Bulls

LeBron, Cavs advance, but could be shorthanded

lebron-cavs-advance-but-could-be-shorthanded.png

LeBron, Cavs advance, but could be shorthanded

The first part of the LeBron-Bulls playoff collision course is set.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers disposed of the Boston Celtics on Sunday, sweeping the series with a 101-93 victory in Boston. The series was closer than the four-game sweep would imply, but Cleveland was never in doubt of moving on to the second round. They'll face the winner of the Bucks-Bulls, a series which Chicago can close out Monday night in Game 5.

But the series-clinching victory didn't come without cost for David Blatt's group. Power forward Kevin Love suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter after Boston's Kelly Olynyk grabbed his arm going after a loose ball. He immediately ran to the Cavaliers locker room where the shoulder was popped back into place, but he was ruled out for the remainder of the game and left the arena in a sling. The Cavaliers did not give a timetable for when Love may return, but according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Chris Haynes, Love "says his shoulder actually feels better now. Says he hopes he can play Game 1 of (the) second round."

[MORE: Bulls feel they're in good shape against Bucks]

Love was at the center of much scrutiny in his first season with the Cavaliers, often acting as the fall guy for the Cavaliers' early-season struggles. Still, he averaged 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in the regular season and had averaged 18.3 points on 47 percent 3-point shooting (9-for-19) in the first three games of the playoffs. His absence would be a crucial blow for Cleveland, with James likely seeing more time at the four and Tristan Thompson being used in a larger role.

Love may be ready for Game 1, but the same can't be said for shooting guard J.R. Smith. The colorful sharpshooter was given a flagrant two and subsequently ejected in the third quarter after swiping at and connecting with Jae Crowder's face on a box out. Earlier in the game reserve center Kendrick Perkins connected with Crowder's throat area on a moving screen and shoved Crowder in the face when the two confronted each other. Both could face suspensions — Smith's seems likely — that would leave Cleveland shorthanded for a potential Game 1 against Chicago.

Iman Shumpert stepped up after Smith's ejection, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 38 Game 4 minutes.

Shorthanded or not, the Cavaliers pose a real threat to the Bulls' title odds. Half the collision course is set, as LeBron and the Bulls could meet for the fourth time in the last six postseasons. James has won the first three matchups, twice with Miami and once during his first stint in Cleveland.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

shaikentucky.png
USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.