Around the NBA: Finals update

The 2019 NBA Finals is four games in but does not look the way it was expected to.

A game four victory for the Toronto Raptors last night gave them a 3 to 1 series lead over the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are looking to three-peat, but injuries and poor defense have them teetering on the brink of elimination in the association’s 2019 Finals.

DeMarcus Cousins is back, but with no Kevin Durant so far in these Finals, the Warriors appear more vulnerable than they have been in years. Klay Thompson even missed game three, though he was able to return for four.

In game one, Golden State showed the world that they were mortal, losing and falling behind in the series off the bat. The defense was porous, with Toronto’s shooters firing at will. The Warriors did bounce back in game two, maintaining a steady lead to even the series after two games in Toronto.

Game three brought the series to the Bay Area, where the Warriors were even more shorthanded, holding Klay Thompson out due to injury. The Raps took full advantage, continuing to light up the poor defense of Golden State. Despite a herculean effort by Steph Curry, Toronto stole the road game to retake the series lead.

Now following game four, Toronto has a commanding 3 to 1 lead in the series as it heads back up north of the border. The Raptors are seeking their first championship in franchise history.

Should the series end in game five, it would certainly be Kawhi Leonard who would claim the Finals MVP award. It wouldn’t be his first time, as he raised the trophy once before in his time as a San Antonio Spur. Leonard’s scoring and rebounding have been phenomenal. The defense that got him to the league in the first place looks just as elite.

Steph Curry has looked like the scorer and sniper he is famous for being, but he needs help. Klay Thompson has been good and Draymond Green has been distributing away, but the Warriors depth has been a defensive issue.

The true hinge of the remainder of these Finals is the health of Kevin Durant. If Durant could come return next game and help them steal one in Toronto, then they would get to come back home. If they win that home game, we are already at a game 7 loaded with Finals-experienced Warriors vs. the depth of the Raptors.

Sounds exciting, but we will have to see what unfolds one game at a time. Game five is Monday (6/10) at 8:00PM (CST) on ABC. Tune in to see what happens!

Around the NBA: 2019 NBA Finals preview

With a valiant comeback last night, the Toronto Raptors upset the Bucks to advance to the NBA Finals to face the Golden State Warriors.

With a few days to catch our breath before the NBA Finals, let’s take a step back to see how the Raptors and Warriors arrived here. Well, I suppose we all know how the Warriors arrived here for a fifth consecutive Finals appearance: they’re stupid good.

Golden State dropped a couple games to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first-round, but the biggest loss was DeMarcus Cousins to injury. We did not get to see much of Cousins in the regular season anyway, so any scares about ball-movement and flow were non-existent. They did suffer a second-round injury though that had greater implications.

Losing Kevin Durant to a leg injury seemed to leave a window of opportunity wide open for the Houston Rockets. Anytime one of the best basketball players on the planet goes down, the team should suffer, right?

Wrong.

The Warriors reverted seamlessly to the team that was so dominant before the Durant days, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson whipping the ball around and splashing threes at a dazzling clip. Draymond Green looked the best he’s looked all season, stepping up his distribution and hitting timely triples. They swept the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals and have been resting ever since. KD’s health will be a big story in these Finals, though he expected to be available.

Toronto’s path the the Finals

After losing the first game of the Playoffs to the Magic, the Raptors rattled off four wins in a row to advance to face the talented 76ers. That wound up being a seven game series, with the Raptors riding the capable shoulders of Kawhi Leonard to victory.

Next up they faced the Milwaukee Bucks, that boasted an NBA regular season-best 60 wins. The Bucks took the first two games at home, but then Toronto turned around and did the same, taking their home games. With the momentum (and some poor shooting by Milwaukee), the Raptors turned their two-game streak into four, and now get a meeting with the reigning champs for their trouble.

This is the first Finals appearance in Toronto Raptors history.

2019 NBA Finals preview

The Golden State Warriors will be heavily favorited to win this series, especially if two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant is back to full strength. If he isn’t, they will still have three All-Stars in Curry, Thompson, and Green as well as Finals MVP Andre Iguodala coming off the bench to help defend Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard is a Finals MVP himself from his days playing for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Kyle Lowry is an All-Star, but will have his hands full trying to keep up with a quicker player in Steph Curry. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Raptors hold is a more talented bench, led by Wichita State alum, Fred VanVleet, who shot lights out to close the series against the Bucks.

Toronto owns homecourt advantage too, but it will still be tough sledding with the difference in experience playing against a squad that routinely plays this deep into the Playoffs.

Below is the Finals schedule, taken directly from NBA.com:

Game 1: Thur, May 30, Golden State at Toronto | 9 ET (ABC)
Game 2: Sun, June 2, Golden State at Toronto | 8  ET (ABC) 
Game 3: Wed, June 5, Toronto at Golden State | 9 ET (ABC)
Game 4: Fri, June 7, Toronto at Golden State | 9 ET (ABC)
*Game 5: Mon, June 10, Golden State at Toronto | 9 ET (ABC)
*Game 6: Thur, June 13, Toronto at Golden State | 9 ET (ABC)
*Game 7: Sun, June 16, Golden State at Toronto | 8 ET (ABC)  

* – If Necessary

Golden State has a knack for making the spectacular appear routine, so all expectations are for them to hoist the Larry O’Brian trophy once again. Hopefully the Raptors can provide some magic and steal some momentum again in this series. The closer to a full seven games, the better for basketball fans, so that is the goal! For continued coverage of the NBA Playoffs and these 2019 NBA Finals, keep it locked to The Basketball Movement!

Around the NBA: Draft lottery, Conference Championships, and Beilein

Tonight is the NBA Draft Lottery, meaning the future of several franchises hang in the balance.

Two Around the NBA articles back-to-back? It must be your lucky day. Or, it could just be a busy time around the association. The Eastern and Western Conference Championships have been highly anticipated and the draft lottery has been on the calendar for a long time. We did however receive some interesting news from one of the organizations vying for a top pick.

The Cleveland Cavaliers made a surprising announcement yesterday. They have hired former Michigan coach, John Beilein. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported via Twitter that Beilein and the Cavs have agreed to a five-year deal.

At 65 years old, the contract could very well take Beilein right into retirement once his obligation is complete. The Cavs cited character as a large reason for the decision and referred to Beilein as a “culture driver.” In his 39 seasons as a coach at the collegiate level, he has had much success, especially leading the Michigan Wolverines over the last five years.

NBA Draft Lottery

Tonight is the night that teams around the NBA will learn where they will be picking in the 2019 Draft. The lottery will be televised on ESPN starting at 7:30pm (CST).

With a strong consensus for the number one selection in Zion Williamson, the order will have a big impact on the landscape of the NBA for years to come. The second selection will likely be Ja Morant or RJ Barrett, depending on team needs. The third of the Duke freshman trio, Cam Reddish is projected at seven. Darius Garland and NCAA Champion De’Andre Hunter are currently projected as the fourth and fifth picks, respectively.

A few picks have already been traded some time ago and could shift depending on tonight’s lottery. For example, if the Dallas Maverick’s pick is outside the top five, they owe it to the Hawks. Per ESPN: “If not conveyed, the pick remains top-five protected in 2020, falls to top-three protected until 2022 and becomes unprotected in 2023.”

ESPN lists the odds for each team as shown below:

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Conference Championships

In addition to the draft lottery, tonight also marks the start of the NBA Conference Championships. Beginning at 8:00pm (CST) on ESPN, the Portland Trail Blazers travel to take on the Golden State Warriors. The Western Conference Championship is still Golden State’s to lose, though they will be without Kevin Durant due to injury, at least for the first game or two.

In Portland’s game 7 win over Denver on Sunday, they proved that on the rare occasion that Damian Lillard is not scoring in loads, they can still stay afloat. CJ McCollum carried the Blazers in that game 7, but will have his hands full with Klay Thompson this round.

The Eastern Conference Championship begins tomorrow with the Toronto Raptors coming to the United States to take on the Bucks in Milwaukee. The draw to this series should be self-explanatory. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Kawhi Leonard. The Greek Freak vs. The Klaw. This game is a true test of superiority for the Eastern Conference and should be thrilling throughout.

That should have you pretty caught-up on what’s happening Around the NBA. Keep checking back with us and follow along on Twitter as we continue to break down the action!

Around the NBA: Brink of elimination

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the Eastern Conference Championship, but we still have three other series coming down to the wire.

After having an NBA regular-season-best 60 wins, the Milwaukee Bucks may have had the easiest road to the Finals. They first got a Detroit Pistons team that did not have their best player, Blake Griffin at full health. Up next they were to get the winner of an overachieving Pacers squad or under achieving Celtics squad. Boston looked for a while like they had flipped the switch, but lost four straight to the Bucks after taking game 1.

Thus begins a new, interesting story line in the NBA: Kyrie Irving the seemingly disgruntled free agent. That is an article for another day though, as the Playoffs are still in full swing.

Bucks vs. Celtics is the only Conference Semifinal matchup that has concluded. All other series are heading into game 6, meaning a team is up three games to two in all of them. The higher seeds have the advantage in all of the matchups to this point. It is also interesting to note that all of the first round matches went to the higher seeds. Will we see an upset in these Playoffs?

Potential elimination games are always fun. It will be interesting to see what Houston, Portland, and the 76ers do with their backs against the wall, facing elimination. All three of these teams certainly pack the firepower to climb back into their series. Hopefully we will see at least one or two game 7 situations.

When, where, and who

ESPN has tonight’s games: Raptors @ 76ers at 7:00pm (CST) and Nuggets @ Trail Blazers at 9:30pm (CST). The Sixers seem to have as much talent as anyone in the league, though their starters have all played less than 20 games together including the Playoffs. The Raptors have an edge in experience, but also Kawhi Leonard, who has been playing at an MVP level.

Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers has had interesting ups and downs, with the series seeming to hinge on Damian Lillard’s ability to go full Steph Curry when possible.

Perhaps the most intriguing matchup, Warriors @ Rockets is at 8:00pm (CST) tomorrow, also on ESPN. This has been a good series in its own right to this point, but it now has an interesting wrinkle. The Warriors lost DeMarcus Cousins to an injury in the first round, but last night, they lost Kevin Durant to a “calf strain.”

Exactly how long Durant will be out is unknown, but he will at least miss tomorrow’s tilt. It certainly not only changes the landscape of this series, but the entire playoff picture. Sure, it seems like being down to three All-Stars isn’t that bad, but Golden State isn’t as deep this year as they have been in the past.

On TNT’s Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley went as far as to say the remaining Warriors cannot win this series against Houston. The Warriors will still be an extremely tough out, but it appears that a window may be open for the Rockets to knock off the defending champs.

Plenty of exciting basketball to watch and we aren’t even to the Conference Championships yet. Keep an eye on these games over the next few days and follow along with us as we keep you up-to-date on the action.

Around the NBA: Playoff time

Much of the madness of the basketball world has subsided, but around the NBA, things are just heating up.

Many of the stories around the NBA recently have been about Magic Johnson stepping down as the President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. There has also been a lot made (deservedly so) about Dwyane Wade’s career reaching its conclusion as well as Dirk Nowitzki, who recently made his retirement official.

As interesting or nostalgic as these happenings are, they are still footnotes to the main story that is unfolding; the 2018-19 NBA regular season has ended and it is time to fight it out to see who is crowned champion.

For several years now, the NBA Playoffs and even the Finals have been predictable. LeBron James would rise out of the East to meet one of the greatest teams in history in the Golden State Warriors. This year is certainly different. No LeBron James means plenty of new faces will be duking it out for a Finals appearance. At least on one side of the bracket.

In the West, it is still the Warriors race to lose. They have appeared vulnerable at times this season with a less enthused bench and more hit-or-miss performances from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Still, they boast a starting five that consists of five current or recent All-Stars. Big offseason signing, DeMarcus Cousins has looked good considering the achilles injury that sidelined him for so long. Still, he has been a liability at times, unable to mesh with the Warriors offensive and defensive flow.

Teams that could upset the Warriors in the West? See for yourselves what they are up against below:

The Jazz and Nuggets play a different brand of basketball that could potentially mess with the Warriors tempo. The Rockets, Thunder, or Trailblazers have the firepower to hang with anyone, but would need to bring it every single night to have a shot. The Spurs are just inexplicably consistent and therefore tough to get a read on…

In the East, the Milwaukee Bucks appear to have the most clear path to at least the Eastern Conference Finals, unless the Celtics flip a switch that they were unable to find most games this season. The 76ers may be the biggest wildcard, as they likely have the most talented starting five in the NBA, Warriors aside. They will have tough sledding facing the experience of the Raptors, assuming both teams take their first round matchups, which is never a given.

LeBron James fans may be a bit down in the dumps right now, but his playoff absence at least means fresh blood will rise in the East. As usual, the NBA Playoffs are primed to be exciting and engaging. We can’t wait for tipoff.

Stay tuned for coverage, learn how to pronounce Antetokounmpo, and let the games begin!

Around the NBA: A Playoff picture that excludes LeBron James?

We are in uncharted territory with the NBA season nearing its home stretch. An NBA Playoff picture without LeBron James is difficult to imagine.

Most team have around 20 games to go to wrap up their 2018-19 NBA seasons. 16 of 30 teams get to continue playing into the postseason, so most are fighting for seeding or just to make it in. A few of course are locked in the battle of futility, hoping for little more than improved draft odds.

In the East, there are five teams currently standing head-and-shoulders above the rest. The Bucks and Raptors appear to be all but locked into the one and two seeds. The Pacers are clinging to third, but surely the loss of star Victor Oladipo to injury will catch up to them eventually. Coach Nate McMillan and the Indiana role players still deserve a lot of credit.

One of the most talented rosters on paper, the 76ers will be a contender once the dust settles. The Boston Celtics have had a turbulent season despite maintaining about the same roster that led them near the top of the East last year.

The six seed on down currently have sub .500 records. The Brooklyn Nets have been a pleasant surprise with the Pistons, Hornets, Magic, and Heat in contention. The John Wall-less Wizards are looking like a long-shot.

Wild West as usual

As it often is, the Western Conference seeding race is a tight one. The Golden State Warriors are on top as expected, but have already dropped 19 games. That only puts them 1.5 games ahead of the talented Denver Nuggets. The Nugs have a four game lead over the OKC Thunder; that’s where it starts getting very close.

An underrated Trailblazers squad is clinging to fourth, just ahead of the Rockets, Jazz, Spurs and Clippers. Yes, the Spurs are back again after a slow start to their 2018-19 campaign. Conversely, the Clippers overachieved to start the year and initiated a rebuild despite their success. With LA being a desirable free agent destination, they are hoping they can land a star or two next year.

If the Clippers fall off, that leaves two squads that could possibly take their place. The young, surprisingly good Sacremento Kings or LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers stumbled during LeBron’s longest injury absence of his career. Now that he’s back, he says that he has activated “playoff mode”. That didn’t seem to help them much, as they have suffered some of their ugliest losses of the season since.

LeBron doesn’t just have a playoff streak on the line. LeBron James has been to eight consecutive NBA Finals. Eight. Not having him in the playoff picture at all would be incredibly unusual in this era of NBA basketball. To an extent, he knew what he was signing up for with the young Lakers that added bigger personalities than stars over the offseason. Still wild.

The kicker in all this for the Lakers is there remaining schedule, which is one of the toughest in the Association down the stretch (below, from Basketball Reference).

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There are still five weeks to hammer out the final standings. The current playoff picture is an interesting one, with surprises both inside and outside the top eight squads from each conference.

Keep up with The Basketball Movement as we continue to fill you in on happenings around the NBA.

Around the NBA: Anthony Davis, James Harden, and All-Star Weekend

Anthony Davis is the big news this week, but there is plenty going on around the National Basketball Association.

The New Orleans Pelicans star, Anthony Davis has been fined $50,000 this week by the NBA. His agent, Rich Paul let it be known that Davis wishes to be traded, which is a no-no. The agent said that Davis wishes to play for a team that allows him to “win consistently and compete for a championship.” This means that Davis does not believe he is capable of leading the Pelicans to be a team that can win consistently - a disappointing admission from the superstar power forward.

The fine is a drop in the bucket for Anthony “The Brow” Davis, who makes over $25 million per season. He and his agent likely decided being open and honest was worth the trouble. Davis must have his sights set somewhere big, as he leaves behind up-and-comers Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, and Elfrid Payton as well as All-Star-caliber talent, Jrue Holiday. The Lakers are the most buzzed about team as well as the Celtics, though Boston is incapable of making a deal this season.

You do not have to be fantasy basketball savvy to know that Davis is a machine on the basketball court. He is elite on both ends, meaning his eventual departure from NOLA will be a seismic shift in the NBA landscape. Currently injured, it seems likely The Brow has played his last game in a Pelicans uniform. The trade deadline is February 7th.

James Harden’s historic heater

Through the end of 2018, the NBA MVP race was a close one. Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard were all looking like fine choices with the Rockets off to a disappointing start. About halfway through December however, the Rockets turned it on. With Chris Paul sidelined with injury, it has been the James Harden show - and what a show it has been.

In January, Harden has averaged 43.6 points to go along with 8.7 boards, 7.6 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.2 blocks.

That scoring total is the highest single-month average since Wilt Chamberlain’s 45.8 in March of 1963 via the Elias Sports Bureau. Any time you see a modern day player’s stats compared to Wilt Chamberlain, you know they are doing something crazy.

The Rockets are currently up to third in the West and Harden would be a lock for his second MVP award if the season ended today. However, there is still a lot of basketball to be played!

2019 All-Star starters and Rising Stars announced

Fan-voting for the NBA All-Star games has concluded. Those votes are weighed in alongside player and media voting, resulting in the five starters for each conference. Below are the results:

Western conference: LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, Paul George, and Kevin Durant.

Eastern Conference: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker

Once again, the conferences will be jumbled together, with a captain from each conference drafting their players. The top vote-getters, Antetokounmpo and James will be selecting the squads. The fun part is that the draft will be televised this year on Feb. 7th at 6:00pm Central on TNT.

The Rising Stars challenge will feature first and second year players and will be in Team USA vs The World format again this year. The World team has won each year since this format has started, but the rosters this year may lend confidence to team USA.

NBA All-Star weekend is February 15-17th. We will do our best to cover the festivities in addition to our coverage of The League by The Basketball Movement, which has its second installment Saturday, Feb. 16th. Keep your eye out for more NBA coverage and follow us on Twitter to stay on top of everything.