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NBA playoff overview

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This year’s NBA playoffs are underway, with the finals around the corner in less than a month. The first round has just finished with the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics advancing to the semifinals.

Only two of the Round 1 matchups ended up going all the way to Game 7. After a close set of six games, one of which the Cavaliers lost to the Indiana Pacers by 34 points, the Cavs defeated the Pacers 105-101 in Game 7 to advance. Also in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics took Game 7 over the Milwaukee Bucks with a score of 112-96.

Now, the semifinals have begun, with a powerful lineup of teams set to play.

On Tuesday at 8:00 PM, the Cavs will face off with the Raptors in Game 1 of their semifinal. Two and a half hours later, the Warriors will attempt to follow up their Game 1 win with another win against the Pelicans. Then, on Wednesday, the Rockets will also have the opportunity to take a second win from the Utah Jazz. And finally, Thursday will bring Game 2 of the semifinal matchup between the Celtics and the 76ers.

Although the semifinals of the NBA playoffs have only just started, several predictions and questions about the teams can still be brought up.

Is LeBron James good enough to carry the Cavs?

It is widespread knowledge that LeBron James is the star player on the Cavaliers. Across all seven games of this year’s NBA Playoff Round 1, the Cavs played only 27 minutes without LeBron on the court, and during those 27 minutes, Cleveland’s defense wasn’t doing too well, to say the least.

The Cavs rely heavily on LeBron, but there’s only so much that he can do for the team himself. LeBron is, after all, just a single player, and in Round 1 of the playoffs, we saw the Cavs struggle against Indiana. Their matchup went all the way to Game 7, and most of the games were close.

In fact, the only game that was a wide-margin win was Game 6, in which the Cavaliers lost to the Pacers by 34 points. Furthermore, in the entire first-round matchup of seven games, the Pacers outscored the Cavs by 40 points, even though the latter ended up moving on to the semifinals.

It is worrying that the Cavaliers are now facing off against a much better team, the Toronto Raptors, the Eastern Conference number one seed. It is safe to say that LeBron will have to play well in this week’s games for the Cavs to have a chance of moving on to the conference finals.

Will the Celtics manage to make the conference finals without Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving, one of the best scoring options on the Celtics, will not be playing for the rest of the season. On April 5, the Celtics announced that Irving, a new player for Boston, would be having another knee surgery and, as a result, would also be missing the rest of the season.

On March 25, Irving underwent a minimally invasive knee surgery to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire had been implanted along with two screws, following a knee fracture in 2015. Unfortunately now, doctors found the presence of an infection at the site of the screws and wire. To ensure that no infection remains in Irving’s knee, he will have to undergo another surgery.

The Celtics will also be playing without Gordon Hayward and possibly Jaylen Brown, both of whom are also very good scoring options for Boston.

At the same time, the Celtics did manage to win three out of four games against Philadelphia in the regular season. Their only loss against the Sixers was when Joel Embiid swept the court with 26 points, 18 boards, and six assists. However, going against a strong Sixers’ offense and forward Ben Simmons, the Celtics, lacking Irving, Hayward, and potentially Brown, will have to play their best to win four games.

How long can the Pelicans hold off the Warriors?

The Warriors are seeded number two in the Western Conference and are currently facing the Pelicans in the semifinals. On Saturday, the Warriors defeated the Pelicans in Game 1 of the semifinals, with a score of 123-101. While the score itself was impressive for the Warriors, the more impressive feat was that the team won the game without star point guard Stephen Curry. Curry was out for an MCL injury but will almost certainly return for Game 2 on Tuesday.

It will be interesting to watch how Curry fares in his first game in over a month. He last played on March 25 and has been out since then due to his knee injury. Still, whether or not Curry plays to his best, his return in Game 2 is great news for the Warriors. They are finally close to full strength again, something that has not been a reality for most of this season. It’s safe to say that Curry’s return will certainly give the Warriors a better shot at defending their title.

The Pelicans still do have the ability to match up with Golden State. Jrue Holiday has continued to play at a high level and has the chance to take on Klay Thompson and Curry. Additionally, Anthony Davis, another of the Pelican’s top players, will be doing his best to stay on Kevin Durant. Still, with the return of Curry and the fact that the Warriors won Game 1 by 22 points without him, the future semifinal matchups will be tough for the Pelicans, and the Warriors will likely win in Game 6 or 7.

All in all, the teams in the semifinals right now will put on some interesting matchups for the next two weeks of games. Predictions for the conference finals: Rockets vs. Warriors and Raptors vs. Sixers.

Analyzing the first month of the NBA season

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As the 2017-2018 NBA season nears the conclusion of its first month, several unexpected and exciting storylines are emerging. In the Eastern Conference, only three of last year’s NBA Playoffs participants would make the postseason if the season ended today (Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors). In fact, the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, sit 12th in the standings at 4-6, having dropped games to perennial bottom-dwellers such as the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. The Cavs have struggled on the defensive end, placing near last in the NBA in several major defensive statistical categories, such as opponent adjusted field goal percentage and opponent three-point percentage. The Cavs have also been sluggish out of the gate in many games, trailing seven of their ten opponents after the first quarter.

Due to their poor starts, tension is mounting within the team. Following Sunday’s loss to the struggling Atlanta Hawks, shooting guard Dwyane Wade, a 12-time All-Star, called out the Cavs’ starters for their subpar performances. Wade recently bought out the final year of his contract with the Chicago Bulls in order to be reunited with Lebron James, with whom he won back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s no secret we’re starting games off awful. Terrible. And [Atlanta] got it going early, and the effort or the focus just wasn’t there to start off, and you try to battle back, you waste a lot of energy trying to come back from 16-18 down, and it’s tough nightly to do this. And we all know this. It’s no secret in this locker room, but our first unit, we got to start off better,” Wade said to reporters in a post-game interview.

On the flip side, the Boston Celtics, despite losing recently signed star forward Gordon Hayward to a gruesome ankle injury in their season opener, have won eight straight games to sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Kyrie Irving, acquired from the Cavaliers in a controversial offseason trade in exchange for beloved and hardworking All-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, defensive specialist Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, and a 2018 first round pick, has led the balanced charge, averaging 21 points and 5.6 assists per game. Other key contributors include savvy veteran, Al Horford (14.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists), rookie Jason Tatum (13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds), and Hayward’s more-than-capable replacement, Jaylen Brown (15.8 points, 6.6 rebounds).

One team in the East that has exceeded expectations up to this point is the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, a team that finished eight games under .500 last year and missed the NBA Playoffs, currently sit at 7-3, only one game off the pace in the East. Off to their best start since 2008-2009, the Pistons’ success can be attributed in large part to improved offensive efficiency and the drastic improvement in free throw shooting of their star center, Andre Drummond. Prior to the season, Drummond held the record for the worst free throw percentage in NBA history (38.1%) but through ten games in 2017-2018, Drummond is shooting a very respectable 75% from the foul line. Even if Drummond’s “hot” free throw shooting cools down, it is still likely that he has improved substantially from his career averages. Drummond is not the Pistons’ only hot offensive performer, however, as the team’s top seven scorers are all averaging point totals above their career averages.

In the Western Conference, after a shaky start, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors seem to have righted the ship, winning their last three games by an average of 22.3 points. The Warriors’ potent offense, led by All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, once again tops the league in points per game (120.7). Although still early in the season, all five of the Warriors’ starters are shooting a very impressive 50% or better from the field. NBA General Managers’ overwhelming pick to repeat as NBA champions (93% of GMs selected the Warriors to win in an annual pre-season survey), the Warriors seem to be hitting their stride, and at their best, they are nearly unbeatable.

One team in the West that has failed to meet expectations is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last season, the Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Over the offseason, in an attempt to bolster their roster and improve on last year’s results, the Thunder acquired two superstars, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to assist reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. However, despite a drastically improved supporting cast, the Thunder are a mediocre 4-5. One would expect the team to improve over the course of the season as George, Anthony, and Westbrook gain experience playing with one another, but the three superstars have not yet figured out a way to share the ball. The Thunder are averaging barely over 20 assists per game, only good for 13th in the NBA.

It is too early to know how the 2017-2018 season will end, but I expect struggling teams like the Cavaliers and the Thunder to finish the season near the top of their respective conferences, while teams lacking stars, such as the Pistons, the Magic, and the Indiana Pacers, will likely cool down from their hot starts. Anticipate the NBA’s “superteams,” such as the Warriors, Cavs, Thunder, Rockets, and Celtics, to battle it out for the NBA crown. That being said, it will be difficult for any team to wrestle the title away from Curry, Durant, and the rest of the Golden State Warriors. I expect the Warriors to once again dominate the NBA and take home their third title in four years.

Trump rescinds White House offer to the Warriors

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President Trump and Stephen Curry don’t have much in common, but if there is one thing they agree on, it’s that the Golden State Warriors won’t be visiting the White House anytime soon.

As of last week, Trump controversially withdrew his White House invitation to the NBA championship-winning Golden State Warriors. He did so after two-time MVP and Golden State star Stephen Curry’s public statement of his intent to avoid visiting Trump at the White House.

Visiting the White House has become a ritual for NBA championship-winning teams over the years, and even though Trump had not yet written a formal invitation to the Warriors, it was understood that one would be given to the team if the members expressed even the slightest interest in attending. The Warriors general manager Bob Meyers said that he had been in communication with the White House and had left the door open for a possible visit.

However, the plans Steph Curry had in mind were a bit different. Last Friday, Curry stated during a media event, “I don’t want to go…[But] it’s not just me going to the White House. If it was, this would be a pretty short conversation.” When asked to elaborate on what his intended message was, Curry continued, “That we don’t stand for basically what our president has – the things he’s said and the things he hasn’t said in the right times, that we won’t stand for it.”

Keep in mind, Curry’s statements were made with Trump’s poor handling of the riots in Charlottesville still fresh in the minds of his entire team. Additionally, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that he would prefer not to participate in the long-standing tradition.

Even though the team had not yet made a collective decision on whether to visit the White House, the day after the team’s media event, Trump impulsively rescinded his informal offer via Twitter. He enthusiastically tweeted, “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

In response, the Warriors published a statement in which the team collectively expressed disappointment with Trump’s premature withdrawal of the invitation.

“We’re disappointed that we did not have the opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities,” the statement read.

In support of Steph Curry, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers tweeted on Saturday, directed towards Trump, “U bum, @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

Curry appreciated James’ encouragement. He applauded it, saying, “I think it’s bold, it’s courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does.” Curry elaborated on his original message later that day, criticizing Trump once again by calling his comments “beneath the leader of a country.”

Furthermore, the active protests against Trump and some of his controversial ideals have manifested themselves in other American sports leagues as well.

Several NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have knelt or sat during the national anthem to protest police brutality and institutional racism. On the opening weekend of the NFL two weeks ago, more players refused to stand during the anthem. Trump responded during his recent Senatorial campaign speech for Luther Strange by exclaiming, “That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.” He encouraged team owners to act, adding, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’”

This past Saturday, President Trump continued his fixation with the issue on his Twitter feed.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag and should stand for the National Anthem,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” He then added, “They’re ruining the game,” attributing the recent drop in NFL ratings to the players’ refusal not to stand during the national anthem. This past Saturday, many players kneeled for the anthem, along with some entire teams deciding not to come out during the patriotic moment.

This Monday’s New York Times published an article in which football fan Laurie Flynn, 28, spoke about the bigger issues than football that Trump has on his plate. She asked, “Why is the president commenting on the NFL? Doesn’t he have bigger things to think about? This is unfair to the fans. I didn’t come here to deal with this.”

Returning to the original actions of Steph Curry, I asked Eudy Lopez ’21, a fellow sports fan, about Curry’s intent to decline Trump’s invitation to the White House.

“Well, I think he should be able to express his opinions, regardless of what they are. So, I think it’s fine to say what he thinks. As far as if I agree, I definitely think that he has a valid point by acknowledging that he doesn’t stand with several of Trump’s beliefs.” Regarding Curry’s decision to end the long-standing tradition, Lopez argued,

“He has the right to do so. I also believe that it’s a necessary step in protesting. He doesn’t give in, he doesn’t play both sides. He makes his decisions and stands by them, showing commitment to social justice. Steph Curry has the platform and outreach to help influence change in a turbulent time in our country. His actions and those of similarly minded NFL players are going to help give voice to those who have historically been silence.”

It’s still not fully clear whether the Warriors and Trump will make amends and continue the long-standing tradition, but from the actions of both parties, it seems as though neither Curry and the Warriors nor Trump and his ego are going to apologize anytime soon.

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