Thursday NBA grades: The Sixers deserve an “A+”…. for tanking

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while playing with your Simpsons LEGO figures

source:  Philadelphia 76ers efforts to tank. This is not about the players on the Sixers, those guys went as hard as they could (it was 43-43 at one point), they are simply overmatched. That’s because GM Sam Hinkie and Sixers management has a plan — stockpile draft picks and get the highest picks in the draft they can. That means losing. So they assembled a roster that wasn’t very good to begin with then traded Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the trade deadline to make sure they are even worse this season (I pity poor Thaddeus Young who was stuck there). And through management’s prism, this team is doing what it was built to do. Maybe even a little more efficiently than they wanted. But they built a team designed to get a high draft pick, and they have succeeded. With some painful side benefits.

source:   James Harden, Houston Rockets. Yes, it still counts against the Sixers — Harden had a triple double of 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. All in 31 minutes on the court. He was attacking and shot 5-of-7 inside 8 feet, plus he was hitting threes. Oh, and feeding Dwight Howard for easy buckets. The Beard was smart and efficient.

source:   Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers. Dallas seemed in control of this game at one point in the fourth quarter, before the Clippers changed tactics and just attacked the rim (in the final minutes the Clips just kept getting buckets there). Chris Paul orchestrated it — he had 31 points on the night but 9 points and two assists in the fourth quarter to help spark the Clippers come-from-behind victory. Great bounce back game for CP3 after a rough outing in New Orleans. There’s been a lot of talk about Blake Griffin as the Clippers MVP this season, and with reason. His game has improved by leaps and bounds and he carried this team with CP3 out. But this is Chris Paul’s team, how far they go in the playoffs starts with him (and DeAndre Jordan’s defense, but that’s another discussion.

source:   Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks. His game has matured this season and you saw some of that against the Lakers, where he dropped 30 points. He did it in a very Knight way — he was 7-of-10 in the paint and looked good when he attacked, plus he knocked down a couple corner threes. He took more midrange shots (3-of-7) than some coaches was like, but what can frustrate is just the lack of doing the little things to guide a team that the Bucks do when Ramon Sessions has the rock. Knight still feels like a guy learning, but going up against the Lakers is a test he knew he could pass. Easily.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.

PBT Extra: Why Derrick Rose more likely to be Spur than Chris Paul next season

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San Antonio heads into this summer looking to answer the question: What do we need to do to challenge the Golden State Warriors? Well, besides keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy.

They need to get more athletic, particularly along the front line, and they need a secondary shot creator and playmaker, that’s all at the top of the list.

One rumor that keeps gaining traction, Chris Paul to the Spurs. In this PBT Extra, I get into why that move is unlikely, and why a one-year contract with Derrick Rose is more probable. Basically, if you want to see a significant roster shift in San Antonio, wait until the summer of 2018.

LeBron James: ‘The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder’

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BOSTON (AP) — It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals’ matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

“The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night – particularly on the defensive end – is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday.

Boston shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to building as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irving’s scoring ignited the Cavs’ comeback, it was made possible thanks to Cleveland’s defensive effort over the final 24 minutes. Cleveland limited the Celtics to 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend,” James said. “We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

If the Celtics were playing with house money heading into the series, they are flush with it again as they return to the Garden.

They’ve given themselves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guarding against ending their season by having to watch the Cavs celebrate a conference title on their home floor.

Boston lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason to a hip injury in Game 2, forcing coach Brad Stevens to shuffle his lineup and rotations in Games 3 and 4.

In addition, Jae Crowder suffered a strained left thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 as well, but returned to play the entire fourth quarter.

It’s an indication that despite still being in a dire 3-1 hole, the resolve inside Boston’s locker room remains strong.

“We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we’re going to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of being on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If nothing else, Lue said their recent taste of adversity should help them remain humble heading into Game 5.

“I think it is making us better. And it’s making us tougher. It’s making us work,” the Cavs coach said. “Because they got a tough group over there. (Terry) Rozier is tough, Avery is tough, (Marcus) Smart’s tough. Crowder. So, they got a lot of tough guys that are going to compete so they’re making us compete, which is good for us.”

 

PBT Podcast: Celtics draft or trade? Carmelo future? All from your Twitter questions.

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What will Boston do with the No. 1 pick, keep it or trade it?

What does the future hold for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?

Is there a correct way to eat pizza? Actually, the answer to that one is yes, and it is not with a knife and fork, Donald Trump.

PBT’s Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh discuss all that that and more from your Twitter questions.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.