Top-10 NBA MVP narratives, from Giannis to Simmons

In today’s social media-driven NBA, MVP candidates don’t just need the numbers, they need an accompanying narrative to take home the MVP award. Just ask James Harden. 

Three seasons ago, Harden finished second to Russell Westbrook in the MVP vote despite averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and leading the Rockets to 55 regular-season wins. Westbrook edged Harden because he had the best narrative: Westbrook was the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson and  the superstar who stayed in OKC even after Harden and Kevin Durant had left

The next season, however, Harden beat LeBron James for the award, despite having inferior statistics, because he had the better narrative: It’s about time we recognize Harden’s greatness and reward him because he probably should have won last season.

Last season, Harden finished second to Giannis Antetokounmpo because people had crowned Giannis as the best two-way force in the league and the next face of the NBA. As Harden so aptly put it in a GQ interview, “[I had] a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games… and all the talk was about [Giannis]? There’s no way. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen?”

Narratives matter in the MVP race. So, as a primer for this season’s MVP race, here are the top-10 MVP contenders and their accompanying narrative (in italics) entering the season (in alphabetical order):

May 19, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shoots the ball as Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) defends in overtime in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Based on the past two seasons, it’s clear Giannis is on a LeBron James-Kevin Durant kind of career trajectory. That being the case, we should expect Antetokounmpo to ascend even higher in this, his seventh season, in the middle of his athletic prime. Giannis’ MVP narrative will be one of dominance, a season where he erases any doubt as to whether he’s the best player in the world. Look for him to improve his game in some obvious way this season -– the most obvious hole in his game is his jump shot (26 percent from three-point land last season) -– but he could also double-down on his already one-of-a-kind post game or become a better playmaker.

Jun 7, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the ball against Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) during the third quarter in game four of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Steph Curry, Warriors

Steph has a chance to remind everyone that he’s still the toughest player to game plan for in the league … and maybe ever. He’s back to being the unquestioned best player on his team and the player who won back-to-back MVP awards before taking a step back to make way for Kevin Durant

After having the second-highest usage percentage in the NBA during his record-setting 2015-16 MVP season, Curry finished the next three Durant seasons at 11th, 10th and 13th. With no Durant and no Klay Thompson for most of this season, Curry’s usage rate should easily jump back into the top-five again. Thus, his stats will almost certainly mirror his stats from that 2015-16 MVP season, when he averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds and made an NBA-record 402 three-pointers. If the Warriors are near the top of the West, and Curry leads the league in scoring and flirts with breaking his own three-point record, he’ll be right in the mix for MVP.

Sep 27, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis listens to a question during the Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, CA. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis, Lakers

Like Shaquille O’Neal before him, AD is hitting his prime and poised for a Hall of Fame leap as the two-way centerpiece and next great big man for the Los Angeles Lakers

If he plays anything like he did during the second half of the 2017-18 season, when he averaged 31 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.1 steals over the last 27 games of the season, he’ll probably be a frontrunner for his first MVP award. And if he is playing like that, you can bet your bottom dollar that LeBron and Klutch Sports start campaigning for AD to take home the MVP award. In fact, you don’t even have to read between the lines from the Lakers’ media day to see that James is already doing that.

May 2, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts after scoring against the Toronto Raptors during the fourth quarter in game three of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid, 76ers

Embiid’s narrative began shortly after Kawhi Leonard’s fourth bounce fell through the basket in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The world saw Embiid crying as he left the court, exhausted from a grueling seven-game series. If Embiid plays his way into the MVP conversation, it will mean he spent the offseason getting into the best shape of his life, vowing that he’d never lose another playoff series due to fatigue. He’ll have realized that few people on this Earth have been blessed with his size and athletic prowess, and he decided it’d be a travesty if he didn’t maximize those God-given gifts. It’s time to do what Shaq and Wilt and all the other historic NBA centers did before him: dominate

With Jimmy Butler taking his talents to South Beach, Embiid will have ample opportunities to show off his newfound conditioning as the closer for the Sixers.

Sep 27, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) poses for a picture during media day at Post Oak Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden, Rockets

The Beard knows first-hand how a narrative can swing an MVP vote. He believes he got robbed of the award last season. He has a point. And that means that Harden’s narrative this season will be one of revenge against the voters who wronged him out of capping off a historic season with no MVP trophy. Revenge against the people who think he isn’t the best player in the league. Revenge against the people who don’t think he can lead the Rockets to a title. 

An MVP season for Harden might not include the same massive scoring as last season (36.1 points per game) now that his high-usage buddy Russell Westbrook is in H-Town. But if his isolations and pick-and-rolls remain two of the most highly efficient plays in basketball and his assist numbers go back to what they were in previous seasons (10.0 per game from 2016-17 to 2017-18), Harden will have another crack at MVP.

LeBron James, Lakers

This is the most obvious narrative: LeBron’s “Forgot About Dre” season. LeBron is coming off of a miserable first season with the Lakers in which he suffered his first major injury and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. However, missing the playoffs means that he finally got an extended rest after eight straight trips to the NBA Finals. 

He’s also undoubtedly been listening to the media mock his team the past 12 months and declare that he’s no longer the Best Player on the Planet. It’s all set up perfectly for LeBron to come out and have a G.O.A.T. kind of season to remind the basketball world that he’s still the King.

