Julius Randle

The Extra Pass: Six NCAA Sweet 16 match-ups NBA fans should pay attention to

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Your bracket has gone the way of the Dodo, so now you can just watch the NCAA Tournament to root for teams trying on the glass slipper… and to see players your team may try to draft this June.

There are a few match ups in the Sweet 16 that should interest NBA fans — interesting showdowns of players who names Adam Silver (or Mark Tatum) will call in June.

Here are six to watch.

Julius Randle (Kentucky) vs. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville). This is the matchup everyone will be talking about — it could be one of the best of the weekend (in a rivalry game, just to add to the fun). Randle played well for Kentucky opening weekend and was the one guy in the predicted top four picks to perform up to expectations (unreasonable though they are). Harrell (projected mid to late first round) is a high energy defensive guy who has a lot of physical tools — length, quickness, strength — enough to really challenge Randle. They are separated in the draft because Randle is the far more polished offensive player with a higher ceiling, but right now Harrell has the fast first step on offense to make this a great matchup. Harrell could force the turnover-prone Randle into mistakes that could swing the game, or at least make Randle really work for his points.

Kentucky’s backcourt vs. Louisville’s backcourt. This is what will determine the outcome of the best game in the round of 16 and it’s a matchup PBT’s NBA Draft expert — Scott Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld — will be watching closely. Here is what Isaacson said:

“When these two teams played in December, the Harrisons and James Young turned the ball over 9 times against the Louisville guards, namely Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and it was a pretty good performance. None of the Kentucky guards are great ballhandlers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitino set Smith loose to harass Andrew Harrison as far out as Smith is comfortable. With real point guard, any disruption to the Kentucky offense can cause a lot of problems. On the flip side, the Harrisons and Young’s size could cause problems for Louisville if they are able to consistently get into their half-court offense, and their size can also hamper Smith’s ability to get good perimeter looks on offense.”

Nik Stauskas (Michigan) vs. Jordan McRae (Tennessee). If you like buckets, this is the matchup to watch — both of these guys may well lead their teams in scoring. Our man Isaacson brakes down the matchup, and thinks it could favor Stauskas and Michigan.

“Here’s a matchup where each player will have trouble guarding the other. Stauskas is a threat to knock down long jumpers or act as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. He is a strong passer, so McRae will need to have a strong plan to defend the high screens. McRae loves to attack the basket, but if he sees Stauskas giving him room, he’ll start shooting jumpers. Stauskas best chance to win this matchup is to have McRae shooting jumpers.”

Aaron Gordon vs. San Diego State defense. Gordon turned a lot of heads of people who didn’t watch much (or any) Arizona this year — he is a freak athlete. Watch him and where you often see that athleticism on display is defensively (guys at the college level just don’t know how to handle that). However Gordon has no steady jumper and no reliable offense that isn’t dunks — San Diego State was seventh in the nation in defense (adjusted points per possession, via Ken Pomeroy). Can Gordon score on them, enough to lead his team to victory? This will be entertaining.

Florida backcourt vs. UCLA Backcourt. Kyle Anderson looked good opening weekend (as did everyone on UCLA) as he used that 6’9” frame to get off shots over the top of his defenders. UCLA and Anderson were just physically superior to everyone they faced. That will not be the case Thursday night. Which makes this a contest Isaacson said he is looking forward to in particular in the round of 16.

“The size of the UCLA guards vs. the speed of the Florida guards. Kyle Anderson has a reputation for being very steady under pressure, but Scotty Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, are both capable of extending the defense out where Anderson will have a tough time making plays. Jordan Adams will be pressured on the perimeter all game, so Anderson will need to find a way to break down the Florida defense. When Florida has the ball, expect UCLA to play plenty of zone if they can get away with it. The guards will have trouble containing Wilbekin, which in turn opens up the floor for everyone else. If UCLA goes zone, Frazier and Wilbekin are the only thing close to consistent perimeter shooters for Florida and if they aren’t hitting, Florida’s offense can be in some trouble.”

