NBA Playoffs

I'm getting very tired of the NBA's "Cult of personality"

I'm getting very tired of the NBA's "Cult of personality"

Well, here we go again. Cleveland vs. Golden State. And if you're not fired up about this matchup, well... join the club. It's likely to be a very short series and more of what we've been watching for the past several weeks in the playoffs, including:

  • The thing that's bothered me about the league for several years now: The total glorification of its star players unlike any other major sport. It's what's called a "Cult of personality." Webster's Dictionary defines that as "a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved." For example, LeBron James -- whom the ESPN announcers just can't seem to find enough adjectives to describe. They are fawning all over him. He couldn't be more celebrated if he cured cancer. Yeah, OK, I've got LeBron Fatigue -- I admit it. But this has been going on for years in a league that has for decades celebrated individuals over teams.
  • Scott Foster. This referee is seemingly in hot pursuit of the impossible -- making the fans of every team in the league believe he's out to get their team. And it looks sometimes as if they might be correct.
  • Speaking of referees, there is no way in the world they should be paid in full for working playoff games. They simply don't do their job. They overlook fouls to the degree that when they call one, the reaction is always, "Wait a minute, you just let worse than that go at the other end!"
  • If I never see James Harden take another dive after a three-point field goal attempt I will be a happy man. And I would love not to watch him travel on his step=back move. And it's not fun to see him dribble endlessly between his legs without using it to go anywhere. Actually, overall, I have Harden Fatigue, too.
  • I fully understand the value of three-point field goals and why teams are hoisting them by the dozen. And really, it's only going to get worse. But what I don't get is why a team with a double-digit halftime lead doesn't try first to get easy two-point shots. When you have a solid lead, it's going to take a lot of three-point makes to overcome your two-point makes. And I'm talking about YOU, Houston. And by the way, if you just stood back and let Harden take it to the basket, he'd have been at the foul line all night and you wouldn't have lost.
  • I heard the jokesters on the TNT panel talking about Kevin Love missing a Game 7 because of a concussion and they, of course, bragged about how they would have played no matter what. You know, take a couple of Advil and go get 'em. And for all the things they make TV guys apologize for these days, this should have been one of them. My goodness -- concussion protocol is there for a very good reason and it's to protect players from their own stupidity. But here we are again with the macho garbage about playing with an injury that could lead to some serious brain damage.
  • That said, I cannot understand why ESPN can't come up with a halftime/pregame panel even remotely as good as the one on TNT.
  • Oh well, there's still the Finals to come. Let's all sit back and watch Lebron and Scott Foster do their thing. Enjoy!

It was a night when Trail Blazer fans brought it and their team didn't

It was a night when Trail Blazer fans brought it and their team didn't

On a night when the only thing in Moda Center representing Portland that was NBA playoff quality was Storm Large's rendition of the National Anthem, a few things should be pointed out about the Trail Blazers' 97-95 playoff-opening loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night:

  • I heard a lot of fans complaining loudly about two things after the game: The presence of Pat Connaughton and Meyers Leonard on the floor over the final 12.4 seconds of the game. Let me deal with those issues separately.
  • Connaughton's plus-7 tied with Ed Davis for the best plus-minus in a Portland uniform during the game. He played well and was part of a couple of his team's comeback efforts. Yes, he got a shot blocked late but the real problem with that play was his team was down by 3 and it was just too late to be inbounding to him for a two-point shot. The Trail Blazers are built around making threes and at that point of the game it's too late to play the quick-two-and-foul-game. It was either a faulty play or a poor decision by the inbounder to make that pass.
  • Leonard is a great screen-setter and a solid three-point shooter. The question in his case was this: If he's worthy of being on the court in the waning seconds of the team's first playoff game with the team down by three, why wasn't he on the court in similar situations during the regular season? I believe he should have been. And I believe to throw a guy on the court in a situation like that who has played minimal minutes all season and tell him, in a sense, "Go win us a playoff game for us," is absurd. And unfair.
  • The atmosphere in the arena was terrific. The Portland game-ops staff did a terrific job with the gimmicks and the place was wild. Too bad the patrons went home unhappy.
  • Nobody seemed to be talking about two fateful possessions prior to those last fwe seconds. With 44 seconds left and Portland bum-rushing the Pels to the finish with all the momentum the Moda Madhouse could provide, CJ McCollum turned the ball over in the lane with his team trailing by just a point. And then Damian Lillard, with the same score, misfired on an ill-advised "shot" wth 15.3 seconds to play. Lillard appeared to be trying to draw a foul from Jrue Holiday on that shot and it might have been better for him to find a real shot with his feet under him and squared up to the basket. A made basket on either of those attempts by Portland's two marquee players would have thrown the burden of pressure back on New Orleans after blowing a double-digit lead.
  • Lillard and McCollum were 1-15 from the field in the first half, which shocked me. I expected more from them. But at the same time, for the Trail Blazers to get an overall 13-41 shooting night from them and still lose by just a bucket could bode well.
  • But if I hear "We just couldn't make shots" or "We got the shots we wanted and just didn't make them," one more time I'm going to laugh. It's been the familiar refrain over this team's offensive struggles ever since the 14-game winning streak ended. And really, when that happens repeatedly you better examine those shots or the people shooting them. The law of averages won't work for you if the wrong people are taking the shots or the shots aren't good ones.
  • Losing the first game of a playoff series doesn't mean a team will lose a series. There are a lot of games left to be played. The Trail Blazers surely must have more to give than what we saw Saturday night. It was a terrific atmosphere, though -- a night when the fans brought it and their team didn't.

After win over Utah, Blazers draw Pelicans in playoffs

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NBCSNW

After win over Utah, Blazers draw Pelicans in playoffs

Before tipoff of tonight’s game against the Jazz, the Blazers found out who they would be playing in the first round of the playoffs: The New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans beat the Spurs, and Oklahoma City beat Memphis, meaning that no matter the outcome against Utah, Portland would matchup with New Orleans.

According the Trail Blazers Twitter account this is the first time since 2009 that the Blazers have had homecourt advantage in the first round.

The Blazers took care of their own business and defeated the Utah Jazz to claim the third seed in the Western Conference. Check out the schedule (Games on NBCS NW!) here. 

Box Score: Portland 102, Utah 93

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"Pop" is engaging in some situational ethics with his rant about Pachulia

"Pop" is engaging in some situational ethics with his rant about Pachulia

I've always kind of liked Gregg Popovich. But I've respected him even more than I liked him. He is one heck of a coach who has been able to adjust to changing times and players.

But he's been getting on my nerves lately.

I'm not a fan of the way he treats sideline reporters during games, seemingly turning ridicule into his favorite sport. And is it just me or does he seem to pick on the women more than the men? Either way, every other coach in the league has to put up with those in-game interviews and I'm not sure why he thinks he's so special that he shouldn't have to do them. And he seems to treat the people doing the interviews as if they were the ones compelling him to do the chats. Trust me, Coach, they are no more excited to talk to you than you are to them.

But Popovich's rant about Za Za Pachulia stepping under the airborne feet of Kawhi Leonard, which resulted in a Leonard ankle sprain, bothered me. Popovich, of course, is trying to intimidate officials into giving him a few more calls during Game 2 of the series against Golden State and intimidating officials is something the Spurs' coach does better than anyone in the league.

But he's also engaging in some situational ethics.

Bruce Bowen used to play for Popovich in San Antonio and he slid under so many sneakers that the ploy used to be called "the Bowen." But Popovich, when he heard the league had called Bowen and threatened his player with a suspension for such actions, sprung to Bowen's defense:

“So why did they call Bruce? Because it’s happened to him twice? Bruce guards an All-Star every night. If he was doing what they’re accusing him of doing, wouldn’t it have happened a higher percentage of times?”

And:

“The league is just trying to cover its ass,” Popovich said. “I told Bruce, ‘You be Bruce Bowen. You’re the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.’

In other words, keep doing it Bruce. If they don't like it, too bad.

Now I will say that I've seen more incidents of this thing happening in recent seasons than I ever did in the old days. But is it intentional? Probably not, in most cases. But I would go along with Popovich that it doesn't matter if there is intent or not, players should not be allowed to slide under jump-shooting players.

Not that Popovich felt that way when his own player did it.

History tells us Rockets' margin of victory means nothing

History tells us Rockets' margin of victory means nothing

Not many people picked the Houston Rockets to defeat the San Antonio Spurs in their second-round playoff matchup that began last night in San Antonio. But I did. So you would think I'd be feeling pretty good about the Rockets after their 126-99 thrashing of the Spurs Monday night.

And even though San Antonio appeared to be way overmatched in Game 1 of the series, I feel worse about my prediction than you might think. That's because I was in the old Boston Garden on May 27, 1985 for the first game of that season's Finals when the Celtics ran the Los Angeles Lakers out of the gym with a humiliating 148-114 defeat. They called it the Memorial Day Massacre.

I was one of many people after that game to write about how washed up the Lakers -- and 38-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- looked in that game. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 12 points and three rebounds and just didn't look as if he could keep up with Boston's talented front line. I thought the series was over right then and there.

And I was very wrong. The Lakers won four of the next five games and closed out the Celts in Boston in Game 6 -- behind Abdul-Jabbar, who won the MVP award for the series. It was the only time the Celtics ever lost an NBA championship in that arena.

So that whipping Houston put on San Antonio didn't make me feel all that much better about its chances. It was just one game and next one doesn't start with the Rockets holding a 27-point lead.

I'd say the series hinges on the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored just four points Monday night. When Aldridge left Portland for the Spurs, I'm sure he was satisfied with the salary he'd be making and the winning tradition of his new team. But I'm wondering now if he understood the sort of responsibility he'd be having to shoulder as the Spurs moved through the playoffs. Tim Duncan isn't going to be walking through that locker room door during this series.

There were times in Portland when I thought Aldridge wanted very much to be a superstar but didn't always respond like one. He had the talent... but did he have the heart?

He better find his way in a hurry for the Spurs because Kawhi Leonard can't be expected to carry that team by himself.

Stotts: Nurkic's presence "spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is"

Stotts: Nurkic's presence "spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is"

Terry Stotts did not hesitate Sunday afternoon to rule Jusuf Nurkic out of Monday night's Game 4 of the Portland-Golden State series in Moda Center.

"No," he said when asked whether Nurkic would play. "He's out."

Why?

"Just, more than anything, he didn’t do any further damage but there was soreness, tenderness and it just wouldn’t be wise to have him play through that," said the Portland coach.

Stotts had plenty of good things to say about Nurkic and the decision to play Saturday night against the Warriors.

"I was really pleased that he (played)" Stotts said. "He had a really positive impact on the game with his passing and his presence and his rebounding. He takes up some space and I thought he gave his teammates a lot of confidence.

"It was a really good effort. He’s a big part of our team. Not only a good effort for these playoffs and this team but, I think, moving forward.  It spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is."

 

The Warriors are just too good -- for the Blazers and probably every other team

The Warriors are just too good -- for the Blazers and probably every other team

OAKLAND – In times like these for Trail Blazer fans it’s important to remember a few things. Such as:

  • Portland isn’t in the Eastern Conference. That means the No. 8-seeded team in the conference doesn’t get to play arguably the worst top-seeded team in playoff history. Instead, it must play one of the best teams in NBA history.
  • Jusuf Nerkic isn’t playing right now. Do you remember your Trail Blazers this season before he showed up? Yes, they looked a lot like what you saw in Game 2 of the playoff series Wednesday night – a 110-81 thrashing by the Golden State Warriors.
  • For as much as people talk about the Warriors’ potent offense, their defense is terrific, too. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 75 points in Game 1. Golden State wasn't going to let that happen again Wednesday. The starting guards totaled 23 Wednesday night, hitting just 9 of 34 shots.
  • The Blazers made only 30 of their 90 shots from the field, including only 7 of 34 from three-point range. And they turned the ball over 18 times. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Part of that is a continuation of the Trail Blazers' offensive stagnation but a lot of it was the Golden State defense.
  • The series moves back to Moda Center for a game Saturday night and another one Monday night. And as Damian Lillard pointed out, “It’s a series. The points don’t carry over.”
  • Or as Draymond Green said, “One thing we know is that it’s just one game… They’re still going to come out in Game 3 and give all they’ve got, whether we have K.D. or not.”
  • Yes, Kevin Durant did not play. No, it didn’t make much difference. These guys, in case you didn’t notice, are good. REAL good.

Will Nurkic play in Game 3? I have no idea. But trust me, the decision to play him won’t be based on how the series stands. It will be dependent on the condition of the break in his leg. If he can play without any further ramifications, I’d expect him to do so. But if there’s any problem there, he’ll sit – just as he has so far. And that's the way it should be. The big thing about Nurkic is his long-term future as a Trail Blazer franchise center. There's no point in risking that in a series his team can't win, anyway.

Folks, he will make a difference if he plays. I still think the Blazers, with him in the lineup, are capable of stealing a home game somehow. But make no mistake, he’s not going to turn this series around. The Warriors are too good right now.

Very probably too good for any team in the league.

The problem for the Blazers wasn't Warrior offense, it was the world's tallest free safety

The problem for the Blazers wasn't Warrior offense, it was the world's tallest free safety

OAKLAND -- Sometimes, you swear the Golden State Warriors are playing with six defenders against their opponent's five offensive players.

Draymond Green makes it look that way.

At 6-7, Green is capable of defending every position on the floor. He's listed as a forward but against the Trail Blazers Sunday afternoon it seemed as if he was the world's tallest free safety. Or goalie. Whenever the Blazers got into the basket area in the fourth quarter, he was lurking nearby -- ready to smother jump shots or dunks. His timing is amazing and his instincts are even better. There's nobody else in the game like him and he hurt the Trail Blazers down the stretch of their 121-109 loss to the Warriors. Portland was outscored 33-21 in the fourth quarter after running up 27, 29 and 32 points in the three previous quarters.

What happened? Well, the best way I can explain it is to point you toward this video from BBall Breakdown. It clearly shows what was going on in key stretches of the game at the Portland end of the court. Green was leaving Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu wide open when he was matched up with them. Those two players, often positioned in the corner behind the three-point line, combined to go 1-7 from long distance. Green obviously had no respect for them and I'd also say the two Portland forwards frequently didn't even get the ball when they were open.

When Green has the freedom to leave his own man and help out on everybody else he's trouble. Make that TROUBLE. He blocked five shots in the game and affected a few more. He snuffed dunks from Damian Lillard and Noah Vonleh and those plays were momentum busters for Portland and momentum builders for the Warriors. In spite of all the points scored, the Blazers defended adequately -- given the opposition. But to beat this team, you have to score big and Green just wasn't going to let that happen.

Portland is going to have to find somebody hitting enough shots to occupy Green or it's going to be a very short series. Which it may be, anyway. Obviously, Jusuf Nurkic would help. But who knows when or if he'll play? In the meantime, a big shooting night is needed by Harkless, Aminu or anyone else playing forward for the Trail Blazers.

And looking to the future, there is no doubt that the biggest remaining role to fill on this team is a deadly three-point shooter at one -- or even both -- of the forward spots.

 

Lillard, McCollum took a lot of shots -- but when you're the only guys making them...

Lillard, McCollum took a lot of shots -- but when you're the only guys making them...

OAKLAND – And so you see now, if you didn’t already know, how difficult it’s going to be to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs.

The Trail Blazers – at least their two best players – gave it a heck of a shot Sunday afternoon in Oracle Arena. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 75 points while hitting 7 of their 15 three-point field goal attempts.

But they got very little help.

Portland got nine points off its bench and just 25 from its starting front line. Sure, Lillard and McCollum took 54 of their team’s 93 shots – but you couldn’t blame them. Who else is going to make shots?

