Tag: hoop dreams

For the Warriors, a Lack of Doubt Should Create Some Doubt

2019 N.B.A. Finals Preview
This N.B.A. season has been treated as a foregone conclusion, but Golden State will not want to get too comfortable against Kawhi Leonard and his loaded Toronto Raptors.

Game 1: Thursday, 9 p.m.

The games will air on ABC and will be streamed on Watch ESPN.

The Warriors, for better or worse, have always fed on doubt. No matter how invincible they have seemed, they have managed to find slights to inspire them — often going to somewhat comical lengths to do so.

The last time they faced significant doubt — and even then, it was hardly from a majority of pundits — was before the 2015 finals when, as a group of upstarts, the Warriors had to prove their mettle against LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers. But over the last four seasons, as they made the shift from powerhouse to dynasty, they have used injuries, inexplicably sloppy performances and some apparent figments of Draymond Green’s imagination as ways to make winning feel less inevitable and more like a chance to prove “everyone” wrong.

Even last year, as they pulled off one of the most dominant sweeps in finals history, they seemed to be powered by a reserve of doubt created by the team barely having survived a clash with the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals.

As Golden State comes out of a nine-day break, looking to win its third consecutive championship and a fourth in five years, the doubt created by injuries to Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins — doubt that helped inspire some of the best basketball of Green’s career — has faded away. In what should be ringing the “lack of doubt” alarm in Green’s head, the players and coaches have spent the last few days being asked about the possibility that Stephen Curry will finally win a finals M.V.P. Award.

Shaun Livingston and Curry both answered questions about the award on Monday, playing down the importance of Curry becoming the M.V.P., while neither pushed back against assumptions that the Raptors have only a slight chance of winning the series.

Steve Kerr, for his part, seemed to understand that the line of questioning could be counterproductive for his squad. “We’re trying to win” the series, the coach said when asked two consecutive questions about the award. “So we’re not talking about any awards, we just want to win four games.”

This Raptors team, after all, is far more complete than any of the James-led teams that faced off with the Warriors in their previous four trips to the finals.

After five years of watching his team dominate in the regular season only to fall apart in the playoffs, Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president, blew things up, trading DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The move did not pay tangible dividends in the regular season — the Raptors played slightly worse over the 82-game grind than they had the season before — but the killer instinct they had previously lacked became a defining characteristic of the team once the playoffs began.

You saw it in each series, as the Raptors systematically eliminated Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, playing suffocating defense as Leonard led the way on both ends of the court.

Leonard, who has a finals M.V.P. Award on his shelf from his days in San Antonio, has already justified the cost of trading away DeRozan, a franchise icon. Even if Leonard signs elsewhere as a free agent this summer, he has taken Toronto farther than it has ever been before.

His buzzer-beater to end the second-round series against the 76ers was the most important shot in franchise history, and Leonard followed it up by averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game against the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, thoroughly outplaying Giannis Antetokounmpo, the presumptive winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.

And Leonard is hardly alone. Pascal Siakam, who has the makings of a superstar, is a worthy sidekick on offense and defense. Marc Gasol, a rugged veteran acquired during the season when Ujiri sensed yet again that his franchise needed a shake-up, could be a problem for the undersize Warriors. And Kyle Lowry, once a centerpiece of the franchise along with DeRozan, has looked like his old self in spurts, even if he has had more mediocre playoff games than great ones.

Fred VanVleet probably can’t keep up the 82.4 percent he shot from 3-point range in the final three games of the series against the Bucks, but he will still provide a scoring threat from the bench that has to be accounted for.

The Raptors have more length than the Warriors and, at least until further notice, better health. They have home court advantage — a luxury Golden State had in each of the previous four finals — and, with help from their raucous fans, could win Games 1 and 2 before Durant’s anticipated return.

If Green and Curry can pick up where they left off in the Portland series, Durant’s return might be a formality. In the last six games, Curry has quieted talk about his “disappearing” in the playoffs by averaging 34 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists. In those same six games, Green, in the best shape of his career thanks to some late-season weight loss, has nearly averaged a triple-double, with 13.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists, while also playing elite defense at multiple positions. The Warriors’ ability to go galactic, and the likelihood that Thompson has a few big scoring nights in him as well, could make quick work of Toronto.

But Curry’s game is mercurial enough to make one wonder if he is due for a rough stretch, and Green is volatile enough that the task of tangling with Leonard and Gasol could put him in consistent foul trouble — or worse if he were to get three more technical foul points, earning a one-game suspension.

If both of those things happen, the Warriors have to hope they can count on Durant, currently reduced to being an extremely tall fan, to fly in for the rescue, putting the team on his back and securing the three-peat. The only problem, of course, is that Durant’s return has been a moving target. Pinning too much hope on a player who has been out since May 8 seems unwise.

