Kurt Helin

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Heat vs. Raptors Game 7 preview: Three things to watch

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Aesthetically, maybe this wasn’t the series everyone hoped would go seven games, but it has been close throughout. Here are three things to keep an eye on in Game 7.

1) Can Toronto counter the Heat’s small lineup? We know that home teams have won 80 percent of the Game 7s in NBA playoff history, which is a big leg up for Toronto. But if they are going to continue that trend the Raptors need to come up with an answer for the Heat’s small ball lineup that plagued them last game. Rookie Justise Winslow started at center, and Toronto’s Bismack Biyombo could not make him pay a price. What the Heat had with him — along with Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade — were active defenders flying in to block shots and protect the rim as a unit. It worked well enough, and on offense having five wings — with Winslow slipping picks — had the Raptors scrambling in Game 6. The line is simple, the tw0 key lineups with Winslow at center were +7 in 21 minutes. Do that again — and get another strong game from Josh McRoberts — and the Heat will win again.

The logical counter here is Biyombo — the only real center still standing in this series, he has to be a force defensively and get some rebounds and points at the rim on offense. Toronto must make Miami pay for going small.

2) Which team’s role players step up? This is the fun thing about Game 7s — random, unexpected guys come up with the game of their lives. For both of these teams, their chances of winning starts with their star guards: In Game 6 Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 59 points, while Miami’s Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade countered that with 52. If these teams are to have a chance in Game 7, their guards are going to have to lead. But the key to Miami’s Game 6 win was Joe Johnson added 13 points, Justise Winslow 12, and Josh McRoberts 10. No other Raptor broke double digits.

Which team’s role and bench players steps up will be halfway to the win.

3) Can the Raptors handle the pressure of a Game 7? Toronto had to go seven games last round to knock off Indiana, and if you remember that Game 7 the Raptors led from the second quarter on, were up 16 in the fourth, and then got tight and almost choked it away. Toronto has never been to a conference finals as a franchise, this could be history, and with that comes pressure. Will Lowry feel tight and have another off shooting night?  Same for DeRozan? Wade has been on bigger stages, he will bring his best game, and the Heat will come along with him. Can the Raptors handle the pressure?

Report: Memphis to interview Portland assistant Nate Tibbetts for coaching job

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With former coach Dave Joerger now in central California, the Grizzlies are ramping up their coaching search.

Memphis has reached out to Frank Vogel, interviewed Patrick Ewing, and is got permission to set up an interview with Heat lead assistant David Fizdale. Next up on that list is Portland assistant Nate Tibbetts, reports Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Memphis Grizzlies have been granted permission to interview Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Nate Tibbetts for their vacant head coach position, league sources informed cleveland.com….

Tibbetts is a well-respected and innovative young coach who was once an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers for two seasons beginning in 2011. Prior to joining the Cavaliers, he was the head coach of the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League.

Players such as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum praise Tibbetts, he’s respected in the locker room. He’s the guy players reach out to when they want to get in some odd-hours work, knowing he will be game.

Tibbetts also has been a head coach in the D-League, a useful experience for those adjusting to the big chair in the NBA. He’s a player development guy, and if the Grizzlies are now (or in the next few years) going to have to blow up the grit and grind era and start rebuilding, he could be a fantastic fit.

Draymond Green committed to cutting down his technicals

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OAKLAND, Calif. –  Stunningly, Draymond Green kept his mouth shut on the court for a full practice Saturday.

Golden State’s outspoken swingman is striving to cut down on his arguing and technical fouls for the rest of the postseason – which could be as challenging a task in the Western Conference finals as slowing down the explosive Thunder tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“It was a quiet practice,” forward Harrison Barnes said with a big grin and chuckle as the defending champion Warriors prepared Game 1 on Monday night at Oracle Arena.

Green has four technicals so far, and seven would land him an automatic one-game suspension. He will give himself “a little wiggle room” to get one more.

“I’m not contesting any calls,” he said. “No. Because if I contest a call, no matter how my approach is going to go then, it’s going to change. I know me. I’m going to walk the other way and if they call a foul, `Good call.’ I’m not talking, nope.”

Also Saturday, 7-foot center Andrew Bogut didn’t practice for the second straight day because of a strained muscle in his right leg between the groin and hamstring that he hurt in Wednesday’s second-round series clincher against the Portland Trail Blazers. Coach Steve Kerr still hoped Bogut would practice Sunday, but the backup plan will be to move Festus Ezeli into the starting lineup for Monday if need be. Bogut did some post work and shooting.

Golden State’s scrimmage Saturday was officiated by coaches Jarron Collins and Chris DeMarco, and even with all the bad calls, according to Barnes, Green bit his lip.

“They were calling terrible calls. I said: `You know what? I’m not talking to y’all. I’m going to keep my cool, not talking to the referees. Just play basketball.’ I was good today,” Green said. “I’ve got to practice it now, though. It’s habit. I’m working on it. That’s something I have to focus on, and I haven’t focused on it at all in this playoffs. But I’m focused on it now. Usually when I focus in on something, I can do pretty well at it, and I’m stubborn enough to do well at it because I have to prove to myself that I can do it. And I always want to prove whoever I’m trying to prove wrong, and in this case it’s myself. I think I’m going to do a really good job with it.”

Reports are that the referees were so poor in fact – “It was 8-on-5, they were awful. They can’t fine me,” Barnes said – it would have been easy for Green to go off.

Barnes appreciates Green taking his mouth to heart, given the defending champion Warriors realize every possession is going to matter against Oklahoma City and mental mistakes could prove costly.

“There were a few calls he kind of just looked at the ref and his usual self would have said something. He just kind of turned around and looked around, just diffused the tension,” Barnes said. “You’ve got to give him credit. He’s really being serious about this. He did a great job today and hopefully he can just continue to build that tomorrow. Just take it day by day. Today was a great day. If we can just build and continue to go from there, we’ll be just fine.”

Barnes is ready to have Green’s back, too.

“I have a few technicals in my bag, if need be,” he said. “The biggest thing is we’re going to need all hands on deck for these games and to lose somebody for a technical foul or guys getting ejected or anything like that, we’ve got to be smart and keep our poise.”

Kerr loves Green’s impromptu spirit and emotion, but also wants his star player to keep it all in check.

Green insists he didn’t argue at all Saturday.

“Not once,” he said. “I laughed at them. I said, `You’re trying to get me, I’m not talking to you today.’ … It’s definitely something I’ve got to do because I can’t get suspended. That’s bad. I’m locked in on it now. It’s a game within the game for me. I’m excited about it.”

Nikola Vucevic on Scott Skiles leaving Magic: “I was surprised, like everyone else”

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You could tell at his press conference, Magic GM Rob Hennigan was caught off guard by coach Scott Skiles resignation, deciding to walk away from Orlando after just one season of a four-year contract. We know that Skiles and Hennigan didn’t see eye-to-eye on some team building issues — what to make of point guard Elfrid Payton is at the top of that list — but Hennigan thought things had been smoothed over after some meetings. Clearly not.

The resignation surprised the entire organization. Check out what big man Nikola Vucevic told Josh Robbins at the Orlando Sentinel.

“I was surprised, like everyone else,” Vucevic told the Orlando Sentinel during a phone interview.

“I don’t think anybody expected it to happen, but it was his decision. You just have to accept it and move on. It’s tough because I thought Coach was really doing something good for us. We were heading in the right direction. We finished up the season the right way. We had some good wins at the end. We were playing much better. He established a good foundation for the future. So it would’ve been good for us to kind of keep going with him, because he’s a good coach and also it’s important to have a certain continuity.”

Not everyone in the Magic organization was sad to see Skiles go, but they all were surprised. Here is what Victor Oladipo said online:

Im as surprised as anyone else, but I just wanna thank coach skiles for helping us but especially me improve on both ends of the floor this year in my 3rd season. What I learned from him I will keep with me for the rest of my career. I wish him all the best in anything he does.

