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.

0-3

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.

0-3

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.

0-3

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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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.

playoffs

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.

playoffs

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

Featured image by Michael Perez/Associated Press

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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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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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76ers vs. Heat series preview

Since October, there have been a total of 1,230 NBA games played among 30 teams from all over the country. Fast forward to mid-April and here we are, with just over half of these teams remaining in championship contention and playoffs underway in the days to come. There is some serious competition this season and a decent amount of upsets could occur. Below, The matchup including the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers and the sixth-seeded Miami Heat will be previewed, including analysis of each team and a prediction.

Photo source: www.complex.com

Miami Heat

The Heat finished the season with a 44-38 overall record, ending the season with a seven-point win against the first-seeded Toronto Raptors. The team hasn’t been the luckiest with injuries, with guys like Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside all missing extended periods of time.

The team has had a solid all-around season after barely missing the playoffs last season, and coach Erik Spoelstra will be the first to say that they deserve every bit of this opportunity. They should roll out their normal starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, while bringing key guys like Dwyane Wade and Kelly Olynyk off the bench. This is a very deep Heat team that has shown plenty of versatility all season, and there is no doubt this will carry on into the postseason.

Acquiring veteran Dwyane Wade from the Cavaliers via trade in the middle of the season helps this team in terms of leadership in a huge way. Wade has been in positions like this countless times and can be relied on to be a mentor and play big minutes when needed.

A big story from the season has been Hassan Whiteside, who starts for the Heat but often fails to touch the floor in the fourth quarter. Many suspect this is due to matchups and small-ball lineups, but the amount of time the young talent has spent on the bench late in games is pretty absurd. It will be interesting to see what Spoelstra decides to do with him and how often he will use him, because his shot-blocking ability and improved offensive game can help this team in many ways.

Photo source: www.deadspin.com

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers are without a doubt the hottest team in the league, reaching a 52-30 record overall, which includes a current 16-game winning streak. They have not lost a game since March 13 in a tough three-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, so it has been almost a month since the scoreboard was not to their advantage when the final buzzer sounded.

Joel Embiid is doubtful to return for Game one of the series, let alone the majority of the series. With this in mind, Philly should come out with a lineup of  Ben Simmons,  J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Amir Johnson (assuming this is the case, 30% of the floor will be a “Johnson” #stats). Simmons is Simmons and will dominate as usual, as the combination of defense and three-point threats that fill out the remainder of the lineup is scary.

Their bench isn’t half bad either, as Markelle Fultz has progressed rapidly since his return from an injury late last month.  Despite not starting, defensive juggernaut Richaun Holmes should get a lot of minutes at center until Joel Embiid returns from injury and Ersan Ilyasova is another late-addition veteran that will play key minutes and further assist this team in making it far.

If their win-streak to end the season doesn’t say enough, this is not a team anyone wants to face in the playoffs. Their depth, athleticism and combination of youth and veteran mentorship is almost the perfect storm for any NBA team.

Analysis

These two teams tied their season series 2-2, with all four wins going to the home team and the largest margin of victory being nine points (Miami on March 8). While this normally calls for a close battle and a great series, Philadelphia is a much, much different team than they were when they last played Miami.

For one thing, they got first overall pick Fultz back and in basketball shape, and has contributed at crucial times for this squad. Miami has been pretty consistent all season, and while they have been consistently good, they are nowhere near the level of “good” that Philadelphia is at right now.

Plenty of fans and people all over have said that the 76ers in “a year or two” will be the real deal, but they don’t need to wait any time to claim a title like that. They have all the weapons to succeed and they should cruise past Miami. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible for this team to come out of the Eastern Conference. The Cavs and maybe the Raptors will give them a great fight, but when healthy, this team is absolutely lethal. I’ll give Miami one game, simply due to the 4-0 record these teams have when playing at home against each other this season.

Prediction

Philadelphia 4-1

#TTP

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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.

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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.

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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

defense

Ranking the defense of every Eastern Conference playoff team

Defense wins championships. We’ve all heard it ad nauseum. The exception to this rule, however, might be the NBA.