As it stands, these two teams are more evenly matched than the average fan might assume, though a combination of top-shelf talent and finals experience should give Golden State a slight advantage. However, if Green is looking for some motivational doubt, there is no need to manufacture it this time around. The Warriors, the first team to play in a fifth consecutive finals since the Celtics appeared in their 10th straight in 1966, are nowhere near a sure thing.

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2019: Final Four & Championship Picks

March Madness has arrived, and we are here to help you make the best bracket picks. The following is a breakdown of my Final Four picks heading into the NCAA tournament.

One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.

Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.

One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.

Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.

What are we looking for when picking our Final Four teams? Veteran teams with tournament experience tend to perform well. Teams that shoot the ball well from the free-throw line and long-range is another sign of a potential contender. Jump shots do not always fall in March, so a team with a stout defense give themselves a chance to string together wins even if their offense is not firing on all cylinders.

Feel free to reach out on Twitter @JonDAdams with any March Madness bracket questions you have or with your Final Four predictions. Here are my Final Four picks based on the latest bracket projections.


Gonzaga

Your bracket mates may be fading the Zags after their surprising loss to St. Mary’s in the WAC title game, but don’t follow the crowd. Unless the committee pulls a surprise, Gonzaga is likely going to be in the West region. No path to the Final Four is easy, but Gonzaga is likely to have the path of least resistance. Geography does play somewhat of a role in the regions, and the Zags could benefit from a weaker Pac-12 this season.

Pathway aside, Gonzaga has consistently been one of the best teams in the country. Gonzaga was the lone team to defeat a full-strength Duke team during the regular season. The Zags only three losses came to NCAA tournament teams: Tennessee, North Carolina and St. Mary’s. Gonzaga has wins over Washington, Creighton, Texas A&M, Illinois, Arizona and St. Mary’s.

Gonzaga is a veteran team with their top players having made multiple March Madness appearances. Rui Hachimura is a legit star who is likely heading to the NBA after the season. Hachimura is a shooter with length that is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Gonzaga also has Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins to lead a balanced scoring attack. Not to mentioned Gonzaga’s defense can also shut down opponents’ offenses.

Florida State and Syracuse are two teams to watch as potential pitfalls in the west. Overall, I like Gonzaga chances to bounce back from their recent loss and make the Final Four.


North Carolina

Despite beating the Blue Devils in two of their three matchups, Duke has received the majority of the attention. North Carolina does not have the star power of its rival, but the team has the makeup for a deep run in March. The Tar Heels enter the NCAA tournament-tested by an ACC schedule, arguably the best conference in college basketball. UNC has wins over Gonzaga, Duke (twice), Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State.

The Tar Heels have plenty of March Madness experience led by Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye. Coby White is playing his best basketball of the season heading into the NCAA tournament. Nassir Little could be an X-factor for North Carolina thanks to his defensive ability. The Tar Heels can bring him in to guard the other team’s best playmaker for spurts. Whatever he adds on offense will be a bonus.

Duke

Duke is not invincible like we may have thought when they dominated Michigan State to start the season, but they are still more than capable of cutting down the nets. Duke is the most talented team in the country, but the question is whether that talent works together in a cohesive unit in March.

Zion Williamson shows no ill-effects from his knee injury. The play of Tre Jones and Cam Reddish could determine how far Duke goes in the tournament. Williamson and R.J. Barrett are going to provide the best one-two punch in the tournament. The challenge for Duke is they go through cold spells, then appear to flip a switch like the Golden State Warriors. We have seen talented teams play with fire and get burned in the tournament.


Tennessee

Despite being one of the higher seeds, Tennessee is likely going to be absent from a lot of your competitors’ bracket picks. The Vols don’t have the kind of recent tournament success of some of the other teams on our list. Tennessee still comes in tested thanks to a solid SEC schedule.

Tennessee has wins over Gonzaga, Louisville, Mississippi State among others. Senior guard Admiral Schofield is the engine that keeps the Vols train moving. Schofield does a little bit of everything including shooting 41 percent from the three-point line. Tennessee is far from a one-man show with five players averaging double-digit points.


National Championship Pick: Duke Over Gonzaga

Our Final Four picks feature North Carolina and Duke squaring off in the Final Four. It would be the fourth time the two teams have met this season, but only the second time with Williamson. It could be the game of the season, but Duke has the talent needed to win for the second straight time. The national championship matchup of Gonzaga and Duke is a rematch of an early season matchup. The Zags were victorious in the first meeting, but I like the Blue Devils to get revenge this time around. Experience often trumps talent in the NCAA tournament, but when Duke is playing at its best the Blue Devils look like they have been doing this for years.

Best 50 Plays of the 2018 NBA Regular Season

Getting ready for the 2018-2019 Season the hardwood is about to squeak again, enjoy some highlights from last season.
Enjoy the best 50 plays from the 2018 NBA regular season, featuring LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and more! Subscribe to the NBA: http://bit.ly/2rCglzY For news, stories, highlights and more, go to our official website at http://www.nba.com Get NBA LEAGUE PASS: http://www.nba.com/leaguepass