Even in preseason, risks of small ball begin to show

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In Shanghai we saw it — Chris Bosh and the assortment of other Heat centers could do little to slow the bigger, stronger DeAndre Jordan short of fouling him. With Chris Paul feeding him the rock, Jordan shot 8-for-8 in a Clippers win.

In Hartford we saw it — the Knicks went to the Raymond Felton/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll early and the Celtics with their smaller lineup couldn’t contain Chandler, who racked up 16 points.

Two of the best teams in the NBA this season — the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics — are leading a “small ball revolution.” Which is less revolution and more reaction to the kind of players coming into the NBA now — 30 years ago mobile bigs like Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett, guys who can step out and stroke an 18-foot jumper like it was a layup, were basically nonexistent.

So some of the NBA’s elite teams are going with what would be untraditional lineups, ones that count on what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to call “position-less” basketball. You can post up Bosh or you can post up Dwyane Wade, whatever creates the mismatch. If that means Bosh is at the three-point line drawing the opposing big man out of the paint, then good. Use the versatility of sometimes smaller players.

And they are doing it because it works — Miami won a ring last year and Boston took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals going small.

But there are ways to attack “small ball” for the handful of teams have mobile or hard to defend traditional centers.

In the East, the Heat and Knicks will have to deal with 76ers and Andrew Bynum, and New York and Chandler (who is an often underrated pick-and-roll big man). This isn’t a simple matter of putting Bynum on the block and making the Celtics bring a double team, it’s also dealing with pick-and-rolls when both size and speed come into play.

Put another way, Jared Sullinger can’t handle Chandler rolling to the basket. Boston can counter that by going with Darko Milicic, but he doesn’t have the foot speed to play that way. It’s a hard matchup for them that will require much better pick-and-roll coverage from the Celtics guards, something Doc Rivers pointed out Saturday.

Not a lot of teams can play the Heat and Celtics this way — mobile traditional big men are still hard to find — the problem is some very elite ones can. We mentioned the Knicks, Clippers and Sixers, but there are more. The biggest threat is the Lakers who run two very mobile big men out in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. They will be a load for every team (because they have great point and wing play, too). Then there is Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

It will be interesting to see how over the course of a season, in games that matter, how Boston and Miami deal with these challenges. They might just overwhelm some teams with offense. The Celtics can run Garnett out there longer (not ideal long term but for a game here and there it is doable). There are counter measures.

The bigger challenge will be in the postseason, when teams can scheme, set up matchups they like and run those plays until the other team stops them. Smart money is still on Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but it won’t be easy because there are ways to attack them

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.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.