In the past five years, the NBA has become a veritable 82 game three-point shooting contest. In last years’ finals, the Cavaliers scored 86 points in a single half. Against a vaunted Golden State defense, no less. They also broke the record for most threes in an NBA Finals game (24), which was set by the Warriors just one game earlier.

That’s just one singular example of how much the NBA has shifted in the past decade. Regardless of the shooting sprees, though, defense hasn’t completely gone by the wayside.

In the 2017-2018 season, we’ve seen teams such as the Jazz, Celtics and Raptors embrace their defensive identity. This is due to coaching and a true recognition of playing to their own strengths. All three of these teams have ridden their defense to playoff berths (or a potential playoff berth in Utah’s case).

So which teams can buck the current trends and disrupt their opponent with a potent defense? And which teams are better off shooting their way to the NBA Finals? Here, we’ll rank each Eastern Conference team by their defense, based on opponents’ points per game, blocks, steals and points generated off of turnovers.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers

During their three straight trips to the NBA Finals, Cleveland’s defense has never been the driving force. This has all come to a head this season, as they rank third-worst in the league according to their defensive rating.

When looking at their stats individually, they seem like they should place Cleveland in the middle of the pack. The Cavs block 0.3 shots less than opponents per game, they rank only 0.6 steals worse than opposing teams, and surrender only 0.3 defensive rebounds more than they pull in. They’re even positive in their points for/points against split by 0.5 points.

defense

Kevin Love tries to contest a shot against Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge. (Photo by Mark Sobhani/NBAE/Getty Images)

The problem is, when you put all of these middle-of-the-road stats together, they translate to an underachieving defense. If you’re an optimist, you could at least see consistency in their defense to offense, but mediocrity does not get a team far in the playoffs.

The statistics here paint a picture of a team who has had to fight for almost every win they have. Better defensive teams blow out their opponents more often, leading to rest for their stars. It seems as if the Cavaliers are going to have to heavily lean on their offensive capabilities to make it back to the finals.

7. Milwaukee Bucks

According to NBA.com, the Bucks currently stand at 17th in the defensive rankings. They are allowing 106.2 points per game and scoring 105.9 points.

This hasn’t hurt their record too much, though. The Bucks currently sit at 39-35, five games ahead of Detroit for the eighth seed in the East.

A team without a legitimate identity past “give the ball to Antetokounmpo,” the Bucks are fortunate to be in the spot they’re in. Their paint game will give some jump shooting teams fits, but they seem to rely on their offense too much.

Milwaukee’s defense gives up 13.0 second-chance points per game, which is in the bottom ten. They also give up 46.6 points in the paint per game, good for ninth-worst. That last stat is especially odd considering their offensive post game is in the top 10, but it doesn’t always necessarily translate to the other end of the floor.

The Bucks’ block and steal numbers are decent, but they will have to step up the closeout pressure in the playoffs if they hope to pull off an upset.

6. Washington Wizards

The Wizards are known for their offense, led by Bradley Beal in the absence of John Wall. Their defensive rating, however, sits at 106.1, which is good for a place in the top half of the league.

Their worst defensive stat is the number of second chance points given up per game. It makes sense, given their guard-heavy style of play. To that end, the Wizards give up 45.6 points in the paint every night. They are also in the bottom 10 when it comes to blocks per game.

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Bradley Beal gets a hand up against Dwyane Wade. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Washington thrives on their ability to steal the ball and turn it into points. At 7.9 steals, their per game average is 10th best in the league. Creating more scoring opportunities for their fast-paced offense is paramount to the team’s success.

Steals alone won’t allow them to take a series, but if they can focus on their frontcourt play, the Wizards can definitely catch some Eastern Conference teams off guard.

5. Indiana Pacers

Indiana’s winning record and surprisingly good season are thanks in part to some serviceable defense.

They give up almost 2.0 less than they score every night, and their steals and blocks are in the plus column as well. The biggest discrepancy here is the block numbers, as they dish out one less than they receive. The 44.7 paint points given up per game are in the exact middle of the road.

