Tuesday was a big day on multiple fronts in the NBA. On the court, the Trail Blazers and Warriors began their Western Conference Finals series with the home team holding serve in Game 1. Off the court there was the NBA Draft Lottery, with non-playoff teams learning where they would land (or if they’d have to convey their pick to another team) in next month’s draft. New Orleans, which entered the lottery with a 6.0% chance of landing the top overall pick, won the lottery and the opportunity to decide whether or not Duke’s Zion Williamson (the top player on many draft boards) is the right fit for their franchise.
Warriors 116, Trail Blazers 94
While Golden State have made a habit of playing this deep into the season that has not been the case for Portland, which on Tuesday was making its first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since 2000. And the return did not go well for Terry Stotts’ team, which struggled defensively for much of the night and ended up losing by 22 points. Portland’s approach to defending screens for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, either on or off the ball, was to have the big defending the screener drop back into the lane. Given how well those two can shoot the basketball, it should come as no surprise that this strategy did not work.
Curry shot 9-of-15 from beyond the arc (seven of the makes were uncontested according to ESPN Stats & Information), scoring 36 points (12-of-23 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) with seven assists, six rebounds, one steal and just one turnover in 35 minutes played. The nine triples are the most he’s made in a game since Game 1 of the Warriors’ first round series against the Clippers, with Los Angeles adjusting by blitzing him on all ball screens the remainder of the series. That was effective (or as effective it can be when defending a player of Curry’s caliber), and Houston took a similar approach in the second round. Whether or not Portland makes a similar change for Thursday’s Game 2 remains to be seen. Or maybe they won't, based upon Stotts' answer to a question about his team's defensive strategy after the game.
As for Thompson, he shot 10-of-24 from the field and finished with 26 points, three assists, three steals, two blocks, one rebound and three 3-pointers in 37 minutes played. In addition to the offense, he, Curry and Andre Iguodala (four points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot) were also excellent on the defensive end of the floor. They were the ones who defended Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for much of the night, with the Trail Blazers’ two best players combining to shoot 11-of-31 from the field. Lillard scored 19 points with six assists, four rebounds, two 3-pointers and seven turnovers, with McCollum adding 17 points, three rebounds, one assists, one three-pointer and three turnovers.
Ten Warriors played at least 11 minutes Tuesday, with Draymond Green (12 points, ten rebounds, five assists, three blocks, two steals and one three-pointer) joining the Splash Brothers in double figures scoring-wise. Andrew Bogut started at center opposition Enes Kanter but played just eight minutes, scoring two points with four rebounds, two steals, one assist and one blocked shot. Kevon Looney played 24 minutes off the bench, scoring six points with three steals, two rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot, and Jonas Jerebko chipped in with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer in 15 minutes.
Quinn Cook, who played just 16 minutes last series (all in Game 6), finished Tuesday’s win with eight points, two rebounds and two 3-pointers in 13 minutes. Also reaching double digits in minutes were Alfonzo McKinnie (three points, two rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer in 14 minutes), Shaun Livingston (four points, one rebound and one assist in 13 minutes) and Jordan Bell (three points, four rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes). Damian Jones, who had not played since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in a December 1 game against Detroit, played the final three minutes and recorded one rebound and one assist. He was originally listed as being out for Game 1, and while his return is a positive it’s unlikely to have an impact on the Warriors rotation.
Moving back over to Portland, while the Trail Blazers’ defense was an issue the bigger problem for them was their offense. On the night they shot 36.1% from the field and 7-of-28 from three, with Lillard and McCollum struggling as noted above. A bright spot offensively was Moe Harkless, who in 30 minutes accounted for 17 points (7-of-12 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), four rebounds, three blocks, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer. Enes Kanter added ten points (4-of-9 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), a game-high 16 rebounds, three assists and one steal.
Al-Farouq Aminu’s struggles continued however, as he played 19 minutes and accounted for just three points, five rebounds and two assists. Once again Rodney Hood and Zach Collins figured prominently in the front court rotation, with Hood (17 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers) playing 26 minutes and Collins (eight points, four rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot) 18. Seth Curry shot 1-of-7 from the field, scoring three points with three rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block in 19 minutes, and Evan Turner added five rebounds and four assists in his 16 minutes on the floor.
Portland may have to go to a smaller lineup in order to better defend Golden State’s ball screen actions, but that’s tough to do with Aminu struggling as he has.
Pelicans win the NBA Draft Lottery
What a night for the New Orleans Pelicans and new general manager David Griffin. One of the main conversation points heading into the draft was what the New York Knicks could do with the top pick, with it being reported that they could use it as part of a package to acquire Pelicans star Anthony Davis. This report was refuted by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski before the lottery, stating that the Knicks would not trade the top pick, but in the end it didn’t matter.
New Orleans, which held onto Davis after he made his trade request, now has the opportunity to pick a franchise building block. It’s also worth noting that Griffin hasn’t closed the door on Davis’ time with the franchise, saying that he hopes to do what he can to convince the perennial All-Star (who’s under contract through the 2020-21 season) to withdraw his trade request. A top three of Davis, Williamson and Jrue Holiday would certainly be a nice trio for Griffin and head coach Alvin Gentry to work with as they look to rebound from a disappointing 2019-20 season. That all being said, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Tuesday night that Davis’ desire to be traded has not changed.
New Orleans, Memphis and the LA Lakers all jumped into the top four, with the Pelicans and Grizzlies entering the lottery with a 26% chance to do so and the Lakers a 9% chance. Those three were joined by the Knicks, one of three teams (Cleveland and Phoenix) that entered the night with a 14.0% chance of winning the lottery.
Memphis will pick second, which could mean Murray State point guard Ja Morant. If that’s the route the Grizzlies take the Mike Conley conversations should be interesting, as both he and Marc Gasol (who was ultimately traded to Toronto) were on the trade market at the deadline in February. With Morant viewed by some as the second-best prospect in this class, Memphis could take Conley’s heir apparent and either keep them both on the roster to start the season or make a deal.
The Knicks will pick third, and this could be a situation where the team looks to include the pick in a trade package for a star to improve its chances of bringing in other top players during free agency. Or they could keep the pick, with Duke’s RJ Barrett being the likely option. Of the top six teams in the lottery with regards to their chances of landing the top pick, New York was the only team to land in the top four.
The Lakers have the fourth pick, and during a post-lottery conference call GM Rob Pelinka said that the team will ask around to determine the trade value of the pick. The Lakers were the focus of Anthony Davis trade rumors heading into the deadline in February, but nothing got done and the team ultimately plummeted out of playoff contention once LeBron James injured his groin. Do the Lakers make another run at Davis? That will be one of the biggest questions to answer heading into the draft. Rounding out the top five is Cleveland, which will have the opportunity to add another young piece after selecting Collin Sexton in the lottery last summer.
The biggest “loser” in the lottery? A good argument can be made for Phoenix, which had a 14.0% chance of landing the top pick. Instead the Suns will pick sixth, and unless there’s a trade they’ll miss out on the opportunity to draft the one point guard in this class that many are convinced can help lead a team into the future (Morant). Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White project to be available at the sixth pick, and while both are talented this has to be a letdown for Suns fans.
Two teams will convey their picks to other teams, with Dallas’ selection (tenth) headed to Atlanta as part of the Luka Doncic/Trae Young trade from last year’s draft. That is Atlanta’s second pick in this year’s lottery, as the Hawks will also pick eighth. Sacramento, which had a 95.2% chance of getting the 14th pick, landed in that spot and the pick is now property of the Boston Celtics. That would have been the case for any pick other than the first overall, which would have gone to Philadelphia. Below is the final draft lottery order.
1. New Orleans
3. New York
4. Los Angeles Lakers
10. Atlanta (via Dallas)
14. Boston (via Sacramento)