Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: More impressive Warriors feat — winning 73 or 3-1 comeback?

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: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> More impressive feat: Winning 73 games in the regular season, or coming back from 3-1 in the conference finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Coming back from 3-1 against a committed opponent is incredibly impressive, but teams have come back from such deficits (though it’s been very rare). Plus, Golden State had the advantage of having two of the last three games of the series at home. No one has ever won 73. And considering how much good fortune and consistent play were required to do it over a full season, the Warriors’ regular season mark stands taller.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHow many NBA teams have recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series? Ten. Now, how many NBA teams have won 73 games in a season? There’s your answer. The Warriors’ specialness across six months, from the 24-0 streak to start the season to the way they embraced the challenge of chasing down the ’96 Bulls, will be remembered a lot longer than what they accomplished in a week against a fierce opponent in a conference finals. Even if Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr and crew did that in The Finals, it would simply cap their magnificent overall year.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Two completely different things that are historic, equally impressive and should be appreciated separately, kind of like juggling chainsaws while walking a tightrope.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The comeback. Winning 73 out of 82 is impressive and should not be brushed aside, but the Warriors didn’t face the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers of Brooklyn Nets while winning three in a row to reach another Finals. Golden State didn’t just beat a championship contender three in a row with the season on the line, Golden State did it with two clutch finishes and one victory in a very tough road setting. As I wrote after Game 7, beating OKC in the final four was more impressive than beating Cleveland in The 2015 Finals. Not more important, because it’s about the rings, but more impressive because of the opponent and the uphill climb.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comOne was historic, the other was done nine previous times. So I’ll go with the 73 wins, even though, on the scale of importance, it’s second to winning the West and advancing to The Finals. I must admit that rallying from 3-1 against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was impressive. But not historical.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Winning 73 was more impressive, because it took six months of focus through a grind of a season that included 20 back-to-backs and almost every opponent giving you their best. But coming back from 3-1 was more important, especially if it leads to another championship.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Folks love to talk about the regular season being meaningless once the playoffs begin. That’s foolishness. The 73-win regular season the Warriors compiled was a most impressive feat, something never done before in the NBA. The Warriors are the 10th team in NBA playoff history to come back from 3-1 down. As impressive as it was to see them rebound against the Thunder, it won’t come close to topping 73 wins anytime soon.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Other teams have recovered from 3-1, but no one else has ever won 73. As impressive as the last three wins have been, the regular-season record was the result of six months of focused, discipline work.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDo they have to be mutually exclusive? I thought both of these feats were impressive, and in some ways, I’m not so sure the second one happens without the first. That drive for 73 had to prove to the Warriors their remarkable resiliency and ability to overcome adversity, and I’m sure it was useful trying to come back from down 3-1. If I have to pick one, and I suppose I do because otherwise we wouldn’t be here Blogtable-ing, I’ll go with the 73 wins. Coming back from 3-1 was certainly tough, but they came back from 2-1 twice in last year’s playoffs. Winning 73 required a long-term focus unlike any team, ever, has ever been able to sustain.

Blogtable: What’s next for Oklahoma City Thunder and for Kevin Durant?

