Posts Tagged ‘Paul Millsap’

Analytics Art: Cavaliers sizzle from 3-point range in 2016 playoffs

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

One could say the Cleveland Cavaliers made 3-pointers looks like lay-ups during their conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though, because the Cavaliers cashed a higher percentage of their shots from beyond the arc than they did on attempts within five feet of the hoop.

That’s just one of the inexplicable factoids to emerge from Cleveland’s impressive march to the Eastern Conference finals, which has left a pair of shell-shocked teams in its wake. PointAfter‘s visualizations help illustrate just how deadly the Cavs’ offense has been.

Previously, only one team in NBA history had made at least 43 percent of its 3-pointers while attempting at least 31 of them in back-to-back playoff games (Dallas Mavericks, Games 2-3 of Western Conference semifinals). The Cavaliers have now done so for four games running following their sweep of the Hawks — something no other team has accomplished during the regular season or playoffs.

In fact, no playoff team had shot 43 percent on 3-pointers (on a minimum of 18 attempts) in four straight games.

Overall, the Cavs have improved their 3-point accuracy by 10 percent after a regular-season mark of 36.2 percent. They’ve accordingly emphasized 3-pointers by attempting 22.2 percent more of those shots in the playoffs than in the regular season.

Put another way, Cleveland has launched 6.7 more 3-point attempts per game while making 6.1 more per game. Those extra trifectas have certainly paid dividends.

The 77 triples Cleveland sank against Atlanta were easily the most in a four-game series in NBA history. The previous record was 57, set by … the Cavaliers, in their first-round triumph over Detroit.

Their dismantling of the Hawks was demoralizing for Atlanta after it thought it could compete with Cleveland thanks to a league-best defensive rating since the All-Star break. But Cleveland unlocked Atlanta’s seemingly cohesive unit in the series, shooting 50.7 percent on 3-pointers (and 46.1 percent overall) en route to a 123.0 offensive rating.

Dating back to last year, Cleveland hasn’t lost a playoff game with Kevin Love available. That’s no coincidence. Love has been the X-factor for coach Tyronn Lue’s crew, executing his role as a stretch-four to perfection. He outplayed Al Horford and Paul Millsap on the boards while also providing ample spacing on offense. The Hawks dared him to shoot, and he responded by taking nearly eight 3-pointers a game at a 44 percent clip.

Though Love has struggled to find his low-post offense, making 28.6 percent of his shots in the restricted area, it’s scarcely mattered. He’s knocked down more than half his looks on corner 3-pointers, and is keeping opponents honest on long-range launches from above the break, too.

Love is far from the only Cavalier who has ramped up his splashy shooting. J.R. Smith cemented his legacy as a Hawks nemesis, following up on his remarkable sixth-man performance in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals (18.0 points per game on 47.1 percent 3-point shooting) to average 11.0 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting in the 2016 East semis. His 50.8 percent shooting on 3-pointers in the playoffs mirrors Cleveland’s double-digit improvement from the regular season.

At their current rate of 16.8 3-pointers made per game, Cleveland should be favored to shatter Golden State’s record of 240 made triples during the 2015 postseason. Golden State set that mark in 21 games … Cleveland is on pace to surpass it in 15.

At this point, the biggest obstacle to establishing a new record might be their own dominance.

If they breeze through either the Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat before taking part in The Finals, the Cavs might not accrue enough time to make another mark in the playoff record book.

Hawks at crossroads with roster

ATLANTA — Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to talk about it in the immediate aftermath of a second straight season-ending sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Al Horford wanted a little bit of time as well, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent wanted at least a day to process his thoughts about the Atlanta Hawks’ season and his future, before making any public comments.

It’s understandable. The wounds of the way the Hawks were dismantled this time were still fresh.

But another day or two won’t change the facts. As good as these Hawks have been the past two seasons under Budenholzer, the coach and president of basketball operations, they’re simply not good enough to deal with the Eastern Conference standard-bearer.

The Hawks are at a crossroads with their current roster and nowhere is that more apparent than with Horford, who will command a five-year, maximum salary on the open market this summer. Horford’s arrival as the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft signaled a transformative time for the Hawks, at the time one of the league’s perennial doormat franchises.

They own the longest playoff streak in the Eastern Conference with nine consecutive trips, second only to the San Antonio Spurs. Yet they are no closer to reaching a championship level right now than they were after Horford’s rookie season, when they pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in a first-round series.

