in the paint and riding the shooting of Wayne Ellington and experience of Dwayne Wade back to a playoff berth. Spoelstra has clearly found out the right way to utilize these talents.

Young teams can give more experienced teams fits in the playoffs with their athleticism and timing. Miami also has the third-highest scoring bench in the league at 39.6 points per game. Add that to Spoelstra’s overachieving, and they could be a team to watch out for in the relatively weak Eastern Conference. Like the Wizards, the Heat can ride momentum all the way to finals contention.

Shy of Ellington, though, shooters are hard to come by in Miami. They rely on a post-heavy offense, which doesn’t necessarily hold up as well in a seven-game series as it does in an 82-game season.

Their defense is good, sporting the fifth-best opponents’ field goal percentage in the league. But they will be playing against some of the best and most dedicated jump-shooting teams in the league. If their looks start falling, that spells doom for Miami.

No. 5 Seed – Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo will undoubtedly win Most Improved Player this year, after showing the league what he’s made of after the Thunder traded him away in the Paul George deal. His points per game average this year is up six points. He is also collecting more assists and rebounds than he ever has.

Oladipo is the secret sauce to a Pacers finals run. He and Myles Turner have put Indiana on their backs this year, and few have been able to contain both of them at the same time. If teams do manage a strategy to keep them both in check, they will have to do it over a series of games, which is no easy task. If these two players can keep digging into their bags, then the Pacers are a team no one would truly want to face.

Again, though, the problem here is lackluster defense. At 18th in the NBA in opponents’ field goal percentage, the Pacers simply let their opponents score too much. Their three-point shooting abilities are good, but almost all of the teams above them in the standings are in the Eastern Conference.

The bench does not give the Pacers many minutes, at less than 17 per game. They are in the bottom five in that category and the bottom ten in bench scoring. So Oladipo and Turner truly have to carry the team if they want to be playing in June.

There is simply too much that can go wrong to call them a true NBA Finals contender. But given Indiana’s identity over the course of the season, that is probably exactly how they like it.

No. 4 Seed – Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers have taken the NBA by surprise this season. A trip to the NBA Finals would cap off “The Process” and prove the brutal teardown and rebuild to be worth it.

Philadelphia is inundated with youth. Ben Simmons is one of two potential Rookie of the Year candidates and continues to dish out triple-doubles. Markelle Fultz is, surprisingly, playing this season, and if he can figure out his shot, it only creates another weapon. Robert Covington and J.J. Reddick are veteran leaders that seem to be drawing off the energy of the young core.

And then there is Joel Embiid.

While currently out due to surgery on an orbital fracture, he has been giving teams trouble all season. Both on and off the court. The trash talk is already legendary, and he has the play to back it up. Embiid averages a double-double at 22.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. We have even seen him step outside the arc when the opportunity presents itself.

finals

Embiid could miss some playoff games after undergoing surgery for an orbital fracture. (Photo by Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

If he can get back in time for a second-round series, this team could legitimately take over. They have been too much for opponents all season, and there is no reason to think that will stop when the playoffs start.

The young squad will be fired up and eager to prove themselves. With their inside-out offense and some of the best defense in the league, they are a legitimate title contender, because they match up well with any team. Including and especially the two favored to be in the Western Conference Finals.

Ironically, though, their biggest strength is also their biggest weakness.

Youth means inexperience. Inexperience means being able to be taken advantage of. Meeting a veteran team like the Cavaliers, who know what it is like to play for and win a title, could be their undoing.

It cannot go without being said that the cockiness of this team is some of the most outspoken in recent memory. Philadelphia knows it is good, which might create a glare that makes them look past other opponents.

Either way, “The Process” will officially undergo its first test on April 14.

No. 3 Seed – Cleveland Cavaliers

The rollercoaster that has been the Cavs’ regular season is finally coming to an end.

After blowing up their roster before the All-Star break, the Cavaliers are sitting pretty as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. As we know, seeding is little more than a formality, as far as LeBron James is concerned.

The new-look Cavs are more youthful, better defensively, and seem less complacent than the pre-trades roster. Their NBA Finals hopes are renewed again after finally finding a formula that works after a multitude of injuries and locker room finger-pointing.

