Raptors’ GM Ujiri fined again for profanity


VIDEO: GameTime: Raptors-Wizards Game 2 Preview

TORONTO — It’s the most costly of playoff traditions.

For the second straight year, the Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs. For the second straight year, they’ve had a pep rally outside the Air Canada Centre before Game 1. For the second straight year, general manager Masai Ujiri has said a bad word when talking about his team’s opponent.

And for the second straight year, the NBA has fined Ujiri.

Last year, Ujiri was fined $25,000 for saying “**** Brooklyn!” before his team lost Game 1 to the Nets. This year, he was fined $35,000 for saying, “We don’t give a **** about ‘it’,” in response to a Paul Pierce comment that the Raptors don’t have the ‘it’ that makes an opponent worried.

The Raptors were fined an additional $25,000 this time. So the total fine went from $25,000 for the first offense to $60,000 for the second offense.

Pierce, meanwhile, scored a game-high 20 points in the Wizards’ Game 1 victory, shooting 7-for-10 from the field and hitting the biggest shot of the afternoon, a 3-pointer on the first possession of overtime that gave his team the lead for good. He apparently has flipped the switch after averaging 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting in his last 10 regular season games.

Evans may play for Pelicans in Game 2

OAKLAND — The Pelicans are holding out hope Tyreke Evans will play in Game 2 against the Warriors on Monday night at Oracle Arena after he left in the second quarter of the opener with a bruised left knee that made a difficult situation for the New Orleans backcourt even more tenuous.

Evans was not expected to practice Sunday at the University of San Francisco, but told reporters before the Pelicans’ workout that “I feel better” and called himself a game-time decision for Monday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com. Coach Monty Williams said Evans was day-to-day. The team, meanwhile, officially listed Evans as questionable.

Evans left Game 1 with 5:07 remaining in the second quarter after colliding with Andre Iguodala of the Warriors. Evans had played 12 minutes as the starting point guard, the same day Jrue Holiday, who ordinarily would be in the opening lineup, played 21 minutes while working his way back from missing 41 games with a leg injury. Holiday has not played more than 25 minutes in any of the four outings since his return.

If Evans is not available for Game 2, and if Williams wants Holiday in a reserve role if the minutes are still an issue, Norris Cole would probably start at point guard. Cole, a two-time champion with the Heat, played 34 minutes Saturday, contributing six assists without a turnover along with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting in the 106-99 loss.

Cole, Williams said, “did a good job. He didn’t shoot it especially well, but I thought he did a good job of settling us down, and our guard play was a lot better in the second half…”

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Morning Shootaround — April 19


VIDEO: Recap Saturday’s four playoff games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors strong from start | Rose returns | Raptors lose game, homecourt | Rockets blast off

No. 1: Warriors strong from start They were the best team in the NBA all season long, and the Golden State Warriors came out Saturday in their first playoff game and delivered a warning to anyone who may have doubted that their regular season strength would translate to postseason success. And when facing arguable the NBA’s best backcourt, it probably doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans’ long-term chances that their own backcourt is banged up, writes Scott Howard-Cooper …

It’s not a body blow like losing Davis, the superstar, but a thinning depth chart is a huge deal, because New Orleans was facing an uphill battle against the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Hurting in the backcourt while facing the Warriors inevitably leads to a damage report not covered by most insurance policies. Neither went crazy in Game 1 and Curry, the MVP favorite, still had 34 points despite missing nine of 13 from behind the arc and Thompson still had 21 points while missing 11 of 17 field goals. It could, and will, got a lot worse for the Pelicans trying to contain the Golden State backcourt.

Now imagine New Orleans confronting the danger with Jrue Holiday limited to 21 minutes, after playing 25, 15 and 16 minutes the previous three games, and Tyreke Evans probably ailing Monday if he is able to play at all.

“I’m not sure about Tyreke just yet,” coach Monty Williams said. “He tried to come back. They’re going to get him an MRI (Saturday) evening and see where he is. But as far as being painted in the corner, we’ve dealt with this all year long with our team. So it’s not a big deal for us. Obviously we’d like to have Jrue and Tyreke healthy, but Norris (Cole) did a good job. He didn’t shoot it especially well, but I thought he did a good job of settling us down, and our guard play was a lot better in the second half. We’ll see where (Evans) is (Sunday) and we’ll make our adjustments from there.”