Shabazz Napier (UConn) vs. DeAndre Kane (Iowa State). From the NBA Draft perspective, this is a battle of two guys trying to get picked later in the second round — these are the kinds of games that can help that cause, can help a GM think “this guy is worth the gamble.” Isaacson talks about this one as well.

“Two of the most exciting point guards in college basketball this year, bot Napier and Kane are comfortable looking to get into the lane or shooting threes. Kane is stronger and he likes to get physical with smaller guards on both ends of the floor. Guarding Napier is a team chore and Kane will need all the help he can get. Napier’s speed and body control allow him to create space pretty much whenever he needs it. The winner of this battle will likely be the one who gets his teammates better touches.”

Kevin Love shut down at the rim by Bismack Biyombo (VIDEO)

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Once again, Bismack Biyombo was a force in the paint that the Raptors leaned on heavily during their Game 4 win against the Cavaliers.

His biggest play of the night was this clean block of Kevin Love at the rim. Love passed to LeBron James in the post, caught his defender napping and cut the rim, got the pass back from James and… denied.

Biyombo also got LeBron James at the rim but was called for a foul much to the dismay of Biyombo, Raptors fans, and the ESPN broadcast crew (it was the right call — watch Biyombo leap across the lane, he is anything but vertical, he contacts LeBron’s body, that’s a foul).  Either way it’s worth watching.

NBA VP explains decision not to suspend Draymond Green; says very different play than Dahntay Jones

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second quarter in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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All day long NBA Twitter — and the Warriors, and the Thunder — waited for the shoe to drop on a decision about suspending Draymond Green for a kick to the “groin” of the Cavaliers’ Steven Adams.

Everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.

It took that long because the league wanted to be thorough — watching the film, looking at similar incidents (and the punishments there), talking to the players and the referees, and thinking it through. It was a decision with a huge impact on the series (Golden State was not winning Game 4 without Green).

So why did NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe decide not to suspend Green, rather upping the foul to a flagrant 2 and taking on a $25,000 fine?VanDeWeghe talked in some detail to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a piece you should read right now. This is just a highlight.

We have professional investigators that conduct the investigation. They talk to the players, they talk to all the referees, including the replay officials, and they all come back and report to me. I obviously discuss it internally, and especially with referee operations, get their perspective. But at the end of the day … every play is different and that’s the problem. You take into account everything. You take into account t what the referees have said. They obviously went with a Flagrant One last night, and you take into account the comparables. The problem with comparables is they never tell the whole story.

One comparable a lot of people supporting the suspension brought up was the one-game suspension for Cleveland Dahntay Jones just a day before (for a punch to the groin of Bismack Biyombo. Except VanDeWeghe says it was not comparable.

But just to talk about the Dahntay Jones situation, I think that was basically a completely different play. That, you had somebody (who was) tussling for a rebound, and Jones brings back his hand his hand is open. And as he brings his hand back forward and makes contact with Bismack’s (Biyombo) groin area, the fist is closed. And so you have contact with a closed fist, so to me that’s a very different scenario and, to me, a different fact pattern, so it’s very different from what we’re talking about with Draymond, that I viewed as a flail that is becoming, you know, pretty common amongst our players in trying to sell calls. Draymond does it a fair amount, Westbrook does it a fair amount, and a number of other players. Unfortunately, in this particular one, Draymond’s leg connected in the same Adams groin area, the same area, as the Jones one, but everything else about the call, or the play, was really different.

That is what the Warriors tried to sell, and the league came to find — Green was fouled but in trying to sell that call a little he accidentally kicked Adams where men least like to be kicked.

None of this is going to change anyone’s mind — if you’re convinced Green’s kick was intentional, and he should have been suspended, there is no evidence that will get you to think otherwise. This is just context, it helps everyone understand the process and the decision. More information is a good thing.

