SANTA MONICA – The 2017/18 NBA Season Awards were handed out today with some deserving winners taking home accolades. A reminder, first, of the final nominees.
BIG SPORTS & BIGGER OPINIONS
The Toronto Raptors have done something that most people would never have thought would happen – they have fired their Head Coach who was recently named the Coaches Association Coach of the Year (and is a favourite to win the NBA Coach of the Year award), Dwane Casey.
The Raptors, under Casey’s tutelage, finished the 2017/18 regular season as the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference due to a franchise record 59 wins. However, looking back on Casey’s coaching career with the Raptors, this season wasn’t simply a flash-in-the-pan, it was something of the norm recently –
2011/12 Season: 23 wins, 43 losses (66 games) – missed playoffs
2012/13 Season: 34 wins, 48 losses (82 games) – missed playoffs
2013/14 Season: 48 wins, 34 losses (82 games) – lost in first round of playoffs
2014/15 Season: 49 wins, 33 losses (82 games) – lost in first round of playoffs
2015/16 Season: 56 wins, 26 losses (82 games) – lost in conference finals
2016/17 Season: 51 wins, 31 losses (82 games) – lost in conference semi-finals
2017/18 Season: 59 wins, 23 losses (82 games) – lost in conference semi-finals
Many people are saying that LeBron James is the cause of this crazy sacking – the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, bundled the Raptors out of the postseason in a cleansweep for the second consecutive year. In fact, the Cavaliers have been the reason the Toronto Raptors haven’t progressed to the NBA Finals in the last three seasons; knocking them out in each of those postseasons.
So is it Casey’s fault that they haven’t progressed? Is it LeBron James? Is it Raptors players going missing when they’re needed the most? The answer, a bit of everything from column A, B and C.
To kick things off, the Raptors had no direct match-up for James, no one that could contain him or restrict his movements on the court, his touches of the ball. You look at the Boston Celtics for example, they’ve got Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris who have both played on James throughout the season and have bodied him up well enough to throw him off his game slightly (slightly is enough of a difference-maker). The Raptors tried Serge Ibaka – too slow – they tried OG Anunoby – not strong enough – and they even had CJ Miles at times – too slow and not strong enough.
This is where Casey’s coaching could come into question – if no one player could hamper James, then what strategies could be put in place to make up for that? It didn’t look like there were too many in game changes or tactical surprises by the Raptors. Reports over the years and even recently have all said that Casey is a great coach, a great player developer and training coach but his in-game coaching shows little imagination – without being involved with the team, I can’t necessarily comment on that but if it’s true, could it have played a part? Absolutely.
What about players going missing?
Let’s compare the statistics for DeMar DeRozan from the series against the Washington Wizards to the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers –
Washington Series (4-2): 26.7ppg, 3.3rpg, 4.8apg – 10/26 from three, 34/42 free throws.
Cleveland Series (0-4): 16.8ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.8apg – 0/9 from three, 9/11 free throws.
The Cavaliers were able to stop DeRozan from getting to the free throw line and also restricted his number of shot attempts with their suffocating defense. As the lead scorer and main offensive threat for the Raptors, DeRozan not scoring certainly makes putting a winning score on the board that much harder.
That’s not to say that DeRozan is the main culprit – Serge Ibaka, CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and others all had a down series – he is just the focal point being the leader and main threat on this team. Kyle Lowry had a good series against the Cavaliers but even he was in foul trouble early in a number of games, making things a little more difficult.
It’s clear, I think, that Casey has been made the scapegoat when the finger could be pointed in a number of different ways but what’s done is done, the Raptors have parted ways with their franchise leader in coaching wins.
What makes it even more crazy is the good words said by all within the Raptors – including President Masai Ujiri, Lowry and DeRozan – about how great Casey has been for the franchise, how he did nothing wrong as a coach and how great he was as a coach.
Even other coaches like the Boston Celtics Brad Stevens and Cleveland Cavaliers Ty Lue had nothing but praise for Casey. I think it’s safe to say that even though the Toronto Raptors aren’t in Dwane Casey’s future, there will be another team that signs him on before too long.
The Portland Trailblazers suffered a shock series loss to the underdog New Orleans Pelicans, granting the Pelicans their first series sweep in franchise history.
