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Playoff Dossier: Rockets v. Blazers


Rockets Blazers

Schedule:

Game 1 – Sunday, 4/20 @ Houston, 9:30 p.m. TNT

Game 2 – Wednesday, 4/23 @ Houston, 9:30 p.m. TNT

Game 3 – Friday, 4/25 @ Portland, 10:30 p.m. ESPN

Game 4 – Sunday, 4/27 @ Portland, 9:30 p.m. TNT

Game 5 * Wednesday, 4/30 @ Houston, TBD TBD

Game 6 * Friday, 5/2 @ Portland, TBD TBD

Game 7 * Sunday, 5/4 @ Houston, TBD TBD

The Basics

HOUSTON

 

PORTLAND

 54-28

Record

54-28
 33-8

Home

31-10
 21-20

Away

23-18
 10-7

Since 3/15

11-5
 7-6

3 Pts or Less

8-9
 3-2

OT

5-2
 25-19

v. >.500 teams

20-22

 108.5

Off Rating

108.2

102.9

Def Rating

104.7

 0.97 (5th in the NBA)

PPP, Offense

0.96 (7th in the NBA)

 0.88 (7th in the NBA)

PPP, Defense

0.90 (15th in the NBA)

Read more…


Playoff Dossier: Clippers v. Warriors

FIGHT

Schedule:

Game 1 – Saturday, 4/19 @ L.A. Clippers, 3:30 p.m.

Game 2 – Monday, 4/21 @ L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m. TNT

Game 3 – Thursday, 4/24 @ Golden State, 10:30 p.m. TNT

Game 4 – Sunday 4/27 @ Golden State 3:30 p.m.

Game 5 * Tuesday, 4/29 @ L.A. Clippers TBD TBD

Game 6 * Thursday, 5/1 @ Golden State TBD TBD

Game 7 * Saturday, 5/3 @ L.A. Clippers TBD TNT

The Basics:

L.A. Clippers

v. 

Golden State

 59-23

Record

51-31

 34-7

Home

27-14

 25-16

Away

24-17

12-3

Since 3/15

10-5

 4-3

3 Pts or Less

11-8

2-1

OT

3-3

25-17

v. >.500 teams

19-25

109.3

Off Rating

105.0

101.9

Def Rating

99.5

 0.99, 2nd in the NBA

PPP, Offense

0.94, 12th in the NBA

 0.87, 6th in the NBA

PPP, Defense

0.86, 3rd in the NBA

Read more…


Playoff Dossier: Pacers v. Hawks

Indiana Pacers v Atlanta Hawks

Schedule:

Game 1 – Saturday, 4/19 @ Indiana, 7 p.m. ESPN

Game 2 – Tuesday, 4/22 @ Indiana, 7 p.m. TNT

Game 3 – Thursday, 4/24 @ Atlanta, 7 p.m. NBA TV

Game 4 – Saturday, 4/26 @ Atlanta, 2 p.m. TNT

Game 5 * Monday, 4/28 @ Indiana, 8 p.m. NBA TV

Game 6 * Thursday, 5/1 @ Atlanta, TBD TBD

Game 7 * Saturday, 5/3 @ Indiana, TBD TNT

The Basics:

Indiana

 v.

Atlanta

 56-26

Record

38-44

 35-6

Home

24-17

 21-20

Away

14-27

 8-9

Since 3/15

10-9

 4-3

3 Pts or Less

8-9

 4-0

OT

4-1

 22-18

v. >.500 teams

14-31

101.3

Off Rating

 103.3

 96.7

Def Rating

104.2

 0.91, 21st in the NBA

PPP, Offense

 0.95, 10th in the NBA

 0.83, 1st in the NBA

PPP, Defense

0.90, 15th in the NBA

Read more…


Pop’s Postgame Presser

POP

Everyone knows how Gregg Popovich treats the media. Most of the time he’s, uh, cranky. I’ve heard and read stories about how clever and engaging he can be, but those instances are few and far between. The general basketball-watching public knows Pop as a prickly curmudgeon, thanks in large part to his in-game meet-and-greets with Craig Sager on TNT, or one of the many sideline reporters at ESPN. Almost all of the interviews are stilted and awkward, the old coach offering unnecessarily terse responses to boiler-plate questions. Most of the time, I mute the television right before it starts. It’s too uncomfortable for me to handle.

