Kurt Helin

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics reacts as he walks to the bench in the final minutes of their 89-72 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Friday: Where can Boston generate some offense?

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“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time”

—Unfortunately it was not long enough. RIP Prince.

1) At home, can the Celtics find a way to keep it close early and give themselves a chance?
Down 2-0 in the series, allow me to be Captain Obvious and say Game 3 is must win for Boston. The first step for the Celtics in getting that win? Don’t go down by 17 points early. The first two games in the series followed the same script of Atlanta dominating early — behind Al Horford, who has averaged 20 points a game in the first two — then the Celtics scraping and clawing their way back (with varying degrees of success). Boston can’t play that game again. Sounds simple enough (this is where the “we just have to play harder” cliche comes in), but executing it is going to be more difficult. Which brings us to….

2) How can Boston generate points against Atlanta’s stout defense? It’s been a perfect storm of trouble for Boston: They weren’t a good outside shooting team to begin with, they lost Avery Bradley who was one of their few good shooters, and Atlanta has the second-best defense in the NBA during the regular season. Boston has looked rushed by that defense — even when a Celtic gets an open look they are shooting too quickly to get it off before the help arrives, and with that he gets out of rhythm and misses.

Isaiah Thomas is counted on to generate good looks for the Celtics, both for himself and others, but he is shooting just 33 percent this series thanks to a combination of Jeff Teague’s length and the great help defense of the Hawks. Stevens has to get Thomas going. Maybe move him to two guard and have Marcus Smart handle the ball, running Thomas off staggered screens or pin downs to get open. Brad Stevens needs to come up with something because the Celtics needs points.

3) At home, can the Pistons get better production — especially defense — from their bench? Through the first two games of the Pistons/Cavaliers first round series, the Detroit starting five (Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond) are playing the Cavaliers fairly closely. Those starters have played half the team’s minutes together — 48 — and are just -2 points per 100 possessions against the vaunted Cavaliers. However, as a team the Pistons are -10.7 per 100 for the series — once the bench players come in, the Pistons struggle.

As our own Dan Feldman of NBC noted, in Game 2 – with LeBron James playing – Cleveland outscored Detroit by 11 in the six minutes with the majority of Pistons starters on the bench (early in the second and fourth quarters). The Pistons starters can’t make up that ground.

Role and bench players tend to play better at home where they are comfortable — the Pistons will need that to avoid an 0-3 hole. In particular, once the bench players come in they need to do better defending the pick-and-roll. Cleveland has torn up the Pistons pick-and-roll defense — the starters do not get off blameless here by any stretch, they need to improve on P&R defense, but the bench has been a mess. If that doesn’t change, the series could end on the Piston’s home court over the weekend.

Heat look good in playoffs, but this summer can they keep Wade, Whiteside, Deng, and Johnson?

Miami Heat's Hassan Whiteside, left, is congratulates by teammate Dwyane Wade after dunking against the Chicago Bulls duirng an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Miami. (David Santago/El Nuevo Herald via AP)
Associated Press

Through the first week of the NBA playoffs, the Miami Heat have looked like the second best team in the Eastern Conference. The Heat offense has been explosive against a usually stout Charlotte defense, with a ridiculous team true shooting percentage of 63.7 percent, and scoring 136.9 points per 100 possessions. What all that means is they are outscoring the Hornets by more than 20 points a game.

The Heat have a talented roster (even with Chris Bosh sidelined): Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, and the just added Joe Johnson.

The one problem? All of them are free agents this summer and retaining all of them will prove difficult if not impossible.

Like nearly every other team this summer (thanks to the salary cap spiking by $22 million to $92 million), the Heat will have cap space — but the cap holds from big contracts change the dynamic. Bobby Marks, the former Nets executive working for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, breaks it down and gets into the cap holds (placeholder estimates that assume a team re-signs a free agent).

Although the Heat only have $49 million in guaranteed contracts this summer, $52 million in free-agent cap holds will push Miami over the salary cap. Although Whiteside has a $1.2 million cap hold, finding enough room for Wade, Whiteside, Deng and Johnson will be difficult. The cap hold for Wade and Deng is $42 million combined.

The big challenges start with Wade and Whiteside. Wade has taken less than he could have gotten on the open market in recent contracts to help Miami build, and he wants a payoff.

Then there is Whiteside — Miami has his “early Bird” rights, which means they can go over the salary cap to offer him up to the mid-level exception (which will be around $8 million). The problem is Whiteside is going to get offers in the $20 million a year range. The only way Miami can offer that is to dip into their cap space. Which Pat Riley would have to clear out, and makes you wonder about the future of Deng in particular in Miami. Or, the Heat may just lose Whiteside (some teams are hesitant to give him near max money, but a few teams will jump in with both feet).