An MVP season for LeBron won’t be his typical 27-7-7 season –- voters are too bored of that. Instead, look for him to average double-digit assists now that the Lakers have Davis, but a dearth at point guard.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

The Joker’s narrative is mostly tied to his team’s success. If the Nuggets, who should have some of the best chemistry in the league, are the best team in the Western Conference and flirt with winning 60 games, Jokic will get plenty of MVP votes and his narrative will sound something like this: Jokic is doing it all alone as the lone superstar in a conference loaded with superstar tandems. He flashed his true potential as a franchise centerpiece in last season’s playoffs, averaging 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists. That performance has carried over into the 2019-20 season as he has Denver at the top of the league earlier than anyone would have imagined. 

September 29, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard speaks with media during media day at LA Clippers Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

After last season’s playoff run and subsequent free-agency power flex, Kawhi is the Alpha Dog of the NBA, and he isn’t ready to relinquish that title just yet. In fact, as a little more of Kawhi’s personality has come to the forefront, it has become apparent that he relishes destroying opponents the same way MJ and Kobe did, albeit in a less expressive way. 

With Paul George out at the beginning of the season, the Clippers will need Playoff-Kawhi (30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds on 49-38-88 shooting splits) to keep them near the top of the Western Conference until George returns, which should force Kawhi to get rolling a lot earlier than last season’s load-managed season.

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts following the win over the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Lillard’s MVP narrative is similar to Jokic’s in that it’ll be tied to the Blazers’ record this season. Most analysts seem to think that the Blazers will finish closer to .500 than the 53 wins the team had a season ago. Thus, if Lillard leads Portland to another top-three finish in the West, and with his typical Curry-lite numbers (25.8 points, 6.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds with 44-37-91 shooting splits last season), and none of the other candidates on this list are having other-worldly seasons, Lillard could start to garner some late season MVP buzz. 

He’s the best leader in the league, the superstar who chose to stay when most would have demanded a trade –- he’s as important to his team as any player in the NBA. Isn’t that everything you can ask for from an MVP candidate?

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/yardbarkers_top_10_nba_mvp_narratives_from_giannis_to_simmons/s1_13132_30133574

By: Pat Heery

NBA free agency: Winners and losers from Day 1

NBA free agency officially tipped off around the league Sunday evening. It’s been one of the most highly anticipated free agent classes in modern history.

We got answers to some pretty big questions as free agency got going on Day 1. The Boston Celtics netted All-NBA guard Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic retained star center Nikola Vucevic on a less-than max contract. More than anything, the Nets’ ability to team Kyrie Irving up with Kevin Durant changes the entire dynamic around the Association.

It’s in this that we give you the biggest winners and losers from the first day of NBA free agency.

Winner: Kemba Walker

Walker traded the small market of Charlotte for the bright lights of Boston. While that’s going to come with a lot of pressure as the face of the Celtics’ franchise, Walker appears to be more than up for the task. He also joins a championship contender after toiling in mediocrity with the Hornets over the past eight seasons.

Equally as important, Walker netted a max four-year, $141 million deal from Boston after the Hornets low-balled him with a five-year, $160 million contract. Now the face of a contending team, Walker is a major winner.

Loser: Free agent big men

Nikola Vucevic receiving less than the max from Orlando represented a major hit for other free agent big men. In fact, his four-year, $100 million contract is well below market value. The same thing can be said about the three-year, $45 million contract Jonas Valanciunas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This does not bode well for other free agents at the center position. Specifically, the market is going to be bare for DeMarcus Cousins.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Even after both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious injuries in the NBA Finals, it was reported that Golden State would extend max-contract offers to both free agents. While Durant ultimately signed with Brooklyn, the Warriors did in fact offer him a five-year, $221 million deal. Meanwhile, Thompson committed to a five-year, $190 million max deal with Golden State.

It’s rare in today’s sports landscape to see a team show this type of loyalty to players. Thompson’s ACL injury is less severe than Durant’s ruptured Achilles. But both are serious. Offering up $411 million in guaranteed cash represents a major commitment for a team that’s facing billions in payroll over the next few seasons, even with Durant on his way to Brooklyn.

Loser: Kyrie Irving

Irving might have received a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. But it did not come without his reputation being tainted big time. Reports of his diva-like mentality ruining the Boston Celtics gave way to Irving’s former team not showing any real interest in re-signing him. That’s a major black eye for the NBA champion.

It’s also important to note that Boston did not waste any time replacing Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Should Walker lead Boston to championship contention with Irving’s Nets struggling while forming a super team, it would represent another major hit for the veteran.

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Irving as a loser with the Nets as a winner? Both can be true. Brooklyn targeted Irving immediately after the 2018-19 season. It culminated in a max contract agreement Sunday evening. It also represents the biggest free-agent signing in Nets history.

Well, that was until later on Sunday when Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Nets . He’s going to be joined by best bud DeAndre Jordan to form a new big three in the Big Apple. While KD is out for all of next season, the Nets still have a team worthy of competing in the Eastern Conference until he returns the following season. It was a memorable day Sunday in the Mecca of the basketball world. That’s putting it lightly.

Loser: Charlotte Hornets

Michael Jordan’s tenure as the Hornets’ owner has been an unmitigated disaster. The latest example of this is Charlotte offering Kemba Walker a five-year, $160 million contract, about $61 million less than it could have offered the All-NBA performer.