The real advantage the Pacers have, though is their ability to turn turnovers into points. They are fifth best in the league, with 14.9 points off of turnovers. Considering their steals sit at 8.8 per game, that is just shy of a 60% success rate.

Much like the Wizards, the Pacers will have to rely on their quick hands to steal a series away from a favored team. But with a potent offensive attack with a very balanced defense, Indiana will be a tough out when April rolls around.

4. Miami Heat

Another surprising playoff contender, Miami’s young core has come into their own during the 2018 season. With a defensive rating solidly in the top 10, playing Miami has been more of a chore than was expected.

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Bam Adebayo forces Stephen Curry to pass the ball. (Photo by David Santiago/Miami Herald)

A great paint defense has been the key this year. Hassan Whiteside continues to come along nicely, and Bam Adebayo has created a one-two punch that makes easy buckets hard to come by. At 5.2 blocks per game, the team clearly has a defense-first mentality.

Their field goal percentage versus their opponents’ is pretty even, including a plus 0.2 percentage on three-point field goal percentage. The total rebounds and steals also sit narrowly in the plus column.

The real hurdle for the Heat will be keeping their big men on the floor. At 19.3 personal fouls per game, Miami allows 3.3 more free throw attempts than they take. In playoff games, those three points could very well be the difference between winning and losing a game. Discipline on the defensive end will be the name of the game for this young core in their search for a series win.

3. Toronto Raptors

Currently holders of the East’s top seed, and with all the talk of their defense-to-offense balance, one might expect the Raptors to hold a higher spot here. But, according to the defensive ranking, Toronto actually sits at sixth overall, and third in the East.

However surprising it may be, the Raptors are no slouch on that end of the floor.

They tower over their opponents, scoring 8.1 more points per game than their opponents, which is easily the highest on this list so far. They are positive in almost every defensive category. They own 1.2 more blocks per game over opposing teams, 0.7 steals, and have a 2.2% percent advantage in field goals made. Add in their fourth-best opponents’ points off of turnover rankings, and this is team causes problems.

Their biggest struggles come in the paint, like most of today’s NBA teams. A seemingly-paltry bottom half ranking in opponents’ points in the paint and a bottom five ranking in opponents’ second chance buckets are the problems for this team. Paint struggles have broken past playoff teams.

This doesn’t quite spell disaster for the Raptors, though. As previously discussed, jump shots have become the order of every game. It’s going to take some serious game-planning to truly expose these Raptors’ paint struggles to the tune of a win. Doing it four times out of seven is a much taller order.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

A surprising team to occupy this spot, the 76ers’ defense has led this shockingly young team to a playoff berth.

The opposite of most teams on this list, their paint defense is where this team thrives. This is thanks in part to Joel Embiid’s season-long coming out party. Accounting for 11.1 rebounds and almost two blocks per game, the team lives and dies by the center’s play.

Philly gives up just 41.8 points in the paint per game, which is third-best in the NBA. This translates to only 12.4-second chance points every game, good for a spot in the top half of the league. Add that to a 3.3 field goal made disadvantage to the 76ers’ opponents, and you have a formidable defense to deal with, regardless of shooting woes.

The only Achilles heel here is their miserable reputation of giving opponents points off of turnovers. Their opponents score 19.0 points per game off of Philadelphia turnovers, which is the worst in the NBA.

That is not encouraging, considering some teams will have to rely on their steals as their only form of defense. If the 76ers allow a bucket almost every time that happens, then they can kiss any shot of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals goodbye, regardless of their great play in the paint.

That will be the real litmus test of this young team. If they can stop that bleeding, then they have a chance to shake things up in the East.

1. Boston Celtics

The Celtics are not only the top team in the Eastern Conference but the best team in the entire NBA according to the defensive ratings.

Regardless of their woeful injury report, Boston, led by one of the top minds in the NBA in Brad Stevens, has a true defensive identity.