There is that — the Pelicans dealt with injury problems much of the season, with Davis sidelined four times in February alone and Holiday missing half of 2014-15 and Ryan Anderson missing 18 consecutive games just after the All-Star break because of a sprained right knee. And they survived. All those problems and they still clawed their way into the playoffs.

That was the same resiliency on display Saturday, when Golden State built a double-digit lead with the game barely eight minutes old, was up 18 at halftime, and ahead by 25 with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter. New Orleans was done. Except then New Orleans wasn’t, thanks to a 31-18 charge through most of the final period that closed the deficit to 102-97 with 20 seconds left as Davis piled up 20 points and six rebounds in the fourth. The comeback ended there.

Now all the Pelicans need is to play like that for more than 11 or 12 minutes, while possibly playing short-handed.

***

No. 2: Rose returns The Chicago Bulls have learned how to survive and advance the last few years even while missing key members of their team — the injury bug has unfortunately been a constant companion for Chicago. So it was a nice change of pace Saturday when the Bulls got a strong performance from Derrick Rose, their point guard who has battled back from so many injury outages the last few seasons. As Steve Aschburner writes, Rose may have gotten knocked down, but he got up again and helped the Bulls get a Game 1 win over Milwaukee …

When Derrick Rose tried to split a pair of Milwaukee defenders in the open court Saturday and seemed almost to eject out the other side — taking contact and landing like a dervish with his legs and knees at improbable angles — an entire fan base held its collective breath.

It was that way, too, for most in the grizzled media who have chronicled Rose’s sad cycle of injury, rehabilitation and re-injury dating back to April 28, 2012. That one was a playoff opener, too — Game 1 of the first round, leaving Saturday just 10 days shy of a gloomy three-year anniversary — when the Chicago Bulls’ point guard first tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Rose’s explosiveness and torque, so vital to his game, set them all on an alternate path from which they’ve yet to stray.

“Man, I’m like y’all,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “When he get hit, I be like, ‘Awww, man…’ I was like, ‘Lord, please, not again.’ When he bounces up, I’m happy. But we’ve been through so many, like, scares, you never want to see anybody go through that kind of pain.

“So whenever he gets a little hit, a little bump, of course you’re gonna cringe. But I’m just happy he was able to get up and keep attacking.”

Gibson is one of the neglected victims of the Rose ordeal. As with center Joakim Noah, wing Jimmy Butler, coach Tom Thibodeau and a few others, they are collateral damage, colleagues and peers who had their own plans and hopes and dreams deferred or maybe derailed by Rose’s knee surgeries.

People focus most frequently on the micro or the macro.

It is either what Rose’s chronic injuries and extended layoffs have meant to him and his MVP-certified career, or how they blunted Chicago’s championship ambitions through most of Miami’s Big Three era and perhaps beyond.

Falling in between, though, are teammates who have had to soldier on, facing and failing against the Heat or, last year, the Wizards. Gibson, Noah and the rest knew how undermanned they were in those postseasons, yet there was nothing to be gained from saying so.

So they did their best, took their lumps and wondered along with the rest of us whether Rose (and his doctors) ever were going to put it all together again.

***

No. 3: Raptors lose game, homecourt The Toronto Raptors and their rabid fans have combined to give the Raptors one of the most prominent home court advantages in the NBA. But it wasn’t much help yesterday in their Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, when the Raptors couldn’t get a bucket in overtime and lost not only the game, but also their home court advantage in the series. But it wasn’t all about missing shots, writes John Schuhmann, as for the Raptors it was also a function of getting beat on the boards by the Wizards …

You could say that both teams played great defense. But as anyone who thought DeAndre Jordan deserved Defensive Player of the Year consideration will tell you, the defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure a rebound. The Raptors didn’t do that enough, and that’s why they’re in a 0-1 hole after the Wizards’ 93-86, overtime victory.

Washington grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in Game 1, turning them into 20 second-chance points. The Raptors allowed only 73 points on 96 initial possessions, but the second chances made the difference.

