Dan Feldman

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7), front, and Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) eye a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Playoff Preview: Three key questions about Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers

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Here come the Raptors again, the higher seed in a first-round series. They got swept by the Wizards last year and lost the Nets the year before. Will Toronto finally get over the hump? A few ways to assess the odds:

1. Are the Raptors in their own heads?

Toronto coach Dwane Casey isn’t happy about opening the playoffs with a 12:30 p.m. game tomorrow. Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“We have all these 12:30 games and they look at us as the team north of the border that plays the early games when people out west are still asleep. We’ll use that as a little motivation too,” he said. “Evidently someone doesn’t feel like we’re deserving of that prime time spot. We have to use that as motivation.”

Motivation? Maybe. But this also sounds like a coach fretting about an early start – which lends itself to unpredictability – after dropping home Game 1s the last two years.

2. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan exert control?

Lowry and DeRozan had excellent regular seasons, and even George Hill and Paul George won’t necessarily have an easy time guarding those two Raptors. The Pacers play quality defense overall, but they’re only so-so at keeping opponents off the free-throw line. If Lowry and DeRozan dictate the pace, get into the paint and draw fouls, Indiana’s window for winning shrinks dramatically.

3. Will Frank Vogel uncover a matchup problem before its too late?

Toronto is better and more talented, but the Pacers are more versatile. They can play big and small, making several adjustments within each style. I’m not sure the exact strategy that will give the Raptors trouble, but within all the possible iterations, I’m convinced there’s one. Frank Vogel’s job: Finding it before the Raptors take a commanding series lead. It might not be enough for Indiana to win, but after the last two years, Toronto probably doesn’t want the series coming down to a coaching duel (though I still believe Casey is a good coach).

Prediction: Raptors in 6

2016 PBT Awards: All-NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, is guarded by Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kurt Helin

First team

Second team

Third team

There were just brutal choices in here. At guard, leaving James Harden off is painful, despite his flaws. I struggled mightily with putting LaMarcus Aldridge in that last forward spot over Millsap or George, but just couldn’t based on the full season’s performance. And I can so very close to having Karl-Anthony Towns as the last center spot over Cousins — Towns is more consistent, but the higher peaks of Cousins (for now, not in a year or two) won the day for me.

Sean Highkin

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Russell Westbrook
  • F: LeBron James
  • F: Kawhi Leonard
  • C:- Draymond Green

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul
  • G: Kyle Lowry
  • F: Kevin Durant
  • F: Paul Millsap
  • C: DeAndre Jordan

Third team

  • G: Damian Lillard
  • G: Klay Thompson
  • F: Paul George
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C: Andre Drummond

Yes, I’m choosing to count Draymond Green as a center. Their most effective lineup has him playing there, and he’s crucial to their success as a smallball unit. Plus, I want to have two players from the greatest regular-season team of all time on the first team, and I can’t justify putting him over one of the other first-team forwards. It’s already a brutal decision fitting Kawhi, LeBron and KD into two forward slots—all three are deserving.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Russell Westbrook
  • F: LeBron James
  • F: Kevin Durant
  • C: Draymond Green

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul
  • G: Kyle Lowry
  • F: Kawhi Leonard
  • F: Paul Millsap
  • C: DeAndre Jordan

Third team

  • G: James Harden
  • G: Damian Lillard
  • F: Paul George
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C: Al Horford

The initial dilemma is whether to count Draymond Green at center, which has large trickle-down effects. I went back and forth, but he’s so darn impactful there, and his versatility put him in the position often enough. After that, my MVP picks slotted in, and the second team separated itself relatively easily.

The third team got tough. Obligatory note that I don’t feel good about putting James Harden on an All-NBA team: I don’t feel good about putting James Harden on an All-NBA team. But his offense was still darn impressive, despite all his other shortcomings. The other guard spot came down to Damian Lillard (who has plenty at stake) and Klay Thompson, and I changed my mind multiple times. Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge were making it, but Aldridge plays forward and center, widening a deep pool of frontcourt candidates: Al Horford, Anthony Davis (who has even more at stake than Lillard), DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gordon Hayward.

Adjusting for playoff rotations: Warriors soar, Mavericks rise, and Cavaliers expand lead in East

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson (11) shoots against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 25, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Golden State won 128-120. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Meyers Leonard played 1,333 for the Trail Blazers this season. Courtney Lee got 1,489 with the Grizzlies. Ian Clark saw 578 with the Warriors.

Any full-season metric used to predict the playoffs will factor those three players.

But Leonard (injured), Lee (traded) and Clark (likely dropped from the rotation) won’t affect those teams in the postseason.

There are numerous other players around the league who skew the full-year data and will have zilch to do with the playoffs. So, to account for that, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It’s hard to predict a team’s exact playoff rotation. Even if you know it, teams have used their playoff-rotation players against different opponents and in varying combinations during the regular season.

But this is another data point, one I find useful, for predicting the postseason.

