Blazers president, players back Nate McMillan

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It doesn’t sound like Nate McMillan is going anywhere.

After a weekend of speculation that Nate McMillan’s seat was getting warm after a slow start for the Trail Blazers and a recent six-game losing streak, team president Larry Miller threw water on that fire.

Miller went on 95.5 FM in Portland’s pregame show and sounded like a man not rushing to make any moves (transcription via Blazers Edge).

We’re going through a little bit of a struggle right now. But I’m confident that Nate and the coaching staff and the team will get this turned around. And we’ll get back on track. Teams go through this. The Lakers just lost four games in a row. Teams go through these struggles sometimes and I would just want to make sure the fans will be there with us….

They are playing hard. They are giving effort out there. To your point, they’re scrapping, they’re fighting. For some reason, we haven’t been able to execute in the fourth quarter. It’s not for lack of trying. If that were the case, I’d be looking at this like, ‘Hey we’ve got a really, really serious problem.’ It’s not for lack of trying. They’re trying. Just the execution hasn’t been there….

I’ve been talking to Nate, he’s hanging in there, he’s doing everything he can to turn this thing around. To me, Nate is one of the best coaches in the league, without question he’s one of the best coaches in the league, and we’re fortunate to have him as our head coach here. Again, I’m confident Nate is going to figure out how to get this turned around. He’s in a pretty good mood, he’s in pretty good spirits as well as can be expected, he’s doing good.

I’m not convinced the effort has been quite as consistent as Miller said, but certainly other issues have been far bigger. Like injuries to stars. And that has impacted the execution.

Several players also told the Oregonian that McMillan was not the problem and had not lost the team.

“He still has us. Just look at us, we are still playing hard, trying to win,” (Lamarcus) Aldridge said. “If he didn’t have us, then guys wouldn’t compete. I would say guys are competing, we just aren’t finishing games. Do you agree? Because if he didn’t have us, there would be teams scoring layups, everybody taking bad shots … I mean, if the coach doesn’t have the respect in here, you are not going to play hard.”

“Yeah, I heard something that he said we are not listening to him … I say bull,” Batum said. “We trust him. We’ve had success with him. Fifty wins. Fifty-four wins. Sometimes when you lose, you hear ‘It’s his fault. It’s his fault.’ But no. We believe in him. He has tried to keep a fire in us. And we have been up 10 in all these games we lost. So we believe in him. Trust me. Trust me.”

Put it all together and it sounds like the Blazers are not rushing to make a move. That doesn’t mean something wouldn’t be considered if the Blazers go back to their losing ways, or next summer. But for now, nothing is changing in Portland.

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.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.