NBA Playoffs: Celtics and Heat will bring the pain

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Thumbnail image for Garnette_Game.jpgIt’s hard to argue with this series having the most star power. Rajon Rondo. Ray Allen. Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett. Jermaine O’Neal. Dwyane Wade. It’s chock full of bonafide superstars. But I wouldn’t expect a high flying series of highlight reels and spectacular shots.

We’re talking about the third best team in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), versus the fifth. The surprise? It’s Miami with the better statistical defense. This is going to be an absolute slugfest the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late ’90’s. You’re going to see a lot of pick and rolls devolve into contested pick and pop shots, lots of rolling on the floor, and probably some injuries.

You’ve got Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Dwyane Wade who have all suffered through multiple injuries this season. With as physical as this series is likely to be, you can bet someone is going to get knicked up.

The Heat? 12-1 in their last 13. Outscoring opponents by 9.2 points. Everything’s been working for them, and against the Celtics, Wade has been unstoppable. 33.7 points, 8.7, 5.0 rebounds. That’s the Wade that’s been in fine form as the season has wound down, waiting until it was vital to really step up.

We’ve told you time and time again about the Celtics’ struggles. But they’re still crafty, still tough, and still have guys that will defend like the Samurai. They’re proven leaders that have been telling everyone not to worry, that they’ll turn it on. Well, it’s time to flip that switch. There’s no more games to drift through.

Important things to watch today:

  • Jermaine O’Neal has length to combat Kendrick Perkins and the meat in the middle not to have his legs taken out like Perkins has done to Dwight Howard. O’Neal has to neutralize Perkins’ rebounding and put back potential, while also being a matchup advantage.
  • Udonis Haslem shoots 45% from 16-23 feet. The pick and pop from the power forwards at that range will be a huge factor. The way these teams play defense, those are the only shots you can depend on to be there. Kevin Garnett shoots 46% from that same range this year. 
  • The Celtics will run their usual pick and roll defense on Wade, showing with the big, then letting their deep defender rotate. The problem lies with Wade’s ability to drive and dish to the man of the rotator. Spacing is going to be absolutely vital in this regard for the C’s.
  • The Celtics’ bench has to step up. If Marquis Daniels can get get some points, if Glen Davis can create some rebounds and hit a few of those jumpers he made last year, if Tony Allen can continue his surprising play, that might be enough to win in a series with scoring that should be as low as can be.
  • You have to wonder if the Celtics will have Rondo guarding Wade while Allen takes Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo. Asking Allen to guard Wade is too tough a task and would require way too much help defense. The Heat offense is bad, but they can still hit open shots. Sometimes.

And of course, health. We’ll have an update on that, including some news on Rondo, within the hour.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.