NBA Sitrep – Nightmare for Timberwolves, Warriors strike back against Thunder and is Kawhi’s season over?

A weekly post wrapping up all the action from around the association over the last seven days.

Down, but not out.

As Jimmy Butler lay writhing in pain with his hands clasped around his knee, the Timberwolves season hung delicately in the balance.

With the possibility of a season-ending ACL injury looming, the diagnosis of a torn right meniscus was surprisingly good news.

Butler will undergo surgery and is expected to be available to return in the next four to six weeks, which sees him in a race against time to suit up for the Timberwolves first playoff appearance in 13 seasons.

Butler has been the stoic captain for the Timberwolves all season, guiding the budding stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins along Minnesota’s return to relevance.

Butler is averaging 22.2 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.9 steals per game, but his impact on the Timberwolves is far greater than his impressive stat line.

The Timberwolves currently sit fourth in the West with a 37-26 record, only one game behind the Spurs on the losses ledger.

Mystery surrounds Spurs and Kawhi.

What is going on with Kawhi Leonard?

We have seen the Spurs superstar for all of nine games this season, with a strained quad tendon hampering him for the entire campaign.

After attempting to make a brief return through December and January, Kawhi was shut down indefinitely by the Spurs and last week Popovich conceded the worst.

https://twitter.com/SportsQuotient/status/966453002373599233

There have been un-Spurs-like rumours about tension between Kawhi and the organisation, possibly misdiagnosis about the injury and the underlying truth that Leonard has actually been medically cleared to play.

Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that the Kawhi will take the court for the Spurs again this season, which is a massive blow for the playoff aspirations of Popovich and his men.

Warriors revenge on OKC.

The Warriors were blown off the court by the Thunder in their first two meetings of the season.

They lost the first contest back in November by 17-points and the second clash went from bad to worse as they were handed a 20-point loss by Westbrook and co.

The pair squared off for the third time on Sunday and the result was decidedly different.

After leading by just seven points at half-time, the Warriors buried the Thunder in a third-quarter scoring avalanche and ran out victors by 32-points.

Kevin Durant dropped 28 points on his former squad, while Curry chimed in with 21 of his own.

Westbrook and Paul George combined for 5-29 shooting, while the Thunder shot just 33% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc.

The Warriors found their electric ball-movement once again.

And when Nick Young is doing this, you officially can’t beat the Warriors.

Risers/Sliders

standings - week 7Photo credit: ESPN 

Riser

Houston, we do not have a problem! The Rocket are rolling, Harden is the front-runner for the MVP, Chris Paul is wearing rodeo outfits to games, and Houston has won 12 contests in a row and sit with the best record in the entire league. All is well in Texas.

Slider

The Miami Heat are barely clinging to their playoff spot after winning just 2 of their last ten contests. Over their last ten, the Heat have lost to the Cavs by 2, Sixers by ironically 6, Pistons by 4, Magic by 2, Rockets by 8, Raptors by 3, Sixers by 2 and Pelicans by 1 in overtime. They need a go-to clutch scorer down the stretch, because that kind of record in close games usually doesn’t belong to a playoff-bound franchise.

Heat Check

LaMarcus Aldridge

vs. Nuggets – 38 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists

vs. Cavaliers – 27 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block

After logging just 4 minutes and 0 points in the All-Star game last week, Aldridge was well and truly rested to begin the home-stretch of the regular season. He may not be the flashiest of players, but Aldridge deserves credit for the season he is piecing together. He has almost returned to his Portland form, averaging just under 23 points and 8 rebounds per game, becoming the staple of the Spurs offense with Kawhi on the bench.

Dejounte Murray certainly appreciates what Aldridge brings to the team.

Highlights

Bam Adebayo is making a habit of hurting rims feelings.

First Dame did this…

Then he reminded us what time it was.

Westbrook called game.

https://twitter.com/All_SportNews/status/966968508289515520

Steph called range.

https://twitter.com/JaeAzizi/status/966887503356547075

Whoopsie Watch

Has Blake lost his superpowers since leaving LA?

Kelly Oubre just went all school-yard petty on Rodney Hood

https://twitter.com/MusikFan4Life/status/966928210096046080

The Kelly Oubre appreciation show continues…

The Give and Go (Ep.2) – Welcome to the Cavs 2.0

It’s all coming up rosy early days for the new Cavs outfit, with defense, smiles and wins aplenty. However, do the new additions catapult the Cavs back into the front-runner for the East and make them a genuine contender against the Warriors? (1:00). We then debate whether the Thunder have found the blueprint to beat the Warriors (11:20), before breaking down the Jazz’s ten game winning streak (19:40). Finally, we discuss the impact of Isaiah Thomas’ move to LA on Lonzo, the Lakers and IT himself (24:30).