The Raptors used a 21-8 run to send the game to overtime. But on the first possession of the extra period, Otto Porter tipped a John Wall miss out to Bradley Beal. The second chance resulted in a Paul Pierce three that gave the Wizards the lead for good.

Later in the overtime, Nene grabbed offensive boards on three straight possessions. Only one of them produced points for the Wizards, but the all kept the Raptors from building on the offensive momentum from the fourth quarter.

“They got three straight offensive rebounds that broke our back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That took our will, our mojo that we had going in [to overtime].”

The Wizards averaged 28 seconds per possession on their first six possessions of the extra period, helping them build a seven-point lead and sending Raptors’ raucous crowd to the exits.

Jonas Valanciunas‘ solution for the rebounding problem was simple.

“Be tougher than them,” he said. “Show that we can battle.”

***

No. 4: Rockets blast off Down in Texas, arch-rivals Dallas and Houston met for Game 1 in their first round series, and a key member of the rivalry wasn’t able to make it through without feeling some physical pain. The Dallas Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets in the offseason, and their prize free agent had a knee injury in the second quarter that kept him from ever really establishing a rhythm in Houston’s Game 1 victory over Dallas, writes Fran Blinebury

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lob City has been fun in Los Angeles, but the Clippers still have title aspirations … Toronto GM Masai Ujiri dropped another curse word to get the Raptors fans fired up … The Blazers have battled injuries all season, and now Arron Afflalo may be unable to go Sunday … Ty Lawson posted video of Brian Shaw‘s pregame scouting rap that he tried earlier this season …

Knee, Shooting Touch Both Pain Parsons

VIDEO: Mavs’ forward Chandler Parsons slams one home.

HOUSTON — Chandler Parsons finally got a chance to do what he wanted to do in front of the old home crowd. He got out in front on the transition game, rose up and hammered home a dunk right into the teeth of the jeering that was coming from the Toyota Center stands.

Trouble was, it came after Parsons had already missed three shots and his Mavericks fell quickly behind by double-digits in the first five minutes of a 118-108 loss to the Rockets Saturday night.

Parsons had missed the last six games of the regular season due to pain in his right knee and looked like someone who couldn’t find a rhythm. He shot 5-for-15 from the field, missed all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point line and finished with 10 points in an ineffective 37 minutes.

“We can’t do that, especially in the the playoffs,” he said. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give-up those leads and have these teams go on runs. Houston is a team of runs and they have guys that can make plays. We have to try to eliminate those.”

Parsons, who became the object of derision in Houston after signing a free agent contract with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years last summer, had to leave the game and go to the locker midway through the second quarter.

“I just landed and I felt some pain,” he said. “My leg just kind of gave out on me. I couldn’t really shake it. It didn’t feel great. I felt fine the first six to eight minutes and I think that was partly due to adrenaline.

“Something happened when I landed and it was real painful. We have a lot of work to do here and I hope it doesn’t swell up overnight. I’ll visit the doctors and the trainers (Sunday) and hope for the best.

“I want to play more. You have to be smart and I have to have a good judgment with my body. I was definitely a little rusty today and I missed a couple of chippies and some open shots. I didn’t have my usual lift and I was definitely feeling some pain and discomfort in the right knee.”

The pain only made the entire experience worse.

“This definitely isn’t the way you want to play or feel in the playoffs,” he said.

Paul still pounding at the championship door


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks Clippers-Spurs matchup.

LOS ANGELES — When Doc Rivers took over the Clippers job two summers ago and met with Chris Paul, he had this to say to the point guard, rather bluntly: “You haven’t won anything in this league.”

And Paul later admitted: “Yeah, he’s right. I haven’t.”

Here they are, another 50-plus win regular season in the books, another splendid season by Paul behind them, another chance to win something, and the Clippers get the Spurs in the first round starting Sunday night. It’s almost as if the basketball Gods are punishing Paul for stealing the athletic ability from his commercial twin brother Cliff. Or something like that. Paul is perhaps the best point guard of the last half-decade or so, and 10 seasons into a certain Hall of Fame career is still one of the top 10 players in the league, and yet his heavy list of personal accomplishments hasn’t translated into a championship or even a trip beyond the second round of the playoffs.

