Nets defense smothers Raptors, gets Brooklyn Game 1 win on road

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The game slows down in the playoffs, to win you have to execute in the half court.

Brooklyn’s halfcourt defense doubled and smothered Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, it took away passing lanes, and with that the Raptors halfcourt offense became a stagnant swamp. Toronto shot 39.4 percent as a team and had an offensive rating of just 93.5 points per 100 possessions in their first playoff game in years.

The Nets, on the other hand, played like veterans who comfortably moved the ball, found the open man, attacked mismatches, and hit the key shots late — particularly Paul Pierce, who struggled for three quarters and had 9 points when it mattered in the fourth.

With that the Nets picked up a 94-87 win in Game 1.

That puts the Nets up 1-0 with a well-earned road win — they are now in command of this series. When road teams wins the first playoff game in a series they go on to win the series 56 percent of the time. More than that, the Nets shot 4-of-24 from three, (16.7 percent) when on the season they shot 36.9 percent from deep.

Which is to say, this game was a lot closer than it probably should have been. The Nets were clearly the better team Saturday.

Toronto came out fired up — their GM was feeding that crowd before the game — and fed Jonas Valanciunas early, trying to make the Nets pay for their small ball lineup (he finished with 17 points on 13 shots, plus 18 rebounds). It worked, and the Raptors were up 11-7.

Then the Nets went on a 12-0 run doing what they did all game. On offense they went after the mismatches — Joe Johnson was covered John Salmons early and the Nets went at it. Johnson had 8 of his 24 in the first quarter, for the game he hit 8-of-13 shooting.

Deron Williams also had 24 points, on 8-of-20 shooting. The Nets offense wasn’t brilliant in this game, but it was good enough because of their defense.

The Toronto starting five, in the 13 minutes on the court together, shot just 23.5 percent. More than that, the Raptors turned the ball over on 20.4 percent of their possessions in the game (17 total).

Brooklyn has a long defensive team that is smart about passing lanes and recovery, and Toronto kept playing into their hands with attacks that were in isolation in the half court, or just a drive off the pick, and each time Lowry and DeRozan found themselves doubled and without good options. Lowry was 7-of-18, DeRozan 3-of-13 on the night.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also struggled early, but with the game on the one late both had key buckets — PP had nine points in the fourth going at a mismatch.

Toronto got points when they ran off a miss or turnover and attack, expect them to try and do more of that in Game 2. But they are going to have to find some better ball movement and way to create buckets in the half court.

Or this return to the playoffs that has energized Toronto will not last long.

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.

Maryland star Melo Trimble declares for NBA draft

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Maryland guard Melo Trimble declared for last year’s NBA draft but withdrew.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun:

Trimble, less than three weeks removed from finishing his junior season with the team’s first-round loss to Xavier in the NCAA tournament, announced Wednesday he will make himself available for the NBA draft.

Unlike a year ago, when Trimble went through the pre-draft process without signing with an agent and then decided to return to school hours before the deadline, the 6-foot-3 point guard will forego his senior season.

“The deciding factor was that I felt there was nothing more I could do,” Trimble told the Baltimore Sun from the Stamp Student Union during a lunch break. “I felt like I did everything I could for the program. We went to the [NCAA] tournament three years in a row, and I had the same amount of points three years in a row. I felt that if I wanted to hopefully get to the next level, I had to leave at this time.

Trimble’s scouting report hasn’t changed much in the last year. He’s a scoring guard whose size (6-foot-3) will require him to play point guard in the next level, but he hasn’t shown the necessary distributing skills.

The biggest difference: He’s now 22, not 21.

Trimble had a superb college career, but at this point, his range is second round to undrafted.

DeMarcus Cousins answers first several Kings-related questions same way (video)

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DeMarcus Cousins had a bitter exit from the Kings, but that won’t be the last they see of him.

Cousins’ Pelicans will host Sacramento tomorrow night.

Not that Cousins rushed to talk about the matchup.

Justin Verrier of ESPN:

Cousins is pretty funny when joking with the media, and his smile is contagious. Just listen to all the laughs Cousins generates as he goes through his shtick.

Bonus points to Cousins for eventually breaking down and providing real answers. Some of his relationships in Sacramento were clearly meaningful to him, and he wanted to acknowledge those — even if he’d prefer just to get past this awkward game and all the talk it invites.

Report: Sweet-shooting 7-footer Lauri Markkanen leaving Arizona for NBA draft

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Lauri Markkanen is 7-foot and made 42% of his 3-pointers this season.

That combination alone will have NBA teams drooling, and the Arizona freshman will capitalize.

Evan Daniels of Scout:

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is declaring for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent, multiple sources told Scout.

Markkanen seems pretty certain to get picked in the lottery, likely in the top 10.

Calling him a good shooter for his height undersells him. It’s not just he shoots so efficiently from deep, it’s that he can generate 3-pointers in so many ways — pick-and-pops, spot-ups, off off-ball screens and even running pick-and-rolls himself. Having the height to shoot over defenders is his most noticeable asset, but don’t undersell his mobility.

Markkanen also finishes well at the rim and offensively rebounds at extremely impressive clip for someone who spends so much time on the perimeter. Those interior skills instill belief he will eventually become a suitable defender.

There are a couple red flags. He’s old for a freshman, turning 20 before the draft. He leaves plenty to be desired defensively, especially due to his lack of strength.

But his size and shooting are tantalizing. That’s plenty for now.