As it always does after a surprise defeat, let alone four of them in a row, the fingers start getting pointed at players, coaches, support staff and, basically, anyone within the organisation as to who is to blame and what happens now.
Reports are already circulating that head coach Terry Stotts could be on his way out the door, those same reports are saying that the Orlando Magic will pounce if this is the case. Was Stotts to blame though? Possibly. Could he have done anything differently in terms of rotations, strategies, motivational speeches? Most likely, everyone can improve in anything they do.
Stotts and the Blazers have lost ten postseason games in a row but really, who expected them to end the 82 game regular season with the #3 seed in the stacked Western Conference? They didn’t go into the postseason with the best form line, losing seven of the last 12 or similar and yet they still held on to that third seed.
What about Damian Lillard, is he to blame? A superstar of the game, of the league, and he was well held by Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday. Below are Lillard’s averages from the regular season and this series against the Pelicans –
Lillard (regular season): 26.9ppg (44% shooting), 4.5rpg, 6.6apg, 0.4bpg and 1.1spg
Lillard (postseason): 18.5ppg (35% shooting), 4.5rpg, 4.8apg, 0bpg and 1.3spg
There will be plenty of fingers pointing at Lillard with his scoring and shooting percentages down on his regular season performances. There will be many people saying he goes missing in the big games. If his stats from the 2016/2017 regular season compared to the 2017 postseason are anything to go by, this isn’t true –
Lillard (2016/17 regular season): 27ppg (44% shooting), 4.9rpg, 5.9apg, 0.3bpg and 0.9spg
Lillard (2016/17 postseason): 27.8ppg (43% shooting), 4.5rpg, 3.3apg, 0.5bpg and 1.5spg
During this series he was just beaten fairly and squarely by Jrue Holiday on both ends of the court. Holiday played out of his skin on the defensive end to make life as difficult as possible for Lillard and he succeeded.
Do the Blazers need to bring in players? Have they got enough coming off the bench or enough alongside Lillard and McCollum in the starting lineup?
Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis and Maurice Harkless are all serviceable players and good at playing their role but they are fairly limited in what they can provide. Davis is a pure inside player, he’ll fight for a rebound and will be able to put the ball back up but he can’t step out and shoot from the mid range or further. Aminu has improved his three point shooting over recent seasons but is still very inconsistent, shooting at just under 40% from the field. Harkless is also inconsistent on the offensive end but is looked at as a primary defender on this team.
The two players who have the most upside, besides McCollum and Lillard, are Jusuf Nurkic and Evan Turner and both should be in the starting lineup. Nurkic saw his numbers drop ever so slightly this season but he got through essentially the whole season and has shown steady improvement. He could be a 18ppg, 12rpg player and that’s what the Blazers need – an inside threat to complement their All Star guards.
Turner, the former #2 overall pick, continues to show glimpses of what he can do on the court and he could be a constant 12ppg, 5rpg and 5apg player. He sees the court well, can play any position from the point to small forward and can take some of the decision making pressure off the two guards. It’s on defense where he slips up but the Blazers could find a way to hide him on a weaker opponent with little trouble.
The starting lineup moving forward should look like –
PG: Lillard, SG: McCollum, SF: Turner, PF: Aminu, C: Nurkic
Coming off the bench is where they could look to make some changes – Zach Collins they are high on and being that he’s a rookie, there’s time to get more game time into him during the next season, Pat Connaughton looks as though he could be a solid player off the bench and Shabazz Napier is a good backup point guard. Outside of those three however, anyone else could be on the block and released or traded elsewhere.
Playing Collins alongside Nurkic could also be beneficial, once Collins has more confidence and ability to match up at this level, due to Aminu being of slighter build and that would also improve their defense and take some of the pressure off Nurkic, along with keeping him out of foul trouble by being the sole “big man” on the court defensively. Collins is also able to step out to the three point line, keeping that same spacing that Aminu would have provided when he was on the offensive end.
So with that change it would look like the below with five starters and the four key bench players –
PG: Lillard, SG: McCollum, SF: Turner, PF: Collins, C: Nurkick – Bench: Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier.
That lineup clearly shows that they need to bring in another big man to provide back up off the bench – Robin Lopez who seems to be on his way out at Chicago could be a good back up here. Trevor Booker, although undersized, will get you rebounds and plays bigger than he actually is. Nerlens Noel, Tyler Zeller or Ekpe Udoh are also options that could be looked at for them.
