Last Weekend of Hope: Eastern Conference

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On Tuesday the 2010-2011 NBA season begins. From that point on, the reality will be set for 30 teams in the NBA. One team will wind up in possession of the trophy which defines careers, while 29 others will find themselves deeply disappointed in themselves, their teammates, their organization, or all three. The fans, likewise, will go through a similar process of understanding exactly how good their respective teams are, and are not. For most, it is a bitter, sobering process, tinged with those moments of fleeting success wherein they take comfort in the overtime, come-from-behind win, or the outright smackdown of a top team. You’ll hear a lot of “They are what they are.” But right now? This weekend? These precious, painful few days? These teams could be anything. They could far surpass expectations, and bring outright exuberance to their fans, players, and the people that work behind the scenes to make them great. They could shock the world, even if that means a second round playoff exit in a sweep. This is the last weekend of hope before the journey begins. And while that journey is fun, and it’s why we watch, this moment should be documented, particularly because this may be the last hopeful weekend we have in a while, as the specter of imminent lockout looms over us like a raven, just waiting for the season to die.

In that uplifting, comforting spirit, here then, is the hope of the Eastern Conference.

(Note: Do not confuse the hope enlisted with the opinions of the author. We’re just conveying what appears to be the best-case outlook for the various squads.)

Atlanta Hawks: They were supposed to be a joke three years ago. Then they pushed the Celtics to seven games. They were supposed to be an after-though the following year, when they advanced to the second round. They were supposed to regress last year, when they nabbed the third seed and swept the Celtics in the regular season. Who’s to say they can’t stun the NBA again? All they’ve done is improve. And for as much as everyone, and I mean everyone, outside of the Johnson family clan and Rick Sund, think that Joe Johnson is overpaid, what if instead of taking a step back, he advances and becomes a more efficient, complete player? Josh Smith cut out the threes last year and made his game more complete. What if that only advances and somehow, mercifully, that mid-range J comes to light? And what if their chemistry, which was palpable last year, only comes together. If any franchise deserved a reward for slowly building upon a core, it’s not OKC or Portland, it’s Atlanta. Maybe injury and age could set them up for an improbable run.

Boston Celtics: 12 minutes. That’s how close they were. Sure, the age is another year gone. Sure, their starting center is on the shelf for a long time and their backups would be mega-stars in 2003. But 12 minutes, they got deeper, and they were so close. This concoction of stars has only had one championship to show for what could have been another dynasty. They’ve got another one in them. They have to. They’ve got too much pride, too much desire. They understand that this is 18, the chance to put the Lakers back where they feel the Lakers belong. Behind them. Rondo’s an even better player, a fourth star, really. Allen’s jumper isn’t going to change. Garnett’s intensity won’t change. Paul Pierce’s elbow-J won’t change. And for all the injury talk, there have been older teams who stayed healthy. For this team, this franchise, this legacy, it’s got to be possible.

Charlotte Bobcats: They don’t have a point guard. They don’t have a center (although Nazr Mohammed is criminally underrated). How are they going to compete? Perhaps the same way they’ve competed over the past three years with Larry Brown. By trades. Brown has gone into every November with a glaring weakness and each year has addressed it with trades. First it was versatility and overall talent. Then it was defensive acumen. Then it was a scoring threat. All three times, Brown managed to upgrade his team and their record. So a trade, then. A move to improve things without losing the soul of this team which is strong. They say defense wins championships, and this team has it in spades. Perhaps a championship is out of reach, but being the toughest bunch of SOB’s and getting a first round home playoff series is not. In Brown, they trust. In MJ, they hope.

Chicago Bulls: Take what’s good, seal up the holes, capitalize on opportunities. They’ve done what they needed. They needed a low-post scorer, they got a premier talent in Carlos Boozer. Sure, he’s out for two months, but this team has won half their games with far less talent. Meanwhile they have a coach they can believe in, the star who seems poised to take his place among the elite, and the franchise center for the long-haul. The Heat have no depth. The Celtics have almost no youth. The Magic… well, the Magic play in Orlando. That’s not a championship town. Chicago’s a championship town. Right? So with a complete team and two superstars, there’s no reason this team can’t put together a season to shut down the hype in Miami and Boston. All it takes is Rose-colored-glasses. Okay, that and the ability to hit a freaking jump shot.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Screw ’em. Screw the media, screw the experts, screw the Heat, and especially, screw LeBron. This team won 60 games the past two seasons. One guy can not, did not, will not make that big of a difference. This locker room still likes one another, and still has talent. J.J. Hickson is just waiting for his chance. Mo Williams was an All-Star. Ramon Sessions has never been given a shot like he has in Cleveland. And if any team, any city, anywhere, deserved a chance at redemption in the face of adversity, it is this team, in this town, in this season. A championship? Nearly impossible. But beating the Heat in the playoffs? Now that’s something worth witnessing.

Detroit Pistons: This is not an old team. It’s a young team, built with players in their prime and with a lot of depth. Young talent, mixed with veteran skill. So… there is simply no way that the injuries of last year repeat. There is no way the disconnect happens. And there’s no way Joe Dumars, after constructing such a brilliant five-year run, could have fallen this far. Villanueva could start to get it, and Ben Gordon didn’t just suddenly lose his jumper. He didn’t leave it in his other warm-up pants. Hamilton can be moved for a better set of assets. Prince, the same. The rookies look solid-to-good. We’re not talking about the must-win-50 Western Conference here. We’re talking the swiss cheese East. Is there a position outside of power forward that the Knicks are certifiably better at? Just don’t let everything go wrong, and there’s a good chance this team bounces back.

Indiana Pacers: In Collison we trust. The team has a point guard, a star to build around besides Granger. Granger won’t have to do it all this season. Huge big-bodied center: check. Versatile forward with scoring ability: check. Distributing lightning fast young point guard: check. The rest is just pieces, and they’ve stockpiled enough talent to do so. Plus, look at all those expiring contracts they can move at the deadline. There’s no way this team fails to get it together this year. Improvement is simply winning as many games as they lose. That’s decent, that’s playoffs, that’s a reachable goal. That is not too much to hope for.

Miami Heat: Everything clicks. The chemistry works. The team stays healthy. Talent prevails. A. Ring.

Milwaukee Bucks: We’re not talking some repeated leg injury. He doesn’t have bad knees. A bad back, kind of. But even that’s been okay. The fall Andrew Bogut took was a freak accident. Greg Oden’s shattered patella was way more predictable and they call that a freak injury. So there’s no reason to think Bogut won’t stay healthy this year, once he gets healthy. And this team would have beaten the Hawks last year if he was healthy. They have the fans, the point guard, the versatility, the coach, the defense, and they added shooters and rebounders out the wazoo. This team has been constructed for the long haul and has stars. Homecourt advantage in the first round nearly guarantees a second round appearance. And once there, there isn’t a single team that wants to get the antlers. Ride the wave, fear the deer.

New Jersey Nets: Things cannot go as badly as they did last year. It’s simply not possible. Too many things went wrong, in succession. They have more depth now. They got rid of the contracts they were holding for last summer. Sure, they didn’t get the superstar. But that doesn’t mean they can’t add one. And Favors could be great. They have a passionate, proven coach who says Favors could be like Tim Duncan. Maybe that’s a stretch, especially this year, but they’ve got time. And somewhere, Masai Ujiri knows that he’s got to make a deal. All Jersey has to do is stay patient and maybe win a few games. They have to win a few. Things can’t be as bad as last year.

New York Knicks: Finally. There is a team worth the Garden taking the floor. A true superstar in Amar’e Stoudemire, in culture, name, and power. No Steve Nash? Was Nash getting those mid-range Js, the post hooks, the putback dunks? I don’t think so. Randolph is the kind of star the fans can get excited about, even as he’s never shown a ray of light. Turiaf’s a hard working son of a gun, and Mozgov looks tremendous, the kind of hidden star only D’Antoni and Walsh can find. Look, this team has been unwatchable year after year after year after year. Those days are over. They are not brilliant. They are not contenders. But they will be fun. And this is New York. Players want to play here. Specifically, your players on those other teams want to play here. It’s just a matter of time. The Knicks are back, even if that’s just in the conversation. They can’t miss.

Orlando Magic: Does your team have the most dominant center in basketball? No. Your team does not have a team-centric defensive system that feeds off rebounds, coverage, spacing, and discipline. Your team does not have what is probably the third best coach in the NBA. Your team does not have shooters that can shoot, ball-handlers who can pick and roll, and a guy who’s simply bigger than everyone else. So your doubts are unfounded. This team isn’t just a contender. It should be a favorite. It’s okay, don’t believe us. Just also don’t be surprised if we win the East, then the whole freaking thing in a few months. Boston can’t stave off Father Time forever.

Philadelphia 76ers: Sure there are questions. But if things go right, this is a playoff team. After all, most of the same core made the playoffs in consecutive years two years ago. Iguodala looks like a different player after the summer overseas. Jrue Holiday is the truth, forget the preseason (and regular season last year, and most evidence). Turner looks rusty, but he’s got worlds of time and Iguodala to take the pressure off. Elton Brand lost all that weight. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for him to put together a good season. A championship is not what they’re looking for. But they also now have Rod Thorn, who will want a superstar and has the pieces to acquire one. Just watch.

Toronto Raptors: Amir Johnson will save us all. As he has so many other teams before. As long as BC benches Bargnani, because he is the worst. Amir and Reggie Evans can score the 17.7 points per 36 Bargnani scores, in their sleep.

Other than that, there’s a trade exception that BC can get us, if he doesn’t acquire some stupid Euro player with talent, whatever that is. We need defense. But maybe Amir, Reggie, Jack, and Kleiza and do enough. If the team can just defend even a little bit, they could get better. Although most of the fan base agrees, the best case scenario is for them to tank so Bryan Colangelo is fired and Bargnani is traded for a hard-nose defender. But it’s not Jay Triano’s fault. He can stay. Hopefully something, anything changes.

Washington Wizards: John Wall. The End.

 

Here’s all 192 players who declared early entry for the NBA draft

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On June 26, 60 people will be drafted into the NBA. It’s the culmination of a dream for them, one we’re not going to spoil by noting most will not stick in the league beyond a few years (many less than that). Well, maybe we did.

However, a lot more than 60 people threw their hat in the ring — 192 this season, to be specific. There are a lot of reasons guys step forward. Some legitimately know they will be drafted and want to take the leap to the NBA. Some of these people have not signed with an agent and are just testing the waters, then will pull out (they have until May 24 to do so and retain college eligibility, international players can wait until June 12). Others have decided college is not for them (or there were coaching changes at their school) and they feel ready to get paid to play hoops, and while they know that is overseas they put their name out there. There are other reasons as well.

Here is the complete list of guys who have declared early for this year’s draft:

From American colleges:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC, 6-7, Sophomore
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure, 6-2, Junior
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky, 6-10, Freshman
Deng Adel, Louisville, 6-7, Sophomore
Jashaun Agosto, LIU, 5-11, Freshman
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s, 6-7, Junior
Rawle Alkins, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6-11, Freshman
Mark Alstork, Wright State, 6-5, Junior
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
OG Anunoby, Indiana, 6-8, Sophomore
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, 6-7, Sophomore
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, Freshman
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Jordan Bell, Oregon, 6-9, Junior
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont, 6-2, Junior
Joel Berry II, North Carolina, 6-0, Junior
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana, 6-4, Junior
Antonio Blakeney, LSU, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier, 6-6, Junior
Bennie Boatwright, USC, 6-10, Sophomore
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech, 6-6, Junior
Tony Bradley, North Carolina, 6-10, Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky, 6-2, Sophomore
Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, Junior
Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 6-10, Sophomore
Rodney Bullock, Providence, 6-8, Junior
Jevon Carter, West Virginia, 6-2, Junior
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA), 6-8, Junior
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, 6-3, Sophomore
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts, 6-4, Junior
Chris Clemons, Campbell, 5-9, Sophomore
David Collette, Utah, 6-10, Junior
John Collins, Wake Forest, 6-10, Sophomore
Zach Collins, Gonzaga, 7-1, Freshman
Chance Comanche, Arizona, 6-11, Sophomore
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall, 6-10, Junior
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky, 6-6, Freshman
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon, 6-4, Sophomore
PJ Dozier, South Carolina, 6-6, Sophomore
Vince Edwards, Purdue, 6-8, Junior
John Egbunu, Florida, 6-11, Junior
Jon Elmore, Marshall, 6-3, Junior
Obi Enechionyia, Temple, 6-10, Junior
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State, 6-10, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, 6-1, Sophomore
Tacko Fall, Central Florida, 7-6, Sophomore
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX), 6-7, Sophomore
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6-4, Freshman
Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, Freshman
Harry Giles, Duke, 6-10, Freshman
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU, 6-2, Junior
Donte Grantham, Clemson, 6-8, Junior
Isaac Haas, Purdue, 7-2, Junior
Aaron Holiday, UCLA, 6-1, Sophomore
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky, 7-1, Sophomore
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State, 6-7, Junior
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6-10, Freshman
Frank Jackson, Duke, 6-3, Freshman
Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, Freshman
Justin Jackson, Maryland, 6-7, Freshman
Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, Junior
Alize Johnson, Missouri State, 6-9, Junior
B.J. Johnson, La Salle, 6-7, Junior
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge, 6-5, Junior
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville, 6-9, Junior
Robert Johnson, Indiana, 6-3, Junior
Andrew Jones, Texas, 6-4, Freshman
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay, 6-10, Junior
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State, 6-8, Freshman
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan, 5-9, Junior
Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, Sophomore
Braxton Key, Alabama, 6-8, Freshman
George King, Colorado, 6-6, Junior
Kyle Kuzma, Utah, 6-9, Junior
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma, 6-9, Junior
TJ Leaf, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
William Lee, UAB, 6-9, Junior
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern, 6-3, Junior
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6-9, Sophomore
Daryl Macon, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois, 6-11, Junior
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-1, Freshman
Yante Maten, Georgia, 6-8, Junior
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State, 6-8, Sophomore
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State, 6-7, Junior
Eric Mika, BYU, 6-10, Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville, 6-3, Sophomore
Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, Freshman
Matthew Morgan, Cornell, 6-3, Sophomore
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State, 6-8, Junior
Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, Junior
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas, 6-8, Junior
Divine Myles, Stetson, 5-11, Junior
Derick Newton, Stetson, 6-6, Sophomore
Austin Nichols, Virginia, 6-8, Junior
Semi Ojeleye, SMU, 6-7, Junior
Cameron Oliver, Nevada, 6-8, Sophomore
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah, 6-3, Junior
Justin Patton, Creighton, 7-1, Freshman
L.J. Peak, Georgetown, 6-5, Junior
Theo Pinson, North Carolina, 6-6, Junior
Ivan Rabb, California, 6-11, Sophomore
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6-4, Junior
Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, Junior
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay, 6-2, Junior
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois), 6-10, Sophomore
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State, 6-7, Sophomore
Corey Sanders, Rutgers, 6-2, Sophomore
Victor Sanders, Idaho, 6-5, Junior
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio, 6-1, Junior
Kobi Simmons, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State, 6-4, Sophomore
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6-3, Freshman
Zach Smith, Texas Tech, 6-8, Junior
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State, 6-0, Sophomore
Edmond Sumner, Xavier, 6-6, Sophomore
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, Sophomore
Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6-8, Freshman
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State, 6-4, Junior
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan, 6-10, Sophomore
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State, 7-1, Junior
Melo Trimble, Maryland, 6-3, Junior
Craig Victor II, LSU, 6-9, Junior
Moritz Wagner, Michigan, 6-11, Sophomore
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso, 6-2, Junior
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA), 6-10, Sophomore
Thomas Welsh, UCLA, 7-1, Junior
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan, 6-3, Junior
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan, 6-6, Junior
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga, 6-9, Junior
Kam Williams, Ohio State, 6-2, Junior
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, Junior
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio, 6-2, Junior
D.J. Wilson, Michigan, 6-10, Junior
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State, 7-1, Freshman

International prospects:

Ege Arar, Galatasaray (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Laurynas Beliauskas, Neptunas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Terrence Bieshaar, Joventut (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Simon Birgander, Clavijo (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Laurynas Birutis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Luka Bozic, Zagreb (Croatia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Vlatko Cancar, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Leo Cizmic, Sevilla (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Wesley Alves da Silva, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
George de Paula, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Berkan Durmaz, Tofas (Turkey), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Martynas Echodas, Siauliai (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot, Levallois (France), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Aquiles Ferreira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Diego Flaccadori, Trento (Italy), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Tolga Gecim, Banvit (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Yoan Granvorka, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Egemen Guven, Karsiyaka (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Isaiah Hartenstein, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Karlis Helmanis, RTU Riga (Latvia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Aleksa Ilic, Buducnost (Montenegro), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Jonathan Jeanne, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Alpha Kaba, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Verners Kohs, GBA Sparta (Czech Republic), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Antonios Koniaris, PAOK (Greece), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Arnoldas Kulboka, Baunach (Germany), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Axel Louissaint, Lugano (Switzerland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Michail Lountzis, Panathinaikos (Greece), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Gytis Masiulis, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Lovro Mazalin, Zadar (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Regimantas Miniotas, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kostja Mushidi, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Margiris Normantas, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg (France), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Elie Okobo, Pau Orthez (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Viny Okouo, Unicaja (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Ayberk Olmaz, Istanbul BSB (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Lucas Pereira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Martynas Sajus, Starogard (Poland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Borisa Simanic, Crvena Zvezda (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Nik Slavica, Cibona (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Berk Ugurlu, Fenerbahce (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kristupas Zemaitis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Zou Yuchen, Bayi Fubang (China), 6-7, 1996 DOB

Celtics fluster Bulls with floor spacing and dirty play, take 3-2 series lead

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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The Bulls couldn’t break free. The Celtics look ready to break out.

Boston beat Chicago 108-97 in Game 5 Wednesday, winning its third straight to take a 3-2 lead in the first-round series. The Celtics pulled away with a 13-0 fourth-quarter run, which was boosted by two Bulls technical fouls – the second on Robin Lopez, who was rightfully aggrieved by an uncalled Jae Crowder leg-lock.

That’ll generate more talk about Boston being dirty, especially in the midst of a chippy series. But at least nobody will be discussing the Celtics being a historically weak No. 1 seed, which drowned everything after Chicago won the series’ first two games in Boston. The Warriors and Cavaliers are the only other teams to win three straight games this postseason, the type of elite company the Celtics would like to join.

Close the series in Game 6 on Friday, and Boston silences the most extreme criticism of its present.

“We’ve got to finish it,” said Isaiah Thomas, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. “We know Game 6 is going to be a big game, and they’re going to fight for their lives. But we’ve got to go in there and finish it.”

The Celtics became just the third team in the last four years to win three straight after dropping the first two games of a series. The Trail Blazers (vs. Clippers) and Hornets (vs. Heat) did it in last year’s first round. Portland advanced. Charlotte didn’t.

Overall, here’s how teams up 3-2 and facing a road Game 6 in a 2-2-1-1-1 series have fared:

image

The Celtics’ odds of advancing might be even higher than that. Their 11-point win tonight felt like it could have been much more lopsided.

Boston shot just 9-for-40 on 3-pointers (23%), but many of those were good looks and the high volume of attempts bodes well. They were a product of a high-functioning offense, and in the long run, more of those will fall. Only a few franchises – Warriors, Cavaliers, Hawks, Mavericks, Pacers – have ever attempted so many 3s in a playoff game, though nobody had ever shot so inefficiently on so many attempts.

The Celtics more than compensated for their cold outside shooting everywhere else. They shot 29-for-48 on 2-pointers (60%) and and 23-for-23 on free throws (100%), getting high-percentage looks and drawing fouls thanks to their floor spacing.

The Bulls, on the other hand, wasted a throwback game from Dwyane Wade (26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists). Avery Bradley (24 points on 11-of-19 shooting) tightly defended Jimmy Butler (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting), and that matchup won’t any easier for Butler.

Maybe Butler will answer the call, but Chicago is running out of advantages. Boston even had higher offensive- and defensive-rebounding percentages than Chicago. And Thomas didn’t carry anything, even the Celtics to victory.

Boston again looks like the complete team it had been for much of the season.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.