Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

Seven NBA playoff story lines to watch

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After weeks of trying to predict seedings and matchups while watching teams rest their perfectly healthy superstars, the playoffs are finally upon us.

In no particular order, here are the story lines we’ll be watching when the postseason tournament opens on Saturday.

How much damage can the Lakers do without Kobe Bryant?

L.A. opened the season as the favorites (on paper) to challenge the Heat in the Finals, thanks to the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the offseason. An early season coaching change, followed by an insane rash of injuries derailed the Lakers’ chances all season long, and Kobe Bryant became the final casualty of the seemingly lost season once he went down with a torn Achilles injury just as the team was making a run at that final playoff spot in the West.

The Lakers managed to keep it together without Bryant long enough to beat the Spurs and the Rockets to seal a playoff berth, and enter the postseason winning eight of their last nine games. But how this team fares without Bryant while they try to combat the efficiency of the Spurs machine in a series will be extremely interesting to watch, though undoubtedly nerve-wracking for Lakers fans at the same time.

How far can the Clippers go, and what will that mean for Vinny Del Negro’s future?

Vinny Del Negro is legitimately on the hot seat in Los Angeles, for a variety of reasons. How far the Clippers do or do not advance in the postseason is likely to determine his fate, but just how far does L.A. have to get for him to be safe?

The Clippers have a tough but favorable first round matchup against the Grizzlies, who they beat in the first round of the playoffs a season ago in seven games. Last year, the Clippers were swept by the Spurs in the second round, so getting there again this year probably won’t be enough by itself to bring Del Negro back next season.

A trip to the Conference finals might be enough improvement to retain Del Negro’s services, but honestly, it’s going to be Chris Paul’s decision as much as it will be anyone’s inside the organization. Paul is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will have all the say in the world regarding whether or not Del Negro is brought back next season.

Will the Thunder return to the Finals without James Harden?

Thanks to Oklahoma City largely returning the same roster from a season ago that got them to the NBA Finals, the Thunder are once again poised to make a deep postseason run. But the elephant in the room is the fact that they traded James Harden away to Houston, and the reality is that if they don’t make it back to the Finals, this season will be a wild disappointment, and the front office will be scrutinized for choosing dollars over a legitimate championship chance.

Can the Knicks win a playoff series for the first time in 13 years?

It seems like a silly question, given the success New York has put together this year while being lead by the league’s leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony, and a likely Sixth Man of the Year candidate in J.R. Smith. But nothing is guaranteed for the Knicks despite holding the two seed in the East, and a first round matchup against the Celtics could be terrifying given the history between the teams this season, along with the intensity that veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will bring to a seven-game series.

How much noise can the Warriors make?

The Warriors are in the playoffs for just the second time in the last 19 years, and with one of the best fan bases in the league there to support them, it’s an exciting time in the Bay Area for a basketball resurgence to be taking place. Mark Jackson has been successful in installing a winning culture in just his second season as head coach, but he and the team have said all along that simply making the playoffs was not the ultimate goal this season. We don’t know what the team believes it’s capable of internally, but a first round matchup with an injury-depleted Nuggets team could prove favorable if Golden State can play flawless basketball during the road games of this series.

Will the Spurs finally live up to their potential?

San Antonio has always been one of the more well-coached regular season teams. Gregg Popovich has his system installed, and has the players on the roster to execute it to perfection, no matter the injuries that may take place over the course of the season.

But despite the regular season success, the Spurs haven’t been to the Finals since winning it all in 2007, and have lost to teams they were favored to beat in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. We know the system allows for regular season success, but at some point the Spurs are going to run out of chances with their core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili to get back to the Finals. Another early exit this season would be a major disappointment, and might signify the end of an era in San Antonio.

Will the Heat repeat as champions?

This is the question we all want answered. Miami ran roughshod over the rest of the league during the regular season, and just about everyone fully expects them to continue the trend throughout the playoffs. The Heat have the best player in the game in LeBron James, and All-Star complimentary pieces in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that are a wealth of riches when compared to the rosters of other teams Miami might face on the way to a title.

The Heat aren’t just the favorites to repeat as champions; they’ve become the expectation. The way they finished the regular season by winning 37 of their final 39 games is absolutely absurd, and they did so even while resting their best players at times along the way.

It’s gotten to the point where we’d all be surprised if Miami didn’t win the title again this season. But that won’t make the journey any less exciting to watch.

Report: P.J. Carlesimo not joining Sixers staff despite mutual interest

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This week, the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach, opening up a spot for a lead assistant on Brett Brown’s bench in Philadelphia. Reports indicated that veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo was the frontrunner for the job, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that that isn’t happening.

So the Sixers’ search continues, and one would have to imagine that the Colangelos will be looking for a veteran, only fueling speculation that they aren’t quite sold on Brown long-term. It’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.

Warriors know Game 7 back home for Finals trip won’t be easy

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Stephen Curry #30 and Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors react in the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 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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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors’ goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won’t matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

“I’ve learned that our players are tough, they’re mentally tough,” Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. “I don’t know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they’ve firmly confirmed that. It’s been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game.”

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered “We ain’t going home!” – and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors’ summer plans.

“We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we’ve got some momentum. But it can work in reverse,” Kerr said. “One game changes everything, and we’ve got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out.”

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday’s winner.

“It’s going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7’s going to be even tougher,” Curry said. “Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It’s win or go home. So we can’t expect just because we’re at home that we can just show up and win.”

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

“Lot of people probably counted us out,” Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

“This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We’ve got to take advantage of it,” Durant said Sunday. “Go up into their building, and it’s going to be great atmosphere. … No matter where you play, you’ve still got to play. That’s how we look at it.”

That’s partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

“We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game,” Donovan said. “We’re disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven’t lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they’re a resilient group.”

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

“I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go and give it everything I’ve got for Game 7.”

Adam Silver on integrity of NBA: ‘It’s the most sensitive issue for me’

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22:  Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association announces that the 2018 NBA All-Star game will be held in Los Angeles at Staples Center during a press conference at Staples Center on March 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The NBA’s decision not to suspend Draymond Green for his kick to the groin of Steven Adams in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals was a controversial one. The league reviewed video evidence and interviewed people involved and determined the kick was not intentional, but upgraded it from a Flagrant 1 to a Flagrant 2, giving Green enough flagrant foul points that his next flagrant foul of any kind will result in a suspension.

The lack of a suspension in this case, though, led to questioning from fans about the NBA’s motivations, something commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged on Sunday in an ESPN radio interview. Silver took exception to the idea lobbed at the league by some fans that they would prefer the Warriors to advance to the Finals over the Thunder, and reiterated (rightly) that that isn’t a motivation for the NBA.

Here’s a transcription of Silver’s comments, via the Bay Area News Group:

Silver acknowledged he has heard the conspiracy theory that the league prefers Golden State reach the Finals instead of Oklahoma City.

“I hear it, and it’s the most sensitive issue for me, and it goes to the core integrity of the league and frankly to my integrity,” Silver said.

“Even from a business standpoint, it would be impossible to predict which Finals would have a greater following. It depends on how many games, how close the games are. I can only thus sort of swear to the world that we do the best we can and that we don’t prefer one market or one team over another.”

The truth is, as popular as the Warriors are, there’s no bad matchup here for the league in terms of ratings. If the Warriors win on Monday, the Finals will be a rematch of last year as Golden State tries to cap off their record-setting regular season with a second straight title against a version of the Cavs with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving healthy, unlike last season. If the Thunder win, the league gets a second Finals duel between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, which hasn’t happened since 2012, when James was in Miami. The Warriors play in a bigger market than the Thunder, but market size doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. James and Durant do just fine, popularity-wise, playing in the 18th and 43rd largest media markets in the United States, respectively. A lot of people are going to watch the Finals no matter which team wins the Western Conference Finals. And Silver knows that.

Pelicans’ Dejean-Jones killed after going to wrong apartment

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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DALLAS (AP) New Orleans Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot on his daughter’s first birthday after kicking down the door of what he mistakenly thought was his girlfriend’s apartment in Dallas, a death that rattled the NBA over Memorial Day weekend.

“We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life,” the Pelicans said Saturday in a statement.

Dallas police said Sunday they would not have more information about the shooting until after the holiday and did not answer The Associated Press’ question regarding whether the man who shot the 23-year-old Dejean-Jones would face charges. It is legal in Texas for people to use deadly force to protect themselves from intruders.

Dejean-Jones was visiting his girlfriend for his daughter’s first birthday and had gone for a walk early Saturday, according to his agent, Scott W. Nichols. His girlfriend lives on the fourth floor, and Dejean-Jones, who was visiting the complex for the first time, went to the third.

A man living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, police Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said Saturday in a statement. When Dejean-Jones began kicking at the bedroom door, the man retrieved a handgun and fired. Dejean-Jones collapsed in an outdoor passageway, and he died at a hospital.

Dejean-Jones’s father told KCAL-TV that his son was “tenacious.”

“He has had so many things that have happened to him along his path,” K.C. Jones told the station. “He made up his mind that he wanted to do what he was doing – play pro ball. And whatever it took, he was going to get there. He was going to do it.”

In Dejean-Jones’ only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

Nichols said Dejean-Jones had nearly completed his rehab and was set to begin shooting with his right hand again next week.

“It’s shocking this happened,” Nichols said. “Wrong place, wrong time, I think.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called it a “tragic loss” and said Dejean-Jones “had a bright future in our league.”

Dejean-Jones was signed by the Pelicans last summer after not being selected in the 2015 draft.

“I just lost my best friend/cousin last night enjoy life because you never know if tomorrow is guaranteed,” Shabazz Muhammad of the Minnesota Timberwolves wrote on Twitter.

Dejean-Jones was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He also played at Southern California and UNLV; he was suspended late in the 2013-14 season from UNLV for conduct detrimental to the team, and announced that he was leaving USC midway through the 2010-11 season.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, now the coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a “passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance.”

Julie Keel, a spokeswoman for Camden Property Trust, the real estate company that owns the apartment complex in Dallas, confirmed that the complex’s apartment manager had sent out an email to residents saying that the person who had been shot had been trying to break into “the apartment of an estranged acquaintance” and that this person had “inadvertently” broken into the wrong apartment.

Black said he could not confirm that Dejean-Jones was trying to access an acquaintance’s apartment.