Tuesday night, however, I had the opportunity to witness a Popovich presser in person, and I just couldn’t pass it up. The Spurs had just been inexplicably trounced by the severely shorthanded Wolves, and he was certain to be grumpy. I wanted to see if his brusque demeanor was an act he saves for Sager; I learned that it certainly isn’t. Pop was in rare form. What follows is the full transcript – all 42 seconds of Gregg Popovich’s postgame media availability on April 8th, 2014. (Note: the descriptions of his demeanor are based on my perception, and are therefore subjective. The words are 100% accurate.)

GREGG POPOVICH: “They basically forced us to lay an egg. We were awful. Got us with their aggressiveness. Played great D. Great pace on offense. And they beat us in every facet of the game.”

(A few seconds of awkward silence follows. Popovich looks at the ground, stone-faced.)

JON KRAWCZYNSKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS: “Rubio’s aggressiveness, he shot -”

GREGG POPOVICH (interrupting): “He’s good. He’s great.”

UNIDENTIFIED LOCAL MEDIA MEMBER: “What’d you think of Dieng? Gorgui?”

GREGG POPOVICH (sighing, rubbing hands on his face): “Um. I thought he did a lot. He worked hard.”

(Several seconds of awkward silence follows. Popovich peers around the circle of reporters.)

UNIDENTIFIED SAN ANTONIO MEDIA MEMBER: “Manu okay? He left the game early…”

GREGG POPOVICH: “Uh, he got kneed in the back of the knee. So, uh. Didn’t have anything to do with the game, though. They just kicked our ass.”

(Silence)

GREGG POPOVICH (walking away from the group of reporters): “Any questions?”

(Scene)

I felt like applauding. I didn’t. I don’t think it would’ve gone over too well.

William Bohl covers the Timberwolves at BreakTheHuddle.com and is a contributor to A Wolf Among Wolves, part of the ESPN TrueHoop Network. He can be reached at breakthehuddle@gmail.com.


Should Dante Play?

NCAA Final Four Practice - Villanova Wildcats

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves face a very delicate situation regarding Dante Cunningham, who’s been arrested twice in the past week. I unpacked all the pertinent details regarding whether or not he should be allowed to suit up during the season’s final handful of games over at A Wolf Among Wolves:

Obviously, both incidents are troubling. Cunningham is accused of exhibiting pretty despicable behavior. After spending around 36 hours in custody, he was released on Friday night, having posted $40,000 bail, and caught a plane to Orlando in time for the Wolves’ tilt against the Magic on Saturday. Many in the Twin Cities media, as well as fans on social media, wondered why he was allowed to play in the midst of his ongoing legal issues. Some felt that putting Cunningham on the floor sent the wrong message, that if there was a time to send a zero-tolerance message by sitting or releasing a player, this was it.

Responding to the Cunningham dilemma with such a black-and-white resolution ignores the complexities of the situation. Obviously, domestic assault and physical threats are not morally complex issues; if Cunningham did what he’s accused of doing, he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But we’re all innocent until proven guilty – the legal process must be allowed to run its course. It’d be imprudent to rush to judgment prior to its conclusion.

You can check out the full thing right here.


If a Team Falls in the Forest

TV

 

I recapped the Wolves 114-104 loss to the Orlando Magic over at A Wolf Among Wolves, which many in the Twin Cities didn’t see, because FSN North didn’t cover it.

“Did you even watch this game?

