NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: How can Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving get easier looks vs. Boston?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford makes his NBA Finals prediction and answers 20 questions on Dallas, Boston and more.

Jamal Crawford narrates Boston's Game 2 win in the latest episode of Chasing History.

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The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2024 NBA playoffs! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag. 

What’s one way the Mavs can get easier looks for Luka, Kyrie and the entire team?

– from Jarell in Cleveland, OH

They have to get stops and push the pace. Once they’re in transition, they can get better looks and bring the role players into the game. For them to get easier looks, they have to get stops.

I know we still have a long way to go in the series but my question is, after 2 games who would be your MVP of the series?

– from Adrian in Los Angeles, CA

I’ll go with Joe Mazzulla. He’s made all the right calls. His scheme has been great. It’s put the Mavericks’ backs against the wall a little bit because they’re playing them differently than anybody else has.

When Luka runs a pick-and-roll, most teams blitz the screen, which allows Dallas’ other guys to get downhill and find advantages. Instead of blitzing, the Celtics are switching defenders on the screen, even with Al Horford, and telling Luka and Kyrie to finish at the basket, which takes a lot of energy to continue to do all series.

Are there major changes the Mavs need to make? Or do they just need to execute better?

– from Andrew in Boston, MA

They need to bring their role players into the game somehow. But Boston’s scheme is to make Kyrie and Luka score all the points. And that’s made it hard for Dallas’ offense to execute like it has all season.

What makes Jrue Holiday’s on-ball defense so elite?

– from Tyreke in Indianapolis, IN

Most guys have quick feet or quick hands, but they’re not as strong. Jrue is both quick and strong. And he takes a certain pride in accepting the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best player. He’s a special defender.

Who do you think is the best player on the Celtics?

– Vinny in Little Rock, AR

The Celtics’ entire top 5 is their best player. It could be Tatum on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Then Brown on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. And White, Porzingis or anyone else could step up on any of those days. The strength and humility of those five together is what makes them special.

Kyrie is struggling against this great Boston defense. How would you handle a defense like Boston’s when you played and what advice can you give to Kyrie?

– from Dajuan in Cleveland, OH

I would try to make Boston’s defense move side to side. Maybe he becomes the screener in pick-and-rolls to find the matchup he likes a little better than the rest because the Celtics don’t have any weak links to attack. And he should try to score early in transition.

My advice for him would be to continue to read the game. It will tell you what to do.

Who do you think will win the championship? And who will win Finals MVP?

– from Sam in Minneapolis, MN

I’m changing my initial prediction. I thought Dallas could win it in six the way they were playing. But after seeing Game 1, Boston’s scheme is trouble for Dallas.

I predict Boston wins in six and Jaylen Brown wins Finals MVP.

Do you think missed free throws are contagious?

– from Sarah in Chicago, IL

Yes, missed free throws and shots are contagious. Makes are contagious, too. It’s about rhythm. Scottie Pippen taught me about the impact of missed free throws when he returned to Chicago for his final season.

What are ways a training staff can help a player play through injury in the playoffs?

– from Michael in Portland, OR

They work around the clock and give a player 3-4 times more treatment than normal. Sometimes trainers are thinking outside the box. Things like hyperbaric chambers can help a lot. The trainers go non-stop in the playoffs and most players have multiple treatments per day.

How can assistant coaches impact the game? What advice/motivation do they give their players that the head coach can’t give?

– from Mateo in Tyler, Texas

Every assistant coach brings something different and they’re all looking at different things. They each have their assignments and they’re a major factor in a team becoming great.

For example in Boston, Sam Cassell’s specialty is breaking down how defenses are playing guys and finding ways for them to stay in rhythm on offense. When he was with us in LA, he was really good at breaking stuff down for me, especially when I was going through a slump. At this level of basketball, subtle changes can make a major difference. And those subtle changes are where assistant coaches excel.

Who was your favorite team to watch his season and what team made the biggest jump from the previous season?

– from Wanz in Mississippi

My favorite team to watch this season was Denver because of the way they play. I think Joker is the best player in the world, but he plays each possession as if it’s a puzzle to solve. That’s a treat to watch.

And I would say Minnesota made the biggest jump this season. While they didn’t make it to the NBA Finals, it took a lot to eliminate the defending champs. And I don’t think many people expected them to make the West Finals, even after their strong regular season. So that was a great job by them.

Who, based on your experience, was the biggest playoff riser you ever faced?

– from Max in Adelaide, Australia

Tim Duncan. When we faced him in the playoffs, he was 38 years old. But he still averaged 18-11-3 with steals, blocks and elite efficiency. To me, he was the best player on the Spurs during that seven-game series. And it wasn’t the first time he’d taken his game to a new level in the playoffs. He was so special.

Did it feel different watching the Finals once you entered the league?

– from Shaun in San Diego, CA

The entire playoffs felt different. I remember going to playoff games after my rookie season and the intensity on every possession was incredible to see in person. It’s tough to see on TV because it looks like guys are just floating through the game. But there’s a lot of energy being used and contact being dished out. That’s why you can’t have back-to-back playoff games.

What’s a pet peeve that a lot of NBA players have that most people wouldn’t expect?

– from Charlie in Crystal, MN

Being busy on a game day. Every player has family and community obligations, in addition to basketball obligations. But on game days, everybody in a player’s circle knows to stay away so we can get our rest and be ready to perform at night time.

On your journey to the NBA or life in general, did you ever lose faith that everything would work out? Or did you just trust in yourself and the work you put in throughout the way?

– from Andreas in Canton, MA

I never lost faith. I trusted myself and God that it would work out no matter how bad it looked or felt at times. I always have faith. I saw everything playing out from a young age.

When I was 15, I visited family in Alabama and was playing at a country YMCA. A guy I was playing with remembered recently how I told them I was going to play at Michigan. I was an unknown prospect at that point. A sophomore in high school who didn’t have the grades to play at Michigan. But I kept faith and made it happen.

In your prime how many points do you think you could drop at your average local rec center?

– from Christian in Milford, NH

Well, I did drop 118 at Bally’s when I was with the Knicks. So around that level. If I was playing a full season in a rec league, I’d average somewhere in the 50-point, 20-assist range.

Do teammates talk much during the offseason? Which team during your career was the most communicative in the summer?

– from Kyle in Montreal, Canada

Teammates talk every now and then during the offseason. But people like to give each other space as well. We all know that around September, like right after Labor Day, we’ll all be back together in the practice facility. So that’s the main time when we all communicate.

The Clippers were the most communicative team I was on, mostly because we were together for so long.

How has the transition been from playing on the court to analyzing games off the court? What do you enjoy most about your new role?

– from Doni in New York, NY

It’s been great and really fun. It wasn’t something I planned, especially so soon after I was done playing. I see the game in a different way now. I think coaching kids has helped me be a better analyst. I’ve learned how to simplify things and be concise, and it has taught me how to say something in a way that anybody can understand. I try to make it like it’s just you and me watching the game. I hope you feel that when hear me on the call.

As a young high school ball player, what are 3 fundamentals that are absolutely crucial for success?

– from AP in Houston, TX

  1. Being coachable
  2. Competing every time you’re on the court
  3. Making your team better

If you can do those three things, then the rest will work itself out.

As a 14-year-old who just finished middle school and is going into high school next year, what are some tips that you can give me on standing out above the other freshmen so that I make the team?

– from Aiden in Martinsburg, WV

Be the first player in the gym and the last to leave. Coaches and players not only notice that, but they respect it. They see you’re serious about your game and getting better. It sets the foundation for the player you want to become.

Have A Question For Jamal? Submit It Below!

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