Preview: Spurs look to put Warriors on the edge of elimination in crucial Game 5

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How important is this game 5 to both teams? Historically, in the NBA, the team that goes up 3-2 wins the series 85.7% of the time. And while that’s not necessarily a doom’s day scenario for the loser, it’s pretty close.

For the Warriors, it may be even more important as it’s hard to see them winning a game 7 on the road in San Antonio. If they can claim this game, they get a chance to close out the veteran Spurs in Oakland, in front of a raucous crowd that can carry them for long stretches.

Getting to play for that chance will be easier said than down, however.

The Warriors have seemingly been at their best all playoffs when they play small. In game 4, Mark Jackson’s hand was forced in that direction as he saw nearly every one of his big men get into foul trouble. This forced Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green into the power forward slot, putting more quickness and defensive versatility on the floor which, in turn, helped contain the Spurs’ dribble penetration game.

Will Jackson go this route on his own tonight? If he does, he can use the speed and playmaking ability of Barnes and Green respectively to help turn the tempo of the game in his team’s favor. Those skills will be especially needed if Stephen Curry is still feeling the affects of his sprained left ankle.

Jackson deployed Curry brilliantly in game 4, monitoring his minutes closely and getting the most out of him in the process. That said, part of Curry’s effectiveness was related to having Tony Parker guard him most of that game and, tonight, that’s likely to change. Danny Green has been a thorn in Curry’s side all series and even if it forces mismatches in other areas, expect for Curry to receive maximum defensive attention even if he’s still hobbled.

The other key to the Warriors’ attack will be how Jarrett Jack performs. His 24 points in game 4 were key to Golden State keeping the game close and ultimately winning in overtime. However, Jack’s shaky play in game 3 helped the Spurs claim that game. If Jack can make shots and channel his aggressive play into good production, he can be a major X-factor.

For the Spurs, they need better play from their role players. Since scoring 22 points on 8-14 shooting in game 1, Danny Green has only scored 23 points total over the next 3 games while only making 9 of his 28 shots. The Spurs need Green’s outside shooting to give Duncan and Parker space to operate in the paint.

And speaking of Duncan, he must also find a way to be more productive than the 7-22 shooting effort he posted in game 4. Andrew Bogut is doing a fantastic job of pushing Duncan off his spots, forcing him to work further from the hoop and then challenging his shots expertly. Duncan needs to start to hit his outside jumper and then use that threat to drive hard to the rim where he can either draw fouls or get shots closer to the rim.

San Antonio could also use another good game from Manu Ginobili. His 21 points in 37 minutes in game 4 helped counter the poor shooting nights from Tony Parker and Duncan and a repeat performance would go a long way towards helping the Spurs claim this one. Ginobili hasn’t been his most consistent this season, but he’s long been a big game player and this game certainly qualifies as that.

At this point, accurately predicting what will happen in any game is a fools errand. After it’s all said and done, the game could just as easily be decided on a great game by one of the stars as much as a role player. Such has been the way of this series, making it the most entertaining match up so far. As a fan, I just want another great game.

Considering what’s at stake for both teams, I think we’ll get it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Suns, Hawks say they won’t change strategy to tank

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Phoenix shut down healthy players in a transparent bid to tank last season. But Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said not to expect a repeat.

Scott Bordow of azcentral:

Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.

“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”

The Mike Budenholzer-coached Hawks also won’t sit their top players.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.

“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”

To some degree, McDonough and Budenholzer are just trying to avoid a Mark Cuban-esque fine. The NBA discourages most talk of tanking.

But Phoenix and Atlanta don’t need to change their rotations to tank. They’re already good at losing! Both teams are a league-worst 18-41.

Some teams will get more serious about tanking down the stretch. The Suns and Hawks are already there. That doesn’t make them more virtuous than the Mavericks.

Still, this is a tight race for the top of the lottery. Four other teams have just 18 wins. Another has only 19, and one more has only 20. If the Suns and Hawks need to get worse to improve draft position, I wouldn’t put it past either team.

By the way, that headline can be read a couple different ways. That’s intentional.

Report: Kyrie Irving requested trade after ‘sloppy’ discussion by Cavaliers’ front office

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The Cavaliers reportedly explored trading Kyrie Irving in June. He requested a trade in July.

Since dealt to the Celtics, Irving has said he’ll never pinpoint his precise reason for leaving Cleveland. But he also said the Cavs “didn’t want me there.”

Did the Cavaliers push him out?

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN.

The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber.

The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.

“It was sloppy,” one league source familiar with the draft-day discussion told ESPN, adding that any talk about trading a player of Irving’s ilk — however informal it might be — should be handled strictly between the GM and owner, because of the sensitive nature of its content.

While Altman was involved in the meeting, he and Mike Gansey — at that point officially the head of the Cavs’ G League team — were only keeping the ship afloat on an interim basis and had yet to be formally elevated to their current roles as GM and assistant GM, respectively.

This is one spin on the story. Yet another: Irving initially requested a trade before the draft and considered requesting one in 2016.

Both sides are trying to blame the other for the disintegration of their relationship.

It can be difficult to read how serious the draft-day discussion was. Maybe Irving interpreted ut correctly. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just used it to justify a trade request he wanted to make anyway.

What’s more clear: Communication hasn’t been as strong between the front office and players under general manager Koby Altman as it was under Griffin. McMenamin:

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN.

Altman helped repair that relationship leading up to the trade deadline, looping LeBron in on discussions that culminated with three trades. LeBron appears more invested in the Cavaliers, just in time to keep him next summer.

But some mistakes can’t be fixed before it’s too late. Maybe those Irving trade talks in June were one of them.