Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah Thomas’

Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.

 

Morning shootaround — April 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Terry gurantees win in Game 5 | Thomas says he’ll play in Game 6 | Raptors deliver in big moment | Control of series shifts to Portland

No. 1: Terry guarantees Rockets will win Game 5 — Houston Rockets veteran guard Jason Terry is never short on confidence (this is the player, after all, who had the Larry O’Brien tattooed on his bicep the offseason before his Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA title). So it is not exactly a surprise that even after the Rockets were blown out in Game 4, Terry sees his team winning Game 5 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and forcing a Game 6, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:

During the team’s media session at Oracle Arena, Rockets center Dwight Howard wondered aloud if former teammate Chandler Parsons was a prophet. And then Jason Terry, the oldest player on the team, guaranteed a victory in Game 5.

Welcome to the world of the Rockets, who are faced with an elimination game on Wednesday night when they must defeat the Warriors, who will be without reigning MVP Stephen Curry for the remainder of the series.

Will they win?

“I’m guaranteeing it,” said the 38-year-old Terry. “If I don’t, then what? It’s a loss, right. I guarantee victory — that’s what it’s going to take. I believe in my group. I know we can get a win here and send this thing back to Houston.”

“I’m saying right here in front of everybody, I’m getting a tattoo of a Rockets trophy if we pull this thing out,” he said smiling. “You [heard] it here first.”

There were few smiles from Howard. If anything he was shooting down speculation of what he might do this summer. Howard is expected to become a free agent once the season ends and old buddy Parsons said he wants the two to play together with the Dallas Mavericks.

“I think he can still dominate the game,” Parsons said from Dallas. “I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston. So why not come here?”

Howard, standing just outside the tunnel following Tuesday’s practice, didn’t seem happy discussing future plans.

“Is he a prophet?” Howard said stoically. “My focus is this basketball game. It doesn’t matter what nobody on the outside says, we are friends, we are close, but none of that stuff matters right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish, and who cares what anybody else says?”

This has been a nondescript postseason for Howard. He’s averaging a career-low 14.5 points per game and despite leading the league in postseason rebounding the previous two seasons, he’s averaging 12.3 boards a game. In his career Howard averages 11.6 shots per game, but in four postseason games this year, he’s at 8.8.

His frustration with not getting touches is apparent and when you add Parsons’ comments regarding his future, it appears Howard has some issues on his mind.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “It’s he said, she said. My job is to focus on being great [Wednesday] and helping this team win, not what anybody else has to say. Chandler is a close friend, but it’s not about what he thinks or what he wants right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

***

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Heat, Hornets have no interest in playoff dramatics


VIDEO: Kevin Durant got tossed from Game 3 for smacking Justin Anderson in the face

CHARLOTTE — It’s playoff basketball, not professional boxing or mixed martial arts or anything of the sort. It’s just playoff basketball.

So don’t fix your eyes on this first round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets and look any deeper into any of the scrappiness between the two teams. Just because guys have to be separated now and then and words are exchanged, neither the Heat nor the Hornets are interested in any of the playoff dramatics going on elsewhere in this postseason.

“It’s the NBA, there aren’t really any fights,” Heat veteran Luol Deng said. “Not really, not during my time in the league. Guys don’t want to fight. There might be one punch and then it gets broken up. But no real fights. This isn’t hockey.”

Tell that to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or LeBron James and Andre Drummond or Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. All of them have been been caught up in the first round dramatics, in one way or another.

Durant was ejected late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks for smacking Justin Anderson in the face. Both Drummond and Thomas will not be suspended for contact against James and Schroder, respectively, that would have seemed to warrant suspension.

Game 3 of the Heat-Hornets series Saturday night featured plenty of opportunities for things to escalate and maybe even get out of hand, but cooler head prevailed time and again.

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had one heated exchange with Heat center Hassan Whiteside that seemed like it was headed for craziness, only to have players on both sides calm each other down before things got completely out of hand.

“It’s the playoffs,” Walker said. “The intensity is up. Trying to win a series here. Both teams are going to be scratching and clawing, trying to do anything possible to win a basketball game. They have great ball pressure and so do we, so guys are going to get hit. It’s going to be tough out there … anything possible to win a game.”

Walker, however, went to make sure he set the right tone for Monday’s Game 4 showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“I’m not a troublemaker,” he said and then smiled. “It’s just basketball, playoff basketball.”

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

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Celtics’ Bradley ‘unlikely’ for remainder of series

 


VIDEO: Avery Bradley strains his right hamstring in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Hawks

ATLANTA — The Boston Celtics will have to work without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender, for what could be the remainder of their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Bradley suffered a “significant strain” to his right hamstring with 6:42 to play in Game 1 Saturday night at Philips Arena and did not return. He left Philips Arena with one crutch and was not at practice with the Celtics Sunday afternoon.

“I would say he is doubtful for any of the remainder of the series,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And he’s certainly, very unlikely (for Game 2) Tuesday night. As of right now, I’d say he is out Tuesday night. Obviously he’ll get treatment around the clock. And we’ll go from there. But I would say he is very unlikely for the rest of the series.”

Bradley was the primary defender on Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and also scored 18 points before he “felt something pop” in his right leg and fell to the floor. His absence forces Stevens to make adjustments to his starting lineup and rotation for  Game 2 and possibly the remainder of the series.

Veteran swingman Evan Turner is the likely replacement in the starting lineup with Marcus Smart and also rookie’s R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier in line for increased roles.

“Right now it’s all about stepping up and playing tough,” Turner said. “It’s definitely tough because Avery competes and at the end of the day he’s a teammate and we’re worried about him and his well being. We know we really have to pull together. And over the last month we’ve been shorthanded and we’ve all had to fight through some adversity, so right now it’s just taking it for what it is and fighting and competing and not making any excuses.”

The Celtics are already at a height disadvantage against the Hawks. But without Bradley in the lineup, they’ll potentially be even smaller in the backcourt.

“The biggest challenge is we’re playing small anyways and we might have to go even deeper, ” Stevens said. “And that’s okay. We might have to go with some of those young guys and play four smalls again or we could play more traditional. We’ll look at it and figure that out over the next 48 hours.”

 

Numbers preview: Hawks-Celtics


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Celtics: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks took a step backward this season. After leading the Eastern Conference with a franchise-record 60 wins last season, they were unable to recapture the magic they had on the offensive end of the floor.

But while Atlanta isn’t the offensive team that it was a year ago, it has become an elite team defensively. The Hawks ranked second in defensive efficiency, and first since late December. And because they’re healthier this year, they may be a better playoff team than they were in 2015.

You can say the same thing about the Boston Celtics, who, like the Hawks, got swept out of the 2015 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics made one key addition (Amir Johnson) this year, but also got better with internal improvement. And like the Hawks, they’ve done their best work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Hawks are making their ninth straight playoff appearance, a streak that began with a first-round loss to Boston in 2008. This is a much different Celtics team, one that seemingly has more steps to take in the future. Atlanta has home-court advantage and won the season series, but these teams were even in the Eastern Conference standings.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 4-5 series in the East, 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

Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

Pace: 99.4 (8)
OffRtg: 103.0 (18)
DefRtg: 98.8 (2)
NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_atl_shooting

Hawks notes:

20160414_efg_decline

Boston Celtics (48-34)

Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 103.9 (13)
DefRtg: 100.9 (5)
NetRtg: +3.0 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_bos_shooting

Celtics notes:

20160414_efg_outside

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Nov. 13 – Celtics 106, Hawks 93
Nov. 24 – Hawks 121, Celtics 97
Dec. 18 – Hawks 109, Celtics 101
Apr. 9 – Hawks 118, Celtics 107

Pace: 103.3
ATL OffRtg: 107.0 (4th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 99.3 (15th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 2




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ home streak snapped | Lakers try to heal No. 2 | Morris lost trust | Barea delivers for Mavs | Rookie fires back at Durant

No. 1: Celtics take down Warriors — After setting an NBA record with 54 consecutive home wins, going undefeated at Oracle for more than 14 months, dominating many visitors and wriggling off the hook in handfuls of other testy situations, what did the Warriors do when they were finally beaten on their home court by the Celtics Friday night? Applaud, of course. That was the reaction of Golden State coach Steve Kerr as a tribute to both the Celtics’ effort and to the historic feat that had been accomplished by his own team in establishing such a run of dominance. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was there to document the end of the streak:

“I congratulated them,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after one of the quickest postgame locker room meetings of the season. “Are you kidding me? We won 54 home games in a row. What our guys have accomplished is incredible. I don’t know if people understand the intensity and the work that it takes to put together a streak like that.

“To compete night in and night out, when you’re worn out, it takes a lot out of you — especially when every game is the opponent’s biggest game. People are coming after us. I told the guys how proud I am of putting together an amazing streak.”