Continuity has been the hallmark for the Hawks, since before Budenholzer took over, with Horford as the centerpiece. He’s an All-Star with an impeccable work ethic and a sterling reputation off the court. But he’s played out of position, at center, for majority of his nine seasons and would likely have to continue to do so if he stays here in Atlanta.

So do you retool or rebuild, with a decision on Horford providing an opportunity go in whichever direction Budenholzer chooses?

“Our season just ended minutes ago,” Budenholzer said. “At the appropriate time, we’ll sit down and we’ll discuss. I know we feel strongly about our group. We have a great group to work with player-wise, coaching and front office…at the appropriate time, we’ll take a look and we’ll discuss all those things. We love our group.”

Loving your group doesn’t change the bottom line. They’ve only been able to go so far as presently constituted. Even with an accomplished group led by Horford and fellow All-Star Paul Millsap, who re-signed with the Hawks last summer, aging veteran shooting guard Kyle Korver and point guard Jeff Teague, there is a ceiling with this group that doesn’t suggest that a great leap in production is looming. Kent Bazemore stepped into a starting role this season and shined, setting himself up for a nice payday of his own this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

So Budenholzer and his front office staff have ask themselves some hard questions about what they have to work with going forward. Is this a core group capable of escaping the logjam of teams behind Cleveland in the conference playoff chase? Do you stick with Teague at point guard or go with the younger and streakier Dennis Schroder? And if they’ve lacked a true go-to-guy, a bona fide superstar to lean on at crunch time, is this the summer to scrap the current program and chase a big name like Kevin Durant, the prize of this summer’s free agent crop?

Horford talked passionately about his love for the Hawks, the city and its fans and the way he and his family have been embraced from the start. You don’t dig in the way he has, serve as an agent of change for nearly a decade, and not develop deep ties.

“It means a lot,” Horford said of his affinity for Atlanta. “I’ve set up here with my family. We all live here. We live here in the summer. We live here year-round. I’m very grateful for all the people here. They have taken me in from the very first day, even though I was a Gator. They loved me. I really love the city.”

Love has nothing to do with the business of free agency, for either side.

But he’ll have suitors from around the league this summer, some that will no doubt offer the opportunity for him to shift roles and operate in his natural position.

He won’t be able to do that in Atlanta as long as Millsap is entrenched at power forward. The Hawks need a significant upgrade in size, scoring and someone to control the action at crunch time. The system they’ve used the past three seasons has worked well, sharing the load amongst a quality group of veteran players.

But as the Hawks have learned so painfully well at the hands of a deeper and much more star-filled Cleveland team the past two seasons, you can only go so far with the “system.”

Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Waiters: ‘One guy can’t beat us’ | Carroll says Lowry must ‘man up’ now | Report: Celtics in pursuit of Butler | Hawks shell-shocked by barrage of 3s | Report: Bickerstaff pulls out of consideration for Rockets’ job | Vogel awaits fate today

No. 1: Waiters says Aldridge alone can’t be Thunder — The San Antonio Spurs are more than getting their money’s worth out of free-agent addition LaMarcus Aldridge in the Western Conference semifinals. The newest Spur has been on fire in the series, averaging 39.5 points and shooting 75 percent in the first two games of the series. But to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters, the numbers that matter are 1 and 1. That’s the state of the series despite Aldridge’s heroics and, to Waiters, things are looking down for the Spurs as a team if Aldridge continues to sizzle. ESPN.com’s Royce Young has more:

“One man can’t beat you,” Thunder guard Dion Waiters said Wednesday. “So we’re fine with that. If they want to continue to get out of their offense and throw the ball down there to him, we’re fine with that. One guy can’t beat us, no matter how much he scores.”

“We’ve just got to make adjustments, try to make it tough on him,” Waiters said. “He’s a great player in this league, an All-Star. He’s going to make shots. He’s playing tremendous right now. But we’re fine with one guy just beating us. We’re fine with that. At the end of the day, Serge [Ibaka] and Steven [Adams] got to continue to do what they’ve been doing, but guys are going to make shots in the NBA and as long as they’re not running the offense and dropping it down to them, we’re living with that.”

Aldridge was asked by reporters in San Antonio if he’s putting pressure on himself to not cool down after his two big games in the series.

“I’m just playing basketball. I’m not trying to go do it [have a huge game],” he said. “You know, honestly, I didn’t think that I’d do it again after the first game. It’s just I’m going with the flow of the game out there.”

The Thunder primarily stuck with single coverage on Aldridge, with coach Billy Donovan saying they were mostly happy with the defense on the Spurs power forward. In the series, Aldridge is 17-of-26 on contested shots.

“We’re making him take the shots that we want, and he’s just making them,” Adams said. “That’s the only thing that’s kind of bumming us out right now. … We’re making him take similar shots [as in the past] and he’s just making all of them. And it sucks.”

***

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Ignoring inbounds techniques would be out of bounds for Hawks

CLEVELAND – Inbounds plays are the green beans of NBA games, not all that interesting until the day they suddenly line up on your dinner plate and dance like the Rockettes in a Christmas spectacular.

At that point, they demand your attention, in much the way they have on consecutive nights this week in conference semifinal games in San Antonio Monday and in Toronto Tuesday.

So it was a legit question for players and coaches still participating, such as Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, to identify proper execution, some pitfalls to avoid and so on from the world of Xs & Os.

“I’m assuming you’re talking a little bit about the OKC-San Antonio one?” Budenholzer said.

Well, yeah, considering that the Thunder’s inbounds attempt with 13.5 seconds left in Game 1 surprised even longtime NBA insiders with the number of things that went wrong and were uncalled in OKC’s 98-97 victory. From defender Manu Ginobili‘s toe touching the sideline for what should have been a delay of game call to inbounder Dion Waiters‘ thoroughly unexpected forearm to Ginobili’s chest to clear space, the play and the game’s subsequent final seconds generated an epic “Last 2 Minutes” report from the NBA and were chaotic from start to confounding finish.

Precisely what a team doesn’t want happening in the playoffs, when every possession allegedly is treasured.

“It’s definitely something you work on in practice,” Budenholzer said after Atlanta’s shootaround Wednesday in advance of Game 2 against Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, TNT). “There’s subtleties for the inbounder, things that can hopefully help him find the right guy. You want great spacing, hopefully guys who are coming hard to the ball.

“But that inbound position, I’ll just tell you, it is not an easy spot. But we practice it, we drill it, we work on it. It happens a lot during the season so you get a lot of in-game reps too.”

In Miami’s overtime victory Tuesday, Luol Deng had turnovers twice in the fourth quarter on inbounds plays. First he ran along the baseline when it wasn’t permitted, then he miscalculated on a toss intended for Dwyane Wade. “If we would have lost – that would have been a bad one,” Deng said.

“It’s tough, man,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. “It’s a lot of pressure on that inbounding guy. Teams are doing a better job of guarding the play and putting pressure on that guy. You’ve got to make good decisions. But it’s very important, obviously. It can cost you a game.”

Atlanta assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was hired by the Brooklyn Nets in mid-April and will become their coach once the Hawks’ playoff run ends.

He said the Hawks spend considerable time — especially in the playoffs — on both executing and defending sideline and baseline inbounds plays. Atkinson said he thinks many NBA teams eventually will designate a coach for such “special teams” situations, not unlike the NFL. Most already have go-to guys to be their designated inbounders in crucial moments.

“Last year, [center] Pero Antic was almost like our ‘long snapper’ [another NFL specialty],” Atkinson said. “He’d sit there the whole game and we’d put him in with four seconds left because he was big and he was an excellent passer. He could just look over the defender.”

Patience and a thorough knowledge of the circumstances are key. “Your first priority is to read your options. You’re the quarterback,” Millsap said. “Take your options one read at a time. If nothing’s there, don’t force it. If you have timeouts, use ’em. But the worst thing you can do is turn it over in a situation like that.”

And the flip side? “If you make ’em use a timeout or force a turnover, force it to a guy they don’t want to give it to, I think you’ve done your job,” Millsap said.

Some teams put a big man on the ball to crowd the inbounder’s view. Others may drop off him to double-team elsewhere. The defense, generally speaking, can’t often count on the man with the ball to break the inbounds plane and forearm the nearest opponent.

Coaches, meanwhile, can’t always count on their inbounders to know every rule, in terms of what they can and cannot do.

“I would say we are confident,” Budenholzer said. “Yet life never ceases to amaze us.”

Blogtable: Who made your All-NBA teams?

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.


BLOGTABLE: Who made your All-NBA teams? | Which remaining playoff team has the best bench? |
Who should Mavs pursue in offseason?


