April 29, 2018, 6:07 pm
The Utah Jazz never quit in Game 1. Unfortunately for Quin Snyder’s team, upsetting the juggernaut Houston Rockets will take much more than resilience in the face of a blowout.
The Rockets beat the Jazz 110-96 at Toyota Center on Sunday, once taking a 26-point lead on the short-handed visitors and reminding the basketball world why they’re legitimate title contenders. James Harden was downright dominant, overcoming some staunch individual defense by Utah to finish with 41 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Chris Paul played well in support, too, scoring 17 points and doling out six assists. The influence of Houston’s two-headed playmaking monster was even more apparent than those stellar numbers suggest given the absence of counterpart Ricky Rubio, sidelined through at best the first two games of the Western Conference Semifinals with a hamstring injury. The Jazz relied on a cadre of players to pick up Rubio’s slack, but none of them were able to come close to replicating his impact. Donovan Mitchell, 48 hours removed from an instant-classic performance during his first foray to the postseason, never quite found his range in Game 1. He scored 21 points on 9-of-22 shooting via a typically dizzying array of crossovers, Euro-steps and wrong-foot finishes, but connected on just one of his seven tries from deep.
Coming into this series, the biggest question facing the Jazz was whether or not they would be able to score enough to keep up with the Rockets. The absence of Rubio would complicate that answer against any opponent, obviously, but especially one that mitigates the advantages Utah’s multi-action offensive system usually presents. Houston, true to form, switched one-through-five in Game 1, letting Mitchell dance on the perimeter against overmatched defenders and daring ancillary offensive options to stretch beyond their normal limits. Utah just isn’t that type of team, though. Mitchell is Snyder’s only cog who has the verve to score on any defender in isolation, and Alec Burks, dusted off for 17 minutes to close-out the Thunder, was stymied at the rim time and again by Clint Capela and Nené. Utah’s size advantage was wholly inconsequential; Rudy Gobert didn’t take a single shot in the first half, and Derrick Favors rarely got an opportunity to capitalize in the post with a guard on his back.
Defending Houston was just as big a problem for the Jazz. Royce O’Neale, who got the start for Rubio, opened the game checking Harden, and certainly had his moments sliding his feet with the future MVP on the perimeter. Dante Exum, a flurry of active arms and legs, fared well at times, too. But possessions made difficult for Harden proved fleeting, and he consistently pushed the right buttons after beating his initial defender and meeting Gobert at the rim. There aren’t many players in basketball comfortable finishing over the likely Defensive Player of the Year with their off hand, but Capela, who had 16 points and 16 rebounds, is one of them.
— NBA (@NBA) April 29, 2018
Paul was even more tactful than Harden. He frustrated Utah all over the floor, especially in the first half, splashing threes and finding teammates for layups and open jumpers while taking full advantage of the space provided him from mid-range. Paul’s eyes lit up when the Jazz’s conservative defensive scheme failed, yielding a switch onto the ball from Gobert or Favors. When he’s draining pull-up triples with the ease of Harden, Houston is almost impossible to beat. With Utah finally gaining a sense of sustainable of momentum, Paul ended the third quarter by drilling another off-dribble three over the outstretched arms of Favors, putting his team back up by 18 points heading into the final stanza.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 29, 2018
The addition of Rubio really will make a big difference. He’s hardly the complete non-shooter he was a year ago, and is exactly the type of unique passer who can exploit the creases made smaller by Houston’s approach defensively. Rubio can make a difference in transition, too, a sometimes-dormant facet of the game for the Jazz that Snyder clearly hopes to emphasize throughout this series. Even with Rubio in tow, playing half-court offense against the Rockets is a losing proposition for Utah. Without him, there’s only so much the underdogs can do when Mitchell’s pull-up long ball isn’t falling and awaiting shooters fail to make Houston pay for offering extra help. The Jazz went just 7-of-22 from 3-point range despite Jae Crowder, who scored 21 points but couldn’t keep up with Harden and Paul off the bounce, connecting on five of his seven attempts.
Utah can’t count on a shooting effort like that from Crowder again, nor Favors or Gobert coming alive offensively. Mitchell needs to be playing near Harden’s level for his team to have a chance in this series, and even that might not be enough. Good vibes emanating from the Jazz’s second-half, in which they outscored the Rockets by 57-46, also deserve a caveat; Harden and company led 64-39 at intermission, essentially clinching a victory with 24 minutes left.
This series has only just begun. Utah is a much different team at home, and Rubio will eventually be back on the floor. But Houston is just a very tough matchup for the Jazz, a reality made clear by basketball’s top seed with matter-of-fact ease in Game 1.
April 24, 2019, 10:49 amJaren Jackson Jr. - F/C - Memphis Grizzlies
Jaren Jackson Jr. said that he wants to improve his "motor", his ball-handling skills and his shooting mechanics entering year two and he hopes to work with Kevin Garnett over the coming months.
Jackson and Garnett spent time together last summer and again in February when Garnett visited Memphis to feature Jackson’s game for his segment on TNT. "He has a work ethic that is a throwback that I'm very appreciative of," Garnett said in the segment. "I love working with him. He is the future. I look forward to him becoming the leader of Memphis." The rookie had an impressive season before getting shut down due to a bruised thigh, averaging 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.9 steals and 0.9 triples per contest. He has tremendous upside and owners in dynasty leagues should feel great about him.
Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 24, 2019, 9:56 amIvan Rabb - F - Memphis Grizzlies
Ivan Rabb plans to spend much of his offseason in the weight room as he tries to bulk up and show that he has NBA-level defense to pair with his expanding offensive game.
For all the charm of Rabb's smooth offensive repertoire, he knows his defense needs to improve. It was especially evident in an April 3 loss at Portland when Enes Kanter torched Rabb and the Grizzlies in the post for 21 points and 15 rebounds. Rabb posted almost identical statistics this season to those he posted in 36 games as a rookie, but the second-year post player knocked down 37 percent of his 3-pointers in the G League, showing a comfort level from beyond the arc previously missing from his game. Rabb's deal is non-guaranteed, so the Grizzlies could move on from him if they want but he is only 22 years old and has shown enough potential to likely warrant another season at the relatively low price tag of $1.6 million. Keep him in your radar as he might have an important role next season in what might be a rebuilding year for the Grizzlies.
Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 24, 2019, 9:41 amClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
The Rockets hope that Clint Capela has benefited from two more days of treatment for the virus that has sapped his energy through much of their first-round matchup against the Jazz.
Since opening the series with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting, Capela has averaged just 7.3 points on 47.4 percent over the past three games. He was 1-of-6 with seven rebounds on Monday while the Rockets got outscored by 20 points when he was on the floor. "He's trying to battle through it," Mike D'Antoni said. "I think he's been great because he's been able to play. Each day that passes, the virus passes and he'll feel better. Hopefully next game, he's back to almost 100 percent.” The Rockets will try to close out the series on Wednesday night in Houston and they are going to need their starting center to show some signs of life.
Source: Houston Chronicle
April 24, 2019, 9:04 amJason Kidd - Team - Los Angeles Lakers
Bill Plaschke of the LA Times is reporting that the Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd only as a favor to his agent, Jeff Schwartz, who is also the agent for Lakers forward Brandon Ingram.
Kidd doesn’t really seem to have a chance at the gig and the fact that he lobbied for the job even while Luke Walton held it is a tremendously bad look for the former All-Star guard. Jeannie Buss looks like she has no plans, at least not yet, to support current GM Rob Pelinka with bright, young personnel as he instead is being assisted in this coaching search by Kurt Rambis. The Lakers continue to target Monty Williams, Ty Lue and Juwan Howard and the list doesn’t seem likely to expand.
Source: LA Times
April 24, 2019, 8:51 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter suffered a separated left shoulder in the first quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday night, but he received an injection at halftime and gutted his way through despite clearly being pain at times.
“I just tried to play through it," Kanter said afterward. "We'll see what happens in the future." The Blazers will have at least through Saturday off as they await the winner of the Nuggets-Spurs series. Kanter’s teammates and coaches were impressed with his ability to play with pain but this looks like a serious injury and it remains to be seen if the Turkish big will be forced to miss any time.
April 24, 2019, 2:18 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard put up an instant classic performance featuring a game-winning deep three, 10 total triples and a 50-spot in Tuesday's 118-115 closeout win over the Thunder in Portland.
Lillard started off Game 5 with 34 first-half points while playing all 24 minutes. He finished with seven boards, six dimes, three steals and a block while shooting 17-for-33 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line. Despite a big second-half Thunder run, Lillard kept it going all the way until the buzzer as his shot from near the logo fell, giving him an even 50 and a series win as he waived goodbye to the Thunder.
April 24, 2019, 2:08 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum put up 17 points (8-of-19 FGs), two rebounds, two assists, one triple and two blocks in 32 minutes in Tuesday's closeout win over the Thunder.
McCollum sat a little more than usual in the first half after getting his third foul early, though he also ended with three fouls in another example of why coaches should just leave players in until they get their fourth or fifth. McCollum had been on fire in this series, averaging over 26 points per game coming into tonight's game. He and the Blazers now wait to see if they'll get the Nuggets or the Spurs in the next round.
April 24, 2019, 1:55 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter toughed out a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double over 32 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Thunder.
Kanter also had four assists and a block while shooting 6-for-9 from the floor tonight. He got pretty banged up in the first half, injuring his shoulder which was heavily wrapped after the game. Kanter averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds in under 30 minutes for the series and he looks like one of the best mid-season signings in the league at this point.
April 24, 2019, 1:48 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had 17 points on just nine shots with seven rebounds, an assist and a steal in 33 minutes on Tuesday vs. the Thunder.
It's not wise to rely on Harkless, but he can be the wildcard the Blazers need every few games. After closing out the Thunder tonight, they'll await the winner of the Spurs and Nuggets series.
April 24, 2019, 1:37 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George had a huge game with 36 points (14-of-20 FGs, 5-of-8 FTs), nine rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers in Tuesday's 118-115 road loss to the Blazers.
George was feeling it early, making his first five shots. He battled through first-half foul trouble and likely some lingering pain from his injury. But it wasn't quite enough as Damian Lillard out-played him in this one to end the series in Portland.