Toughest guys to guard on pick-and-roll? Sanders says Nash, Rose, Conley

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Larry Sanders got a big four-year, $44 million extension from the Milwaukee Bucks this summer because he can defend — he can protect the rim and block shots, but he also is quite good showing out and shutting of drives on the pick-and-roll.

Talking with him after the Bucks season-opening loss to the Knicks, Zach Lowe of Grantland talked defending the pick-and-roll with Sanders, specifically who is the hardest to stop when they come around the top of that pick.

OK, well, anytime [Steve] Nash is coming off the pick-and-roll, it’s bad.

Still, huh?

Yep, still. It’s because of his pace. He’s not rushing. He’s just surveying, looking for gaps, passing through those gaps. He’s such a good passer. And D-Rose.

He’s back.

Oh, yeah. And, man, coming off those pick-and-rolls at full speed. He’s one of those guys, when he comes around that pick, you have to be totally locked in on him. He’s so quick, if he gets his shoulder past you, it’s over.

Rose isn’t a shock. He’s struggling to get his touch back and finish (28 percent shooting through two games) but physically he is back. Nash however, is interesting on this list, he is slower than he was a few years ago but his ability to keep his dribble alive and pick you apart with precision passing.

Then Sanders makes another interesting choice — Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. Why

His decision-making. Guards that make good decisions out of the pick-and-roll are just deadly. Options open up. He’s really good at keeping the big man in front of him.

Sort of stringing you out, you mean — keeping his dribble alive so you have to keep guarding him?

Yeah, yeah. And he’s got two guys on him now. Guys who can do that, and make good decisions are deadly.

Conley is an underrated point guard — how he stepped up in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade made the Grizzlies far more efficient and much more dangerous offensively after that trade.

Sanders also said he expects the James Harden/Dwight Howard pick and roll will be dangerous.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.