Friday Night NBA Grades: What tanking? Sixers, Suns both 2-0.

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Our grades from Thursday night around the NBA, or what you missed while trying to get that cat urine smell out of your computer….

source:  Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers. Something funny happened on the way to the lottery… the Sixers and Suns, two of the poster teams for the tanking/riggin’ for Wiggins efforts, are both undefeated. Phoenix picked up a dramatic victory over another tanktastic team in Utah thanks to a dramatic Eric Bledsoe game winning three. The Sixers have now beaten the Heat and Wizards, the latter thanks to 29 points on 14-of-20 shooting by Thaddeus Young. Neither of these teams can sustain this and make the playoffs, but credit the players for busting it and playing hard, that will get you some wins.

source:  James Harden, Houston Rockets. The Mavericks had no answer for Harden, who had 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting, leading to Houston to a comfortable win over Dallas. It was a game without much flow but when Dallas would start to make a run Harden would make a play — with the Mavs having cut the lead to 8 late in the third quarter Harden attacked into three Dallas defenders and got the and-1 to make the lead 11 again. In the fourth he basically iced the game when he attacked Dirk Nowitzki in transition and fouled him out while putting the Rockets up by 13. Sorry Kobe and Dwyane, Harden is the best two guard in the game now.

source:  New Orleans Pelicans defense. The Pelicans were not really impressive at either end of the court, but they let the lowly Magic shoot 55.7 overall and hit 11-of-22 from three (that’s an eFG% of 63.6). The Magic had an offensive rating of 114.7 points per 100 possessions (remember the Heat were the best in the league last year at 110.3). Aaron Afflalo dropped 30 (on 14 shots), but the real key was a 35-point first quarter by the Magic where Jameer Nelson hit a couple threes and Nikola Vucevic faced up Jason Smith and went 3-of-3 on him. The Pelicans were better defensively in their first game, but this was a bad night, we’ll see which is the real New Orleans team (with a young team expect a few nights like this).

source:  Brooklyn Nets offense. With a veteran team we expected Brooklyn could have good ball movement, but what we wondered is if guys would move off the ball, if the ball might stick too much at times. It didn’t against the Heat — there was a real fluidity to the Nets offense that was able to counter and get good looks against the aggressive defense. If their offense can build on this and keep moving the rock like this all season and into the playoffs the Nets start to look a whole lot more dangerous.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

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.