Stephen Curry – Addition through Subtraction

Steph Curry steadied into a rhythm dribble as a nervous hush fell over Chesapeake Arena. The clock ticked down on an overtime thriller between two of the NBA’s best, but Curry was about to add another chapter to the masterpiece. A mere handful of steps over the half-court line, Curry flung an incredible dagger into the Oklahoma sky as the ball ripped the nylon and Thunder hearts. Curry was left in sheer jubilation as commentators searched for the words to do justice to the incredible feat.

It was simply another highlight on the crazy ride that was Curry’s 2015/16 unanimous MVP campaign. In arguably the greatest shooting season of all time, Curry put up absurd percentages from all over the court. However, it was his long-range shooting ability that became his trademark.

Time and time again Curry would unleash a three-point barrage from uncharted territory on a basketball court. He stretched defenses to breaking point with his unmatched gravity and left entire stadiums in silence with his breathtaking shooting displays.

It’s almost two years since Curry’s signature game-winner against the Thunder and while Steph is still Steph, there is a noticeable difference to the now two-time MVP.

Familiarity has become Curry’s main nemesis.

The shock and awe of Curry’s exploits have become expected. He has set the bar so high that even incredible performances can pale into a shrugged shoulder and ‘yeah that’s Steph for you’ tagline.

After a slight drop in his numbers last year, largely due to the acclimatisation of Kevin Durant, Curry is producing another MVP caliber season.

Curry’s game and success is still predominantly based around his three-point wizardry. He leads the league in three-pointers made per game, while connecting on over 43% of his attempts. Since his return from the scary ankle injury that saw him sidelined for 11 games, Curry has connected on over 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

He is still the same lethal gun-slinger, but Curry has added a new weapon to his arsenal. Or to be more specific, he has added another layer to his game, by taking away one of his trademark moves.

Curry spent most of his unanimous MVP season re-writing the definition of bad shot selection. The lasers that Curry would fire from unguardable distances were terrible shots for every other player in the NBA.

On attempts from 30 feet and beyond, Curry shot 21-of-45 or just under 47%. That same season (2015-16) the rest of the league combined to make just 13% of those shots, even after you subtract the desperation heaves from outside of 35 feet. Nobody else in the league made more than three shots from 30 feet or beyond that season.

Not only was he lethal when he was set from beyond the arc, but Curry made over 50% of his pull-up triples in transition. He connected on 39-of-73 of the head-scratching threes that generally put the final touches on a devastating Warriors run.

Enter Stephen Curry – 2.0.

After a humbling campaign from beyond 30 feet last season, shooting just 13 of 54 (24%) on such attempts, Curry has almost entirely cut out the long-range bomb from his seemingly endless shot wheelhouse.

This season he is on pace to finish with roughly a third as many attempts from 30 feet or beyond than in his unanimous MVP campaign. More than twenty players sit above Curry when it comes to 30 plus footers attempted, in fact, Curry made more of the outrageous shots in three separate games in 2015/16 than in the entire season so far.

The steady diet of pull-up threes has also waned off, as Curry is on pace to take just 30 triples on the fast-break, compared to 73 two seasons ago.

The result of this shot selection shift has been profound. Curry has managed to use the unparalleled magnetism he still possesses to create opportunities in the mid-range and around the basket.

Put simply, Curry has become less breathtaking, but more efficient.

Curry leads the league in true shooting percentage (67.2%), which is ridiculous for a point-guard who takes over ten threes per game.

He is having a career year from inside the arc, tied with Karl Anthony Towns in seventh spot for two-point percentage in the league. The six players above him combine for an average height of 6-foot-10, while Curry is challenging the leagues tall-timber at 6-foot-3.

Curry is shooting 91% from the line and is getting to the charity stripe at a career-high rate. Prior to this season, Curry was averaging one free-throw for every 4.3 shot attempts. This season that number has nose-dived to one free-throw for every 2.6 shot attempts.

All of this and Curry is shooting 49% from the field (second highest mark of career), averaging 6.5 assists, grabbing 1.7 steals per contest and is putting up 28.1 points per game as he leads the Warriors to the best record in the NBA.

Curry is still legitimately in the MVP discussion, which considering he has missed 14 games this season through injury, highlights the magnitude of the campaign he is piecing together.

Curry is still the same dynamic scorer who can break a team’s back with a pull-up triple from the locker-room.

But he has refined his game and maximised his output through the threat of his shooting prowess.

Curry has used his unanimous MVP season to evolve into the player he is now.

In a scary proposition for the league, this may be the best version of Curry we have ever witnessed.