Raptors race out to lead, hang on to beat Cavaliers 105-99, even series 2-2

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball in the fourth quarter against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Now this is some adversity.

After winning 10 straight games to open the playoffs, the Cavaliers struggled in Game 3 in Toronto last Saturday, but that felt almost like a setback rather than a change of direction in the series. At least it did until Game 4 tipped off.

Toronto again came out with fantastic energy again on defense, scrambling and contesting everything. The Cavaliers were not attacking (well, except LeBron James) and were kicking out for threes — and missing. As a team, Cleveland was 3-of-22 from three in the first half. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry was hot on the other end, both hitting long threes and setting up teammates. Lowry was 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and had three assists as well.

Raptors led 57-41 at the half. They needed every point of that down the stretch.

Cleveland started the second half on an 11-0 run and came back behind Kyrie Irving (15 second half points), LeBron, and a more focused defense. With six minutes to go in the game Cleveland even took the lead. It felt like this was when the Cavaliers would assert themselves as the best team in the East.

Except the Raptors out hustled and out executed the Cavaliers down the stretch. Bismack Biyombo was grabbing key rebounds inside (Patrick Patterson had a huge offensive rebound as well), and Lowry and DeRozan remained hot — the guards combined for 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter — not taking threes (0-of-1) but attacking and getting to the basket an the line.

The result was a 105-99 Toronto win that evens the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland Wednesday for Game 5.

“I thought we come back, had control of the game, was up three points, then we made some defensive mistakes you can’t do down the stretch, and they cost us — each time we made a mistake they made us pay,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said postgame.

This was another game where Toronto played with great defensive energy and the Cavaliers responded by settling — they took 41 threes in Game 3 (hitting 13), Monday they were 13-of-42. J.R. Smith was 3-of-11, Kevin Love 2-of-7 (and sat out the fourth quarter with a potential injury, he was limping). The guys that kept the Cavaliers in it in the fourth (besides LeBron, who was fantastic again) were Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, who combined 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. But it was not enough.

“We’ve got to be more well balanced,” LeBron said on a night he finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting. “We started the game, we had some great looks, but when they’re not going you’ve got to be able to switch it up and get into the paint and do what you can do. I was able to get into the paint a little bit, Kyrie as well, but we just haven’t shot the ball from the three point line.”

Offensively, the Raptors were carried by Lowry and DeRozan, which was the case all season. Lowry had 35 points on 20 shots and looked every bit the All-Star version of himself.

“He’s made shots,” Lue said. “He’s being aggressive. He’s making shots. Tonight he made some early baskets that gave him some confidence, I thought, in the first quarter, and he carried it throughout the game.”

DeRozan had 32 points on 23 shots and was getting to the spots on the floor he liked. Once in Toronto both Biyombo and Patterson have done a good job of switching up their screen angles on the pick-and-roll, and the Cavaliers get flummoxed by this.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent,” Lowry said. “(He and DeRozan) need to find a way to be consistent throughout a whole series.”

Then again there was Biyombo, the free agent to be making the case he should get paid big this summer. He finished with 14 boards — including a number of key ones late — and three blocks. His presence inside has the Cavaliers hesitant to attack the paint.

This sets up a lot of interesting questions heading into Game 5 Wednesday.

Can Toronto play with the same energy on the road? Can Cleveland adjust to the Toronto defense and get back to attacking the paint? Will Lowry stay hot? Will Love regain his stroke?

The bottom line is this is a series now — best of three. And the Cavaliers are no lock to advance.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s red-hot shooting second quarter

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Kyle Lowry found his shot back home in Toronto.

After a rough first couple games (actually a rough couple rounds to start the playoffs), Lowry has gotten hot back home, and that seemed to peak in the second quarter when he shot 6-of-7 overall and 3-of-4 from three. He had 15 points, 20 in the quarter, and the Raptors were up 16 at the half.