NBA

Golden State Warriors unleash Kevin Durant to give Houston Rockets a taste of their own medicine in Game 1

Jay Asser 15/05/2018
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Kevin Durant dropped 37 points in the Warriors' Game 1 win.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors were comfortable putting the ball in Kevin Durant’s hands and letting him work.

On a night Stephen Curry wasn’t raining down his usual fire and Houston Rockets guard James Harden was practically unstoppable, Durant was the focal point for a Warriors offence that had no problem letting their star forward cook in one-on-one situations.

And cook Durant did, scoring 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting to lead Golden State to a 119-106 victory over the Rockets on the road.

Like Harden, who finished with a game-high 41 points and produced 1.67 points per play in 15 isolations, Durant was also dominant in isos, scoring 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The difference between the two teams, however, is their reliance on isolations. Whereas the Rockets’ main weapon is Harden and Chris Paul attacking one-on-one, the Warriors wield that approach with Durant as a secondary option.

“We want to keep the ball moving, but obviously Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down and you just throw him the ball,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He can get you a bucket as well as anybody on Earth. This is why anybody would want him on their team.

“You think about a couple years ago, and we’re in the Finals and we couldn’t quite get over the hump. Kevin is the guy that puts you over the hump. I don’t know what you do to guard him. He can get any shot he wants.”

On most other teams, Durant would likely be used heavily in one-on-one situations, but with how fluid and talented Golden State’s offence is, they have choices aplenty for ways to score.

Which is why Houston coach Mike D’Antoni will live with Durant taking what is normally considered a low-efficiency shot, while trying to take away open looks for the Warriors shooters.

“He is 7 feet and falling away. He’s one of the best scorers ever, right? So I thought he was extremely good. But we can withstand that,” D’Antoni said of Durant.

“We can’t withstand turning the ball over, missing layups, them getting out. Klay Thompson got up 15 [3-pointers]. We can’t give him 15 3s. We’re switching everything and staying off for that reason, so we have to clean up some stuff and see if we can do it on Wednesday.”

A scary notion for the Rockets, however, is that Golden State can potentially be even better.

Curry was limited to 18 points on 1-of-5 shooting from deep, while they now have three of the next five games (if needed) at home.

“I don’t know if we’re at our peak,” Durant said. “I think we could be better. I mean, the stakes are high. We’re playing the Western Conference finals against the best team in the league, the No1 seed, an MVP on their team. So I think everybody just wants to enjoy this time. Not a lot of people get this opportunity, so we want to take advantage of it.”

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NBA

Houston Rockets need to be close to perfect to have a shot at knocking off Golden State Warriors

Jay Asser 15/05/2018
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James Harden's big Game 1 wasn't enough to pull out a victory for Houston.

It was only one game, but the series opener of the Western Conference Finals was a reminder of just how uphill a climb it takes to beat the Golden State Warriors.

It’s obviously too early to say with any conviction this series is already over, but it sure feels like the outcome is inevitable.

We spent the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs being impressed with a 65-win Houston Rockets squad which boasted the MVP frontrunner, one of the best point guards in history, a historically-good offence and home-court advantage.

And yet, the collective worth of all those advantages appeared to turn to dust with a Thanos-like snap of the fingers by the Warriors in Game 1.

Consider everything which went in the Rockets’ favour: James Harden was arguably the best player on the floor and turned in a terrific 41-point showing, Stephen Curry was kept relatively quiet with 18 points and one 3-pointer, and again, Houston were on their home floor.

None of it seemed to matter as the Warriors won by 13. Not by a few possessions. By 13.

It was a close game throughout the first half when the teams were trading punches, but after the intermission, Golden State went to another level the Rockets probably aren’t capable of. That’s less an indictment of Houston and more telling of how much of a juggernaut the Warriors are.

The Rockets’ margin of error is just too minuscule. Even though they have two of the best creators in basketball and thrived with Harden and Chris Paul attacking in isolations all season, that method of attack can only get them so far against the long and versatile defenders of Golden State.

Attacking primarily through isolation may be enough if Houston can turn this series from a shootout to a grind-it-out affair. But that would involve slowing down the Warriors’ offence, which the Rockets did little of in Game 1.

Part of that was Kevin Durant being Kevin Durant and hitting shots Houston have no choice but to live with, but the Rockets also too often got caught matching-up in transition and left Klay Thompson wide open for easy triples.

Add in 13 turnovers leading to 17 Golden State points and 11 misses in the restricted area, and the combination left Houston with too much to overcome.

Against any other team, the Rockets’ Game 1 performance would have been enough. The Warriors aren’t just any team though.

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NBA

Breaking down the interesting scenarios in play at the NBA Draft Lottery

Jay Asser 15/05/2018
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Representatives at the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery.

There’s nothing like ping pong balls determining the course of history and altering the future of billion-dollar businesses.

But that’s what makes the NBA Draft Lottery so much fun, because anything can happen when the top-half of the draft order is determined on Tuesday night (UAE: 03:30 +1).

Before getting down to scenarios, here’s how the lottery works.

The 14 teams that failed to make the playoffs are assigned odds to obtain one of the top three picks. The team with the worst record has the highest chance of landing a higher pick, and so on.

After the top three selections are determined, the remainder of the lottery order is in inverse order of win-loss record for the leftover teams.

The picks are assigned by each team having a certain number of four-number combinations. Those combinations are randomly drawn from 14 individual numbered ping pong balls, picked out of a standard lottery machine in a private room before the broadcast of the results.

The teams with the highest odds are the Phoenix Suns, who have a 25 per cent chance of winning the lottery and a 64.2 per cent chance at the top-three; the Memphis Grizzlies, who have a 19.9 per cent chance of winning and a 55.8 per cent chance at the top-three; and the Dallas Mavericks, who have a 13.8 per cent chance of winning a 42.6 per cent chance at the top-three.

As far as the prospects available in this year’s draft class, there are several promising players who could be franchise cornerstones, including Real Madrid playmaker Luka Doncic, Arizona centre Deandre Ayton, Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr, Duke forward Marvin Bagley, Texas centre Mo Bamba and Oklahoma guard Trae Young.

As mentioned, the stakes are sky high and no one has any control of how this is going to go.

So, let’s take a look at some of the crazy possibilities that could play out.

Cavaliers get the number one pick

On a night they’re playing the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers actually have a 2.8 per cent chance of landing the top selection, thanks to the pick being conveyed from the Brooklyn Nets.

Boston, who struck gold on their trade with Brooklyn years ago, passed this year’s Nets unprotected first-rounder on to Cleveland in the Kyrie IrvingIsaiah Thomas swap this past summer, so it will now pay dividends for the Cavs.

Though the Nets weren’t as bad this season as Cleveland would have liked, the pick is likely to be no worse than eight. If it does jump up though, that gives the Cavaliers better ammunition to potentially swing a trade for a star to pair with LeBron James – if he stays – or rebuild with one of the best prospects in the draft if the face of their franchise leaves again.

Celtics leap into top three

Boston’s fortune and embarrassment of riches has been off the charts lately, but there’s a chance the rich can get even richer on Tuesday night.

Thanks to the trade they made with the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of last year’s draft, in which they swapped the number one overall pick for the third selection and a 2018 first-rounder, the Celtics may get another top-three pick to add to their collection of prized assets.

That selection is from the Los Angeles Lakers and because of the protections on it, will only convey to Boston if it lands between two and five, while it would stay with the 76ers if it’s number one or six to 14.

If the Celtics don’t get it this year, the pick will become the Sacramento Kings’ top-one protected selection next year.

The Lakers finished with the 10th-worst record this season, so the Celtics have just a 2.9 per cent chance of the pick being second or third, while Philadelphia have 1.1 per cent odds of it landing first.

With how stacked Boston already are and how quickly their young guys are developing, them receiving a top-three pick would be straight up unfair.

Sixers add another number one pick

The Process may be over, but this is likely the 76ers’ last chance at adding another number one overall pick for quite some time, considering their ascension.

As stated, their odds are just 1.1 per cent, so it probably won’t happen. But if it did, imagine a world where Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are playing alongside Doncic. And that’s not even mentioning how ridiculous that core would be if Markelle Fultz becomes anything close to what he was originally projected as.

And if LeBron isn’t on the way this summer for Philadelphia, they would have an incredible asset to throw at the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

It feels crazy to already say the 76ers are just a piece away from contending, but between them and Boston, this is the new reality for the Eastern Conference.

Pistons hanging in the balance

The Detroit Pistons are the only team who can lose their own pick in this year’s lottery.

When they traded for Blake Griffin mid-season, Detroit sent a top-four protected first-rounded to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are likely to get the pick after the Pistons finished with the 12th-worst record.

However, there’s a 2.5 per cent chance the Pistons leapfrog into the top three and keep their selection, which would be the ultimate bail-out for a team that may have been too aggressive in settling for mediocrity.

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