Thursday NBA playoff previews: Which Indiana team shows up?

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Three Game 3s, each one the series is tied 1-1. You’ve seen the math — the team that win Game 3 goes on to win the series the vast majority of the time. Here are some previews.

Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks (Series tied 1-1): The Pacers got their mojo back in the second half of Game 2 in time to even the series, but things are far from fixed on the offensive end of the floor. The league’s top defense came together and played like it in shutting Atlanta down in the second half, but Indiana got unusually stout offensive contributions from Luis Scola and George Hill, who combined for 35 points on 14-of-22 shooting.

The Pacers will need David West and Lance Stephenson to resume their customary offensive roles on the road in Game 3, and it would be nice if Roy Hibbert could do more than the six points and four rebounds on 1-of-7 shooting that he did in his team’s last win. Role players tend to struggle on the road, especially in the postseason. If the Pacers don’t get the numbers they’re accustomed to from their key players, they could find themselves once again trailing in the series.

—Brett Pollakoff

Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies (Series tied 1-1): Memphis imposed their will on Game 2 — the pace was slower, Tony Allen was making Kevin Durnat’s life difficult, Marc Gasol was working out of the high post and when the weakside help came he carved them up with passes, Russell Westbrook took a few “what are you thinking?” shots. Those are issues for Oklahoma City going into Game 3, but here is the bigger one — they couldn’t get stops. The Memphis Grizzlies had an offensive rating of 117.4 points per 100 possessions in Game 2. All game long OKC would make a run, hit a dramatic shot, and Memphis would go down and just execute, make an extra pass and get the bucket.

Westbrook is getting outplayed by Mike Conley and Scott Brooks switched Thabo Sefalosha on him to get some stops last game (which worked better). Whoever is on Conley Thursday night needs to keep him out of the paint. Memphis will continue to do what they do, they will grind. As always in this series tempo is key, OKC needs to let its thoroughbreds run. Still, the Thunder are too talented not to score whatever the tempo, but they need stops, too.

—Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (Series tied 1-1): When you think about what Golden State needs to do differently from Game 2’s 40 point loss, the easy joke is “everything.” And that’s pretty accurate, but there are a few concrete steps. First, they have got to double team Blake Griffin. Throw a variety of looks at him, but doubles need to be part of it. Take the ball out of his hands. Griffin has 51 points in 49 minutes of play this series, they can’t just leave David Lee on him. You can’t stop him, but slow his rolls to the rim and force him to shoot jumpers.

Golden State has to take care of the ball, they had 26 turnovers in Game 2 and that fuels the Clipper break and highlight show. The Warriors also need to get the good Klay Thompson from Game 1 back — Doc Rivers has made it a point that Stephen Curry is not going to beat them, so someone else has to. Along those same lines, back home the Warriors need the ball movement of Game 1 to return.

—Kurt Helin

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?