Do not kid yourself, though. The Cavaliers are coasting on reputation more than anything. They have been in the past three NBA Finals, thanks in large part to having the best player in the world on their team. They are the (wine and) gold standard of the Eastern Conference until further notice.

Intimidation will play a factor here, and so will their offense that can adjust to any opponent. Lue’s offense works in such a way that it, if a team’s defense takes something away, the Cavs can simply move on to another facet of their game with just as much success.

With Nance Jr. and LeBron James holding down the paint, and shooters to stretch the floor, defense still will not matter much to Cleveland, as they can go point-for-point with the very best teams out there, even on dysfunctional nights.

This particular Cavaliers iteration, though, is still relatively new. Jordan Clarkson has not quite figured it all out, and George Hill is showing his age next to the ageless wonder, LeBron James.

The problem, also, with playing no defense, is that shots do have to fall. Sure, the Cavaliers can make them, but as everyone knows, sometimes the ball just does not go in. If Cleveland has a couple of bad shooting nights, they will get blown out due to lack of defensive commitment.

Unlike the past three years, Cleveland has to prove themselves and play to their highest level to reach the NBA Finals. Then, after three hard-fought series wins, they will have to face the best of the other conference.

No easy task.

No. 2 Seed – Boston Celtics

Boston has the best coach in the NBA. That is enough of a reason why they can win the Larry O’Brien trophy, but let us explore some more anyway.

Brad Stevens has the ability to make something out of nothing. The Celtics, right now, are a team with unbelievably bad injury luck at the worst time, and they are still winning.

That is due to the incredible bench play and next-man-up strategy that the Celtics employ. Their offense is weak, but their defense is the best in the league. The system is flawless, and almost every team in the league would fall victim to it at least once in a seven-game series.

Owning an opponents’ field goal percentage under 44 percent is no joke. Boston ranks tenth-best in turnover ratio, and the rebounding is just as impressive. Surprisingly, even though their offense can be a bit anemic, they are second best in three-point percentage at 37.9 percent.

It defies logic, but even without Irving, Brown, Smart and Hayward, this team has steadfastly held the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. And they are only going to get healthier from here. If anyone can beat Golden State at its own defensive game, or hold the fast-paced Rockets offense in check, it is the Celtics.

They can, and just might win the whole thing.

But before one gets too high on Stevens’ ability to will his team to victory, it is important to remember that their returning players will, like Wall, have severe rust to shake off.

finals

The Celtics could be without Irving for the first round of the playoffs. (Photo by Brian Babineau/Getty Images)

Irving is coming off of a knee surgery, and his game hinges on his quick legs, handles, and iso scoring ability. That will not be easy to return to during his first minutes on the floor. Smart cannot return until May if Boston is still playing. And there is no telling who might go down in the meantime, with the Celtics’ luck as of late.

The key to a title for Boston is its defense. So, if a team can somehow figure out how to get the better of it for four games, then it is a wrap for this team. They do not have the firepower necessary to go shot-for-shot with some of the offensively-minded teams in the NBA like the Cavaliers can.

No. 1 Seed – Toronto Raptors

Toronto owns a top-five offense and a top-five defense. They have the probable coach of the year, in Dwane Casey. They have DeRozan, who is only getting better. Lowry and Ibaka are still reliable, and they have the deepest bench in the entire NBA.

Opposing teams have to pick their poison with the Raptors, and even then, still might not get what they chose. They can beat you with their smothering team defense, or their ability to match points on the outside or the inside.

Toronto owns the best record in the East for a reason. They also own a massive home court advantage, and as the locked-in, one seed will keep it throughout the playoffs. This more driven and focused Raptors team will be a legitimate force in the playoffs, and it is almost assured that a number two or three seeded teams will have to be the ones to take them out if they do not reach the finals.

As far as winning it all goes, this might the only team that can beat the Houston Rockets by locking down their shooters. The communication on the floor is excellent, and the Rockets only go as their three-point shooting does. The Raptors perimeter defense not only can win them the title but can do it in less than seven games.

