The Extra Pass: Five quick ways to improve the league; plus Monday’s Recaps

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Five ideas that could help make the NBA even greater:

Offensive Goaltending: Let’s get rid of it. The “in the cylinder” call is routinely one of the toughest for refs to get right on the floor, and we know how the subsequent huddle and review process can suck the life out of a game. If it bounces off the rim, it’s fair game.

The D-League, FIBA and Olympic competition all play that way, and no one says, “oh man, I’m tried of seeing all these putback dunks!” or thinks it has ruined the sanctity of the game. Let’s allow the world’s best athletes to play the game in a different dimension and remove all the pattycake played by rebounders in the air.

Hack-A-Tactic: Probably the best solution to ending the intentional fouling that forces us to watch very large men miss free throws over and over again came from Tom Ziller at SBNation:

“(…) the league could end the practice in one fell swoop by giving teams in the bonus the option of free throws or an inbounds play on non-shooting fouls. In other words, make the bonus optional.”

Brilliant. If Dwight Howard gets intentionally fouled without the ball while in the bonus and there’s more than two minutes left, Kevin McHale can simply opt to take the ball out. The offending player is still charged with a foul, the shot clock resets, and the game moves on.

Coaches decline penalties in football. Why not give them the same option in basketball? Keep the game moving and kill off this strategy in the simplest of ways.

Divisions: Let’s get rid of them, too. The best eight teams in each conference should go to the playoffs every year, no questions asked. If we removed divisions today, it wouldn’t change rivalries or anything else — it just makes playoff seeding simpler and easier to understand. Change that simplifies a needlessly complicated thing? That should be embraced. Here’s hoping the Atlantic Division teams keep this up to spur the switch.

Tanking: There have been many great solutions suggested over the years, particularly by the guys at TrueHoop with their HoopIdea series. Here’s mine: create a minimum win requirement.

No team can fall below the line of 50 combined wins in back-to-back seasons. If a team wins 30 games one year, they must win at least 20 in the next season.

The punishment for teams that fail to win a combined 50 games in any back-to-back seasons? They automatically get assigned the worst odds in the lottery of that year’s draft. If multiple teams fail to meet the 50-win two-year minimum, the team with the worse two-year record will receive the lowest odds.

At the least, this would provide some incentive for general managers not to completely tank over multiple years and for coaches to try and play their best players towards the end of the season. It would make fans of bad teams stop rooting so much for incompetence, at least over multiple seasons. The lottery system would stay intact as is with just a little tweak.

This would make tanking punitive over multiple years, much in the way the luxury tax punishes repeat offenders. This wouldn’t stop tanking like some suggestions, but it would at least put some limitations on it and give teams the incentive to at least be reasonably respectable over a two-year period.

Make the D-League a true minor league: 30 teams, 30 D-League affiliates. It would require a big investment by the league and by owners, but creating a real minor league system that feeds directly to the big club would create an interest in the D-League that hasn’t previously been there.

Exclusive affiliates could make events like the D-League draft and trades actually mean something, and following the happenings of your team’s D-League club would be worth doing. One of the best parts of being a baseball fan is knowing your team’s prospects and getting to say “I remember him when…” once he reaches the majors. That level of familiarity should happen more in basketball.

-D.J. Foster

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Clippers 94, 76ers 83: This was a professional win by the Clippers — they are the better, more talented team and they just used that to make it an easy night for themselves. Of course Chris Paul is playing so well this season that he can make a 25-point, 13-assist night look professional and routine. The Clippers defended well (Blake Griffin on Spencer Hawes in particular, but the Sixers as a team shot just 35.9 percent) however as part of that the Sixers just missed some good looks. It’s not like the Clippers were perfect, they were just better and never let up.

Nuggets 75, Wizards 74: Much lower scoring game than anyone expected —but we did get drama. The Nuggets hung around in a gritty fashion then just made plays with the game on the line. Washington will regret this because had their chances at the end. First Wall had one driving layup blocked by Kenneth Faried. It was then Faried that provided Denver with the margin of victory with :32 seconds left in the game when he threw down a powerful dunk after his man slid over to stop a Nate Robinson drive and Robinson slipped a pass to Faried. Still the Wizards had chances. For example with 22 seconds left the Nuggets had bad inbounds pass stolen by Glen Rice Jr., who in turn passed to a slashing Wall who just missed a driving layup. Next possession Trevor Ariza had a good look at a three and missed it. Still after Faried missed some key free throws Washington had one last chance, they got the ball to Wall out top who made a nice move to create space at the elbow… then just fumbled the ball away as he went up for the shot. Wall finished with 20 points and 8 assists but will just have regrets over how this one ended.

Bobcats 115, Warriors 111: Charlotte is no pushover this season — they can be beaten but you’re going to have to work for it. These Bobcats will not roll over and Golden State learned that the hard way when they once again came out flat (it has been a trend for a couple weeks now). Charlotte led by 12 at the half but Golden State’s offense woke up behind Stephen Curry, who had 32 of his 43 points after halftime. Golden State fought back to tie the game 88-88 in the fourth quarter, then promptly turned the ball over on three straight possessions and never got the lead back. Credit Kemba Walker for that — he scored the Bobcats final 15 points (he finished with 31) and Charlotte held on for a quality win.

Grizzlies 94, Magic 85: Memphis took control of this game thanks to a 14-0 run by their bench in the second quarter and they never surrendered the lead again. Orlando struggled against the Grizzlies defense shooting just 40 percent, but they did make a little run in the fourth quarter and made it interesting enough Dave Joeger had to put his starters back in to preserve the win. Zach Randolph had 19 points but the real key was the Grizzlies shot 10-of-17 from three in this game.

Trail Blazers 105, Jazz 94: This game was close for a quarter and a half until a 15-6 Portland run late in the second quarter gave them a little lead and they never looked back. Much like the Clippers this was a professional win where Portland didn’t have to bring it’s best and didn’t, but it brought enough to win this. LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Damian Lillard 18. Alec Burks led Utah with 20 points on 11 shots off the bench.

Kings 112, Mavericks 97: The Kings were shorthanded — Rudy Gay will make his debut in purple Wednesday against Utah — but the Sacramento front court was on fire. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 19 rebounds, Derrick Williams had a career high 31 points while Dallas seemed to coast. Sacramento took the lead with a 13-0 run in the second quarter then pulled away in the third not to look back. Isaiah Thomas looked good as the starter with 24 points and 12 assists. Monta Ellis (21 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (18) played well but the rest of the Mavs shot 33.9 percent. That didn’t get it done.

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

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.