The version that is just as deadly from 10 feet as from 30. The one who might not dominate the highlight reel on a nightly basis, but is steering his team towards a fourth straight Finals appearance.

Less breathtaking, but more complete.

Addition through subtraction.

NBA Sitrep – Rockets swing-and-miss vs LA, knock over Warriors instead as Curry & LeBron lead All-Star teams

A weekly post wrapping up all the action from around the association over the last seven days.

Seven-game series anyone?

The best of the West squared off yesterday in their last regular season clash, in what loomed as a preview of the Western Conference Final.

The game didn’t disappoint as the Rockets showed the league that they can hang with the defending Champions.

Harden found his groove in his second game back from a hamstring injury, dropping 22 points on the Warriors and leaving Curry with Kyrie Irving flashbacks with this step-back dagger to ice the game.

Harden then played defense. No, not a typo. He blocked Curry’s last-gasp three ball attempt and the Rockets sunk the Warriors 116-108.

Chris Paul was up to his usual antics, connecting from downtown six times for his 33 points, 7 dimes, 11 rebounds and three steals.

Bring on a seven-game series between these two.

Only in LA

Welcome to Hollywood’s newest Soap Opera – NBA edition.

The script started innocently enough. The Clippers played a heart-felt video tribute to their former captain, Chris Paul, before he received a standing ovation from the Staples Centre crowd.

Then it got interesting.

What followed was must-watch reality television.

First, Blake tried to take Gordons head off.

Then Mike D’Antoni got a little grumpy after Blake ‘accidently’ knocked into him.

And Austin Rivers and Patrick Beverly were their usual annoying selves.

The end result of all this drama. Griffin and Ariza were ejected and the Clippers upset the Rockets 113-102.

Oh, and after the game Chris Paul led James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green down a secret passageway that joins the teams dressing rooms to confront Austin Rivers.

Clint Capela tried to storm the Clippers locker room from the front entrance, but he had the door slammed on him by a Clippers staff member.

Ariza and Green were both suspended for two games and the Rockets – Clippers rivalry was officially born.

Just another day in LA.

Best of the Best

Steph Curry and LeBron James have been named as the 2018 All-Star captains, finishing atop the vote in their respective conferences.

Curry led the West starting line-up consisting of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

LeBron was joined by former teammate Kyrie Irving, as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar Derozen and first-timer Joel Embiid.

Curry and LeBron will now select their starting line-ups from the pool of both conferences in traditional school-yard style. They will also get to select from a number of All-Star reserves, which will be announced by the coaches in the coming days.

The quirkiest surprise of this year’s voting belongs to Manu Ginobili, who somehow managed to poll more votes than Harden and Westbrook in the fan-vote.

The ageless Spur didn’t fare so well in the media and player votes, rightly handing over his starting spot to MVP candidate James Harden.

Injury curse strikes again

The clock is ticking on Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs season as their superstar faces a race against time to be healthy for playoffs.

Leonard’s lingering quad injury has sidelined him for all but nine games this campaign, with a worrying pattern of injury riddled seasons threatening to mar his career.

The Spurs have managed to hold onto the fourth seed (30-18 record) without Leonard, but face little hope of contending without him come playoffs.

Sliders and Risers

standings - 2

Photo credit: ESPN

Riser

After falling out of the playoff seeding in December, the Philadelphia 76ers have leapfrogged back into the seventh seed on the back of a host of impressive victories. ‘The Process’ is currently sitting on a three-game win streak, having won eight of their last ten contests. Since the New Year the 76ers have knocked over the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors, Pistons and Spurs. If they can hang onto a playoff seed they will feature in post-season action for the first time since 2012.

Slider

In correlation with the 76ers rise, the Detroit Pistons have slid down the standings and currently sit just outside of the playoff race. They have dropped eight of their last ten contests and are currently holding the second longest losing streak in the league (five games, bested only by the Kings with seven).  It has been a dramatic fall for the Pistons, who started the season with a 14-6 record and held a top four seed for much of November.

Heat Check

Damian Lillard

vs. Phoenix Suns – 31 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal

vs. Indiana Pacers – 26 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds

vs. Dallas Mavericks – 31 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 7 three-pointers

It has been the Lillard show for Portland over the last week as their superstar has led them on a three-game win-streak that sees the Trailblazers sitting in the sixth seed in the West.

Highlights

Spencer Dinwiddie laid the nail into the Pistons coffin with this tough finish.

Wiggins you are cleared for takeoff. Jakob Poetel what are you doing?

Wade up top to LeBron. Just like the good old days.

https://twitter.com/_MarcusD2_/status/954832217716510721

LeBron returns the favour to his former Miami teammate. Behind-the-back and through-the-legs if you don’t mind.

