Sunday NBA grades: Turns out the Spurs’ starters are good

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Our grades from Sunday around the NBA, or what you missed while watching where in the world people are dropping F-bombs on twitter….

source:  San Antonio Spurs’ starting five. The Spurs starting five of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan only played 12 minutes together against the Knicks Sunday, but they shot 72 percent from the floor, hit 5-of-6 from three and accounted for +23 of the Spurs 31-point win. Yes, they did it against a sieve of a defense (without Tyson Chandler) but the fact they attacked and put the game away early was to getting rest late.

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s had to carry the load with Russell Westbrook still shaking off the rust (4-of-16) — plus Westbrook got ejected with the Thunder down 10 and just over 3 minutes left. Durant shouldered the load with 33 points on 23 shots, plus he hit the pull up three to send the game to overtime. The Thunder went on to win the game and Durant had four in the overtime.

source:  Phoenix Suns’ defense. While nobody has been watching Jeff Hornacek has his Suns playing good defense — they are sixth in the NBA allowing 96.7 points per 100 possessions, and they held the Pelicans to 97.2. New Orleans shot just 47.7 percent inside 8 feet and 37.5 percent in the midrange (plus 4-of-13 from three). Defense at the NBA level starts with effort and buying into the system and Hornacek’s Suns are doing that and they are 5-2 because of it.

source:  Los Angeles Lakers’ defense. On the top of the Lakers pre-game white board Mike D’Antoni wrote to get back in transition (to force Minnesota into half court sets) and close out on shooters — the Lakers did neither of those. Not even close. They had no energy or commitment to the system. Especially in the first quarter when the Timberwolves shot 76.2 percent overall and hit 7-of-9 from three, plus went on a 27-2 run. For the half Minnesota shot 53.2 percent and added another 10 points at the line. The Lakers escape with a “D-” because they did better in the second half, although much of that seemed to be Minnesota taking its foot off the gas. Ricky Rubio had a triple double (12 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds). The Lakers are 22nd in the NBA in defensive efficiency and their occasionally good bench play can’t bail them out of that.

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.