Thursday night NBA playoff previews: Does Pacers season end tonight?

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Three elimination games on tap Thursday night — somebody’s season is ending.

Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks (Hawks lead series 3-2). This is the big one Indiana — win or go home. This is the one for Atlanta — they do not want a Game 7 back in Indy. Indiana coach Frank Vogel may have could something late in their Game 5 loss to the Hawks — a small lineup featuring Chris Copeland playing the four and spacing the floor. Expect to see a lot of that lineup, Vogel can’t worry about anything other than winning Game 6 and if something works he needs to ride it as far as he can. That’s sort of what Mike Budenholzer has done for the Hawks this series — for example the pick-and-pop was working in Game 5 (Mike Scott always seemed to be open), the Pacers weren’t adjusting their coverage so the Hawks went to it again and again. The Pacers are going to have to defend like their reputation, but if the Hawks are just hitting shots the Pacers are going home.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies (Grizzlies lead series 3-2). Expect overtime. The last four games in this series have gone to OT, and we will all be disappointed if we do not get free basketball again. The real questions in this game hinge on the Thunder offense and how difficult the Grizzlies defense has made life difficult for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Tony Allen has been brilliant for Memphis, harassing and being physical with Durant — but this is bloody Kevin “about to be named MVP” Durant, he has to rise above that and make plays. He’s not, at least not consistently. Westbrook gets the ball and just pounds it and pounds it, and he Thunder offense stagnates. It stalls out. Durant and Westbrook aren’t passing, but the guys off the ball aren’t moving. The result is too much isolation ball, which the Grizzlies can defend. On the other end of the court, Memphis lacks the pure skill of the Thunder but they are making the extra pass, guys are cutting, the ball is switching sides and that is leading to Zach Randolph getting good looks inside or Mike Miller having space to set is feet for a three. If it all plays out like that Thursday night the Thunder will be done for the season — and there will be a lot of hard questions to answer.

Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (Clippers lead series 3-2). The real Clippers were back in Game 5 and we can expect to see that same unburdened, energized team in Game 6. Which is trouble for Golden State — the Warriors had success this series going small with Draymond Green and David Lee up front, but in Game 5 DeAndre Jordan made them pay for that. Jordan is not always the most consistent of players but the Clippers need him to be. Golden State needs Stephen Curry to knock down shots — in every game but Game 4 (when the Clippers were distracted by the Donald Sterling fiasco) they have slowed Curry with aggressive pick-and-roll traps, with defenses designed to take the ball out of his hands. In Game 5 Curry was flustered and turning the ball over too much, he needs to be a force both hitting shots and setting up teammates in Game 6. The Warriors need the three ball to fall, or they will be golfing on Friday.

Cavaliers have three choices with Kyrie Irving. And no rush decide on one.

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There were a lot of questions around Kyrie Irving‘s unexpected decision to tell Cleveland he wanted to be traded.

The first was why? He reportedly wants out of LeBron James‘ massive shadow, to “be the man” with another team. It also strikes me as a preemptive move — LeBron could leave next summer and Irving wanted to be in control of his own destiny rather than deal with the “is LeBron leaving roller coaster” for a season.

Next was “why now?” This is harder to find a good explanation for. Back in June, Irving talked about staying with LeBron and finding ways to beat the Warriors, a month later he wants out. It has to be frustrating for the Cavaliers front office, if Irving had told them this back at the start of free agency Cleveland might have been able to land Paul George or Chris Paul.

Finally, the question settled on Cleveland and what will they do?

They have three legitimate options.

1. Do nothing and keep Irving. The Cavaliers do not have to trade him — Irving has two years left on his contract, and the Cavaliers have leverage. Cleveland could take notes from the Lakers after Kobe Bryant’s trade me demand circa 2007 — Los Angeles told him they were looking but not move him, and eventually smoothed things over (and won a couple more rings).

It may be a lot harder for the Cavaliers to do that. How deep is Irving’s dissatisfaction run? Can LeBron and Irving mend fences? Or is the discord in Cleveland too great right now to smooth things over? Usually winning can cure all ills, and the Cavaliers should win plenty again. Then again, star players in the NBA usually get their way so if Irving really wants out…

2. Trade Irving for players to help them chase a title next year. My guess is this is the direction the Cavaliers will go. Why? Because Dan Gilbert looks at his franchise valuation since LeBron’s return and wants to keep him, and if the Cavaliers can get another ring (or at least look like a more serious threat to the Warriors) he’s far more likely to stay.