The Celts are solidly in the top 10 in opponents’ points in the paint, and opponents’ second-chance points. Their steals are even with their opponents, and their blocks are just 0.2 ahead of opposing teams.

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Injured star Kyrie Irving steals the ball from Dejounte Murray. (Photo by Matt West)

According to the field goal percentages against them, it’s clear this team contests almost every shot that goes up. They are in the plus column in three-point percentage, two-point field goal percentage, and total field goal percentage.

The most surprising stat is the fact that they only score 4.0 more points than opposing teams. But stats, however helpful, can be misleading when it comes to defense. The team play on the defensive end is completely apparent when watching this team play. They may play close games, but defense often comes out on top in those contests.

When the team gets healthy and gels in the playoffs, this defense could be the deciding factor in more than a couple of games. While their scoring isn’t much to write home about, stopping other teams from scoring can be just as productive.

Featured image by Nathan Denette/Associated Press

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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.

 

Featured image from www.hardwoodhoudini.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

playoffs

Predicting NBA playoff seeding

The NBA playoffs are almost upon us. Scheduled to start on April 14, the playoff picture is anything but concrete.

Injuries, fatigue, rest and a general agreement that seeding doesn’t really matter once the playoffs start, are all signs that anything could happen. The top two teams in each conference are surely safe, but the three through eight seeds are most certainly up for grabs.

With that in mind, here are some predictions on how the playoff seeding might shake out.

Eastern Conference

No. 8 Seed – Miami Heat

Eight seeds are the hardest to predict, for obvious reasons. The Heat, however seem as if they’ll wrap up a spot in the playoffs.

playoffs

The Miami Heat are an unexpected playoff contender this year. (Photo by Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Their closest competition is the Detroit Pistons. Considering both teams’ remaining schedule is very comparable, the safe bet here is Miami. They are a more complete team with a battle-tested coach.

The Pistons would have to win all 10 of their remaining games against teams with losing records, and chalk up some upset wins, too. Even then, the Heat would probably have to drop some games they’re supposed to win. It seems as if the Blake Griffin pickup won’t be enough this year.

No. 7 Seed- Washington Wizards

The Wizards are a solid team, featuring fundamental play and a tough coaching matchup. They currently sit as the East’s fifth seed, but their schedule is ridiculously difficult down the home stretch.

11 of the Wizards’ 17 remaining games come against teams with winning records. With star point guard John Wall still potentially up to four weeks away from returning to the lineup, the Wizards are going to drop games. Washington is 10-6 since Wall had knee surgery.

Bradley Beal can certainly pick up some slack with his fantastic shooting ability. But the Wizards will need more help than that to stay in the fifth slot, or rise in the standings.

No. 6 Seed – Milwaukee Bucks

With a pretty even schedule against winning and losing teams remaining, the Bucks should sit in the seven seed.

playoffs

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks look for a second straight playoff berth. (Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

The young team, led by the Greek Freak, has been a mini-surprise in the 2017-2018 season. The Bucks fired their head coach in the middle of the season, causing some to leave the team for dead. But under interim head coach Jon Horst, they have found an identity.

That identity is give the ball to Antetokounmpo at every opportunity, sit back, and watch the fireworks. If teams find a way to guard Giannis, their three-point game is solid enough to rack up the wins necessary to play some springtime ball.

No. 5 Seed – Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers, who had the most games in the NBA after the All-Star break, still have 19 games remaining.

Their path to the playoffs, however, is shockingly easy. Only six of their next 19 games come against teams with a winning record. With the youth on this team, fatigue will more than likely not be a problem down the stretch.

One thing to keep an eye on, though, is the inexperience and injury history on the team. The major pieces on the 76ers have never played a minute of playoff basketball. The players who have been to the playoffs are veterans, which is a nice way of saying that they’re old.

But these are mainly problems they’ll face once the playoffs roll around. The push to secure seeding shouldn’t be an issue for Philadelphia.

No. 4 Seed – Indiana Pacers

There’s no reason to think that the Pacers can’t continue to surprise the league. Their schedule is undeniably tough going forward, but the team has continued to manufacture wins.

Victor Oladipo is the focal point here. His meteoric rise during the 2017-2018 campaign is the largest part of the team’s success. Bogdanovic, Turner and Jefferson are all solid role-players, but Oladipo’s 24 points per game are still catching opposing teams off guard.

No. 3 Seed – Cleveland Cavaliers

playoffs

LeBron James and the new-look Cavaliers made it to the 2016 NBA Finals, despite not being the top seed. (Photo by Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

When discussing why the Cavaliers won’t fall in the standings, it would suffice to just write the words, “LeBron James.”

Apart from James, though, the new pieces are fitting nicely in Cleveland. They have not lived up to the sky-high expectations formed just before the All-Star break, but that would have been nearly impossible. But, the team has been, without question, an upgrade from the previous iteration.

Cleveland’s schedule is fairly even going forward. Judging from their tumultuous season so far, the Cavs will probably lose some games they are supposed to win, and win some games they might be slated to lose.

With their experience, drive to prove themselves, and The King, the third seed is more than likely where they will stand going into the playoffs.

No. 2 Seed – Boston Celtics

The Celtics have the best coach in the league, by almost anyone’s measurement. Kyrie Irving is having a fantastic season, and their roster is complimentary to the team’s play style from top to bottom.

Offense has been a huge issue for Boston, recently. They currently sit at 16th in NBA offensive rankings. That’s hardly what one would expect from the team with the East’s second best record. But these shortcomings speak to the Celtics’ strengths more than anything.

The defense is fantastic. When watching Boston play, the team defense is undeniable. Coach Brad Stevens has a real commitment to the little things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. That is what will keep Boston at the second seed.

No. 1 Seed – Toronto Raptors

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DeMar Derozan has led the Raptors to the East’s best record. (Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

The decision on who would hold the Eastern Conference’s number one seed came down to who would win the remaining matchups between the Celtics and Raptors. The race for the top spot going into the playoffs could very well come down to those two games.

But, more faith needs to be put in the resume Toronto has built during the season.

The Raptors own the NBA’s fourth best offense and the third best defense. Coach Dwane Casey has clearly reached a new level. He’s reached these players and motivated them in a way that’s evident during every game.

The stars, Derozan and Lowry are clear leaders. Serge Ibaka has accepted his role as a third option. The bench is deep, and dangerous.

The schedule is tough, but the Raptors are tougher.

Western Conference

No. 8 Seed – Denver Nuggets

Yet again, the decision here came from examining remaining strength of schedule. The Los Angeles Clippers the Utah Jazz lose that particular race.

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The young core of the Denver Nuggets has been incredibly effective this season. (Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Not to sell them short, however, the young talent on the Nuggets has definitely impressed. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic create a solid core that can keep them in any given game.

A paint-focused offense, and a serviceable defense should secure them a spot in the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt that Los Angeles has experienced roster shake-ups, and Utah is one of the streakiest teams in the league.

No. 7 Seed – Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota was once as high as the number three seed. But losing Jimmy Butler to a meniscus injury has plunged them into a potential bubble team. Being that the West is so highly contested, that has proved to be a killer.

Butler was averaging the most minutes in the NBA, contributing 22.2 points, 5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. Having a star go down with an injury would be a problem for any team. But it seems like this particular loss couldn’t have come to a more impactful player at a more important time.

The Timberwolves should have him back by the time the playoffs roll around, which is great news. Thibodeau and the Timberwolves need to keep the ship afloat until then, however.

No. 6 Seed – Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have been trending downwards in the past 10 games. They are 6-4 in these contests, needing a 43-point performance by Westbrook in a come back win against the lowly Phoenix Suns.

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The “OK3” have underachieved, but they can all still be a force to be reckoned with. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Sr./NBAE via Getty Images)

Having them at the sixth seed is merely a belief in their defense and star power. The “OK3” are a force to be reckoned with in any game. George, Anthony and Westbrook hardly ever all contribute at a high level within the same game. But, all three of them are capable of going off, even if it is at the expense of the other two’s stat line.