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: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> So what now for free agent Kevin Durant? And what now for the Thunder?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You’d be crazy to guess at this point, but the trend lines seem to be going in Oklahoma City’s favor, at least for one more year. As detailed in the Morning Tip on Monday, if Durant signs a two-year deal this summer with the Thunder with a one-year out, he’d set himself up for a potential five-year contract with OKC in the summer of 2017 for more than $200 million. Now, money isn’t the only thing driving Durant’s decision making, of course (and especially given the $250-plus million he’s already banking from Nike), but that’s not a sum you dismiss out of hand. More importantly, OKC’s rapid development the second half of the season and in the playoffs surely gives the Thunder more than a fighting chance of keeping its superstar. Coach Billy Donovan was more than comfortable matching Xs and Os with top-shelf coaches. Steven Adams went Beast Mode on opponents. Andre Roberson carried his weight offensively against the San Antono Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Serge Ibaka again asserted himself as a defensive force and Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter gave the Thunder one of the league’s best benches. And, oh yeah, Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrook. So, if you’re Durant, and you already like living someplace where people basically leave you be, and your team showed itself a legit title contender…where can you go that’s better? The Los Angeles Clippers’ core is older and the Miami Heat’s future is uncertain with Chris Bosh‘s health concerns. The Spurs already have an All-Star small forward in Kawhi Leonard. OKC already had the power of incumbency. After its playoff run, I’d put its chances at retaining Durant at 3-1.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Kevin Durant is interested in pursuing a championship, he should stay right where he’s at. That team has the talent and depth to contend again next season, and the Thunder surely can find ways to complement Durant and Russell Westbrook‘s firepower in a more balanced attack. Durant won’t find a more committed organization or adoring fan base, either. Now if it’s lifestyle he’s seeking, then fine, go live and work where you want to, the way 99 percent of America’s workforce does it — or could, if people really looked at their options. I don’t think he can get much more famous or ever spend any difference in off-court income that a bigger market might provide, but that would be Durant’s choice. For theatre, it would be fun to see Durant land on one of about a dozen different rosters, just to feel the NBA landscape shift. But for sheer balling, OKC seems to suit Durant fine. And vice versa.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Thunder simply wait on Durant. They don’t campaign or twist his arm or send him love letters. They just wait for Durant to reach the conclusion — and he might already be there — that there is no better place for him than Oklahoma City, where he is appreciated, adored and, most importantly, has the pieces already on hand to come right back next season and make another championship run. Where does he find another Russell Westbrook to be his sidekick? Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson all are the real thing. And coach Billy Donovan showed he has the chops. Does Durant sign a long-term deal in July or take the LeBron James one-year option and cash in even bigger next season? That’s for him to figure out. But one way or another, I believe he stays in OKC. For good.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing’s changed. Durant comes back for one season plus an option and goes through free agency for real in the summer of 2017. That has been my belief since before the playoff started, and nothing that happened in the postseason alters the opinion. There are a ton of reasons to stay in OKC well beyond 2016-17. He knows it and does not take the positives there for granted. What now for the Thunder? Respond to the ache of that elimination. How it changes them, if at all, will be one of the early storylines to watch for next season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Summer of Durant will fall flatter than OKC did late in Game 6 when Durant decides to return to OKC for at least another year. So much for drama. That’s the safe route, one that leaves him an out, if he so wishes to use it in 2017 when Russell Westbrook‘s deal is up. Meanwhile, OKC will be OK, provided the Thunder find a shooter (and he isn’t Dion Waiters, either). Folks need to calm down about this team. OKC beat a 67-win San Antonio Spurs team and took the 73-win Golden State Warriors to the brink. No shame in that, even if they were up 3-1.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLogic says that he should sign a two-year deal with the Thunder that gives him the option to be a free agent again next summer, when the max salary is projected to be higher than it is this year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs a long-term deal to remain in Oklahoma City. I would be surprised if he leaves after coming so close to a return to The Finals. The Thunder don’t need much to get over the hump. It would help to have a wing who can both shoot and defend at a high level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kevin Durant knew the day would come when he could no longer duck the free agency questions. Yet he still found a way to do so even in the moments after the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their collapse in the Western Conference finals. He insisted that he hadn’t given free agency a thought. Sure. Just go ahead and sign the two-year deal with the player option for the second season so we can get not to the free agents that might actually be in play for all of these teams with cap space to use up. The Thunder have no choice but to wait Durant out and see what his final decision will be. They’re clearly closer to championship level right now that many of us thought prior to their playoff run. So they should feel much better about a future that includes Durant.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t Durant have to return for at least one more year? Midway through the conference finals he and Russell Westbrook were playing the best basketball of their careers. It makes no sense to give up on their longterm investment when it is so close to paying off.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI’ve seen numerous people say that if Kevin Durant wants his best chance at winning a title, he would leave OKC and go to the Eastern Conference. Which I don’t think is correct. To get to The Finals in the East you have to go through LeBron James, and that is one heckuva roadblock. To me, as we just saw, as presently constructed the Thunder are nearly good enough to get to The Finals. So I think KD stays, at least for a year. Although, I feel like the Thunder are still one rotation player away, some sort of swingman type who can score when needed and reduce the land on KD/Westbrook. (An interesting name who might be motivated to make a fit work? How about Carmelo Anthony?) They just need one more contributor. For so long the Thunder had Derek Fisher as their off guard in crunch time, and this year they made a reach for Randy Foye who they couldn’t really use in crunch time. Making this an even tougher situation is that they don’t have time to develop a young player — this a team needs to win now. Good luck balancing all of that, Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Blogtable: Who wins The 2016 Finals (and why)?

