Goran Dragic says he’s hoping the Suns are going to fight for the playoffs

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Goran Dragic is on the books for two more years in Phoenix and has a player option for a third, making him the one who the team is most committed to for the foreseeable future.

Dragic is generally one of the more positive guys you’ll talk to around the league, but even he was becoming disillusioned with the way things were unfolding in Phoenix, especially during the latter part of last season.

The franchise has managed to turn things around extremely quickly this offseason, with the hiring of Ryan McDonough as GM and Jeff Hornacek as head coach. The vibe is largely positive around the team now, and after the way things ended last year, that was no small feat to accomplish.

Dragic is likely to be around for a few years, so his view of the way things are shaping up is important. And he likes what he’s seen from the new regime so far.

From Matt Petersen of Suns.com:

“I’m really excited with what they’re doing,” Dragic said. “I talked with [Suns General Manager] Ryan [McDonough]and [Head Coach] Jeff [Hornacek] a couple of times. They told me what they’re doing and how they want to do things. I think it’s awesome.” …

As for Dragic himself, he’s intent on both improving his game while taking care of himself as Eurobasket 2013 unfolds. With self-improvement and an improved supporting cast, last year’s most consistent player is looking for the Suns to take a collective next step in the right direction.

“Right now, my goal is to be healthy, to not have injuries in the European championship,” Dragic said. “When I’m done with that, [I’ll] try to play as hard as possible and improve a lot of things. Personally, I’d like to upgrade from how we did last season to this season. I think we have a better team this year. I’m hoping we’re going to fight for the playoffs.”

In the Western Conference — and barring injury to key players, of course — there are six teams that would appear to have playoff spots virtually locked up before the season begins. Then there are the others, most of which would appear to be in a better position to gain a shot at the postseason before this Suns team as currently constructed.

But depending on how quickly things come together under Hornacek, Phoenix could be one of the season’s pleasant surprises, at least offensively. And the team fighting for the playoffs, as Dragic said, doesn’t mean that they’ll actually get there. It would just be a welcome change to the way things went down in Phoenix over the second half of last season.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.