Take away the starting guards and the rest of the Trail Blazers made just 12 out of 39 shots from the field.

Of course, the Warrior defense had something to do with that. The closer Portland got to the basket the more difficult the shots became, thanks to 10 Golden State blocked shots, half of those from Draymond Green.

The Trail Blazers were tied at the half and tied at the end of three quarters but the roof finally caved in during the final period.

“Our fourth-quarter defense in particular changed the game,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said. “I like the way our guys responded in the second half.”

Portland Coach Terry Stotts agreed – to a point.

“They were very aggressive,” he said about the Warriors in the fourth quarter. “Obviously we didn’t shoot the ball well. We had six turnovers in the fourth. Draymond had an impact on the game at the rim and in the paint.

“They got more aggressive on the ball and the trapping pick and rolls a little bit more. So, I mean in a quarter if you have six turnovers and shoot 30 percent in the quarter, it’s going to be rough.

“It’s a credit to their defense and we’ve got to be able to handle that a little bit better.”

The game was officiated similarly to most playoff games over the years – by a different set of rules than the regular season. There was so much more contact allowed than what you can get away with over the 82 games. It was much rougher and more physical than the regular season.

That leads to all sorts of things and it certainly raises the temperature on the floor –- as do all the sideshow gyrations and chatter from Green.

McCollum, who led Portland with 41 points, couldn’t resist a little byplay with the Warriors’ do-it-all power forward after Green got rim-checked on a dunk attempt. McCollum apparently suggested to Green that he needs a little more work on his legs to get up high enough to dunk.

“Yeah, he does need to do some calf raises so he can dunk,” McCollum said.  “… Where I’m from, if you talk trash, then I’m going to talk trash to you. It’s not disrespectful. We’re not talking about nobody’s mother or nothing bad.

“But I’ve known Draymond Green since he was at Michigan State. He was a little chubbier then at Michigan State. He’s done really well with himself. He’s worked hard. If I have something I want to say I’m going to say it.”

Lillard, who finished with 34 points, had a pretty good summation of his team’s play.

“I thought myself and CJ played good games tonight,” Lillard said. “And I thought as a group we really defended well. Guys were communicating and playing physical. I thought we executed our scouting report on the defensive end and I thought guys stepped up as well on the offensive end.

“Evan Turner had a good game. I felt like Mo (Harkless) played a good game. But it’s a matter of us two making more of those plays. Hitting guys on the weak side and giving them more opportunity.

“I think to beat the Warriors, we’re going to have to maybe make that extra pass more often and be able to defend on guys more often to allow them to have that type of success so we can actually beat them,”

Indeed, the Trail Blazers played more one-on-one basketball than usual. Rather than run a lot if pick-and-rolls against a team that switches on them, anyway, the two guards often just beat their defender off the dribble and drove to the point.

Obviously, Jusuf Nerkic would have made a difference for the Trail Blazers, but he sat this one out – still nursing that broken leg bone. Stotts was asked if there is a chance that he will play in the series.

“Yes,” came the one-word answer.

A ploy, just a fake out for Golden State's preparation or the real thing?

At this point I have no idea.

My best guess -- just a guess -- is that Nurkic will play vs. Warriors

My best guess -- just a guess -- is that Nurkic will play vs. Warriors

The Trail Blazers were predictably quiet Friday about the possibility of Jusuf Nurkic playing Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

I don’t blame them a bit. Why allow the Warriors to narrow their preparation for the series? If Nurkic has been ruled out for the series, why allow Golden State to toss that part of its preparation out the window? At this point, those guys have no choice but to prepare for him to be in the lineup.

If he is playing, why tell the Warriors? Why not leave them in the dark until the starting lineups are written just before gametime? Either way, Golden State is going to waste time preparing for the Trail Blazers with or without a key player.

I have no idea what Nurkic's status is. Nobody tells the media a thing and the Portland players were sticking to the script on this one – they don’t know.

But I'm betting they do know.

My guess – and it’s just a guess – is that they already know his status.

And my guess is that he will play.