The Warriors (68-8) were the first team among the four major professional sports leagues to reel off a home streak of 50 games, and they were five games from becoming the first NBA team to finish an undefeated home season.

They hadn’t lost at home in the regular season since Jan. 27, 2015, when Chicago knocked them off in overtime. The Warriors now need to win five of their final six games to break the NBA’s single-season victories record, which was established by the Bulls in 1995-96.

Despite being down nine points with fewer than 5½ minutes to play, it looked briefly as though the Warriors might at least send Friday’s game into overtime. Trailing 109-106, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes missed game-tying three-pointers in the closing seconds.

“We’ve gotten away with some games that we probably shouldn’t have won on shots like that,” Curry said. “Tonight, it wasn’t our time.”

***

No. 2: Russell and Young trying to pick up the pieces — While a forgettable season inexorably winds down to the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, the Lakers are trying to move past the unforgettable controversy involving rookie D’Angelo Russell and teammate Nick Young. Russell, who secretly videotaped a private conversation with his teammate, said he’s giving Young his space to let the festering wounds heal, but added that he would have been willing to defend himself if it had come to that. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has the details:

Russell has been contrite and poised when addressing the awkward situation. But if the issue had escalated to more than a verbal altercation?
“I’d get physical back,” he said.

Russell said he and Young have tried to solve their problems “the right way,” and that the issues in the locker room never got to the point of violence, “but if it does you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”

Russell and Young both practiced Friday, (coach Byron) Scott said. It remains unclear how willing to forgive Young is, with various gossip outlets reporting that his engagement to Australian rap star Iggy Azalea is on the brink of collapse.

“It’s kind of at this point where you need your space,” Russell said, “and you can’t force peace if it’s not there. You’ve got to let the time heal it.”

Scott said he did not know what would happen to Russell’s relationship with Young, who is under contract for two more seasons. Before the video surfaced last week, the two were exceptionally close, with Russell among those attending a birthday party for Young’s son.

“Will they ever be buddy-buddy again?” Scott said. “I don’t know. But they do have to coexist as long as they’re both here, and I think they can.”

***

No. 3: Morris says he could no longer trust Suns — Before going out and scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help the struggling Wizards keep their Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, Markieff Morris took the occasion of his return to the desert to say he wanted out of Phoenix because he just didn’t trust the Suns any longer. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic caught up to Morris:

“I always felt free to play,” Morris said before his first game against the Suns, his NBA home for 4 ½ seasons. “It was just tough to do certain things with no trust and play for people that you really don’t trust.”
Morris would not specify whom he mistrusted.

“I ain’t getting into that but I’m happy where I am now,” Morris said. “I look back on the happy years I had here. It was definitely a great time.”

Morris, 26, was considered a key building block for the Suns and he backed up that assertion by improving his play annually. He became a candidate for the NBA Sixth Man Award and NBA Most Improved Player and was empowered as a future leader of the franchise.

When an assertion was made that the Suns traded their best player in February 2015, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough contented that the Suns’ best players – Morris and Eric Bledsoe – were still on the roster.
“I’ve seen this play out before,” Morris said. “There have been a couple players I’ve been here with that have been the best players on the team that came back next year in a new uniform so it’s nothing new.”

During Morris’ tenure, Goran Dragic asked to be traded because he was disgruntled, Isaiah Thomas was traded because he was not content with his role and Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Channing Frye said they wanted to stay in Phoenix before negotiations soured them on returning.

“I’ve seen so many do it,” Morris said. “I just didn’t think it would be me like that but it is what it is.”

Morris was traded to Washington in February for the Wizards’ first-round draft pick, which conveys to Phoenix if it is No. 10 or lower. The draft slot is working out ideally for the Suns with Washington currently slotted at No. 12 unless long-shot draft lottery odds changed that.

***

No. 4: Barea leads another big Mavs win — Point guard J.J. Barea spent Thursday back at home in the Dallas area for the birth of his daughter, but arrived at The Palace of Auburn Hills in time to deliver another clutch performance that keeps the Mavericks in the thick of the tight Western Conference playoff race. Barea has been on a scoring tear of late and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News was on hand to see the latest outburst:

What the Mavericks did have going for them was J. J. Barea, who continued one of his hottest streaks of his career with 29 points. He’s averaged 24 points in the three-game winning streak and this game came after he was in Plano Thursday for the birth of his daughter, Paulina Barea Ortiz.