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: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> Cavs or Warriors? Who you got and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Man. This should be great. Obviously Cleveland is at full strength this year compared to last, and presents far greater challenges for Golden State’s defense. But the Cavs don’t have the collective length and defensive athleticism that the Thunder has. Kyrie Irving is a nightmare with the ball, but the Warriors just survived seven games of Russell Westbrook‘s attacks, and Westbrook is a much more active defender than Irving. The Cavs’ bench is more experienced than OKC’s, but again, it isn’t as athletic. Size with quickness is what gave the Warriors problems. Stephen Curry looked better and better as the series with the Thunder went on; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s closer. I think this series comes down to a couple of things: 1. can Kevin Love really hurt Golden State offensively, to the point where the Warriors would have to do more than single-cover him with Draymond Green?, 2. can Cleveland score and/or protect the ball enough to keep the Warriors from getting out in transition, where lethal results almost always follow? My guesses are not quite enough of either. Warriors in 7.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMaybe I’m bringing some Eastern Conference bias to this – I was basically embedded in Cleveland’s playoff run through Detroit, Atlanta and Toronto – but the way this team has played at its peak, the fit LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have found, coach Tyronn Lue‘s grasp of the reins and artful tweaks along the way, and the confidence the Cavs have in the 3-ball have won me over. Golden State will be facing a vastly different opponent this time around – and keep in mind, backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova hasn’t recklessly rolled over anybody’s ankle yet in these playoffs (cue ominous organ chord). Mostly, though, I’m thinking that LeBron With Help is a mighty force. There’s also an underlying urgency to his push back to The Finals, because this championship-to-The-‘Land business is going to be getting harder, not easier, with each passing season. Cavaliers in 6.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHave you seen 73-9? Have you seen the comeback from 3-1? They have extraordinary talent, a still under-appreciated inner drive and just find a way. The Warriors will win it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State has come too far — through the long, challenging regular season, through the comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder — to stop now. Home court will pay off. Being able to throw multiple quality defenders at LeBron James, from Draymond Green to Andre Iguodala to the other help that will come on the double, will pay off. And, of course, the brothers Splash. The Warriors still have a little too much for the Cavs. Warriors in 7.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: A healthy Cavs team would’ve beaten the Warriors last year. Now? It could be wrong place, wrong time for the Cavs. Three critical players on the Warriors are better: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And they still have a functional Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are more cohesive but both will clearly defer to LeBron James when things get tight, turning the Cavs into a predictable outfit. I see it going seven games, but in the end, we’ll be scraping what’s left of Cleveland’s battered image off the sidewalk once again. Warriors in 7.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThis will be a much more enjoyable series than it was last year, when the Cavs scored less than a point per possession in all six games. Cleveland is a lot tougher to defend than they were a year ago, not only because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy, but also because they have a second unit that spreads the floor around LeBron James. But no team is more qualified to defend the Cavs than the Warriors, who will be impossible to stop over 4-7 games themselves. Warriors in 6.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I continue to believe that the Warriors are the superior team and the best shooting team I’ve seen in all of my years watching the NBA. And in this instance, I still believe them to be the superior team to the Cavaliers. That said, this series went six games last time with LeBron James playing without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for basically the entire series. It goes seven games this year with the Warriors still on top. In a battle of the best 3-point shooting teams in the game, I’m going with who is No. 1. Warriors in 7.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAs a rule it is wrong to pick against the Warriors. They are the NBA’s most competitive team and its toughest out. And yet here comes LeBron James with a healthy roster to make amends for The 2015 Finals. The leading player of his generation returned to Cleveland to win the championship, and I think that’s going to be happen in Game 6 on his home floor. Cavaliers in 6.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: On the heels of my near-triumphant Thunder in 7 prediction, I’m not sure my voice holds much weight. But I digress. The Warriors hit a speed bump the last two weeks, and then righted the ship in a very public and impressive way, just in time to roll into The Finals against Cleveland. The way the Thunder were able to compete against Golden State was by playing lock-down defense, and I don’t think Cleveland can reach that level, or at least sustain it for four games. As good as Cleveland has been this postseason, I think the Warriors pick up where they left off and keep on running and shooting. Warriors in 6. 

Morning shootaround — May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:

***

No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

***

No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to cleveland.com. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”

***

No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Love facing another referendum on his role, ‘fit,’ if Cavs pushed to Game 7?

Either Kevin Love has one of the most fragile psyches in the NBA, particularly among those with All-Star caliber gifts, or media coverage of his slump in the middle of the Eastern Conference finals is more about their timing than his.

Love played badly in Games 3 and 4 against the Raptors in Toronto Saturday and Monday, then fired back with an outstanding Game 5 in the Cavaliers’ home rout to take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 Friday night back at Air Canada Centre (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Love went from 13 total points on 5-for-23 shooting on the Raptors’ court to 25 points with 8-for-10 accuracy at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday. He was the Cavs’ focal point early, as he routinely has been this season in their attempts to get him going early. And this time, as it had frequently during Cleveland’s 10-0 start to the playoffs, it worked.

Afterward, though, so much of the focus was put on Love’s personal ordeal and pep talks he got from teammates and from coach Tyronn Lue in the two days prior to Game 5. Fellow stretch-big man Channing Frye was helpful, Love mentioned to reporters. Lue, too, helped boost Love’s spirits and focus. Meanwhile LeBron James, the team’s leader, spoke from experience about the tough times a talented player endures when he feels he might be letting his crew down.

