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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playoffs

Raptors vs. Cavaliers series preview (after Game 1)

The NBA playoffs feature some great second-round matchups. But perhaps more exciting than any of them is this Eastern Conference Semifinal round featuring Toronto and Cleveland.

The Toronto Raptors finally own the East’s number one seed, while fourth-seeded Cleveland needed all seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers. 2018 marks the third year in a row that these two teams have met in the playoffs.

According to sources from Sports Betting Dime, Raptors are the favorite to win (-260) against the Cavaliers (+220).

The regular season and roster point towards the Raptors. The recent history favors the Cavaliers. Here is The Game Haus’ analysis after a closely contested Game 1.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs’ up and down season carries over into the playoffs and continues to give Cleveland fans everywhere palpitations.

Coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the scrappy Indiana Pacers, the Cavaliers now face the top team in the Eastern Conference. No easy task, but Cleveland has clawed its way past the Raptors in the past two NBA playoffs.

After Sunday’s Game 7 win over Indiana, LeBron James said he was tired and, “ready to go home.” This may be the very first time in James’ quest for eight straight finals appearances where he has admitted fatigue.

playoffs

LeBron James recorded his 21st playoff triple-double in Game 1. (Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

It makes sense, though, considering all four wins in the first round series came by only 14 points combined. If that does not paint a picture of a hard-fought series, nothing does. Add on that James had the entire roster on his back through all seven games, even rabid LeBron haters would say he deserved the rest.

Through eight games, LeBron is averaging 33.4 points, 8.4 assists and 10.1 rebounds. He has climbed to number two in the all-time playoff triple-doubles, with 21. This includes a triple-double in yesterday’s Game 1 overtime win.

Those 33.4 points per game are good for first among all playoff scorers. To put into perspective just how much The King is willing his team to victory, the next closest Cleveland player is Kevin Love at number 62.

With Game 1 decided by just one point in overtime, it is clear that the Cavaliers will have their hands full yet again. LeBron must keep scoring in bunches, and Kevin Love cannot keep disappearing if they want four NBA Finals in a row. Taking James out of the game is nigh impossible, but Cleveland struggles when he gets no help. Getting players not named LeBron should be their focus from here on out, because The King will get his.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto may have more to prove than any other team in the playoffs. They are a perennially good team, but have never advanced past the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. With this core, a fantastic bench and great coaching, it seems like this should be their year.

In their seven games, their All-Star backcourt of DeRozan and Lowry are scoring at a clip of 26 and 17.3 points per game, respectively. The team is scoring 109.6 points per game, which is fifth among playoff teams. Their defense is allowing 108 points per game to opponents, which is good for sixth best.

Their previous series against the Raptors came in six games. The first round series was full of double-digit wins for both sides. It seems as if when a team gives the Raptors trouble, they really give them trouble. That has been the story of the Raptors and Cavaliers history of late.

playoffs

Valanciunas and Lowry after missing several potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. (Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

As previously mentioned, the Cavs have ousted Toronto during the previous two playoffs. This time, though, the Raptors clearly have the superior roster and the better regular season record.

But their old ways reared their head again. “The North” blew a 10 point lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers have beaten Toronto in nine of their last 11 playoff matchups. It seems as if LeBron is truly their kryptonite. Their path to victory narrows with every shot he makes. The game plan for them, here should not be to take him out of the game. It should be making sure that the rest of the Cavaliers’ roster continues to play as poorly as they have been during these playoffs.

A one-point overtime loss in game one after having and missing eight second-chance opportunities in the last five minutes is debilitating, to say the least. But if they are going to advance further in these playoffs, it is poetic that they must go through the Cavs.

All in all, Toronto needs to be confident in the fact that their roster is better, and try to forget Game 1 and the past two years. This Cavaliers team is vulnerable, and coach Dwane Casey needs to exploit their weak spots.

Preview and Predictions

Although it seems like the Raptors should be the ones worrying, it really should be the Cavaliers’ lack of production that will be the focal point of this series.

The bench matchups here are what Toronto can win, and win big. Cleveland uses so many different lineups because they are unsure what will work on a nightly basis. Toronto does not have that problem. Their bench is one of the best in the NBA and they can absolutely dominate these haphazard Cavs lineups.

Since they are playing the best player in the league, DeRozan and Lowry will both have to show up every night. One needs to cancel out LeBron’s points, while the other pads the lead.

Serge Ibaka will win his matchup against Love if he can deny him the ball. Love tends to fade into the background if he does not get going early enough. Tristan Thompson is mired in off-court controversy, but he is playing some great basketball. If this trend continues, he can overshadow a clearly superior center in Valanciunas.

A prediction here is hard because so many things come into play. Including and especially recent history. Toronto has to do everything in their power to put the Cavaliers away early. Cleveland panics when down too much and takes ill-advised shots. If the Cavs can keep it close, though, it is very much LeBron time, which will probably win them the game.

If this series goes the distance, the Cavaliers will probably walk away victorious. However, faith needs to be put in the Raptors that they want to shake off the “chokers” label they have amassed through the years.

Raptors in six

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Game 7

Playoff teams most likely to win a Game 7

“The two best words in sports,” is the cliche often used to describe a Game 7.