> Give me your All-NBA selections (first, second and third team).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Generally, my First Team is a reflection of my MVP ballot, which goes five deep. Doesn’t always synch up position-wise but this year it was close (I plugged in Drummond at center and had to put Chris Paul on my Second Team). I don’t agree with the gimmick deployed by a few voters who put Draymond Green as First Team center because of how he and Golden State do in his 15 minutes or so, on average, in the middle. If a guy played only 15 minutes, period, at a position, we’d never consider him All-NBA at that spot.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

There’s Green where he belongs, and Durant would have been sixth on my MVP ballot. I had Jordan on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot, so he’s an easy pick from a Top 6 team. What Lillard did in leading a brand-new group in Portland was, to me, no less impressive than the job Terry Stotts did coaching them up or Neil Olshey did in assembling them.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

A pair of Pauls at the forward spot, determined by Millsap’s underrated game along with George’s remarkable, reassuring return season. Cousins’ team didn’t make the playoffs, he’s a certified coach killer and he might not “get it” until it’s too late, but there’s no denying the talent. Thompson is a two-way sidekick to greatness who deals well with the shadow Curry casts. Lowry’s postseason hasn’t matched his regular season but then, the latter is what All-NBA status honors. Supremely talented James Harden? Nope. The way he ball-hogs, he’s unwatchable. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Leonard steamrolled onto the first team with his dominant play at both ends of the court. Green practically reinvented the center spot with his versatility. Westbrook was the king of triple-doubles. And do I really need to explain about Steph and LeBron?

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G:
 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Drummond stakes a claim for the traditional big man. George’s comeback to an elite level was inspirational and maybe is finest season. I still would take Paul as my point guard in one game with everything on the line. Lillard was no surprise on the surprising Blazers. And it’s almost sacrilegious to make K.D. a second-teamer.

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

Aldridge made steady progression into the perfect fit in San Antonio. Millsap is the heartbreak in Atlanta. Towns is the future. Thompson spends too much time in Curry’s shadow. And if Harden played just a little less defense — is that possible? — he might have slipped right off the map here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F:
 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

The only room for change would be putting Draymond Green at center and moving Drummond to second team. I considered that, before ultimately going the conventional route. Otherwise, the other four spots are pretty locked in.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Not too bad of a pair of forwards on the second team. And if CP3 can’t crack the first team, that says a lot about what kind of 2015-16 that Curry and Westbrook had.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought about George for second team and would have put him there if the dominoes fell once Draymond Green was first-team center. Either way, there is no way to overemphasis the importance of George’s season. The same could be said for Lillard as the foundation in play and personality of the new Blazers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I didn’t struggle with this one. Putting aside his team wrecking and coach killing attitude, Boogie was clearly the best center in the game, so he was judged purely on that. In fact, the entire first team is comprised of players who show ability on both ends or at least bring multiple skills, something that helps separate them from their peers.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

I’m tempted to put Draymond Green at center, but he played most of his minutes at power forward. I’m taking Chris Paul over Russell Westbrook, because he was just as important to his offense as Westbrook is, and was a much better defender. Center is obviously the weakest position and it’s difficult to find one that really deserves a first-team designation, but Jordan was a two-way force for a team that ranked in the top six on both ends of the floor.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Andre DrummondDetroit Pistons
G: Russell Westbrook,
Oklahoma City Thunder
G:
 James Harden, Houston Rockets

The guards and forwards here are pretty straightforward. Green really deserves a first-team designation, but the forward position is just stacked. Harden’s defense was a disaster, but he carried such a huge load for a top-10 offense.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Bending the position designations a little bit, so that I can include Aldridge, George and Millsap. Aldridge was huge in the second half of the season for a team that won 67 games, George was the best player on both ends of the floor for a playoff team, and Millsap was an all-around stud for a top-four seed. Lowry and Thompson were pretty easy picks, though it was difficult to leave off Damian Lillard. He’s obviously a great player, and he emerged as a real locker-room leader this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite rumors of his demise, LeBron remains the most dominant all-around talent in the game, Leonard has emerged as the best two-way threat in basketball, Drummond’s a double-double machine. Curry had an otherworldly season and Westbrook morphed into a walking triple-double down the stretch of the season.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson,
Golden State Warriors
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Green could have been on this team at two positions. Durant showed us this season that he’s all the way back from his injury hiccup. Jordan’s continued improvement (everywhere but the free throw line) is remarkable. Thompson is the best shooter in the world not named Curry and Paul was as valuable to his team as any player in basketball after Christmas.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
G: Damian Lillard,
Portland Trail Blazers
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

George’s comeback from his nasty injury to two-way superstar is complete. Aldridge clearly made the right choice to leave Portland for San Antonio in free agency. Cousins, as much as it pains me to reward someone who causes as much drama as he does, is simply a force. Baby Dame put on a show this season and Lowry led the Raptors to the best season in franchise history.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Whiteside turned the Heat into the No. 7 team defensively. Paul (and Jordan) kept the Clippers in contention without Blake Griffin. My most difficult absences are James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins, whose tremendous statistical years were offset by their disappointing leadership.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
C: DeAndre JordanLos Angeles Clippers
G:
 Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

All-NBA Third Team

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
G:
 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

All-NBA First Team

F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Picking three centers was the toughest call for me. I know some people argued that Draymond Green could be an All-NBA center, but to me that’s not his primary position, and I think Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli would agree. So, DeAndre makes the cut, which I don’t mind because of his durability and defensive presence for a top-four team in the best conference.