“It’s very difficult and you feel like you’re by yourself,” James said from the postgame podium. “I’ve been there before, when you’re a big part of a puzzle and things just don’t go the way you either dreamed about or the way you thought it was going to be. You feel like you’re by yourself for 24 or 48 hours or however long the case may be. To see him come out the way he did [in Game 5], just aggressive [in the low post] … we continued to go to him.”

But this is about Love, the same fellow who spoke frequently through the playoffs’ first month about a conversation he’d had with Lue in late March. The same fellow whose confidence and trust were buoyed when Lue was promoted to replace David Blatt as Cavs coach. Now he needed an intervention of sorts in the 48 hours between Game 4 and Game 5?

Draymond Green had two nightmarish games for Golden State in the West finals and created an outrageous distraction with his kick to Steven Adams‘ groin, yet none of the Warriors was questioning Green’s status in their pecking order. Love does the same – no groin kick, but forgettable performances – and it’s time for another referendum on his fit and long-term viability in Cleveland?

Maybe more that the networks and national media are just now paying attention.

Veteran Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, as reported by the Akron Beacon Journal, saw folks reaching for a storyline at Love’s expense.

“He doesn’t have anything to make up for. No disrespect to anybody here, but that all a bunch of media B.S., if you ask me,” Jefferson said in the hallway at Quicken Loans Arena. “The guy had a bad game. We’d won 10 straight. He can have a bad game. Was he the only one who didn’t shoot the ball well? No. Was he the only person that might have struggled a little bit defensively? It looked like [Raptors point guard] Kyle Lowry had 30-something points.

“As a group it was never him, it was never one individual. That was who was going to be the fall guy in the media’s eyes. We didn’t view it that way. Yes, we wanted him to play better, we all did. But he didn’t need to prove anything to us. He’d had eight double-doubles in the first 10 games. We were a little taken aback that everyone thought it was his fault.”

Love pitched in 12 points in the first quarter – going 4 for 4 from the field and 2 for 2 from 3-point range. His first shot was an 8-foot turnaround hook, his second a 26-foot 3-pointer. He added a 14-foot fade, two free throws and another 3, then finished the quarter with two blocks of Cory Joseph in the final two seconds.

“He’s an offensive force down low,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve done a good job on him the entire series. He gets it going, and we’ve got to meet his force with our force and do a better job of one-on-one defense with him in the low post and not just look at him out on the 3-point line.”

If Love performs poorly in Game 6 Friday and Cleveland loses, will it just be about a basketball failing? Or will the onus be on him again, to the point he’ll need a booster shot of motivational chatter for Game 7 Sunday?

A better question might be: How will the media folks get their psychotherapist couches through U.S./Canada customs in time to do their jobs?

Blogtable: Your advice for Tim Duncan?

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: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> You’re Tim Duncan’s closest friend, his confidant. When he asks for advice regarding next season, what do you tell him?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I tell him it’s time. Could he squeeze one more year out of those knees? Maybe. Could the Spurs make one last stand next season and make one more Finals? Perhaps. But what would the point be? You’re on the shortest of short lists of greatest big men to ever play the game. After Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s definitely ahead of you? You have five rings, and you led one of the greatest comebacks from the emotional dead in league history, after blowing that 3-2 lead to Miami in the 2013 Finals. They will write books about how your team rallied from that devastating loss to crush the Heat in The Finals rematch a year later. You are (were) the key man in a dynasty that has spanned almost two decades of excellence. Your kids love you; you can do anything you want in San Antonio the rest of your days, in the relative anonymity you crave.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The biggest thing I would tell Tim Duncan is, think five years out from now: do you want to share the stage at the Hall of Fame with all the Kobe Bryant hoopla? Given Duncan’s near-reclusiveness, relative to Bryant’s love of the spotlight, maybe that’s the simplest way for the San Antonio legend to slip into Springfield with little more than a “thank you” as his acceptance speech. As far as basketball-related advice, the show biz ethos of “Always leave ’em wanting more” applies only if you plan to keep doing what you’re doing and hope to attract future audiences. With athletes, I’d advise sticking around a year too long rather than leaving a year too soon, because once you go, you’re pretty much gone. If Duncan still enjoys the life, he can contribute plenty to the Spurs off the court and still have some moments on it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: After all these years, I am long past the point of telling players when and how to retire or play on. It is a very personal, very different set of factors for each individual. If Tim Duncan still gets joy out of playing the game and is comfortable going forward as more of a mentor than an on-court force, I’m all for it. If he wants to quietly fade away, I’m for that too.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: “Follow your gut.” That’s obvious. “If you feel like you want to keep going, do it. If this feels like the right time to get off the ride, do it.” Most of all, though, I make sure he takes all 2015-16 into consideration, not just the bad ending. So many people are focusing on the playoff struggles as a sign that it is time to retire, but Duncan played at a high level in the regular season. He can still be an important part of a championship contender. I saw months and months of a guy who was anything but breaking down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: “Timmy, you’ve done everything in this league. Your place in history is secure. You don’t need the money, I’m assuming. There’s nothing to prove. Do you really want to spend another season as a glorified ornament, kept in the freezer for 82 games until the post-season, with no guarantee you won’t struggle as you did this spring? Aren’t your standards higher than that? If so, then retire as only you can — quietly, with a one-sentence press release next month, while wearing flip-flops and shorts.”