A winner-take-all game is always exciting. Whether it is in the first round of the playoffs, or for the championship. Whether a person considers themselves a casual or rabid sports fan, it always feels like must-watch TV. A moment that will allow you to say “I was there when…”

With the NBA playoffs heating up, and the games getting more and more important as teams climb the ladder towards the NBA Finals, it is time to take a look at the teams most likely to win those games.

Here are the teams with the rosters most suited to win a Game 7, if a series should come down to it.

Golden State Warriors

Saying the Warriors can win one game is a little like saying that the sky is blue. But for sake of the argument, let’s look at their credentials.

As the dynasty has taken shape, the Warriors have only had to play two seven game series. Back to back, no less. Both series were infamous in their own ways.

The first was in the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder, before Kevin Durant switched sides. The second was the NBA Finals, as the best regular season team of all time fell to LeBron and the Cavaliers in Game 7.

The difference here is the aforementioned Kevin Durant acquisition. The Cavaliers proved to be too much for the Warriors in Oakland in 2016, but Golden State “only” had two prolific scorers back then, not three.

Game 7

Draymond Green drives to the hoop against Manu Ginobili during Tuesday’s Game 5 win. (Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Stephen Curry is slated for a return in the second round, assuming the Warriors finish off San Antonio. With him, Durant, Thompson, Green and their fantastic bench, it is going to take a fantastic team to take them to seven games, let alone win the series.

It seems as if the Warriors and the Rockets are on a collision course for Western Conference dominance. If that happens, then a potential Game 7 would take place in Houston, as the Rockets had the best record in the NBA. Against any other team, a Game 7 would be in Oakland.

Golden State, though, had the same record at home and on the road during the regular season, at 29-12. Obviously, the Warriors would like to play in front of their own fans, but a road game does not necessarily put the team at a disadvantage.

The Warriors can beat any given team, and have. With a fully healthy squad and the multitudes of playoff experience, betting against them in a winner-take-all game might be a fool’s errand.

Houston Rockets

Speaking of the Rockets, it is hard to deny that their offensive capabilities can overtake any team on any given night.

There is one obvious and pressing question facing Houston, however. Can they shrug off the idea that they are chokers, or that they lay down when the playoffs roll around?

Game 7

Paul and Harden celebrate during a game against the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

This is clearly a different Rockets team than we have seen in the past. The efficiency and shooting is off the charts, and they play legitimate defense. Chris Paul and James Harden have ditched their ball-hogging ways in favor of pacing and rhythm. Their three point shooting is historic, but does not hamstring their mid-range or low-post games.

The problem, though, is that if a team is going to commit to the jump shot, then they have to fall to stand a chance. Any and every team can go cold on a given night, and it will be especially memorable and demoralizing if that happens in a Game 7.

Houston’s home record is three games better than their road record (34-7 versus 31-10). That is good news, considering they will probably have home court advantage, regardless of their opponent.

The key to winning a Game 7 for Houston is to bury the opposing team early. As the Timberwolves have been well aware during their series with the Rockets, no lead is a comfortable one. When almost every player on the floor can score in bunches, problems arise for opposing defenses.

Riding their shooting abilities and continuing to play their brand of fast-paced basketball on both ends on the floor is their bread and butter. If the Rockets find themselves in a Game 7 situation, their opposing team will be preaching that every other statistic and record is irrelevant, and that anything can happen in a one game series.

That should not be Houston’s approach. The Rockets would need to go into that game remembering that they are the number one overall seed for a reason.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto is also on a quest to shake off some preconceived notions about their playoff performances. For the first time in franchise playoff history, the Raptors won a Game 1. So far, so good, but this team still has some proving of itself to do.

Not unlike the Rockets, the Raptors also seem to be different this year than in years past. In 2016, they lost in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2017, they were swept in the second round. Both series losses were to the Cavaliers, as they made their way to the NBA Finals.

Since 1996, the Raptors have played just two seven game series. The most recent was in 2016, as they beat the Pacers in Game 7 to earn their first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Game 7

DeRozan hangs on the rim after a dunk. (Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

This is a much, different team, though. DeRozan and Lowry are a dangerous backcourt duo when they are both on, and the role players have never been this good. Between those two and Valanciunas, Ibaka, and one of the most productive benches in the NBA, it seems as if Toronto can take on any team in the league at their best.

Coach Dwane Casey has balanced star power with fundamentals as well as any coach in the league, including Steve Kerr. Toronto rode that game plan to the East’s best record, and a chance to disprove doubters once and for all.

Toronto is much better at home than on the road. Considering they are the East’s number one seed, that should work out just fine. Unless they face a Game 7 matchup if they are able to reach the NBA Finals. At 25-16, their road record is a full nine games worse than their home record. Considering the Raptors’ rabid fanbase, that is not very surprising.

Much has been made of Lowry’s postseason struggles, and DeRozan’s feast or famine performances. But the fantastic bench and great defense can mask those issues in a single game. Sometimes, bench performance can be the difference in those games. Although, stars playing to their fullest potential is always the goal.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Here, it would probably be sufficient to write the words “LeBron James” and be done with it. But, while he is the heart and soul of the team, he is not the only player on the floor.

