Kurt Helin

Playoff Preview: Three questions about Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

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Of all the first-round series in either conference, this is the most evenly matched. Both teams won 48 games during the season, but more than that they play similar styles, and both are very well coached. This is going to be a series for the people who like chess matches in the playoffs — there will be smart adjustments of versatile rosters on both sides.

You’ll have plenty of time to watch it — this series is going to go on for a while.

There are three questions that will determine the series.

Can Brad Stevens get Isaiah Thomas room to operate against the Hawks? Thomas is an All-Star and the engine of the Celtics offense — he is the one guy who can consistently create shots for himself and others. However, the Hawks defense — second best in the NBA over the course of the season — made life difficult for Thomas during the regular season when he averaged four turnovers a game against Atlanta. The Hawks long, rangy defenders led by Jeff Teague (a solid defender when focused) blew up the Boston pick-and-roll fairly often.

Can Stevens draw up sets and find ways to get Thomas room to drive the lane, disrupt the defense, and just be himself? He needs to, the Celtics don’t have anyone else who can create shots of the same quality.

Will Boston punish Atlanta on the offensive glass, or will Paul Millsap own it? Atlanta is not a good rebounding team — they were the third worst in the NBA overall last season in rebound percentage, just below the Lakers. They intentionally don’t chase offensive rebounds in an effort to get back on defense and kill the opposition transition (as is the trend in the NBA), but they also were sixth worst in grabbing defensive rebounds. It’s a known weakness. The Celtics have some players — Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and others — who like to battle inside, and Boston was 10th in the NBA in grabbing offensive boards this past season. Look for Boston to try to get some easy putbacks and second chances by focusing more on offensive rebounds.

They need to do something because during the regular season All-Star Millsap owned the Boston front line. The Celtics cannot afford a repeat of that, they have to find a way to keep him in check.

Will the Hawks knock down their open looks? The book on defending the Hawks in the playoffs is out there, David Blatt and the Cavaliers wrote it last May in the Conference Finals. Go under picks, lay off on the pick-and-roll, and dare Millsap, Teague, Al Horford and the rest of them (except Kyle Korver) to beat you with jump shots. You can look at the shot charts for this past season and say those guys can hit those shots — Millsap shoots just under 40 percent from the top of the key area — but they couldn’t knock them down when it mattered last postseason. You can be sure Steven’s defensive strategy to start will be to make them hit those shots. If they do, the Celtics will need to adjust, and that will open up the drives the Hawks prefer, but first they must prove they can knock down the midrange (and threes) they will get.

Prediction: Hawks in seven. But if the Celtics win this, it’s not an upset in my mind, it could go either way.

NBC’s PBT Podcast: Western Conference first-round playoff preview with Sean Highkin

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 14:  Stephen Curry #30 Draymond Green #23 and Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors celebrate late in their 109 to 91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five of the 2015 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 14, 2015 in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Drama? Who needs drama?

It doesn’t feel like there is a lot of drama in the first round or the Western Conference playoffs this season — the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers are expected to advance. Fairly easily.

Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk discuss these series, including whether Portland can push Los Angeles a little bit. The two also get off topic at points and talk Lakers and Bulls going forward.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Bosh addresses Heat before 1st practice of postseason

Fast Money

MIAMI (AP) — Chris Bosh will still play a role for the Miami Heat in the playoffs, though apparently one that doesn’t include him returning to the court.

The All-Star forward gave an emotional address to teammates before their first practice of this postseason on Friday, speaking about what playoff time means to him and how it pains him to be unable to play right now.

Bosh has been sidelined since the All-Star break – the second straight year that his season came to an end at the break because of a blood clot that started in his calf. Other than issuing a statement to announce that clot had dissipated several weeks ago, Bosh has not been available for interviews or offered any other updates on his health.

“Chris talked today to us, as a team,” fellow Heat All-Star Dwyane Wade said after practice. “The biggest message is someone who lived for this moment, someone who envisioned these moments especially after last year, he doesn’t have the ability to be in it.”

Wade did not reveal everything Bosh said, but quoted him as saying, “You guys have an opportunity to be out in the playoffs. What I wouldn’t do to be out there.”

Heat guard Goran Dragic said he got goosebumps thinking about Bosh’s message. Dragic said part of the meeting involved Heat coach Erik Spoelstra telling each player what their role would be, and then Bosh got called upon to speak.

“It’s really tough for him,” Dragic said. “He wants to be part of this on the court and it’s really hard to watch and not to do nothing. It’s a tough situation for him but we need him – even if he’s not going to play, his ability to talk to the players, show what you’re doing wrong, how you’re supposed to do it on the floor, it’s big time.”

Bosh led the Heat in scoring this season, averaging 19.1 points in 53 games.

He said he was sitting out All-Star weekend with a calf strain. Soon afterward, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that he had been placed on a regimen of bloodthinners – just as he was a year ago. Athletes in contact sports are discouraged from competition while on bloodthinners, because of additional medical risks.

“With CB, it would be so much easier,” Dragic said. “He can do a lot of different things.”

Miami opens the Eastern Conference playoffs against Charlotte on Sunday. Bosh is expected to be on the bench for home games, as he has been for several weeks.

Report: Timberwolves set meetings with Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy

Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau sends in some signals during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves won 82-75. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Minnesota Timberwolves coaching job is, arguably, the most desirable coaching job available. If you’re a coach into winning. The job comes pre-loaded with soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, last season’s ROY Andrew Wiggins, not to mention Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad and other quality building blocks. This team has the potential to be an elite squad in a few years.

Plus, for the right person, the Timberwolves will reportedly throw in the hammer on player/personnel moves — a defacto GM spot.

With that, they are getting interviews with some of the biggest names out there. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have meetings set with the two top targets of the franchise’s basketball operations and coaching search: Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, league sources told The Vertical. Those meetings are expected to happen in the next few days, sources said.

What Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor reportedly wants is the Detroit Pistons/Stan Van Gundy model, where they have an experienced GM but Van Gundy is the ultimate decision maker. If you coach has the right vision that can work — and in Detroit it appears to be working.

While the Timberwolves gave lip service to giving former interim coach Sam Mitchell a shot at the job, that was about as likely as John Wooden getting the job. Scott Brooks is another name associated with Minnesota, but Washington and some other teams expected to let go of their coach are going to be interested in him. Brooks (and Thibodeau, and Van Gundy) will have options.

Adam Silver calls North Carolina law “problematic” but no decision to keep or move 2017 All-Star game in Charlotte

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: NBA commissioner Adam Silver looks on during the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was tap dancing around a difficult issue like a presidential candidate Friday.

Following the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting Friday (that’s the owners), Silver was asked about the NBA’s stance on HB2, the “bathroom law” in North Carolina, and if the league is planning to move the 2017 All-Star Game scheduled for Charlotte. He said that the goal was to find a way to encourage change in the North Carolina law before bringing down the hammer of moving the event. From the Sporting News.

“By no means are we saying we’re stepping back,” Silver said at a news conference. “The message is not that somehow the current state of affairs is OK for the league. Let me be clear: The current state of the law is problematic for the NBA in North Carolina. For the league office and our owners, I think the discussion was, how can we be most constructive in being part of a process that results in the kind of change that we think is necessary?”

He said there were no discussions with owners of moving the event. But that is like a GM saying he never discussed a trade — there are levels of discussion. You can be sure the NBA has reached out to potential new destinations and started that process, and with that there have been some off-the-record, back-channel conversations with owners about it. But a formal discussion with all the owners? No, not yet.

The NBA released this statement clarifying their position, via Mike Bass, Executive Vice President, Communications:

“During a media availability earlier today following the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting, Commissioner Adam Silver clarified that the NBA remains deeply concerned about its ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, in light of recent legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community.  At no time did Adam affirm that the league would not move the All-Star Game; rather he stressed repeatedly that the legislation is problematic, that we feel it is best to engage with the community to work towards a solution, that change is needed and we are hopeful that it will occur.”

Recently, North Carolina’s legislature called a special session to approve the law, which restricts transgender bathroom use (you have to use the bathroom for the gender with which you were born) and preempted anti-discrimination ordinances put in by Charlotte and other North Carolina cities that tried to block discrimination against gays and lesbians. The law led to a business backlash — PayPal, Deutsche Bank, and others have pulled plans for expansion in the state off the table — as well as a social one, including things such as Bruce Springsteen canceling a concert in the state.

The most likely outcome is the North Carolina legislature goes into regular session and rolls back portions of the law, everyone declares victory, and the NBA keeps the event in the state of incredible vinegary barbecue. I don’t believe that’s enough, I’m with Stan Van Gundy that the league should move the event. But compromise is the American way.