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI would tell him that, after 19 years, nobody knows better than he does what it takes to get through an NBA season, the work that goes into it, and the rewards that come out of it. It’s a personal decision, one for only Duncan to make. Though he’s not the player he was in years past, the Spurs would still benefit from having him, his basketball IQ, and his leadership around.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: “Big fella, how do you feel, physically and emotionally? You need to take stock of these things and sit back and take your time making a decision on what to do next. If anyone that’s played this game has earned that right, it’s you. As the backbone of the Spurs’ organization, you have always put the franchise and the team first. But this one time, I need you to think about Timmy and what will satisfy you at this late stage of your career. If you think you have more to give, go for it. If not, you don’t owe anyone another second of your time. In the end, do you!”

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com I’m telling him, “If you have any doubt, then keep playing.” But in the end, aren’t the doctors going to provide the crucial opinion here? Duncan’s knee may be making the decision for him.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAm I also a robot? Kidding! No, if Tim came to me and asked me for my advice, I’d ask just one question: Do you still enjoy it? Because at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. It’s not even a question of productivity, because Duncan can surely still get you a couple of points and rebounds a game. I think it’s more about whether Duncan has the desire to drag himself to the gym every day and break a sweat every day, or if he’d rather take a break and just sit around and play video games and read comic books and work on his cars and wear oversized work shirts. The camaraderie and being part of a team is the stuff almost other player has trouble walking away from. That’s the part guys genuinely like and miss when they’re finished. And despite his singular greatness on the floor, I don’t think Tim is all that different from anyone else in that regard.

Blogtable: Lakers or Sixers under more pressure in Draft?

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: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> Who’s under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night, the Sixers or the Lakers?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers aren’t what they used to be, but they still have a whole bunch of banners in Staples Center. They were lousy the last two years, but that was all about Kobe Bryant, and everyone knew it. Philly has spent the past three years conducting a referendum on exactly how much you can push a fan base before alienating large chunks of it forever. (I always suspected the “trust the Process” folk were more vocal minority than the status quo; people who didn’t like what the Sixers were doing simply didn’t use the product — they didn’t watch on TV and they didn’t show up at the arena. Hard to measure people who aren’t doing something.) So the 76ers’ new regime needs to hit the ground running, and take someone who’ll be ready to play — and play well — on opening night.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers. What the Sixers have on their hands is going to require some untangling for most of next season and the expectations remain low. Los Angeles didn’t nail it, exactly, last June with D’Angelo Russell and the crowd at Staples Center is way less patient than most NBA fan bases.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Philadelphia 76ers are under more pressure for several reasons. First, they have the No. 1 pick, so they can make the bigger error. The Lakers are in the “Kevin Durant position” of sitting back and taking whichever player of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram falls to them. Second, after three years of intentionally failing miserably and alienating the fan base, they need to hit a home run and and show that the suffering was worth it. Third, the Lakers are still the Lakers and, now that Kobe Bryant is retired, helping free agents are far more likely to be lured to L.A than Philly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Philadelphia 76ers. Not that L.A. officials ever get actual reduced pressure, but Philly is the one that has to make the call at the top of the draft. The Lakers will take whoever the 76ers do not. Plus, it’s the first time on the clock for Bryan Colangelo as the new head of basketball operations. This is a particular proving ground for him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, since the Philadelphia 76ers have the No. 1 pick, the burden is completely on them. Draft night has worked out the best possible way for the Lakers, who really have no decision to make. They’ll just take either Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons, whomever the Sixers drop in their lap at No. 2, and thus be spared any second-guessing.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers, for multiple reasons. The Sixers are the team that needs to choose between the top two guys. They’re the team that has sacrificed the most to be where they are. They’re the team that didn’t have a Hall-of-Famer around this season to keep their fanbase engaged. And they’re less of a free agent destination, making the Draft more important.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers have the ultimate pressure with that No. 1 pick, because they set the tone for the remainder of the Draft. Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram? That choice provides built-in pressures that every choice that comes at the top of every Draft. That said, the Lakers cannot afford to pull the fast one they did last season, choosing D’Angelo Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor, neither of whom had a chance to unseat Karl-Anthony Towns (the unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year). There’s plenty of pressure on both the Sixers and Lakers to get it right, more importantly it’s important that whatever choices are made, the Sixers and Lakers have to move heaven and earth to make sure the players they draft are developed into the starts their talents suggest they could be.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The Los Angeles Lakers have to get this right for all kinds of reasons. They hope to go many years before drafting here again, so they have to score a great player either in the draft or with a trade. Jimmy Buss supposedly needs to be back in contention if he wants to remain in charge of the roster. Plus they need to win more games in order to devalue the pick that will be forwarded to Philadelphia in 2017. Having said all of that, however, the choice may not be difficult – if this really is a two-player draft, then the Lakers will be waiting to catch either Simmons or Ingram.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year they passed on Kristaps Porzingis to take D’Angelo Russell, and even though it’s only been one season, that choice already looks questionable. This year the choice between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram may not be entirely up to them, but they really need to nail it because they still owe a first round pick to the Sixers that will vest eventually. For the Sixers, despite the change in management and desire to put the pedal down on the rebuild, they’ve got a lot of assets to indulge in the next few seasons even if they don’t get it right this year. In Los Angeles, expectations already exist for the Lakers, even if they aren’t all that realistic.

