Kurt Helin

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas says he’s about 50 percent; don’t expect him for Game 2

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Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals did not exactly go the way Toronto hoped. To put it kindly. It was more like how Billy Batts ended up in “Goodfellas.”

The real problem for Toronto is when you start to break down things they can do differently — don’t sit Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan at the same time, try to drag Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love into more pick-and-rolls, adjust the defensive strategy to get more rim protection — at best it adds up to a less embarrassing loss. It’s hard to envision Toronto winning a game…

Without Jonas Valanciunas anyway. The Raptors miss their big man — who is recovering from a severe ankle sprain — and his presence the paint on both ends. Here is what the Raptors GM said about missing JV:

Any chance he plays Thursday night in Game 2?

That doesn’t look good. And it’s fair to ask if we will even see him this series — by the time he gets healthy it may be too late.

Bryan Colangelo: Sixers “trading the No. 1 pick is a highly unlikely situation”


The Philadelphia 76ers went into Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery having a roster already loaded with young players: Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Nik Stauskas, Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant, and (if he comes over from Europe next season) Dario Saric are all 22 years old or younger. Stockpiling that youth was all part of the long game the Sixers were playing with “the process.” While current Sixers management wants to distance itself from the negative byproducts of that process, parts of that plan still drive this team’s future.

This June the Sixers will get even younger.

Philadelphia won the NBA Draft Lottery and landed the No. 1 pick, which they add to the No. 24 and 26 picks (Miami’s and Cleveland’s via trades) they already had — that’s three more guys fresh out of college added to the roster next season. That’s a lot of youth, maybe more than GM Bryan Colangelo is comfortable with.

“I’ve been quoted as saying you can only have so many developing players in your fold,” Colangelo said after his team saw the lottery balls bounce their way in a win. “There’s a lot to consider to finding a balance… I think there needs to be a blend of young talent and veterans on your roster, there needs to be a balance.”

Don’t think that means the Sixers are moving the No. 1 pick.

“I would say you never say never, but certainly trading the No. 1 pick is a highly unlikely situation,” Colangelo said.

Yes, Colangelo said last week that “nothing is off the table” with the Sixers picks, but he quickly clarified that he said that in response to a hypothetical question about what might happen if they had two of the top four picks (they would have had the Lakers’ pick if it had fallen to No. 4) and could package them for a quality veteran.

“I never said we would consider trading the No. 1 pick,” Colangelo said.

While reports have surfaced that the Sixers are leaning heavily toward taking Ben Simmons of LSU (and he is on top of most teams’ draft boards), of course Colangelo was not about to commit to one player or the other publicly yet. He probably will not before draft night.

Colangelo did say he and his team are already well into their deep dive on both Simmons and Brandon Ingram of Duke, the clear two players on the top of every team’s draft boards. They have seen both players play live as well as having watched a lot of video, Colangelo said, but now decision-making efforts move toward more finding out how they would fit in with the team and the city of Philadelphia beyond just basketball players.

“We’ve got extensive research done on Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons, and we will do more, and we will bring in both for workouts. We also interviewed Ingram in Chicago where he participated in some events,” Colangelo said. “We’ve got a lot of observations of who they are as basketball players, but we want to get to know them as people.”

Don’t, however, confuse Colangelo’s plan with that of his predecessor in the GM chair, Sam Hinkie. Colangelo will benefit from the trove of picks Hinkie amassed, but he’s not going to throw all those young players out there to learn lessons the hard way. Colangelo wants veterans who can both help the team win games — think journeyman point guard Ish Smith last season — and leaders in the locker room who can mentor all that young talent, guys such as Elton Brand last season.

“The Process” in its purest form is dead.

“We want to win basketball games, that is somewhat a transformational transition in thought here,” Colangelo said of the franchise’s mindset.

This is still a development process, the Sixers are not going to challenge Cleveland next season, but Colangelo has said it’s time to enter the next phase of rebuilding and start to win games.

However, first they are going to add more young players to the mix.

Report: Frank Vogel met with Orlando, he’s “serious candidate” there

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Frank Vogel is not going to be out of a job for long.

After Larry Bird decided Vogel had been in Indiana too long, the successful coach has spoken to the Knicks’ brain trust, and he is a considered one of the leading candidates for the Memphis job. Now it appears he could be headed to Orlando, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports. However, he has serious competition from Adrian Griffin.

The Orlando Magic are moving quickly in their head-coaching search, completing interviews with the franchise’s two top targets: Frank Vogel and Adrian Griffin.

Griffin met with Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan on Tuesday in New York, and Vogel met with Magic officials on Monday, league sources told The Vertical….

Griffin is a popular choice among many of the Magic players, earning the locker room’s respect as the top assistant on former coach Scott Skiles’ staff this season. Griffin was previously an assistant under Tom Thibodeau with the Chicago Bulls. Griffin offers the Magic continuity, an important commodity considering this core of players have had three different head coaches (Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego and Skiles) in the past two seasons.

Continuity matters, as does what the players want. However, the biggest factor should be the most obvious one — who is the best coach, particularly to bring along this group of young players. They made strides last season under Skiles on both ends of the floor, and GM Rob Hennigan needs to pick the coach who can best build on that.

If that’s Vogel, the Magic need to move fast because he is popular.

Cavaliers bulldozing of East continues, beat Raptors 115-84 in Game 1

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It’s been clear since the start of the season Cleveland was the class of the Eastern Conference. The question had been how big was the gap to every other team?

Turns out Grand Canyon big. Mount Everest big. The gap between the quality of Godfather I & II to III big.

That was on full display Wednesday night as the Cavaliers remained perfect in the playoffs and trounced the second-seeded Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals 115-84. While that makes the series just 1-0, the 31-point blowout was the Cavaliers largest margin of victory ever in the postseason, and it felt like a referendum on the East.

The nine days off didn’t matter, Cleveland is still playing its best ball of the season on both ends of the floor.

“We understand who we are as a team,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Defensively and offensively we understand who we are, who we want to play through, who we want to go through, and it’s been easier for the guys.”

LeBron James was 11-of-13 shooting and was attacking the rim all night on his way to 24 points. Maybe more impressive was Kyrie Irving, who finished with 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting, and he got wherever he wanted on the court all night.

“I’m always on Kyrie about staying aggressive, being aggressive because guys can’t guard him one-on-one, especially in transition when we get out fast and get it early to him and he can attack to the basket,” Lue said. “LeBron is the same way.”

After nine days off for Cleveland, it was fair to ask if they would be rusty and Toronto could try to steal a game on the road. Cleveland’s rust lasted about three minutes (Toronto did lead 7-0 to open the game). LeBron got to the rim — he was 7-of-7 shooting in the first half, with every shot at the rim — and as a team the Cavaliers shot 66.7 percent plus hit 50 percent of their threes before halftime. The Cavaliers put up 66 points in 47 possessions in the first half.

Part of it was that the Raptors were terrified of the hot shooting of the Cleveland Cavaliers had from three in the playoffs (shooting 42 percent as a team from beyond the arc in the first two rounds). Toronto’s game plan involved getting out high to chase the Cavs shooters off the arc. It’s a good idea in theory. In practice, the Raptors don’t have the defenders to then contain the Cavaliers ball handlers on the drive. Nor did Toronto protect the rim. Cleveland players blew past their defenders and got straight to the rim — Cleveland shot 17-of-21 in the restricted area in the first half. It was just a show for Cleveland.

The Cavaliers blew the game open with a 16-2 run at the start of the second quarter.

The Cavaliers were playing good defense, too. Kyle Lowry was 2-of-9 shooting in the first half, Cory Joseph was 0-5, but the Raptors were bailed out some by DeMar DeRozan putting up 16 points on 8-of-13 from the field. DeRozan finished with 18 points, and second in scoring was Bismack Biyombo with a dozen.

The game never got close in the second half, and every Cavaliers starter not named Tristan Thompson rested the entire fourth.

It’s hard to picture how Toronto makes this even a series. They may get Jonas Valanciunas for a game, and he can certainly help score inside, slow the game down, and provide a big body in the paint. But that’s not going to be enough. This isn’t the Thunder after Game 1 against the Spurs; this is a much larger gap. Hopefully, Toronto can make Game 2 more competitive.

Dikembe Mutombo rejects lottery conspiracy after Twitter mistake


NEW YORK — Dikembe Mutombo is rejecting the idea of another NBA draft lottery conspiracy.

Mutombo congratulated the Philadelphia 76ers on winning the No. 1 pick with a tweet Tuesday that came about four hours before the lottery. But he tells The Associated Press it was a “mistake that happened” and that he had no knowledge that the 76ers would win.

“I want to let people know there was no conspiracy,” Mutombo said in a phone interview.

Mutombo played for the 76ers during his Hall of Fame career and now works for the NBA as a global ambassador. On Tuesday afternoon, he received an email from the Sixers organization asking him if he would post a congratulatory message on Twitter if the 76ers won.

The email, obtained by AP, showed some sample tweets that could be used. He copied and pasted one onto his Twitter page – but then immediately sent it.

“It was like maybe 30 seconds, then I realized, `Whoa! What did I do here?”‘ he said. “But it was too late. It was out in the air.”

Mutombo quickly deleted the tweet, which included a picture of himself and Allen Iverson, his teammate when the 76ers went to the 2001 NBA Finals. He soon posted another tweet saying he was just excited and had gotten ahead of himself, but was still hoping for a Sixers victory.

The NBA has battled conspiracy accusations since the very first lottery, when the New York Knicks moved up to the No. 1 spot to draft Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing and there was suspicion that one of the envelopes was tampered with so the person selecting would know which one to grab. The league has gone to great lengths to make the event, which is overseen by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, more transparent, even making a video of last year’s drawing to show how it couldn’t be rigged.

Mutombo, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year best known for his wagging his finger when he blocked a shot, rejects the idea of that the league would cheat.

“They need to stop that,” he said. “The NBA is like such a great organization, they don’t even go that way.”

Mutombo got plenty of messages kidding him about his error, and he was able to laugh about it, too.

“I think a lot of people understood the error that was made,” he said.