2017-18 Eastern Conference Preview

Happy NBA Day! At long last the season begins tonight. We already talked about tonight’s games earlier today, and yesterday, we previewed the Western Conference. Now, it’s time to go through the depressing wasteland that is the Eastern Conference. Is it really that bad? Will we be able to find any reasons to watch some of these teams? Yes.

THE EASTERN CONFERENCE DREGS

15. Chicago Bulls (17-65)

In the grand scheme of the NBA, most of the Eastern Conference could be considered the dregs. We’re starting our journey down here at the bottom with the Chicago Bulls, a team that has hit the reset button hard. Winning will not be a high priority for them this season, and their roster is a reflection of that. Their best player, Zach Levine, acquired in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler out of town, is still recovering from an ACL injury that ended his season prematurely. That’s tanking 101: try and get a best player who can’t play. The rest of the squad is frankly populated by fringe players and youngsters still trying to prove they belong in the NBA. Rookie Lauri Markkanen will have his moments, but the Bulls are going to suffer through a depressing season, hoping from salvation from the Basketball Gods when it comes time for the Draft Lottery.

Reasons to Watch: If they happen to be playing your favorite team.

14. Atlanta Hawks (19-63)

The Hawks enter the season in the unenviable position of having their best player facing battery charges, and awaiting punishment from the team (not to mention the law). Another team that has hit the reset button, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when the team oriented Hawks were winning 60 games and capturing the imagination of NBA fans everywhere, and battling LeBron and the Cavs in the Conference Finals. Now, their streak of ten straight trips to the postseason is definitely coming to a crashing end. Rookie John Collins has generated excitement with his strong play during the summer and preseason, and Taurean Prince might become a solid player, but the most fun that comes from Atlanta during this basketball season will be provided by The Starters.

Reasons to Watch: Watch The Starters instead. Weeknights on NBA TV!

13. New York Knicks (26-56)

The Knicks finally stopped kidding themselves and traded Carmelo Anthony, hired a new front office, fired Phil Jackson and now face the daunting task of regaining a modicum of respectability. The good news is, they have Kristaps Porzingas to build around. The young Latvian is now the main man on the team, and his ongoing improvement is the first step to the Knicks getting taken seriously again. The new crew in charge will have a chance to do what their predecessors haven’t been able to do for most of the 21st century: craft a consistent playoff contender. Of course, one of the first things they did was wildly overpay Tim Hardaway Jr, signing him to a contract much larger than anyone else was offering, so on the other hand, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Hardaway at least is a fun player, the kind of guy who might catch fire and drop 40 points for no reason. Cut from a similar cloth is Michael Beasley, the former 2nd overall pick. Between him and Hardaway, shots for anyone else might be hard to come by, but at least they’re entertaining chuckers. There’s other decent players around, but I’m not sure how well they fit together. Check out this motely crew: Doug McDermott, Enes Kanter, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Willy Hernangomez, rookie Frank Ntilikina, Ramon Sessions. It’s a hodge-podge of veterans who probably should be helping out playoff contenders, and young guys trying to prove themselves. It’s a roster that just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Reasons to Watch: Amidst it all, Kristaps Porzingas continues on like a unicorn. Despite the incoherent roster, they’ve got some entertaining characters. They certainly won’t be boring.

12. Brooklyn Nets (28-54)

They won’t be good, but at least the Nets know who they are, and what they’re doing. They’re well coached, and without the opportunity to win a lot of games, they’re spending their time trying to build a successful culture from the ground up, and they’re off to a good start. The Nets are often overmatched, but they always put in a good effort, and in the offseason, they traded for their potential star of the future, D’Angelo Russell. Aside from that, they actually have a decent amount of roster continuity amongst a group of guys who seem to have bought in on the culture they’re trying to establish in Brooklyn. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough to give them a couple extra wins and place them above the other New York team.

Reasons to Watch: I bought League Pass midway through last season, and the Nets quickly became one of my favorite non-Celtics teams to watch. There’s something about a team that always goes out there and gives an honest effort, even though they know their outgunned and outmatched almost every night. They also have a fun broadcast crew, and cool uniforms.

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THE EASTERN CONFERENCE WILDERNESS

11. Detroit Pistons (32-50)

I’ve literally switched these teams throughout the following five spots as I agonize entirely too much about this Eastern Conference preview. Honestly, all of them might be garbage, or any of them might sneak into the playoffs if they can fully get it together. Ultimately, I remembered last season, where the Pistons felt like they were playing under a cloud of discontent. After a cameo in the 2016 Playoffs, where they seemed like a team on the rise, they took a big step back, and everyone seemed kind of grouchy. This year, they’re generally expected to contend for the 8th playoff seed. Why? They’re bringing back roughly the same team they had last year, with the addition of Avery Bradley, who is replacing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I love Avery Bradley, but he alone is not the answer to the Pistons questions. If Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson can’t regain the form that got these guys into the Playoffs two seasons ago, it’s going to be another unpleasant experience in Detroit.

Reasons to Watch: Their grouchy coach, Stan Van Gundy, storming up and down the sidelines and getting increasingly forlorn as things go awry. If things don’t go awry, this was a feisty squad that put up a valiant effort against the Cavs in those 2016 playoffs, which seems like it was eight years ago.

10. Orlando Magic (35-47)

I don’t think the Orlando Magic know what they’re doing. Last season, they spent most of their time tinkering with their lineup, yanking their most talented players in and out of the starting five, or playing them out of position. At first glance, this is a roster that was that was built with the intention of at least trying to get to the playoffs, and they have a coach, Frank Vogel, who had a successful run with the Pacers. This year, they return with a lot of the same guys they had for last year’s lackluster experience. Hopefully this year, they leave Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton alone, and keep them in the starting lineup, and at their proper positions. I’d like to actually see how good they can be in a consistent role. Who knows, they might actually be not half bad, and with the likes of Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Simmons, Marrese Speights and DJ Augustin around, they might actually be able to make a small amount of noise in the atrocious East.