He is either headed down the same path as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, titans without a title, or maybe the coronation is coming soon, perhaps this June. All Paul knows is the nightmare of last summer, often relived by critics, when he crumbled in Game 5 against Oklahoma City and stumbled into a long, hot summer.

“CP is on a mission and that’s good for everybody,” Rivers said.

Paul seems humbled by his lack of summer success. Introspective by nature, and a proud leader to boot, Paul doesn’t get snippy when asked about his missing ring. He acknowledges his fate without accepting it and simply says, sounding very believable, that his next crack at a championship will be his best crack while also conceding that time waits for no one.

“I feel like you’ve got to seize the moment every year,” he said. “You never know what could happen with injuries and all that different kind of stuff.”

On the even of Clippers-Spurs, a first-round matchup with the aroma of a Western Conference final, Rivers tried to reduce the temperature in the room. Failing to win a title this season, Rivers said, doesn’t mean all is lost. The Clippers are relatively young and the core is still in its prime.

“I don’t think (our) sense of urgency is greater than Tim Duncan’s, and they won the title last year,” Rivers said. “My hope is every single player wants to win a title. Then, isn’t everyone’s urgency the same? I laugh when people say `it’s a must win for (us).’ But isn’t it a must win for the other team?”

Well, sure. It does. But Rivers knows, deep down, the rules are different for superstars. They make the most money, reap the most benefits, luxuriate in the most praise and therefore, in order to confirm their status, shouldn’t winning a title be part of the deal?

Yes, there are excuses. Barkley was stuck on lousy teams in Philly and in Phoenix, he couldn’t beat Michael Jordan. Ewing couldn’t beat Jordan either, and when the window opened a crack after Jordan played baseball, Ewing couldn’t beat Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul can’t beat the Spurs; he’s 0-2 against them in the playoffs, but there’s no icon standing between him and the trophy unless you feel Steph Curry already qualifies.

Paul has been gifted with a top-5 coach like Rivers, and a top-5 forward in Blake Griffin, and a top-5 big man in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the best sixth men in Jamal Crawford. The bench is mostly baloney but if the Clippers are reaching deep into the rotation for help in the playoffs, nothing can save them. Basically, while the Clippers aren’t heads and shoulders above the other contenders in the West or the NBA, they have a chance. Paul has his chance.

And yet he also has perhaps his hardest road ever. He must get through Popovich and Duncan and Parker, and then maybe Harden, and then maybe Curry, and if all goes well and the Clippers are in the NBA Finals, he’ll likely say hello to LeBron.

Therefore: If Chris Paul this summer finally wins his first title, wouldn’t it feel like he just won two?

Parsons ready to block out the noise


VIDEO: Rockets-Mavericks series preview

The sounds at the Toyota Center will be exactly the same every time he touches the ball: “Boooooooo!”

But Chandler Parsons vows that the hoots and hollers, yells and catcalls won’t get inside his head during tonight’s playoff opener (9:30 ET on ESPN) the way they did back in November.

Parsons, of course, is villain No. 1 in Houston as the in-state postseason rivalry with Dallas rekindles after he switched teams last summer by signing a three-year, $46-million free agent offer from the Mavericks.

But the 26-year-old forward told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that he’s got the jitters out of his system:

“The first time was a little overwhelming,” he said, remembering with a sheepish grin the 3-for-9 shooting night that led to just eight points. “I didn’t know exactly how it was going to be. I had a feeling, but you can’t really feel that unless you go through it.

“The second time I went there, it was nothing special. This time shouldn’t be an issue. The series is much bigger than me going back there. It’s about us winning four games before them.”

Parsons was a particularly inept 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in the Mavs’ 95-92 loss on Nov. 22. But he bounced back to shoot 8-for-13 — including five 3-pointers — when the Mavs returned to Houston on Jan. 28, but Dallas still lost the game 99-94.

Though he sat out the last six games of the regular season with a sore right knee, Parsons says he’ll be back on the floor, even if he’s not 100 percent.

