Sixers snap 26-game losing streak with blowout win over Pistons

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PHILADELPHIA — The Sixers came into Saturday night’s contest against the Pistons riding a 26-game losing streak, tied for the longest in NBA history. But this is a unique team in an almost unprecedented situation, so it wasn’t weighing on them in the way you might expect.

Feeling no pressure, Philadelphia came out with an energy level much higher than its opponent, and quickly jumped on a Pistons team in a downward spiral of its own. The Sixers led by double digits in the first quarter, had put up 70 points by halftime and built a lead of as many as 32 points before settling on a 123-98 victory, the team’s first since January 29.

This was the plan all along in Philadelphia — maybe not to this extent, and probably not set in motion with the intent of entering the record books. But rebuilding and all that goes with it was going to be not only the way the team chose to go about handling its business this season, but would become a rallying point of sorts through what have been some unusually tough times.

“When you look at it, Sam Hinkie was hired (as GM) in May, and came in and was extraordinarily transparent about the direction that we were going to take on,” head coach Brett Brown said. “The draft happened, and an All-Star was traded in Jrue Holiday. I was hired in August. We inherited a team that was the youngest in the history of the game. On trade deadline, we traded three of our top six players to reconfirm our position that we are here to rebuild.

“And now we find ourselves here,” he continued. “And you know, it’s something that we’ve admitted, that losing is difficult, that the pain of a rebuild is difficult. And so here we are, and it doesn’t change our message — we’ve been transparent from day one. We’re here to try to build something unique.”

While the commitment to a plan has been evident in Philadelphia despite all the losing, there’s been nothing of the kind visible in Detroit. The Pistons replaced their head coach midseason with one who continually trots out lineups that have been statistically proven to be ineffective, and who appears to have little control over his players.

Brandon Jennings wanted no part of this one early, and picked up two quick technical fouls and an ejection for arguing a relatively pedestrian call in the first quarter. Josh Smith picked up a technical of his own a little later, and appeared to try to get tossed after not getting a whistle of his own, but the officials chose to let his actions slide.

Detroit lost to a Heat team playing without two starters in Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers on Friday by 32 points at home, and then followed that up by getting waxed by a team that hadn’t won a game in nearly two full months.

Saturday’s lopsided result was perhaps a visual representation of the jarring difference between the place each franchise finds itself in. The Pistons, on paper, have more talent now. But they don’t have a long-term solution at head coach, and they have a general manager that could be gone once the season is finished.

The opposite is true in Philadelphia, where Brown has already taken some positives from what everyone knew would be a losing campaign from the start.

“I look out and I see Thaddeus Young, who’s expanded his game and expanded his leadership (albeit in a losing season) in significant ways,” Brown said. “I look out and see James Anderson, a gypsy wingman that’s come on and really shown he belongs, and is arguably a starting two guard in the NBA. You have Tony Wroten, a 20-year old kid who’s come out of nowhere and can get to the rim when he wants. You have Nerlens Noel, who would have been a shoe-in for the first player chosen in the draft had it not been for the injury, that we’ve been able to break down his shot this entire year. He would have been the number one pick in the draft. And we have, in my opinion, the rookie of the year (in Michael Carter-Williams). So that’s not a bad start to move forward with.”

Winning wasn’t in the plan for this season, but neither was losing 27 straight. Now that the team has avoided making the wrong kind of history, it will continue to do what it’s done all year long — work hard, and focus on the future.

“I see daylight,” Brown said. “It allows me to sleep at night, to feel good that the path that we’ve put ourselves on, albeit hard now, is the correct one. And we do not want to accept and wallow in mediocrity. Winning 34-42 games every year for the past decade is not what we want to do. We aspire to do something better. And to do that, you have to take risks. You’ve got to put yourself out there. We have. Here we are. I’m proud of our guys, and we’ll continue to stick with the formula that we said we were going to in the summer.”

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.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.