Here’s each team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.4 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 106.0
  • Net rating: +6.3 to +10.4

2. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 112.2
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +4.9 to +7.6

6. Charlotte Hornets

  • Offensive rating: 107.9 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 103.2
  • Net rating: +2.8 to +6.9

5. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 104.8
  • Net rating: +3.2 to +6.6

3. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 111.1
  • Defensive rating: 105.3 to 104.7
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +6.4

4. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 105.9 to 106.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 to 101.8
  • Net rating: +2.9 to +4.7

7. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 104.9 to 104.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.3 to 101.6
  • Net rating: +1.6 to +2.9

8. Detroit Pistons

  • Offensive rating: 106.7 to 108.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 105.7
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +2.6

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 114.9 to 119.7
  • Defensive rating: 104.1 to 98.8
  • Net rating: +10.8 to +20.9

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 109.8
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.7
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.1

4. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 105.0
  • Net rating: +4.6 to +10.4

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 114.5
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +8.6

6. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 106.7 to 113.6
  • Defensive rating: 107.2 to 105.4
  • Net rating: -0.5 to +8.2

8. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 108.6 to 107.2
  • Net rating: +0.2 to +4.2

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 111.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.2 to 107.9
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +3.1

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 105.7 to 108.9
  • Defensive rating: 108.3 to 116.4
  • Net rating: -2.6 to -7.5

Takeaways:

  • The Warriors posted the best record in NBA history, but they project to be far better in the playoffs. Their top players are incredible. Golden State’s adjusted rating is similar to last year, when the Cavaliers came somewhat close at +17.2. This year, nobody even nears the Warriors.
  • The Mavericks are the next-biggest riser, improving on both ends of the floor. But they still rank behind their first-round opponent, the Thunder, who also hold home-court advantage. That could be a better series than anticipated, especially with Rick Carlisle facing an untested Billy Donovan.
  • The Cavaliers had the East’s best net rating in the regular season, and they expanded their advantage over the rest of the conference when the ratings got adjusted. It’ll be tough to keep Cleveland out of the Finals.
  • The Hornets and Celtics are the only lower seeds to have better adjusted ratings than their first-round opponents, but that’s hardly surprising. The Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Hornets all finished 48-34. Boston topped Atlanta and Charlotte topped Miami in net rating before the adjustment. These teams are close. Again, the Heat and Hawks holding home-court advantage matters in a way not reflected by this formula.
  • The Grizzlies are the only team to get worse with the adjustment, though that’s hardly surprising. They lost contributions from key injured players like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Though their sample is the smallest, it matches what’s expected of Memphis.

2016 PBT Awards: MVP

FILe - In this June 7, 2015 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) watches as Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry dribbles during the second half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif. For months, the Cavaliers' megastar has lived slightly under the radar, if that's even possible for one of the world's most famous and recognizable athletes. While Stephen Curry rained 3-pointers as the new face of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors hunted down history and Kobe Bryant took his final bows, James remained in the background awaiting his turn. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kurt Helin

1. Stephen Curry

2. Russell Westbrook

3. LeBron James

4. Kevin Durant

5. Kawhi Leonard

Stephen Curry didn’t leave any doubt this year. The MVP has been clear since Christmas, but the next four slots were more difficult and those players could be put in virtually any order. I put Westbrook second because he not only put up numbers but was the creative and driving force behind the second best offense in the NBA. Chris Paul was hard to leave off.

Sean Highkin

1. Stephen Curry

2. LeBron James

3. Russell Westbrook

4. Kawhi Leonard

5. Chris Paul

There are six legitimate candidates for MVP runner-up (there’s no debate or controversy about the winner, and any voter who puts anyone besides Steph at #1 should lose their voting privileges): these four, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. There’s no wrong answer out of that group. I wanted to give CP3 some props for how he kept the Clippers competitive with Blake Griffin out half the season.

Dan Feldman

1. Stephen Curry

2. LeBron James

3. Russell Westbrook

4. Kevin Durant

5. Kawhi Leonard

Curry had a season for the ages, the reigning Most Valuable Player making himself a Most Improved Player candidate. After that, the race is too close to call 2-5 with Chris Paul finishing a strong sixth.

NBA owners approve three-year trial of jersey advertising

AP Money Found
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NBA owners were set to approve jersey advertising.

Now, they have.

NBA release:

The NBA Board of Governors approved the sale of jersey sponsorships, beginning with the 2017-18 season, as part of a three-year pilot program.  The sponsorship patch will appear on the front left of the game jerseys opposite the Nike logo.  Patches will measure approximately 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches and be adjusted to fit the dimensions of each sponsor’s logo.

The NBA’s 30 teams will be responsible for selling their own jersey sponsorships.

“Jersey sponsorships provide deeper engagement with partners looking to build a unique association with our teams and the additional investment will help grow the game in exciting new ways,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “We’re always thinking about innovative ways the NBA can remain competitive in a global marketplace, and we are excited to see the results of this three-year trial.”

The sponsor patch will not appear on the retail versions of the player jerseys but teams will have the option to sell the jerseys with sponsor patches in their own retail outlets.

There will be an initial backlash, but if advertising on on jerseys during All-Star weekend is any indication, most fans won’t even notice the ads. (Though that should raise questions about their value to sponsors.)

The NBA is a business, and if it thinks this will increase profits, go for it. There’s nothing immoral or unethical about this plan.

Questions remain about whether this will add revenue, but those are the league’s problems. Though I dislike the idea of further advertising creep, this isn’t something I find worth getting worked up over.