We say again, San Antonio should aim for LA in 1st round

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Gregg Popovich said before Sunday’s game with the Lakers that every Western Conference team is trying to avoid the Lakers in round one. Via ESPN:

“The ones that say, ‘We don’t care who we play,’ they’re full of
baloney,” Popovich said. “We’re all trying to hide from the Lakers in
the first round and that’s the truth.

“Really, it’s like, ‘Who do
you want to play in the first round?,'” Popovich continued before
sarcastically answering his question. “Oh, the Lakers! We’ll play the
Lakers!”

After San Antonio’s 100-81 win, in Staples, without Tony Parker and George Hill (who sprained an ankle early in the ballgame), we’d like to say again what we said earlier.

Yes. The Lakers.

Greg Popovich has forgotten more about basketball than we’ll learn in a lifetime, but even he has to see some of the same signs we do.

While our fearless leader pointed out that today’s game doesn’t show us anything new, it did reinforce some ideas that are important to consider. For starters, Andrew Bynum is a huge missing piece against Tim Duncan. Pau Gasol did a great job back on March 24th, when Duncan was struggling. Today, Duncan ran over Gasol like a freight train. Gasol might as well have been tied to the tracks by some 1920’s film villain with a handlebar mustache.

Playing the Lakers in the first round? Means either no Bynum, or one struggling to get back into rhythm. We informed you earlier that Bynum’s struggling to recover from the Achilles strain that’s sidelined him for two weeks. Another two weeks is in no way out of the realm of possibility. If San Antonio can get a matchup with LA without Bynum? That’s preferable than if Bynumzilla is at full strength.

Then there’s Kobe Bean Bryant. Bryant is somehow managing to take tons of shots and miss a high percentage, impressive for a superstar. Bryant was 8 of 24 today, going 13 of 47 since signing his massive extension. But this is Kobe Bryant. He’s going to wake up. But if this slump is the result of the myriad injuries Bryant’s suffered, you want to catch him before he heals and goes back to, you know, being Bryant. It’s probably not going to work, but it’s the best shot.

There’s also the matter of avoiding Dallas. If everyone is avoiding LA, Portland and Utah are at least not trying to avoid the Mavericks. The Spurs, on the other hand, have lost to Dallas in the playoffs twice, including last season, and the Mavericks have won the past two meetings this season. But if the Spurs fall to eighth and the Blazers move up to seventh, there’s a chance that if the Spurs were to somehow make it past LA they may not have to go through Dallas as well.

Beyond all that is the fact that Popovich has essentially said the Spurs are hoping an act of God knocks off the Lakers, like a matchup advantage a la Golden State ’07 or the Kraken or something. But you tell an aging group of veterans (but not the press under any circumstances), “We’ve beaten them this year. We can beat them. We’re not running from them, we WANT to play them” and they’re going to gear up for that.

You want to win the West? You have to go through LA. And while going through them early may not make a difference rather than later, it may present the best opportunity. And besides, is LA really playing to finish as a runner-up? It’s championship or nothing. The Spurs are playing their best ball of the season. They should try to cash in on that.

Sixers’ Joel Embiid upgraded to “probable,” will decide after warm ups

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day. Embiid had been out with a concussion and orbital bone fracture.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.