Billy Donovan, once a scapegoat for the team’s unimpressive showings, has seemed to figure out the right balance. The bench is irrelevant here, as having three Type-A personalities in the same starting lineup dictate how the contest will be played.

Faith needs to be put in these three players, as none of them will accept missing the playoffs entirely.

No. 5 Seed – New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis has been an absolute assassin in recent weeks. He’s had six 40-plus point performances since the beginning of February. All six of those games featured 10 or more rebounds.

Since DeMarcus Cousins went down, it’s no question that Davis has accepted is role as the number one, two and three options for the Pelicans. But it is a little ridiculous to think he can keep putting up these kinds of numbers every night.

If he has an off night, it’s hard to trust Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to will New Orleans to a win by themselves. With the kind of drive he’s been showing, however, Davis can keep them no lower than the number five seed.

No. 4 Seed – San Antonio Spurs

Similar to the Cavaliers, all one needs to say here is, “Gregg Popovich” to inspire confidence in the Spurs.

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Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich will no doubt be the determining factors regarding the Spurs’ seeding. (Photo by Darren Abate/Associated Press)

Kawhi Leonard has only played in nine games since the beginning of the NBA season. He said in an interview on Wednesday that he hopes to return to the lineup this season. When asked for a specific timetable, he only said that he wants to return “soon.”

Soon means nothing, but if he does get the opportunity to return, don’t expect he’ll need an adjustment period. Kawhi is a premiere two-way talent that has been focused on playing since he left the lineup.

Airing on the side of a hiccup-less re-introduction to the starting lineup, the Spurs can hold their ground and even rise in the standings.

No. 3 Seed – Portland Trailblazers

Damian Lillard is now in the MVP conversation. CJ McCollum is capable of scoring 50 points if he has the ball enough. Aminu and Turner are solid wings that the team can lean on in the case of a shooting drought.

Portland notably upset the Warriors right before the All-Star break. They lost the first meeting, though, and have not been able to beat Houston yet. Anyone else in the league is on notice when playing the Trailblazers. The offense is great, the defense is quick, and the schedule is manageable.

No. 2 Seed – Houston Rockets

The Rockets embody the hope of every team that the Warriors can be overtaken in the Western Conference playoffs. And they still can.

The strength of schedule is, again, what makes the difference here. The Rockets play 12 teams with winning records, to the Warriors’ 11. Both teams play 7 teams with losing records. Since the schedules are so comparable, the trust has to be put in the defending champions.

Houston has an incredible three-point game, and the rest of the offense is only slightly less polished. The addition of Chris Paul has been revelation, and Clint Capela has risen to new heights. James Harden is running away with the MVP race.

But over their remaining games, the four Warriors All-Stars will intimidate opposing offenses slightly more.

No. 1 Seed – Golden State Warriors

As stated above, intimidation is the main reason the Warriors will probably sit in the West’s top spot heading into the playoffs.

Golden State are champions until they lose, and losing is the only thing at which the NBA can count on the Warriors being bad. Thinking that this particular team has grown complacent and aren’t concerned with owning the one seed, is a mistake.

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Golden State still has the most impressive roster in the NBA, regardless of their record. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

All four of the team’s superstars are hyper-competitive, and Houston taking away their spotlight has surely made them hungrier to assert their dominance over the conference. The Rockets and Warriors are certainly on a collision-course, but the Warriors will probably still own the regular season.

Featured image by Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

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rivalry

Ranking today’s best NBA rivalries

Rivalry, whether friendly or not, is integral to every sport. Duke vs. UNC. Packers vs. Bears. Frazier vs. Ali.

The 2010s have brought on a new era of NBA basketball. And with a new NBA come new rivalries.

Essentially gone are the days of low-post elbow throwing and using the three-pointer as a last ditch effort. Assists and 30-foot shots are the order of the day for the best teams in the league. Feeding the post is an afterthought.