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

***  

Blogtable: Staff Predictions – Playoff Edition

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

–Who will be the last two teams standing in the East?  In the West?  And who is your pick to win it all?

VIDEO: The Hawks and Warriors dominated their respective conferences during regular season. Can they duplicate that in the postseason.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

Predictions

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Spurs over Warriors.

NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavaliers.

Comment: I’ve had Cleveland reaching The Finals since before the season began. Why? Mostly because of LeBron James in his prime. The Cavs’ rise from 19-20 was merely what a lot of us predicted, learning-curve stuff. Cleveland’s trades fixed flaws, LeBron’s sabbatical got him recommitted and now, the Cavs’ stars provide multiple go-to guys vs. a solid Hawks team that will be playing in rare air. Out West, the Warriors have been magnificent but I learned my lesson counting out the Spurs a long time ago. I do expect LeBron’s team to double- and triple-check the air conditioning this time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Rockets.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers.

Comment: It’s amazing how one night, one game can change everything.  The Pelicans beat the Spurs and changed my entire outlook for the playoffs.  Put the Spurs into the No. 2 seed and I thought  the defending champs would be able to finally go back-to-back.  But plain and simple, not out of the No. 6 slot.  Coincidentally, it did happen 20 years ago when the Rockets shocked everyone in 1995.  But they had Hakeem Olajuwon at the peak of his powers.  It’s too tough a road for the Spurs without home court in every round.  With that in mind, I’m going with Golden State and Houston in the Western Conference finals and the Warriors winning.  The top two teams in the East all season have been the Cavaliers and Hawks and there’s no reason to think they won’t meet in the conference finals.  I’ve got the Cavs winning that one to send LeBron James to The Finals for a fifth straight year. But more frustration, another loss.  Warriors win it all in 6.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  

Predictions: 

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Spurs.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers.

Comment: I could stay with my preseason pick — Chicago over San Antonio — and still be in a pretty good place. But if you’re asking for an updated perspective, it’s hard to re-invest in the Bulls with the skyrocketing health-insurance premiums, and I thought the Warriors would have a good regular season but not close to magical. So, I’ll say Cleveland over Atlanta in the East, Golden State over San Antonio in the West and Warriors over Cavaliers for the championship as “close to magical” becomes actually magical. It comes down to Golden State being able to win many different ways, in tempo or either side of the ball. And if it is Warriors-Cavs in the Finals, no team is more able to throw obstacles at LeBron James than the Dubs with multiple standout defenders.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:

Predictions:

East finals: Cavaliers over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Clippers.

NBA finals: Warriors over Cavaliers.

Comment:  The Cavs and Hawks are the safest picks in the East, which says more about the East. I’m not feeling either team as a heavyweight but the Cavs have LeBron James who is a difference-maker in a close series. Thinking Cavs in 6. The Clippers and Chris Paul have too much to navigate in the West. Really, they must beat the Spurs and then Harden and then Curry?. OK, I’ll give them the first two because Paul wants to wipe the post-season stench from the past off his resume. But the Warriors will lap them. Thinking Warriors in 5. The NBA Finals will show that this is the Warriors’ year. Too much firepower, too much Splash, too much momentum for the Cavs. I believe deep down, LeBron felt he’d need two years to win a title in Cleveland. He’s right. Thinking Warriors in 5.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Hawks over Cavaliers.

West finals: Warriors over Spurs.

NBA finals: Warriors over Hawks.

Comment: I’ll take the Hawks over the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals, with their last regular season meeting – where Cleveland’s improved defense still couldn’t handle the Atlanta offense – in mind. I’ll go with the Warriors over the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, a series where home-court advantage could really play a big role. And I’ll take the Warriors over the Hawks in The Finals. The numbers say that the Dubs are one of the best teams we’ve seen in the last 30 years – they were a plus-9.8 points per 100 possessions in games played between teams that finished with winning records, while no other team in the group was better than plus-2.4 – and I’m not one to argue with the numbers.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Hawks over Cavaliers.

West finals: Warriors over Clippers.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Hawks.