All-NBA Second Team

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C: DeMarcus CousinsSacramento Kings
G:
 Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

For the most part, I tried to reward winning with my selections. And then there’s DeMarcus Cousins. I thought about it a lot, but eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t entirely blame Cousins for the dysfunction in Sacramento, and his 26.9 and 11.5 per game were just too great to overlook.

All-NBA Third Team

F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
G:
 Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

I thought really hard about putting Andre Drummond in as my third-team center, but couldn’t justify saying someone is one of the three best at his position in the NBA when he can’t play at the end of games. The one player who I couldn’t find room for was James Harden, who is still an elite scorer but, at least to me, wasn’t one of the best six guards in the NBA this season.

Numbers preview: Cavs-Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games and had home-court advantage in the conference finals … and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, the Hawks won just 48 games. Expectations are lower and they’ll be in Cleveland to start the conference semifinals. But the Hawks may be better prepared to make things difficult for the Cavs this time around.

They’re certainly healthier than they were a year ago, when Thabo Sefolosha was out with a broken leg, Paul Millsap was dealing with a shoulder injury, and Kyle Korver was lost to an ankle injury in Game 2. The Hawks are also better defensively than they were last season.

Atlanta was the league’s best defensive team from Christmas to the end of the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they held the Boston Celtics to 12.6 points per 100 possessions under their regular-season mark. Their defense has been strong in transition and at protecting the paint, two huge keys to slowing down LeBron James and the Cavs.

But they weren’t able to do that enough in the regular season, when James averaged 27.3 points on 58 percent shooting as the Cavs swept the season series, 3-0. That’s seven straight wins against Atlanta for the Cavs, who are also healthier and better defensively than they were a year ago.

The Cavs are trying to get back to The Finals with their “Big 3” intact this time. Before they can play for that opportunity, they have to get through the Hawks, which could be a much tougher proposition than it was last year.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Hawks, 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

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Pace: 88.9 (15)
OffRtg: 115.8 (2)
DefRtg: 107.4 (12)
NetRtg: +8.4 (4)

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

20160429_cle_offense

20160429_cle_defense

Cavs playoff notes:

20160429_cle_shooting

Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

First round: Beat Boston in six games.
Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 97.7 (13)
DefRtg: 91.3 (3)
NetRtg: +6.3 (5)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160429_atl_offense

20160429_atl_defense

Hawks playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Cavs won 3-0 (2-0 in Cleveland).
Nov. 21 – Cavs 109, Hawks 97
Apr. 1 – Cavs 110, Hawks 108 (OT)
Apr. 11 – Cavs 109, Hawks 94

Pace: 99.8
CLE OffRtg: 106.9 (2nd vs. ATL)
ATL OffRtg: 95.5 (21st vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

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.

 

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

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Hawks notes:

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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

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Celtics notes:

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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:

Report: No punishment for Howard


VIDEO: Dwight Howard’s incident during Saturday’s game vs. Atlanta

It was a sticky situation, but it looks like Dwight Howard will slide away with no penalty.

The NBA will not fine or suspend the Rockets center for use of an adhesive substance Saturday night in Atlanta, but sent a memo to all 30 teams that its usage is “strictly prohibited,” league sources said, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.

Howard used a spray on his hands during the first of two Paul Millsap free throws in the first quarter of a 109-97 loss to the Hawks. When Howard touched the basketball and it was bounced to Hawks Millsap at the free-throw line, he noticed the stickiness and the referees replaced the ball.

Following a team practice Monday in Oklahoma City, where the Rockets will face the Thunder Tuesday night, Howard defended his reputation.

“I just think that it’s getting overblown, like I’m doing something crazy,” he said. “But again, I’ve never been a cheater, never been the type of player that has to do something illegal to win. It’s upsetting, but I can’t control it now.”

Howard cooperated with NBA security officials over the past day, and the league advised teams Monday that all equipment used for games must be appropriate for a basketball and any substance that could gain an advantage is not prohibited.

