Friday NBA playoff previews: Nets, Mavericks, Rockets look to avoid early vacation

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Thursday night there were three Game 6s, now there are three Game 7s. Friday night there are three Game 6s, we’ll see if anyone can close out a series.

Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets (Raptors lead series 3-2). You can bet that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will not be on the bench for the fourth quarter again. They were there with reason in Game 5 — the Raptors had been in complete control of that game and the Nets made their comeback with those two sitting — a 44-point fourth quarter. Still, they could have used Pierce’s shooting late. The Raptors looked rattled during that fourth quarter run, can they shake that off and stand up tall in Brooklyn? Can they get another big night where Kyle Lowry outplays Deron Williams (Lowry owned him in Game 5)? What the Nets really need is a big game from Joe Johnson, one where he gets to the free throw line.

San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks (Spurs lead series 3-2). Already this series has latest longer than many expected, but the Mavericks don’t want it to end quite yet. If they are going to keep it going and force a Game 7 the Mavericks are going to have to defend the Spurs pick-and-roll much better than they did in Game 5. And they are going to need Dirk Nowitzki to play for the entire game like he did the fourth quarter of Game 5 (14 in the fourth and 26 for the game). And Dallas will need a big night from Monta Ellis. There is a feeling around this series that the Spurs started out very sloppy and are just now starting to really find their groove. If so this is over… but I personally have counted out Dirk and Dallas too many times to do it again.

Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (Blazers lead series 3-2). Houston has staved off elimination once, but now can they do it on the road? Of course the Rockets need another big night from Dwight Howard — particularly defensively helping out on a more aggressive defense on LaMarcus Aldridge. (On the flip side, Portland needs the Aldridge who was the best player in the series the first four games back, they need to do a better job of getting him touches.) Houston also got great performances from Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in Game 5 and those two, or someone (we’re looking at you, James Harden) needs to step up if there is to be a Game 7. In Game 5 Houston was clearly the more desperate team, we’ll see if Portland can match that Friday at home.

Report: Clippers take Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor ‘very seriously’

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Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?

The Clippers aren’t joining you.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)

About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.

The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.

The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.

So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.

Report: Raptors, Magic can’t trade with each other for a year

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The Magic will send the Raptors a 2018 second-round pick for hiring Jeff Weltman, who was Toronto’s general manager.

But that’s not the only consequence of hire.

Yahoo Sports:

The move invoked the NBA provision that Toronto and Orlando are not permitted to trade players with each other until the earlier of May 24, 2018, or the conclusion of the 2017-18 season for either organization, league sources told The Vertical’s Shams Charania.

The NBA made a similar ruling when the Clippers sent the Celtics a first-rounder to hire Doc Rivers, and I don’t like it now, either. It’s needlessly restrictive, preventing talent from flowing to the optimal locations.

At least Orlando isn’t a logical destination for the Raptor most likely to be dealt: Jonas Valanciunas. The Magic already have enough centers with Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo – a lesson that influenced their last trade with Toronto, dealing Serge Ibaka.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.