Instead, the Hornets head into next season with Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller counting a combined $71-plus million against the cap. That’s just horrible stuff right there. And it’s certainly enough to make MJ and Co. major losers in free agency. But hey, at least they’re now paying Terry Rozier nearly $20 million annually.

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By: Vincent Frank

One-On-One: The NBA Finals and the aftermath

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week’s topic: the NBA Finals and the future of the Warriors dynasty.

Heery: Sean,  the Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions. That six-game series was equal parts exciting, bizarre and sad. Game 6 was an NBA classic. We witnessed Kyle Lowry come out like a bat out of hell, scoring 21 points and recording six rebounds and assists in the first half. We saw Klay Thompson put on a Finals performance of the ages before getting injured, then getting carried into the locker room, then coming back out of the tunnel Willis Reed style to make his free throws, then being ruled out for the rest of the game. (He left in a brace and crutches and was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL .) Finally, we got to hold our breath in the last seconds as Steph Curry got a decent look in the last 10 seconds in a one-point game.

Kawhi Leonard was spectacular all playoffs and took home the title, his second Finals MVP, and some would argue, the Best Player in the World Belt. Fred VanVleet was one of the best five players in this series. Pascal Siakam, who won the Raptors Game 1 by going 14-of-17 from the field and 32 points, had a clutch Eurostep in the final 30 seconds and scored 26 points and grabbed 10 boards in 46 minutes. Lowry and Serge Ibaka were great in the last four games.

Sean, give me your eulogy for the Warriors’ injury-riddled Finals run this season and your thoughts on last night’s game.

Keane:  It’s a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of ending for the Warriors, who through the playoffs dealt with KD’s Achilles, Boogie’s ruptured quad tendon, Kevon Looney’s shattered collarbone and the injury gods’ repeated assaults on Klay Thompson’s ankle, knee and hamstring. Yet they still had a chance to force a Game 7 with the greatest three-point shooter of all time firing away as the game ended.

If you were trying to make the super-team Warriors interesting and sympathetic again, this is how you’d do it. Take away an All-Star, then take away another one, and see how they react. They managed to beat the Rockets on the road short-handed, came back from double-digit leads against the Blazers and almost pulled out Game 6 with Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston on the floor.

The weirdest part of the run was their near lack of home-court advantage at Oracle Arena — they were 6-5 at home and 8-3 on the road. It’s almost as if they wanted to pay tribute to the main thing that happened over the years at Oracle — lots and lots of losing.

Pat, what does this mean for the future Raptors and their fans? And is Kawhi going to stick around to be a part of it?

Heery: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this means that about 72 hours after catching flak for cheering the KD injury, Toronto is back! Not sure there are any JR Smith-type parade guys on the Raptors, so get ready for a lot more Drake during the parade.

As for Kawhi, I feel like the postgame celebration revealed a lot about him: There’s actually some personality in there once you peel back the layers, and he clearly has developed a bond with his Raptors teammates, especially Lowry. I now think he stays for at least another year in the Six to defend his crown. If he leaves, which would be unprecedented for a Finals MVP, he might have a built-in excuse if Masai Ujiri takes the money and runs to the Wizards, who are apparently about to back up the Brink’s truck with a $10M/year deal.(He’s worth it too, especially considering Jordan Clarkson makes $12M.)

Speaking of free agency, poor KD and Klay — both free agents this summer and both out for the majority, if not all, of next season with severe injuries. What are some of the ripple effects these injuries have on these two, the Warriors and the rest of free agency?

Keane: It’s likely the Warriors still offer KD and Klay their max deals, but it’s unlikely either plays before the All-Star Game. And if these Finals have proved anything, it’s that rushing back from injuries can have dire consequences, as does not paying the market rate for your training staff. The capped-out Warriors are looking at a season with Draymond Green, Curry and not a lot else. That’s a team that is contending for the six seed, not an NBA title. It could also be a chance for the Warriors to tank load manage their stars, who have played 100-plus-game seasons for five years, get a decent draft pick for the first time since 2012 and reload for a full strength 2020-21 year.

Regardless of what happens, a devastated Warriors team and an uncertain Raptors future means the road to the NBA championship is wide open, and the pool of available free agents is down two Hall of Famers. Milwaukee went all in last year and figures to be 110 percent all in this year. (That math works, right?) Philly is likely to pay all their free agents, after being one crazy Kawhi shot and one Joel Embiid hand wash away from knocking off Toronto. Even though he insists he won’t re-sign there, Boston might be tempted to trade for Anthony Davis anyway — a one-year rental of a guy who wants to play in Los Angeles just worked out great for Toronto!

Davis may be a Laker by the time you read this, and LeBron-plus-The Brow alone may be a legitimate contender in the Warriors-free West next year, provided the team signs better players than Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson this time. To me it also says that Bradley Beal is extremely available now, particularly if Ujiri accepts the Wizards’ giant offer of $10M and his choice of national monuments. It also says that Chris Paul should be unavailable. Two weeks ago, Daryl Morey threatened to trade anyone on his roster. Now the team that beat him four of the last five years has crumbled, and his team is poised to flop its way into the Finals.

What should the Warriors do in this impossible situation? And are there other teams that should be pushing their chips in this summer?

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By: Pat Heery and Sean Keane

 

Raptors roar: Winners and losers from Game 1 of the NBA Finals

The long-anticipated 2019 NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors tipped off Thursday night in Canada.

