The Extra Pass: The league’s leading lineups; plus Tuesday’s recaps

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After watching two of the league’s best starting lineups duke it out in Indiana, let’s check in on the best and worst lineups around the league so far this season.

Best Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Houston: Patrick Beverley-James Harden-Chandler Parsons-Terrence Jones-Dwight Howard

Net efficiency is the difference between a team’s offensive rating and their defensive rating.

The Pacers or Heat are usually a safe bet to be in the pole position all year, but the league’s best net offensive/defensive efficiency mark actually belongs to a lineup no one saw coming.

After the experiment with Omer Asik failed and Jeremy Lin went down with an injury, this lineup has led way for Houston and put up a net rating of +23.3 this season, a differential that’s nearly double what the fourth best lineup (Portland’s starters) has posted this season.

Supplementing the core talent with athletic defenders in Beverley and Jones has paid dividends defensively, but it hasn’t sacrificed spacing on the other end. Houston may be tempted to turn Asik into a legitimate power forward or upgrade at point guard, but the production this group is providing is hard to walk away from.

Worst Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins

Shocking, right? Oklahoma City’s starting lineup for the last three years has laid an egg out of the gates and simply can’t score. This group’s offensive rating of 93.1 would rank dead last in the NBA, and the net rating of -10.2 isn’t a whole lot better.

History would indicate two things will happen here, though.

The first is that this number should improve a great deal, as this very same lineup posted a net rating of +12.3 last season.

Secondly, you can bet that Scott Brooks will stay with it for extended minutes, even if he has preferred to close games with Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb as of late.

League’s Fastest Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Minnesota: Ricky Rubio-Kevin Martin-Corey Brewer-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic

Minnesota’s starting lineup is playing at a ridiculously fast pace of 102.8. How? Pairing the league’s best outlet passer with a player constantly leaking out on the break doesn’t hurt:

Best Shooting Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Golden State: Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-David Lee-Andrew Bogut

Anytime the phrase “best shooting” is uttered, you can be sure the splash brothers are involved. Curry and Thompson obviously carry this lineup, but Iguodala’s incredibly efficient start to the season took this group to another level.

This lineup’s true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent blows everyone else out of the water, as the second place team (Houston’s aforementioned lineup) is four percentage points worse.

Watch out for the Warriors once Iguodala recovers. With Harrison Barnes playing in place of Iguodala, Golden State has posted a net rating of -7.4 and has dropped in true shooting eight full percentage points. He’s critical on both ends for them.

D.J. Foster

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Take a second to look at how small the ball looks in the hands of Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Cavaliers 109, Knicks 94: New York followed up its horrific 41-point home loss to Boston by falling behind by 18 points in the first quarter in this one. At least they did battle back to close the gap before ultimately getting down big again, and for a team with so few positives to lean on this season, a competitive streak could be something to lean on. Staying positive, Carmelo Anthony finished with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and Amar’e Stoudemire had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 27 minutes. But allowing Kyrie Irving to drop 37 points in 36 minutes, while seeing Jarrett Jack score 17 points on eight shots was too much on the road, so New York fell to a record of 5-15 on the season. —Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 90, Heat 84: Indiana trailed early, but Paul George and Roy Hibbert came alive in the second half to ensure a Pacers victory. Indiana treated this game like it mattered while Miami simply viewed it as one of many on the long road back to the playoffs, but this Pacers team causes real matchup problems for the Heat. Miami has more than four months before the postseason begins, however, to figure things out. —BP

Spurs 116, Raptors 103: Jeff Ayres started in place of the injured Tiago Splitter for the Spurs, but it was Aron Baynes who provided the big man performance that San Antonio needed to push through. Baynes finished with 14 points and six rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting in less than 21 minutes to help San Antonio overcome an early deficit of 14 points. The Spurs shot 54.9 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from three-point distance in compiling their 116 points, yet no single player managed to score more than 16 points — in other words, it was a perfectly balanced attack from one of the top teams in the game. —BP