“One of the best (weeks) ever,” Barea said. “My daughter’s healthy and everybody’s happy and we’re winning some games. I’m playing pretty good. Other than 2011 championship week, this is pretty good.”

Barea’s play was crucial. He had a huge second quarter when the Mavericks scored 15 consecutive points to go up 40-25.

Detroit, playing their ninth consecutive home game, came back to tie the game at 58 in the third quarter.

Barea refused to go down, however. His 3-pointer and midrange jumper rebuilt the Mavericks’ advantage to 86-79. The Pistons hung around, but Wesley Matthews’ three-point play with 2:38 to go made it 93-85 and the Mavericks walked out of the Palace at Auburn Hills winners for the fifth season in a row.

It was against some tough odds with only Barea and Devin Harris available at point guard.

“Our guys are dropping like flies,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully Ray will be OK. J.J. flew in today and was big for us. I thought defensively we played a solid game. It was a big win for us with some key guys out.”

On Barea, coach Rick Carlisle added: “He was tremendous. We’re all very happy for him. He’s got to be really happy and I think there was probably a little inspiration seeing his daughter come into the world. It’s a great day.”

This also was the third consecutive game that the Mavericks have held an opponent under 90 points, easily a first for this season. Zaza Pachulia and Salah Mejri also had a nice defensive night against Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ dominant big man who had 17 rebounds, but only 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“A combination of (a slower) offensive tempo and defensive intensity,” Carlisle said about what’s brought about the defensive uptick. “The guys are buying into a style of play that puts us in a better position to defend. Going forward, sometimes, we got to go a little faster, sometimes we got to tempo it down. We’re trying to do whatever it takes.

***

No. 5:Pistons rookie “not scared” of K.D. — The war of words continues between the Pistons and Thunder. First the OKC players didn’t like the way their former teammate Reggie Jackson celebrated a bit too much after a win on their home floor. First Russell Westbrook and then Kevin Durant expressed their displeasure. Now it is Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson who is fanning the flames in the verbal skirmish as he fires back at Durant, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

At first, Stanley Johnson could see the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point.

Maybe teammate Reggie Jackson enjoyed himself a bit too much toward the end of the Detroit Pistons’ 88-82 victory Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But things changed when he read the comments from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who said “I wanted to play against Detroit, for sure, but you know, it’s Detroit. Who cares about Detroit?” to explain his reasoning for skipping the game.

Johnson said such comments were “uncalled for” and said Durant “disrespected” the franchise.

“If he wanted to have an impact on the game, he should have just played,” Johnson said after this morning’s shootaround.

He continued.

“No one is scared of playing against him on this side of town,” Johnson said. “Next year we have two games scheduled, and I know, for me, it’s circled on my schedule from now on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James moved ahead of Oscar Robertson for 11th place on the all-time scoring list … Isaiah Thomas is wasting no time making his mark on the Celtics … Keith Smart hopes to return to Heat soon following battle with cancer … Festus Ezeli gets his April Fools Day revenge on Andre Iguodala … Obscene gesture costs Lakers’ Julius Randle $15K … Steve Kerr’s attempt at humor falls flat in Warriors locker room … NBA veteran Terry Porter takes over as new head coach at University of Portland.

Thomas-less minutes key to Celtics’ surge up East standings


VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas’ top plays from mid-February

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — On the morning of Jan. 13, the Boston Celtics sat in 10th place in the Eastern Conference at 19-19, having lost four straight games.

The last loss in that streak came against the New York Knicks, who have since gone 3-12. The Boston defense, which ranked in the top five, allowed the Knicks to shoot 53 percent and score 120 points in that game.

The Celtics scored 114 points themselves, 65 in a second half they started with a small lineup. At the time, coach Brad Stevens said that small ball was about defense, but it’s been the Celtics’ offense that has improved since then.

The Celtics were a bottom-10 offensive team through that loss in New York. Since then, they’ve been a top-10 offensive team and have gone 13-4 to go from 10th in the East to third.

20160219_bos_eff

Isaiah Thomas has averaged 21.8 points and 6.2 assists over these last 17 games, leading the team in usage rate by a wide margin. But it’s been the minutes with Thomas off the floor that have been more critical to the Celtics’ improvement.

Through Jan. 12, the Celtics were downright awful offensively when Thomas sat down, scoring 94.3 points per 100 possessions, which is worse than the Sixers have been this season. Since Jan. 13, they’ve jumped to 107.9 points per 100 possessions with Thomas off the floor.

20160219_thomas_on-off

Improved shooting from Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller has been critical. But another key has been Stevens settling on a rotation.