“Hero Ball” hasn’t completely disappeared, though. We see people like James Harden and Anthony Davis come up with 50-point performances seemingly at will. But as we saw with Allen Iverson during his time with the 76ers and LeBron James during his first finals run with the Cavaliers, that kind of play can’t hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

So in the spirit of recognizing that we are living in a new era, here are the NBA’s most prominent rivalries as they stand today.

5. Joel Embiid’s Twitter account vs. Everyone

It’s no doubt that every era of NBA basketball has had its fair share of huge personalities. With the advent of social media, fans are treated to the intricacies of player personalities in a way they’ve never been.

Joel Embiid embodies this in a way few other pro athletes could ever hope to. The 23-year-old uses his social media presence to hit on celebrities, grow his personal brand and, of course, get under other players’ skin.

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Joel Embiid hyping up the crowd during a game. (Photo by Steven M. Falk/Philly.com)

He has tweeted asking Ben Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad (LaVar Ball) will run on the court to save him. During the preseason, he started beef with Hassan Whiteside, saying that they had to take him off the floor so he wouldn’t foul out trying to guard him. After a win against the Timberwolves, he effectively destroyed Karl-Anthony Towns in the comment section of his Instagram post.

Embiid has a backlog of tweets asking Rihanna out on dates. He manufactured a fake retweet of President Donald Trump voting for himself to be included on the All-Star roster. TJ McConnell, his own teammate, said he’ll never play PlayStation with Embiid again, due to his trash talk. McConnell said it was so brutal that he wanted to throw his controller.

No one is safe from Embiid’s crosshairs in this rivalry. Not even his own teammates.

And these are just some highlights of Embiid’s young, but already prolific, trolling career. If practice does indeed make perfect, then Joel Embiid may end up being the best NBA trash-talker of all time.

4. Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

Daryl Morey, GM of the Rockets, has made no bones about what their goal for the 2017-2018 NBA season is. He said on a December 21st appearance on ESPN’s The Ryen Russillo Show that the team was, “basically obsessed with [the question] ‘How do we beat the Warriors?'”

The Warriors knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. That, alone, is enough to give birth to a rivalry. But an explicit statement by one of the most powerful people in the organization that his team’s main goal is to beat one specific team is a thrown gauntlet.

Seeing as Houston won the season series against Golden State 2-1, the plan is coming into fruition. Of course, it doesn’t mean much until the teams meet in the playoffs. But by adding Chris Paul, the Rockets have a fantastic offense that looks built to hang with the vaunted Golden State attack. James Harden seems to be on a mission, as he’s running away with the MVP race. The role-players on the team fit the system perfectly, and the addition of a veteran like Joe Johnson bring an air of confidence to their play.

It’s safe to say that, whatever happens in the playoffs, this rivalry is here to stay. Win or lose, the Rockets will still have the Warriors in their sights while trying to dominate the Western Conference.

3. Zaza Pachulia vs. Everyone’s ankles

It may seem silly to count this as a rivalry, but with the evidence mounting, it has to be discussed.

On May 14, 2017 during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Pachulia fell on Kawhi Leonard, causing him to aggravate an existing ankle injury. Leonard would miss the rest of the series as the Warriors swept the Spurs in four games.

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Kawhi Leonard lies down in pain directly after the infamous Pachulia closeout. (Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

During February 24th’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors center executed another questionable fall on top of Russell Westbrook. He claimed his leg was hooked by Nick Young, but it seemed as if the fall was aimed as he landed on the reigning MVP’s legs.

Stephen Curry, Zaza’s own teammate, had to leave Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks after accidentally stepping on Pachulia’s foot, causing him to injure his ankle.

Now, that last one obviously wasn’t intentional. Who in their right mind would want to hurt their own teammate? Especially considering Curry is one of the three best players in the league. It seems to fit the narrative that Pachulia puts forth, of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But true accidents aside, one cannot deny that Zaza has a reputation of being one of the dirtiest players in the league.

Reputation and the “Pachulia Rule”

Zaza used his back to slam Nikola Mirotic to the ground during a playoff game during his time with the Bucks. He tried to trip Udonis Haslem while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. Pachulia even got into a heated exchange with his current teammate, David West, after some questionable elbow movement while he was a Maverick. And those are just some of the transgressions in which he’s been implicated during his 14-year NBA career.

