NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors

Friday NBA playoff previews: Can Wizards take 3-0 lead on Bulls?

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Three games on tap for Friday night, including the 4-5 series from each conference, which has been interesting.

Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets (Series tied 1-1): The Raptors evened the series with a Game 2 victory that saw DeMar DeRozan explode for 30 points, while Paul Pierce and Deron Williams struggled to shoot a combined 7-of-26 from the field — and yet, Brooklyn was down by just two with 18 seconds left.

DeRozan didn’t exactly go LaMarcus Aldridge on the Nets, as he was just 9-of-21 from the field. But he was aggressive in getting to the line for 14 free throw attempts, so the Nets will need to work on containing him on the perimeter, even though he was uncharacteristically efficient from midrange, where hie hit six of his nine attempts.

This feels like the Nets’ series to lose, but they’ll need to get more traditional performances out of Pierce, Williams and Joe Johnson (or at least from one of them) in order to fulfill that destiny.
—Brett Pollakoff

Chicago Bulls at Washington Wizards (Wizards lead, 2-0): What’s at stake? Oh, just Chicago’s last realistic chance to get into this series and the Wizards’ exhilarating momentum.

The Bulls haven’t lost four straight (they lost their regular-season finale) since trading Luol Deng. The Wizards haven’t won seven straight (they won their final four regular-season games) since January — of 2005. Both would happen with a Washington win tonight. If Chicago wins, the series would be as close as possible through three games and anyone’s for the taking.
—Dan Feldman

Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (Trail Blazers lead, 2-0): This series features the two biggest risers in regular-season scoring average to postseason scoring average — LaMarcus Aldridge (23.2 points per game to 44.5) and Dwight Howard (18.3 to 29.5). However, unlike Howard with the Rockets, Aldridge really moves the needle for the Trail Blazers. Portland scores 120.3 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge and 81.5 without him — the difference between the best- and worst-scoring teams of all time. Houston, on the other hand, has an offensive rating of 104.4 with Howard and 101.0 without him.

Down 2-0 and headed on the road, the Rockets have full responsibility to figure out how to better blend Howard into their offense and harass Aldridge in the mid-range.
—Dan Feldman

Report: Rockets to interview Mike D’Antoni, Frank Vogel for coaching vacancy

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures during the game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on February 28, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 126-122.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.

The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.

Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.

Cavs set single-game three-point record in blowout win over Hawks

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 4: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three point jump shot over Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 4, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.

Nope.

The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.

The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.

18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:

That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.

LeBron James whips one-handed pass, leads to open Kevin Love three (VIDEO)

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 2: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers fights for a loose ball against Al Horford #15 and Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Hawks 104-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James has always been an incredible passer. In the midst of the Cavs’ Game 2 beatdown of the Hawks, he zipped this one-handed beauty into the paint to Kyrie Irving, who kicked it out to Kevin Love for a corner three:

The three was just one of the 18 Cleveland hit in the first half, which set an NBA playoff record.

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff withdraws himself from consideration for Rockets’ coaching job

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24: Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff of the Houston Rockets encourages his team in the seconf half against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets are still searching for a head coach — with Jeff Van Gundy believed to be their top target — but it won’t be J.B. Bickerstaff, who has served as the team’s interim coach since they fired Kevin McHale in November. According to The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Bickerstaff has informed Rockets management that he’s no longer in consideration for the job:

After a meeting with ownership and the front office on Tuesday, Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has informed team officials that he’s no longer a candidate for the head-coaching job, league sources told The Vertical.

Other NBA teams have started reaching out to Bickerstaff about lead assistant coaching positions, and that’s where he’s transitioned his focus, league sources said.

After the Rockets’ disappointing season and disastrous playoff performance — where they lost in five not-very-competitive games to a Stephen Curry-less Warriors —it makes sense that Bickerstaff would rather get a fresh start as an assistant somewhere else, where he could build up his credentials and be a more highly sought-after head coaching candidate in the future. He isn’t a big name, so he likely wouldn’t be able to command as much money as the Rockets’ head coach as a more established figure would be. Given the Rockets’ uncertain future with Dwight Howard almost certain to opt out and not a lot of long-term pieces around James Harden, it’s not the most stable job in the world.