B/R Staff Roundtable: 76ers' Choke Job, Kawhi Injury and Latest NBA Bombshells
We learned the following:
Chris Paul has entered the league's health and safety protocols;
Kawhi Leonard has been diagnosed with a knee sprain that put him out indefinitely;
Stan Van Gundy was out as coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Washington Wizards were moving on from Scott Brooks;
The Dallas Mavericks and general manager Donnie Nelson were going their separate ways;
- LeBron spoke up;
And LaMelo Ball is the Rookie of the Year.
Somehow, that doesn't even encompass all the NBA news and storylines that came out of Wednesday. That was all before one of the most memorable, historic choke jobs we've seen in playoff history took place between the Sixers and Hawks.
There weren't any player acquisitions, but the sheer volume of reports made it feel like a day in the offseason. Now that some of the dust has settled, let's take a little deeper look at all that transpired.
Was 76ers' Choke Job the Worst We've Ever Seen?
The Philadelphia 76ers are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid and Seth Curry combined for 73 points on 25-of-39 shooting on Wednesday. Behind their scoring outbursts, Philly took a 26-point lead over the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
Then, we witnessed a meltdown that wasn’t quite like anything we’ve seen before.
According to StatMuse, the Sixers had a 99.1 percent win probability before they went six fourth-quarter minutes without making a field goal. In the end, they lost Game 5, 109-106.
There have been bigger postseason comebacks. Just two years ago, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers overcame a 31-point deficit against the top-seeded Golden State Warriors. And Stephen Curry played the entire fourth quarter in that game.
So, if total points made up is your only criteria for the question above, the Sixers are off the hook. There’s a subjective argument for what we witnessed on Wednesday, though.
After going 0-of-12 in the second half of Game 4, Embiid was utterly dominant for most of Game 5. Curry was on fire. The first three quarters felt like the top seed asserting itself as the clearly superior team. The upstart Hawks were fun, but this was surely the beginning of the end.
To be entirely shut down at that point almost feels impossible, but the Sixers almost seemed determined to make history, one way or the other.
Playoff P to the Rescue?
Paul George was appropriately maligned for his poor performance in last year's playoffs. The NBA bubble wasn't for everyone, and the Clippers as a unit fell apart.
The big question heading into this postseason for L.A. surrounded George. Would he once again shrink in the playoffs or step forward as the elite player the franchise expected him to be?
With Kawhi Leonard felled by a knee injury and a series tied up at two apiece, the Clippers gutted out a win in Utah against the Jazz on Wednesday, led by 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists from George. Naturally, he didn't do it alone. Reggie Jackson hit timely shots for 20 points. Marcus Morris Sr. contributed 24 and the Clippers are returning home with a chance to close out the Jazz in Game 6.
George wasn't perfect (five turnovers), but he was the best player on the floor Wednesday night. He stepped up when the Clippers needed him most. Like the Clippers, the Jazz are hobbled (Mike Conley out with a hamstring injury and Donovan Mitchell playing through ankle issues). That's been the story of this year's playoffs.
Without Leonard, the Clippers need George at his best. The ghosts of the past year's collapse won’t be forgotten until L.A. advances to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, but George helped carry his team one giant step closer.
Should LeBron's Schedule Critique Land with the NBA?
LeBron James' tweets about the rash of injuries in relation to the NBA's compressed schedule read a little like his play-in critiques, which complained about an issue that directly affected the Lakers.
But he's got a point.
The NBA had its reasons for starting the season when it did—the league wanted to be able to return to the normal October-June timeline for the 2021-22 season while also avoiding a conflict with the Olympics. But it was unfair to the teams that gutted out three months in the bubble.
Both of last year's Finals teams, James' Lakers and the Miami Heat, lost in the first round. It can be argued those losses were at least partially a result of burnout after having virtually no offseason.
The league was in an impossible situation with no good solutions.
Is Washington's Coaching Decision All About Keeping Bradley Beal Happy?
Things just seem like they ran their course with Scott Brooks in Washington.
Brooks isn't a bad coach. He deserves some credit for the Wizards making the playoffs after a terrible start to the year and a COVID outbreak. But he isn't a ceiling-raiser as a coach, either. As the Wizards look to keep Bradley Beal in the fold long-term, it made sense to shake things up and try something new.
With Beal and Russell Westbrook under contract—and not much in the way of cap space or trade chips—Tommy Shepard has his work cut out for him to build a contender. Thus far, Beal has given no indication he wants to leave. That could change, and if Beal had strongly opposed Brooks' dismissal, Brooks likely would have stayed.
It just made sense for both sides to move on.
What Kind of Coach Do the Pelicans Need for Zion Williamson?
Zion Williamson will be getting his third NBA head coach in as many years in the league. This will be David Griffin’s second coaching hire. So what type of coach is going to work best for Williamson?
Williamson is a unique talent with an unstoppable skill set. No team has been able to figure out how to stop him once he gets going down hill. About halfway through the season, the Pelicans began to use him as a ball handler, unleashing Point Zion. He still has areas to grow on both ends of the court, but mainly on the defensive end.
A creative offensive mind should be the first thing on the checklist. A coach who could put him in an offensive system that can feature him as both a ball handler to tap into his playmaking and as a screener to get him opportunities as a roller. The next box that needs to be ticked is a coach who can build a defense around Williamson. He is not a great defender, but putting him in a position where his defense is less of a liability is a priority.
The third item on that list needs to be accountability. This might have to do more with the front office empowering their coach to hold Williamson accountable.
A cross of Mike D'Antoni’s offensive brilliance, Steve Clifford’s defense building and Michael Malone’s toughness should be the wishlist for the next Pelicans coach.
Are the Clippers the Most Cursed Team in the NBA?
It may be fun for non-fans to point to the L.A. Clippers' inglorious history, their collapse in last year's playoff bubble and Kawhi Leonard's recent knee injury as reasons to declare the franchise as the most cursed team in the NBA.
And the Clippers as a joke may have been a fair criticism dating back to the days of disgraced former owner Donald Sterling. But no, the Clippers are not that same franchise toiling at the bottom of the league. Back in 2014, Steve Ballmer purchased the team, revamping the front office, coaching staff, roster and culture.
No, the team hasn't been successful in terms of an NBA title. But only the Los Angeles Lakers got through the bubble with a championship. The Clippers have a potentially serious playoff injury, but honestly, who doesn't this year?
Even dating back to the Sterling era, the Clippers have made the playoffs in every season but one since their run in 2011-12. The Sacramento Kings haven't gotten to the postseason since 2005-06. The Clippers have not reached their goal, but they're far from the most cursed team in the NBA.
But check back in the offseason. Leonard has a player option. If he leaves as an unrestricted free agent, the Clippers may be headed in a very different direction.
Can the Suns Survive a Long CP3 Absence?
The Phoenix Suns were an elite team in the 2019-20 playoff bubble before they acquired Chris Paul. The Suns upgraded in the offseason from Ricky Rubio to Paul and have advanced through the playoffs at the expense of the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
Now that Paul is sidelined for an indeterminate period under the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocol, can the team survive the Western Conference Finals without him?
The Suns were nowhere near the same team in the first round against the Lakers when Paul was struggling to play through a shoulder injury. His return to form helped Phoenix knock out LeBron James, albeit without Anthony Davis (groin). But the difference with and without Paul was stark. The Nuggets, also playing short-handed without Jamal Murray, were no match for the Suns at full strength.
Now the Suns will wait for the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers to finish their series. The longer it goes, the better the chance Paul is able to return (hopefully healthy if he is indeed suffering from the virus). But the Clippers may be without Kawhi Leonard (knee) and the Jazz have not had Mike Conley (hamstring) in the second round. Donovan Mitchell (ankle) has been tremendous when healthy, but he's clearly playing through injury.
The Suns need Paul, especially if they get to the NBA Finals, but with the competition in the West also hampered, Phoenix is far from doomed without him in the (relatively) short term.
Did LaMelo Ball Deserve Rookie of the Year over Anthony Edwards?
In plenty of seasons, Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year seem reduced to little more than a points-per-game competition. And if that was the criteria in 2020-21, Anthony Edwards would've taken the former honor.
With a strong closing kick and a post-All-Star break average of 23.8, Edwards finished the season at 19.3 points per game. His efficiency perked up too. But all of that failed to overcome LaMelo Ball's all-around contributions.
When the numbers of both were pitted against each other in a blind poll, Ball won in a landslide. When adjusted for pace and playing time, the scoring averages weren't far off, and Ball obviously dominated the rebounding and assist columns. He looks like another potential triple-double machine in the mold of some of the game's other young heliocentric stars.
And, perhaps more importantly, Ball is just fun. He can shoot off the bounce. His vision is on par with 10-year vets. His unselfishness is infectious. He has the gall to throw full-court, underhanded bombs that haven't been seen since "Pistol" Pete Maravich.
His flair, in combination with ahead-of-schedule production, made Ball a pretty easy choice for Rookie of the Year, even if some are still eager to crown the rookie scoring leader.
How Can a New GM Keep Luka Doncic Happy in Dallas?
With the Dallas Mavericks parting ways with president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the franchise needs to quickly revamp its front office before a significant offseason. Young superstar Luka Doncic will be eligible for a supermax extension. That's the easy part.
Winning cures all ills, and while the Mavericks have a very good team, they're not yet an elite contender. Significant spending power to chase a top free agent could help, although some could be tied up with Josh Richardson and his $11.6 million player option.
Bringing back the same roster won't be enough. Tim Hardaway Jr. (unrestricted free agent) looks like a keeper at the right price, but if Kawhi Leonard opts out of his contract with the Clippers, can a new GM convince him to make a Texas return? Would a veteran point guard like Kyle Lowry have a Chris-Paul-in-Phoenix-like impact in Dallas or would he take away from Doncic's strengths?
Other potential free agents could include Chris Paul (player option), Mike Conley, Lonzo Ball (restricted free agent), Dennis Schroder, DeMar DeRozan, Duncan Robinson (restricted), Andre Drummond, Lauri Markkanen (restricted), Montrezl Harrell (player option) and Richaun Holmes.
Dallas can also look to trade away players under contract (Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell Maxi Kleber, Trey Burke, etc.), but only for the right pieces in return. That's where the incoming basketball operations chief needs to have both the vision and ability to execute in order to successfully build around one of the NBA's brightest young stars.