There were several reasons why you probably didn’t. For one, Fox Sports North didn’t televise it, even though its broadcast team was already in Florida, having covered Friday night’s victory over the Miami Heat. So, unless you’ve got League Pass, you were out of luck. Secondly, it’d be tough to blame you for skipping out once you heard the litany of players who’d be unavailable for the Wolves: Kevin Love (back spasms), Kevin Martin (ankle), Shabazz Muhammad (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle). The injuries, plus the release of A.J. Price on Thursday, left Minnesota with 10 available players, one of whom was Alexey Shved, so really, the number was more like 9. Last, and not least, the Final Four was going on, and both of its games were wildly entertaining, so it’d be understandable if that distracted you.”

Check out the full thing right here.


Lesson Learned

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

 

Tuesday, I recapped the Wolves’ 114-104 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers for A Wolf Among Wolves. The full thing’s available here, but the following’s a brief excerpt from the recap:

Rick Adelman theorized at the postgame podium that the Wolves’ 4th quarter effort was a teachable moment. After 23 years as an NBA head coach, it’s reasonable to assume the 67-year-old Adelman has been sustained, at least in part, by a love of teaching. “Last night, I put the (bench) group in with 3 or 4 minutes to play and they acted like we were doing them a disservice. They just kind of let it go. Tonight, they came in with aggression and got something done. and maybe that’s a lesson learned.”

“We’ve got 9 games to go, Adelman continued. “We’ve got to come out every game, every quarter and bust it. They owe themselves that, they owe their teammates that, the organization, the fans.”


Infiltration

Steve-Tweet

 

I recapped Wednesday night’s Wolves victory over the Hawks over at A Wolf Among Wolves, though I spent much of the piece describing the kerfuffle the tweet above caused…

Naturally, such a provocative statement captivated the assembled media, but there was one person who was not amused: Mr. Seehusen himself. Once he caught wind of the tweet, he made his way to the Wolf Among Wolves section of press row, and when he arrived, he confiscated the press passes of both Zach and Steve. (I’m not sure why Zach was lumped in with Steve, but to keep myself safe from going down, too, I hid under the table as soon as I saw him approaching us.*) In my opinion, the black-on-black look, paired with the popping, electric blue tie, totally worked.*

Catch the full thing here.


Money Pits

Anthony Shved Randolph

Three semi-forgotten, end-of-the-bench players with guaranteed money coming their way in 2014-15

by William Bohl

As 2013-14 draws to close, it’s time to begin looking ahead to the offseason and beyond. The incoming draft class figures to atone for its lack of superstar-power by providing plenty of depth. Each of Miami’s Big Three (James, Wade, and Bosh) possesses an early termination option, making them free agents if they choose to be, ditto for the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony. Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay have to weigh the expensive player options available for 2014-15 against exploring the open market. Plenty of teams will have tough decisions to make regarding their restricted free agents, as Greg Monroe (DET), Eric Bledsoe (PHX), Gordon Hayward (UTA), Avery Bradley (BOS) and Isaiah Thomas (SAC) will be free to sign offer sheets. Dirk Nowitzki, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat highlight a less-than-exciting unrestricted free agent crop.

The flip side of all those impact players, who could sway the balance of power in the NBA through their actions in the offseason, are the bad contracts teams are stuck with. There are many famous ones, highlighted annually by Bill Simmons himself: Steve Nash, Landry Fields, Kendrick Perkins, Marcus Thornton, Carlos Boozer, Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, etc. But what about the smaller contracts, given out to players who can barely reach the floor? The ones that suck cap space at the end of the bench, making offseason finagling more complicated than it ought to be?

The three deals below are money pits, guaranteed contracts in 2014-15 for players who are waaaay below replacement level (for various reasons), yet are assured paychecks next season. Joel Anthony, Alexey Shved and Anthony Randolph fly under the radar, functioning primarily as DNP-CDs for mediocre-to-bad teams on a nightly basis, but today, they get their (ignominious) time in the sun.

Joel Anthony, Boston Celtics

2013-14 statistics: 27 games, 0 starts, 40 DNP-CDs, 102 minutes, 0.6 points / 1.0 rebounds / 0.3 blocks per game, 35% FGs.