Blogtable: Smartest coaching move of the offseason so far?

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: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> What has been the smartest coaching move (so far) this offseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Orlando hiring Frank Vogel to replace Scott Skiles. Bringing Skiles in always seemed odd, and his decision to walk had the optics of disaster for the Magic’s highest-ups, who pushed for his return. Fortunately, Vogel became available, and he’ll be a much better fit for the team’s young core. Whatever you think of Elfrid Payton, the Magic’s basketball people think a lot of him and want him to succeed, so he should have a coach who believes in him and can get the most out of him. Vogel should be able to do that, as well as find ways to maximize the Magic’s youth and length to raise its defensive profile.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comEach of the interviewees and candidates who turned down the Sacramento job? The hierarchy there, both formal and unofficial, should trouble any solid basketball professional, in my view. But let’s not dwell on the negative. I’ll go with Tom Thibodeau’s hiring in Minnesota. He was the best available candidate landing in the best situation as far as talent base and a willingness to (finally) make significant changes. He has the authority in his dual role to make the necessary changes and he’s already made a few in the front office. The Timberwolves are on their way up and Thibs will end up doing Flip Saunders‘ legacy proud.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere’s a lot to like. Luke Walton has the smarts, the championship experience as player and coach as well as the Laker bloodlines to make his hiring the right move. Frank Vogel should be the guy who finally gets the Magic shifted out of neutral. But I’m going with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota as exactly the right prescription to get the young talent of the Timberwolves howling on defense and taking the first steps to become a long-time force in the Western Conference.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz and Quin Snyder doing an extension. I don’t think many others will make the same choice, and there are other good moves to pick, but Snyder-Utah is such a good fit. His background of working with veterans and developing prospects has already come through, and I sure would have liked the Jazz’s chances to be in the playoffs if they were anywhere close to healthy. This is a team obviously heading in a good direction. Snyder is one of the reasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Tom Thibodeau took a year off after getting booted from the Chicago Bulls, rather than jump at the first offer. In hindsight, this was the best offseason move. He waited for the best opening this season, and now gets the luxury of coaching a young and intriguing Timberwolves team that’s on the way up and also serving as GM. On paper anyway, it appears to be a solid match, especially if Thibodeau learned from the mistakes he made in Chicago.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere were also big upgrades in New York and L.A., but it’s hard not to like the addition of Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota the most. The Wolves have a group of young talented players that’s ready to take the next step and can play great defense with the right direction. The offense will come, but if Thibodeau can take them from the bottom five to above average in defensive efficiency, they can be a playoff team next year.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The smartest coaching move, by far, is the Los Angeles Lakers adding Brian Shaw to the staff to assist Luke Walton. No one knows the importance of a top flight assistant head coach like Walton does, having served in that role for reigning NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr this season. Shaw would have been a fine coaching candidate himself, but lands in the perfect spot with a franchise he knows inside and out after years of experiences in The Finals as both an ex-Lakers player and assistant coach (under Phil Jackson). For an organization that hasn’t earned praise for much recently, this is one of the better moves they’ve made.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMany of them — Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota, Scott Brooks to Washington, Frank Vogel to Orlando and Nate McMillan’s elevation with Indiana — make a lot of sense. One that was not so obvious was the contract extension for third-year coach Quin Snyder, which speaks to Utah’s investment in the longterm. The Jazz, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, appreciate the direction of their steadily-improving young team and with Snyder they’re looking to build a program that can last.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The move that keeps coming to mind for me is the Magic grabbing Frank Vogel. They really lucked into him, in a lot of ways, with Scott Skiles surprising everyone by stepping down, and Larry Bird removing Vogel in Indy despite what seemed like Bird not really wanting to part ways. Vogel took a young Pacers team a few years ago and made them a legitimate challenger to the Heat’s Big Three, and came up with a defensive scheme that made Roy Hibbert an All-Star. In many ways, it’s thanks to Vogel that we still talk about “verticality.” Now Vogel has a roster he can shape and mold to play any style he wants.

