Lou Williams

NBA predictions 2019-20: Steph Curry wins MVP, Lakers reclaim title

NBA predictions 2019-20: Steph Curry wins MVP, Lakers reclaim title

For the first time in five seasons, the NBA finds itself in new territory entering the 2019-20 season. 

No longer are the Warriors prohibitive favorites. League uncertainty, coupled with notable player movement across conferences, makes the upcoming season as unpredictable as it has been in recent years. 

Nevertheless, that doesn't stop one from predicting an uncertain season in the association. To get you ready for opening week, here are your predictions for the upcoming year.  

Defensive Player of the Year - Rudy Gobert

Gobert dominated defensively last season, ranking third in the league in blocks and held teams to just 45.2 percent from the field. Gobert's contribution's helped Utah rank second in the league in defensive efficiency. 

If Gobert were to win, he'd become just the second player to win three straight DPOY awards, joining Dwight Howard.

[RELATED: Draymond not focused on DPOY]

Rookie of the Year - Ja Morant

With Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson out six-to-eight weeks due to meniscus surger, Morant is in the driver's seat for the award. 

Morant -- who averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists and 6.5 rebounds in his sophomore year at Morgan State -- will be featured on a Grizzlies team in transition, having traded away franchise pillars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol in the last year. 

With that in mind, Morant will have ample opportunities to show his ability this season. 

MVP - Stephen Curry

With Kevin Durant gone to Brooklyn, and Klay Thompson not expected back this season, most of the offensive burden will fall on Curry. 

Curry has shown to be worthy to carry the offensive torch. In 2016, Curry had the highest player efficiency rating since 1991, while leading the league in 3-pointers made (402), steals (169), win-shares (17.9) and value over replacement (9.8) while finishing second in usage.

The key to Curry's season will be his health. Over the last two seasons, Curry has missed a combined 44 games due to injury, including 31 during the 2017-18 season. Last season, it was a non-contact groin injury that forced the guard to miss more than two weeks.

[RELATED: MJ claims Steph not a HOFer 'yet']

Most Improved Player - Lonzo Ball

During his first two seasons in the league with the Lakers, Ball struggled through injuries, expectations of Los Angeles, and ongoing litigation centered around his company Big Baller Brand. 

Now, in New Orleans, he is far away from the distractions, and is alongside a healthy young cast featuring Brandon Ingram and Williamson. If Ball can recapture the magic that made him a No. 2 overall pick, the Pelicans could be a fringe playoff team. 

Sixth Man - Lou Williams

At this point, Williams is like Nicki Minaj at the BET Awards in the late 2010s. If he is on the floor, an award is expected to come his way. 

Last season, he won his second straight award (and third overall), averaging 20 points, three rebounds and five assists. In the playoffs, he helped the Clippers push Golden State to six games in their first-round NBA playoff matchup. 

This season, Williams is expected to play starters minutes off the bench, giving yet another opportunity for the veteran the claim an award that should be named after him when its all said and done. 

Coach of the Year - Doc Rivers 

Last season, despite the Clippers trading away Tobias Harris -- the team's leading scorer -- Los Angeles surprisingly won 48 games and nearly eliminated Golden State in the first round. 

Now, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the roster, Rivers is expected to lead the current roster to a title. 

Rivers has experience coaching stars, having led the 2008 Celtics -- featuring Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen -- to a title, earning COY honors along the way.

Best Record - Milwaukee Bucks

The best way to quiet the noise of Giannis Antetokounmpo's pending free-agency will be to get off to a hot start. 

Milwaukee has the team to do it, with shooters like Kyle Korver, Brook Lopez and Wes Matthews to spread the floor around the Greek Freak. 

Antetokounmpo, months removed from winning his first MVP, should be primed for a run at another award.

[RELATED: Steph 'optimistic' about Warriors in 2019]

NBA Champs - Los Angeles Lakers

With a historic offseason, the Lakers seem to have their most balanced team in years on paper. The tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis should help with the bulk of the offensive output. 

The signings of Avery Bradley and Danny Green give Los Angeles top-level defenders, a welcome sign for a team that finished in the middle of the league in defensive rating last season.

But the key will be James, who is entering his 17th season on Tuesday evening. With Golden State no longer a contender, he should push to his first title since 2016.

Programming Note: Get ready for the 2019-20 Warriors and Kings seasons with the NBA Tip-Off Show, streaming live on the MyTeams app at 1 p.m. PT on Tuesday, Oct. 22. Download MyTeams and tune in to the show by clicking here!

Kevin Durant's fireworks launch Warriors past Clippers and into Rockets

Kevin Durant's fireworks launch Warriors past Clippers and into Rockets

LOS ANGELES -- In Hollywood’s backyard, in a game with high stakes for the Warriors, against a team redefining the word “grit,” Kevin Durant took 42 minutes Friday night to remind everyone that when he’s on top of his game, there is no more defense-defying scorer in the world.

When Stephen Curry rolled his right ankle in the first quarter and left the game for a spell, Durant was there to fill the void.

While Klay Thompson was scoring two points in the first half, Durant was doing more than enough for the Warriors to flourish.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers sent four different defenders at Durant and they all failed. Not until the second half, when he resorted to traps and double-teams, was Durant slowed. Too late. Durant by then had 38 of his career playoff-high 50 points while leading the Warriors to a 129-110 win in Game 6, finally ousting the stubborn Clippers from the playoffs.