Cleveland’s struggles this year have largely been the focal point of the entire season. At the end of the day, though, this team can win close games.

Game 7

James embraces Love after their Game 7 NBA Finals win. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

J.R. Smith is a spotty shooter. Kevin Love essentially disappears if the team does not feed him the ball enough. Nance, Jr., Hood, and Green are all good complimentary pieces, but tend to shrivel under the spotlight. At any point, though, everyone just mentioned could play second fiddle to LeBron’s heroics. If they are all on, then teams are going to have a hard time figuring out what to do with the Cavaliers.

Lest we forget, the LeBron-led Cavs dethroned the Warriors in that historic Game 7. James also won a Game 7 against the Spurs in 2013. He is, without much argument, the best player in the world, and he can take over games at will.

Nothing would will James to a victory like a championship-or-bust one game series.

Tyronn Lue and the Cavs have beaten the best regular season team in NBA history in a Game 7. And while this iteration is much different, and not without its glaring issues, if the Cavaliers find themselves in this position again, it is hard to bet against The King.

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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.

first round

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.

first round

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.

first round

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.

first round

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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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.

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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.

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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

2017-18 NBA beef

All the NBA beef this season

The past week has been wild with lots of intense games and tempers that have flared. In the past, players have expressed disdain for bad calls and have beef with other players.

In this season, these situations have reached a pinnacle. There have been more fights, more ejections and more technicals than any other season in recent memory. There’s nothing more exciting than watching two guys who hate each other compete.

As outspoken NBA veteran Matt Barnes once said, “Violence isn’t the answer, but sometimes it is.”

Here is the guide to all the best beef so far this season

Draymond Green vs. Bradley Beal

2017-18 NBA beef

Players and referees attempt to separate Draymond Green and Bradley Beal as they fight. (Photo from SF Gate)

In a game on Oct. 27, Beal drove to the basket and had his shot blocked by Green. Beal hit Green in the back of the head and wrapped his arms around Green’s hands.

Their scuffle migrated from outside the lane to underneath the basket, where they both ended up on the ground surrounded by players on both teams.

Both were ejected and fined heavily. Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix were both suspended one game as well for leaving their bench.

Kris Dunn vs. Khris Middleton

At the end of the fourth quarter with 20 seconds left in the game and the outcome decided, Dunn threw Middleton down after he physically gained position in the post. Both teams and referees had to separate the two. Both players were ejected.

Rodney Hood vs. refs and fan

After Hood was ejected from a game for arguing with refs, his frustration reached a peak as he was walking past his bench towards the locker room. A courtside fan was recording him walking out, and Hood slapped the phone out of the fan’s hand. He was fined $35,000 for the incident.

Arron Afflalo vs. Nemanja Bjelica

2017-18 NBA beef

Afflalo gets put in a headlock after missing a punch. (Photo from SlamOnline)

In a recent game, Afflalo and Bjelica began pushing each other violently while getting ready for a rebound. Afflalo swung straight for Bjelica’s head, missed and was put in a head lock. Afflalo was suspended two games and ejected for fighting.

Ben Simmons vs. Kyle Lowry

With six seconds left in the game, Simmons visibly bumped a few members of the Raptors on edge. Lowry took the bump from Simmons personal, and both were ejected for yelling at each other.

Simmons told Lowry to meet him in the hallway and was looking to fight. Lowry later said this at a press conference.

“Put it this way: I was back there.”

It’s safe to say these guys don’t like each other.

Enes Kanter Vs. Lebron James

2017-18 NBA beef

Kanter doesn’t back down from LeBron. (Photo from SI.com)

In a game in New York, James pushed and unnecessarily got in the way of rookie Frank Ntilikina, and Ntilikina pushed James.

Kanter, being the instigator that he is, immediately rushed to help his rookie and got in LeBron’s face.

James Johnson vs. Serge Ibaka

In the third quarter of a recent game, Johnson was guarding Ibaka while the ball was being inbounded from the baseline. While the two began pushing each other, Johnson threw a punch at Ibaka’s head, and Ibaka reciprocated. Both were separated by a referee, and both were ejected.

James Harden vs. Mario Chalmers

With two minutes left in a tied game, Harden hit Chalmers with a very hard screen and knocked him to the ground. Chalmers began kicking at Harden’s ankles from the ground. Harden retaliated by pushing Chalmers, and both players were pulled apart before either could throw punches and escalate the scuffle.

LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Serge Ibaka

2017-18 NBA beef

Ibaka and Aldridge never back down against one another. (Photo from San Antonio Express News)

Aldridge and Ibaka have had a long-term beef. Three years ago, they got into a fight and have a tendency to be very chippy against each other. They once again expressed their disdain for each other.

Ibaka was seen pushing Aldridge under the hoop contesting for a rebound, and they both got into each other’s faces before getting separated by teammates. These veterans have bad blood between them.

Khris Middleton Vs. Steven Adams

By Steven Adams physical stature, he isn’t a man you want to get into a fight with, even for NBA players. In a game in October, Adams and Middleton seemed to get a bit chippy underneath the basket. Adams ended up with the ball in his hands after a bucket and handed it to Middleton, who threw the ball with force at Adams. Both players were pulled apart from each other and given technicals, but no ejections.

Kevin Durant vs. DeMarcus Cousins

2017-18 NBA beef

Durant and Cousins are both heated during the game. (Photo from Yahoo Sports)

In a game in December, both Durant and Cousins began bumping each other before an inbound pass. Things got escalated, and both players were issued technicals. Then both had to get separated from each other.

Both players were ejected. However, Cousins wasn’t done with Durant, as he tried to confront Durant on the way to the locker rooms. It will be interesting to see how the former Team USA teammates interact at the upcoming All-Star game.

Blake Griffin Vs. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza vs. Austin Rivers, Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers

This scuffle has everything you could want with lots of former teammates involved. Blake Griffin and the Clippers got the best of the Houston Rockets on the court, but what happened away from the game is what sparked everyone’s interest.

During the game, there were lots of words exchanged between players and coaches, and tensions boiled over in the end of the game and after, with the Rockets very angry with some of the Clippers players.

After the game, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly went into the Clippers locker room through a secret back door that Paul knew of to confront Austin Rivers. Things got so out of hand, Los Angeles Police was called to de-escalate They even sent Clint Capela to the front door as a way of getting around security.

While some of the details are unclear, Ariza and Green were both suspended two games. Griffin was ejected in the end of the fourth quarter.

Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook

2017-18 NBA beef

The two former MVPs still have beef over Durant’s departure. (Photo from Youtube)

Probably the best beef on this list, the former teammates have quite a bitter rivalry after Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors.

Westbrook has been known for taking numerous petty shots at Durant since his departure. As two of the top 10 players in the NBA, there were lots of moments these two matched up against each other in their meeting in November at Oklahoma City.

The two continued to jaw at each other, with Westbrook being the main instigator, which escalated when Westbrook knocked the ball out of bounds from Durant when he was driving to the hoop. Westbrook and Durant headbutted each other and definitely exchanged some words. Battles between these two are must-watch games.

 

Featured image by ABC News

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3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

The Olympics are always one of the most captivating sporting events in the world. World-class athletes compete for their name, honor, eternal glory and country. One of the reasons the Olympics are so special is because they take place every four years. There are a large majority people who think many of the events are old and outdated. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken a major step in adapting the summer Olympics to grasp the attention of younger fans. The IOC has officially added 3-on-3 Olympic basketball as an event starting in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. There are many questions as to how this will work and how players will be selected to participate. First, let’s take a look at the rules of this new event.

Rules

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit:http://sportsnewsireland.com)

All official rules for the event can be found here but these rules are the most notable.

First, the court will be 15 meters wide and 11 meters long but a traditional basketball court may be used as well.

Each team will consist of four players, three who play on the court and one available substitute.

The first possession of the game will be determined by a coin flip. Scoring will consist of traditional “playground” rules meaning anything inside the arc will count as one point and all “three pointers” will count as two points.

Teams can also score points from the free throw line. A team will enter the penalty after six team fouls and a player can not foul out.

The game will last 10 minutes unless a team reaches 21 points before time runs out. If the court has a shot clock then the team will have 12 seconds to shoot the ball.

Most of these rules are pretty common to anyone who has played pickup basketball games at a park or recreation center.

USA Selection

It is going to be challenging to predict how the USA Basketball Federation will select its players. Some speculate they will select college players but fans want to see the United State’s best basketball players playing in this event. NBA players have created massive buzz by playing pick up games during the NBA offseason and they have dominated them with spectacular plays.

Who wouldn’t want to see players like Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, John Wall, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others play basketball with so much space?

Selecting the traditional basketball team is already difficult. There are so many great players in the NBA who don’t make the roster. The 3-on-3 roster will be made up of players who are capable of dominating with their iso skills. The team should consist of a dominant ball handler, an exception wing and a rebounding beast although there may be other strategies to assembling this team.

Possible USA Teams in 2020

Here are three possible combinations that could dominate for team USA in 2020.

Team 1:

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit: http://ftw.usatoday.com)

Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie will be 28 years old in 2020 and just entering his prime. This 3-on-3 competition is perfect for a player like Kyrie. He is one of the greatest ball handlers of all time and it is near impossible for anybody in the NBA to guard him one on one. In this competition, Kyrie would have so much space to cross up anybody the world can throw at him. Kyrie also can make the most insane layups through traffic so doing it with all this open space should be a piece of cake.

Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors: Age is important to look at for these events and Durant will be 31 at the time of the 2020 Olympics. He will still be one of the best scorers in the world. Pairing Durant with Kyrie would create nightmares for the rest of the world. Without adding the third player this team is already the best in the world. At 6-foot-10, Durant can shoot over anyone they put in front of him. He is a great ball-handler as well. If Kyrie can’t get to the rim during a game, Durant sure can but either way both of these players would be unstoppable.

Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans: Durant will be the old man compared to Anthony Davis. During the 2020 Olympics, Davis will be the ripe young age of 27. The Brow, as Davis is known, is already considered to be the next big superstar of the NBA. In his first five seasons, Davis has career averages of 22.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Davis is capable of doing anything on the court but in this competition, all he will need to do is defend and rebound.