Reasons to Watch: I’m actually curious about these guys. There’s a semblance of a solid rotation there, or, the whole thing might go to hell. Recent history suggests that the whole thing going to hell is more likely.

9. Charlotte Hornets (36-46)

They traded for Dwight Howard, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that Dwight Howard ruins everything. On top of that, they enter the season without one of their most important players, Nicolas Batum, who is going to miss the first chunk of games with an elbow injury. It’s not totally hopeless. They do have Kemba Walker leading the way, and he gets better each and every year. The problem is after him and Batum, things start to get a little hairy. Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, Marvin Williams, rookie Malik Monk and Michael Carter-Williams don’t inspire a lot of confidence in me, frankly. However, Kemba Walker is a bonafide star, they have a great coach, and if they can tread water until Batum returns, they could be able to steady themselves in time to salvage a spot in the playoffs. The only problem is, Dwight Howard ruins everything.

Reasons to Watch: If you’re the kind of person that likes watching Dwight Howard ruin everything. Also, Kemba Walker is awesome.

8. Indiana Pacers (38-44)

Yet another team that has thrown in the towel on trying to make the playoffs for now, only the East is so bad, they might actually make it anyway. Indiana has closed the book on the Paul George era, and join the Hawks and the Bulls as recent playoff stalwarts who have started over. They’re a little further along than those two, if only because they already have a bright young potential star in Myles Turner, as well as Victor Oladipo, who struggled at times as the second scorer behind Russell Westbrook in OKC last season, but has shown flashes of potential himself. There’s some steady veterans running around here too, remnants of when this team had real playoff hopes. In the woeful East, that might actually be enough to slip into the playoffs.

Reasons to Watch: Don’t forget about Lance Stephenson! His ridiculous presence makes the Pacers worth checking in on every once in awhile.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (40-42)

The Sixers enter the season as one of the most intriguing teams, but much of their success hinges on the health of Joel Embiid, which is harrowing to think about. If he plays 60-70 games, you can just about pencil them in for a playoff spot. If not, well, one of the teams we’ve already talked about wouldn’t have much trouble leap-frogging them into the playoffs. This is a young team in Philly, led by Embiid, Ben Simmons (himself coming off a rookie year that he missed entirely with injuries) and this year’s rookie, Markelle Fultz. Rookies make mistakes, and rookies need time to learn, but the sheer talent between the three of these guys is something to behold. Helpful veteran additions like Jerryd Bayless, Amir Johnson and JJ Redick indicate that this team is serious about making the playoffs, and veterans of the process like Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes have developed into handy role players. That’s not to mention Dario Saric, another youngster coming off a promising rookie season. It won’t always be pretty, but the Sixers are finally in a position to see their years of losing finally start to pay off.

Reasons to Watch: Joel Embiid has already gotten into a preseason Twitter ruckus with Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, so sign me up for anything involving him. If you don’t like off the court Twitter antics, Embiid’s skills on the court should more than keep your attention. This could be the first steps of a future Eastern Conference power, and if there’s one thing the East needs, it’s more good teams.

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LUCKY TO BE IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE

6. Miami Heat (44-38)

The Heat started last season 11-30, and everyone left them for dead. Then, they finished off the year by going 30-11, and barely missed out on the playoffs. With an interesting cast of characters who play really well together, coupled with the utter weakness of the goddamn Eastern Conference, they shouldn’t have as much trouble this time around. Hassan Whiteside is one of the most interesting and polarizing players in the league, with some thinking he’s a great talent, and others believing he spends too much time trying to pad his own stats. Either way, there are a lot of teams that would love to have him padding his stats for them. Goran Dragic, who finally regained the form that saw him make the 2014 All NBA 3rd team, is a fine floor general for this squad filled with players that know their roles and fill them well. Then, there’s Dion Waiters, who has finally found an NBA home. One of the premiere irrational confidence guys in the league today, he selects his shots with the audacity of someone who believes they’re the best player in the NBA, and he carries himself that way, too. He’s someone who can bail you out when the chips are down, and is also equally likely to stomp all over the chips, crushing them into little, tiny crumbs.

Reasons to Watch: Lots of hard playing characters on this team: Tyler Johnson and James Johnson among them. Udonis Haslem is still around, having outlasted Dwyane Wade. Kelly Olynyk and his man bun. The aforementioned trio of Whiteside, Dragic and Waiters.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (47-35)

The Bucks are rapidly becoming the most frustratingly injury plagued team in the league. Last year, Khris Middleton, thought to be out for the entire season, returned midway through the year just in time for Jabari Parker to go down for the rest of the season. He’ll remain out until some time in February. It’s too bad, because when he plays, he’s a second 20 point scorer that takes some of the load off of Giannis Antetokounmpo. By now, you know that Giannis is a 6’11” jack of all trades that is fully expected to become an MVP candidate. He deserves a full season with a healthy supporting cast someday. As for that supporting cast, it includes a hopefully healthy Middleton, reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, Greg Monroe, who seems to have embraced his role as sixth man, the young Thon Maker, irritant Matthew Dellavedova, as well as Jason Terry, one of the last remaining players who played in the 1990s, who is still around to launch threes. After last year’s playoff appearance, the Bucks should continue to improve, and get stronger as the season rolls along, especially if Parker can return and be helpful for the stretch run.

Reasons to Watch: Giannis is like something we’ve never seen before, and he’s still getting better.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE ELITE

4. Washington Wizards (49-33)

Last year, the Wizards boasted a great starting five, and suffered from a lack of depth. This year, the Wizards boast the same great starting five, and will once again suffer from a lack of depth, which has already come to the forefront, as starter Markieff Morris will miss the first chunk of games recovering from a sports hernia. Reserve Sheldon Mac is likely out for the season. Luckily, that starting five is spectacular, led by the splendid backcourt duo of Bradley Beal and John Wall. In fact, the Wizards feature one of the more familiar teams, it seems like that starting lineup has been around forever. We pretty much know what to expect out of them, and if they don’t shore up their bench, what’s expected will once again come to fruition: elimination in the Conference Semifinals.

Reasons to Watch: That backcourt of Beal and Wall is one of the best in the league, but can they carry this team to greater heights than they have before?

3. Toronto Raptors (51-31)

Another team that you know what to expect. They return with basically the same team they had last year, with their own special backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan leading the way. It will be their first full season with Serge Ibaka, and they might finally have to decide what they have to do with Jonas Valanciunas. Is he their anchor at center, or do they need to go small with Serge at center, and do they need to trade Valanciunas? The supporting cast might be too heavily populated with players who have yet to prove themselves. With Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, PJ Tucker and Cory Joseph moving on in the offseason, and Norman Powell likely joining the starting five, guys like Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam are going to have to step up. CJ Miles is there to help mitigate their growing pains, and KJ McDaniels has always been an intriguing prospect, but he’s also barely gotten a chance to prove himself since joining the league.

Reasons to Watch: If you like teams that are for some reason better in the regular season than they are in the playoffs, look no further. I can’t help but think they’re in for another second round exit, much like the Wizards.

2. Boston Celtics (57-25)

My favorite team. I will do my best to remain objective. They face an unprecedented amount of turnover, with only four players returning from last year’s squad. They made two of the biggest moves of the offseason, signing Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving. The talent level is unquestionable, and the supporting cast is filled with players who are good at what they do. I suspect they’ll get better and better as the season continues on, as they settle into a groove with their new players, and their youngsters grow stronger. They are the best hope the East has at dethroning the LeBron and the Cavs. A lot of that will hinge on how well this team gels over the course of the season. This being the Celtics, their biggest weakness will be rebounding, but between the ball-movement, tenacious defense, creativity of their offense, and mixture of established stars and intriguing youngsters, this will be one of the more fun teams to watch.

Reasons to Watch: If you are someone hoping that another team in the East will stop LeBron from making his 8th straight Finals.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (59-23)

For the first time since LeBron has returned to Cleveland, the Cavaliers have given their supporting cast a real shot in the arm. Their depth is vastly improved, allowing them to move both Tristan Thompson and JR Smith to the bench, shoring up the second unit. With Jae Crowder’s arrival, they can go with a small starting lineup and shift Kevin Love to center, which could help them contend more closely with the Warriors, the only team that’s really on their radar. Dwyane Wade reunites LeBron with his former Miami running mate, and they seem thrilled to be back together again. Derrick Rose will have to hold down the fort until Isaiah Thomas comes back from his now infamous hip injury, whenever that is. Rose did have some solid numbers last year, lost in the turmoil of his strange and brief tenure with the Knicks, but he’ll have to accept a role on the bench if Thomas can come back healthy. The biggest issue for now is whether or not they have enough shooting in their starting lineup. That backcourt of Wade and Rose isn’t exactly going to draw defenders away from the lane. Nevertheless, LeBron seems particularly motivated this season, and with the new blood in town, they seem better suited to battle the Warriors, and regain the top seed in the East. The path to the Finals still goes through them before somebody proves otherwise.

Reasons to Watch: The onslaught of trash talking this team is likely to produce is off the charts. The hip injury certainly hasn’t stopped Isaiah Thomas from speaking his mind. Whether you love LeBron, or hate him, the Cavs are going to be compelling all season long, and this might be his best supporting cast since his return to his hometown, and the roster is certainly not lacking in polarizing players.

With that, it’s finally time to see if these predictions will stand the test of time, or if they’ll be a series of humiliating embarrassments. The season is finally here, so settle in for what should be another memorable chapter in the annals of NBA history.

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NBA Playoffs Day 19: Game 2 Blowouts

As we did the other night, we’re joining the Cavs and the Raptors at halftime because I don’t get out of work in time for these 7:00 pm starts. Also, who cares about this series, anyway? Just kidding, I care about all of the series, but we do sort of know what to expect from it at this point. For instance, at halftime, it’s Cleveland 62, Toronto 48. Let’s head to Twitter to try and get a feel for what’s going on here…

See what I mean? We know what to expect from this series, right down to the Cavs having the same 14 point lead at halftime that they did in Game 1.

LeBron has 19 points to lead Cleveland, and Channing Frye has come off the bench to score ten. The Cavs are shooting 57.9% from the floor, and they’re a scorching 10-15 on their threes. Again, more of the same.

Not more of the same: Jonas Valanciunas leads the Raptors off the bench with 19 points! Kyle Lowry’s added 15 points, and you’d think this would be good news for the Raptors, but, DeMar DeRozan has scored just one point on 0-7 shooting.  Yuck!

Also, once again, it looks like the Cavs aren’t too worried about this one. Observe LeBron James messing around with the basketball before draining a three…

While we’re here, there was no Bonus for Tuesday’s games because I was at that Celtics game! What can I say about Isaiah Thomas that hasn’t already been said? Simply put, that was one of the most memorable individual performances I’ve ever seen, in one of the most most memorable games. Over the first half, I thought John Wall was going to have one of those games where he just wins it all by himself, and under normal circumstances, he did. Isaiah just outdid him, and it was awesome.

8:24 pm – All right, we’re back to Cleveland for the second half of Game 2 between the Cavs and the Raptors. Marv Albert and Brent Barry will narrate the action. How much do you want to bet that, like Game 1, the Cavs will win this game, 115-104?

8:26 – The second half is off to a horrendous start as it seems Kyle Lowry is injured underneath the basket. A reminder that things can always get worse. We solemnly go into a timeout. During the play, Serge Ibaka goaltended a shot from LeBron James, so our score’s Cleveland 64, Toronto 48 with 11:33 left in the third quarter.

8:29 – Looking at the replay, it seems that a falling Norman Powell careened right into Lowry’s knee. Lowry then dragged himself out of bounds to avoid any further contact with anyone. He walked off to the locker room with a limp, and as action continues, Cory Joseph is into the Raptors lineup to replace him.

8:30 – After Serge Ibaka sends LeBron to the ground with a hard hit, Tristan Thompson steps in and exchanges a few words with Serge. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry is making his way back to the Raptors bench with an ankle injury, according to sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow. She reports he’ll test it out and see if he can get back into the game. After review, Ibaka gets called for a common foul.

8:33 – Kyle Lowry comes back into the game for the Raptors. Let’s see how effective he is going forward.

8:34 – Lowry immediately gets a layup, but he’s still hobbling around, as Marv Albert points out. Toronto trails, 66-52.

8:35 – Kyle Lowry gets called for a technical foul after he’s called for a foul slapping the ball away from Kyrie Irving. Lowry contends that it was a clean strip, but the refs don’t see it that way. Irving knocks down the technical free throw, plus the two he earned from the original foul, and the Cavs lead is 69-52. Lots of stuff is happening here to start the third, none of it good for the Raptors.

8:36 – LeBron James hits a three, tying him for second all time in NBA Playoff scoring with none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

8:37 – After Lowry’s fouled shooting a three, he knocks down his first two free throws, and before the third, the Cavs call a timeout with the score Cleveland 72, Toronto 56 with 8:52 left in the third quarter. Lowry deserves a hell of a lot of props for staying in the game, but he’s definitely struggling out there, despite how active he’s been since his return.

8:40 – Back from the timeout, Lowry knocks down his third free throw, and he’s up to 20 points, but the Raptors are down, 72-57.

8:43 – And with another three, LeBron is now in sole possession of second place on the NBA’s all time Playoff scoring list.

8:47 – Kyrie Irving finds Tristan Thompson all alone in the paint for one of the easiest dunks he’ll ever get. It leads to a timeout with the score Cleveland 85, Toronto 65 with 5:41 left in a third quarter that I am only half paying attention to.

Kyrie’s only shooting 4-15, but DeMar DeRozan’s at a lousy 0-8 from the field.

8:51 – DeRozan’s now 0-9 after missing a runner, but Serge Ibaka cleans up the mess with an offensive rebound and gets a bucket. Toronto’s down, 85-67.

8:59 – After Jonas Valanciunas tips the ball out of bounds, we’ll have a timeout with the score Cleveland 97, Toronto 73 with 2:40 left in the third quarter. The Cavs are pretty much openly dicking around with fancy passes as their lead continues to grow. The Raptors have started turning the ball over, and they look generally hopeless, I have to say.

9:01 – Back from the timeout, we learn that Kyle Lowry has limped back to the Raptors locker room.

9:03 – Not that it was in question, but, Kyle Lowry’s officially done for the night.

9:04 – The third quarter comes to an end without any Raptors field goals over the last four minutes and ten seconds, according to Marv Albert. As a result, the score’s Cleveland 99, Toronto 73. LeBron James is up to 36 points and seems to be genuinely delighting in ruining the Raptors season. Kyrie Irving, despite lousy 6-19 shooting, is up to 22 points and 11 assists. Meanwhile, the Raptors just lost their most important player to an injury, and their co-most important player is shooting 0-9.

9:07 – DeMar DeRozan kicks off the fourth quarter by making his first shot! Unfortunately, it’s still worth just two points, and the Raptors are down, 99-75.

9:12 – Another Raptors turnover as DeMarre Carroll steps out of bounds, and it’ll take us to another timeout with the score Cleveland 107, Toronto 79 with 8:53 remaining.

9:23 – The Cavs turn the ball over, and it’ll take us into a timeout. You know the game’s gotten bad when it’s turnovers, and not big baskets, that are sending us into timeouts. Anyway, it’s Cleveland 113, Toronto 90 with 5:09 left in the game.

9:29 – Iman Shumpert goes driving to the hoop for a layup, plus a foul, and finally it’s not a lousy turnover taking us into a timeout. Our score’s Cleveland 122, Toronto 97 with 1:39 mercifully remaining.

9:33 – Shumpert hits his free throw, and the Cavs lead goes up to 123-97. Marv Albert and Brent Barry are talking about volleyball movies, and I’m spending more time texting with the groom for the Bachelor Party I’m in charge with this weekend, than I am watching the game.

9:35 – The game comes to a close with a final score of Cleveland 125, Toronto 103. The 125 points set a Cavaliers franchise record for points in a Playoff game.

LeBron James had another great game, dropping 39 points on 10-14 shooting. That’s some efficient work. James also grabbed six rebounds, and shot 15-21 from the free throw line. Kyrie Irving added 22 points and 11 assists as the Cavs shot 54.1% from the floor, including an 18-33 effort from downtown.

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Jonas Valanciunas came off the bench to score 23 and grab 5 rebounds for the Raptors, and his fellow benchman, Cory Joseph, added 22 and 6. Kyle Lowry finished with 20 points and 5 assists, but he of course had to leave the game, and Raptors fans everywhere will hold their breaths until his status going forward is revealed.

I said this after Game 1, but, the Cavs just own the Raptors. Toronto has no answers for anything Cleveland throws at them, and everyone seems pretty resigned to an unfortunate Raptors fate.

9:43 – We’re whisked down to San Antonio for Game 2 between the Spurs and the Rockets. Game 1 was a surprising Rockets blowout, and the Spurs are looking to bounce back. Pau Gasol joins the starting lineup for San Antonio, replacing David Lee. Will this be more of the same like we saw up in Cleveland, or can the Spurs make the right adjustments to get themselves into this series?

9:45 – The Spurs take the opening tip, and Game 2 is underway at the AT&T Center.

9:46 – Kawhi Leonard knocks down a three, and the Spurs strike first. Trevor Ariza comes right back for a layup, and the Rockets are on the board, down 3-2.

9:52 – After Danny Green knocks down a three, we’ll head into our first timeout with the score San Antonio 19, Houston 16 with 6:22 left in a frantically paced first quarter. Obviously, this one’s off to a much better start for everyone than Game 1 was, but we already have a cause for concern…

9:55 – Back from the timeout, James Harden is still on the floor for the Rockets, but we’ll keep an eye on him.

9:58 – Ryan Anderson knocks down a transition three, and it’ll take us into another timeout as Anderson’s already up to ten points. The score’s San Antonio 25, Houston 19 with 3:32 left in the first quarter.

10:07 – David Lee finds LaMarcus Aldridge for a layup a mere 0.02 seconds before the first quarter expires, and it makes the score San Antonio 33, Houston 30 after one. Now this is more like it! Danny Green’s got nine points on 4-4 shooting to lead the Spurs, while Ryan Anderson has ten for the Rockets. The pace has been fast, and it seems like the Spurs are not so much disrupting the Rockets as they are just staying ahead of them. Nevertheless, it’s been awesome, but we’ll see if they can continue to hang at such a fast pace.

10:11 – Patrick Beverly kicks off the second quarter by getting to the bucket for a quick layup, plus a foul. He knocks down the free throw, and we’re tied at 33.

10:14 – Eric Gordon knocks down a shot, and we’ve got a timeout as the game continues in a fast paced, razzle-dazzle fashion. It’s San Antonio 39, Houston 37 with 9:19 left in the first half.

10:22 – The ball goes bouncing out of bounds for a timeout with the score San Antonio 50, Houston 46 with 5:50 left in the second quarter. After struggling in Game 1, LaMarcus Aldridge is contributing nicely for the Spurs here in Game 2.

10:32 – Tony Parker hits a three from the corner, and thanks in part to some sloppy possessions by the Rockets, the Spurs have been able to pull away to a double digit lead. It’s San Antonio 61, Houston 48 with 2:29 left until halftime.

10:40 – We’re here at halftime with a score of San Antonio 65, Houston 55. Kawhi Leonard’s been magnificent with 20 points and 5 assists on 7-9 shooting. Danny Green’s got 12 on 5-5 shooting, and Tony Parker’s added 11. Ryan Anderson has 15 points and 5 rebounds on 6-6 shooting to lead the Rockets, and Eric Gordon’s come off the bench to score 12. James Harden’s shooting just 1-9, and most surprisingly, has yet to attempt a free throw, but Houston is still well within shouting distance. Despite their deficit, the game is being played at their pace, which gives them a great shot at erasing this deficit if they can come out strong in the second half.

10:45 – I think it’s time for tonight’s episode of Today in Playoff History, brought to you by the scholars down at Basketball Reference!

It’s been a great bounce back for the Spurs so far tonight, but back in 1988, they suffered a first round sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, thanks to a 109-107 loss in Game 3.

Walter Berry came off the Spurs bench to lead them with 27 points and 7 rebounds, Frank Brickowski had 22 points and 7 boards, and Alvin Robertson had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists and 4 steals. However, 25 points, 5 rebounds and 11 assists from Magic Johnson led the Lakers to the close victory. He had help off the bench from Mychal Thompson who submitted 23 points and 9 rebounds, while James Worthy contributed 16 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists.

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10:58 – Kawhi Leonard cans a jumper to start off the second half, and the Spurs lead swells up to 67-55.

11:01 – A Spurs turnover leads to Clint Capella, of all people, taking the ball down the court for a layup, and that Spurs lead is starting to shrink. A timeout is called with the score San Antonio 71, Houston 65 with 9:22 left in the third quarter.

11:11 – James Harden misses a three, and then he’s sent to the floor due to an accidental elbow from LaMarcus Aldridge after they both chase after the rebound. It leads into my least favorite aspect of the Playoffs – a long video review, coupled with Reggie Miller’s running commentary. It ends up being a common foul. Also, Harden appears to be okay, and he has one or two things to say to Aldridge as both teams get set to continue the game.

11:18 – After James Harden draws one of those infuriating fouls as he’s shooting a three, we have a timeout with a score of San Antonio 82, Houston 76 with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter. When we return, Harden will have a chance to make this a one possession game with his three free throws.

11:22 – James Harden goes 2-3 from the line, and the Rockets have cut this down to a four point game, trailing, 82-78.

11:24 – James Harden finds Eric Gordon behind the arc for a three, and it’s finally a one possession game with the Rockets behind, 84-81.

11:25 – Jonathan Simmons gets a bucket along the baseline, and the Spurs get their lead to 86-81. Lou Willams then fights his way inside for a layup, and the Rockets get the deficit down to 86-83.

11:26 – After a Jonathan Simmons jumper to close out the quarter, the score’s San Antonio 88, Houston 83. The Rockets are right back in this one, even with James Harden shooting a disgusting 3-15 from the floor. If they can keep the pace to their liking, they’ll have an excellent shot at overtaking the Spurs and heading home to Houston with a 2-0 series lead.

11:30 – Tony Parker misses a short shot, but Manu Ginobili “flies in untouched” as an excited Kevin Harlan puts it, and tips in the miss. It’s the first basket of the fourth, and it extends the Spurs lead to 90-83.

11:33 – Tony Parker finds Pau Gasol with a great bounce pass for a big dunk! The Spurs are on an 11-0 run after the Rockets got to within one possession, and we’ll have a timeout. The score’s San Antonio 97, Houston 83 with 10:07 left in the game after a perfect start to the fourth quarter for the Spurs.

11:38 – Oh dear. Tony Parker is sitting on the ground by himself, holding his knee. Looks like he had an awkward landing after attempting a runner. It’ll bring us into a timeout with the score still San Antonio 97, Houston 83 with 8:42 to go.

11:41 – We’re back, and Tony Parker was indeed carried off the court after taking a few painful steps himself. Kawhi Leonard replaces him in the Spurs lineup.

11:50 – Kawhi Leonard knocks down a three, and we’re getting a virtuoso performance out of the MVP candidate tonight. As we go into a timeout, it’s San Antonio 111, Houston 88 with 4:54 remaining. Kawhi’s up to 34 points on 13-16 shooting.

11:55 – Another timeout with the score San Antonio 114, Houston 88 with 3:57 left in the ball game. At this point, we’re all holding our breaths, waiting for news on Tony Parker.

11:59 – Allie LaForce, our intrepid sideline reporter, tells us that the Spurs say that Tony Parker has a “left leg injury”, and that he will go in for an MRI tomorrow. Eek.

12:04 am – This one draws to a close with a final score of San Antonio 121, Houston 96. Kawhi Leonard finishes with 34 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists on 13-16 shooting. Pau Gasol, inserted into the starting lineup, ended the night with 6 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks.

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Ryan Anderson led the Rockets with 18 points and 8 rebounds, while James Harden struggled mightily, shooting 3-17 and ending up with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists.

As much as things went well for the Rockets in Game 1, they went equally as bad here in Game 2. The Spurs also made some nice adjustments, starting Gasol and getting a nice spark from Jonathan Simmons. Of course, Kawhi Leonard played much better as well, leading his team to an important victory, tying the series after these teams have swapped blowouts.

Obviously, Tony Parker’s status is looming over an otherwise successful night for the Spurs. If he’s lost, it’ll be a serious blow to a team that doesn’t have a ton of point guard depth. We’ll know more after tomorrow’s MRI, but for now, best of luck to the Spurs veteran.

Each of the series we heard from tonight have been built upon blowouts, but at least the Rockets and Spurs seem equally likely to hand out a shellacking. As for the Eastern half of tonight’s action, it certainly looks like the Cavs are still looking for a worthy challenger in the Eastern Conference.

Remember earlier when I mentioned a Bachelor Party? That’s this weekend, so I won’t be around to cover the Playoff action. On top of that, a cousin I’ve never met before is in town, so I’ll be meeting him tomorrow, and as a result, The Bonus will return next week. Hopefully nothing exciting or interesting happens in the NBA Playoffs between now and then, but I wouldn’t count on it. So, with that in mind, dear readers, keep watching, because it’s been a great Playoffs so far, and keep me in your thoughts this weekend as I try and survive what promises to be a lively bachelor party.

NBA Playoffs Day 17: Game 1 Blowouts

I went out for dinner tonight over at the Nashoba Club in beautiful Ayer, Massachusetts. If you’re ever in Ayer for some reason, definitely check out the Nashoba Club. Speaking of checking things out, let’s switch on TNT and Twitter and see how Game 1 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors are going.

Well then. Meanwhile, Charles Barkley is saying on TNT’s halftime show that he doesn’t even think the Raptors themselves believe that they can beat the Cavaliers. Jesus. Looks like it was a less than inspiring first half for the Raptors. In other news, I had a very inspiring Pastrami sandwich and a Wachusett Country Ale at the Nashoba Club for dinner.

Okay, we’re joining this on in progress at the start of the third quarter with the score Cleveland 62, Toronto 48. Our narrators are Marv Albert and Grant Hill. Let’s see if the Raptors can make any progress here in the second half.

8:23 pm – After Kevin Love is fouled shooting a three, he goes 2-3 from the line as Kristen Ledlow tells us that the Raptors led the league in double-digit comebacks during the year, and Marv Albert informs us that the Raptors did manage a 19-3 run during the first half. They’re obviously going to need more of the same as our score’s Cleveland 64, Toronto 48 to start off the third quarter.

8:26 – Jonas Valanciunas hits a little jumper, and the Raptors have this one within single-digits. It inspires the Cavs to call a timeout with the score, Cleveland 65, Toronto 56 with 9:29 left in the third quarter. This seems like a good time to scan the box score. Kyrie Irving has 16 to lead the Cavs, LeBron’s got 14, and Kevin Love’s contributed 13. For the Raptors, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry each have 15, and DeMar DeRozan’s not far behind with 13.

8:34 – Tristan Thompson spins through the paint and then flings a pass to the corner to Kyrie Irving, who cans the three. It’ll bring us into a timeout with the score Cleveland 79, Toronto 64 with 5:56 left in the third quarter. The Raptors did briefly cut their deficit down to seven, but that’s about as close as the Cavs seem willing to let them get.

8:42 – The Raptors have resorted to intentionally fouling lousy free throw shooter Tristan Thompson, trailing 85-69. He hits both of them, and the Raptors are now down, 87-69.

8:44 – LeBron just got fouled on his way to the hoop, couldn’t quite finish the layup, then galloped down the baseline into the crowd, and quickly grabbed a beer from an usher, and pretended to take a sip. Fantastic stuff from the king. Obviously, the only way it’d be better is if he actually drank the beer. Anyway, he hits two free throws, and the Cavs go up, 89-71.

8:49 – Well, the third quarter is over with the score Cleveland 96, Toronto 74. They seem to be in complete control of the game, in a free-flowing, beer drinking groove. You know you’re in trouble when the Cavs have reached “just fucking around” mode.

8:54 – Norman Powell knocks down a three to kick off the fourth quarter for the Raptors, but they’re in dire-ass straights, trailing 96-77.

8:56 – PJ Tucker hits a long jumper, and it’ll take us into a timeout as the Cavs look to put a halt to the wave of momentum the Raptors have suddenly built up to cut their deficit down to…sixteen. It’s Cleveland 98, Toronto 82 with 10:23 left in the ball game.

9:06 – Deron Williams gets to the hoop for a little runner, and we’ll take a timeout with the score Cleveland 106, Toronto 87 with 6:13 left in the game. Ugh.

We can probably start looking ahead to our next game – Game 1 between the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets, a marquee matchup if ever there was one. Can the well oiled Spurs machine find a way to subdue the Rockets free wheeling, three point shooting high powered attack? At the very least, it should be better than what we’re seeing in Cleveland, where the Cavs just flat out own the Raptors, and there’s just no way around it.

9:16 – Kevin Love hits a pair of free throws, and the Cavs lead has reached 20 points. It’s Cleveland 112, Toronto 92 as we have another timeout with 3:17 left in the game.

9:25 – Dahntay Jones throws down a mean dunk, then trash talks Raptors rookie Jakob Poetl, and somehow gets himself ejected with a pair of technical fouls. There’s 18 seconds left in the game. What the hell?

9:27 – This game comes to an end with a final score of Cleveland 116, Toronto 105, and it wasn’t even that close. I do not regret missing the first half.

LeBron James finished with 35 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Kyrie Irving had 24 points and 10 assists, and Tristan Thompson chimed in with 11 points and 14 boards. Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 20 points and 11 assists.

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Well, the Cavs looked a lot better than they did in that first round series against the Pacers. They don’t seem to be worried about the Raptors at all, and the Raptors didn’t give them any reason to change their minds. As the Playoffs roll along, the Cavs just seem to get stronger and stronger. Unless the Raptors can find a way to put up a real fight, this is going to be a depressing series. At least it’ll be short.

Respect to Raptors writer Eric Koreen for the Simpsons reference. Give that man a Twitter follow if you haven’t already.

9:35 – We’re just getting ready for Game 1 between the Spurs and the Rockets, one of the most anticipated series of the Playoffs.

9:36 – Down in Studio J, Charles Barkley apologizes to the women of San Antonio…because now that he’s eaten churros, he now understands the excitement people feel about the city of San Antonio. Shaq is so vexed he gets up from the desk and walks away laughing.

9:38 – And we’re off to San Antonio for Game 1 down at the AT&T Center. Kevin Harlan and, sigh, Reggie Miller will narrate the action for us. For the second straight series, James Harden faces off against one of his fellow MVP candidates, this time San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.

9:40 – The Spurs are gonna roll with David Lee in the starting lineup to begin the series.

9:41 – The Spurs win the opening tip, and this much anticipated series is underway! Kawhi Leonard gets the scoring started with a pull up, and the Spurs take a 2-0 lead. The Rockets quickly answer with a Clint Capella dunk, and we’re off to a fine start, tied at two.

9:42 – After a James Harden three, the Spurs call an early timeout with the score Houston 5, San Antonio 2 with 10:40 left in the first quarter. Apparently Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is displeased with David Lee’s less than stellar defense after that Harden three.

Hilarious.

9:48 – Damn, TNT shares a graphic that tells us that the last time anybody had 71+ free throws through the first five games of the Playoffs, as James Harden does this year, was all the way back in 1965 when none other than Jerry West pulled it off.

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Now THAT’s an All Star jersey!

9:50 – James Harden lobs up a pass to Clint Capella who is able to coax it into the hoop, and an angry Gregg Popovich calls another timeout with the score Houston 15, San Antonio 6 with 7:54 left in the first quarter.

9:58 – Pau Gasol takes a nice pass from Kawhi Leonard and goes storming through the paint. He’s fouled on his way to the hoop by Lou Williams, and he’ll get a couple of free throws, but first, we’ll have a timeout with a surprising score of Houston 28, San Antonio 13 with 2:21 left in the first quarter.

10:01 – What is this…

10:02 – Back from the timeout, Pau Gasol knocks down his free throws, and the Spurs trail, 28-15.

10:05 – The first quarter draws to a close, and the Spurs have started to look a little more like themselves. That being said, our score after one is Houston 34, San Antonio 23. We know the Spurs, and you have to think they’ll close the gap, especially with after a fairly encouraging end to the quarter. Kawhi Leonard’s got 10 points and 5 rebounds to lead the home team, and James Harden’s got 11 for the visitors. This marks the first time in these Playoffs that the Rockets have had a lead after the opening quarter.

10:10 – Lou Williams nails a three, and the Rockets start off the second quarter with a 37-23 lead.

10:13 – Patrick Beverly knocks down a three, and the Rockets are on a 19-4 run and are shooting 9-16 from downtown. That’s good enough to run any team off the floor, and here at the second quarter TV timeout, it’s Houston 47, San Antonio 25 with 8:59 left in the first half.

10:19 – Hey, check this out…

10:22 – Manu Ginobili knocks down a three, and he’s fouled! That’s the good news for the Spurs. The bad news is, as we head into a timeout, the score’s Houston 58, San Antonio 34 with 5:13 left in the second quarter, as the Rockets haven’t slowed down and are now up to 11-23 shooting from downtown.

10:26 – Back from the timeout, Ginobili knocks down the free throw to complete the four point play. They’re down, 58-35.

10:28 – We’re here at another timeout after Tony Parker turns the ball over. The score’s Houston 60, San Antonio 35 with 3:29 left until halftime.

10:35 – This is disappointing. -10 points, LeBron.

10:38 – So, we’re at halftime of a game that prompted Kevin Harlan to at one point exclaim, “I don’t believe what I’m seeing!” and Reggie Miller to describe the proceedings as, “An old fashioned, take you behind the woodshed beatdown.” As you might imagine, the score’s Houston 69, San Antonio 39.

Kawhi Leonard has 12 points and 9 rebounds, but the rest of his teammates have been scarcely heard from. James Harden has 16 points and 7 assists to lead the Rockets, Trevor Ariza’s right behind him with 15, and Ryan Anderson’s chipped in with 11 points and 5 rebounds.

Houston utterly dominated every aspect of the game. The Spurs seem disheveled, like they don’t know what hit them. Since they’re the Spurs, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt, but, it certainly doesn’t seem like tonight’s the night for an epic San Antonio comeback. They head to the locker room facing the biggest halftime deficit in Spurs Playoff history.

10:44 – Since I got home late, we’ve only got one episode of Today in Playoff History, so let’s make it a good one.

Back in 1977, the Houston Rockets put the finishing touches on the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a 108-103 victory over the Washington Bullets, winning the series 4-2. For some reason, Houston was in the Eastern Conference back in those days. It’s just as perplexing as this first half was.

Phil Chenier led the Bullets with 21 points, while Elvin Hayes added 20 points and 8 rebounds. Mitch Kupchak chipped in with 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Wes Unseld finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists.

Rudy Tomjanovich led the Rockets with 26 points and 8 boards. Mike Newlin scored 21, and Moses Malone went for 14 points and 14 rebounds. The win sent the Rockets to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

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10:56 – Clint Capella gets an easy bucket to start off the second half, and the Rockets lead balloons up to 71-39.

11:03 – The Spurs get back to back threes from Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, and it’s enough to get Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to call a timeout with the score Houston 73, San Antonio 45 with 8:02 left in the third quarter.

11:07 – James Harden makes an awesome pass to Clint Capella for a dunk, and the Spurs need another timeout with the score Houston 80, San Antonio 45 with 6:28 left in the third. Harden’s done an excellent job tonight drawing attention from defenders and finding people like Capella for easy buckets. Harden’s got 16 points and 12 assists so far, while Capella has really benefited from Harden’s fine passing, racking up 17 points and 10 rebounds on 8-10 shooting.

11:22 – Things are starting to get a little chippy. During some Kawhi Leonard free throws, Trevor Ariza and Jonathan Simmons mouth off to one another, and engage in some minor shoving. After Kawhi’s free throws, Nene sends Simmons to the floor with a big pick on everyone’s way back up the floor.

11:25 – RUCKUS! RUCKUS! RUCKUS!

After the third quarter comes to an end, the Spurs Dewayne Dedmon gets into it with Nene, and both teams square off a bit. An angry Dedmon is led away by his teammates, while Reggie Miller goes on his usual, “THIS IS PLAYOFF BASKETBALL! I LOVE IT!” rants.

Anyway, our score’s Houston 96, San Antonio 67. As you can see, not a whole heck of a lot has changed.

11:29 – We’re back for the start of the fourth quarter, and the refs are reviewing the ruckus, which means we get to hear even more from Reggie Miller! It is unenjoyable. Dedmon and James Harden get technical fouls, and Nene is ejected for some strange reason.

Looking at the replay, Nene grabbed Dedmon’s throat, earning the ejection. Fair enough.

Patty Mills misses a technical free throw, and the Rockets lead remains 96-67.

11:35 – After another obnoxious replay of a foul committed on Lou Williams while he was shooting a three, Williams hits all of the free throws for the first points of the fourth quarter, and the Rockets lead is up to 99-67. This game is starting to become insufferable.

11:40 – We have a timeout with the score Houston 106, San Antonio 72 with 8:49 left in the game. I apologize for saying this was going to be a better game than the Cavs and Raptors.

11:45 – Oh man…

11:46 – Dewyane Dedmon just got ejected as he was about to shoot some free throws. Patrick Beverly sort of incited him into some trash talk, and the refs got fed up, slapping Dedmon with his second technical foul, an automatic ejection. Amazing stuff. Beverly hits the technical free throw, and the Rockets select David Lee to shoot the free throws that Dedmon were about to. Lee hits them both, and the Spurs trail, 112-78.

11:52 – We’re here at another timeout as this game draws closer to finally ending. It’s Houston 119, San Antonio 82 with 5:24 left in what has to be one of the most bizarre Playoff games I have ever seen.

11:55 – Legendary NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein is sticking this one out to the bitter end…

11:59 – Jonathan Simmons takes it to the hoop for a layup, plus he’s fouled. Before he heads to the line, we’ll have a timeout with the score Houston 120, San Antonio 88 with 2:54 remaining.

12:01 am – TNT shows us some footage of the last time these two teams tangled in the postseason. It was back in 1995, and just before Game 1, Spurs center David Robinson was awarded that season’s MVP instead of Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, who took it super personally and pretty much eviscerated Robinson and the Spurs throughout the six game series, on his way to a second straight championship with Houston. Legendary stuff.

12:07 – This one finally comes to an end with a final score of Houston 126, San Antonio 99. You expect this sort of behavior out of the Cavs/Raptors series, but this was legitimately surprising.

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Kawhi Leonard finished the night with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists for the Spurs. A fine line, but he somehow didn’t make much of an impact on the game, and the rest of the squad was nowhere to be found as the Rockets really dominated the game. They got 23 points from Trevor Ariza, 20 points and 13 rebounds from Clint Capella, and 20 points and 14 assists from James Harden. They shot a ludicrous 22-50 from three point land, setting a franchise Playoff record for threes in a game, and last but not least, they had 30 assists on 40 baskets. It was pretty much a flawless victory against the team with the second best record in the league, and in their home court, nonetheless.

That was a wacky game, bringing an end to a wacky night of basketball. I missed the first half of the Cavs/Raptors game, but I feel like I didn’t really miss anything. Sorry, Raptors. As for tomorrow night, I’m going to Game 2 of the Celtics/Wizards series! Obviously, I won’t be writing a running diary, but, maybe I’ll tweet during the timeouts. It’s not like you’ll notice if there’s no running diary. We just went ten days without one, and nobody said a word. Anyway, keep enjoying these wild and wacky Playoffs, and we’ll see you later in the week.