“That was one of the great performances I've ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen some good ones” coach Steve Kerr said. “I've been around some decent players.”

Among Kerr’s teammates during his 13-year NBA career were Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen and a man named Michael Jordan. Kerr also played against such greats as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

Even in that group, in this context, Durant stood out as utterly spectacular, particularly in the first half, when he tied Barkley’s record for most points in the first half of a playoff game.

Though Durant’s second half was mere mortal (12 points, 3-of-9 shooting), his first half was a study in absurdity. He was 12-of-17 from the field, including 4-of-8 from deep and 10-of-10 from the line. The Warriors had a 72-53 lead at halftime because they played superb defense while KD was scoring most of their points.

To put a finer point on it, Durant scored 23 of the team’s 37 second-quarter points while taking only eight shots.

“We tried everything,” Lou Williams said, laughing the futility of it all. “We tried everything. We had several different coverages for KD.”

Clippers teammate Patrick Beverley butted in, saying, “It didn't work.”

LA was trailing by 19 at the half despite Curry and Thompson combining for 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Durant was, quite simply, a problem without a solution. He was pulling up off the dribble, finishing in the paint, launching from deep and drawing fouls that sent him to the line.

“We played just about everybody on him,” Rivers said. “There were four times in the first half where we actually made a defensive mistake where we kind of helped but not really. They threw it to him; we got out there, and he still made them.”

This was a continuation of a scoring rampage that Durant has been on since Game 2, when he committed nine turnovers and took only eight shots. He scored 38 points in Game 3, 33 in Game 4, 45 in Game 5 and then the 50-piece that sent the Clippers home.

In the four games after reminding everyone that he is, in fact, Kevin Durant, he averaged 41.5 points, on 57.3-percent shooting from the field, including 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.

“He just carried us these last couple of games of the series,” Kerr said. “He's the ultimate weapon because there's no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot. And he knew we needed him badly. And he just took over the game in the first half and set a great tone.”

Durant was only mildly impressed with his work, which also included six rebounds, five assists, one block, and one steal. He’ll take it, but clearly believes he left points on the floor.

“I scored 50 points, but I missed some good shots tonight,” said Durant, who was 15-of-26 overall. “I feel like I could have made a few more. But I felt great. I felt great. It was a fun game, for sure.”

[RELATED: Dubs-Rockets preview: Keys to winning heavyweight series]

This “fun” game is why the Warriors rolled out the red carpet for Durant nearly three years ago. Games when Steph isn’t quite Steph and Klay isn’t quite Klay. Games when, no matter the pace, the Warriors need a jolt that only Durant can provide.

The challenge now is in Durant trying to take this level of heat into the highly anticipated second-round matchup against Houston. The way he’s playing, with blowtorch intensity and unfair efficiency, it’s risky betting against it.

Patrick Beverley's grit, hustle has Clippers nipping at Warriors' heels

Patrick Beverley's grit, hustle has Clippers nipping at Warriors' heels

OAKLAND -- It is troubling that the two most disappointing postseason home losses for the Warriors since the 2016 NBA Finals have come in the first-round series against the Clippers that moves to Game 6 on Friday in Los Angeles.

And no single player was more responsible for those losses -- or the tone of this series -- than Patrick Beverley, the firebrand 6-foot-1 guard who takes the court with the attitude of Godzilla.

He pestered Kevin Durant into nine turnovers and an ejection in Game 2, which LA won.

Beverley came out for Game 5 on Wednesday, on the road, with the Clippers facing elimination, and immediately went after the Warriors with a searing intensity they failed to match.

Another LA win, extending the series, with Beverley reportedly telling Oracle Arena clubhouse attendants that he’ll see them Sunday for Game 7. Yes, he’s predicting a Game 6 victory.

“You’ve got to know what you’re up against when you play against Beverley,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday. “He’s a competitor. That’s how he’s made his money in this league. That’s how he’s been able to stick around. He competes and makes you uncomfortable and he scraps and goes after loose balls.

“I love that guy. He’s a hell of a competitor. He’s a hell of a player. Every coach would like to have a guy like him on their team.”

Beverley in the first quarter of Game 5 grabbed two offensive rebounds -- ignoring several Warriors in the vicinity each time -- with both leading to second-chance buckets for LA. Rebounding is about tenacity, first and foremost, and he grabbed a game-high 14 boards -- more than Draymond Green and Kevin Durant combined.

“It really set the tone early for the way that we wanted to (Game 5) to go energy-wise,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said.

“When you look at this game, at the end of the game, he was matched up with (forwards and centers) under the basket and he kept coming out with the rebound,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Beverley. “It just tells you how tough he is. He’s a tough dude.”

Game 1 belonged to Stephen Curry. Game 2 belonged to Williams, Beverley, and Montrezl Harrell. Game 3 belonged to Durant. Game 4 belonged to Klay Thompson and Durant.

Game 5 belonged to Beverley (17 points and four assists, along with 14 rebounds) and Williams (33 points, 10 assists, and five turnovers).

[RELATED: Lou Will sends warning to Warriors about looking ahead]

But no single player has had more of an effect for this series being extended beyond the projections than Beverley, LA’s emotional leader. He believes, and his teammates follow.

If the Warriors can’t find a way to marginalize Beverley’s contributions in Game 6, they might find themselves looking at a Game 7 on Sunday.