These Semi-Finals Need a Bunch of Heart Transplants

Ben Needs a Jumper Before the Process Graduates

Because there is a NBA disease of overreaction in the moment, Ben Simmons was evaluated as having arrived after the 76ers decimated the mediocre Heat who lacked a perimeter or post scorer. Simmons had a tough game 2 against the Heat, recovered, and dominated them for the next three games. His length, height, court awareness, iconic passing ability, plus a feel for the game, otherwise known as Basketball I.Q., was one of the reasons many picked Philly to ring circles around the gritty and gutsy Celtics. But against a more talented and verstatile team that exudes toughness and attention to detail, Ben Simmons looks less and less like a Rookie of the Year. He is struggling because he doesn’t have a shot he can rely on in close games.

His 1 point disaster in Game 2 was an afterthought in Game 3 but he didn’t make plays down the stretch because he can’t, not yet. He isn’t versatile and in tight games he morphs into Lonzo Ball passive.

That doesn’t mean Simmons isn’t going to be one of the game’s great passers/scorers. He is just not there yet. He takes himself out of plays when the game should come down to Joel or Ben. He has a lot to work to do this summer finding a consistent range, either at the elbow or on the perimeter. It is job number one.

Late in the game on Saturday and in overtime, Embiid looked gassed. He needed a break but he’s the only one who can finish a mid-range or at the rim. Not only does Simmons need more efficiency in his shooting game, he needs to be able to finish through traffic, get to the line, and have confidence in making free throws.

Expecting Philly to get to the ECF with a rookie point guard is expectng Ben Simmons to be Magic Johnson. That dog was never going to hunt, not in the modern NBA where experience is everything.

Ben Simmons day is coming. It is just not here yet. (Julian Billick)

What’s Changed in 3 Years? One Win

Three years ago, the New Orleans Pelican played the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. As expected, the games at Oracle were close but the Warriors easily won when the game hit crunch time. Then came game 3 in NOLA. The Pelicans dominated for three quarters, had a lead of 20 points entering the 4th and looked like they were cruising to a 2-1 series. At the seven minute mark, the Warriors were behind by 17 points. At the three minute mark, the Pels had a 10 point lead. But then disaster. The Pelicans only scored 3 more points and the game went into overtime. New Orleans lost, was swept out the playoffs, and had a hard lesson to learn about closing out games.

What does that have to do with this year?

Everything was supposed to be different. Anthony Davis wasn’t that young kid anymore. Rajon Rondo had the talent around him to make his passes into thrilling scores. Jrue Holiday was playing like he was worth $25 mil. Nikola Mirotic was the outside scorer the Pels needed for Davis and his open lanes.

But no. The Warriors took a lead in the first quarter of Game 4 and really never looked back. There was no answer for Kevin Durant.

The Pelicans are one game better than they were three years ago in that humliating sweep. But that gets you a cup of coffee and a vacation after game 5. The problem for whoever plays the Warriors is they don’t need everyone to play well. Just two of their 4 All-Stars. No other team is stacked like that, not even the Rockets. And so here we are with Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Not much different than three years before when they looked lke it was the end of the world.

It wasn’t the world ending. Just their season.

It’s 2015 all over again. (Andrew Chang)

DeMar DeRozan Is DeMar DeRozan

When DeMar DeRozan was a free agent in 2016, the Los Angeles Lakers were hoping he would give them a look. He was local and one of  a handful of L.A. Kobe-philes  (James Harden, Paul George, Russell Westbrook), Cali kids who grew up watching and inspired by Bryant. DeRozan was open about how much Kobe Bryant meant to his career, first as he tried to be like him and second as Bryant personally mentored him.

DeRozan didn’t give the Lakers any love though. He immediately signed a max deal with the Raptors and when Lakers fans were a little salty he said something bitterly true. He said in Los Angeles he would never ever be in the record books. There wouldn’t be a record of Kobe’s he’d be able to break but in Toronto he can be in the record books.

Bingo. He is in the record books now as the Toronto team that quits against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over and over and over again. The Raptors are not the only one the LeBrons have emasculated. Al Horford is 1-16 against LeBron James. But what is troubling about the Raptors besides depressing us with their losses is their rolling over act and not competing.

I have heard the argument that everyone likes to make. Karl Malone couldn’t beat MJ. The Kings couldn’t beat Kobe/Shaq. Jerry West couldn’t beat the Celtics. But here’s the difference. In all of those rivalry head-to-heads, the team that lost was competing and just came up short in game 6 or game 7 when greatness just took over. That is not what is happening here. The Raptors, as someone said, need a psychiatrist. They have a personality disorder.

DeMar DeRozan has never been a player who could carry a team. He puts up great numbers and will be an All-Star for many years. But in the playoffs, he is easy to defend. He is an iso player even though Dwane Casey tried to fix that this season. He doesn’t catch and dribble on the run like the Warriors stars. He catches, dribbles, stands still. Then he makes his move. Trap him and you take him out of his rhythm.

Just because you put kittens in the oven, don’t make them biscuits. DeRozan is still a one-dimensional mid range scorer with athleticism to posterize you.

All you have to know about his performance in the Cavs series is his offensive rating is 95 and his defensive rating is 121. He can’t score. He can’t guard anyone. He has the worst offensive rating on the Raptors. (Kyle Lowry’s offensive rating is 133). He looks lost and with no confidence like Cleveland stole his soul or something. Heart transplant needed.

But no worries. He’ll be on vacation soon enough.