Kurt Helin

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Kris Dunn #3 of the Providence Friars reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Report: Lakers “enamored” with point guard Kris Dunn if they pick third

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This smells of the kind of thing: 1) a team puts out as misdirection; 2) an agent leaks to drive up stock in his client.

But it comes from a very credible reporter, and it’s certainly not impossible, so here you go:

The Lakers already have D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson at the guard spots, so on one level this doesn’t make sense. However, when a team is where the Lakers are right now in rebuilding, they need to take the best available player regardless of position. Better to have too many good point guards — a valued position around the league — and potentially trade one down the line than to take an inferior player due to fit. To use the most famous draft example, don’t pass on Michael Jordan because you already have Clyde Drexler.

Dunn, out of Providence, is the highest rated point guard in the draft and likely gets taken between third and sixth, depending on what the final draft order is (this is written before the draft lottery). There are a clear top two in this draft, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, but after that different teams like different players.

Here is what PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson said about Dunn.

He is a very good ballhandler with excellent vision, and he can be a spectacular passer, but his decisions can still be mindboggling. He thrives when Providence pushes the tempo, doing a great job getting the ball up the floor quickly and finding open teammates for easy scores. He did show improvement in the half court, and he can be very tough to keep out of the lane. Getting to the rim and scoring is a different issue; Dunn can have a lot of problems finishing around length at the basket, but if he has just a little space, he can finish in a spectacular way. Dunn’s perimeter shooting issues are still there, even though looking at his shot, there don’t seem to be any major fixes needed.

Draymond Green: Thunder “completely different team” than regular season

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Billy Donovan has his team peaking at the right time.

The Thunder could always score — hello, they have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant — but the defense and help were inconsistent. The talent on the team never felt maximized. But this team grew through the second half of the season and now, in the cauldron of the playoffs, it has cooked into an identity that is tough to beat — the Thunder are big, physical, athletic, and will wear teams down. When they are focused on defense, they can beat anybody. As they showed Monday night.

Golden State’s Draymond Green noticed a difference, speaking to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Draymond Green calls the Thunder a “completely different team” than the one the Warriors swept during the regular season. Green: “KD didn’t play well last night to KD’s standards. Russ didn’t play well last night to Russ’ standards. And yet they won the game. That’s because the other guys are playing better.”

The “other guys” starts with Steven Adams, who was a defensive force in the paint, played smart on the perimeter, crashed the glass hard, and scored 16 points. He has passed Serge Ibaka for the third key member on this team, although Ibaka certainly played well in Game 1 also.

As everyone expected, Green took responsibility for the Warriors’ loss.

Draymond Green: “I don’t think I was myself on the defensive end last night. I wasn’t flying around like I normally do. I’ve got to be better.”

He’s right, the Warriors can defend better. They can also make adjustments and not force parts of the offense as well. Golden State will be better in Game 2, likely playing with some desperation.

What should worry Warriors fans is OKC can play better, too.

NBA says yes, referees did miss Russell Westbrook’s travel in final minute

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It was obvious this was coming.

The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report on officiating came out and it says exactly what we expected: Russell Westbrook did travel with 17 seconds left. Here is the official comment on the play.

Westbrook (OKC) turns toward the referee to request a timeout as he slides his pivot foot. The referee is focused on a possible take foul or timeout and misses the
travel violation.

A former VP of officials put it well.

I’ll add this: Referees rarely call pivot foot slides, Steven Adams got away with one earlier. The two-minute report also says the refs missed a travel call on Stephen Curry with 7.8 seconds left.

As always, I want to add this caveat: The Golden State Warriors did not lose because of this call. Or the referees in general. They lost because when Oklahoma City sharpened their defense in the second half — particularly the switches on the pick-and-roll — the Warriors didn’t handle it well. They tried to force one of their patented runs to happen rather than letting it happen in the flow of the game. The result was an ugly second half. That cost them the game.

This call, however, would have given them the opportunity to force overtime. So yes it does matter in this series.

But the report is moot — it changes nothing.  The call stands and the Thunder lead 1-0.

Raptors make it official, Jonas Valanciunas out for Game 1

TORONTO, ON - MAY 05:  Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates after scoring late in the second half of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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We knew this was coming, Raptors coach Dwane Casey already said as much and added Game 2 could be the same.

But now it is official via the Raptors, no Jonas Valanciunas for Toronto in Game 1 against Cleveland Tuesday night.