It’s hard for someone to truly deem every one of these actions “dirty.” Most of us have never played a minute in the NBA. So how could we speak to his intentions during every questionable play?

For fans of the sport, the old adage of “I know it when I see it,” applies here. Since every conceivable angle of every play is covered, it is easy to make a judgement call from the couch. But watching them over and over, and in slow motion, solidifies whatever opinion one may have already formed. But, again, with this mountain of evidence, it’s a no-brainer to think his intentions are questionable at best.

The NBA has even instituted a rule, dubbed the “Zaza Pachulia Rule,” which allows referees to call a flagrant foul if a closeout during a jump shot is deemed too extreme. This was due to the aforementioned Kawhi Leonard controversy. The Westbrook fall, however, did not fall under that purview. The NBA deemed the fall legitimate, and no action was taken.

This didn’t stop people like Kyrie Irving from calling the play “unacceptable.” His teammates stood behind him, but it seems as if most NBA players and fans agreed that it was unnecessary. And thus, a rivalry between a mediocre center and the rest of the league rages on.

2. Players vs. Officials

The relationship between NBA players and officials has never been as contentious as it is this season. Players are constantly berating the officiating, regardless of whatever fines may incur. Officials are exasperated with the constant barrage of claims that they aren’t doing their job well enough.

Technical fouls have experienced a massive spike during the 2017-2018 season. Draymond Green leads the league with 14, while other hard-nosed players like Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook aren’t far behind. A surprising stat, however, is that Kevin Durant currently sits at third-most in the NBA with 12 technicals. He’s certainly a competitive, fiery player, but he’s not known for behavior worthy of a technical.

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Shaun Livingston of the Golden State Warriors butts foreheads with a referee on his way to an ejection. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Associated Press)

Over the All-Star weekend, there was a summit between NBA referees and players, intended to patch relations between the two parties. Although there is no official transcript of the meeting, it is said that frustrations by both sides were vented.

The “Respect the Game” rules instituted by the NBA about eight years ago were mentioned heavily. In-game communication was also a focal point, as some officials felt as if explaining certain decisions would only make things rougher on them. Fans will never know everything that was discussed, or how heated the exchanges were, but as the season goes on, we will see how effective the meeting was.

Seeing as how players and officiating are the two most important parts of the game, how this rivalry shakes out will have an impact on the sport at every turn.

1. Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

How about a good, old-fashioned team rivalry for the number one spot?

Of course this is the best rivalry in the NBA. These two teams have met in the last three NBA Finals, which is a record. We all know this history behind this historic three year stretch. It’s not news to anyone except the completely uninitiated.

With Cleveland’s struggles and midseason roster shake-up, it seems as if the Eastern Conference might be up for grabs again. While, in the West, the Rockets have their aim firmly on halting the dynasty.

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Cleveland and Golden State in a heated mid-game exchange (Photo by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

If these two teams meet again in the 2018 NBA Finals, it will be because they both earned it. Not because they coasted through the playoffs like they have the previous three years. That will automatically make it more exciting than last year’s finals. The Cavaliers might have a chance to even up the finals series, which would completely alter how we view this juggernaut Warriors team in the future.

Cleveland cannot seem to get it together against the Warriors in the regular season. In their eight tries since 2015, they have only pulled out one win against Golden State. But that seems irrelevant viewed through the prism of another potential finals matchup.

The Warriors have something to prove, too. Signing Kevin Durant was, and still is, seen as the rich getting richer. Winning two titles in a row, and three of the last four, will hush (but not silence) these sentiments.

NBA pundits spend so much time talking about Cleveland and Golden State because they are the league right now. No matter what fans think, it quite literally cannot be covered enough, because, until further notice, they are the reigning conference champions.

This is the most exciting rivalry in sports right now. And now, with new layers and new challenges, things can only get more exciting from here.

Featured image by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

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