PBT Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors

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SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio: 58-24, two seed in the West

Golden State: 47-35, six seed in the West

PLAYOFF RECORDS

San Antonio: Swept the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0

Golden State: Beat the Denver Nuggets 4-2

SEASON SERIES

The teams split the series, with both teams winning their two home games. In both Spurs’ losses, they were on the second night of a back to back including their second to last game of the season where Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili all sat out. In one of the Warriors two losses, Stephen Curry didn’t play with ankle injury.

KEY INJURIES

On the Warriors’ side, David Lee is still hobbled by his torn hip flexor. And while he saw some game action in game 6 versus the Nuggets, even Mark Jackson acknowledged that was more for inspiration than as a real weapon. Lee’s not expected to play a significant role this series.

For the Spurs, Tiago Splitter is sidelined with a bad ankle and may return mid-way through this series. Boris Diaw is also still out after having a cyst removed from his spine, but the original 3-4 week timeline for his return means he could potentially return this round if everything goes as planned.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

San Antonio: Offense 111.0 (1st in the post season), Defense 90.6 (1st in the post season)

Golden State: Offense 107.7 (5th in the post season), Defense 102.4 (9th in the post season)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

Can Stephen Curry stay hot?: There’s no denying the damage Curry did against the Nuggets. He created his own shot from behind the arc, took the ball to the rim when defenders tried to take away his jumper, and made plays for teammates when Denver committed extra defenders to slowing him down. The Nuggets, however, didn’t have a great perimeter defender to throw on Curry after deploying Andre Iguodala on Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack.

Will the Spurs make the same mistake by putting Tony Parker on Curry while Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard guard the Warriors’ other perimeter threats? The answer to this question will play a major role in how much space Curry has to operate on the perimeter and the quality of the shots he has available to him. If Green and Leonard spend most of their time chasing Curry, they can do a better job using length to contest his jumpshot an bother his handle when he works in isolation. But if Parker is put on an island or asked to defend through multiple picks, Curry may just start the second round where he ended the first: lighting it up.

Andrew Bogut’s defense: While Curry may be the most important Warrior on offense, Bogut is clearly that player on defense. Against the Nuggets there wasn’t an interior threat to occupy the big Australian and he used that freedom to blow up pick and rolls and contest shots at the rim. Against the Spurs, though, Bogut will have his hands full defending Tim Duncan in the post while also having to provide help defense against a motion heavy attack that moves the ball to the open man expertly.

Bogut will not only need to defend Duncan without fouling, but will need to do so from the post all the way out to 18 feet where Timmy can effectively hit the spot up jumper. Further, he’ll need to wall off Parker and Manu Ginobili when they work in isolation and out of the pick and roll to deter shots at the rim. If Bogut can do all these things for heavy minutes, he could turn the tip the balance of the series. If he can’t, the Spurs’ machine will gain momentum and roll over a Dubs’ defense that simply doesn’t have the man power to defend all over the floor without their defensive ace of a big man.

The Spurs front court players not named Duncan: Against the Lakers, you’d have thought the Spurs’ front court would have been severely tested matching up with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. However, due to the Lakers dearth of guard talent the Spurs simply crowded the paint and made life awful for the Lakers’ big man duo. Taking this same defensive approach this series isn’t possible against a Warriors’ team who has so much perimeter firepower. And while the Warriors don’t have the post up talent the Lakers do, Carl Landry and Bogut aren’t slouches down low. Add in Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green as a small ball power forwards, and that’s a nice foursome who can hurt a defense in a variety of ways.

Meanwhile the Spurs are thin up front with Splitter and Diaw ailing, leaving only Duncan, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner as regular rotation players at power forward and center. Duncan, of course, is a defensive monster and will be fine with whatever match up he’s tasked with. But can Bonner or Blair deal with Landry in the post? Can they out muscle Festus Ezili on the offensive glass? Can they hedge and recover back to the perimeter when Green and Barnes are hovering around arc looking to shoot open jumpers or slide with them when they attack off the dribble? Maybe the Spurs end up going small in this series, but even that may cause some issues as Stephen Jackson was released before the playoffs and Tracy McGrady is fresh off a first round that only saw him get garbage minutes in the clinching game.

OUTLOOK

The Spurs weren’t tested in the first round and will have had nearly a week off since by the time this series starts on Monday. Meanwhile the Warriors are riding the wave of winning a hard fought series, having sharpened their game and found combinations of players to step up when needed most. That said, while rust might play a factor at the start of game one,  I also expect the Spurs’ extra preparation to show up from the outset of the series.

The Spurs’ offense is a well oiled machine and asking the Warriors to slow it down consistently is asking a bit too much. Look for Parker and Ginobili to have success against perimeter defenders who aren’t known for locking down their opponents. Both Parker and Ginobili have the ability to get into the paint and when they do they will create the types open looks Green, Gary Neal, Leonard, and Bonner thrive on.

Also look for Duncan to continue his strong play from round one against Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. Timmy has found the range on his jumper and has proven that when defenders try to close out on him he still has the ability to put the ball on the floor and either finish at the rim or draw fouls when attacking. If he can keep the Warriors’ bigs off balance in the manner he did the Lakers’, he can give his team an offensive diversity that is difficult to match up with.

It’s not like the Warriors are helpless here, though. They have the type of shooting and overall talent to give the Spurs issues, especially if they can get into the open court and play offense before the defense is fully set. If Curry and Jack can push the tempo and create open looks for themselves and Thompson while the Spurs are in scramble mode, they can hit enough shots to keep them in games. Furthermore, Landry offers a unique match up issue for the Spurs especially when he’s flanked by shooters. If he can score in the post against Bonner and Blair when both team’s second units are in the game, the Spurs may have to double team to slow him down and that will only create open looks for Golden State’s outside shooters.

The Warriors’ main issue, however, is that they seem to struggle mightily when playing in San Antonio. They’ve not won in the Spurs’ arena during the Tim Duncan era and that doesn’t bode well for them in a series in which the other team has home court advantage. Of course many of those losses have little to do with the current version of the Dubs, but the fact remains that the you can’t expect the Spurs to beat themselves and simply give away a game through poor decision making or erratic play. No, the Warriors will have to out execute them down the stretch and based off what we saw towards the end of the Nuggets series, I don’t see that happening.

PREDICTION

Maybe the Warriors get hot for a game or two, potentially even stealing a game in San Antonio. But, the Spurs discipline on both sides of the ball will wear the Warriors down over the course of the series. And while Mark Jackson was very good in making adjustments to out-coach George Karl, I don’t see him doing the same to Gregg Popovich. Spurs in 6.

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”

 

Report: Jimmy Butler telling people he will be back for playoffs

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We don’t know a lot about Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury (other than that it’s not an ACL injury as feared). Because of that, it’s impossible to put a timeline on his return. We don’t know what kind of surgery he likely needs — a traditional meniscus partial removal takes six weeks or so to get a player back on the court (but is harder on the knee long-term as cushioning in it is removed, Dwyane Wade had this), but a repair could take three months or more before he is back on the court. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said this pregame Saturday:

However, Butler himself is telling people he will be back for the playoffs.

Is that the optimism of a fierce competitor? Players are often the worst judge of their ability to return from injury.

Or, does he know that a meniscus repair is out of the question with his injury, that a partial removal is the only option (as is true in some cases)? That has a speedier return that could have him back for the playoffs.

In the short-term, Minnesota is going to need a lot more out of Andrew Wiggins, and they need to play a lot better team defense, to hold on to a playoff slot in the West. The Timberwolves have been -8.3 per 100 possessions without Butler this season, but went 2-2 in the four games he missed. Minnesota is currently the four seed in the West at 36-26, but just three games from falling out of the postseason in a crowded conference.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.