PBT Extra: PBT does its own Rising Stars Challenge draft; plus Wednesday’s recaps

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The NBA announced the field for the Rising Stars Challenge, but the teams won’t be selected until next week. A sucker for any opportunity to hold a mock draft, I enlisted Kurt into holding our own.

We followed the same positional rules whoever picks the teams on TNT next Thursday – the general managers have yet to be announced – will follow. Within each of our first seven picks, we must each pick three backcourt players (B) and three frontcourt players (F), with flex players (X) counting for either requirement.

The real drafters won’t pick the final four players, who will be randomly assigned to teams so nobody gets the indignity of being the last choice. That’s probably the right move for the NBA, but we’re not quite as concerned with sparing feelings. So, we draft our full teams.

I won the coin toss to pick first, so here we go.

1. Team Feldman: Anthony Davis (F, New Orleans)

Davis is definitely the best first- or  second-year player in the league. The only consideration I gave to someone else here was Damian Lillard, because I still would have been guaranteed Davis or Andre Drummond at No 3.

2. Team Helin: Damian Lillard (B, Portland)

These kinds of no-D exhibitions are won by the best guards, so I’ll take the best guard thank you very much. I then tell my coach to wear him out before the actual All-Star Game.

3. Team Feldman: Andre Drummond (F, Detroit)

Easiest pick of the draft. The top three are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else, the only first- or second-year players with a chance of making the big-boy All-Star game.

4. Team Helin: Bradley Beal (B, Washington)

Now that I’ve got a point guard, let’s give him a shooter to go next to him. You can have all the big men you want Dan, my team will just rain threes over the top of them.

5. Team Feldman: Terrence Jones (F, Houston)

Remember when there was question which forward position would fit Jones best in the NBA? Jones has settled in at power forward, but he’s also developed 3-point range, so he’ll be playing small forward for my team.

6. Team Helin: Steven Adams (F, Oklahoma City)

Yes he is a quality big and I need some size in the lineup. More importantly, I need the karma of the entire nation of New Zealand pulling for my team.

7. Team Feldman: Michael Carter-Williams (B, Philadelphia)

I’m thrilled Carter-Williams slipped this far, because his speed and athleticism will be huge in this game. He’s just the playmaker I need to get Davis and Drummond going.

8. Team Helin: Giannis Antetokounmpo (X, Milwaukee)

We’re going to run and we’re going to turn the Greek Freak loose (honestly, he is my sleeper game MVP candidate, at the least he should have a crazy dunk in this game).

9. Team Feldman: Trey Burke (B, Utah)

Looks like I’ll be compensating for missing the game’s best point guard by starting two point guards. Their ability initiate the offense from both sides of the floor will help feed Davis and Drummond inside.

10. Team Helin: Jared Sullinger (F, Boston)

Just crash the offensive glass Jared, I’m asking nothing else of you. Nobody wants to do the dirty work this game, you get inside and the glass will be yours.

11. Team Feldman: Jonas Valanciunas (F, Toronto)

I don’t really need Valanciunas, but because Drummond can sometimes get fatigued in bigger roles, Valanciunas provides nice depth. Plus, this keeps one of the league’s more underrated bigs off Kurt’s team.

12. Team Helin: Victor Oladipo (B, Orlando)

Yes, he was a mess to start the season, but in his last five games he’s averaged 17.2 points a game and is shooting 42.9 percent from three in that time. He’s figured it out, just in time for my purposes.

13. Team Feldman: Harrison Barnes (X, Golden State)

Needing a backcourt-qualifying player to fulfill the requirement, I’ll happily snag Barnes, who’s the best (only) true small forward in the game. That position is a real weak spot for the league’s youngest players. He might even start for me with Jones coming off the bench.

14. Team Helin: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (X, New York)

I know which way the league is trending so yes, I’ll take another athletic guard who can run the floor and knock down the three. Plus, I just want to see the joy on his face of not being coached by Mike Woodson for a game.

15. Team Feldman: Mason Plumlee (F, Brooklyn)

I really wanted the sharpshooting Hardaway, who would have given my team a much-needed floor spacer. Instead, I’ll just take the best player available, even if he’ll likely get buried on my bench.

16. Team Helin: Kelly Olynyk (F, Boston)

He’s been up and down this season (he is a rookie) but he runs the court well and can finish some putbacks off Lillard’s PUJITs.

17. Team Feldman: Pero Antic (F, Atlanta)

This is a bit of a strategic pick. Antic is out with an injury that could keep him sidelined through the All-Star break. If he can’t play, I’ll happily take one of the many players snubbed for this game who would have gone much higher in the draft – John Henson or Miles Plumlee, or, if I have to replace a rookie with a rookie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Ben McLemore.

18. Team Helin: Dion Waiters (B, Cleveland)

What does it say about a guy that can shoot the rock — 37 percent from three this season — that he went dead last in a this draft, for an exhibition that should play to his strengths? I just hope he doesn’t ruin the chemistry on my imaginary team and cost me the imaginary game.

