Tuesday playoff previews: Pacers, Raptors, Bulls need wins or can start making tee times

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Three games on Tuesday night, Three games where the road team won Game 1. Three games where the home team should be desperate for a win. For our entertainment’s sake lets hope they are more like Monday’s Grizzlies/Thunder game than Warriors/Clippers.

Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers (Hawks lead series 1-0). The Hawks were likely to win one game in this series because when you launch threes like they do — better than 25 a game, second most in the league — there are nights those are going to fall and you’re going to win. But the way the Hawks exploited the Pacers in Game 1 goes beyond that. Roy Hibbert was out of his customary help positions because he has to respect the range of Pero Antic. With him out of the lane Jeff Teague did whatever he wanted — Paul George has asked for the Teague assignment, expect him to get it. Paul Millsap also exploited Hibbert at points, because he can shoot with a little range and put the ball on the floor and drive. Figuring out how to defend against this team with Hibbert on the floor is key.

On the other end, Indiana’s spacing and ball movement on offense was unimpressive in the second half. Indiana needs a lot more David West, it needs to be a threat inside so they can play inside-out and get good looks.

—Kurt Helin

Announcement: Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Tuesday night’s games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7pm ET on TuesdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors (Nets lead series 1-0). Toronto has to find a halfcourt offense because the Nets are not going to miss 19 straight threes again. Toronto got good shots when it attacked the rim in transition but once the long, smart defense for the Nets was set Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan would drive and be forced to take a contested shot because the passing lanes were shut down — Toronto has to move better off the ball to create open looks. The Raptors also can’t turn the ball over 20.4 percent of the time (which goes back to the smart ball pressure and defense). On the other end Nets should just keep feeding Joe Johnson the rock — DeMar DeRozan can handle him in the post, Terrence Ross can’t handle him in the pick-and-roll, and Johnson just went straight at John Salmons and scored at will.

This is basically must-win for Toronto, lose the first two at home and it’s hard to see them bouncing back.

—Kurt Helin

Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls (Wizards lead series 1-0). If the Wizards or Bulls required any extra motivation, they just needed to watch the 38-44 Hawks rout the reeling Pacers. is there anyway the winner of this Washington-Chicago series isn’t favored to reach the Eastern Conference Finals?

The bigger question is whether the Wizards or Bulls are more likely to win this series.
Chicago is used to taking the hard road. In the Bulls’ last five playoff series, the Game 1 winner lost the series. Surprisingly, scoring wasn’t Chicago’s main issue in its 102-93 loss Sunday. With seven scorers in double digits in a slow-paced game, Chicago’s offensive efficiency was acceptable.
The Bulls’ just couldn’t slow the Wizards, but that might get easier going forward. Nene excelled in Game 1 — producing 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 35 minutes. He hasn’t played 35 minutes in consecutive games since November, though. If Nene can’t play as much in Game 2, Washington will need to get more from John Wall (16 points on 4-of-14 shooting in Game 1) and Bradley Beal (13 points on 3-of-11 shooting).
—Dan Feldman

LeBron James will play in opener against Celtics

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Did we really expect anything else?

LeBron James was a game-time decision for the season opener in Cleveland against Boston and Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle. We expected he would go, but ankles can be tricky and are easy to re-injure once sprained, so the Cavs wanted to be careful.

He’s going to play. Coach Tyronn Lue made it official.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, but he can coast through the regular season at times. What teams try to avoid is giving him extra motivation… say bringing in a guy who left the team last summer on opening night. Expect full force LeBron tonight.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.