With NBA Awards in town, James Harden returns home to Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — James Harden hops off of the fire truck that has his face plastered across it and waves at the crowd. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon at Audubon Middle School in Southern California, and the bearded bigwig has arrived.

Along with his mom, Monja Willis, Harden weaves his way toward the stage. And when he arrives, when he’s finally able to take a breath, he peers out at the green outdoor basketball courts and smiles.

“This is awesome,” he then says into the microphone.

Harden is here at this school — his old middle school — as part of an Adidas event called the “Imma Be a Star” block party. The event is based around the unveiling of new outdoor courts paid for by Harden and Adidas.

More specifically, though, Harden is here in Los Angeles for the 2018 NBA awards. After scoring an NBA-best 30.4 points per game, Harden is the heavy favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award Monday night.

The award has been nearly a foregone conclusion for weeks, even after Harden’s Houston Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. At 28, the six-time NBA All-Star turned in his best year ever, knocking down his step-back 3-pointer with ease and dishing to teammates like his mom never could have imagined.

Willis never could have imagined any of this, frankly, but that did not prevent her from stashing notes Harden wrote to her when he was a freshman in high school. He would scribble the notes late at night, including this one in particular: “Could you wake me up at 7 a.m., and could you leave me a couple of dollars?

“P.S., keep this paper. Imma be a star.”

Willis laughs when a reporter asks about this particular note.

“I didn’t think it would happen then,” Willis tells Yahoo Sports. “I didn’t think that note was that important. I just left him some money, you know?”

There’s a certain — and maybe even special — power in belief, though, and Willis says she always believed Harden would succeed. A similar feeling is why Los Angeles-based coach Antione Smith says he feels pride to stand here on this Sunday.

“Without James being around this area, none of this would be available for these kids,” Smith adds.

Over on the stage, in front of the hundreds who attended, Harden shuffles his feet and answers questions about his career path. He tells kids to always have a positive attitude. He tells them to be genuine with every person they meet.

At the end of the Q-and-A, both he and Willis (who is also on the stage) step to their left to watch a video. It begins, showing clips of his playing days at Audubon, his college days at Arizona State and his NBA highlights. When it ends, Harden hugs his mom and thanks her for her role in his life.

He then hops off of the stage and makes his way to his left. The new outdoor courts await.

2018 NBA Finals: Warriors vs Cavaliers Game 1

The Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, meet the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals on Thursday, May 31, 2018 (5/31/18) at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

To watch online, click on the livestream link below.

Here’s what you need to know:

Who: Cavaliers (50-32) vs. Warriors (58-24)

What: Game 1, NBA Finals

When: Thursday, May 31, 2018

Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.

When: 9 p.m. Eastern

TV: ABC

Livestream: WatchESPN

Line: Warriors -13

Over/under: 214.5

Money line: Cavaliers +700, Warriors -1100

Season series: Warriors, 2-0.

Story line: The fourth consecutive Cavaliers-Warriors matchup in the NBA Finals, the eighth straight trip to the title series for Cleveland star LeBron James, and once again it’s Golden State that arrives as the overwhelming favorite. Both teams needed to survive Game 7s on the road to win their conference championships, winning those clinchers in shorthanded fashion — no Andre Iguodala for Golden State, no Kevin Love for Cleveland. James will either become the 39th player with four NBA championships, or the third to lose the title series six times.

How They Got Here: Cleveland beat No. 5 Indiana 4-3, No. 1 Toronto 4-0 and No. 2 Boston 4-3 for the Eastern Conference title. Golden State beat No. 7 San Antonio 4-1, No. 6 New Orleans 4-1 and No. 1 Houston 4-3 for the Western Conference title.

Key Matchup: Golden State’s Klay Thompson vs. Cleveland’s J.R. Smith. It’s safe to expect James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant to be spectacular in this series. The Warriors have more firepower than the Cavs, but they’re only great when firing on all cylinders. Smith needs to take every last bit of available space away from the ultra-quick-releasing Thompson and not let him get shots off. Should he succeed, that’s a big edge for the Cavs.

How the Cavaliers can win: James being spectacular is a prerequisite, and Cleveland needs to bring the same defensive effort that carried the Cavs in the Game 7 win at Boston. From there, Cleveland needs to do what Houston did against Golden State — force turnovers and attack the offensive glass.

How the Warriors can win: Take care of the basketball. Do that, and they will be fine. Don’t do that, and they’re asking for trouble.

Prediction: Warriors in 5.

NBA Playoffs 2018 Bracket, First-Round

The 2018 NBA Playoffs will get underway this afternoon, tipping off what should be nothing short of the most riveting journey to the Finals in quite some time. After years of looking at the playoff bracket and feeling near certain in mid-April that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors would be duking it out for a championship come June, it finally feels like there is a legitimate chance that some other contenders could make their run. The odds reflect this sentiment, as there are a handful of teams that the sportsbooks believe have a shot at dethroning one or both of these back-to-back-to-back conference winners.

The 2018 NBA Playoffs TV schedule on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV.

The NBA Playoffs TV schedule begins Saturday, April 14 with four games on ESPN/ABC. The semifinals are scheduled to begin April 30 and the conference finals May 15. The 2018 NBA Finals schedule begins on May 31, matching 2011 as the earliest start for the event since 1986. Game 7 is scheduled for June 17.

ALL TIMES EASTERN. Additional information will be added to the schedule as the postseason draws closer. The regular season schedule is here.

First Round NBA Playoffs TV schedule

Subject to change

Time Game Round Net
Saturday, April 14
3:00
PM
Spurs
Warriors
Round 1
Game 1
ABC
5:30
PM
Wizards
Raptors
Round 1
Game 1
ESPN
8:00
PM
Heat
Sixers
Round 1
Game 1
ESPN
10:30
PM
Pelicans
Blazers
Round 1
Game 1
ESPN
Sunday, April 15
1:00
PM
Bucks
Celtics
Round 1
Game 1
TNT
3:30
PM
Pacers
Cavs
Round 1
Game 1
ABC
6:30
PM
Jazz
Thunder
Round 1
Game 1
TNT
9:00
PM
Wolves
Rockets
Round 1
Game 1
TNT
Monday, April 16
8:00
PM
Heat
Sixers
Round 1
Game 2
TNT
10:30
PM
Spurs
Warriors
Round 1
Game 2
TNT
Tuesday, April 17
7:00
PM
Wizards
Raptors
Round 1
Game 2
NBA TV
8:00
PM
Bucks
Celtics
Round 1
Game 2
TNT
10:30
PM
Pelicans
Blazers
Round 1
Game 2
TNT
Wednesday, April 18
7:00
PM
Pacers
Cavs
Round 1
Game 2
TNT
9:00
PM
Jazz
Thunder
Round 1
Game 2
NBA TV
9:30
PM
Wolves
Rockets
Round 1
Game 2
TNT
Thursday, April 19
7:00
PM
Sixers
Heat
Round 1
Game 3
TNT
9:00
PM
Blazers
Pelicans
Round 1
Game 3
NBA TV
9:30
PM
Warriors
Spurs
Round 1
Game 3
TNT
Friday, April 20
7:00
PM
Cavs
Pacers
Round 1
Game 3
ESPN
8:00
PM
Raptors
Wizards
Round 1
Game 3
ESPN2
9:30
PM
Celtics
Bucks
Round 1
Game 3
ESPN
Saturday, April 21
2:30
PM
Sixers
Heat
Round 1
Game 4
TNT
5:00
PM
Blazers
Pelicans
Round 1
Game 4
TNT
7:30
PM
Rockets
Wolves
Round 1
Game 3
ESPN
10:00
PM
Thunder
Jazz
Round 1
Game 3
ESPN
Sunday, April 22
1:00
PM
Celtics
Bucks
Round 1
Game 4
ABC
3:30
PM
Warriors
Spurs
Round 1
Game 4
ABC
6:00
PM
Raptors
Wizards
Round 1
Game 4
TNT
8:30
PM
Cavs
Pacers
Round 1
Game 4
TNT
Monday, April 23
8:00
PM
Rockets
Wolves
Round 1
Game 4
TNT
10:30
PM
Thunder
Jazz
Round 1
Game 4
TNT
Tuesday, April 24
TBD Bucks
Celtics
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Heat
Sixers
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Spurs
Warriors
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Pelicans
Blazers
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
Wednesday, April 25
TBD Wizards
Raptors
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Pacers
Cavs
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Jazz
Thunder
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Wolves
Rockets
Round 1
Game 5*
TNT or
NBA TV
Thursday, April 26
TBD Sixers
Heat
Round 1
Game 6*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Celtics
Bucks
Round 1
Game 6*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Warriors
Spurs
Round 1
Game 6*
TNT or
NBA TV
TBD Blazers
Pelicans
Round 1
Game 6*
TNT or
NBA TV
Friday, April 27
TBD Cavs
Pacers
Round 1
Game 6*
ESPN or
ESPNEWS
TBD Raptors
Wizards
Round 1
Game 6*
ESPN or
ESPNEWS
TBD Rockets
Wolves
Round 1
Game 6*
ESPN or
ESPNEWS
TBD Thunder
Jazz
Round 1
Game 6*
ESPN or
ESPNEWS
Saturday, April 28
TBD Heat
Sixers
Round 1
Game 7*
TNT
TBD Bucks
Celtics
Round 1
Game 7*
TNT
TBD Pelicans
Blazers
Round 1
Game 7*
TNT
TBD Spurs
Warriors
Round 1
Game 7*
TNT
Sunday, April 29
TBD Pacers
Cavs
Round 1
Game 7*
ABC or
TNT
TBD Wizards
Raptors
Round 1
Game 7*
ABC or
TNT
TBD Wolves
Rockets
Round 1
Game 7*
ABC or
TNT
TBD Jazz
Thunder
Round 1
Game 7*
ABC or
TNT

The Dubs and Cavs still have the best odds to meet in the Finals for a fourth consecutive year, but they are no longer a head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Golden State is being pushed in the Western Conference by the Houston Rockets, who are coming off a league-best 65-win season. Houston’s championship odds are currently +170, only a smidge behind the injury-ravaged Warriors—who won less than 60 games for the first time since 2013-14—at +120.

Cleveland had more problems than just injuries in 2017-18, as they needed to make a number of desperation moves at the trade deadline to offload offseason acquisitions that just didn’t pan out and bring in younger, more athletic players. Despite another quality campaign from LeBron James, the Cavs only mustered 51 victories this year—good for only the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. That is the lowest win total (in a non-strike shortened season) for a team with King James on the roster in a decade. Cleveland is currently getting 8-1 odds to raise a banner this year, barely ahead of the top-seeded Toronto Raptors (10-1). The frontrunners are also more than a bit fortunate that former point guard Kyrie Irving is done for the season, sinking the chance of a Boston Celtics—the East’s No.2 seed—postseason resurgence from upwards of 10-1 all the way down to 55-1.

There is still a very real possibility that we could see a fourth consecutive Cavs-Dubs matchup in the Finals, but hoops handicapper Jon Price of believes this could be the year that parity shows up in the NBA. The Vegas pro has provided his take on the two teams he believes have what it takes to navigate through their respective conference playoffs and still offer great value on any future bets placed on them. Before getting to those predictions, take a look at the complete list of championship odds for every team. At the end of the article you will also find a complete first-round schedule, TV coverage, live stream info, matchups, quick picks and more for the 2018 NBA Playoffs.