Blogtable: Which teams will win in the conference finals?

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: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> Your prediction for the Western Conference finals and the Eastern Conference finals? Who will win and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors in seven. This is going to be one great series, with star power coming out of its pores. It’s taken a long time, but OKC finally got strong play from its supporting cast in toppling San Antonio, and the thought here is that guys like Steven Adams, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter should be able to continue that stretch against the Warriors, who enter the series banged up. If Andrew Bogut‘s adductor is an issue throughout the series, OKC’s size will have an even greater impact. The reasons for sticking with GSW are these: 1) Klay Thompson does as good a job as anyone I’ve seen guarding Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t stop him, of course, but he makes it as hard as possible, not allowing Russ to break him down off the dribble. 2) Haven’t seen anyone slow down the Lineup of Death all season, and I don’t see the Thunder having the solution to it, either. 3) One team has the MVP, who makes shots no one else would even contemplate taking, and makes them. The other doesn’t. Fin.

In the East, it’s Cavaliers in six. So glad for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who faced down their playoff demons from past years (and the Indiana series in this year’s first round) to take their team somewhere it’s never been. But it ends against a Cleveland team that just has too many players clicking on too many cylinders. Yes, the Raps won the regular season series. But that Cavs team is buried somewhere near the old Richfield Coliseum. This one has been hyper-hot behind the three-point line, and even if that cools off a bit, Cleveland’s found chemistry that it lacked for long stretches of the regular season. A healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have made a huge difference, and LeBron James has gotten a week’s rest. Too many weapons, too much motivation to return to The Finals.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m already on record in our series preview as picking Cleveland in 5. The Cavaliers’ 3-point tsunami, even if it’s not quite what it was against Atlanta, still is going to be too much for Toronto, which has trouble scoring even against less potent opponents.

Out West, give me Golden State in 6. Greater depth, the Warriors’ counters to OKC’s bigs and the defending champs’ gang tactics against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will decide this one. Then we get a repeat – but entirely different version – of last year’s Finals matchup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in five in the East. Let’s not underestimate the job coach Tyronn Lue has done in getting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to feel comfortable within themselves and with each other. The Cavs went to The Finals a year ago despite slogging through injuries and battling self-doubt. Now they’re healthy, confident and have added the 3-ball to their arsenal. They’re ready and capable to get back to June and finish the job.

The Warriors in six in the West. The Thunder are now playing with tremendous confidence that borders on cockiness. They’ve been getting solid contributions up and down the roster. That’s enough to make the series interesting. But the Warriors are still the best team in basketball, won the regular season series 3-0 and are on a mission to show all the critics of last year’s championship what they’ve been missing about depth and drive.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWarriors in 6. I could see it going 7. The Thunder will not go quietly, but Golden State beats opponents from too many directions. The Dubs’ health is obviously a big factor.

Cavaliers in 5. This is the Cleveland team a lot of people thought possible all season but has not spotted until recently.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the West, I’m going with the Warriors in a seven-game classic. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should enjoy a tremendous series, and their support help was a bit better than expected through two rounds of the playoffs. And yet: Golden State is a better defensive team, makes fewer mistakes, has Steph Curry and too many additional weapons that will ultimately wear down OKC in a long series.

In the East, folks are sleeping on the Raptors, who are battle tested after a pair of punishing series against the formidable Pacers and Heat, which they survived even after losing Jonas Valenciunas for good. Therefore, I suspect they’ll push the Cavs to four games.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Raptors needed seven games to beat the offensive anemic Indiana Pacers and the score-in-the-paint-or-don’t-score-at-all Miami Heat. The Cavs are more potent than both of those teams combined, but I’ll give Toronto a game because Game 7 on Sunday was the best they’ve looked in the postseason. Cavs in 5.

The Thunder have two of the most dangerous offensive players in the world and can slow down the Warriors by beating them up on the glass. But Golden State has the defenders to make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work hard for their buckets, as well as the league’s No. 1 offense, which never goes stagnant. Warriors in 5.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve gone with the Warriors all season and will not change my mind now, even with the Thunder looking like they are capable of beating anyone they face right now. The Warriors won 73 games for a reason. Golden State will need six games to finish off the Thunder and get back to The Finals for a chance to repeat.

Cleveland has been resting nicely after two sweeps in their first two playoff series. If they play half as well as they did against the Pistons and Hawks, they advance without much of a scare. I’m sure the Cavs would love to make it three straight sweeps, but the Raptors win one up North as the Cavaliers win it in five.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in 5. They’re at at full strength and playing their best basketball of the season.