All-Star 2016 Reserves Announced


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from 2016 All-Star Draymond Green

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Millions of fan votes decided who the starters would be for the 65th NBA All-Star Game next month in Toronto.

Only 12 to 14 were required, from coaches around the league, to decide the 14 other players who would fill out the rosters for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars.

And there will be a new school flavor to the festivities with a trio of rookie All-Star reserves joining the party.

First time All-Stars highlight the list of reserves, that was announced tonight on TNT. That group includes Golden State’s Draymond Green in the Western Conference and Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the Eastern Conference.

Joining Green on the Western Conference reserves list are LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), James Harden (Houston), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and Klay Thompson (Golden State).

NBA All-Star 2016Joining Drummond and Thomas on the Eastern Conference reserves list are Chris Bosh (Miami), Jimmy Butler (Chicago), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Paul Millsap (Atlanta) and John Wall (Washington).

Noticeably absent from the list are Portland’s Damian Lillard, Clippers’ star Blake Griffin (whose injury issues wouldn’t have allowed him to participate anyway), the Cleveland duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Atlanta’s Al Horford and perennial All-Stars Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Tim Duncan (San Antonio).

The Cavaliers have just one All-Star, LeBron James, despite owning the best record in the Eastern Conference and having their staff, headed by Tyronn Lue, in charge of coaching the Eastern Conference team.

James, Indiana’s Paul George, New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry are the Eastern Conference starters.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, playing in his 18th and final All-Star Game headlines a Western Conference starting unit that also includes Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, first-time All-Star and San Antonio defensive ace Kawhi Leonard, reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry of Golden State and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

Western Conference reserves


VIDEO: Discussing the West All-Stars

LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio: Aldridge’s numbers are down but that was expected when he made the move from Portland to San Antonio and the ensemble cast he’s playing with now. This is his fifth straight All-Star Game appearance.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento: Cousins has staked his claim to the title as the best big man in basketball and is the only true center on the Western Conference roster. This is his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans’ rough start to this season did not keep the coaches from making sure Davis made it to the All-Star Game for the third straight year.

Draymond Green, Golden State: The NBA’s leader in triple-doubles this season, Green missed out on a starting nod but takes his rightful place alongside Warriors teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in his first All-Star appearance.

James Harden, Houston: The runner up for KIA MVP honors last season is still playing at an elite level, individually, even if his Rockets are nowhere near their conference finals pace of a year ago. This is his Harden’s fourth straight All-Star Game appearance.

Chris Paul, LA Clippers: Paul has been the Clippers’ rock with Blake Griffin out with a torn quad tendon the past 15 games (and now a fractured hand for the next 4-6 weeks). This is CP3’s ninth All-Star appearance.

Klay Thompson: The Warriors’ sweet-shooting swingman reminded everyone just how dangerous he can be with a season-high 45 points in Wednesday’s win over the Mavericks. He’s making his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

Data curated by PointAfter

Eastern Conference reserves


VIDEO: Discussing the East All-Star reserves

Chris Bosh, Miami: The 11-time All-Star has come all the way back from the pulmonary embolism that ended cut his season short a year ago. Bosh and Dwyane Wade have led the Heat back into the top four mix in the East after last season’s lottery twirl.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago: The new face of the Bulls has been the motor for a team that has battled inconsistency during the transition from the Tom Thibodeau era to the Fred Hoiberg experience. This is his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the driving forces on a Raptors team that is entrenched in the top three of the Eastern Conference standings this season, will play co-hosts for the All-Star festivities. This is DeRozan’s second All-Star Game appearance.

Andre Drummond, Detroit: The league’s runaway leader in double-doubles and rebounds this season, Drummond, like Cousins in the West, is the only true center on the East roster.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta: The Hawks’ summer re-investment in Millsap has paid off handsomely. He’s been the best and most consistent player for a team that had four All-Stars hit the floor in New York last year. This is the third straight All-Star appearance for Millsap.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston: The unquestioned leader of a Celtics team that wasn’t supposed to have any true stars, Thomas has shattered that myth since joining Boston last season and become the catalyst for Brad Stevens’ upstart crew.

John Wall, Washington: Wall has done yeoman’s work this season for a Wizards’ team that has dealt with a parade of injuries to other key players, most notably Wall’s backcourt mate Bradley Beal. This is Wall’s third straight All-Star Game appearance.

Data curated by PointAfter

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14.


VIDEO: Who should’ve been an All-Star?