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What the Wizards should do when the lockout ends…

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We’re trying to be optimistic about the lockout here at PBT, and as part of that we are looking at what all 30 NBA teams should do when the lockout ends. And we’re sticking with when, not if, it ends. To see the full Western Conference list, click here.

Last season in Washington D.C.: For a team with a lot of young, talented players, the Wizards were just flat out bad. They won only 23 games, they were 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, 24th in offense. Defensively they blocked shots and not much else. On offense the Wizards didn’t take a lot of threes and didn’t make a lot when they did (they shot 33.2 percent from deep, 28th in the league). John Wall was slowed by injuries most of the year and seemed to be finding his way in his rookie NBA season. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were consistently inconsistent.

Since we last saw the Wizards: They got new uniforms and logos, which are actually throwbacks to an older, Bullet look. The Wizards are a very patriotic red, white and blue now. It’s better than the blue at least.

They also had a nice draft, but it adds more questions and youth to a team with plenty. They drafted Jan Vesely (he of the girlfriend you remember from draft night), who is big and talented and raw. They also picked up forward Chris Singleton and guard Shelvin Mack, both of whom likely will make the team but we’ll see how much run they get.

When the lockout ends, the Wizards need to… Sign Nick Young to keep him in house, grow up and start to play some defense. Then run more.

Nick Young is entering the last year of his rookie deal, the Wizards extended a qualifying offer, now they need to keep him around. He’s not an All-Star, but he is developing into a quality two in the league who a number of teams other teams covet. The Wizards are a team that needs points, and while Young could use to be more efficient getting them, he can get the points.

The Wizards already have about 14 guys that will be on the roster (if all three rookies and a couple other guys are brought back with Young), but what they could use is a veteran point guard to back up Wall and be a steadying influence on this team. Earl Boykins could work. Over at SB Nation Mike Prada likes two-guard Reggie Williams most recently of the Warriors, to provide scoring punch off the bench, and that works for me, too. But they need a veteran who can show guys how to be professionals and win.

Aside that, there will be growing pains for a young Wizards team, hopefully for them just fewer of them. They need to learn from the mistakes of last season and take steps forward. It’s going to be gradual, like what we’ve seen over the past several seasons in Oklahoma City. The thing is, OKC gets very consistent play from its stars, the Wizards do not. Washington has to, especially from Blatche and McGee, two wildly talented guys who cannot put it together night in and night out.

Also, what they really need to do more is run. They ran some last season — ninth fastest pace in the NBA, which was a big step up from previous years — but that is not enough with this roster.

Watching John Wall in person at the Impact Training Series, I was reminded just how insanely fast he is with the ball in his hands. Wall is healthy now — he had nagging injuries all last season — and much more explosivethan he was when he last put on a Wizards uniform. He’s blowing by defenders that are just getting back and turning around. Add in Vesely — a big that really moves well up and down the court and can finish — plus Young, Blatche and McGee and you have a lot of guys who can close out in transition. Washington’s secondary break with bigs trailing the play should be deadly, and they should run drag screens all game long (where the trailing big sets a high screen for Wall or whoever has the ball, before the defense sets). This team should be a beast in transition.

But here’s the thing — transition offense starts with good defense. Not just making steals (although that’s nice) but getting the stop, the rebound and throwing a smart outlet pass to start everything. Keep taking the ball out of the basket and your running game can stall out. With the blocking machines that are McGee and Blatche in the paint, the Wizards have a good presence in the key. But Washington’s help rotations, defensive decisions and individual defense was just bad last season. That is the end where the Wizards need to improve if they are serious about improving as a squad.

The Wizards commitment to defense will determine just how big a step the team takes next season.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.