2014-15 salary: $3.8 million (player option)

Miami, looking to lighten their luxury tax burden, shipped Anthony to the Celtics on January 15th, as part of the three-team deal that also involved Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks (who went to the Warriors) and Toney Douglas (who the Warriors sent to the Heat). Anthony, a 31-year-old native of Montreal, was a two-time champion with Miami and played a major role in their Finals run in 2011, as well. Undrafted out of UNLV, he developed a reputation as a tireless worker whose yeoman efforts on the defensive end were vital in the early days of the Big Three’s run in Miami.

A week after Lebron, Bosh, and Wade inked their max-level deals to come to town, Anthony re-signed with the Heat for 5 years, $18.25 million, the final year (2014-15) a $3.8 million player option. The length of the deal was a concern, but Miami had to find cap-friendly deals (in the short term) in order to fill out the rest of their roster around the big money newcomers. Anthony’s offensive upside was limited, to say the least, but he had helped anchor a top-15 defense in 2008-09 and a top-5 defense in 2009-10, so he was worth the risk.

In 2010-11, the Heat led the league in opponent field goal percentage inside 5 feet, and the Canadian center, who logged a career-high 1,463 minutes that season, had a lot to do with it. He started 13 playoff games, including every game of the Finals, where the Heat fell to the Mavericks in 6. The 2011-12 regular season featured more of the same, but in the 2012 playoffs, Anthony began to disappear. He played 2:06 of the entire Finals against the Thunder. In 2012-13, for the first time since he became a regular member of Miami’s rotation (in ’08-’09), the Heat’s defense was worse (-2.5 points per 100 possessions) when he was on the floor, as opposed to better. The writing was on the wall. He barely played during Miami’s run to a second title, and in 2013-14, he could barely get on the court, period.

Part of his ouster in Miami had to do with a philosophical shift – the desire to play Chris Bosh at the five, spreading the floor, beating teams with smaller lineups. Part of it concerned the signing of Greg Oden; once it appeared that Oden would be healthy enough to keep around, Anthony became expendable. His inability to get on the court in Boston has more to do with being buried behind young big men who deserve playing time to gain NBA experience (Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Vitor Faverani).

There’s no way Joel Anthony would get a deal comparable to his player option, so he’s almost certain to exercise it. At this point, he’s a defensive specialist who isn’t great at defense and is a non-factor on offense. He serves only to occupy space in blowouts – 20 of the 27 games he’s appeared in this season have been decided by double digit points – and little else.

Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves

2013-14 statistics: 56 games, 0 starts, 14 DNP-CDs, 606 minutes, 4.0 points / 1.3 rebounds / 1.0 assists per game, 31.8% FGs, 30.8% 3 PT FGs, 75.9% FTs.

2014-15 salary: $3.2 million

Alexey Shved arrived in Minnesota along with Andrei Kirilenko during the summer of 2012. Both are Russian natives, and both had spent the previous season with CSKA Moscow, competing in the Euroleague. Kirilenko, a who’d spent 10 seasons with the Jazz from 2000-01 through 2010-11, was making his return to the NBA after a year away. He was a known commodity, a solid defender, good passer, and a skilled cutter in the corner scheme. Shved, on the other hand, was something of a mystery. Undrafted in his class year (2010), Shved was the rare international free agent in the summer of 2012, free of draft rights restrictions. Memphis and Cleveland were rumored to be interested in his services, but he wound up with the Wolves, signing a 3 year, $9.4 million contract.

Early on, reviews were generally positive regarding the 24-year-old rookie. He possessed good size (6’6) and sneaky athleticism, and was adequate handling the ball through his first couple of months in the NBA. From December 14th through the 29th, Shved was perfectly adequate, starting 8 games (at shooting guard), averaging 12 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds on 43% shooting from the floor, and making 37% of his three point attempts. During this stretch, he also notched both of his career double doubles.