Coming into the series, Toronto found itself as the overwhelming underdog. Though, Kawhi Leonard and Co. were favored to win the opener at home.

From pretty much the start, Toronto played like the better and more hungry team. Pascal Siakam dominated all four quarters. Leonard came through when it counted the most.

Meanwhile, the Warriors couldn’t get any secondary scoring behind Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson struggled and was visibly frustrated. Draymond Green found himself in foul trouble.

Here are the biggest winners and losers from Toronto’s 118-109 Game 1 win over the defending champs in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Winner: Marc Gasol 

A lot was made of Gasol’s struggles on offense in the Eastern Conference Finals. He also didn’t seem to have a great matchup against Golden State’s bigs in the NBA Finals. If Game 1 is any indication, that was nothing more than narrative.

Gasol led Toronto in scoring with 14 points in the first half, finishing that span plus-11 in the process. Showing improved defense, his all-around game was excellent. In the end, the borderline future Hall of Famer scored 20 points and grabbed seven boards before fouling out.

Loser: Klay Thompson

 With Kevin Durant out of action, it was rather apparent that Thompson needed to step up behind Stephen Curry. That certainly wasn’t the case in Game 1.

Klay just didn’t have it on either end of the court. His frustration boiled over with a dumb technical in the final stanza. Thompson was ultimately minus-10 on the court and didn’t show the same long-range sniper ability that has defined his career. Maybe he should start listening to Drake music again.

Winner: Danny Green 

This NBA champ entered Game 1 having hit on just one of his past three 15 three-pointers. But proving himself to be the solid veteran we saw in San Antonio, Green did not hesitate to take big shots at big times.

Still getting the starting nod for Nick Nurse, Green drained 3-of-7 three-point attempts and played some absolutely great perimeter defense against the likes of Curry and Thompson. Green could very well be an X-factor moving forward in the series.

Loser: Draymond Green

The aggressiveness we saw from Green during Golden State’s four-game sweep of Portland in the Western Conference Finals just wasn’t there Thursday night. He attempted three shots in the first half, committing as many fouls and turnovers in the process.

Green might have finished the evening with a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists), but he was not the same overall presence we’ve seen through the playoffs. That’s magnified by the performance Siakam put up on him offensively.

Winner: Pascal Siakam 

Not enough can be said about this youngster. He might not be the best player in Toronto, but Siakam continues to perform like a king. Thursday night’s action was no different.

At one point that spanned the final three quarters, Siakam hit on 11 consecutive shots. He did so with elite defenders such as Draymond and Kevon Looney on him. With Kawhi laboring a bit, Siakam’s 32 points were the difference in this game.

Loser: Warriors other bigs

While DeMarcus Cousins was performing well in limited action, the likes of Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell did not do their thing. Bell got the start over his counterparts, playing a combined 12 minutes and scoring two points. Meanwhile, a previously impressive Looney scored nine points but was negative-four in 28 minutes of action.

We’re highly intrigued to see how Steve Kerr employs his bigs in Game 2. The rotations clearly did not work Thursday evening. There’s now a good chance that Cousins will get the start over the others Sunday evening.

Winner: Stephen Curry 

Pretty much the only member of the defending champs to do anything on offense Thursday night, Curry was hassled by both Toronto’s defense and some bad officiating. Despite this, the two-time former MVP was still able to do his thing.

Curry scored 34 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including a ridiculous 14-of-14 mark from the free-throw line. He continued to display aggressiveness while not settling for threes. That’s what the Warriors need with Durant sidelined.

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By: Vincent Frank

 

Top takeaways from Warriors’ series-clinching overtime win over Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers needed a win to stay alive in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4. They did not get it.

A high-scoring first quarter (36-35 in favor of Golden State) set the tone for what would be an exciting night of fast-paced basketball. At halftime, the Blazers led by the score of 69-65 thanks in part to a breakout game from Meyers Leonard.

The second half featured more of the same breakneck pace, and heading into the fourth quarter, Portland held a tenuous eight-point lead. With the season on the line, the Blazers felt their nerves a bit, and at the end of regulation, the score was tied 111-111.

Overtime beckoned in the NBA playoffs for the second night in a row.

In overtime, Golden State once again showed its championship mettle, outscoring the Blazers 8-6 for the clean sweep.

Here’s a look at the top takeaways from the Warriors’ crushing victory over the Trail Blazers in Game 4.

Who are you and what did you do with Meyers Leonard?

Both teams got off to a torrid start offensively, but if not for Meyers Leonard blowing up with 14 points in the first quarter, things would have gone a lot differently. It was a really fun environment watching Leonard hitting from pretty much anywhere he wanted — minus his one embarrassing faux pas at the rim. His 25 halftime points marked a career high in any game — both as a pro and at college.

All told, he racked up 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Just an incredible breakout performance from this former No. 11 overall pick out of Illinois.

To be completely fair, Leonard didn’t completely come out of nowhere, having scored 16 points in 31 minutes a game prior. But this is a guy who averaged 5.5 points per game in the playoffs before Game 4. And the way he jumped out with a dominant performance early set the tone for the Blazers and gave them a chance.

Third-quarter Dubs? Not this time

The Warriors’ hallmark has long been their ability to absolutely blow teams away in the third quarter. Portland experienced this firsthand, having been outscored 68-37 the previous two games in this period.

