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PBT Extra Preview: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers

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Philadelphia enters the playoffs the hottest team in the NBA, having won 16 in a row, half of that without Joel Embiid. The Sixers earned the three seed and a chance to square off against a Miami Heat team without a superstar player.

Just don’t expect the Sixers to coast to a win in this series, something I get into in this PBT Extra.

The Heat are disciplined and well coached, running multiple pick-and-roll actions every time down the court, forcing the defense to be focused and smart. On defense, they are well positioned. Ben Simmons is going to be dared to hit jump shots and needs to keep up his level of play and set up teammates. This series is going to be closer than people think, at least until Joel Embiid returns and changes the dynamic.

Golden State looks vulnerable. Can Spurs do anything about it?

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Steve Kerr has been frustrated in recent weeks with his team’s effort. Very frustrated. Walk into the shower, throw a bunch of bats on the floor and call them “lollygaggers” frustrated.

Golden State coasted the last month of the season, much of it without Stephen Curry, and went 7-10 in their final stretch of games. However, the Warriors problems go deeper than a lack of focus and being without Curry — Shaun Livingston has been banged up and not right, Andre Iguodala’s efficiency has dropped this season, and Draymond Green is still shooting just a tick above 30 percent from three. To name just a few things.

The Warriors look vulnerable.

But can the Spurs do anything about it?

Probably not. San Antonio (without Kawhi Leonard, it would be a surprise if he came back now) doesn’t have the athletes. We saw it last year when these teams met in the playoffs and Leonard went down after Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper, at that point the Warriors ran away with the series. The Spurs are not going to beat themselves, they will defend well and make smart plays, the Warriors are going to have to earn it — but Golden State should take the series fairly quickly.

Should. That’s the key, as Kerr said Friday (via Mark Medina of the Mercury News).

“They’re going to bring out the best in us or they’re going to completely expose us,” Kerr said after Friday’s practice. “One way or another, that’s probably a good thing for us.”

It’s probably going to be the former — expect the Warriors to flip the switch.

Here are the things you’ll see Saturday at 3 ET (on ABC) if the sleeping Warriors have awakened.

• Defensive energy and focus. This is what the Warriors have lacked mostly over the past six weeks — since March 1 the Warriors have allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the NBA. Not terrible by some standards, but last season the Warriors allowed just 101 points per 100, best in the NBA. In February of this season, when the Warriors focused for a while, they allowed just 102.3.

The defensive change needs to start from the team’s leaders — Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Durant played fantastic defense in the Finals last season, and remember on Christmas Day he did it again against the Cavaliers (leading to some around the team to try and promote him for the All-Defensive team). Then he seemed to check out on that end. He needs to bring his focus back, create some turnovers with his length, and protect the rim a little.

Green has been good but not dominant this season defensively, but that brings us to our next point…

• Draymond Green needs to take charge of this series. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One ties into our first bullet point above — he is the emotional leader of the Warriors. If they are going to snap out of their malaise, it starts with him. If he brings the defensive effort, others will follow.

More than that, Green has vital roles in this series.

Defensively, he will be matched on LaMarcus Aldridge for key stretches — and with Leonard out the San Antonio offense runs through Aldridge (and occasionally Pau Gasol). While Aldridge can shoot fadeaways or little hooks over the top of Green, historically he has struggled to do that efficiently against Green’s physical defense. It also just isn’t going to be one-on-one because the Spurs don’t have enough shooting to space the floor out and scare the Warriors if Aldridge passes out. If Green (and Zaza Pachulia, and David West) can make Aldridge work for his buckets, it becomes difficult for the Spurs to score enough.

On offense, the Warriors need playmaking Green to return and take on a bigger role. He needs to grab rebounds and push the tempo in transition, in the half court they need him to roll down the lane with the ball then kick-out to the open shooters. He’s more than capable of this, we’ve just seen less of it this season.

• Kevin Durant needs to lead — and that’s as much defense as offense. Last season during the Finals Durant was a defensive force, that won him Finals MVP as much as his offense. That continued through the first part of this season up through the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers — he was playing so well some around Golden State tried to push him for Defensive Player of the Year (or at least a spot on the All-Defensive team). However, after that Durant seemed to coast a little on defense. He wasn’t the same. The Warriors need the earlier Durant back.

On offense, he’s going to get all the touches and shots he wants, Durant just needs to be efficient and a playmaker.

• Other scorers step up besides Durant. KD is going to get his, and Klay Thompson will knock down threes and put up numbers as well, but when the Warriors are clicking the ball moves, guys are cutting, and the role players get clean looks and join in the scoring.

Will a fresh and rested Andre Iguodala get some buckets on hard cuts to the rim? Will David West knock down some midrange jumpers? Can Quinn Cook continue to impress? Will the center by committee group of Pachulia/JaVale McGee/Kevon Looney/Jordan Bell pitch in buckets?

The Warriors will need them because the Spurs can still defend and will make life challenging for Golden State’s big three.

PBT Extra Preview: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors

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The Toronto Raptors are the No. 1 seed in the East, they won 59 games and have a top-five offense and defense in the league… and yet there are still doubts about this team as it heads to the playoffs.

Drawing the talented but underachieving Washington Wizards — now with John Wall — only adds to the concerns, as I cover in this latest PBT Extra.

It falls on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to carry over their play and their ball movement from the regular season to the postseason, and to lift the Raptors up. Defense and bench play have been central to the Toronto success this season, but in the playoffs the Raptors need their stars to step up.

PBT Extra Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors

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The Warriors are without Stephen Curry and stumbled into the playoffs, going 7-10 to close out the season, all while playing average defense. They look vulnerable.

Still, expect them to flip the switch and comfortably handle the San Antonio Spurs, which is what I get into in this PBT Extra preview.

Without Kawhi Leonard, this is not a good matchup for San Antonio, as we saw last year in the playoffs (after Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper). It’s a good matchup for the Warriors to get their feet under them and for the combination of Kevin Durant and Draymond Green to take charge.

Kyle Lowry on Game 1 vs. Wizards: “We’ve got to play it like a Game 7”

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The Toronto Raptors are 0-9 as a franchise in the first game of a playoff series.

Combine that with the ghost of lousy playoff performances past, a difficult first-round matchup against a Washington team that has a lot of talent on the roster and gets John Wall back, plus an uneasy fan base that seems to expect the worst, and you get a Game 1 packed with pressure for the Raptors. It seems to overshadow the fact they won 59 games, have had a top-five offense and defense on the season, and that they have been clearly the best team in the East all season.

Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry acknowledged the pressure, via Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.

If Toronto can win Game 1 comfortably — which is entirely possible, depending upon which Wizards team made the trip north of the border — they will gain confidence and should carry that over to a comfortable series win. However, how does the team react if it’s tight late in the fourth? Or even if the Raptors are down eight midway through the third quarter? Will the energy be sucked out of a nervous building?

The Raptors are saying all the right things.

We’ll see if that translates to the court.