Nets 104, Celtics 96: Paul Pierce faced his former team for the first time, but did so coming off the bench in his first game back after suffering a broken hand injury five games ago. He finished with an uncharacteristically effective line of four points, seven rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes as a reserve, while Deron Williams and his return was much more important to the game’s ultimate result. Williams finished with 25 points and seven assists as the Nets won their second straight to improve to 7-14 on the season. —BP

Thunder 101, Hawks 92: OKC held Atlanta to 35.6 percent shooting for the game, and used a 27-18 second quarter run to gain the separation needed to finish the game with a comfortable margin. Kevin Durant finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Russell Westbrook ended up with 14 points, 11 assists and four steals in the victory that sent the Thunder to a record of 16-4 on the season. —BP

Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94: This was close until midway through the second quarter when Minnesota went on a 21-5 run sparked by Kevin Martin, who had 12 of his 18 in that period. Minnesota ran away from there and the starters basically got to rest the fourth quarter. Kevin Love put up a monster 26 point, 17 rebound line in just 30 minutes. However, the real key to Minnesota’s run was them getting to the free throw line 33 times, hitting 28. Brandon Jennings led the Pistons with 20 points, but basically none of the Detroit starters played well. —Kurt Helin

Bucks 78, Bulls 74: No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no Joakim Noah, no Jimmy Butler — no offense and no win for the Bulls. Milwaukee’s John Henson was the best player on the floor scoring 25 points with a variety of shots (he’s got a nice lefty jump hook) and pulling down 14 boards. Chicago, with few options on offense, tried to go to Carlos Boozer late but on a key play late Henson stripped him. Mike Dunleavy outscored the Bucks 18-15 in the second quarter (he finished with 24). This was an ugly game, let us never speak of it again. —KH

Suns 114, Lakers 108: Kobe Bryant looked better — he had a team high 20 points and switched up his game to get the ball either in the post or at the elbow most of the time, which allowed him to work closer to the basket. The Laker offense worked better — but their defense was a mess. The Suns guard tandem of Goran Dragic (31 points) and Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 9 assists) did what they wanted, which included feeding Marcus Morris who added 22 points. The Suns know who they are right now, the Lakers are clearly figuring that out and now have to do it on a tough four-game road trip. —KH

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.

Spurs’ David Lee will not need surgery on knee, will be ready for training camp in the fall

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David Lee was certainly not going to swing the series against the Warriors one way or another. However, the veteran forward with a varried offensive game still has an NBA role in the right setting.

He has a $1.6 million player option with the Spurs next season, and whatever he decides it’s good news that he will not need surgery to repair the knee injury that sidelined him in the Conference Finals. From Ramona Shelburn of ESPN.

Good news to end the week. David Lee doesn’t need surgery on his knee, per his agent Mark Bartelstein. He’s got a sprained patellar tendon that should heal in about six weeks.

As a big off the bench, David Lee can still help the right team. His game has limitations, but put him in the right situation and he can help. It’s just that due to injury, the Spurs had to ask more of him in the playoffs than he can deliver anymore.

Draymond Green says Warriors are “more relaxed” this season

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Last year, the Warriors entered the NBA Finals with the weight of expectations: Defending NBA champions, 73 regular season wins, if they got the title they would leap up the ladder of all-time great teams, lose and it would be a massive let down. We all know what happened from there.

The Warriors are back in the Finals, taking on the Cavaliers for the third year in a row — but this year things are going to be different. Mostly because of Kevin Durant changing the equation. But also the Warriors mindset is better if you ask Draymond Green. Which Mark Spears of ESPN did.

This makes sense. The Warriors to a man denied the pressure and how physically/mentally taxed they were by the chase for 73, but it clearly wore on them physically and mentally. Green was thrashing about and drawing techs, over-reacting to everything (although sometimes that feels like his default setting). Curry was injured but also tired. The Warriors opened the door, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed through it.

Will a rested Warriors make a difference this time around? Maybe. But again, Durant matters more than rest.