Through Jan. 12 (38 games), no lineup that didn’t include Thomas played more than 31 minutes. But in the 17 games since then, the Celtics have a no-Thomas lineup — Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk — that has played 113 minutes and outscored its opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions. Neither Turner nor Smart can shoot very well, but their playmaking is complemented by two shooting bigs. David Lee had played 41 percent of the no-Thomas minutes before Jan. 12, but hasn’t played at all since then.

Some context: Only four of the Celtics’ 17 games in that stretch before the All-Star break were played against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively. They’ll face 10 top-10 defenses in their final 27 games, and that doesn’t include two meetings against the Utah Jazz, who rank 14th for the season, but fifth in the six weeks since Rudy Gobert returned from injury.

The first of those two meetings is Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The game is more important for the ninth-place Jazz, but it will also be a test of the Celtics’ improved, second-unit offense.

Warriors Trio Headlines ‘Big’ All-Star Saturday Night

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew gives analysis.

NEW YORK CITY — All-Star Saturday night is going to be big. Literally.

Tonight’s announcement of the participants for All-Star Saturday night revealed a lot of familiar names and faces, but also a couple of intriguing players taking part in contests they haven’t been involved with in previous years. And while the Golden State Warriors have been nearly unstoppable on the court this season, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Warriors’ big three will attempt to bring home several different kinds of hardware.

NBA All-Star 2016The evening will open with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which will be radically different this season. Last year, the event was populated entirely by point guards, with Houston’s Patrick Beverley winning over Brandon Knight. This season, Beverley is slated to return and compete against several guards, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers.

But the twist here is that they will be in a field that includes several big men, including Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance we get from New Orleans’ multi-talented center Anthony Davis, who played guard throughout high school before a growth spurt moved him to the post. And the leading contender among the big men participating must be Golden State’s Draymond Green, who currently leads the League in triple-doubles with 10.

VIDEO: Wolves’ Zach LaVine will defend his title.

We can also safely assume that the evening will close with a bang. Last year’s Verizon Slam Dunk was one of the most electrifying contests in years, as then-Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine completed a series of athletic jams. LaVine will return this season, and be challenged by a field that includes Denver guard Will Barton, who has had something of a breakout campaign in this his fourth NBA season.

LaVine and Barton will be joined by two big men, in a contest where big men have traditionally struggled to score highly. Second year Orlando forward Aaron Gordon has had plenty of athletic dunks in his short NBA career, and Detroit center Andre Drummond has also shown plenty of bounce and skill around the basket, as the NBA’s leading rebounder this season.

In between these events will be the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which in a league increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, is rapidly becoming the evening’s signature event. While last year’s three-point contest was recognized as having one of the sweetest-shooting fields in the history of the event, this year’s event appears to be equally star-studded:

VIDEO: Steph Curry will bring his sharp shooting to Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Stephen Curry – Curry won last year’s event, then went on to win the NBA’s MVP award and an NBA title. Leads the NBA this season in three pointers made (232) by a wide margin (77 more than his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson).

James Harden – The Houston guard finished just behind Curry in last season’s MVP voting, and the Rockets have gotten off to a slow start this season. Still, Harden is third this season in total three-pointers made (140).

Klay Thompson – The other Splash Brother has a chance to outshine Curry. Thompson is making 43-percent of his three-point attempts this season.

Khris Middleton – The Bucks swingman is averaging a career-best two made three-pointers per game, and knocking them in at 41-percent clip.

Kyle Lowry – The Raptors guard will surely enjoy a home court advantage. Lowry is averaging a career-high 2.8 threes per game, and making them at a career-best 39 percent success rate.

JJ Redick – Clippers guard Reddick has always been known as a sharp-shooter, but this season has been his masterpiece. In 45 games for Los Angeles, Redick has made 120 threes, converting at a league-best 48-percent clip.

Chris Bosh – Why just have big men in the other two Saturday night contests? To be fair, the power forward Bosh has made himself into a good three-point shooter, and he’s relied on his long-range shot more than ever this season. Consider this: During Bosh’s first nine NBA seasons, he attempted a combined 228 threes; This season he’s attempted 213 threes in Miami’s first 50 games.

Devin Booker – Booker is the youngest contestant (he’s 19 years old) in the three-point shootout, but he’s already proven he’s one of the NBA’s best shooters, connecting on threes for the Phoenix Suns at a 42-percent rate this season.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 13, from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.

 

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.