There’s no need to panic at the Blazers, they simply got outplayed by the Pelicans and their players didn’t fire as much as they would have thought. A tidy up of the bench squad is all that’s really required, the centre pieces should be staying and so to should the coach.
The New Orleans Pelicans have achieved their first playoff sweep in franchise history with their win against the Portland Trailblazers late last week, giving them a 4-0 series victory.
On the back of some terrific play by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday the Pelicans were able to answer any challenge laid down by the Blazers. A quick rundown of the results of each game –
Game 1: Pelicans 97 d Blazers 95
Game 2: Pelicans 111 d Blazers 102
Game 3: Pelicans 119 d Blazers 102
Game 4: Pelicans 131 d Blazers 123
The Pelicans were guided through this first round by the aforementioned two players and Rajon Rondo who has been the missing ingredient in the Pelicans structures. Rondo allows Holiday to play off the ball more, allows him to be more aggressive going towards the basket and not worry about setting up teammates. Holiday is now able to create for his teammates based off his own aggressiveness without having to force anything, as was often the case when he was playing the point guard spot.
Most people wrote off the Pelicans when DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season ending injury and they definitely went into this series as underdogs. However those three players managed to lift the team over the more highly fancied Trailblazers, throughout the series those three players averaged –
Davis: 33ppg (57% shooting), 12rpg, 1.3apg, 2.8bpg and 1.8spg
Holiday: 27.8ppg (57% shooting), 4rpg, 6.5apg, 0.5bpg and 1.3spg
Rondo: 11.3ppg (49% shooting), 7.5rpg, 13.3apg, 0.3bpg and 0.8spg
They were also ably supported by the likes of Nikola Mirotic, who averaged 18ppg and 10rpg for the series, and E’Twaun Moore who were both either inserted into the starting lineup or coming off the bench.
Aside from the fantastic offensive outbursts from Holiday and Davis, the effort on the defensive end can’t be overlooked. Holiday, in particular, had the tough assignment of guarding Blazers superstar Damian Lillard and did a great job on the All Star guard – for the series Lillard averaged:
Lillard: 18.5ppg (35% shooting), 4.5rpg, 4.8apg, 0bpg and 1.3spg
During the regular season his averages looked a little different –
Lillard (regular season): 26.9ppg (44% shooting), 4.5rpg, 6.6apg, 0.4bpg and 1.1spg
The effort from Holiday this whole season cannot be taken for granted, it is just that this series was an absolute cracker series for him. It’s a story of perseverance for both Holiday and the Pelicans. During his first three seasons with the franchise he missed approximately 110 games with a number of injury troubles, he then took time away from the game to care for his wife while she was ill and finally, he manages to get a full season under his belt since he came across to New Orleans from the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Cousins out of the picture for now, the Pelicans needed someone to step up and provide that firepower alongside Davis and Holiday has answered that call – Rondo is setting the table for them nicely and as mentioned he has been the missing piece.
They move forward to the second round where they will face either the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs – that series currently sits at 3-1 to the Warriors.
The NBA postseason is upon us and each and every series is now underway, it’s a great time of the season where upsets and close shaves reign supreme. A reminder of the series match-ups that take centre stage at the moment –
(1) Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards (8)
(2) Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks (7)
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v Miami Heat (6)
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers (5)
(1) Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
(2) Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs (7)
(3) Portland Trailblazers v New Orleans Pelicans (6)
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz (5)
Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards – Raptors lead 1-0
The Raptors got off to the start they wanted in this series but they did have to work hard for it against the Wizards. These two teams have met in the postseason recently, back in 2015 when the Wizards swept the Raptors in the first round.
The Wizards had the lead midway through the final quarter before CJ Miles hit one of his four threes for the night to put the Raptors back in front and they managed to keep the Wizards at bay from that point on.
The Raptors shooting was a key point in this game, the team going 16/30 from deep – Miles hitting four and Serge Ibaka and Delon Wright each hitting three. Both of the latter players had big games, particularly in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.
Game 1 – TOR: 114, WAS: 106
Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks – Celtics lead 1-0
An incredible finish to this game with three three-point shots being knocked down in the final 15-odd seconds to send this game to overtime – including a shot from near half court by Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton to send the game to overtime with 0.5secs remaining.
