Last summer, we speculated that the NBA was getting more interesting, if not more competitive. That premise ended up mostly holding true this season: Although it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals once again, their fourth consecutive rendezvous was also nearly called off. The Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics helped make the Warriors and Cavs work harder to get here than they ever had to before.1The two teams played 35 combined games to get through the conference playoffs, the most they’ve had to play in any of their preceding Finals runs. Another rematch looked far from inevitable just a handful of days ago — that part was interesting! (As long as you put aside the generally lopsided nature of most games this postseason.)Now we’re left with the matchup that has become as much a part of late spring as commencement speeches and pollen allergies. And although this year’s version contains many of the same characters as earlier sequels, there are just enough possibilities here to keep things, well, interesting — albeit probably still not competitive. Here are six numbers to keep an eye on as we see whether the Warriors can hang onto their title, or if the Cavs can shock the world again.The Vegas oddsIs this the biggest NBA Finals mismatch ever? According to the Las Vegas bookmakers, it’s in the conversation. The Westgate SuperBook installed the Warriors as 1-to-10 favorites going into the series, which translates to about an 89 percent probability of winning after adjusting for the vigorish. Using the archived numbers at SportsOddsHistory.com, which go back to the 1998-99 season, the only Finals matchup more lopsided than this one came in 2001, when the Los Angeles Lakers had an implied 94 percent probability of beating the Philadelphia 76ers. (The Lakers ended up cruising to victory in five games.)Our own Elo model is slightly more optimistic about the Cavs’ chances. Based on both teams’ pre-series ratings, Cleveland has roughly a 20 percent probability of beating the Warriors. (Our interactive model gives the Cavs a slightly better chance because it takes into account things that Elo alone ignores, including playoff experience and travel distance.) That’s still the eighth-lowest of any Finals underdog since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger, but it’s actually about double what the Cavs’ odds were heading into last year’s Finals — and only a bit worse than Cleveland’s 27 percent probability before the 2016 Finals (which they won, of course, in one of the greatest upsets in NBA history). * With a minimum 12 games played. Share is out of possessions the team had while that player was on the court.Possession share includes possessions used via field goal attempts, drawing fouls, turning the ball over, passing for assists and extending possessions with offensive rebounds.Source: Basketball-Reference.com 1993Michael JordanCHI38.029.45.036.8 Source: Basketball-Reference.com 2017Cavaliers1691Warriors18509.6 1986Rockets1640Celtics18078.7 Unfortunately for LeBron James and the Cavs, though, none of the underdogs on the list above ended up winning the championship. That’s because the NBA Finals are particularly unkind to underdogs. We can split hairs about how much of a favorite Golden State should be, but no matter how you slice it, upsets of this magnitude basically never happen on this stage.LeBron James’s share of team possessionsJames has built an entire career out of doing everything for his teams: scoring, distributing, rebounding, defending and countless other little on-court acts that help you win games. But in these playoffs, his workload is approaching a level that’s unprecedented even by his standards.Through a combination of shooting, ball handling and rebounding, LeBron has personally been responsible for about 38 percent of the Cavs’ possessions when he’s on the floor in these playoffs. The only player (minimum 12 games played) who’s handled a higher percentage of possessions in any postseason since the merger? James himself in his 2015 playoff campaign, when he nearly willed an undermanned Cavs squad past the Warriors: 2018LeBron JamesCLE35.946.73.637.6 LeBron’s workload is historic (again)Largest share of team possessions an individual player was responsible for in the playoffs,* 1977-2018 The bad news for James is that his supporting cast this season is even worse than it was that year (or in any of his other NBA Finals seasons, 2007 included). So he’ll need to keep shouldering this historic workload through the Finals if the Cavs are to have any shot at winning. James is a superhuman athlete, but between his 41.3 minutes per game, his 38 percent possession usage on offense and his likely defensive responsibilities — according to Second Spectrum, no Cavalier defended Kevin Durant for more possessions in last year’s Finals than James did — it’s fair to wonder how much more of this The King can handle before running out of gas.The Warriors’ assist-to-turnover ratioMy colleague Chris Herring once described the Warriors’ offense as “beautiful chaos,” a system of intricate off-ball screens designed to spring their many skilled shooters free for open shots. In order to work properly, though, that offensive machine requires a lot of patient and precise ball movement, which Golden State has had a bad habit of getting away from at times this year. While the Warriors did lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio during the regular season, they frequently fell victim to stagnant offensive motion and careless passing against the Rockets, who held Golden State to a ridiculously low 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the three games Houston won during the Western Conference finals — a mark that would have easily been the NBA’s worst during the regular season.Of course, the Warriors had a sky-high 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the games they won over Houston, a sign of how well their offense still functions when it really clicks. But replicating that will also mean cutting out another of the bad habits Golden State slid into against the Rockets: too much iso-ball with Durant. Nobody runs more isolation plays than Houston, and somehow James Harden and friends convinced the normally free-flowing Warriors to do the same, with ugly results. After running only 11.0 isolations per 100 possessions during the regular season (according to Second Spectrum), the Warriors were up to an astounding 28.5 per 100 in the West final. Durant is a brilliant 1-on-1 player, and sometimes that type of offense is unavoidable, but the Warriors are at their best when these plays are selectively mixed in amid the beautiful chaos — not when they’re the centerpiece of the attack.The Cavaliers’ 3-point percentageAs I’ve written before, Cleveland is abnormally reliant on 3-point shooting to power its streaky offense — and to compensate for a defense that ranked next-to-last in efficiency during the regular season. In the postseason, the Cavs’ 3-point percentage has been 10.5 percentage points higher during wins than during losses (unsurprising from the team that had the league’s biggest regular-season gap). When the shots are falling, Cleveland can beat anybody. But it’s anybody’s guess as to whether that will be true on any given night.Nobody typifies this Cavs phenomenon more than Kyle Korver and JR Smith, a pair whose value is almost completely dependent on how well they shoot the basketball. In playoff wins this season, they’re shooting a combined 47 percent from downtown; in losses, that figure drops to 26 percent. This might be a chicken-and-egg thing: Do the Cavs win because Korver and Smith shoot better, or do Korver and Smith shoot better because the offense is working better overall? There could be something circular there. But it’s telling that the quality of looks the pair gets (as measured by Second Spectrum’s quantified shot quality) barely changes between wins and losses — rather, the difference is almost entirely driven by big fluctuations in shot-making after controlling for the difficulty of their shots.That makes the Cavaliers dangerous (and frustrating) for fans and haters alike. Although the Cavs’ hot-and-cold shooting touch might not matter as much against a team as talented as the Warriors — Cleveland got demolished in last year’s finals despite matching Golden State’s 3-point percentage — one of the Cavs’ best paths to victory rests in one of their patented hot streaks.Golden State’s third-quarter runsAs our ESPN colleague Baxter Holmes wrote earlier this month, one of the Warriors’ deadliest weapons is their ability to go on a devastating run in the blink of an eye that buries opponents before they even know what hit them. Although it can strike at any time, it often manifests itself right after the team emerges from the locker room for the second half: Golden State’s third-quarter scoring margin during the regular season was 199 points better than that of any other team in the league.2In other words, the difference between the Warriors’ third-quarter scoring margin and that of the next-best team would itself rank second in the league in third-quarter scoring margin! And in the playoffs, the Warriors have outscored opponents by 130 total points in third quarters, versus only 20 points in every other quarter combined. In Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals, the Rockets watched their season slip away largely on the strength of massive runs staged by the Warriors during the third quarter.To a certain extent, there isn’t much that Cleveland — or anyone — can do to combat the Warriors’ quick-strike tendencies. But for a Cavs team prone to wildly up-and-down sequences of play (both from game to game and within the same contest), keeping Golden State from being able to capitalize on vulnerable moments will be a victory in itself. (For what it’s worth, the Cavs actually outscored the Warriors by 4 points in the third quarters of the 2016 finals.)Two deadly lineups?A decent chunk of the Warriors’ dominance over the past half-decade stems from the success of a few specific five-man units — matchup nightmares for whom opponents have no good answer. That has carried over into these playoffs, in which the so-called “Hamptons Five” lineup of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala (who will miss Game 1 of the finals but could be available later on), Klay Thompson and Durant has outscored foes by 22.9 points per 100 possessions thus far. In concert with Golden State’s switch-heavy defensive scheme, the versatility and length of that group ensures that the Warriors don’t suffer defensively even while playing their top offensive players together.But the Cavaliers have a lineup that has somehow been even more effective in the playoffs than the Hamptons Five (although in fewer minutes): The group of James, Smith, Jeff Green, George Hill and Tristan Thompson, which is outscoring opponents by 25.7 points per 100 possessions during the postseason so far.Lineup data is so noisy that there’s no guarantee that a given group’s apparent synergy in the past will carry over into the future. But that’s all part of the bargain with this Cavaliers team. Since they remade their roster at midseason, they’ve been using the playoffs as a lineup laboratory of sorts, searching for the group that works best together — and it’s still a work in progress. None of Cleveland’s other common postseason lineups (among those that have played at least 50 minutes together) are in the same neighborhood as the group above, though, while Golden State has four separate combinations (including the Hamptons Five) that rank higher than the Cavs’ second-best unit of James, Hill, Smith, Korver and Kevin Love.When you’re as heavy an underdog as the Cavs are, experimentation might be the best option, so we’ll see what group(s) coach Tyronn Lue turns to as the series takes shape.Check out our latest NBA predictions. 2002Nets1601Lakers171716.2 1996SuperSonics1695Bulls183212.8 2003Nets1624Spurs174615.1 The biggest NBA Finals underdogs since 1977According to probabilities generated by pre-series Elo ratings UnderdogFavorite 2009LeBron JamesCLE36.439.54.337.0 SeasonPlayerTeamUsage %Assist %Off. Reb. %Poss. % 2018James HardenHOU36.735.92.537.2 200176ers1592Lakers17687.8% 1992Michael JordanCHI126.96.36.1995.7 1999Knicks1631Spurs174516.5 2015LeBron JamesCLE37.645.24.9%38.8% SeasonTeamElo RatingTeamElo RatingUnderdog Win % 2016Russell WestbrookOKC34.352.46.936.7 1981Rockets1573Celtics166820.4 2018Cavaliers1611Warriors171019.6 2013Carmelo AnthonyNYK38.09.32.535.7 2014Russell WestbrookOKC34.340.57.335.6 2003Allen IversonPHI36.736.02.536.2 2014Heat1638Spurs173020.9
The No. 13 Ohio Sate field hockey team looks to finish its season strong against No. 20 Northwestern Saturday.The Buckeyes seek their first Big Ten road win of the season when they travel to Evanston, Ill. The Buckeyes are 0-2 on the road in conference play, having lost to Penn State and Michigan State.The Buckeyes will face a Wildcat team that has struggled through the Big Ten season, posting a record of 1-4. Past meetings between the conference foes have been dominated by the Buckeyes, who have won the last 21 contests. The Buckeyes have shut out the Wildcats in their past three meetings.Saturday’s game will be Senior Day for the Wildcats, who are are led by seniors Courtney Plaster-Strange and Elizabeth Dobbs. The duo is second and third in points, respectively. The Buckeyes need a victory over Northwestern to remain in second place in the Big Ten. A loss would open the door for Indiana to take control of second place in the conference. The Hoosiers travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan Saturday.The Big Ten standings are critical as the conference tournament starts Nov. 5. in East Lansing on Michigan State’s campus. Michigan State has already secured the top seed in the conference tournament and the first round bye. The Buckeyes will earn either the second or third seed, depending on the results of Saturday’s games.The first round of the tournament is Nov. 5, followed by the semifinals on Nov. 6 and the finals Nov. 8.Last year’s Buckeye squad made a run to the conference championship game before falling to Iowa, 2-1, in overtime.Since that loss, many players, including seniors Lindsay Quintiliani and Natalia Ciminello, said winning the Big Ten is the team’s number one goal. While Michigan State has already clinched the regular season, the tournament championship is still up for grabs.If the Buckeyes achieve their goal and win the Big Ten tournament, they will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. If they fall short, they will look to earn an at-large bid.The NCAA tournament begins Nov. 14, when the Buckeyes will look to achieve another team goal — a trip to the final four.
While it’s clear the Ohio State men’s basketball team (24-0, 11-0 Big Ten) is a front-runner for the NCAA Tournament’s top seed, there’s still much debate about who will get the three remaining No. 1 spots. The Big East, arguably the nation’s deepest and most competitive conference, has seven teams ranked No. 16 or better in The Associated Press‘ Top 25 poll. According to CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, six of those teams are still in the running for a No. 1 seed in the big dance. “You got three spots up for grabs and nine teams that could grab it still,” Palm told The Lantern. “Maybe more than nine, because you probably got half a dozen in the Big East alone.” Fourth-ranked Pittsburgh (22-2), No. 8 Notre Dame (19-4), No. 9 Villanova (19-4), No. 10 Connecticut (18-4), No. 11 Georgetown (18-5) and No. 12 Syracuse (20-4) can all win their way to the top of a regional bracket, Palm said. “You got half a dozen teams that are capable of playing at that level and making the kind of run that it would take,” Palm said. “In my bracket, I have six Big East teams in the top 13.” Pittsburgh’s road to a No. 1 seed got a little harder after its leading scorer Ashton Gibbs injured his left knee in Saturday’s win against Cincinnati. The 6-foot-2 junior guard is averaging 16.3 points per game while shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s expected to miss up to two weeks. However, Gibbs’ absence didn’t stop the Panthers from beating West Virginia on the road in their “Backyard Brawl” rivalry game, 71-66, on Monday. Big 12 teams Kansas (23-1) and Texas (20-3) hold the No. 2 and No. 3 ranks, respectively. Palm said while Kansas is the least accomplished team in the top four, it still deserves its ranking. Texas has already beaten Kansas in their only scheduled meeting of the season Jan. 22, though they may meet again in the conference tournament. If they do, it’s possible that a No. 1 tournament seed will be on the line, along with a Big 12 Championship. Fifth-ranked Duke also remains in the running for a top seed, and has a favorable schedule ahead. The Blue Devils don’t play another ranked team until North Carolina on March 5, their last game of the regular season. Palm said he doesn’t believe OSU will finish its regular season undefeated, but it would take a string of losses to cost the team a No. 1 seed. He pointed to Saturday’s road game at No. 13 Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3 Big Ten) and the Feb. 20 contest at No. 14 Purdue (19-5, 8-3 Big Ten) as the toughest games remaining on the Buckeyes’ schedule. OSU coach Thad Matta has never won a game at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center during his tenure at OSU, while Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is 75-6 there in Big Ten play since he took over for the Badgers. But the Buckeyes have given their best performances against good oppositions, most notably against Florida, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue. Matta’s players have said all season that they don’t feel the pressure associated with their No. 1 ranking. “To be honest I don’t think we really feel pressure at all because we don’t really talk about it as a team,” senior guard Jon Diebler said. “I think the coaches have done a great job at having that next-game mentality and focusing on the next game at hand.” Fifth-year senior forward David Lighty agreed. “When you start looking too far ahead, that’s when you lose sight of what’s in front of you,” he said, “and you end up losing.”
PITTSBURGH – Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta said Friday that his team’s focus was on surviving and advancing in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s exactly what it did against Gonzaga. The Buckeyes (29-7) will play in a third consecutive Sweet 16 after defeating No. 7-seed Gonzaga, 73-66, in a third-round NCAA Tournament East Region game Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The OSU sophomore tandem of guard Aaron Craft and forward Deshaun Thomas pulled the Buckeyes out of a first-half rut and scored 17 and 18 points, respectively. It was sophomore big man Jared Sullinger, who finished the game with 18 points, that put the game away in the closing moments. Sullinger helped sink Gonzaga after the Bulldogs fought back to tie the game, 61-61, with fewer than four minutes to play. Sullinger dumped six points on the Bulldogs in the final minute of play, including a lay-in against Gonzaga’s 7-foot senior center, Robert Sacre. Senior guard William Buford and sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., combined for five free-throws to help put the game on ice and advance the Buckeyes. OSU will play the winner of No. 6-seed Cincinnati and No. 3-seed Florida State in Boston, Mass., in the Sweet 16. The Bearcats, one of four teams from the state of Ohio to advance to the tournament’s third round, is scheduled to tip their game against the Seminoles Sunday at 9:40 p.m., in Nashville, Tenn. In the early moments, OSU’s scoring came via the 3-point shot, with Sullinger hitting each of his first attempts while Buford nailed his first. Craft hit another 3-pointer to help OSU tie the game, 12-12. OSU fell behind in a back-and-forth affair and trailed Gonzaga, 24-20, 10:12 into the game. The Bulldogs put their size to use and owned the paint, collecting four offensive rebounds to that point and outscoring OSU, 14-2. Sacre laid a basket home as he was fouled with 7:58 to play. He converted the free-throw to make the score 27-20. Through his first 35 games of the season, Craft averaged nine points per game. Against Gonzaga, Craft matched his average by the 3:36 mark in the first half. The nine points were only good enough keep the Buckeyes’ deficit at 32-27. A partisan CONSOL Energy Center crowd was backing the Buckeyes, and a surge late in the half by Thomas brought those fans to life. Thomas did all of his first-half scoring in the final 5:01 of the half, but the 12 points he deposited helped OSU claim a 37-37 tie. A lay-in by Craft in the closing seconds put the finishing touch on a 10-3 run that put the Buckeyes up, 39-37, heading into the locker room. Both teams shot a high percentage from the field by halftime – OSU shot 62 percent on 16-of-26 from the field while Gonzaga connected on 14-of-31 attempts for 45 percent. Craft continued his offensive surge with six points before the first media timeout in the second half. Sullinger stole an in-bound pass and heaved the ball up-court to Craft who finished at the hoop and was fouled. Craft hit the free-throw attempt to follow, putting OSU up, 46-39, with fewer than 16 minutes to play. Sullinger was assessed his third foul with 14:43 to play, and was exchanged by Matta for junior forward Evan Ravenel. OSU’s offense was rolling with Sullinger, though. Thomas deposited a 3-pointer just before Sullinger’s exit from the game, and Buford hit one immediately after to put OSU up, 52-42. The lead was the biggest of the game for the Buckeyes to that point, and Gonzaga coach Mark Few called a timeout as fans donning Scarlet and Gray rose to their feet. To that point, OSU had shot 47 percent from 3-point territory, connecting on 8-of-17 attempts. Then OSU went cold. Gonzaga cut into the lead by the 7:24 mark of the second half, and trailed, 58-54. After moving to within four points, Sacre, who finished with eight points, came back on defense and called Bulldogs fans to make noise. Minutes later, Gonzaga pulled to within two points and forced Matta to call a timeout with 5:48 to play. By the 3:58 mark, the game was tied. Neutral fans in the crowd turned and began to support the mid-major program from Spokane, Wash., which posted 25 wins in the regular season and West Coast Conference Tournament. The Bulldogs also dismantled West Virginia on Thursday, 77-54, to advance to the third round. Then OSU turned to Sullinger to ice the game. Sullinger’s six points, plus the free-throws from Buford, Thomas and Smith, finally put the game out of reach and sent the Buckeyes through to the next round of the tournament. Start time for OSU’s Thursday game in Boston has not been announced.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has announced that defender Dejan Lovren will likely be absent for up to three weeks due to a pelvic problemThe Croatia international has managed the injury for over the past year, which saw him make a total of 43 appearances across all competitions for Liverpool.And, as well as helping the Reds reach the Champions League final and secure a second successive top-four finish, Lovren was a key part of the Croatia squad that reached the World Cup final for the first time in the nation’s history.Due to all of this, Lovren will now need some extra time off in order to properly overcome his long-standing issue.Virgil van Dijk praises Roberto Firmino after Liverpool’s win Andrew Smyth – September 14, 2019 Virgil van Dijk hailed team-mate Roberto Firmino after coming off the bench to inspire Liverpool to a 3-1 comeback win against Newcastle United.“He is not fit. Let me say it like this, last year he already had a few problems with that but he could obviously play – and played really good,” said Klopp on the club website.“Recovery days were always enough then it was not a problem and he was in the next session again. We did not train a lot in the end of the season, of course, because we were more or less constantly playing, but he played constantly.“Now in the World Cup, [playing] three times [for] 120 minutes it got a bit worse, but I am pretty sure it will settle in the next one, two or three weeks. In that time he can probably for sure train already, but not the full programme, so that will then take time.”Even without Lovren though, Liverpool still managed to get their Premier League campaign off to a strong start by thrashing West Ham United 4-0 at Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool will welcome offers for goalkeeper Loris Karius in the remainder of the European transfer windowThe German’s future at Anfield has been put into major doubt after Liverpool broke the bank to sign Alisson Becker from AS Roma following his high-profile mistakes in last season’s Champions League final.Now the Liverpool Echo reports that Jurgen Klopp is willing to consider any suitable offers for Karius, even though he didn’t initially plan to sell him or fellow shot-stopper Simon Mignolet.Turkish giants Besiktas are believed to be the front-runners for Karius’ signature.Although it will likely only be a season-long loan deal for the 25-year-old with the option of making the move permanent at the end of the season.Virgil van Dijk praises Roberto Firmino after Liverpool’s win Andrew Smyth – September 14, 2019 Virgil van Dijk hailed team-mate Roberto Firmino after coming off the bench to inspire Liverpool to a 3-1 comeback win against Newcastle United.Karius himself recently admitted that his Liverpool future is in doubt following Alisson’s arrival.He said: “Of course (Alisson signing) that’s not perfect for me, but I cannot say much more about that either.“I do not know that (whether he will leave before the deadline). I cannot say what I’m doing right now, there’s still some time left.”Karius made 33 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions last season.
Marcos Alonso has revealed that contract talks between himself and Chelsea are already at an advanced stageThe Spanish left-back has another two years remaining on his current deal at Stamford Bridge.But, in light of reports linking him with a return to boyhood club Real Madrid in August, Chelsea are determined to secure Alonso’s long-term future.The 27-year-old remains a vital member of the Blues squad and has played every minute of their Premier League campaign to date.Aside from that, Alonso’s also chipped in a goal and five assists with Chelsea level with Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the league table and unbeaten.Virgil van Dijk praises Roberto Firmino after Liverpool’s win Andrew Smyth – September 14, 2019 Virgil van Dijk hailed team-mate Roberto Firmino after coming off the bench to inspire Liverpool to a 3-1 comeback win against Newcastle United.“I am very calm and very happy at Chelsea and the club must also be happy with me because, although I still have two years left on my contract, they have offered me an extension,” Alonso told AS.“We are talking about it and the talks to renew are already advanced.“If everything goes well, I think I will renew before the end of this month – in the coming days.”Alonso is with the Spain squad for their upcoming games against Wales and England.