Here are the final rosters:

Team Feldman

  • F: Andre Drummond (Detroit)
  • F: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
  • F: Terrence Jones (Houston)
  • B: Trey Burke (Utah)
  • B: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
  • X: Harrison Barnes (Golden State)
  • F: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)
  • F: Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
  • F: Pero Antic (Atlanta)

Team Helin

  • F: Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
  • F: Jared Sullinger (Boston)
  • X: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
  • B: Bradley Beal (Washington)
  • F: Damian Lillard (Portland)
  • B: Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
  • X: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (New York)
  • F: Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
  • B: Dion Waiters (Cleveland)

Which squad would win?

-Dan Feldman

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Raptors 98, Magic 83: Kyle Lowry continued his assault on coaches voting for All-Star reserves with his second consecutive performance where he scored at least 30 points. It was 33 and 11 assists in this one, in a game that was essentially decided in the first 12 minutes. Toronto got out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, and won the rest of the game by just two points in what was an even contest over the final three periods. Nik Vucevic led the Magic with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort. — Brett Pollakoff

Sixers 95, Celtics 94: No tanking here, as this game between two lottery teams in the East came down to the final possession. Evan Turner hit the game-winner as the buzzer sounded, a tough shot through contact that gave the Sixers the victory. Five Sixers finished in double figures, while Jared Sullinger did the heavy lifting for Boston, finishing with 24 points (on 9-of-25 shooting) to go along with 17 rebounds. — BP

Suns 126, Bucks 117: A win is a win, obviously, but the Suns have evolved to the point where they’re a solid playoff contender in the Western Conference. That means that a Bucks team that’s one of the league’s worst shouldn’t be allowed to score 117 points, but the victory will stand and Jeff Hornacek will be able to use it as a teaching tool moving forward. Goran Dragic continued his strong play that may have him in line for a spot on the All-Star squad with 30 points on just 13 shots, to go along with six assists. — BP

Timberwolves 88, Pelicans 77: Anthony Davis didn’t play in this one after suffering a dislocated finger in his last outing, and the result was a complete implosion on the part of the Pelicans. New Orleans couldn’t reach even 20 points in three of the game’s four periods, and while Minnesota didn’t exactly light it up offensively, a low-scoring affair like this one meant that Kevin Love’s often hollow numbers carried much more value than usual. Love led all scorers with 30 points, to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists. — BP

Pistons – Hawks: POSTPONED, due to severe weather in the Atlanta area. The game will be rescheduled at a later date. — BP

Thunder 112, Heat 95: Miami raced out to an 18-point first quarter lead, but when the Oklahoma City bench came in and the team went small everything changed — the Thunder got easy baskets in transition, Jeremy Lamb was knocking down threes and their defense improved. The big surprise was that Scott Brooks stuck with what works and didn’t stay loyal to Kendrick Perkins (who Brooks has stuck with as a starter despite what both the numbers and the eye test tell everyone) and benched him for the second half to starter Perry Jones. The result was another Thunder run, 9-0 right at the start of the second half, and the game was over. Mostly it was over because Kevin Durant caught fire on his way to 33 points (that makes 12 straight over 30). We broke the game down in more detail here. –Kurt Helin

Rockets 117, Mavericks 115: Dallas had their chances in this one, they had shaved that 12-point fourth quarter lead down to two then Jose Calderon — who is shooting 45 percent from three this season — got two looks at a game winner from beyond the arc and missed both. This was an up-tempo shootout which favors Houston and the Rockets got 26 from Chandler Parsons, 21 points from Dwight Howard and 18 from Jeremy Lin. Dirk Nowitzki dropped 38 in a losing effort but simply could not lift the team over the hump. –KH

Bobcats 101, Nuggets 98: From the start the Bobcats were getting the ball into Al Jefferson and letting him go to work on J.J. Hickson — and the Nuggets left Hickson largely on an island. They didn’t double much at all. The result was an early 20-5 Bobcats run. Timofey Mozgov came in and he didn’t fare much better, by the end Jefferson continued his hot play of late with 35 points. Denver came back to take a small lead again — thanks to 33 from Randy Foye — and the fourth quarter was tight, but Charlotte got 11 points from Jefferson in the fourth and had a late 8-2 run to get the win. –KH

Bulls 96, Spurs 86: It was a game of big sweeping runs for the better part of three quarters, both teams led for a while, but the Bulls started to pull away with a 14-3 late third quarter run then Kirk Hinrich’s 11 points in the fourth held off the depleted Spurs. San Antonio also had an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers against the stout Bulls defense. Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, 12 rebounds) led the Bulls. –KH

Grizzlies 99, Kings 89: In a battle of the point guards Mike Conley owned the second half and was able to lift his Memphis team to the win. Conley had 20 of his 27 points in the second half plus had 10 assists, while the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas finished with 24 points and 5 assists. This is five straight losses for the Kings who did get Rudy Gay back in the lineup (23 points) but that wasn’t enough — the Kings’ defense couldn’t slow Memphis, which shot 54.7 percent on the night. –KH

Clippers 110, Wizards 103: The Clippers were aggressive — Blake Griffin had 29 points on 20 shots and took 15 of those in the paint (hitting 10), plus the Clippers as a team got to the free throw line 42 times as they attacked inside. Those free throws include an effort late in the game, with the Clippers up three, to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan (hack-the-DJ, which has a nice Smiths ring to it) but he drained all four of his free throws. In between Bradley Beal, an 80 percent free throw shooter, missed both of his. Jamal Crawford had 21 for the Clippers, J.J. Redick 20. Beal led the Wizards with 20. –KH

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

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.