What the Kings should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Sacramento Kings. You can also read up on the Lakers, Timberwolves and Mavericks as we start to work our way through all 30 NBA teams.

Last Season: So much for all that dazzling promise. The Kings were like that horse who showed such great potential as a colt, came from good stock, and looked ready to take the race by storm, then just stood there for twenty seconds in the chute, defecated, then fell forward onto its face. DeMarcus Cousins was great… when he wasn’t getting ejected or refusing to work on defense. Tyreke Evans got hurt with the worst possible ailments for a player of his ilk. Nothing came together, the coaching staff was pretty much teetering on pink slips the entire year, and oh, yeah, ownership tried to yank the team out from under the fans. Last year was about as much fun as root canal surgery for everyone in Sacramento, only instead of a dentist, a drunken toddler was the one with the drill. In short: things did not go well.

Changes since we last saw the Kings: Things are different, we’re just not sure if they’re better. The Kings have Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton (assuming they keep Thornton in restricted free agency). Surely they went after a small forward or a point guard to move Evans to SF, right? No no! This is GONZO DRAFT. The Kings traded for… wait for it… John Salmons… and then drafted… Jimmer Fredette. So a team with an abundance of shots and no distributor added two scorers… who don’t distribute! It’s like that song. SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS. Then they whipped popular wing Omri Casspi to the Cavaliers for J.J. Hickson, because what you really need when you have DeMarcus Cousins is a volatile undersized big man. It was a…. weird early summer, let’s put it that way.

When the lockout ends, the Kings need to… Go see a shrink. Collectively. Because this team needs to find itself. Maybe instead of counseling it should take a roadtrip. Get out and see the country, do some pondering on the highways and byways of this great land. (Just don’t head to Anaheim. That could go badly.) The Kings need to figure out who they are and what direction they’re headed. Do they want to win now? Because if so, they should recalibrate to get some defense in the house. Are they a young team? In that case, John Salmons as got to go. Are they a Warriors-like offensive team? Someone’s going to have to handle the ball and run the offense, even if it is a Gonzo exploration of shot selection. (In this scenario, the part of Dr. Thompson will be played by Donte Green.

They’ll need to re-sign Thornton, of course, and the amount that takes may clear up some of the direction in terms of the shooting guard, unless they want Thornton to play the Jason Terry role. It’s probably time to figure out which of their 700 bigs they want to keep and it might be a good idea to find a center, since Samuel Dalembert may go ring chasing. In that case, they’ll need to resist the urge to play Jimmer at center, which is a joke but also kind of not since I have no earthly idea how he fits in with this team.

But again, mostly they need to find a direction. They’re drifting right now. In-between cities, not really in Sacramento, definitely not in Anaheim. In-between stages, not really on the rise, but not really rebuilding. Everything hinges on Tyreke Evans. Can he become a distributor, a playmaker, can he understand he doesn’t have to score? Can Jimmer Fredette stun everyone and take that role? Can DeMarcus Cousins get his head out of his backside long enough to consistently dominate through a season like he’s more than capable of? The Kings have a lot of questions. Next season isn’t about using the answers. They have to find them first.

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.