The first weekend of the NBA playoffs had a bit of something for everyone. Yes, there was a snoozefest or two. But between eight basketball games, Tiger Woods winning the Masters and “Game of Thrones” coming back, maybe a nap was necessary anyway. (Even a couple of the blowouts featured some extracurriculars.) A few games came down to the final seconds, with three lower seeds stepping up and landing statement victories in their series openers. All in all, not a bad start.Let’s take a deeper look at the six playoff series that we expect to be the most interesting going forward. (Sorry to the Clippers-Warriors and Pistons-Bucks.)The young Nets looked sure of themselves. The Sixers looked confused.There were, and maybe are, fair questions to be raised about the Brooklyn Nets. They have very little depth on the inside, which could spell trouble against a dominant big like Joel Embiid. And their offense can be too heavily reliant on All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell.But at least Brooklyn knows what it is, which was more than you could say for the Sixers at times this weekend.For starters, Embiid’s status was known only minutes before the game began Saturday because of his bothersome knee — an availability question that would have required a number of changes to the game plan had he not been able to go. But beyond that, there’s also the issue of cohesion, which the Nets have and the Sixers simply do not.Before Saturday, Philly’s starting five — talented as it might be — had logged just 10 games together since acquiring Tobias Harris in a trade with the Clippers. And honestly, it looked that way for most of Game 1. Embiid, who missed five of the last seven regular-season games, started launching jumpers (which Brooklyn gladly gave him) after drawing a number of fouls on the Nets inside. Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick struggled badly on offense. Jimmy Butler opted to take matters into his own hands (Sixers coach Brett Brown called him “the adult in the room”) and scored a game-high 36 points. All this while Harris looked invisible and uninvolved, scoring just 4 points in 40 minutes of work.Meanwhile, the Nets’ guards had no such questions about their place in the pecking order. Russell struggled early but kept shooting and caught fire in the third period. Spencer Dinwiddie had a very quick first step and repeatedly found his way into the lane — again doing some of his best work this season against Philadelphia. And Caris LeVert continues to look more and more like his old self after returning from his injury in February. Both Dinwiddie and LeVert were integral to a franchise-record 59-point effort from the bench, which the Sixers had no answer for.Keep an eye on this series. The Sixers went all in with a pair of huge trades earlier this season. But that may be the reason that, as we’re midway through April, their opponent has a clearer sense of identity and the upper hand one game into their playoff matchup.Utah’s defense of Harden won’t work — at least not like thisIt was just one game, but very early on — before halftime, even — it seemed clear that Utah was going to have to rethink its defensive strategy for reigning MVP James Harden.The Jazz used a scheme that gave the left-handed Harden an open driving path on the right. The idea here: to take away the dominant hand of perhaps the NBA’s best offensive player, but also to take away his stepback 3-point jumper, maybe his greatest offensive weapon.They weren’t the first team to try this. The top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks’ defense found a ton of success with the idea late last month, by standing far to Harden’s left and slightly behind him.It was a different story for the second-ranked Utah defense, though, which Houston diced to pieces. Why did it work for the Bucks and not the Jazz? One reason was that Milwaukee’s rim protector, Brook Lopez, generally had the discipline to stay tethered to the baseline so that Clint Capela wouldn’t get an easy lob, like he often did on Sunday night, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert stepped up too far.But the other key to Milwaukee’s success was the athleticism and length of the Bucks’ primary and help defenders. Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo are simply more imposing than Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell or Joe Ingles, giving Harden less confidence that he can either get back to his left hand at the rim or sneak a pass to a teammate standing in the corner.Frankly, Utah wasn’t taking anything away early. By leaving Harden far too much space to navigate, the Jazz had no way of positioning their help defenders in the right spots, allowing The Beard to carve them up by finding both Capela for dunks and P.J. Tucker in the corner. (Tucker shoots almost 40 percent from there.)Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Harden.mp400:0000:0001:15Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Rubio told reporters after the game that the Jazz are committed to playing Harden the same way throughout the series. But regardless of how much they improve on that front, they’ll need to be far better — and faster — on offense to have a chance in this series.Excluding a half-court attempt at the end of the third period, Utah scored on seven of its nine transition plays. Getting earlier looks would make life easier, especially for Mitchell, who shot 36 percent against Houston in last year’s series before shooting just 39 percent Sunday, with five turnovers and no assists. In Game 1, the Jazz logged a dismal 25 percent effective field-goal rate when they got inside the last 5 seconds of the clock.Can the poor-shooting Thunder find their range?The post-game excuse “We just missed shots” is usually annoying. It can be read as not giving credit to the opponent for earning a hard-fought victory, and it can also serve as a way to avoid addressing what adjustments might need to be made in the next contest.But in Oklahoma City’s case, there would have been some truth to that claim. The Thunder missed 10 of their 13 wide-open attempts from the arc during their Game 1 loss in Portland.Yet while a lot of teams could use a stat like that to express confidence in simply performing better the next time, it’s worth noting that Oklahoma City … isn’t exactly a team of marksmen. When the Thunder shoot poorly, it’s hard to know whether that’s a sign that things will get better for them or if it’s just Oklahoma City struggling with what it’s seemingly always struggled with.Making matters worse, Paul George — their best shooter and co-star alongside Russell Westbrook — is playing with a troublesome left shoulder, meaning his shot could be affected for the remainder of the playoffs.If there was a bright side offensively, it was that the Thunder eventually found daylight by attacking Portland’s Enes Kanter with a steady diet of pick and rolls — something they can likely go back to in Game 2. But OKC would also be wise to occasionally locate Kanter as he’s going for offensive boards. He killed his former team for 20 points and 18 rebounds, which more than made up for his defensive struggles in the narrow victory.Were the Nuggets simply nervous?Similar to Oklahoma City are the Denver Nuggets, who many — our FiveThirtyEight projection model included — remain skeptical of. A lot of that is rooted in Denver’s inexperience: This is the team’s first trip to the playoffs with this core, which is suddenly facing high expectations as the No. 2 seed in the West.Saturday’s loss, like OKC’s on Sunday, saw Denver miss several open looks when the Nuggets were in striking distance of the Spurs. The teams were neck-and-neck down the stretch, yet Denver somehow missed all eight of its attempts in the second half when taking a shot that would have either tied the game or given the Nuggets the lead. And Jamal Murray, the team’s 22-year-old starting point guard, had an incredibly rough final minute or so in the Game 1 loss.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Murray.mp400:0000:0000:49Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.All of that could have been mere coincidence or simply the result of missing shots the team normally makes. But because of noise about the team’s inexperience — especially as Denver is playing perennial playoff club San Antonio — it’s only natural that the questions about nerves will be there.Whatever the case may be, one thing clearly needs to change going forward: Denver star Nikola Jokic cannot finish playoff games with just nine shot attempts. Yes, he managed a triple-double anyway. But when the team’s jumpshots simply aren’t falling, he’s too efficient a scorer not to take matters into his own hands.The Pacers need offensive counters — but even that may not be enoughOutside of the Pistons and Clippers, I feel most pessimistic about the Pacers after Game 1 of their series with Boston. I went in thinking it would be really tough for them to find enough scoring to win a series, and Saturday’s 74-point showing gave me even more doubts.My real concern now, after watching leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic struggle against the Celtics again — when he did this all regular season, too — is the lack of counters the Pacers seem to have in their arsenal once Boston has snuffed out the initial action.Indiana got next to nothing out of its handoffs to Bogdanovic, which produced just 0.14 points per time they utilized the play, according to Second Spectrum. Jaylen Brown was generally quick enough to recover and get by the screener, and in the instances when he wasn’t, Al Horford was swarming Bogdanovic, often forcing him to give up the ball to a teammate who wasn’t necessarily in a great position to score, either.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Bojan.mp400:0000:0002:31Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Similarly, the team — which scored just 8 points in the third quarter — found itself at a disadvantage when it sought to make hay with Wes Matthews post-ups, something we knew would likely be a losing strategy from what we’d seen prior to Saturday (particularly if there’s no secondary action that comes of it). Statistically, Matthews has been one of the NBA’s five least efficient post-up options since he joined the team in February.1Among those with at least 30 regular-season post-ups since Feb. 11. Indiana averaged just 0.71 points per Matthews post-up, per Second Spectrum data.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Wes.mp400:0000:0000:44Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The Celtics deserve credit for playing as well as they did at that end of the floor, particularly without defensive stud Marcus Smart. But if the Pacers can’t develop better second and third options on these plays when they try them, it could be an ugly series for Indiana, which has been putting too much pressure on its defense for a while now.Lowry struggled again, but Orlando’s win was anything but magicThe most surprising win of the weekend to many was the Magic’s road triumph over Toronto, which Orlando sealed with a game-winning triple from D.J. Augustin.In that sequence — before which coach Steve Clifford elected not to call timeout — Augustin called for a screen and roll, knowing he’d get Marc Gasol on a switch. Though Augustin had hit 3 of 4 from the arc for 22 points, Gasol didn’t come out far enough. The shot left the Toronto crowd stunned, which takes a lot at this point, given what they’ve been through for years now.Aside from nailing that play, the Magic did a ton of things right to put themselves in good position beforehand. They bottled up Pascal Siakam in the first half, and while Kawhi Leonard2Who played only 33 minutes. Expect that to change in Game 2. was efficient, Aaron Gordon played pretty solid defense on him, making him work for contested shots. Orlando was nearly perfect from the line and drilled almost half of its triples on the day. This was a young Magic club that had the same 15-8 second-half record that Toronto did, while ranking inside the Top 10 on both sides of the floor over that span of time. If you hadn’t watched Orlando play, you might not have seen this coming — but it wasn’t a fluke.And neither was Kyle Lowry’s scoreless, 0-for-7 showing. Aside from the fact that Lowry had several low-scoring games this season — including a four-game streak of single-digit performances — Lowry has also struggled in the first games of playoff series. He’s scored just 33 points combined in playoff-opening Game 1s the past five years.There’s not necessarily anything for the Raptors to panic about yet. They’ve seen this before, even if they had hoped they were past having to witness the early round struggles cropping up again. Check out our latest NBA predictions.
With a 33-point rout of Wisconsin on Sunday, the Ohio State women’s basketball team (19-9, 10-6 Big Ten) earned the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a bye into the quarterfinals. In their final regular-season game as Buckeyes, forward Sarah Schulze, center Jantel Lavender and guards Alison Jackson and Brittany Johnson, all seniors, celebrated Senior Day with an 80-47 victory against Wisconsin (15-13, 10-6 Big Ten) at the Schottenstein Center. In the first half, Lavender’s low-post presence, as well as her midrange shooting, produced 16 points and a 22-6 Buckeye lead with 11:26 until halftime. Lavender, the leading scorer in OSU history and the leading rebounder in Big Ten history, went on to score a game-high 20 points. The Buckeyes eventually opened up a 34-8 lead late in the first. But offense did not come as easily for the Badgers. With less than four minutes to play in the half, Wisconsin was shooting just 8.3 percent from the field, having made only two of its first 24 shots. The Badgers also went exactly 14 minutes between field goals made during the first half. Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said the Badgers’ poor shooting changed their game plan. “Our offense affected our defense,” Stone said. “We missed 19 straight shots in the first half — there’s your game. (The Buckeyes) were able to celebrate Senior Day.” If OSU, which led, 39-14, at halftime, hadn’t already buried Wisconsin, it finished digging the Badgers’ grave in the second half. A 3-pointer from Johnson with just more than six minutes left to play lifted the Buckeyes’ shooting percentage to 52.1 percent and extended the lead to 70-33. OSU coach Jim Foster cleared the bench over the final minutes of the game and rode out a comfortable win. The Big Ten announced on Sunday night that the Buckeyes will face No. 4-seed Iowa in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. After Sunday’s win, Lavender said it won’t matter whom the Buckeyes play as they chase a third consecutive Big Ten Tournament title. “We’re starting to show who we are,” she said. “We have a really strong team. We don’t want (the season) to be over.” Foster smiled and agreed with Lavender about his team as it heads into the postseason. “I think we’re in a very good place,” he said. “We know where we are and we know how we got here.” The Buckeyes open Big Ten Tournament play against Iowa on Friday shortly after the conclusion of No. 1 seed Michigan State’s quarterfinal game against the winner of Thursday’s contest between No. 8 seed Northwestern and No. 9-seed Minnesota. read more
Darjeeling: Political outfits are all set to battle it out in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Raiganj as the three constituencies count hours to go to polls in the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections.While the Jalpaiguri seat was won by the TMC candidate in 2014, Darjeeling was won by BJP and Raiganj by the Left Front. The Darjeeling constituency comprises of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong in the Hills and Matigara-Naxalbari, Siliguri, Pansidewa and Chopra in the plains. There are 16,00,564 voters in the poll fray. Also Read – Rs 13,000 crore investment to provide 2 lakh jobs: MamataBJP had bagged the Darjeeling seat in 2009 and 2014. Riding piggyback on the Gorkhaland demand, the party had managed to turn the Hill votes to their advantage. During both the elections, the saffron party had promised to “sympathetically consider the long-standing demand of the Gorkhas.” In both the elections, this was assured in the form of addendums in the party’s election manifesto. With the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha under the leadership of Bimal Gurung, BJP used the consolidated Hill votes while the mandate of the plains remained fractured. Also Read – Lightning kills 8, injures 16 in stateBJP candidates Jaswant Singh (2009) and S S Ahluwalia (2014) won from the Darjeeling constituency, thereby managing a toehold on Bengal politics. While the party was supported by GJM in 2014, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) has supported TMC. Ahluwalia had bagged 4,88,257 votes, defeating Bhaichung Bhutia of TMC who had secured 2,91,018 votes. This time, however, political equations have dramatically changed in the Hill areas of the constituency. Following the political upheaval in 2017 culminating in a 105-day-long bandh in the Hills, the GJM witnessed a vertical split. While Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa took over the party in the Hills, Bimal Gurung and his close confidants including Roshan Giri have been absconding since July 2017. GJM has extended support to TMC this time. GJM MLA from Darjeeling Amar Singh Rai has been given the TMC ticket to contest the polls, backed by GJM. On the other hand, ‘outsider’ Raju Bista has been fielded by BJP, backed by GNLF and the Bimal Gurung faction of GJM. Bista is reported to have RSS affiliations. Saman Pathak is contesting from CPI(M), while Shanker Malakar is contesting from Congress. Dr. Harka Bahadur Chettri of the Jan Andolan Party is also contesting. While Chettri is contesting on the Gorkhaland plank, the TMC has also assured to look into the identity issue of the Gorkhas, including land documents (patta) to the workers of tea gardens and cinchona plantations. The TMC-led Bengal Government has already passed (in the Assembly) and recommended the inclusion of 11 Gorkha sub-communities in the Scheduled Tribe list, but has alleged that the BJP-run Union government has been sitting on it. Meanwhile, BJP has assured a permanent solution for the hills and inclusion of 11 communities in the ST list if voted to power. In the 2014 elections, Bijoy Chandra Barman of the Trinamool Congress had bagged the seat. He had secured 4,94,773 votes, defeating Mahendra Kumar Roy of CPI(M) who had secured 4,25,167 votes. This year, Barman has been fielded by Trinamool Congress again, who will face Bhagirath Roy from CPI(M), Jayanta Ray from BJP and Mani Kumar Darnal from Congress. The Raiganj Constituency consists of Islampur, Goalpokhar, Chakulia, Karandighi, Hemtabad, Kaliaganj and Raiganj. It has a voter strength of 15,99,948. In 2014, CPI(M)’s Mohammed Salim had won from the Raiganj seat bagging 3,17,515 votes, with Deepa Dasmunshi losing by a thin margin of 1,634 votes. This year, former Congress MLA Kanaia Lal Agarwal has been fielded by Trinamool Congress. He will face Deepa Dasmunshi of Congress, Deboshree Chowdhury of BJP and Md. Salim of CPI(M). read more