The Celtics had great games from a number of players in the absence of Kyrie Irving – Al Horford had 24pts and 12rbds, Terry Rozier 23pts, Jaylen Brown 20pts and rookie Jayson Tatum finished with 19pts and 10rbds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks, along with Middleton, but he did get fouled out of the game during the OT period.
The problem for the Bucks in the end was their turnovers, they had 20 of them and the Celtics were able to capitalise with 27 of their points coming from those turnovers.
Game 1 – BOS: 113, MIL: 107
Philadelphia 76ers v Miami Heat – 76ers lead 1-0
Without Joel Embiid, still rocking the face mask (broken orbital bone) and sitting on the sidelines, the 76ers continued on their merry way, winning their 17th game in a row.
Ben Simmons was sensational as usual with 17pts, 9rbds and 14asts but it was the shooting and scoring of Ersan Illyasova, Marco Belinelli and JJ Redick who got the job done for the 76ers.
The Heat were competitive in the first half but were outscored in the second half 74-43 and in coming games will need more input from Goran Dragic and, in particular, Hassan Whiteside if they are to have any chance.
Game 1 – PHI: 130, MIA: 103
Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers – Pacers lead 1-0
A great start to this series by the Indiana Pacers taking the first game in the hostile Cleveland “Q”, led by Victor Oladipo.
The Pacers led from the get-go, with a fast starting 33-14 first quarter they never looked back. During the final quarter the Cavs managed to whittle the lead down to single figures but Oladipo and the Pacers had other ideas.
The Pacers were swept in the first round in the last years postseason by the Cavs and, with some recent quotes in the media by Cavs admin, they’ve come into this years match-up with a point to prove.
LeBron James finished with a triple double but that’s about all for the Cavs, they shot poorly, defended poorly and were simply run off the court by the visitors.
Game 1 – IND: 98, CLE: 80
Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves – Rockets lead 1-0
The Rockets survived a scare at home in game one of their series against the Timberwolves. There’s no real surprise that it was James Harden who got the Rockets over the line, “The Beard” scoring 11pts in a row for his team to put some distance between them and the Timberwolves in a tense final quarter.
Harden finished the game with 44pts and Clint Capela also had a big game, particularly in the first half where he had 20pts and 10rbds at the main break.
Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague played well for the Timberwolves and their were very good contributions off the bench from Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford. However, Karl Anthony Towns had a quiet game, only scoring 8pts in 40mins off nine shot attempts and he struggled to beat the Rockets suffocating defense on him.
Game 1 – HOU: 104, MIN: 101
Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs – Warriors lead 1-0
It is an extremely weird feeling seeing these two teams come together in just the first round of the playoffs, both teams are mainstays of the Western Conference Finals but one will be knocked out much earlier this time around.
Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green led the way for the Warriors, who are going forward without Steph Curry who has been out since March 23 with a knee injury.
Thompson scored 27pts on 11/13 shooting, Durant had 24pts, 8rbds and 7asts and Green had a near triple double as well with 12pts, 11asts and 8rbds.
LaMarcus Aldridge was held to just 14pts by the Warriors defense and he’s going to need plenty of help from the outside shooters and maybe some veteran magic from the likes of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for the Spurs to have any real chance in this series.
Game 1 – GS: 113, SA: 92
Portland Trailblazers v New Orleans Pelicans – Pelicans lead 1-0
The Pelicans came, they saw and they stole home court advantage in the first game of the series against the Trailblazers.
Rajon Rondo has been the missing piece for the Pelicans, or rather, a player like Rondo who can man the point and set the table for the other four players on the court – he finished with 17 assists for this game. This allows Jrue Holiday to be an attacking option while still being able to create off those attacks.
It was “The Brow” (Anthony Davis) though who continues to have big games for his team, finishing this one with 35pts, 14rbds and 4blks.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum once again paced the Trailblazers and they almost came back from a 19pt deficit during the final quarter but were just unable to get over the line. Someone else will need to step up and be an offensive option though.
Game 1 – NO: 97, POR: 95
Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz – Thunder lead 1-0
Paul George does seem to lift to another level when playoffs come around and he is a big reason why OKC were able to get by the Jazz in the first game of the series.