Coming out of halftime, it seemed like Golden State was primed to make another big run, down by just four despite some insanely hot shooting by the Blazers. Instead, Portland came out of the locker room with incredible focus and intensity to outscore the Warriors by four points in the third and go into the final period up eight.

Steph stayed hot with legendary performance

Without Kevin Durant, and with Andre Iguodala also watching from the bench with a sore Achilles, the Warriors were extremely shorthanded in Game 4. Thankfully for Golden State, Stephen Curry continued to put up points in bunches.

Curry was unbelievably hot in the first half, hitting 7-of-9 from the floor and 5-of-7 from three with 25 points. Scoring wasn’t the only thing Curry was doing well on Monday night, either. He kept putting the ball into the hoop to finish with a 37-point triple-double, adding 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Just a phenomenal overall performance by a legendary player who will one day have a place in the Hall of Fame. The only real negatives were that his legendary free-throw streak finally was snapped, and his sloppy travel with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Portland’s backcourt was phenomenal

Lillard hasn’t looked like himself in this series. Of course, separated ribs would have something to do with his sub-par performances. We knew that if Portland was going to stay alive with a win in Game 4, he’d need to figure out a way to get going, regardless.

Portland’s star point guard did just that on Monday night. Putting together his finest performance in this Western Conference Finals, he scored 28 points, dished 12 assists, hauled down four rebounds and was responsible for the most entertaining highlight of the game (and some broken ankles for one poor defender).

Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum was also effective as we’ve seen throughout the series. He scored 26 points and added seven assists. Combined with Leonard, these guards presented the Warriors with a three-headed monster all night long.

Draymond Green = X-factor

One of the more underrated players the Warriors have relied on during their current dynasty, Green rose up with a virtuoso performance in Game 4.

He did the little things all night long. He dished an incredible 11 assists en route to a gritty triple-double that included 18 points and 14 rebounds.

And then, with the game on the line late in overtime, he hit his first three-pointer of the game.

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By: Jesse Reed

Draymond Green’s ankle injury does not seem serious

Draymond Green does not appear to be overly concerned with the sprained ankle that forced him to leave Saturday’s game.

During the fourth quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ loss to the Houston Rockets, Green landed awkwardly on the foot of DeMarcus Cousins. After lying on the floor for a few moments, Green exited and did not return to the game.

On Sunday, Green was listed as questionable for the team’s game on Monday against the Charlotte Hornets. He got some shots up after practice and declared himself probable for the game.

Earlier in the season, the Warriors exercised caution with Green during his recovery from a troublesome toe injury. For the Warriors, the focus is ensuring good health when the playoffs roll around. While Green may feel like he’s good to go on Monday, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Golden State held him out a game or two just to be certain Green is 100 percent before returning.

By: Gordon Dixon

Original Article

25 questions heading into the second half of the NBA season

1. Should the Pelicans trade Anthony this season or this summer?

The Pelicans are in 12th place in the Western Conference, and it’s time they start thinking about trading Anthony Davis. If they deal him this season, the Lakers might be willing to part with three of their four young assets (Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart). The 76ers might be willing to dangle Ben Simmons, too. Heck, the Warriors could even offer Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

If New Orleans waits until the summer, the Celtics will be eligible to acquire Davis (a provision in the CBA is preventing them from doing so this season without including Kyrie Irving) and could offer a package including Jaylen Brown and their war chest of valuable future draft picks. The Knicks could offer their unprotected 2019 first-round draft pick and Kevin Knox. The only downside to waiting for the summer is that if Davis demands a deal to a specific team, the Pelicans lose all their leverage. Lots to consider in the Big Easy, and none of it is all that promising.

2. What does the Lakers starting lineup look like this spring?

The best-case scenario includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A lineup with those two could win the title. The next best scenario probably involves James, Bradley Beal and whichever two youngsters remain. This lineup could hang with any team in the league but is probably an underdog in the Conference Finals and Finals. The worst-case scenario would be if they make no major moves at the deadline because their current lineup likely has a Conference Finals ceiling and it’d be malpractice to waste a year of LeBron’s prime, like when the team has a number of trade chips.

3. Which teams mortgage their futures at the deadline?

Out West, the Pelicans are sure to be in the middle of everything, as they hold the crown jewel in Anthony Davis. Yet there’s a chance the Pelicans hold onto Davis and make a big trade of their own — we know they were in the mix for Jimmy Butler earlier this year. Everyone knows that the Rockets and Lakers will be looking for deals too. The Kings are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, so keep an eye on them as well.

Out East, any of the top five teams could justify pushing their chips in and try to capitalize on the Warriors’ perceived vulnerability. Also, keep an eye out for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — they’ve straightened things out as of late and have been trying to land a blue-chipper ever since LeBron James left.

4. Does Michael Jordan deal Kemba Walker?

The conundrum of Kemba Walker: He means everything to the Hornets and wants to remain the face of the franchise, yet they can’t compete with him on their roster. He’s not quite elite enough to carry Charlotte deep into the playoffs, yet he’s too good to not carry the team to a .500 record. With no cap room (maybe you shouldn’t have maxed out Nic Batum, MJ!) and hardly any trade assets (maybe you shouldn’t have turned down four first-round picks to draft Frank Kaminsky, MJ!), Michael Jordan needs to seriously consider trading Walker for some future draft picks and/or cap relief if the Hornets ever want to quit toiling in mediocrity.

5. What do the Blazers do at the trade deadline?

The Blazers are having another solid season. They’re 25-17 and have an average offense and defense. They won’t miss the playoffs, but they probably won’t make it out of the first round if they don’t make a move at the trade deadline. Is this the year they break up the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? How does the passing of owner Paul Allen impact the team’s previously unwavering loyalty to its dynamic backcourt? Would the Wizards ever consider a Bradley Beal for McCollum plus an unprotected 2020 first-rounder swap?

6. Which teams should blow it up at the deadline?

A couple of teams that are teetering on the brink of falling out of playoff contention should seriously consider blowing up their rosters by trading away assets for future draft picks and high-upside prospects. The most obvious team is the Washington Wizards. At 17-25, no John Wall for the rest of the year and no cap space, the team should absolutely be looking to trade Otto Porter and his massive contract, Markieff Morris and his abrasive attitude and even Bradley Beal if a team like the Lakers offers multiple prospects and draft picks.

Just above Washington in the standings, the Magic, Pistons and Hornets are all fighting for the eight seed. If any of them falter, they’d be obvious “tank” candidates. In the West, everything is still congested in the standings, but the Grizzlies and Pelicans will want to listen to offers for their respective stars if they’re on the outside looking in a month from now.

7. Do the Bucks have enough to compete for a title?

When LeBron James was 24 years old, he won his first MVP and led the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins. He was so transcendent that the team didn’t think it needed to improve a roster with Mo Williams as its second-best player at the trade deadline. Everyone knows how that worked out for Cleveland — the Orlando Magic caught fire in the Conference Finals and upset the Cavs.

Milwaukee Bucks fans should be scared to death of history repeating itself with Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. Giannis is also 24 years old and an MVP front-runner, and he’s leading a surprisingly good Bucks team to the top of the conference as the deadline nears. While the Bucks have better secondary options than the 2009 Cavs had, their current roster is probably another scorer and versatile forward away from being threats to win it all.

8. Are the Raptors finally a legitimate title contender?

These dinosaurs are legit. Unlike past years, they have a roster built for the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is back to being the Kawhi Leonard of old (albeit, a little better on offense and a little worse on defense). Danny Green is having his best season in years. Same goes for Serge Ibaka, whose switch to small-ball center appears to have triggered a Benjamin Button-like reverse aging in his body. Kyle Lowry is second in the league in assists, too.

And who could forget Pascal Siakam — wow, where the hell did this guy come from? In his third season, he’s made the jump from solid defensive presence off the bench to potential All-Star and two-way terror on the court. He’s always sprinting, making offensive players uncomfortable on defense and pushing the envelope on offense — just making winning plays all over the court. He’s like Toronto’s own mutated version of Draymond Green. If you haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out on the best spin move in the NBA.

9. Are the Houston Rockets still contenders?

James Harden probably answered this one at Golden State last week where he put on one of the most impressive performances of his career. His three-pointer between the outstretched hands of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was the climax point of an on-going, 15-game stretch in which he’s averaging over 40 points per game. We know Harden will keep stuffing the stat sheet, but we also know that he’s prone to wear down in the playoffs if another teammate isn’t there to lighten his load. Can Chris Paul get back on track once he returns from his hamstring injury? Does Houston trade for another shot creator at the deadline?

10. Are the Nuggets a legitimate title contender?

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets’ meteoric rise to the top of the Western Conference has been one of the biggest surprises of this NBA season. Jokic is proving to be a one-man elite offense, as the Nuggets have been able to withstand significant injuries to a number of their key players, including Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Even if they sputter at some point during the second half of the season, they should finish with a top-four record in the West. The question then becomes what is their ceiling this season with a roster comprised mostly of players with little to no prior playoff experience? A safe bet is that they’ll win their first-round series and then lose a close battle in the second round to a more experienced team like the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder or Lakers. Regardless, the future is bright in Denver.

11. Have the Thunder quietly built a defensive machine to upset the Warriors?

With Paul George playing at a first team All-NBA level this season and Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant playing excellent two-way basketball, the Thunder might be the team best equipped to take down the Warriors. Notice I didn’t mention Russell Westbrook? That’s because the Thunder are often winning games in spite of Westbrook. While he is taking two fewer shots per game and has recommitted himself to defense (leading the league in steals), his shooting splits and shot selection are abysmal. He’s a key reason why OKC has the worst field-goal percentage in the NBA. It’s so frustrating because this team could absolutely steal some games from the Warriors in a series (they’re 3-2 vs. Golden State since acquiring Paul George) with its defense and overwhelming athleticism. However, Westbrook has to be a much more efficient player for the Thunder to take down Goliath.

12. Can the 76ers avoid a chemistry catastrophe?

There are layers to this one. For starters, the relationship between franchise cornerstones, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, is somewhere between “working partnership” and “icy.” It’s probably closer to the latter right now after their recent rebounding collision and Embiid’s subsequent freak-out. If that weren’t enough to worry about, Jimmy Butler is apparently already comfortable dressing down head coach Brett Brown in front of teammates about his role in the offense. Some teams can excel amid chaos like this; others fall victim to it. Will the Eastern Conference’s most talented team straighten things out for a long playoff run? Or will it implode from within?

13. Do the Pacers have enough offensive firepower to win the East?

It may come as a surprise to the casual fan, but the Indiana Pacers are a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference this season. They’re currently in third place and have the NBA’s third-highest rated defense despite missing their star, Victor Oladipo, for 11 games this season. Their defense and plethora of excellent role players will keep them in every game come playoff time, but can Oladipo carry their offense enough for them to make a deep run? Look for the Pacers to add some more scoring pop at this year’s trade deadline.

14. What is the Clippers’ ceiling?

How many players do you think a casual NBA fan could name on the Clippers? Three? Four? Despite having no star power, the Clippers are 24-16 and in fourth place in the loaded Western Conference. This is no longer a cute story about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — this team is legitimately good. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all good players and have destroyed unsuspecting opponents this season.

How good are they? Can they win a playoff series? It’ll depend on the matchup and whether they pick up a better two-guard (Avery Bradley stinks now) and rim protector (Gortat isn’t cutting it). They could probably take down any team without an MVP-caliber player in a seven-game series, so if they play the Spurs, Blazers or Jazz in the first round, they’ll have more than a puncher’s chance to advance.

15. Will Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward get back on track?

If someone told you that Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were averaging only a combined 23.6 points per game, you’d probably assume that the Celtics were having the season from hell. Fortunately for Boston, the “Marcuses” (Morris and Smart) have stepped up their respective games and covered for Brown’s and Hayward’s struggles. The team is comfortably in fifth place in the top-heavy Eastern Conference and will always have a chance in any playoff series with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and the Marcuses playing well. However, if the Celtics want to compete for a title, they’ll need at least one of Brown or Hayward to start playing better. Both have shown some signs of life recently, but an occasional good game won’t suffice come May and June.

16. Do the Jazz have another magical second half in store?

Quin Snyder has been a second-half miracle worker in his tenure as head coach of the Utah Jazz. Last season, after a 17-24 start to the season, the Jazz ripped off a 31-10 record the next 41 games and rode that momentum to a first-round upset over the Thunder. At 20-21 through 41 games this season, Snyder will need to once again work his second-half magic to get Donovan Mitchell and Co. back on track.

17. How does DeMarcus Cousins fit in with the Warriors?

As they attempt to three-peat and win their fourth title in five seasons, the Warriors are struggling with mental and physical fatigue. Even when they’re at full strength, they seem as vulnerable as they’ve seemed since Kevin Durant joined the team. That could all change when DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut. Will the Warriors be rejuvenated by their “new toy” and find new ways to throttle teams? Or will Cousins’ overwhelming but unnecessary offensive talent hurt the team’s on-court chemistry? Boogie’s commitment to defense could ultimately dictate this one.

18. Can Steph Curry really go 50-45-90 again?

Remember when Steph Curry won the first-ever unanimous MVP in 2015-16 and forced us to recalibrate how basketball was going to be played moving forward? That season he averaged 30.1 points per game and joined Steve Nash as the only players to ever join the 50-45-90 Club (FG percentage-3FG percentage-FT percentage). Well, he’s doing it again this season. Right now he’s averaging 28.9 points per game on 48-44-91 shooting splits. (And he’s been in a slump lately too.) Thanks to the equally ridiculous seasons guys like James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are having, hardly anyone seems to be noticing how insanely well Curry is shooting this year.

19. Can we hand Luka Doncic the Rookie of the Year, already?

Barring injury, the answer is yes. Doncic has been a revelation in Dallas and is must-see television every time he steps on the court. He might even get voted in as an All-Star Game starter. And while he shouldn’t be an All-Star starter, nobody should have any issues with him making the team because he’s averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game and absolutely has a case as being one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference this season.

20. Should the Knicks even bother bringing Kristaps Porzingis back this season?

If you recall, Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL just before the All-Star break last season. With a crappy roster in place and their sights set on Kevin Durant, the Knicks have been in no rush to get their young star on the court before he’s completely healthy. They are going to evaluate Porzingis in mid-February, but there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.

Should he play? On one hand, it’d be nice to get him back on the court for about 10-15 games to help him get his rhythm and confidence back heading into the offseason — this is what the Pacers did with Paul George following his broken leg. On the other hand, with a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, they might not want Porzingis winning games for them and screwing up their lottery odds.

Full 25

By Pat Heery

Steve Kerr addresses Stephen Curry’s place in rotation

One of the most consistent elements of the Golden State Warriors’ run with Steve Kerr as coach has been the minutes and rotation of Stephen Curry and the rest of the stars.

That’s changed some this season. And prior to Saturday’s win over the Sacramento Kings, Kerr addressed Curry’s change in minutes.

“We’ve tried a lot of different things this year in the beginning of the second, beginning of the fourth. We’ve tried KD in that spot, we’ve tried Klay, now we’re trying Steph. This is the one that has looked the best. That has felt the best. It’s ironic. People are talking about Steph’s fourth quarter minutes. Well, now he plays 10 minutes in the fourth quarter. He used to play six minutes.”

Curry’s overall minutes are up. He’s averaging 34.9 minutes a game. If that holds, it’ll be his highest total since averaging 36.5 in 2013-14, the year before Kerr’s arrival.

Of course, this may not hold.

Kerr also noted that the season is still relatively young and that things could again change.

