- Despite hanging with the Cavs during the first round of the playoffs, the Pacers know they need to upgrade the talent around Victor Oladipo this offseason in order to ease the burden that their star player is carrying, J.Michael of the Indianapolis Star relays. “As an organization, we’ll do some things to help the situation later,” coach Nate McMillan said about Oladipo struggling with the added defensive attention on him.
On Monday night, the Rockets and Jazz took commanding leads in their respective first-round series, joining the Warriors among the Western teams holding a 3-1 edge. In the fourth Western Conference series, the Pelicans have already advanced, so barring an unlikely comeback by the Timberwolves, Thunder, or Spurs, it looks like we may not get much more drama out west in round one.
The same can’t be said for the Eastern Conference though. Heading into Tuesday night, three of four series are tied at two games apiece, and the Sixers/Heat matchup – where Philadelphia holds a 3-1 lead – has also been entertaining and competitive.
While the Raptors, Cavaliers, and Celtics are still the favorites to advance to the second round, there are areas of concern for all three clubs heading into Game 5. The Raps fell back on same old playoff habits in Game 4 when they failed to move the ball as effectively as they have for much of the season; the Cavs’ supporting cast around LeBron James has been inconsistent; and the C’s have just been hit hard by injuries, though Marcus Smart‘s return appears imminent.
Meanwhile, the opponents in those three series are flawed, but dangerous. The Wizards are led by a pair of All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal, and that backcourt can be hard to stop when it gets going; the Bucks have one of the NBA’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo; and the Pacers are a deep and well-coached squad headed by a potential All-NBA guard in Victor Oladipo.
We’ve essentially got a trio of best-of-three series on our hands in the East, and while it’s still possible that we won’t get any upsets, the underdogs have proven that they’ll make things difficult for the conference’s top seeds.
What do you think? Will the Raptors, Celtics, and Cavaliers all survive their first-round scares or will one or more of those teams get bounced in the first round? Vote below in our poll, then jump into the comment section to share your thoughts!
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- Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue showed a lack of trust in the newcomers acquired by GM Koby Altman at the trade deadline during Game 4 against the Pacers, Ken Berger of Bleacher Report points out. During the final six minutes, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. were mostly spectators as Lue went with holdovers from previous playoff runs. “It was a close game down the stretch,” he told the media afterward. “So I wanted my veterans, the guys that I know.”
- Pacers power forward Thaddeus Young has been quietly efficient in the series against the Cavs, as Mark Monteith of Pacers.com notes. He’s shooting 56% from the field and leads them in rebounding, blocked shots, steals and deflections through the first four games. Young has a $13.76MM option on the final year of his contract next season.
Lakers power forward Julius Randle could wind up in his hometown of Dallas next season, Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype speculates. Randle would be a nice fit alongside guard Dennis Smith Jr. and the Mavericks have plenty of cap space to sign him. He played very well against them this season, averaging 21.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 5.6 APG on 66% shooting, Urbina notes. Randle would also slot in well with the Suns and Pacers, Urbina adds, though it’s more likely he winds up staying with the Lakers. Randle will be a restricted free agent if, as expected, the Lakers extend a $5.564MM qualifying offer by the June 29th deadline.
Also around the Pacific Division:
- Clippers shooting guard Avery Bradley could wind up with the Sixers if Philadelphia loses J.J. Redick in free agency, Urbina writes in a separate piece. Bradley’s spot-up shooting and man-to-man defense would make him a good fit with their young core, Urbina continues. The Spurs and Thunder, who were involved in trade rumors for Bradley this winter, could be potential landing spots. The Pelicans might also be interested in upgrading the shooting guard spot, which would allow them to move Jrue Holiday back to the point if they lose free agent Rajon Rondo, Urbina adds.
- Big man Kevon Looney has emerged as a key player for the Warriors and that won’t change throughout the postseason, according to Dieter Kurtenbach of the San Jose Mercury News. The Warriors’ first-round pick in 2015 has battled injuries during his first two seasons. Now healthy, Looney gives the Warriors another quality defender with length who guard all five positions, Kurtenbach adds. Looney could be plying his trade somewhere else next season, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Warriors declined their team option on him last October.
- Igor Kokoskov has Jared Dudley‘s endorsement as the Suns search for a new head coach, Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic reports. Kokoskov, 46, was instrumental in drawing up plays when Lindsey Hunter was Phoenix’s interim coach in 2013, according to Dudley. Kokoskov, who has interviewed for the Suns job, is currently a Jazz assistant. “It’s not like Igor is young,” Dudley said. “He’s had plenty of experience. It’s like Brett Brown in Philadelphia and Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. They put the right staff around them. That’s the critical part. I think he’s shown he deserves the opportunity.”
- Frank Urbina of HoopsHype offers up four potential destinations for Will Barton in free agency. Barton has spent the last three and a half seasons with the Nuggets and has expressed interest in sticking with the team, but Urbina also views the Suns, Pacers, and Sixers as viable suitors for the veteran swingman.
Most of Tristan Thompson‘s recent headlines have been for his off-court behavior, but that isn’t why he has fallen out of the Cavaliers’ playoff rotation, writes Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report. Thompson, who played just two minutes at the end of the Game 1 loss to Indiana, is coming off his worst statistical season since he was a rookie and may still be hampered by a torn calf muscle he suffered in November.
According to Swartz, Thompson’s playing time has declined because of his inability to handle the two priorities of a modern center: protecting the rim and shooting from long distance. He averaged just 0.3 blocks per game this season and hasn’t made a 3-pointer in his seven-year NBA career.
Kevin Love has taken over as the starting center, with Jeff Green at power forward. The back-up minutes in Game 1 went to Larry Nance Jr., who was acquired from the Lakers in a February trade. Thompson is a huge expense to keep on the roster if he doesn’t play, with two seasons and more than $36MM left on his contract.
There’s more today out of Cleveland:
- LeBron James believes the Cavaliers’ roster uncertainty throughout the season may have impacted them in the playoff opener, relays Dave McMenamin on ESPN Now. “I think we spent so much time trying to figure out who we were in the regular season and getting the right lineups and guys in and out and things of that nature, we could never build for the playoffs,” James said. “It was kind of like, build for the next game. So the postseason finally hit us and it hit us very well. And I think that can be the best teacher for us to know exactly what we should be ready for tonight.”
- If the Spurs decide to trade Kawhi Leonard, that could affect James’ strategy in free agency, suggests Brian Windhorst of ESPN. In a video posted on Twitter, Windhorst says if the Cavaliers fail to reach the NBA Finals, James and Leonard will have about six weeks to discuss their future and plot a way to end up on the same team. Windhorst names the Sixers and Lakers as teams with the assets to acquire both.
- With Victor Oladipo shredding the Cavs for 32 points in Game 1, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets that Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert wanted Oladipo instead of Anthony Bennett with the top pick in the 2013 draft, but decided to listen to the front office. Bennett, who is now out of the NBA, played just one season for the Cavaliers before being traded to Minnesota.
- The Grizzlies made a surprising move at February’s trade deadline when they held onto Tyreke Evans rather than dealing him to a contender. The Grizzlies have maintained that they want to re-sign Evans, but they’ll likely face competition for his services. Frank Urbina of HoopsHype speculates that the Trail Blazers, Pacers, and Sixers could be fits for Evans this offseason.
Despite Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweeting that Pacers guard Victor Oladipo was not the primary object of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert’s frustration over the failed trade that sent Paul George to Oklahoma City last summer, Oladipo implied that Gilbert’s comments add some extra motivation for Indiana in its first round series against Cleveland, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“You could say it added fuel to the fire, I guess you could say,” Oladipo said after the Pacers win in Game 1. “But that was so long ago. It came up recently, obviously, because we were playing the Cavs in the series, but I’m aware of what he said. Can’t control his opinion. All I’m focused on is myself and becoming the best Victor Oladipo possible.”
As for the series itself, many observers declared Oladipo to be the best player on the floor during Game 1, even with LeBron James on the other sideline. Oladipo credits his team’s effort – something seemingly often lacking for Cleveland – for his and the Pacers’ success this season.
“We’ve been playing like this all year,” he said of the Pacers. “Been playing hard on both ends all year. It just hasn’t been magnified. So it’s the playoffs now, we’ve been doing this all year. Now everybody sees, so it’s like, it’s kind of shocking to everybody, I guess you could say. But we’ve been playing hard. We’ve been playing our butts off on both ends of the floor all year.”