Unlike Cleveland, however, Toronto’s reputation is working heavily against them.

The Raptors have fizzled out in various rounds of the playoffs for years, and they will need to get that monkey off of their backs, both with their play and with their overall mental position. Toronto has, perhaps, more to prove than any other Eastern Conference team in the playoffs, regardless of owning the top seed.

They will still have to earn any respect they feel they deserve, which will either fuel them to a title or be what burns them yet again.

 

Check back here on Saturday for the reasons each Western Conference team can and cannot win the NBA Finals! 

Featured image courtesy of NBA.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours

NBA Rookie of the Year

Race for Rookie of the Year

It seems like every NBA season is “the best rookie class we have seen” or “the young guns that have a future.”  Many would argue that the 2003 class, which included players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, was the best. But it is quite hard to predict which class was the best, especially since the last few draft classes have not even reached their full potential yet.

However, many would argue that this year’s rookie class really could be one of the best, and why not? It is absolutely loaded with raw talent, some expected and some not so much. And with such talent comes a tight race for the Rookie of the Year Award, which will be given out later this summer.

Let’s break down some of the top rookies from this season, their performance and some ROTY possibilities.

Kyle Kuzma

NBA Rookie of the Year

Photo from www.silverscreenandroll.com

Season averages: 15.9 points on 45 percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 3-pointers

Taken 27th overall, Kuzma has been the steal of the draft by a long shot. He has shown flashes of greatness and already has a lot of weapons in his arsenal right now.

He really does not look like a rookie this year, and he could be one of those Brandon Ingram-esque guys both in terms of playing style and in the sense that the Lakers will absolutely do anything they can to hold onto him for the future.

While he won’t win the award, he has had some amazing moments in Los Angeles, including an impressive 38-point performance against the Houston Rockets back in December. He has also had some ample opportunities lately without Brandon Ingram, averaging about 21 points and eight boards over the past two weeks. And it is just the beginning.

Lonzo Ball

Season averages: 10.2 points on 35.9 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals

The other rookie in Los Angeles was taken second overall and has had some moments to say the least. He missed a good chunk of time due to injury, but despite inconsistency and the weirdest looking shot, has all the potential in the world to bring to this team. The numbers are already there, and as soon as he gets used to the NBA style of play and boosts his efficiency, he could be very good.

Dennis Smith Jr.

Season averages: 15.2 points on 39.3 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.0 steal

Similar to Ball, Smith’s main issue is efficiency, and there is almost no doubt that this will improve over time as he gets more time under his belt. There was a lot of hype surrounding him before the start of the season, and while he has not really lived up to it, the numbers are not bad at all for such a young guy. The sky is the limit for this kid.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Photo from www.chicago.suntimes.com

Lauri Markkanen

Season averages: 14.9 points on 42.8 percent shooting, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 3-pointers

Finally, we get to evaluate a big, but Markkanen is not your average big man. He is known more so as a shooter than a post-threat, and very quickly proved how effective he is from behind the arc. He was the fastest player in history to hit 100 3-pointers, which is even more impressive considering he is a big.

Like the others before, there is too much potential in this rookie class for him to win the award, but he could be a really important piece to a franchise’s puzzle.

Jayson Tatum

Season averages: 13.7 points on 47.8 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 3-pointers

Tatum has something that most other rookies this year do not have: efficiency. He has been shooting it well all season from all spots on the floor, including a 3-point percentage over 42 percent.

The numbers do not stand out, but playing with established veterans like Kyrie Irving and Al Horford has helped Tatum make a name for himself. Just watching him is impressive in itself, as some of the things he has done make him look like a seasoned veteran.

Most years he would probably win this award, but the next two players are realistically the only two who could win the award.

Donovan Mitchell vs. Ben Simmons

NBA Rookie of the Year

Photo from www.slcdunk.com

Mitchell season averages: 20.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.4 3-pointers

Simmons season averages: 15.8 points on 53.6 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

Here are the only two contenders for this year’s ROTY award, and they could not be much more different.