In the West I’m going to with the Warriors in seven games, because for two years they’ve been the NBA’s most competitive team. Golden State was the hungriest contender in the league all season, which is an amazing achievement for the defending champs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are talented enough to prevail, but can they summon the intensity and focus necessary to upset Golden State? I’m not saying they can’t; I’m just pointing out that no one has done so for a long time.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland will win in 4. They are focused and playing so well right now, and Toronto will be tired and are still dealing with injuries.

On the other side of the country, as I predicted on last week’s Hang Time Podcast, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder will win in seven games. I know, my Twitter mentions are going to go crazy, but the Thunder are white hot right now, and Westbrook and Durant are playing at the peak of their powers. Every year, some team gets hot in the postseason. And right now it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Western Conference finals?

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: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Western Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Andre Roberson. No secret the Warriors will likely put Steph Curry on him on defense to give the MVP an “easy” assignment and let him rest, saving energy for the other end of the floor, while Klay Thompson takes on Russell Westbrook. Roberson’s offensive output in Game 6 against the Spurs — 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, along with seven rebounds and solid defense against Kawhi Leonard (23 shots to score 22 points) — was key in OKC’s series-ending rout. Roberson shouldn’t be expected to be a go-to guy every night, but anything he can do to make Curry move and expend energy will help the Thunder in the long run.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Sounds like we’re looking for someone from the underdog team, so I’ll go with Enes Kanter for Oklahoma City. I voted for Kanter as my Kia Sixth Man choice and that’s the guy the Thunder needs against Golden State, coming onto the floor (and staying out there) to wreak havoc with his scoring and work on the offensive glass. The Warriors aren’t a bigs-friendly foe, which makes the challenge even greater.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m going to assume here that Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will all be big and all have their shining moments. So I’m going to reach off the marquee and say that OKC’s Steven Adams must repeat his solid performance at both ends of the floor and step into the spotlight against the Spurs. The Warriors will play small to try to take him out of the game. But if Adams can catch the ball at the rim as he did in the last round, he can punish Golden State and together with fellow big man Enes Kanter could make this series, very, very interesting.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Enes Kanter. I might have picked him anyway, but now, with Andrew Bogut hurting and questionable for Game 1, OKC especially needs to exploit its size advantage inside. If the Thunder can hurt the Warriors on the boards, a possibility, it could take minutes away from Golden State’s small-ball Death Lineup. Maybe not — Bogut’s health could prompt Steve Kerr to go small sooner and more often. If sixth man Kanter can make the Warriors pay with his offense and rebounding, and not get exploited too much on defense, that would be an important step in the OKC upset bid.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: OKC needs something every game from Enes Adams. Or is it Steven Kanter? You get the idea. The big man combo of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams is the ace card for the Thunder. The center position is where they have the decided edge over the Warriors. Sure, the Warriors will combat by going small ball, but why should OKC play them at their game? Golden State is bringing a limping Andrew Bogut and, while Festus Ezeli had moments throughout the playoffs, he’s not as skilled as Kanter/Adams. Kanter came up big in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks and Adams was the same in the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. You sense a pattern, where both might loom large this round?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Thunder starting lineup was the best high-usage lineup in the league and was a plus-23 in 32 minutes against the Warriors this season. But Billy Donovan was hesitant to use it late in games, because Andre Roberson‘s inability to shoot made it easier for opponents to defend OKC’s offense. If Roberson can make a few shots (like he did in Game 6 vs. San Antonio) and make the Warriors respect him somewhat on the perimeter (or via off-ball cuts), Donovan won’t have to use Dion Waiters as much, the Thunder will play more minutes with their best lineup on the floor, and they’ll have a better chance of upsetting the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many obvious names to choose from, but we always expect the stars to rise to the magnitude of the moment. My pick, though, is the two-man big man tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter for the Thunder. They showed up in a major way as the Thunder eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals and will need to do the same if the Thunder have any chance of upsetting the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder’s ability to go big and force the issue on the inside on both ends could be the winning difference, if they are indeed to spring that upset.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Russell Westbrook is going to be crucial at both ends, beginning with his defense against Steph Curry and/or Klay Thompson. Can he neutralize them to some extent? And can he attack efficiently enough to occupy the Warriors’ defense and enable Durant and others to score from the perimeter? OKC’s hopes of creating an upset will revolve around Westbrook’s aggressive leadership.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are some obvious answers to this question – Russell Westbrook, for one – but I’m going to give you a deep cut here: The guy who I think the Thunder could really use a strong series from is Dion Waiters. For so long the Thunder have tried to find an off-guard to pair with Westbrook, particularly in fourth quarters – from Derek Fisher to trading for Randy Foye this season. Waiters was really good against the Spurs, understanding his role offensively and playing tough defense. The Warriors have the best backcourt in the NBA. The Thunder are going to have to at least attempt to slow them down.