Maybe Riley can get Wade to be patient and sign last (because Miami has his Bird Rights and can exceed the cap to sign him. Maybe Johnson will take less to stay with the Heat. Maybe he can convince Whiteside to take one last year at less than market value — but don’t bet on that one.

Whiteside has another option, however. He can sign a one-year contract with cap space at a below-market salary, which would establish his Bird rights. He then could sign a long-term contract in 2017 when the cap is expected to rise to a record $109 million.

More than likely this Heat roster making a playoff run is not going to be back in the same form next season. The one silver lining is Chris Bosh will be back.


Carmelo Anthony was not at Phil Jackson’s triangle summer school

New York Knicks coach Kurt Rambis, right, confers with forward Carmelo Anthony during a timeout in the second half against the Denver Nuggets during an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 110-94. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

This past week, a reported 10 Knicks players were at the team’s practice facility getting some Triangle 101 (and maybe 201) from the man who popularized the offense in Phil Jackson, and the man he now wants to guide that offense as coach in Kurt Rambis.

Carmelo Anthony was not among the group.

Read into that what you want. Marc Berman of the New York Post has the details.

According to a basketball source, Anthony was not one of the 10 Knicks who were part of Phil Jackson’s triangle workshop held Tuesday and Wednesday in Tarrytown.

That’s not deemed a huge snub, considering the film and oncourt demonstration sessions were a season review of the same concepts that have already been taught and nothing new, according to a basketball source….

Attendees were rookies Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant, second-year men Cleanthony Early and Langston Galloway and rehabbing newcomer point guard Tony Wroten, who didn’t play in a game or participate in a practice. But also joining were veterans Sasha Vujacic, Jose Calderon, free-agent-to-be Kevin Seraphin, Robin Lopez and Kyle O’Quinn.

Anthony was reportedly getting rehab on his injured knee.

This news tidbit feels like a Rorschach test — what you see in this story says more about how you feel about the triangle offense and Anthony than it does about the actual events. In general, the reaction to Anthony not attending this bit of summer school should be a shrug.

However, if you are down on Anthony, you can say he’s not a team player and doesn’t care about winning. If you’re down on the triangle, you can say you support Anthony’s protest move (what seems clear is Anthony doesn’t like the offense). Whatever. It doesn’t impact what the Knicks are going to do this summer. Whatever that is.

Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum wins Most Improved Player award


This was one of the locks during the NBA’s award season.

Portland’s C.J. McCollum was thrust into a much larger role with the Portland Trail Blazers — his minutes more than doubled, his usage rate leapt up (from near 20 to 27), and his scoring jumped from 6.8 to 20.8 points per game. What was most impressive was McCollum’s efficiency improved despite the increased load — his true shooting percentage went from a league average 53.4 percent last season to 54.4 percent this season.

That earned McCollum the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, securing 101 of the 130 first-place votes cast by selected media members. Some years this award can go to a guy who just got more minutes, but McCollum earned it.

Kemba Walker came in second, Giannis Antetokounmpo third, and Stephen Curry fourth in the voting (there had been a push from some in the media to give the MVP the MIP also).

Here’s a little video highlight package the Trail Blazers put together for the occasion.

Here is the complete voting order (with first place votes in parenthesis):

CJ McCollum, Portland (101)
Kemba Walker, Charlotte (7)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee (4)
Stephen Curry, Golden State (7)
Will Barton, Denver (1)
Jae Crowder, Boston (1)
Draymond Green, Golden State (2)
Isaiah Thomas, Boston (3)
Hassan Whiteside, Miami (1)
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (1)
Andre Drummond, Detroit (1)
Gary Harris, Denver (1) — 1 6
Kent Bazemore, Atlanta
Evan Fournier, Orlando
Rodney Hood, Utah
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
Reggie Jackson, Detroit
Ian Mahinmi, Indiana
Zach LaVine, Minnesota
Kyle Lowry, Toronto

Dirk Nowitzki passes Wilt Chamberlain for on all-time playoff scoring list (VIDEO)


The greatest shooting big man the game has ever seen passed one arguably the greatest inside scorer the game has ever seen on Thursday.

With a little pull up jumper midway through the third quarter Thursday night, Dirk Nowitzki passed Wilt Chamberlain for 16th on the all-time playoff points list with what is now 3,612. Nowitzki should pass the great Elgin Baylor next game and move up to 15th on the list.

In case you’re curious, the top five are Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan.