April 23, 2018, 7:05 pm
We are now over a week into the NBA Playoffs and 15 of the 16 teams that qualified are still standing. The New Orleans Pelicans put on a show and swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the process. But that’s our lone sweep to this point as most first round series have exceeded expectations and been far more competitive than most imagined. This is the first time since 2014 that the NBA has only had one first round sweep.
No matter how many games it takes, the rest of the first round will wrap up this week. Let’s take a look at what to watch for in NBA action in this edition of the Week Ahead.
Western Conference – Rockets vs. Wolves (HOU leads 2-1)
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Game 4 in Minneapolis
Wednesday: Game 5 in Houston
Friday: Game 6 in Minneapolis (if necessary)
Sunday: Game 7 in Houston (if necessary)
Houston appeared untouchable just a couple of days ago. They fought through a poor performance in Game 1 to win anyway and then demolished the Wolves in Game 2. It was considered the most likely sweep of the bunch entering the first round and nothing about those first two games suggested otherwise. But then Minnesota came out in Game 3 with mistake-free basketball and shot nearly 20 percent better from deep than the Rockets en route to a 16-point win. It took an immaculate shooting performance for the Wolves to get the job done in addition to a very helpful game from Derrick Rose. You have to wonder if Minnesota can find that three more times though. If the Wolves can pull out another big win tonight, it changes everything. A lot of it will ride on Jimmy Butler who finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four triples last time out.
Western Conference – Thunder vs. Jazz (UTA leads 2-1)
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Game 4 in Salt Lake City
Wednesday: Game 5 in Oklahoma City
Friday: Game 6 in Salt Lake City (if necessary)
Sunday: Game 7 in Oklahoma City (if necessary)
Operation: Shut That S*** Off will commence in tonight’s Game 4. That is of course a mission created by Russell Westbrook in an effort to stop Utah’s hottest player through three games – Ricky Rubio. Rubio hasn’t been especially efficient but he’s still putting up 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.3 3-pointers, including a triple-double in the lopsided Game 3 win. If Westbrook does dedicate himself at the defensive end to shutting down Rubio, it may help. Or it could open things up for Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and a host of other members of the Jazz’s diverse attack. OKC has had big leads in each of their two losses using a quick-firing offense. But when things get stagnant at that end, the Thunder lose their way at both ends. They need Steven Adams to stay out of foul trouble to be successful. He’s played a total of 48 minutes in the last two games, both losses.
Eastern Conference – Celtics vs. Bucks (Series tied 2-2)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 5 in Boston
Thursday: Game 6 in Milwaukee
Saturday: Game 7 in Boston (if necessary)
Of all the competitive first round series, this one has been the most dramatic. Each team has taken an easy one at home and squeaked out another. Do the Celtics have enough talent to avoid the Bucks pulling the upset? One could argue that Milwaukee has the two best players in the series as the Greek Freak is averaging 28, nine and seven with Khris Middleton not too far behind at 26, six and four. The emergence of Jabari Parker and Thon Maker off the bench hasn’t made things any easier. Parker has very suddenly turned into a reliable scoring option and Maker has been a rim protecting machine, swatting five shots in each of the last two games. Boston played well at home in Games 1 and 2 and crawled out of a 20-point hole in Game 4 to nearly steal a road win. Despite a pure talent discrepancy and the Bucks’ bench coming alive, the Celtics are up for the challenge and will still need to lose a home game to lose the series. Milwaukee finished 19-22 on the road during the season so as good as they may look, stealing one in Boston won’t be an easy task.
Eastern Conference – Sixers vs. Heat (PHI leads 3-1)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 5 in Philadelphia
Thursday: Game 6 in Miami (if necessary)
Saturday: Game 7 in Philadelphia (if necessary)
If we’re judging things strictly based on wins and losses, nobody in the East looks better than the Sixers right now. After four games in each series, Philly is the only one with a series lead. Even when they play poorly, they do enough to get the job done. In Game 4, the Sixers turned it over 27 times and shot just 23 percent from long range. The Heat forced their will at the defensive end but got demolished on the boards and falling short, 106-102. Miami’s Game 4 failure is a real shame because it puts the Sixers in prime position to finish things at home on Tuesday. In Games 1 and 3, Philly made 18 3-pointers in each. Their shooting volume will be way up again in Game 5. If the Heat can survive another onslaught by J.J. Redick or Marco Belinelli and push the series back to South Beach, we’ve got another story on our hands. But until that happens, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and company have to love their chances.
Western Conference – Warriors vs. Spurs (GS leads 3-1)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 5 in Oakland
Thursday: Game 6 in San Antonio (if necessary)
Saturday: Game 7 in Oakland (if necessary)
It’s been a highly emotional time in San Antonio so it’s fitting that the Spurs stepped up and delivered an electric performance in Game 4. But the odds say that that will be their final home game of the season so it’s great that they sent their fans home happy. The defending champs shot only 38 percent and turned it over twice as much as the Spurs in Game 4 while Manu Ginobili turned back the clock with 16 points including three 3-pointers to put San Antonio over the top. Could that happen again on Tuesday? It’s not out of the question. But the Warriors won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 36 on their home floor and it’s not likely that Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green combine for 7-for-25 3-point shooting again.
Eastern Conference – Raptors vs. Wizards (Series tied 2-2)
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday: Game 5 in Toronto
Friday: Game 6 in Washington, D.C.
Sunday: Game 7 in Toronto (if necessary)
The Wizards have proven to be a completely different team at home in the playoffs. They’re now 8-0 in the last two seasons at home in the playoffs after tying the series up with Toronto. But the one problem that the Wizards are facing is the fact that the home team has controlled each game and have to figure out a way to buck that trend in Canada at some point this week. A lot of it will ride on Bradley Beal who was nothing short of incredible in Games 3 and 4. In Toronto, Beal has averaged 14 points on 39 percent shooting and three total 3-pointers. He turned that around with 29.5 points on 53 percent from the floor and nine triples in DC. If Beal can throw one of those games together north of the border, the Wizards could be the first 8-seed to pull off a first round upset since 2012.
Eastern Conference – Cavs vs. Pacers (Series tied 2-2)
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday: Game 5 in Cleveland
Friday: Game 6 in Indianapolis
Sunday: Game 7 in Cleveland (if necessary)
It’s been a wild back-and-forth series but we’re just about back to square one with these two teams. When Cleveland plays competent basketball, led by LeBron James and his ridiculous 33-12-8 stat line to this point, the Cavs win. But when every non-James Cav no-shows and the defense falls apart, the Pacers aren’t afraid to take full advantage. The key to a Pacers’ series win may obviously ride on Victor Oladipo, their all-world guard. But another major ingredient is the success of Bojan Bogdanovic. When Bojan scored more than 15 points this season, the Pacers went 25-5. They’re already 1-0 after his 30-point explosion in Game 3. If Indy can get another epic night from Bogdanovic, the pendulum swings back in the Pacers’ favor.
Marcus Smart (thumb) is targeting a return as soon as Game 6 on Thursday. At the latest, Smart will return in a potential Game 7 on Saturday.
Josh Richardson (shoulder) is questionable for Game 5 on Tuesday but he currently has every intention to play.
George Hill (back) did not play in Game 4 and should be considered questionable for Wednesday’s Game 5.
John Henson (back) has missed the last two games but the Bucks likely aren’t worried with Thon Maker’s success in Games 3 and 4. Henson is questionable but probably won’t see the floor in Tuesday’s Game 5.
Fred VanVleet (shoulder) is doubtful for Wednesday’s Game 5 but OG Anunoby (ankle) is expected to play for the Raptors considering the injury didn’t keep him out for the second half on Sunday.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amChris Paul - G - Houston Rockets
Chris Paul had a great Game 4 in Monday's 91-107 loss to the Jazz with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting with eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals, two blocks and two 3-pointers.
Paul had a nice breakaway dunk late in the fourth, showing that he's still got the hops and his defense throughout tonight was also solid. He brought back some of his vintage layup package, but the Rockets as a whole went cold from deep late in the game and couldn't stop Donovan Mitchell's barrage in the fourth quarter.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amJae Crowder - F - Utah Jazz
Jae Crowder finally had a strong night offensively in Monday's Game 4 with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with four rebounds, an assist, two steals and three 3-pointers.
Crowder had 18 first half points which would have been the most he's scored in any game this series. He was on fire to start the first period and his energy levels were much higher tonight. The Jazz finally got a strong game out of Crowder on both ends of the floor and he'll have to keep nailing shots for the Jazz to drag out this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:29 amRudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert logged 24 foul-plagued minutes in Monday's Game 4 and scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and three blocks.
Gobert was a net-positive whenever he was on the floor tonight and he's getting better at keeping up with Houston's guards on the perimeter. He's blocked several of James Harden's floaters over the past two games and has dominated the paint when he plays, but was limited due to fouls tonight. Derrick Favors (24 minutes, 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with 11 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block) more than carried his weight tonight as he kept the Rockets at bay with his suffocating defense inside the paint in the final period of action.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
Clint Capela struggled in Monday's Game 4, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
Capela went 2-for-6 at the line and he was severely limited in tonight's game as he struggled with Utah's physicality. The normal lobs he received from James Harden were much more difficult to control tonight and he had trouble finishing around the rim. We expect him to be much better in the next game.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amDonovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell carried the Jazz in their 107-91 win over the Rockets in Game 4 on Monday with 31 points on 11-of-26 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and three 3-pointers.
Mitchell finally got some help from his teammates tonight as they helped carry the team's offensive burden throughout the first three periods. In the final quarter, Mitchell scored the Jazz's first 13 points and ended up with 19 fourth quarter points. He had a dazzling spin move, some deep triples and a freakishly athletic alley-oop dunk all in the span of 12 minutes and has kept the Jazz season alive for at least another game due to his heroic efforts. Although the team as a whole has struggled offensively, Mitchell showed his superstar potential tonight.
April 23, 2019, 1:17 amRicky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz
Ricky Rubio scored 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting while adding 11 assists, three rebounds, a steal, a block and a 3-pointer in Game 4 on Monday.
Rubio played much better defense on Houston's guards tonight but was still unable to stretch the floor with his shooting as he went 1-for-7 from deep. If he can make incremental improvements on his defensive assignment while hitting a couple more triples, the Jazz have a good shot at extending this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:15 amJames Harden - G - Houston Rockets
James Harden scored 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting with three rebounds, four assists, two steals and six 3-pointers in Game 4 on Monday.
Harden is facing one of the toughest defenses in the league so the shots he makes are difficult. The step-back 3s were on full display tonight, but Harden had difficulty penetrating the Jazz defense whenever Rudy Gobert was manning the paint. Although his shooting percentages were high, he committed eight turnovers as the mid-range territory is one of the hardest to navigate. Gobert is predicting his floaters and Clint Capela couldn't grab and finish the usual lob passes which hampered Harden's success tonight. He's slowly figuring out the Jazz defense and if Capela can return to form we can expect his assist numbers to spike.
April 23, 2019, 1:12 amEric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon scored 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with five 3-pointers, a rebound, an assist and a block in Monday's Game 4.
Gordon started off hot and did all the stuff the Rockets expected him to do, but late in the game he was unable to hit timely shots for Houston. He'll get another crack at some open looks due to Utah's defensive scheme.
April 23, 2019, 12:21 amBlake Griffin - F - Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin may have limped through 28 minutes in Monday night's 127-104 Game 4 loss to the Bucks, but he put up 22 points, five rebounds, six assists and four threes.
Griffin helped keep the Pistons' season alive for almost three quarters on a bad knee before fouling out in the fourth to a standing ovation. He was at significantly less than 100 percent during this series, but it was good to see him lay it all out there as a last-gasp effort for his team. Griffin had a great fantasy season and there should be more of the same as the 30-year-old hopefully returns healthy in 2019-20.
April 23, 2019, 12:10 amReggie Jackson - G - Detroit Pistons
Reggie Jackson scored a team-high 26 points (9-of-20 FGs, 5-of-9 threes, 3-of-3 FTs) with seven dimes, three boards and a steal in Monday's Game 4 loss to the Bucks.
Jackson looked great tonight while keeping the Pistons in front for the majority of the game. However, the Bucks went on a big run in the third and fourth quarters to complete the sweep. Jackson, at age 29, doesn't have a whole lot of upside left, but he's certainly capable of putting together games like this once or twice a month to swing a head-to-head matchup.