By and large, things have worked out OK. While the Warriors aren’t having quite the dominant season we’ve grown accustomed to, they are 26-14 — the second best record in the Western Conference. Curry, meanwhile, is averaging 29.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds a game and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 45 percent on threes and 91 percent on free throws.

Original Article

By: Michael Dixon

Drake taunts Warriors, Kevin Durant gets revenge later on

Rap mogul Drake is the Raptors global ambassador, so he sits courtside at nearly every home game at Scotiabank Arena.

And given that the Raptors hosted the Warriors in an epic matchup on Thursday night, it was no surprise that Drake was in midseason trolling form.

The Warriors went into halftime trailing 67-58, and Drake made sure to let Kevin Durant and Co. know about it on their way to the locker room.

https://twitter.com/theScore/status/1068336877357404161

It wasn’t long until Durant got revenge, though. He drained a three-pointer from the logo in the final seconds of the third quarter, and Drake had an epic reaction to the long-range bomb.

It really is great watching those two go back and forth.

Full Article

By: Matt Birch

 

NBA Power Rankings: Week 6

The Clippers climb into the top-10, and the Bucks bounce all the way up to the top spot in this week’s updated NBA Power Rankings.

1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 11-4
The Bucks are balling. They boast the league’s most effective and efficient offense. Milwaukee leads the NBA in Offensive Rating, averaging 115.3 points per 100 possessions. They also are near the top in Defensive Rating, allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks are the only team in the league to rank in the top-five in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. Unsurprisingly, Milwaukee leads the NBA in Net Rating by a wide margin, outscoring their opponents by 10.7 points per contest.

2. Toronto Raptors
Record: 13-4
Despite losing three of their four games last week, the Raptors have already notched 13 wins this season. No other team in the Eastern Conference has more than 11. Kyle Lowry exited Saturday’s blowout victory over the Bulls in the third quarter and did not return to the contest. However, coach Nick Nurse downplayed the severity of the injury when speaking with reporters after the game.

3. Golden State Warriors
Record: 12-6
The Warriors have lost five of their last seven games, which is the team’s worst seven-game stretch under Steve Kerr, and are now 12-6 on the season. In 2016-17, Golden State didn’t lose their sixth game until January 6th. In 2015-16, the year before Kevin Durant arrived, when they won an NBA-record 73 games, they didn’t lose their sixth game of the season until March 6th! Nonetheless, Steve Kerr said that the team would be “very cautious” bringing Stephen Curry back from his groin injury. Draymond Green is also ailing. He missed this past weekend’s game due to a nagging toe injury.

4. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 11-5
The Blazers .688 winning percentage is tops in the Western Conference. Portland is the middle of an arduous six-game road trip; after playing the Knicks on Tuesday, the travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks Wednesday night and then face the Warriors in Golden State on Friday.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 10-5
Prior Saturday night, Russell Westbrook had missed each of the Thunder’s previous five games due to an ankle sprain. However, Westbrook was able to take part in practice on Friday, including part of the contact portions, and went through shootaround on Saturday. Then, Westbrook’s wife gave birth to twins over the weekend, and Russ left to be with his family. Coach Billy Donovan said that they didn’t know if Westbrook would’ve been physically able to play on Saturday if he was there and they never got to the point where they tried to test him to find out. Russ is listed as out for Monday’s game vs. Sacramento. Nonetheless, the streaking Thunder has won 10 of their last 11 games. That 10-1 record is the best in the league over that stretch.

6. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 11-7
Jimmy Butler has only been a Sixer for a week, but he’s already made quite an impression. Butler was incredibly clutch late in overtime on Saturday to carry Philly past the Hornets in Charlotte. With less than 15 seconds remaining in the game, Butler blocked Kemba Walker’s final field goal attempt and saved it inbounds to a teammate. Then, Jimmy Buckets came down the other end of the floor and drilled a game-winning dagger 3-pointer with less than a second left on the clock. Welcome to Philadelphia.

7. Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 10-5
The Clippers are rolling right now. They have won six of their last seven, with three of their most recent victories coming against the Bucks, Warriors and Spurs. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams are all averaging over 19 points per game. The only other teams in the league with a trio over players averaging over 19 ppg are the Warriors and Pelicans.

8. Boston Celtics
Record: 9-7
The Celtics notched an important victory on Friday, when they knocked off the Raptors in overtime, behind 43 points courtesy of Kyrie Irving. However, they scored just 86 points in a home loss to the Jazz on Saturday. Boston’s offensive struggles this season have been puzzling. They are currently averaging fewer than 104 points per 100 possessions and rank 27th in the league in Offensive Efficiency, ahead of only the lowly Suns, Bulls and Hawks.

9. Indiana Pacers
Record: 10-6
Victor Oladipo (right knee) was a game-time decision on Saturday night but did end up starting. However, just four minutes into the game, he tumbled into the front row after a foul and reaggravated his right knee injury. He has been ruled out of Monday’s game vs. the Jazz, but, fortunately, it doesn’t sound like it will be a long term issue. “A little sore, but I’m good,” Oladipo told reporters Monday morning.

10. Houston Rockets
Record: 8-7
The Rockets are back over .500 after stringing together a four-game winning streak, which included victories over the Pacers, Nuggets and the Warriors in Golden State. During this four-game surge, James Harden is averaging 30.8 points, 7.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 triples and 2.3 steals.

Full List

By: Tommy Beer