It will be interesting to see if the Magic bring in a defense-first coach, such as Frank Vogel, to build off what Skiles had the team doing. Whoever they hire needs to be on the same page as Hennigan, much to the annoyance of some Magic fans the organization has sided with the GM over the coach now has to get those two positions pulling the rope in the same direction.

Wary of rust, Cavaliers sweat in gym while awaiting next round

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Even coach Tyronn Lue came off the floor sweating on Saturday.

Don’t think for a second the unbeaten Cavaliers have been lounging around the past week as they’ve waited for their next opponent.

“Guys have been really busting their butt in the gym,” forward Channing Frye said as beads of perspiration streaked the sides of his face.

Unblemished and seemingly unstoppable through the first two rounds of the playoffs, LeBron James & Co. finally know they’ll host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night. All that’s left to be determined is whether they’ll play Miami or Toronto. The Heat and Raptors will play Game 7, with the winner earning a shot at the 8-0 Cavs.

Cleveland hasn’t played since May 8, when it completed its second consecutive postseason sweep, ousting an Atlanta Hawks team that was grounded by the Cavs’ battalion of 3-point marksmen. The Cavs dropped 77 3-pointers in four games, and they’re hoping the long break between series won’t cool off their shooting touch.

To combat any rust, Lue has made sure his team worked on its conditioning. They’ve been running and lifting and lifting and running.

On Wednesday, the Cavs endured a grueling workout supervised by strength and conditioning coach Derek Millender. The brutal, 40-minute session included time on a punishing piece of cardiovascular exercise equipment that left many of the players too tired to run.

“That was pretty tough,” forward Tristan Thompson said. “But I thought it was great for us because the team could push each other. It was fun. I thought it brought us even closer together as a team.”

The nine-day break could most help the 31-year-old James, who had to carry the Cavs a year ago. He’s averaging a career-low 23.5 points so far as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have stepped up.

“LeBron is letting the game come to him,” Lue said. “When he wants to be aggressive and he sees fit to be aggressive when the teams have a good run or whatever they may have, then he just takes over the game. And with Kyrie and Kevin playing at a high level, he can take a lot of mileage off of his body and just kind of seeing and figuring out the flow of the game.

“I don’t think he’s been in this position before and it’s been great for him.”

After they quickly dispatched Detroit in the first round, the Cavs didn’t play for a week before their matchup against the Hawks. And although they won Game 1, it wasn’t easy. Cleveland blew an 18-point lead before making plays in the closing minutes and holding on.

With little margin for error, Lue doesn’t want any drop-off this time.

“We got tired,” he said of the 104-93 win on May 2. “In that second half we got tired in that third quarter. I went back and watched that game two nights ago. We got tired, a little fatigued. And I thought in the first half, as far as rust, we didn’t have a lot of rust offensively. We took care of the basketball. We executed the way we wanted to execute, I just thought that third quarter we got a little tired.”

The Cavs spent part of Saturday’s workout preparing for the Heat and Raptors. Both teams run similar offensive sets, so Lue and his assistant coaches gave the players a sneak peek at what they’ll be facing. It’s part of keeping them mentally sharp before returning to the floor.

Lue said he’s been watching the Miami-Toronto series, but not every second. He’s more interested in reviewing film of Cleveland’s games against both teams to see if he can spot any tendencies or weaknesses.

The Cavs won’t practice until Sunday evening after the Heat and Raptors conclude Game 7, that way they’ll be able to prepare for a specific opponent – not two.

Frye, whose role has grown throughout these playoffs, said the extended layoff has allowed the Cavs to heal some “nicks and knacks” and they should return to the floor renewed.

“We have a lot of guys doing above and beyond, staying focus, watching the games,” he said. “If you’re not focused now, hey, I don’t know if this is the right sport for you.”