Comment: The Hawks and Cavaliers on a collision course in the East. They’ve been the best two teams in the Eastern Conference, early on and through All-Star Weekend for the Hawks and since then for the Cavaliers. And while LeBron James has the playoff experience and superstar power on his side, the Hawks have the chemistry and championship blueprint (courtesy of that Spurs-lite stuff) on their side. I know everyone assumes that LeBron on your roster equals an instant trip to The Finals, but I’m not sold on the playoff rookies in Cleveland (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in particular). So I’m going with the Hawks over the Cavaliers in an epic Eastern Conference finals, stretching all the way to seven games.

The Warriors are the easy and logical pick to face the Clippers in the West. The Warriors are on a championship or bust ride. There are no guarantees, of course. But the Warriors are loaded at every position, have a coach with championship DNA coursing through his veins and whatever playoff experience they lack as a group they will accrue on their way to The Finals. People are counting the Clippers out already in their first round matchup against the Spurs. But this is the year Chris Paul leads the Clippers deep into the playoff waters, where they’ll face off against their rivals from NoCal in the California civil war. The north prevails here again behind the MVP, Steph Curry, and his Splash Bros counterpart Klay Thompson.

 The Warriors and Hawks square off in an entertaining series that treats fans who haven’t tasted the sweet smell of The Finals in decades (in Golden State, and ever in Atlanta. The Hawks won an NBA title in 1958 as the St. Louis franchise ). It’s also a matchup of the two best teams from the regular season, a dream matchup for fans of the space and pace movement. In the end, the Warriors depth and that raucous home court advantage at Oracle is too much for the Hawks. Warriors in 7.

 Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Predictions

East finals: Bulls over Hawks.

West finals: Warriors over Clippers.

NBA Finals: Bulls over Warriors.

Comment: I feel insane, actually, for picking a team so troubled with injuries. But the Bulls’ main players are now ready to go and their roster is brimming with deep playoff experience. Their defining series will come in the second round against Cleveland, when the Bulls will reestablish their defensive willpower while Rose finds his role. The Clippers will “upset” the Spurs and provide a hard challenge to Golden State, but nothing can prepare the Warriors for the defensive intensity of an NBA Finals against Chicago.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Predictions

East finals: Hawks over Cavaliers.

West finals: Spurs over Warriors.

NBA Finals: Spurs over Hawks.

Comment: In the East, I’m going with the Hawks and Cavs to emerge. I think Chicago will give Cleveland a run in the semis, but Atlanta and Cleveland will emerge as victors, with the Hawks continuing their regular season success against Cleveland and coming out of the East. And in the West, The Warriors will continue to roll and meet the Spurs in the Conference Finals, where the Spurs will teach the Warriors an old man lesson and defeat Golden State. In the Finals, Pop and Bud will meet, but the student will not be able to defeat the master, and the Spurs will finally get repeat titles. (And I am definitely not trying to jinx the Spurs if the play the Hawks in the Finals, either.)

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Numbers preview: Clippers-Spurs


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Clippers – Spurs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — This just isn’t fair. The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs were the league’s second and third best teams according to point differential (whether you want go by raw plus-minus or pace-adjusted numbers). And one of them won’t be going to conference semifinals.

The Clippers had the No. 1 offense in the league, despite a 15-game absence from Blake Griffin, and won 14 of their last 15 games. The Spurs are one of only three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and went 21-4 after Feb. 25.

But that 21-4 run only pushed the Spurs from seventh to sixth in the Western Conference. Their loss on the last day of the season put them in this matchup, which may be worse news for the Clippers than anybody else.

The good news is that these two teams are on the opposite side of the bracket from Golden State. So a potential Warriors-Spurs showdown or Warriors-Clippers slobberknocker is in line for the conference finals.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Clippers-Spurs, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)

Pace: 97.0 (11)
OffRtg: 109.8 (1)
DefRtg: 103.0 (15)
NetRtg: +6.9 (2)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Clippers notes:

20150417_on-off

San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

Pace: 95.9 (17)
OffRtg: 106.2 (7)
DefRtg: 99.6 (3)
NetRtg: +6.6 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 at each location).
Pace: 98.0
LAC OffRtg: 109.8 (1st vs. SAS)
SAS OffRtg: 104.8 (12th vs. LAC)

Matchup notes: