May 2, 2018, 11:10 am
Lost amid the Houston Rockets’ casual blowout victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals was the losers’ quietly encouraging offensive performance after intermission. The Jazz trailed 64-39 at halftime, making the remaining 24 minutes of Sunday’s contest something close to a formality. The Rockets played like it, too, a development Mike D’Antoni lamented on the postgame podium.
“You get in the game and you’re up 27 or up 24, and you kind of let down and it’s hard to get it back,” he said. “Give them credit, they kept fighting. We did what we were supposed to do and obviously we’re all happy, but we can do better.”
“My job is to nit-pick and try to get better when we’re not good.”
Quin Snyder doesn’t have the luxury of picking nits in wake of a convincing double-digit victory. Utah was always the clear underdog in this series, and what transpired at Toyota Center on Sunday, at least from a big-picture perspective, made it hard to believe the Jazz have much of a chance. Despite Houston’s laissez-faire approach to the second half of a game that had already been decided, Utah never closed its gap to less than 11 points. Even far from the Rockets’ best for an entire half of a playoff game was enough to keep their road-weary opponent at a full arm’s length.
That’s a depressing reality for Utah, but not an unexpected one. The Jazz don’t have the horses to easily dig themselves out of a deep hole on the scoreboard, and Houston’s defensive approach makes doing so difficult for even the most high-powered offenses. Everything that took place in the second half of Game 1, which Utah won 57-46, deserves caveats of score, time and personnel. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any optimism to glean going forward from a Jazz attack that looked far more comfortable in the third and fourth quarters – especially considering its early labors.
“We weren’t making the right decisions, and we were too slow in making whatever decisions we were making, you know, particularly early in the game, but really throughout the game,” Snyder said. “We got better at it as the game went on, but that’s the challenge. Their length, their quickness, what they do, you have to make quick decisions, and you have to know where you’re going with the ball even before you get it, or at least have an idea.”
Utah shot 57.1 percent from the field and had a 109.0 offensive rating in the second half, per NBA.com/stats. Those numbers are varying degrees of impressive, but definitely impressive nonetheless, and support the notion that Snyder touched on after the game.
Making reads on the fly and immediately taking action is the Jazz’s surest means of overcoming the Rockets’ defense. Sometimes, that’s as simple as Donovan Mitchell aggressively going at subpar defenders after they switch onto the ball. Why wait for another screen, yielding another switch, or Houston to send extra help behind the initial point of attack when Mitchell suddenly has James Harden or Ryan Anderson in his path?
Involving Harden in as many actions as possible won’t only test his mettle defensively, but also tire him out on the other end. The more he has to communicate, the greater likelihood his tendency to space out will rear its ugly head.
Attacking one defender is not the way Utah normally plays. It ranked seventh in passes per game and touches per game this season despite playing at the league’s sixth-slowest pace. “Advantage basketball,” the way Snyder describes his ballyhooed multi-side, multi-action offensive system, isn’t about one player exploiting one defender. But there are only so many advantages the Jazz have at their disposal against a defense like Houston’s; they can’t sidestep individual ones with anywhere close to the frequency they did throughout 2017-18 and expect to score efficiently in the second round.
The same holds true with regard to transition. A whopping 81.9 percent of Utah’s possessions, fifth-most in basketball, came in the half court during the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass. Running just isn’t a big part of the Jazz’s finely-tuned ethos on offense. Snyder implored his team to push the pace from the opening tip regardless, knowing full well that Utah always had its best chance to score when the Rockets weren’t set defensively.
Of course, creating transition opportunities is far easier when the Jazz get a stop. Harden has a penchant for lolling back on defense, one Utah’s athletes routinely exploited in the second half after Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors stymied the future MVP and his teammates at the rim.
Alec Burks, by the way, should remain a factor for Utah even after Ricky Rubio returns to the lineup. He has more off-dribble verve than any player on his team save for Mitchell. A nagging habit of stopping the ball and long-time lack of reliable shooting range make Burks a tough fit for the Jazz’s normal offensive schemes, but his ability to break down defenders looms far larger than normal in this series.
The absence of a playmaking savant like Rubio does, too. He sees everything offensively, and not just what’s already occurred or is in the process of unfolding. Rubio plays a step ahead of the defense, creating passing angles with an extra dribble, ball fake or even more subtle forms of manipulation. Mitchell has that nascent ability, and Dante Exum’s pace in the halfcourt and open floor caused problems for Houston at times in Game 1.
Joe Ingles is a high-level passer, too, but isn’t quite equipped to shoulder the burden of a full-time floor general. He’s also a deadeye shooter, crucial to Utah spacing the floor as the Rockets offer second-line help behind a switch. Rubio is the guy who will unlock all the nuance – back cuts, slipped screens and other seemingly random off-ball movements – that Houston’s defense forces every team to muster.
In the second half, the Jazz did a much better job of finding those wrinkles than they did early. Mitchell used a buzz of screens away from the ball to put his defender at ease before bursting to the paint. Utah began using the Rockets’ readiness to switch against them, with the screener sprinting out of would-be picks on the ball to open driving lanes. They also found success running ball screens closer to the basket, where defenders have to stand even taller on their toes to avoid missteps.
Rubio, for instance, would have found Gobert or Favors slipping to the rim after setting “floppy”-style screens for Ingles in the clip below.
Much was made of Gobert failing to attempt a single shot in the first half. More casual postseason viewers will be disappointed to learn that Utah won’t be trying to beat switches by throwing the ball to its towering seven-footer on the block. Gobert just isn’t that type of player. Favors has more utility in that regard, but is still his best finishing plays as opposed to creating them.
After a switch, the Jazz’s big men need to do a much better job rolling into deep post position, sealing smaller defenders on their backs. Even if ball handlers don’t find them, and Rubio almost always will, establishing that space in the paint will allow for easy offensive rebounding opportunities. Gobert and Favors just didn’t take advantage of their size nearly enough in Game 1.
Along those same lines, Utah’s shooters can’t be stagnant after goading a switch and giving up the ball. Immediately relocating and preparing for a kick-out will create good catch-and-shoot looks that the Jazz would normally get from forcing a more traditional defense into rotation after rotation. Against the Rockets, they have to be comfortable letting instincts take over.
In the first half, when Utah was getting run out of Toyota Center, cameras caught Snyder urging his team to let the game dictate its play. “We’re not gonna figure it out in the huddle right now,” he said. “We’re gonna figure it out on the floor.”
The Jazz started doing just that over the last 24 minutes of Game 1, circumstances of time and score be damned. On Wednesday night, we’ll learn what they figured out from the film.
June 2, 2020, 10:02 pmCorey BrewerSF, Sacramento Kings
Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.
Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.
June 2, 2020, 9:47 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.
June 2, 2020, 8:45 pmJohn WallPG, Washington Wizards
John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."
Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.
Source: The Athletic
June 2, 2020, 8:27 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.
An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.
Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 7:58 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.
With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 12:28 pmStephen CurryPG, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 8:03 pmGabe VincentPG, Miami Heat
Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon, stated that Gabe Vincent's knee is "good to go".
It sounds like Vincent would have no problem being NBA ready if the Heat decided to call up the two-way guard when play hopefully resumes July 31. Vincent is a strong 3-point shooter with the ability to attack a closeout, but it is still unlikely the Heat will need to put him on the floor for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 7:51 pmShake MiltonSG, Philadelphia Sixers
According to projections by Mike O'Connor and Derek Bodner of The Athletic, Shake Milton will be a starter for the Sixers whenever play relaunches.
Milton was thriving for the Sixers when the season was suspended due to COVID-19, and some risk remains that Ben Simmons will bump him from the rotation when the stoppage in play is lifted. In 16 starts with the Sixers, Milton averaged 14.1 points, 2.2 3-pointers, 3.6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. As a 3-pointer specialist along, Milton has earned a slot in 12-team formats, but things are going to be more difficult when he is forced to play off-ball in a fully healthy lineup in Philadelphia
Source: The Athletic
May 31, 2020, 7:42 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
On a recent ESPN podcast featuring Adrian Wojnarowski and his colleague Zach Lowe, Wojnarowski stated that Kevin Durant (torn Achilles) would not play for the Nets this year.
Wojnarowski went onto say that he had no source that had relayed that information to him. The Nets have largely been deferring to Durant and the medical staff when it comes to his prospects for playing this year. While the organization may get hopeful that KD will lace it up for a playoff run, all signs are still pointing to him waiting until 2020-21.
Source: Anthony Puccio on Twitter