Reserve

Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi would be the clap god of this competition. His defense would shut down almost everyone in the world. In 2020, he will just begin to enter his prime at the age of 28. Kawhi has developed into a world-class player and if he continues to develop further, he may even become the best player in the world. It would be fun to see what other skills Leonard would display in this competition

Team 2:

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit: https://www.tumblr.com)

Steph Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors: The baby-faced assassin would be 32 at the time of the 2020 Olympics but shooting is the last thing to go for basketball players. Curry is one of the best dribblers in the world and with all the space in 3-on-3, he could pull jumpers from anywhere. If Kyrie didn’t want to play, Steph would be the next best option.

Jimmy Butler, SG, Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Buckets is one of the best two-way players in the NBA. His ability to defend one-on-one is top notch. Butler is known as a hard worker who does the right things. 3-on-3 would allow  Butler to showcase skills that most people don’t know he has. Jimmy Buckets would be a great option for the 3-on-3 Olympics.

Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: Towns will be only 24 years old in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics. There is a chance by that time Towns is a top three player in the world. This is why it will be hard for the committee to narrow it down to just four players. Towns was recently showing off impressive handles in a 3-on-3 tournament in Denmark. He is on his way to becoming a dominant player and would be awesome in this competition.

Reserve

Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green is passionate and emotional. His trash talk alone may destroy some of the competition. Draymond does it all on the court, he can pass, shoot, rebound and defend. Other basketball players seem to love playing with Draymond and this competition would be no different.

Team 3:

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit: http://fadeawayworld.com)

Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA: A 6-foot-6 point guard who is on his way to superstardom. It is almost impossible to go a day without hearing about Lonzo Ball, his father or the rest of the Ball family. Ball is going to be a top three pick and a franchise centerpiece. His passing ability is phenomenal and he was a game changer for UCLA. In 2020, Ball is going to be just 22 years old and possibly one of the best point guards in the world. He would be a possible option when it is time to make this selection.

Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and was named to his first All-Star Game this season. Hayward averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists this season. He is a very skilled forward and would shine in this event.

DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Pelicans: Cousins is considered the best center in the NBA. He is able to handle the ball and shoot from anywhere on the court. Not many players in the world can defend him and defense becomes harder with more space. Cousins will be in contention for selection, but his bad reputation may be his Achilles heel.

Reserve

John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards: Everybody do the John Wall. Wall was so big at Kentucky he got his own song and is finally entering his prime in the NBA. He is one of the fastest point guards on the planet. Wall plays both sides of the ball extremely well and many NBA fans would love to see what he could do in this competition.

World’s Best Teams

Spain:

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit: http://www.nbapicshow.com)

Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio is a talented passer who would be the pick for the Spanish national team. Rubio has experience in the NBA against the world’s best players and in this 3-on-3 tournament, he could hold his own.

Nikola Mirotic, PF, Chicago Bulls: In the 2014-2015 season, Nikola Mirotic finished second for rookie of the year behind Andrew Wiggins. Mirotic has a career average of 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Just like Rubio, Mirotic has much needed NBA experience to compete at a high level and in 2020 will be in his prime.

Serge Ibaka, PF, Toronto Raptors: Serge Ibaka would be the rebounder and rim defender for the Spanish 3-on-3 national team. He has played Olympic basketball and plenty of other important NBA games in his career. The stage would not be too bright for him and he could help anchor Spain as one of the best teams in the world.

Greece:

Tyler Dorsey, PG, Oregon: Not many people know that Tyler Dorsey has played for the Greek national team. This past season he helped lead Oregon to the Final Four while averaging 14.6 points per game and shot 42.3 percent from the three-point line. Dorsey is going to be the best guard option for Greece.

Alex Antetokounmpo, F, Dominican High School: Alex Antentokounmpo is the youngest of all the Antentokounmpo brothers. He is just 15 years old but Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antentokounmpo says he is the best of all the Greek Freaks. Alex will be 18 years old in 2020 and if Giannis is right then he has to be one of the players chosen for the 3-on-3 team.

Giannis Antentokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks: The original Greek Freak is going to win a league MVP one day. His historic season put him on a list by himself of players who finished in the top 20 in the NBA with points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Greece will have one of the best 3-on-3 teams solely because of Giannis. Greece will be exciting to watch in the 2020 Olympics.

Australia:

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit: https://clutchpoints.com)

Patty Mills, PG, San Antonio Spurs: Patty Mills is a backup point guard in the NBA but the best option for the Australian national team. Mills would provide tons of experience and leadership to the team along with solid outside shooting.

Dante Exum, PG, Utah Jazz: Dante Exum hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations he had when he was drafted fifth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. That is mostly due to injury but as he gets older and healthier Exum should become a much better player. At 6-foot-6 Exum has excellent size as a guard and would be a superb option for the Austrailian national team.

Joe Ingles, SF, Utah Jazz: Ingles is a solid rotation player for the Jazz. He averaged 7.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game last season. Ingles shot 44.1 percent from the arc this year as well. Australia wouldn’t have much size but lots of NBA experience to be competitive.

France:

Frank Ntilikina, PG, SIG Strasbourg: Frank Ntilikina is going to be a lottery pick in this year’s draft due to his amazing potential. At just 18 years old, he has been named the French League Best Young Player twice. Ntilikina is a pass first point guard with a high I.Q. He is going to be an exciting player and huge French star.

Nicolas Batum, SF, Charlotte Hornets: Batum is one of the best players from France. He is a good defender and like many international players has a lot of NBA experience. If France had to pick it’s best 3-on-3 Olympic team then Batum would be an easy pick.

Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert had somewhat of a breakout season. He is one of the best rim defenders in the world and a great rebounder as well. Gobert is the best French basketball player and for the 3-on-3 tournament, he would be a lock.

Canada:

3-on-3 Olympic Basketball

(Photo Credit: Sam Forencich/Getty Images)

Jamal Murray, PG, Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray is a young, exciting Canadian player in the NBA. The Nuggets rookie was selected seventh overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. Murray started 10 games and averaged 9.9 points and 2.1 assists this season.

Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins is expected to become the best Canadian basketball player ever. He would have to become better than Steve Nash to do so but the potential is there. Wiggins is super athletic and in a 3-on-3 tournament he could put on an exciting show. Andrew Wiggins would only be 25 years old in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and still on the cusp of entering his prime.

Tristian Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristian Thompson is an NBA champion and one of the best offensive rebounders in the world. Canada would pick Thompson to be the big man on their 3-on-3 roster. He already has a role in which he isn’t expected to score so this would be a familiar and comfortable role on this team.

Conclusion

The 3-on-3 Olympic Basketball event could become one of the most popular Olympic events. Traditional basketball is already one of the most popular but the 3-on-3 format opens up the court and allows players to truly display some exceptional skills. The United States will have dozens of possibilities when forming the roster and no matter who they decide to select will be the favorites to win the gold. Countries like Canada, Spain, France and others will be extremely talented as well and could challenge the United States for 3-on-3 supremacy.

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Raptors

Toronto Raptors 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Day 21 of our 2017 NBA Draftmas special focuses on the draft needs and targets of the Toronto Raptors.

Summary

Raptors

Kyle Lowry may throw a wrench in Toronto’s plan to compete for a title next season. (Photo by Nathan Denette of The Canadian Press)

The Raptors have remained one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for the last four seasons. Their combined record during that time is 204-124. Under head coach Dwayne Casey, Toronto has a .548 winning percentage while ranking top 10 in points per game each year.

Their success has been overshadowed by the LeBron James era of basketball, as they have failed to reach the NBA finals despite finishing first in the Atlantic Division three out of the last four seasons. Due to the fact that overcoming the Cavaliers, as well as the super team in the west that shall remained unnamed, it seems as though Toronto’s championship window is slowly closing.

With star point guard Kyle Lowry, and newly acquired forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker possibly leaving in free agency, the Raptors may have a multitude of needs to address in the draft.

Picks & Needs

First Round: No 23

With only one pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Raptors will need to find a diamond in the ruff with their 23rd pick. If Kyle Lowry leaves, they will have a huge hole at the point guard position, although Corey Joseph and Delon Wright could be enough to keep them competitive. If Serge Ibaka or P.J. Tucker were to leave, there would be a severe hole at the forward position, as Ibaka and Tucker, along with center Jonas Valanciunas, were the heart and soul of their defense this season.

Targets & Thoughts

Raptors

Semi Ojeleye has been overlooked due to playing in the AAC. (Photo by Centraltrack.com)

Option 1

Pick #23: Semi Ojeleye, Forward, SMU

Ojeleye, a former Duke Blue Devil, is a freak athlete who carried his SMU team to the NCAA tournament. He averaged about 19 points and seven rebounds per game, which was good enough to award him with the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award (AAC).

Ojeleye is flying under the radar as the AAC has been labeled as having lesser talented competition. Also, he is considered a bit undersized at 6-foot-6, but his 240-pound frame and rebounding ability suggest he is more than ready for the jump to the NBA. The junior would be a great fit in Toronto, as he is an inside-outside scoring threat who is also no slouch on defense.

The Junior’s basketball IQ sets him apart. He did a great job of limiting turnovers and playing to his strengths. Even as the best player on his team, he rarely forced the issue, and simply did his job. I believe Ojeleye can be one of the most impactful players in this draft class, as he is extremely versatile, smart, and can be used as a mismatch against almost every NBA team.

Option 2

Pick #23: Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Power Forward/Center, Kentucky

Another freak athletic specimen, freshman Adebayo has gotten incredible praise from his coaches, teammates and opponents alike. Kentucky coach John Calipari said that he projects Adebayo to “be kind of like Karl (Towns) and even Anthony (Davis)”.

Like Towns and Davis, Adebayo’s per 40-minutes stat line consisted of over 17 points and 10 rebounds on over 56 percent from the field. Although I do not project him to be anywhere close to the offensive or defensive star that Towns or Davis have become, I do project him to be a highly skilled forward with plenty of room to grow.

He struggled defensively, as he only averaged 1.5 blocks per game with a defensive rebounding percentage of only 17.2 percent, which are a bit underwhelming for his 6-foot-10 250-pound frame. Both Towns and Davis managed to average over two blocks per game, with Davis averaging an astounding 4.7, while they both had a defensive rebounding percentage of over 22 percent.

Since Adebayo is only 19, he has plenty of time to develop his defense, rebounding and low post play. The transition to the NBA could be difficult, but if he is put in the right situation, he could develop into quite the two-way player.

Raptors

Ike Anigbogu is being severely overlooked due to not starting in a single game in his freshman season. (Photo via Twitter)

Option 3

Pick #23: Christopher Ike Anigbogu, Center, UCLA

Anigbogu has flown under the radar as he did not start a single game in his freshman season at UCLA. His incredible athleticism, defensive ability and strength has drawn interest from multiple NBA teams. His per 40-minutes stat line includes 14.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game.

Anigbogu has an incredible amount explosiveness for his 6-foot-10 250-pound frame. He managed to bring down 4.1 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes. His rebounding ability alone could be a huge asset to the Raptors who ranked 18th in the NBA in rebounding. His potential is through the roof as he is only 19-years-old. He has been a highly touted prospect since being ranked the number one high school center in California after averaging about 17 points and 10 rebounds in his senior season.

Conclusion

The Raptors have been one of the most successful teams over the last four seasons, although they clearly need to add a versatile difference maker in order to compete for a spot in the NBA Finals. If Kyle Lowry leaves, it will be interesting to see what the Raptors will do to fill the void, although with the assumption that he resigns, I expect the Raptors to add a versatile big man that can be an impact player off of the bench behind Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka.

Semi Ojeleye can impact a game very similarly to Ibaka, as he has a profound inside-outside offensive game, while also being an above average rebounder and defender. Bam Adebayo is a highly touted athletic freak who excels at facing up toward the basket on offense. Ike Anigbogu is another athletic freshman with tons of potential, who can immediately impact the game on the offensive and defensive boards.

 

Thanks for checking out the Toronto Raptors 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 22 of our NBA Draftmas special to see what the Utah Jazz may do.

 

NBA Draftmas Day 19: Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Draftmas Day 20: Brooklyn Nets

 

Featured Image by Wikipedia.com

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Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Potential Destinations for Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry may have just had the best season of his career. The 31-year-old point guard finished this season with averages of 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and seven assists per game. He also shot a career-high 41.2 percent from 3-point range.

The three-time All Star announced earlier this week that he would be opting out of his deal with Toronto to become a free agent this summer. This has raised several questions of where Lowry will be playing next season.

Lowry said his biggest priority for the future is getting a ring, according to Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic. If that is the case, that narrows down the search to only a few possibilities.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Kyle Lowry just had a career year in Toronto. (Photo by Tip of the Tower)

Lowry was due to make $12 million next season, but with his opt out he can receive a max contract. That may have been another factor in his decision to opt out. The Raptors can offer him the biggest contract, approximately five years for $205 million. Anyone else can only offer him four years for about $152 million.

The biggest rumored destination for Lowry so far is the 76ers. Lowry went to high school in Philadelphia and stayed in the state of Pennsylvania by playing college ball at Villanova. 76ers’ president Bryan Colangelo also made the trade for Lowry from Houston when he was the Raptors general manager. Many have reported that Philly will offer him a huge contract this summer.

Based on Lowry’s comment about winning a ring, this move makes no sense. The Sixers are young and in a rebuilding process. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are all young talent with plenty of potential. They also will be adding another lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

However, these guys are no match in the East. LeBron James and the Cavs are always the favorites. The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards serve as the biggest threats to the Cavs. If the young Philly core stays healthy with Lowry in the lead, they would most likely make the postseason as a low seed and be eliminated in the first round.

Lowry will also be 32 next season during the postseason, so he does not have much time to waste with a rebuilding process. However, no matter where Lowry goes, he is always going to have to deal with either Cleveland or Golden State.

The Spurs may be one of the best fits for Lowry. Lowry would be a great replacement to Tony Parker at point guard. Parker had surgery for a ruptured quadricep tendon and could be out up to eight months. With an injury like that at his age, he will most likely never be the same player he was.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Could Lowry be teaming up with Kawhi Leonard this summer? (Photo by Air Alamo)

The Spurs also have the best chance at challenging Golden State for a spot in the Finals. Since the 2010-11 season, the Spurs have finished first in the West three times, second three times and sixth just once. They are consistently contending and adding another All Star to their team would only help. Lowry along with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge would be a scary big three.

In order for the Spurs to make this work, they would need to clear a bit of cap room. They most likely wouldn’t be able to resign backup point guard Patty Mills and they would need to hope Pau Gasol declines his player option for next season. The team had to clear a lot of room to sign Aldridge back in 2015 and they made it work without losing a beat.

The Pelicans are another team that could be enticing to Lowry. New Orleans made noise at the trade deadline with their deal for DeMarcus Cousins, but things haven’t quite worked out the way they planned yet. The Pelicans finished the season 11-14 after acquiring Cousins after having postseason expectations.

Lowry could help get the Pelicans into the postseason. The status of their current point guard, Jrue Holiday, is still uncertain. Holiday is also a free agent and averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 assists per game this season. Lowry would be an upgrade from Holiday should they let him walk. Lowry also would provide veteran leadership to the younger Anthony Davis and Cousins.

Money is going to be another factor in this decision as well. Right now New Orleans is paying a lot to Davis and Cousins and does not have much cap space to pay Lowry. They could let some guys go of course to make room like San Antonio would have to. Lowry also may have to take a pay cut if he wants to go to a big contender in the West.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Lowry and DeRozan have made Toronto a winner. Will they actually split? (Photo by Toronto Star)

Lowry could also just stay in Toronto. Assuming he stays, they still have the potential to be a top-five team in the East. He also could make the most money with the Raptors. He would be making the max and playing for a playoff team. He helped make Toronto a winner along with fellow star DeMar DeRozan and is loved by the Raptors’ fan base.

However, that is all the Raptors will be: a playoff team. Not a big contender, not a Finals team and no threat to James and the Cavs.

Serge Ibaka is also another free agent Toronto will have to consider resigning. It is going to be tough for Toronto to pay them both. Losing Ibaka would hurt some, but losing Lowry would be a big blow to the team.

It will be interesting to say the least. This summer is going to be a huge for free agency with names like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Lowry all potentially on the move.

If a ring is what Lowry truly wants, San Antonio or New Orleans may be his best bet. He may also have to be willing to take a pay cut. That is a price he must be willing to pay if he wants a championship.

Featured Image by Sports Illustrated 

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Who Can Knock Off Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Threats in the Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Finals. It makes you think: Who can knock off Cleveland in the East? Most assume that the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for a third-straight Finals but that assumption could be dangerous. There are teams who could beat the Cavs and mess up everyone’s dream matchup.

The first version of this short series looked at who could knock off Golden State. If you haven’t read it you can check it out here.

LeBron James has led his team to the Finals for six straight years. It is safe to say the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland. Because it has been so long since a team not featuring LeBron has been to the Finals, it is hard to see anyone beating Cleveland in the East. Here are a few teams with the shot to dethrone the Eastern Conference Champions.

Boston Celtics

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston is just three games back of the Cavaliers for the number one seed and have one more game remaining against the Cavs. Getting that first seed could be the all-important factor in the Celtics’ chances of upsetting Cleveland as the home team has won every game this season. The Cavs have won two of the three games but all have been close contests.

In all three games, Isaiah Thomas has scored 30 points or more. They match up well all along the wing with valuable minutes coming from Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s depth gives them a shot at the upset.

To beat Cleveland in a seven game series, Boston will need its frontcourt to play well. It is the weakest area of the team and they have the fourth worst rebounding differential (-3.6) in the NBA. In their recent win over Cleveland, they won the rebounding battle 47-41.

Getting home court can be helpful but the key to Boston upsetting Cleveland will be in the frontcourt play and they will have to win that rebound battle with a healthy Kevin Love who did not play in the last matchup.

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Like a few other teams in the NBA, the Raptors are dealing with injuries. Kyle Lowry is a key player for Toronto and without him the Raptors have no shot at upsetting the Cavs. With that said, Lowry should be back in time for the playoffs.

Last season the Raptors faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost the series 4-2. The Raptors struggled in the front court in that series.

The addition of Serge Ibaka was one of the most important in-season deals this year. Ibaka not only gives the Raptors a presence in the frontcourt, but he can stretch the floor on offense. He is a shot blocker on the defensive end and has lots of playoff experience.

Another addition that will help the Raptors chances of upsetting the Cavs is the addition of P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides a spark off the bench and impacts the game in multiple ways. It remains to be seen where this team will finish in the standings but this team should not be taken lightly. DeMar DeRozen needs to be a superstar for them to win a series against Cleveland as well.

They got off to a horrible slump against the Cavs last year but with those two additions they are a better team then they were last season. The Cavs cannot take them lightly or this season the Cavs will be sent home early.

Washington Wizards

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both having their best seasons of their careers. It can be argued that they have the best backcourt in all of basketball. Yes, as good as Golden State’s backcourt. Wall is second in assists per game with 10.9. Both guards average 22 points per game. These two stars carry the Wizards but the role players are they key to upsetting the Cavs.

Marcin Gortat is a veteran who plays big inside the paint. He could give the Cavs problems in a seven game series. Along with Gortat, the Wizards get big contributions from Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards are also getting a career year out of Otto Porter who is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.8), field goal percentage (52.6%), three-point percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (80%), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6), and points (14.1).

This team has been playing well, especially at home were they are 25-9. Washington also signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings will have a big impact off the bench when giving Wall some rest. They also traded for Bojan Bogdanovic who has played in five games with Washington and most recently dropped 27 points on the Raptors. As he finds his role with the Wizards he will become a valuable player. These two additions together will be huge in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference Championship.

It will take a team effort but with how well the Wizards play at home all they need to do is steal a game on the road. If they steal a game in Cleveland and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continue their amazing season they will upset Cleveland.

 

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