PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami: 66-16, best record in the league and number one seed in the East

Milwaukee: 38-44, eight seed in the East

SEASON SERIES

The Heat won three of the four matchups in the regular season, with one of the games in Miami going to overtime before the Heat secured one of those victories. But the close games were in November and December, and these two teams have been heading in opposite directions ever since.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Heat: offense 110.3 (Best in NBA), defense 100.5 (7th in NBA)
Bucks: offense 100.9 (21st in NBA), defense 102.3 (12th in NBA)

Differential: Heat +9.9 (2nd in NBA), Bucks -1.4 (18th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR MILWAUKEE:

Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, at the same time: On paper, Milwaukee should have one of the league’s deadliest backcourt tandems in Ellis and Jennings. The problem has been that when one has a big game, the other shrinks in the moment. That can’t happen against the Heat — if the Bucks are to win even a single game in this series, it’ll have to come on a night when both of their scorers light it up simultaneously.

Larry Sanders, under control: Sanders is a leading candidate for Most Improved and is on the list of guys in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Unfortunately, he’s been out of control with the officials all season long until just recently, finishing the season tied for second in the league for the most technical fouls with 14. Sanders needs to focus on the task at hand instead of the officiating this series, especially considering the fact that the Heat were the source of one of his bigger frustrations with the referees this season.

Limit transition opportunities defensively: The Heat are devastating in a lot of ways, but the last thing you want to see while trying to defend them is LeBron James or Dwyane Wade running free on the fast break, while outnumbered in transition. Milwaukee has to get back defensively and make Miami work for its offense in its half-court sets.

THREE KEYS FOR MIAMI:

Don’t overlook the opponent: The last time Miami faced Milwaukee, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both sat out, yet the Heat cruised to a double-digit victory anyway. That was only a little more than a week ago, and with Miami at full strength to open the postseason, it might be tempting to view this series as already being won. As long as the Heat bring playoff energy to their performance, they should be more than fine in this series.

Contain either Ellis or Jennings: It doesn’t matter which of the Bucks’ guards the Heat decide to shut down; either is capable of going for 30 on any given night, Miami simply can’t have them both get going at the same time.

Do what you do best: The Heat play dominant, championship-level team defense when they want to, and when they do, it leads to fast break opportunities that are impossible for the defense to stop. Let the defense lead to offense as it has all season long, and Milwaukee, like most teams, will be in deep trouble for the majority of this series.

OUTLOOK

While the Heat have peaked in the second half of the season by entering the playoffs on a ridiculous run of winning 37 of their last 39 games, it’s been the opposite for the Bucks, who have struggled as of late and closed the season by winning just four times in their last 16 games. This series will be a bloodbath pure and simple, unless the Heat take their foot off the gas and approach one of the games in the series as if it were a meaningless regular season game in November. Not likely.

PREDICTION

If the league allowed a series to end in three games, this would be the perfect candidate. Since that’s not an option, Heat will sweep in four.

Draft is next up during NBA’s dizzying days of deals

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NEW YORK (AP) — Markelle Fultz is ready for the NBA draft. He’s already learned about life at the trade deadline.

During a dizzying few days of deals around the NBA, the presumed No. 1 pick had his Saturday plans – not to mention his future destination – change when the Philadelphia 76ers brought him in for a workout. They then completed a trade with the Boston Celtics and are expected to take the Washington guard to begin the action Thursday night.

And if the last few days are indication, what follows might be a wild night inside Barclays Center.

“It’s been a little crazy last couple days,” Duke forward Jayson Tatum said Wednesday.

Teams seem to have one eye on the draft and future stars like Fultz and Lonzo Ball, while the other is firmly focused on jockeying for proven veterans. Former and future No. 1 picks have already been dealt this week in what feels like the trade deadline, free agency and draft all rolled into one frenzy.

“It just shows you what the NBA is about. I mean, you can get traded in the blink of an eye, without knowing,” Fultz said. “It just shows you how this business is and like I said, I just go with the flow. I’ve got an opportunity to play basketball and that’s all I ask for.”

Though Fultz heads what’s widely regarded as a strong draft class, the young stars have had to share the spotlight this week with veterans who are – or could be – on the move. All-Stars and Olympic champions such as Paul George and Jimmy Butler are front and center in trade talk that usually isn’t this heavy until February. Dwight Howard was dealt and D'Angelo Russell – who just two years ago was on the same stage the players will walk Thursday as the No. 2 pick – was dealt by the Los Angeles Lakers, presumably to clear the point guard spot for Ball and salary cap space for the future.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of crazy things. They’ve been coming through my phone with the ESPN app,” Kentucky guard Malik Monk said.

“I knew right before the draft something crazy was going to happen. It happens almost every year, so I wasn’t shocked about it.”

Things are expected to settle down a bit for at least the first two picks. The 76ers, selecting first for the second straight year, should take Fultz before Magic Johnson takes Ball with the Lakers again in the No. 2 spot, which is exactly what the UCLA guard and his father, LaVar, want.

“It would mean a lot to play for my hometown and learn from the best point guard ever,” Ball said.

From there it could be Tatum, Josh Jackson of Kansas, Kentucky’s De'Aaron Fox or some other player in the mix at No. 3, where the Celtics will now pick after the deal with the 76ers. Celtics President Danny Ainge said after making the trade he thought he could get the player he wanted two spots lower.

“It’s a very loaded class and I feel like especially whichever guys go at the top four, five, there may not be that much separation between (them) because everybody’s just so talented,” Tatum said.

Many of them, as usual lately, are freshmen. A record 14 were taken in the first round of last year’s draft and that number should be threatened Thursday. The Sacramento Kings have two top-10 picks, while NBA champion Golden State and runner-up Cleveland have none in the first round.

Teams chasing those two squads may make up ground quickest with a veteran player they can only get through free agency or a trade, so that may have to wait until July.

But they should be able to find someone good Thursday.

“This, I think, has a chance to be a historic draft,” Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Scott Layden said. “You look at the top end of the draft and I think there’s a chance that there’s going to be a lot of very good players, but it also runs deep into the late first round. I think that’s why there will be a lot of activity at this draft, because I think teams see potential to get a great player.”

 

Report: Cavaliers offer Chauncey Billups job running front office

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Not quite the news Ice Cube broke, but the Cavaliers are a step closer to hiring Chauncey Billups.

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

Owner Dan Gilbert has offered Chauncey Billups a five-year contract to head up the Cavaliers front office, but Billups has yet to accept, sources with knowledge of the talks told The Athletic.

Billups has long desired a front-office after retiring as a player. It’d be difficult to find a more exciting opportunity.

The job comes with potential peril. LeBron James could leave in 2018, Gilbert isn’t always a treat to work for.

But the Cavs are championship contenders right now, Billups – with a little tweaking and, given the Warriors’ dominance, luck – could deliver Cleveland a title next year. Connect with LeBron and convince him to stay, and Billups could keep the window open a while longer.

Billups never shied from pressure as a player. Will he again embrace it as an executive?

Steve Kerr on Warriors visiting White House: ‘It might be a good statement for us to go’

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Steve Kerr reportedly stated in November a plan to decline an invitation to Donald Trump’s White House if the Warriors won a title.

Now that Golden State won the 2017 championship and players are talking about not going to the White House, Kerr is striking a different tone.

Kerr on The TK Show:

The biggest thing, for me, is it’s about the players. This is a visit that is about the team. We have not met about it, because we haven’t been invited.

But I would want to make sure the players gave this really a lot of thought. And everybody knows I’ve been a very outspoken critic of Trump, and as a result, maybe we won’t even get the invitation. But I do think it’s very important to consider a potential invitation because I think it could have really positive ramifications if we did go.

And it’s a different way to look at it. I, like many of our players, am very offended by some of Trump’s words and actions. On the other hand, I do think there’s something to respecting the office, respecting our institutions, our government. And I think it could make a statement in a time where there’s so much divide and everybody seems to be angry with each other. It might be a good statement for us to go and to show that, hey, let’s put this aside, put all this partisan stuff aside and personal stuff aside, respect the institution.

And maybe even if one of you players wants to voice your concerns over what’s happening, what better opportunity to do so? Now, that may be incredibly idealistic. But I would want to at least bring that up with our players as an option rather than just coming out and saying, “No way. I’m not going.”

Among Kerr’s mistakes:

  • Implying that his players haven’t already considered the positives of visiting the White House before reaching their conclusions
  • Believing the Warriors visiting the White House would be significant enough to reduce partisanship
  • Thinking Trump has any interest in hearing comments that challenge his worldview

Phil Jackson: Carmelo Anthony said he prefers to stay with Knicks

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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Knicks president Phil Jackson said Carmelo Anthonywould be better off somewhere else.”

That drew a huge uproar – from the players’ union with a statement, from Kristaps Porzingis with a skipped exit meeting, from other players with leaked discontent.

From practically everyone but Anthony himself.

But Jackson revealed the response of Anthony, who holds a no-trade clause.

Jackson on MSG Network:

Here’s a guy that’s really special, Hall of Fame player who’s done a lot for our organization. We know that we value him highly, and we know that the NBA does, and other teams do.

This is something that is on the long-term kind of situational thing. We’ve expressed the fact that – we’ve done a lot of things to try to put teams together than can win, and we haven’t been successful. And it might be time for him to find an opportunity to go somewhere else. He’s come back and said he’d just as soon stay.

We’re trying to start growing from the youth aspect of it. There will be conversations after the draft and after the free agency, as teams start reorganizing their rosters. So, there will be other conversations in the process.

I don’t know whether it sounds phonier for Jackson to talk up Anthony’s value to the Knicks or to the rest of the league. If Anthony were so valuable to the Knicks, they wouldn’t be trying to trade him – especially because he’ll return so little. He’s 33 and due more than $54 million over the next two years. Potential trade partners know its a closed market, Anthony’s ability to pick his destination through his no-trade clause eliminating desperate losing teams in small markets.

Resisting a trade is the same approach Anthony took before the trade deadline. Apparently, according to Jackson, Anthony hasn’t changed his stance – and that’s what matters.

Anthony controls this process.

Good luck changing his mind, Phil.