The Jazz got out to a fast start, leading the Thunder by double digits during the first quarter before George started knocking down shots to tie it up heading into the first break. He finished the game with 36pts, including eight from downtown.
This was a game where fans could see how good the “big 3” could be and how hard it could be to stop them in flight. Carmelo Anthony finished with 15pts in a fairly quiet display behind George and Russell Westbrook, who had 29pts, 13rbds and 8asts.
The Jazz got another good game from rookie Donovan Mitchell (27pts, 10rbds), who did injure himself during the game but continued to play on although was hampered as the game went on.
Game 1 – OKC: 116, UTA: 108
Ben Simmons continues to break records and lead the rookie charge in the NBA this season, although in this instance his Philadelphia 76ers fell short against the Los Angeles Lakers.
In a tight contest between two of the younger teams in the NBA, it was Brandon Ingram, of the Lakers, who hit the game winning three point shot with 0.8 seconds left on the clock to hand Simmons and the 76ers a loss at home.
Simmons, the number one overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, managed to have a fantastic game individually notching another triple double. In what is his third triple double, Simmons became the fastest rookie to notch a third since Lamar Odom did it in the 1999-2000 season. He finished the game with 12pts, 13rbds and 15asts.
He is also just the seventh rookie to record three triple doubles over the last 35 seasons, the others being – Jason Kidd (four, the rest of the names on this list had three), Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, Michael Jordan, Lamar Odom and David Robinson.
Simmons also broke an Australian record for the most assists by an Aussie in the NBA. The record was previously held by Matthew Dellavedova who once had 13 assists in a game for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015.
The season is still young and fans can still expect plenty more to come from the Aussie phenom throughout the remainder of the 2017-2018 season. The 76ers are an exciting team to watch and he is a big part of the reason why.
The Sydney Kings have made huge strides in covering up their weaknesses that have been seen in their games over the start of the season, making a number of roster changes earlier today.
The first move they made was releasing low-performing import Travis Leslie in a move they say is so they can “get stronger up front”, which indeed is one of the weaknesses of the Kings thus far. Leslie averaged 12.2ppg, 5rpg and 2.7apg for the Kings in his eight games for the team, six of those eight as a member of the starting lineup.
They then went out and signed former NBA player Jeremy Tyler for the rest of the season. Tyler has been playing in China over the past couple of seasons where he averaged 20.8ppg, 9.6rpg and 1.3bpg over the 2016/2017 season.
He was originally drafted by the then Charlotte Bobcats with the 39th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft and appeared in 104 NBA games for the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks.
Standing at 6’10” and with a wingspan of 7’5″, Tyler brings much needed size to the previously undersized Kings lineup. With Perry Ellis playing the role of an undersized centre and Isaac Humphries developing slowly off the bench the Kings have been woeful in rebounding, protecting the rim and interior defense, the signing of Tyler should alleviate a lot of the problems. His signing also means that Ellis can move back to the power forward position, where he is better suited, Brad Newley can move back to the small forward position and Todd Blanchfield can move back to the shooting guard position – these latter two players can switch between these two positions, both better suited there than at the power forward position where they have been playing.
The second signing for the Kings today was the signature of reigning NBL MVP Jerome Randle and he will be with the Kings for the remainder of the season. With Kevin Lisch out the Kings needed someone who can be the X-factor, who can be the go-to scorer and who can run an offense. Turkish club Bahcesehir is where Randle has been plying his trade recently and his time with that club has recently come to an end.
Last season, with the Adelaide 36ers, Randle led the league in scoring and was third in assists on his way to the MVP honours, as well as All-NBL First Team honours.
His signing means that defenses will need to collapse on him, often with double teams on the sidelines, leaving a slashing Newley, an open sharpshooter in Blanchfield or a drop pass to Tyler or Ellis down low – basically meaning that the Kings floor spacing and offensive options have just increased tenfold to what they have been thus far this season.
The signing of Randle means that the short-term contract of Jeremy Kendle is now voided and after this weekend he will no longer be with the team.
People have been calling for Andrew Gaze’s head and questioning his ability as a coach. On SEN 1116 a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the makeup of the team was causing the most problems, not the play calling from Gaze. With these recent additions to the Kings lineup they have filled the gaps that the roster, up until today, has had so we will now see just how good Gaze can be as a coach if the pieces on the court make more sense.