Because Irving does not possess a no-trade clause, the Cavaliers are not forced to send him where he wants to go (unlike Carmelo Anthony). Irving wants to go to San Antonio, but the Spurs would want to send LaMarcus Aldridge back, a guy who is also older and starting to decline, can be exposed defensively, and it leads to questions about a second ball handler for the Cavaliers. A Carmelo Anthony trade with the Knicks creates the same questions — ‘Melo wants to be a Cavalier, but would he and a young player (Frank Ntilikina or Willy Hernangomez) going to make the Cavaliers better. Or even keep them in front of Boston.

That said, there may be deals with other teams not on Irving’s list that better fit the Cavaliers’ needs. What if Phoenix offers Eric Bledsoe, a young player (Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren) plus a pick? Cleveland gets a good point guard (not as good as Irving overall, but a better defender), a young athletic player, and they can stay near at the top of the East. There will be options like this that come on the table.

3. Trade Irving for young players and picks to jump start a rebuild. This is also known as the “we believe LeBron leaves next summer so let’s just be proactive and get all we can” plan. It should include trading LeBron as well before the deadline and just going into full on rebuild mode.

If the Cavaliers managed this path well — a legitimate question after Dan Gilbert decided he didn’t need one of the league’s best GMs right before the start of free agency — they could stockpile players and picks. It might not be the full Boston stockpile post Garnett/Pierce trade, but it puts the Cavaliers on that road (then it would come down to drafting well and developing players). All of this would require shrewd moves now and patience down the line, but it’s a legitimate course of action.

A fourth option discussed by fans — trade LeBron and rebuild around Kyrie — is unlikely I’ve been told. Start here: LeBron’s importance to the bottom line of the Cavaliers’ franchise value makes him far more important to Dan Gilbert and the organization than Irving. Also, even with what the Cavs get back in trading LeBron it would not make them a contender with Irving as the alpha (he doesn’t defend that well, and he’s not the guy on that team that moves the ball). Plus, Irving may want out still and could leave in 2019 anyway.

Regardless of which option the Cavaliers choose, what matters is not to rush into a decision. If they decide to trade Irving, do not trade out of frustration or anger — it needs to be devoid of emotion. It has to be about getting the best possible return. This summer is obviously a huge turning point for the organization, and they need to make a smart decision.

You know, the kind David Griffin would have made.

John Wall agrees to four-year $170 million contract extension

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John Wall had a designated player super max contract sitting in front of him (figuratively) since July 1, but he wanted to wait and see what the Wizards would do this summer, and talk to his family about a decision that could lock him in Washington for six years.

He saw the Wizards spend — they matched a max offer sheet for Otto Porter. He also looked around the East and decided this is where he wanted to be. He agreed to the extension on Friday, a story broken by David Aldridge of TNT/NBA TV.

This is a four-year, $170 million extension that kicks in after the two-years, $37.1 million left on Wall’s current deal.

Wall has developed into one of the top five point guards in the NBA, averaging 23.1 points per game last season while making his first All-NBA team (the third team, which he thought was a let down). He is a strong defensive point guard and still arguably the fastest guy in the league with the ball in his hands. He and Bradley Beal have formed one of the more formidable backcourts in the NBA.

Wall is now getting paid like an elite point guard, and he is just entering his prime.

Check out Boston’s Jayson Tatum’s 10 best plays from Summer League (VIDEO)

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Jayson Tatum was one of the standouts at Summer League.

The No. 3 pick of the Boston Celtics, Tatum came into the draft considered the most NBA-ready player of the class. He showed that at Summer League — he is a fluid athlete who knows how to knock down mid-range shots (and gets to his spots), he has great footwork for a young player, and can attack the rim. He tends to take and make difficult shots, but that will get harder against NBA-level defenders, and he didn’t often play-make for others. That said, he averaged 17.7 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Check out his best plays from Summer League, and if you’re a Celtics fan try not to drool too much.

Memphis Grizzlies sign former Oregon forward Dillon Brooks

Associated Press
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed former Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, a second-round pick in last month’s NBA draft.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Brooks was selected by the Houston Rockets with the 45th overall pick. The Grizzlies acquired him in exchange for a future second-round pick.

Brooks, 21, averaged 16.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a junior at Oregon last season. He was named the Pac-12 player of the year and helped Oregon earn its first Final Four berth since 1939.