Speaking of assists, is there anything the Greek Freak can’t do!

Whoopsie Watch

CP3 with an Oscar winning performance.

Rodney Hood vs Phone. Fairly predictable ending.

‘The Process’ in action.

LeBron or bust for Cavaliers?

Eerie defence chants engulfed Oracle Arena as the shot clock wound down. James faked a drive to the basket before letting it fly over Iguodala’s outstretched hand. It was the shot that James wanted, but unfortunately for Cleveland it was also the shot Golden State wanted.

James jumper would clank off the rim, as would Shumpert’s desperation circus shot. Golden State hit back with a 10-2 run in overtime to crush Cleveland and take a commanding lead in this years NBA Finals.

While Game 1 had the hallmarks of a thrilling contest, there are numerous underlying issues for the Cavaliers going forward.

The question on everyone’s minds coming into the finals was how will Golden State defend against James? How do you stop a rampaging freight train, who averaged 30.1 points, 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists in the conference finals.

Golden State employed the “don’t let anyone else beat us” tactic and somehow it worked. James may have had 44 points, but Golden State effectively shackled the rest of the Cleveland line-up.

The majority of James possessions resulted in a one on one isolation plays or post ups. Golden State rotated their defenders to keep James guessing and denied him from finding his rhythm.

They dared James to shoot from mid range and the perimeter, and shoot he did. James let 38 shots fly, which was 68% of Cleveland’s total shots for the game. James made 18 of his attempts, which considering the defence is acceptable. However the effect on his teammates output was catastrophic.

The entire Cleveland outfit, minus James, managed just 21 baskets. Only three more than James made on his own. J.R. Smith and Shumpert combined for 5-19 shooting while Jones and Dellavedova failed to find the bottom of the net in their combined twenty-six minutes of game time.

Irving battled manfully and arguably outplayed Curry before succumbing to injury. While Irving was hopeful for a return to the series, scans have confirmed that he has fractured his left knee cap.

The alarm bells are ringing in Cleveland as the Aussie, Dellavedova prepares to play considerable minutes in Irving’s absence. “Delly’s” spirit and drive cannot be questioned, however in Game 1 he looked lost against Curry and this poses as a dangerous matchup for the Cavs.

When the Cavaliers offence is flowing, James is as much a facilitator as a scorer. There are not many six foot eight small forwards in the league who can pin point teammates like James can. His vision may be his most undervalued asset and has been a lethal weapon throughout the post season.

However with Golden State refusing to double team James until the last second, they are effectively taking away his ability to set teammates up. In his 46 minutes on the floor, James only managed six assists for the game. When James eventually did find a teammate, Golden State’s elite close out speed made every shot a contested one and the impact was profound.

Through the first three rounds, 32% of J.R. Smith’s, Shumpert’s and Irving’s combined 3-point attempts were contested. In Game 1 against Golden State, that figure skyrocketed to 45%.

As a result of this pressure, the trio shot a combined 1-10 from beyond the arc on contested shots. Without a hand in their face, they shot 6-12 from deep. In a game that went down to the wire, the extra effort to close out on Cleveland’s shooters was pivotal to Golden States success.

Cleveland can’t rely on James to single handily defeat the Warriors, however the Cavs offence is not the only problem. The Warriors post season slogan “Strength in Numbers” is more than just a catchphrase, it’s the backbone of the Golden State team.

Not many teams in NBA history can claim to go ten players deep, but Golden States bench is defying history every night. In Game 1 the Warriors bench outscored Cleveland’s bench 34-9 and more importantly out-rebounded them 19-6.

The Cavaliers one clear advantage is this series is on the glass. Tristian Thompson has been a revelation this post season and Mozgov is no slouch either. Add James imposing figure to the picture and Bogut is under extreme pressure to secure rebounds.

When the starting units are in the Cavs regularly get multiple looks at every possession and the Warriors look vulnerable. When the bench units are in, its an entirely different story.

Throughout history basketball experts have proclaimed that “jump shooting teams can’t win championships”. In the heat of the playoffs the fast pace, long range offense will inevitably crack under the pressure. Unfortunately for the experts, the Golden State Warriors are raining threes on their parade.

The series is by no means over, any team that features LeBron James cannot be written off. However with Irving gone for the series, the odds are stacked in the Warriors favour. If the Cavs are to find life they need James to facilitate for his teammates and throw a different look at the Warriors.

The scariest part for Cavalier fans, the Splash Brothers (Curry, Thompson) only shot 33% from deep in Game 1. Daring James to shoot may have worked for the Warriors. But if the Cavs let the Splash Brothers find rhythm, its lights outs Cleveland.