The Raptors odds of winning a game in this series drop steeply without Valanciunas. They need him to he punish the Cavaliers inside — Tristan Thompson isn’t going to be able to handle him. Plus, more Valanciunas means a slower pace, which helps the Raptors. Finally, his ability to score inside makes it difficult for the Cavaliers to play their Kevin Love/Channing Frye front line that has worked well this postseason.

We’ll see if he’s back for Game 3.

Playoff Preview: Five key questions in Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 26:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers is heavily covered by the Toronto Raptors during an NBA game at the Air Canada Centre on February 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Raptors defeated the Cavaliers 99-97. NOTE TO USER: user expressly acknowleges and agrees by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photoby Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The less-anticipated Conference Finals starts tonight in Cleveland. Can Toronto even make it interesting? Here are five questions they will need to answer.

1) Can Cleveland keep raining threes? The numbers are astounding (I would dare say Warriors-like if you ignore the fourth quarter of Monday’s game): Cleveland has taken 42.8 percent of its shots from three-point range this season and is shooting 46.2 percent on those. Both of those lead the NBA. For comparison, the Cavs took 35.2 percent from three in the regular season and shot 36.2 percent on them. Certainly part of that has been defenses that have done a poor job chasing the Cavaliers off the arc, but they are moving the ball and when they need to hitting contested shots. The only question is can they keep it up. The Raptors were a below average team at defending the three (teams shot an average amount of them but hit a high percentage), and the Cavaliers took advantage to shoot 50 percent from three against the Raptors in the regular season. Meaning look for it to keep raining threes in Cleveland, which is bad news for the Cavaliers.

2) Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will try to drive, but can they finish? At the end of the last series against Miami, the All-Star Kyle Lowry started to return — the high energy player who can attack off the dribble, hit threes, and keeps moving off the ball. That’s also the Kyle Lowry who averaged 31 points a game against the Cavaliers this past season (more than he averaged against any other team. The Raptors are going to need peak Lowry all series long to have a chance. Beyond that, DeRozan has struggled to finish drives in the playoffs (at least until Hassan Whiteside went out last series). He has to get into the paint, get buckets and draw fouls, and do so relatively efficiently. Overall these playoffs DeRozan and Lowry combined are shooting just 33 percent on drives to the basket; that will not cut it now.

Toronto relies on these two guards to create almost all of their offense. Expect the Cavaliers to go under picks and try to turn them into jump shooters — even if Lowry hits some threes Cleveland can live with those results over the course of a series more than those two getting into the paint.

3) Can DeMarre Carroll make LeBron James work hard for his buckets? This is why the Raptors went out and got Carroll in the off-season — to contain guys like LeBron James on a big stage. Nobody stops LeBron, Carroll will need help (as will Patrick Patterson, who also will draw some time on LeBron), but the idea is not to let him score and facilitate at will. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can make plays, but LeBron remains the head of the snake and the Raptors need to, if not cut it off, at least neutralize it.

Carroll looked better in Game 7 against Miami than he has all playoffs. That’s a positive sign for Raptors fans. But LeBron is a test of another level.

4) When does Jonas Valanciunas return? Can he punish the Cavaliers inside when he does? Cleveland has a lot of advantages this series, in terms of playmakers and skill. Try to find where Toronto has an advantage and thoughts turn to Valanciunas — he is a load inside and scores efficiently. Well, at least when Lowry and DeRozan bother to throw him the ball. Tristan Thompson is a good defender, but Valanciunas would punish him with buckets. Another advantage to his return is his size and scoring inside makes it hard for the Cavaliers to play their small/shooting lineups with Kevin Love and Channing Frye up front. But without him, it’s Bismack Biyombo and he can’t punish them inside make the Cavs pay.

Valanciunas is out for Game 1 and according to coach Dwane Casey likely will miss Game 2 as well due to a sprained ankle suffered against the Heat. The sooner he returns the better for the Raptors, they need him.

5) Outside of the two guards, who will step up for Toronto? Cleveland has its big three in LeBron, Irving, and Love, but throughout the playoffs they have gotten production from J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Frye, Matthew Dellavedova and on down the line. This is a deep team that is comfortable playing together.

Beyond DeRozan and Lowry, who steps up for Toronto? Valanciunas when he gets back, but the series may be lost by then. Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patterson, even Terrence Ross will have to contribute a lot more to make up for the depth advantage Cleveland has.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5. This could be another sweep, although I expect one insane Lowry game in Toronto to get the Raps a win. Toronto has had the greatest season in franchise history, their rabid should celebrate that. Savor being here. But this is where it ends.