Kurt Helin

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Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis on being taller than 5’9″: “I’d be No. 1 or No. 2”

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Does the NBA have another Isaiah Thomas on the way?

Thomas, now the Celtics’ 5’9″ All-Star point guard, was famously selected with the “Mr. Irrelevant” 60th and last pick in the 2012 draft. But he battled his way onto the Kings’ roster, into playing time, into being “The Pizza Guy,” and eventually into being an All-Star in Boston.

Is Kentucky’s 5’9″ Tyler Ulis the next guy in that line?

In one sense no, because Ulis likely will get taken closer to 20 than 60. But in terms of being disrespected for his height, maybe. Here is what Ulis told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.

“I keep a good attitude because my confidence is high,” he said here as part of the pre-draft combine. “I don’t really think about what people say. Everything’s always worked out well. I was this small at the high school level and it worked out. Obviously it worked out in college. And I feel like it’s going to keep working out….

“I feel like if I was 6-1, 6-2 I’d be No. 1 or No. 2,” Ulis said. “But I’m not 6-1, 6-2. I’m 5-9. I got what I have, I love it, I feel like I’ve worked for what I got. I’m just going to keep playing.”

Ulis was considered a good, pesky defender at the college level, but when most NBA guards are at least four inches taller, that can present a defensive challenge. Ulis’ college coach John Calipari had nothing but praise or his guard:

“I’ve coached a lot of great leaders and great point guards in all my years of coaching. Tyler Ulis is the best floor general that I’ve ever coached. What I loved is he grew into that position. You couldn’t speed him up and you couldn’t slow him down unless he wanted to do one of those things. He coached the team this season as much as I did, and I’m proud to say that.”

The height is an issue, particularly on defense. Here is what PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson said of Ulis:

Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, was the spark that kept the Kentucky offense going, and along with his leadership, Ulis showed a penchant for hitting big shots when the team needed them. Small, 5’9”, and quick, Ulis is a tremendous ballhandler with great control. He is a threat in the pick-and-roll where he can disappear behind a screen, and he has the space to knock down the jumper or try to get into the defense. He has very good vision, and while not a flashy passer, he is a smart one, and he knows where to get teammates the ball in spots where they can score quickly. Ulis has knocked down some big jumpers this year, but his long-range shooting still isn’t great, just 34 percent, and because of his size, he needs time and space to get his shot off. He has improved his ability to score around the basket, using his size and speed to an advantage to create space for a short or mid-range jumper. Defensively, Ulis is a pest, and he can create chaos with his ability to seal off the perimeter. As for the NBA Draft, Ulis doesn’t have the strength or athleticism of say an Isaiah Thomas, so the NBA will be a major adjustment, but he is smart and could be a decent back-up at the next level.

He’s expected to be drafted around 20, give or take a few spots. I hear what our man Isaacson is saying about Ulis not being a starter at the next level, but after watching Thomas the past few seasons I’m not writing anyone off.

The shoelace that turned around DeMar DeRozan, may have extended Raptors season

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We will see Friday night (and, if needed, Sunday) if the Toronto Raptors can close out the Miami Heat and reach the franchise’s first-ever conference finals.

If they do, a shoelace may play a significant role.

For the handful of you who suffered through Game 5 of the Miami/Toronto series, you saw the TNT cameras showing the Raptors Director of Sports Science Alex McKechnie wrapping DeMar DeRozan‘s injured thumb in a shoelace. That would be the breaking out of his slump with 34 points DeRozan. So what is the deal with the magic shoelace? ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo got McKechnie talking (via Ball Don’t Lie):

“It’s not the first time I’ve done it. I’ve done it many, many times,” McKechnie said at the team’s morning shootaround Friday prior to Game 6 at American Airlines Arena.

“I think the first thing to understand is that the process is actually a very traditional way of treating injured fingers. It’s used to create pressure and compression. You start very firm and you actually release pressure as you go through (wrapping it). Once it’s completely covered in the string of the shoelace you mobilize the joint so you actually get tissue drainage and mobilization and you get immediate recovery in range (of movement).”

McKechnie used to work for the Lakers, where he said he used the same technique on Kobe Bryant, whose banged-up fingers are 30 years older than the rest of his body due to the abuse.

So the technique works. The question is can DeRozan and his wrapped finger stay in attack-and-score mode on the road with a series on the line? Miami is a roster where plenty of guys — not just Dwyane Wade — wear championship rings and will not just roll over. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both need another big game to close this out, or we will all be subjected to a Game 7 Sunday. And we have seen the Raptors get tight in a Game 7 before these playoffs.

