No. 1: Cavaliers plan to force DeRozan, Lowry to make shots -- The Cleveland Cavaliers had a week to ponder and prepare for the Toronto Raptors and the Eastern Conference semifinals (7 ET, TNT). While the Raptors are pretty much the same team the Cavaliers vanquished in the conference finals last season (despite some not-so-subtle roster tweaks in adding Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker), the Cavaliers are approaching this matchup with a fresh perspective. They are also coming in with a simple and familiar plan, and that's boring Raptors All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to make shots. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:
The Cavs understand the challenge. They dealt with it during last year's conference finals, a series that went six games. Their strategy may seem strange, but the Cavs know Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will score. They just want to limit the amount of easy attempts the duo gets throughout the best-of-seven series.
No layups. Minimal run-out chances. Finish in a crowd. Most of all, the Cavs want to keep the two All-Stars off the free throw line.
"I just think we have to do a good job on both of those guys," head coach Tyronn Lue said following Sunday's practice. "Make them make field goals and not free throws, that's my biggest thing. Keep them off the line and make them make shots. If we can do that it can work out for us, work out in our favor."
Lue knows that the rules favor offense. It's hard nowadays to shut down players, especially these two. Even though J.R. Smith is going to get the tough DeRozan matchup and has experience with it from last season, the best the Cavs can hope for is turning DeRozan into an inefficient scorer.
"Making him take tough shots, keeping him off the free throw line," Smith said when asked what he would consider a successful night defending the Raptors' leading scorer. "Not fouling. If you can get out of the game with probably a foul or two, him shooting five free throws or less, that's pretty good. I think he's averaging eight or nine free throws a game, so just try to keep him off the free throw line, keep him from making those spectacular plays, those dunks he has, stuff like that. It will be a tough task but I think we're up to it."
DeRozan ranked fifth in the league during the regular season, getting to the stripe 8.7 times a night. His attacking mentality usually leads to contact and he possesses one of the most effective pump fakes because his mid-range jumper is so pure.
During Toronto's first-round win against Milwaukee, DeRozan averaged 8.3 free throws and shot 92 percent from the line.
Milwaukee only held DeRozan below 50 percent from the field twice -- both losses. The Bucks just didn't do enough to make him uncomfortable.
Perhaps the Cavaliers can do better. The knowledge from last year should certainly help. But as Smith admitted Sunday afternoon, DeRozan has improved.
"I think he was looking for the foul more," Smith said. "This year I think he's just playing, letting the game come to him. He was trying to pump fake a lot more, he's not really doing that as much, but he still does it. He's so good at getting to the free throw line, the only person that does better than him right now is probably James (Harden).
"Just keep him off the free throw line, make him take tough shots, contest, that's all you can ask for. If he makes shots, he's going to make shots, anyway. Just rely on my teammates."
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No. 2:Time to break up the Clippers? -- You knew it was coming. All it took was a fifth straight playoff exit after leading a series for the non-believers in the LA Clippers to start banging the drum for change. With free agency upon them and the franchise at a clear crossroads after the Utah Jazz knocked them off in the first round, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times says it's time for big change in ClipperLand:
This isn’t about one game, it’s about six years. Break them up.
The Clippers’ Game 7 disintegration in front of the Utah Jazz on Sunday wasn’t an upset, it was a rerun. Break them up.
The end of this first-round series should also be the end of an era. Los Angeles has seen enough. This core group of Clippers has failed enough. The fact that three of their four stars are free to leave the team this summer should be reason enough.
Break them up.
Two seasons after rolling over in Game 7 in the second round in Houston, the Clippers were bounced by the Jazz in a 104-91 loss that was stunningly lopsided and sickeningly familiar.
Two seasons ago, in their most important game of the season, they didn’t lead once. On Sunday in a Staples Center eventually filled with boos, they led exactly twice, never by more than one point, and never after the game’s first four minutes.
It was awful. It was unsightly. It was six years of playoff failure whittled down to 2 1/2 hours of abject frustration.
In the game’s first timeout, somebody dusted off Clipper Darrell to lead a cheer. That didn’t work. Late in the first quarter, Jay Z and Beyoncé showed up to sit courtside. That didn’t work. By the third quarter, the game was being stopped to clean up some sort of spill directly in front of Jay Z and Beyoncé, and all was lost.
It was only the third win by a road team in the NBA’s last 15 Game 7s. It was the Jazz’ first playoff series win in seven years. And oh, yeah, it came less than 48 hours after the Clippers’ most inspirational win of the season to stay alive in Utah.
It was same old, same old.
“Once again … we’re done,” said Chris Paul, who was finally crushed by the weight of carrying his teammates and missed 13 of 19 shots.
At least Paul showed up. J.J. Redick did not, unbelievably making only one basket. Then there was DeAndre Jordan, who scored 24 points with several backboard-rattling dunks, but gave much of that back defensively, the Clippers being outscored by 10 points in the paint and by 16 points when Jordan was on the court.
Doc Rivers had a lousy coaching game, not allowing Redick a chance to find himself while playing the ancient Paul Pierce for 21 mostly unproductive minutes. Jamal Crawford was hot late with 14 points in the fourth quarter, but scored only six points before that as the Clippers slowly sank out of sight.
“Basketball is a game of rhythm, and I guess we had trouble finding our rhythm,” said Crawford of the most talented group of out-of-step players in the league.
Afterward, the Clippers repeatedly talked about the difficulties of winning a series without their second-best player, the injured Blake Griffin. Except the Jazz survived the series without the full services of their second-best player, as Rudy Gobert was either out or nonexistent in two Jazz wins at Staples Center.
“Like I tell every guy, we’ve just got to keep pounding away,” said the Jazz’ George Hill. “Anything is possible.”
You know what’s possible for the Clippers now, right? Break them up.
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No. 3: Tony Parker prepared for physical series against Rockets -- Tony Parker has seen and done it all during his future Hall of Fame career with the San Antonio Spurs. So he, more than almost anyone else on the San Antonio Spurs' roster, knows exactly what to expect from the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals tonight (9:30 ET, TNT). With Rockets pest Patrick Beverley on the other side, Parker knows he has to be ready for an extremely physical matchup from the opening tip of Game 1 until the final buzzer of this series. Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News has more:
One of the burning questions facing the Spurs as they enter the second round is whether point guard Tony Parker will continue to surge offensively.
After averaging 10.1 points in the regular season, Parker averaged 16.3 on 53.3 percent shooting against Memphis, his best marks in the playoffs since 2014. In Game 6, he had 27 points on 11 of 14.
"He turned that switch on," Spurs guard Danny Green said. "I've seen him do it plenty of times in the past. I knew he was capable of doing it again."
But can Parker keep it going against the Rockets' Patrick Beverley? In Houston's five-game win over Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook averaged 34.7 points but shot just 38.8 percent with Beverley hounding him.
"I watched all the games," Parker said. "He had a great series."
The pesky Arkansas-ex has had success putting the clamps on Parker. A recent example came in December, when Parker missed 4 of 7 shots in 24 minutes in Houston.
And Parker is no stranger to Beverley's physical play. On Christmas Day in 2015, Beverley stopped the Spurs in transition by firmly fouling Parker with a hand to the face.
"He likes to play physical, that's fine," Parker said. "It's playoff basketball. It's supposed to be like that."
Parker will turn 35 on May 17, but Beverley doesn't see any drop off.
"At his age, how fast he is, is unbelievable," Beverley, 28, told the Houston Chronicle.
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No. 4: Draymond wants no part of Barkley comparisons -- Even if everyone else sees it and the comparisons, however uncomfortable for Draymond Green, the Golden State Warriors' star wants no part of it. He wants nothing to do with any suggestions that he is a new age Charles Barkley, on or off the court. Chris Haynes of ESPN.com provides some context:
Some have made the case that Draymond Green's unapologetic, unmuted, fiery, trash-talking demeanor is similar to that of a retired All-Star power forward: Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.
Asked after practice Sunday if he's the modern-day Barkley, the Golden State Warriors' All-Star highly objected.
"Hell no," he responded promptly. "I'm the modern-day Draymond Green. F--- no."
There are clear similarities between the two power forwards, but Green elaborated on his position to further distance himself from the Barkley connection.
"[Chuck] told y'all in '90-what that he wasn't your kid's role model anyway ... so there you have it," Green said. "He wasn't my role model. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. ... That's what you do, you talk. You talk junk during basketball. That's how I was raised. I was raised in a family like that, so I didn't need a Charles Barkley to influence me."
Green credits his mother, father and neighborhood for the bulk of his outspoken disposition, saying "It was inherited." The only linkage with Barkley he acknowledged was on the basketball court.
"I was raised by Mary Babers," Green said. "In the Babers family, that's what you do. You speak your mind. It ain't got nothing to do with Chuck.
"I wasn't a Charles Barkley fan growing up. No disrespect to Chuck. He's a great player, but as I got older, I watched his game because I knew he was undersized and the things that he could do, I tried to add some of that stuff to my game. But nah, he didn't influence me at all."
Green was asked if he considers himself to be a role model.
"I try to be," he said after a long pause. "But it's not my decision on whether I'm somebody's role model or not, but I try to be the model citizen."
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The most resilient team in basketball found its way out of yet another early hole Sunday, thanks to a toothless Isaiah Thomas ... The Utah Jazz got the message in time for Sunday's Game 7 win over the Clippers, advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 ... The Wizards' good talent couldn't overcome their bad habits against the Celtics ... The Bulls' front office needs to pick a lane so the recruiting process gets off to the right start ... The Hawks didn't waste any time moving on to the next part of the process (Draft) after their season came to an end Friday night against the Wizards ... Check out this detailed breakdown of the things (all 14 of them) the Spurs must do to beat the Rockets ...