Unfortunately, Shved hit the rookie wall shortly thereafter, and hasn’t been the same since. From New Year’s Day, 2013 through the end of his rookie season, Shved started just 8 more games, making 35% of his field goals and 26% of his threes. By the end of the season, he couldn’t crack the Wolves’ rotation, despite the fact that the team was decimated by injuries. At the beginning of this season, following a summer off, Alexey famously proclaimed that he’d “made more muscles” in an attempt to deal with the rigors of the NBA schedule. It didn’t work.

Somehow, Shved’s 2013-14 has gone even worse than the final four months of 2012-13 did. He’s bad in catch-and-shoot situations (making 31% of his attempts), is bad on drives (30% of those attempts) and also struggles at making pull-up shots (sinking 19% of those). He’s made 36/75 shots within 8 feet, which isn’t terrible, but is just 4/48 on all other two point attempts (8.3%). His shot chart is the stuff of nightmares:

Shved Shot Chart

Defensively, he’s a poor pick and roll defender, so slight of build that he’s unable to fight through screens. Athletic and long, he’s never been able to harness his strengths to become an above-average shot blocker or ball hawk. Nowadays, he finds himself at the end of the Wolves’ bench, most of his minutes allotted to emerging rookie Shabazz Muhammad. His contract for next season is fully guaranteed, but it’s hard to see him returning. Body language can be overrated, but Shved’s surly demeanor certainly seems to indicate how unhappy he is. A buyout could, perhaps, serve the interests of both sides.

Anthony Randolph, Denver Nuggets

2013-14 statistics: 37 games, 5 starts, 34 DNP-CDs, 477 minutes, 4.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists per game, 37.1% FGs, 27.5% 3PT FG%, 73.0% FTs.

2014-15 salary: $1.8 million

The Nuggets are the fourth organization Randolph’s been a part of during his NBA career, which started when he was drafted with the 14th overall pick back in 2008. He was still just 18 years old on draft night, having departed LSU following just one season, his 6’10 frame and raw athletic ability too enticing for Golden State to pass up at the end of the lottery. Unfortunately, he’s burned through several poor situations – the Warriors, Knicks and Wolves – without being able to put the puzzle pieces together.

The closest he came to doing so was last season, under the tutelage of George Karl. Randolph inked a 3 year, $5.25 million deal with Denver prior to the 2012-13 season, and Karl, accustomed to getting the most out of his players, managed to get a little out of the skilled Randolph. He spent the majority of his time in the offense scoring on cuts and in transition – situations highlighting his athletic ability – and took just 25 of his 114 shots outside of 8 feet from the basket. He wasn’t a regular member of the rotation, by any means, appearing in just 39 games and logging 329 total minutes – but managed to post the most efficient season of his young career.

This season, under Brian Shaw, things have been much different. He’s being utilized as a stretch-four; for some reason, he attempts nearly 4 threes per-36 minutes, even though he makes fewer than 28% of them. Instead of attacking the rim, the vast majority of his shot attempts (93 of 148) have come outside of 8 feet. He hasn’t improved, either statistically or via the eye test, since his rookie season. Lately, he’s found himself on the floor due primarily to the Nuggets’ front court injury woes (Hickson, McGee and Vesely, three forwards ahead of him on the depth chart, are each missing time).

Shockingly, Anthony Randolph is still younger than Isaiah Thomas, Jon Leuer, Chandler Parsons and Jimmer Fredette. In the NBA, however, age is a relative number. He’s 24 years old, but at his current pace, it seems unlikely he’ll get another guaranteed deal once his current one is up after next season. Never known as a plus in the locker room, it’ll be interesting to see if Randolph survives the looming roster upheaval in the Mile High City, where Brian Shaw’s publicly discussed his disdain for the way the roster is constructed.

William Bohl covers the Timberwolves at BreakTheHuddle.com and is a contributor to A Wolf Among Wolves, part of the ESPN TrueHoop Network. He can be reached at breakthehuddle@gmail.com.