Quote of the Day: Gregg Popovich knows Spurs’ loss isn’t interplanetary concern

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“They just discovered 1200 new planets, someone just lost a basketball game, get over yourself.”
—Gregg Popovich, coach of San Antonio Spurs, via Casey Keirnan of News 4 San Antonio

That’s about the most Popovich thing to say ever.

NASA did locate 1,284 new planets, although they are a little out of range for your summer vacation plans. It is a huge deal in the scientific community, and is the kind of thing that reminds us the trivialities of our daily lives that can absorb and overwhelm us at times are not that big, and usually not that important.

That said, the next couple months will see a lot more analysis and words written about the Spurs needs — athleticism along the front line, to start — than those lonely planets.

Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers look to bright future

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard‘s thoughts were already turned toward next season on the flight back to Portland following the Blazers’ final playoff loss to the Warriors. He pondered how the team’s surprising success would impact the tightknit group.

“I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like, we had some success this year, it was unexpected, it was no pressure. People are going to expect a little bit more, and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back,” Lillard said. “But we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do, and what it takes.”

He has added reason for that optimism: Many of the Blazers said Thursday they’d be sticking around this summer to work out together.

The Trail Blazers’ theme this season emerged over time as the team kept surpassing expectations. It wound up on the T-shirts that were left on seats for fans during the playoffs: “Never Doubt Rip City.” They even adopted the hashtag (hash)NeverDoubt.

But the motto could have just as easily been “Band of Brothers.”

“Guys care about winning and we care about each other, and I don’t think that’s very common in the NBA now,” Lillard said.

From a preseason bonding trip to San Diego, where the team hammed for photos on the beach, to Lillard’s team dinners and trips to a roller skating rink, the young Blazers became a cohesive group.

Lillard was the lone starter to return from the 2014-15 Blazers, after LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews departed in the offseason.

The group that was assembled was the third-youngest in the NBA and included players who, for whatever reason, hadn’t really caught on elsewhere. Many never thought the Blazers would win more than 30 games, let alone make the playoffs, but Portland went on to finish 44-38 with the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

The Blazers beat the injury-depleted Clippers in the first round.

Portland had a daunting task in the defending NBA champion Warriors and MVP Stephen Curry in the second round but put up a fight. After dropping the first two in Oakland, Portland claimed the third at home but lost the fourth in overtime – with Curry coming back from a knee injury and scoring 40 points, including 17 in the OT. The Warriors closed out the series with a nail-biter in Oakland on Wednesday night.

Lillard averaged a career-high 25.1 points in the regular season, becoming just the third Portland player to average more than 25. He also averaged 6.8 assists.

CJ McCollum averaged 20.8 points in his first year as a starter, giving the Blazers their first backcourt duo with an average of 20 or more points apiece in a single season.

McCollum was named the league’s Most Improved Player for more than tripling his scoring average from the 2014-15 season.

Those two will almost certainly be back next season, as will fellow starters Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee. Forward Maurice Harkless, who started all 11 postseason games, backup guard Allen Crabbe and reserve forward Meyers Leonard are all restricted free agents.

Gerald Henderson and Chris Kaman and Brian Roberts are unrestricted free agents.

Leonard injured his shoulder late in the season and required surgery. He was still wearing a sling Thursday.

“To be honest, I haven’t had a conversation with my agent about this (free agency),” said Leonard, who said his focus was on rehab. He and Crabbe said they’d like to stay in Portland.

The Blazers have a team option on coach Terry Stotts for the coming season, but the team is looking to quickly firm up a long-term deal. The 58-year-old coach has a 182-146 record in four seasons with the team. He’s led the Blazers to the playoffs in each of the last three years, and to the conference semifinals twice.

Stotts finished second to Golden State’s Steve Kerr in NBA Coach of the Year voting.

“You just look at what he got out of his guys all year,” Plumlee said. “He should have been coach of the year.”

Lillard and McCollum, meanwhile, are already planning the team’s collective offseason getaway.

“Coming into this season we weren’t even expected to be a playoff team. We didn’t accept what everybody expected of us. We had our own goals, we had own plan in mind,” Lillard said. “I think the next step is not accepting, `All right, let’s just get there, let’s get there and compete.’ Now it’s `Let’s get there and let’s go win it.”‘

Watch Kevin Durant drop 37 on Spurs in Thunder win

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Kevin Durant can score 37 points and make it seem effortless. Even against the Spurs.

Durant looked every bit the elite scorer against the vaunted Spurs defense, and he did most of it attacking — he was 9-of-13 in the paint. Durant had a big series against the 67-win Spurs.

Now he just has to do it against the Warriors.