Game 1 is in the books for all eight of the NBA’s first-round playoff matchups, and several of those games set up potentially fascinating series. Six of the eight higher seeds held their home-court advantage in the first game, but some of those favorites looked a little shaky in their victories, leading to plenty of speculation about first-round upsets.
We’ll start with the weekend’s biggest upset, which took place in Cleveland, where the Pacers dismantled LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 1. It won’t be a surprise if the Cavs eventually pull out this series, but their 98-80 loss on Sunday was something we haven’t seen since James returned to Cleveland in 2014. In their last three first-round series, the Cavs have swept the Celtics, Pistons, and – one year ago – the Pacers.
Of course, these Pacers are a much different team than the squad swept out of the postseason a year ago. Victor Oladipo looked like the best player on the floor on Sunday, and players like Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Lance Stephenson looked great in supporting roles. This Pacers team was overlooked and underappreciated all season, and appear poised to give the Cavs all they can handle in round one.
The other Game 1 upset occurred in Portland, where the Pelicans edged out a two-point win over the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis (35 points, 14 rebounds) was the best player on the court in that game, but Jrue Holiday‘s impact shouldn’t be understated. Besides posting 21 points and seven assists, Holiday also locked up Damian Lillard on the other end of the court — Lillard made just six of 23 shots.
The Pelicans don’t have a whole lot of standout talent behind Davis and Holiday, but Nikola Mirotic (16 points, 11 rebounds) stepped up as a reliable third option on Saturday. If he – or another Pelican – can continue to support Davis and Holiday throughout the series, New Orleans should have a chance.
Elsewhere, the Raptors, Rockets, and Thunder had to battle to the end to hold off the Wizards, Timberwolves, and Jazz, respectively, but came away with Game 1 victories. The Bucks pushed the Celtics to overtime before losing Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo to foul problems and ultimately losing the game. None of those four favorites is a mortal lock to advance, though Houston is probably close.
The Warriors and Sixers took care of business with comfortable wins over the Spurs and Heat, respectively.
What do you think? Will we see an upset – or multiple upsets – in the first round of the postseason? Which lower-seeded teams do you think look like the best bets to advance to round two?
Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!
After a series of tiebreakers were conducted Friday night, the lottery odds for the NBA Draft have been finalized. Similarly, the draft order for teams outside of the lottery has been decided as well.
While a total of four two-way ties and one four-way tie were all broken by coin toss, the biggest winner of the night would have to be the Mavs who will now officially boast the third-greatest odds when the lottery is drawn on May 15.
Although the Hawks equaled Dallas in futility, both teams limited to 24 wins on the year, they’ll slot in one spot behind them at No. 4. That means, if neither team secures a top-three pick when the lottery results are revealed, they’ll just pick after them, the same as if they had won one more game. Both teams, however, will have nearly identical odds (13.7% versus 13.8%) of securing a top-three pick in the lottery.
The Bulls also won big today, edging out the Kings for the No. 6 spot. Sacramento will have an identical shot at landing at top-three pick, however.
The four-way tie between Utah, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Indiana ended with the Thunder at No. 20, the Jazz at No. 21, the Pelicans at No. 22 and the Pacers at No. 23.
That Oklahoma City pick will head to Minnesota while the 22nd pick will go straight to the Bulls as part of the Nikola Mirotic deal.
The Heat won the tiebreaker for the the 16th pick, ahead of the Bucks, and will send that to Phoenix as part of the Goran Dragic trade back in 2015.
Milwaukee claiming the No. 17 pick is particularly interesting since, had they won the tiebreaker, they would have had to flip the pick to the Suns as part of the Greg Monroe trade. Since they didn’t, they’ll keep the pick and send a protected first-rounder in 2019, so long as it falls between 4-16.
The Spurs won the coin toss between themselves and the Timberwolves and will now pick at No. 18. Minnesota’s 19th pick will go to Atlanta as part of a 2015 Adreian Payne trade.
As is always the case, the loser of any tiebreaker will end up with the better pick in the second round. In the event of the four-way tie, all four teams will simply be flipped, giving the Pacers the 50th pick and so on.
Here’s a rundown of what the draft order currently looks like, prior to the results of the May lottery.