Donovan Mitchell is a pure scorer with not much else going on, but boy is his gameplay impressive. He has taken the Utah Jazz and turned them into a playoff team, often being labeled as that one team no one wants to face in the first round of the playoffs. He has had plenty of highlights, insane dunks and clutch moments when it mattered most for the team.

A huge plus for the rook is that he actually plays defense as well, which is so important to a team like Utah. He might be one of the best scorers the league has seen taking age into consideration, and it can only go up from here.

While there is much to love about Mitchell, Ben Simmons is this season’s Rookie of the Year. He is a 6-foot-10 point guard and a triple-double threat, notching 10 already at 21 years old. Simmons and Joel Embiid have led this very young Sixers team to a playoff berth, and they are another team that could go further than anyone thinks.

In a league where shooting has been the only thing that matters since Steph Curry has been playing, Simmons is a breath of fresh air for old-school fans. He drives, drives and then drives some more. It is a rare occurrence for Simmons to get into the paint and not get some points on the board by the end of the possession.

He is truly a special talent. Simmons is your ROTY, and his potential is actually terrifying. Watch out, NBA.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Bucks outscore Sixers by 20 in second half

10-0 Sixers—33-14 Sixers–

That was the start of Sunday nights affair between Milwaukee and Philly.  The game was taking place in Milwaukee and, as had been the case in the past four games prior, the Buck’s were getting outplayed.  Ben Simmons was controlling the pace and flow of the game, dropping dimes left and right.  He was getting to his spots and setting up his teammates in theirs.  Dario Saric wasn’t missing any shots (he ended shooting 9-11 for the game) and this Milwaukee team had been in this spot the past 4 games.

The Buck’s kept competing and narrowed the margin to within 12 points at halftime.  But as the second half began, they were not, and instantly fell behind 81-62 after two minuets in the third.  The variable that would be different this go around was their star was about to catch fire, yes Giannis was about to step his game up.  In a interview after the game, Giannis spoke to Bledsoe about the pace.  “We gotta pick up our pace, we’re playing too slow.  No matter what was going on, they were coming down on us and we need to do the same thing.  We had them beat on the floor, and its hard for him to play (referring to Joel Embiib) in fast pace.  That’s what we did and were able to get a lead.”

Antetokounmpo finished this one shooting 14-23 from the field, for 35 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and two steals.  He credited shooting with patience as the basis for his success.  He and his teammates also created 26 turnovers, the game changing stat in this one.  Philadelphia had twice as many turnovers and as a result had 25 fewer total shots.  Even though they shot a higher percentage (55% to 50%) it wasn’t enough.

Giannis wasn’t alone in the fight.  His point guard Eric Bledsoe had a solid all around game, going 8-18 from the field for 22 points, 7 assist’s, 5 rebounds, and two steals.  good thing because Khris Middleton struggled a touch going just 5-14, finishing with 10 points, 5 assists, and three steals.  Philadelphia was led by Saric, who scored 25 points and collected 6 rebounds.  Joel Embiib was just so-so, going for 19 points and 8 rebounds, while Ben Simmons had 12 points, 15 assists, and 5 boards.  He also had 6 turnovers.Giannisvssixers3.4.jpg

In regards to runs that his team has been know to surrender, Bucks coach Joe Prunty chimed in.  “The bottom line is the game is 48 minutes.  The more we can stay focused through the whole time, even if they go on a run, the better off we are going to be.”  Milwaukee must remain in the present, its crucial for their success.

After all was said and done Philadelphia has to be kicking themselves for not sealing the deal.  They had their opponent right where they wanted them, on the road, and weren’t able to finish.  Conversely, this could be a changing point for the Buck’s who looked dead in the water, but resuscitated back to life.  The fight that this team possesses must be noted, however you must be ready come first and third quarter, even Giannis noted this in the press conference.  Best news is they were victorious over a team that was ahead of them by a couple games, playoff positioning is already underway.

 

Key Stats to follow:

  1. Rebounding.  Buck’s =38 Sixer’s =32.
  2. Total points allowed.  110.  That’s high, in fact 5 points over what they typically average.  Given the fact that Philly shot so well from the field, this total is acceptable within the context of this game.
  3. Bench points.  Milwaukee=33 Philadelphia=28