April 16, 2018, 4:25 pm
Welcome to the Week Ahead where throughout the season, we gave you schedule analysis, hot wire pickups and the injury report for the week that followed.
With the end of the regular season (congrats on that fantasy championship to all of you out there), we’re switching it up a bit. Let’s shift our focus away from our endless fantasy apps and number crunching and take a look at what’s going down on the hardwood. We’re two days in to the 2018 NBA Playoffs and we’ve already had some wild moments and results. Let’s take a peek at what lies ahead this week with some series-by-series analysis. We’ll start with the hottest team in the NBA.
Eastern Conference – Sixers vs. Heat (PHI leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Game 2 in Philadelphia
Thursday: Game 3 in Miami
Saturday: Game 4 in Miami
No series was as hyped as this one entering this weekend’s start of the playoffs. After all, the Sixers are the hottest topic in the league after finishing the regular season with 16 straight W’s. But people wondered allowed if they’d struggle in their first playoff appearance as a unit with so many young stars and Joel Embiid out for the time being. Especially with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra having so much playoff experience, including two titles to his name, this seemed like the toughest matchup for Philly coming out of the gate. Philly put some of those concerns to rest with Saturday’s resounding 130-103 win. Now people have to wonder if Miami is talented enough to keep it interesting. Ben Simmons ran roughshod over the Heat’s defense and found Philly shooters at will, adding up to a team playoff record 18 3-pointers made on Saturday. The Heat have some of the finest depth in the league and need everyone to contribute. Kelly Olynyk can lead the Miami bench to keep the Heat alive. He proved that with his 26-point effort in Game 1. But if the Sixers continue to make anywhere close to 64 percent from deep, which is what they did on Saturday, what the Heat do to counter simply won’t matter.
Western Conference – Warriors vs. Spurs (GS leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Game 2 in Oakland
Thursday: Game 3 in San Antonio
Sunday: Game 4 in San Antonio
While it may sound like a fun matchup, as has been highly publicized, most of the fun has been sucked out of this one. Stephen Curry is healing up for round 2 and the Spurs are still without their best player. Instead of a Warriors-Spurs epic for the ages, we’ve got Kevin Durant crushing defenders, Klay Thompson catching fire and the Spurs desperately trying to keep up. It’s hard to imagine any game in the series going differently than Saturday’s Game 1 which saw the defending champs cruise to a 113-92 win. All the Spurs’ hope falls directly on LaMarcus Aldridge who didn’t do much in Game 1, scoring 14 and only grabbing two boards. Aldridge had a six-game stretch from mid-to-late March where he averaged 33.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting 57 percent. That’s the LMA the Spurs need for the rest of this series in order to survive.
Eastern Conference – Raptors vs. Wizards (TOR leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 2 in Toronto
Friday: Game 3 in Washington, D.C.
Sunday: Game 4 in Washington, D.C.
Rejoice, Toronto. Your Raptors finally won a Game 1. Not only should Raptors fans be pleased about the victory but they should be very happy about the way it happened. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry didn’t exactly bring their best in Saturday’s 114-106 win. They combined for only 28 points, 11 below their season average and DeMar only hit 6-of-17 from the floor. Their playmaking was on point though as they combined for 15 assists and the role players feasted thanks in part to that passing. Serge Ibaka led all scorers with 23 and Delon Wright chipped in 18 off the bench. There’s little doubt that the Wizards have the talent to keep up with the Raptors. It’s more so putting it all together that remains in question, especially after such a dysfunctional season in DC. The Wizards’ plan is simple – put the ball in the hands of John Wall or Bradley Beal and let them create. But to make noise in this series, those two have to shoot better than 14-of-37 like they did in Saturday’s loss.
Eastern Conference – Celtics vs. Bucks (BOS leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 2 in Boston
Friday: Game 3 in Milwaukee
Sunday: Game 4 in Milwaukee
Game 1 was crazy and sets the stage for what could be a fun series. The Celtics won 113-107 in overtime, an overtime forced by a Khris Middleton 35-foot heave at the buzzer. That shot came after what was thought to be a Terry Rozier game-winner with 0.5 seconds left, a shot that literally froze Eric Bledsoe on defense. This series is so fun, frankly, because of both teams’ imperfections. The Bucks have the best player on the floor and Giannis Antetokounmpo drove that point home on Sunday, dropping 35 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. As everyone knows, the Celtics are missing some key ingredients to what they hoped would be an NBA Championship run when the season started. But, despite having a superstar and going up against a team heavily handicapped, the Bucks couldn’t get the job done on Sunday. They have to take care of the ball better – the Bucks turned it over 20 times on Sunday. And their defense as a whole has to step up and that includes Milwaukee’s superstar, Antetokounmpo, who got tuned up by Al Horford for 24 points and 12 rebounds in Game 1. The Bucks have a rare talent advantage for a lower-seeded team. But if Boston can continue to expose the Bucks’ glaring weaknesses, the Celtics can put this thing away and advance.
Western Conference – Blazers vs. Pelicans (NO leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 2 in Portland
Thursday: Game 3 in New Orleans
Saturday: Game 4 in New Orleans
This series’ Game 1 was perhaps the finest of the bunch as the Pelicans ran out to a huge lead only for Portland to come back and make it interesting in the final minutes. Still, New Orleans took a 1-0 lead with Saturday night’s 97-95 win. If you’re the Blazers though, it’s not time to hit the panic button as Game 1 went about as poorly as it could have. Anthony Davis annihilated the Blazers with 35 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks while Rajon Rondo flipped the playoff switch and went for six points, eight rebounds and a ridiculous 17 assists. Meanwhile, Portland’s dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum shot just 13-of-41 in the loss. Dame and C.J. should get themselves right for Tuesday’s Game 2 and they’ll need to as this one might as well be a must-win. The Pels have already stolen home-court advantage for the series and have one of the most unstoppable players on Earth. If the Blazers fall behind again on Tuesday, AD, coming off of his first-career playoff win, will do everything in his power to end this series quickly.
Eastern Conference – Cavs vs. Pacers (IND leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday: Game 2 in Cleveland
Friday: Game 3 in Indianapolis
Sunday: Game 4 in Indianapolis
The Cavs’ rollercoaster season continued on Sunday as they got absolutely pummeled by Indiana in Game 1. The final was 98-80 and it wasn’t really even that close. You could argue that no matter how well the Pacers play, this series is dependent on whether or not Cleveland bothers to show up. No disrespect to the Pacers. Victor Oladipo was dominant in Game 1, dropping 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. But Cleveland, already one of the worst defensive teams in the league, looked positively lost on both sides of the ball. The team shot 8-of-34 from deep while they averaged 12-for-32 for the season. Players not named LeBron James took only six free throw attempts and made just two. James came away with 24-10-12 but it wasn’t even close to enough. If Cleveland’s offense wakes up, they should be fine enough to win four of the next six games. But if they don’t, this could end up being James’ shortest playoff stint in more than a decade.
Western Conference – Thunder vs. Jazz (OKC leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday: Game 2 in Oklahoma City
Saturday: Game 3 in Salt Lake City
Mr. Triple-Double, Russell Westbrook and the depends-on-your-school-of-thought Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell were all anyone wanted to talk about coming into this series. But it was Paul George who took over Game 1, lighting the Jazz up for 36 points including eight 3-pointers. Though it may be a horrendous nickname, Playoff P had his way on Sunday. The Thunder need everything they can get. It took a career performance from George to come away with a 116-108 win but this series is a long story. Can George catch fire three more times? Can the Thunder’s offense continue to force the Jazz to change their gameplan? Sunday felt like a perfect storm for OKC and they took advantage. If the Thunder can continue to get guys not named Westbrook stepping up and carrying a heavy load, they’re tough to beat. But the Jazz were beaten by a team that simply made the shots that Utah gave them early, allowing George and the Thunder to get into a rhythm. It’ll be interesting to see where this chess match goes on Wednesday night.
Western Conference – Rockets vs. Wolves (HOU leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday: Game 2 in Houston
Saturday: Game 3 in Minneapolis
While Twitter argues over what a travel is, James Harden is basking in his 44-point outing from Sunday that carried the Rockets to a 1-0 lead over the Wolves. Harden was dynamite and carried his top-seeded Rockets to a 104-101 win but it was far from easy. “Perfect storm” was mentioned earlier and Minnesota nearly had themselves just that. Harden was the only Rocket doing damage from deep as Houston shot 3-of-25 on non-Beard triples. They hit 10 total, only two more than the Wolves and that number was expected to be much higher coming into the series. Derrick Rose played well, Taj Gibson made nothing easy and Andrew Wiggins looked reliable for the Wolves. It may have been the perfect opportunity for the Wolves to steal one. But a lack of aggression from Karl-Anthony Towns (eight points on nine shots) and a rather forgettable performance from Jimmy Butler (13 points on 4-of-11 shooting) have put Minnesota behind. It’s not easy to imagine a scenario where the Wolves get four more chances like this. Either way, they need KAT to be hungrier and Butler to be more efficient to have any chance at winning this series. And even if they do, the expected MVP appears to be ready for his playoff spotlight this time around and from what we’ve seen this season, Harden’s supporting cast will soon follow his lead.
Joel Embiid (face) has not been cleared for full participation in practices so he will not play in tonight’s Game 2 against the Heat. Embiid is still targeting a Game 3 return on Thursday night.
Donovan Mitchell (foot) had an MRI that revealed a bruise and his status is currently listed as questionable for Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Thunder. But while Mitchell only acknowledged the injury as a “stubbed toe,” it would come as a surprise to see him miss any time.
Ryan Anderson (ankle) has missed the last five games including Sunday’s Game 1 against the Wolves but he has not yet been ruled out for Wednesday’s Game 2.
George Hill (back) and Kyle Korver (illness) had a rough time at practice on Monday. Hill’s back is still tightening up after Game 1 and Korver was unable to practice altogether. Both are listed as questionable for Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Pacers.
Moe Harkless (knee) has not been ruled out for the Blazers’ Game 2 against the Pelicans. He ran with resistance bands after Sunday’s practice but has yet to participate in full practices so his status should be anywhere from questionable to doubtful for Tuesday night.
Fred VanVleet (shoulder) is questionable for the Raptors’ Game 2 tilt against the Wizards on Tuesday night.
May 29, 2020, 7:43 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.
Source: The Athletic
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:44 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.
The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.
Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:03 pmJulius RandlePF, New York Knicks
Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.
Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.
May 29, 2020, 3:46 pmJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.
That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.
Source: Celtics PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:40 pmRJ BarrettSF, New York Knicks
The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.
Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.
Source: Knicks PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:15 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
On a call with the Board of Governors on Friday, Adam Silver and the league office confirmed July 31 as a target date for the resumption of the NBA season, according to a report from Shams Charania.
We have to imagine that this is just one of the possible options on the table, as the league still has much to figure out. Charania adds that the league has four scenarios for the return: 16 teams move directly to the playoffs, 20 teams engage in group/stage play, 22 teams have games to determine seeding with a play-in tournament, and all 30 teams reconvene for a 72-game season with a play-in tournament. It's seemed unlikely that we'll have a full 30-team return given the stated priorities for player safety. There are still tons of logistical hurdles to clear but the NBA is getting its ducks in a row for a potential return.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 9:06 pmAndre IguodalaSF, Miami Heat
Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.
Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.
Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:52 pmZach LaVineSG, Chicago Bulls
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.
The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.
Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:08 pmLuka DoncicPG-SF, Dallas Mavericks
Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.
This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter