Heat's James prepares to dunk against the Bulls in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami

PBT’s NBA season awards: LeBron for MVP is the easy one

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In the NBA, reputations are made and broken in the playoffs — but that is like a different season completely. The NBA gives out its awards based on the regular season. And this season a couple awards are obvious, but a couple could go a lot of different directions.

Here are PBT’s awards for the season (for the record I do not have an official vote).

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (Miami Heat)

Out of the 123 media votes for MVP somebody is going to pick Kevin Durant, and I can’t wait to hear their explanation. Because as much as someone might be tired of voting for LeBron James, he took his game to another level this season — 26.8 points game on a career best 56.5 percent shooting, he hit 40 percent of his threes, chipped in 8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. He is the Heat’s best defender, best playmaker (he improved in that area), best post player (allowing them to play small), and go-to scorer — he is clearly the best all around player in the game, leading the team with the best regular season record. He has matured in Miami after leaving home in Cleveland and his game has flourished in a way that we are left trying to compare him and his legacy to stars of era’s past. Because we are in his era.

The rest of my ballot: 2) Kevin Durant; 3) Chris Paul; 4) Carmelo Anthony; 5) Tim Duncan.

Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith (New York Knicks)

Even up to the start of the final weeks of the season, I was thinking I would pick the Clippers super-sub Jamal Crawford here. And if I had to pick one of these guys to create and take the last shot of the game for me, I’d go Crawford. But Smith swung me over to his side with his play down the stretch, particularly when Carmelo Anthony was out — in his last 15 games (before the Wednesday season finale) Smith averaged 23.7 points a game on 50.6 percent shooting, with 6.5 rebounds a game. He can create his own shot, takes and makes difficult shots (not always a good thing but he makes it work), he gets to the rim when he wants, and he provides that scoring spark off the bench the Knicks need. Plus, he provides a little — just a little — more defense than Crawford. It also helps that Smith did his best work down the stretch this season, Crawford was doing his back in December when the Clippers looked like a contender, but they have fallen off sense then.

The rest of my ballot: 2) Jamal Crawford; 3) Jarrett Jack.

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)

This was the other easy call — Lillard should run away with the voting and deservedly so. If you made me pick what rookie I would want on my roster three years from now other guys would leapfrog Lillard (Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond in particular) but Lillard, after four years in college, came into the NBA better ready to make an immediate impact. Plus he landed in the perfect place to do it, a team that had LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and other talented players looking for a point guard to run the show. Lillard did that showing he could run the pick-and-roll and create shots for himself or others. Lillard averaged 19.1 points and 6.5 assists a game. Lillard also was durable — he is second in the NBA in minutes played, behind only Kevin Durant, and that durability helped separate him from his fellow rookies.

The rest of my ballot: 2) Anthony Davis; 3) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Coach of the Year: George Karl (Denver Nuggets)

This is the most difficult call of the postseason awards because you can make a legit case for a lot of guys. Coaches such as Mark Jackson and Mike Woodson are not on my list but if you picked them for Coach of the Year it would be a legitimate call. But I’m going with George Karl because he built a young team not driven by a ball-dominating star — Carmelo Anthony went East and the Nuggets have become a very different kind of team. They run, they share the ball, they don’t settle for jumpers (they led the NBA in points in the paint, 57.7 per game), and the Nuggets made a jump in defense this season to be a top-10 team (adding Andre Iguodala on the wing had something to do with that). Karl has done it by developing the players he had and fitting them in a system that highlights all of them. For all of that he deserves the hardware.

The rest of my ballot: 2) Gregg Popovich; 3) Erik Spoelstra.

Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)

Often this award can go to the flashy, shot blocking defender — your Serge Ibaka, your Roy Hibbert — but I want to give it to the best all-around center in the game. Marc Gasol isn’t demonstrative like Kevin Garnett — he doesn’t get in the face of smaller guards — but he does choreograph the Grizzlies defense just like KG did for the Celtics. He does protect the back line (he averages 1.7 blocks a game, 12th best in the NBA) but he just seems to always be in the right place at the right time contesting shots. He reads the game and anticipates it as a big man as we have seen in a while. Memphis had the second best defense in the NBA this season and Gasol was the anchor of it, the big man who always made the right play. He deserves this award.

The rest of my ballot: 2) LeBron James; 3) Joakim Noah.

Raptors hold on in overtime, even series with Heat

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors hits a half-court buzzer beater to tie Game One and send it into overtime during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, but the Toronto Raptors came away with a win and salvaged a tied series in their first two home games. For the second consecutive game, they went to overtime with the Miami Heat, only this time, it was the Heat that came up cold at the end, and Toronto prevailed, 96-92.

From an efficiency standpoint, Kyle Lowry wasn’t much better than he’s been thus far in the postseason, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field, but he hit two key jumpers in the final minutes of regulation that extended Toronto’s lead, forcing Miami to play from behind and tying the game on threes from Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.

But it was Jonas Valanciunas who proved most effective late for Toronto. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and for long stretches, the only reliable offense for the Raptors was dumping the ball in to him. Valanciunas bailed the Raptors out late with a rebound and tip-in to break an 80-80 tie after DeMar DeRozan (who shot a forgettable 9-for-24 on the night) missed two consecutive free throws.

The Heat failed to score in the first three minutes of overtime, and their continued penchant for turning the ball over did them in several times down the stretch as they failed to execute.

A bright spot for Miami was Dragic, who scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting despite receiving eight stitches to his lower lip after catching an elbow in the first half.

Splitting the first two home games isn’t ideal for the Raptors, but they had every opportunity to go down 2-0 after controlling most of the first three quarters and managed to prevail. Plus, Lowry’s late-fourth-quarter heroics could be enough to get him going again.

Damian Lillard gets tested by Warriors, looks for rebound

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 03:  Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) First it was a chest cold, then it was a fourth-quarter dry spell. The start of Damian Lillard‘s playoff series against the Golden State Warriors has been rough.

And as Lillard goes, often the rest of the Trail Blazers follow.

Portland is down 2-0 in its Western Conference semifinal series against the defending NBA champions. And it certainly won’t get much easier when the series shifts north Saturday – even though presumptive league MVP Stephen Curry is unlikely to return from a knee injury.

But Lillard and his team have a history of stepping up after getting knocked down. In fact, that’s been the theme of their whole season.

“I know the kind of guys I’m running with. Besides that, we’ve answered the call all season long. We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away. We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different,” he said.

Lillard, who averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists during the regular season, scored 25 points in the Blazers’ 110-99 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night, including 17 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors held him scoreless (0-for-3 from the field) in the crucial final period when they came from behind to win, outscoring Portland 34-12. Portland only scored six points over the last 5:21.

With a day off on Wednesday, Lillard let the loss digest.

“After the game I was pretty frustrated by not being able to finish that game. Yesterday I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” he said. “I wasn’t even gonna watch the playoff game until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of 3s. So I wanted to see for myself, but I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball after that game.”

In the series opener, Lillard started cold but eventually scored 30 points in a 118-106 loss. The Oakland native admitted later to battling a cold afterward. On Thursday, he said he was healthy.

Lillard made a playoff splash in 2014 when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Rockets sent the Blazers into the second round for the first time in 14 years.

But he was the lone starter left with the Blazers this season after the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. Some expected the Blazers to only win about two dozen games.

Lillard tends to rise when he’s the underdog, however. Led by Lillard and backcourt teammate CJ McCollum, a first-year starter, the Blazers overcame a 2-10 stretch in November to wind up the fifth seed in the West.

A two-time All-Star, Lillard was snubbed this year. How did he respond? By dropping 51 points, including nine 3-pointers, in a 137-105 victory over – wait for it – the Golden State Warriors. Lillard shot over Curry at will in that Feb. 19 victory, one of just nine losses for the Warriors in a record-setting 73-win season.

Knowing the Blazers are capable will be key Saturday night.

“We’ll have bounce. We came back after 0-2 against the Clippers (in the opening round) and came with a lot of energy in Game 3. We know how important Game 3 is,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Having energy, having bounce, at the Moda Center, with our crowd? That’s the least of our concerns.”

Lillard also struggled in the opening two games against the Clippers in the first round. Portland came back to win the next four to win the series, but the Clippers were hurt when their top two scorers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, were knocked out with injuries.

The Warriors also get credit for Lillard’s struggles after making defensive adjustments on both Lillard and McCollum, particularly the play of Festus Ezeli.

“They are so explosive and they run really good stuff, I mean, it’s hard to guard. You have to cover a lot of floor against Portland, and I thought between Festus and Draymond (Green), those guys did a great job of protecting the feed and moving and handling the pick-and-roll on top,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Lillard said the Blazers would learn from it.

“It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth,” he said. “The entire season has been growth for us.”

Erik Spoelstra calls Frank Vogel’s firing “disturbing”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 28:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as he coaches in the first half against the Indiana Pacers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 28, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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One thing that’s a constant in the NBA: coaches always stick up for each other. That’s what happened on Thursday, when Pacers president Larry Bird announced that he was letting Frank Vogel go. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached against Vogel in three memorable playoff series during the big three era, was unhappy to hear the news of Vogel’s fate and lamented the state of coaching, which has very little job security.

Via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I think it’s really disturbing, actually. I’ve only been a head coach for eight years. So what am I, the second-longest-tenured?” Spoelstra asked, with Casey in his sixth season as Toronto coach and only Gregg Popovich, in his 20th season with the San Antonio Spurs, on the bench longer. “That’s a sad state of where the coaching profession is right now and stability of organizations.”

Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle are the second longest-tenured coaches in the league, behind only Gregg Popovich. Already this offseason, there have been five coaching changes in addition to Vogel’s: Luke Walton replaced Byron Scott with the Lakers, Tom Thibodeau replaced Sam Mitchell with the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks replaced Randy Wittman in Washington, and the Rockets and Kings jobs are still unfilled. The Knicks job could potentially turn over as well, if Phil Jackson opts not to bring back Kurt Rambis.

This is on top of five coaches who were fired during the season: Kevin McHale in Houston, Derek Fisher in New York, Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn and David Blatt in Cleveland. That’s a third of the league since the 2015-16 season began. Spoelstra is right about the instability, but that’s part of the business.

Photos: Bucks unveil interior of new arena

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks runs down court during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Milwaukee Bucks are set to open their new arena in time for the start of the 2018-19 season, and now they’ve unveiled the first renderings of the inside of the building. They’re pretty nice.

Here’s the court:

There will also be several public bars out in the concourse:

It’s decidedly more modern than the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center, although that building is one of the most fun atmospheres in the league to watch a game in. Hopefully the new place can recapture that vibe.