Kurt Helin

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Playoff Preview: Three Questions about Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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On the surface, this 3 vs. 6 seed matchup shouldn’t be close. Oklahoma City won 55 games (and played better than that based on point differential), has two of the top five players in the NBA, and in Enes Kanter may have the Sixth Man of the Year (he’ll finish in the top three in the final voting). Meanwhile, Dallas scrambled to make the playoffs and needed the defense and energy of a rookie — Justin Anderson — to get them over the hump at the end.

But the more one delves into the matchups, the more this looks like a series where Dallas can give Oklahoma City some problems. Not enough to win the series, but enough to make the Thunder work a lot harder than they expect to, and enough to put doubt in everyone’s mind (including Kevin Durant‘s, which could have huge implications come July 1).

Here are three questions that will be key to this first round Western Conference showdown.

What devious plan does Rick Carlisle have in store for the Thunder? Remember the first round in 2014, when the on-a-mission Spurs took on the poor, overmatched, outclassed Mavericks team. Except that behind an incredible game plan from Carlisle and a veteran team — Dirk Nowitzki is going to go to his grave knocking down midrange shots — the Mavs pushed the Spurs to seven games. It was (arguably) the toughest series the Spurs had in those playoffs.

This has a bit of that feel. Carlise is a wizard — in the Hogwarts, not Washington, sense. Oklahoma City has weaknesses to attack — Enes Kanter on defense, Dion Waiters, the small forward position — and the only Xs and Os guy on Carlisle’s level in the league is Gregg Popovich (and, maybe, Brad Stevens). Talent, more than coaching, tends to win in the NBA, but this is a series where coaching could make a difference. Russell Westbrook is going to see a lot of defensive looks (not just a steady diet of Wesley Matthews), and some of them will get him thinking. I’m not questioning Billy Donovan as a coach, but welcome to the playoffs rookie.

Can Oklahoma City get the tempo up and take advantage of their athleticism? If this series is a track meet, Dallas players can start booking tee times for April 25 — the day of Game 5. Whatever Rick Carlisle’s game plan is, you can be sure it includes slowing the game down to a crawl. Dallas (like every other team in the league) has no answer for Westbrook in the open court. Or Kevin Durant. One advantage for Dallas: Their guards — Deron Williams, J.J. Barea, Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton — take care of the ball. They had the second lowest team turnover percentage this season. If Dallas is going to win games, they need to defend well in the half court and take away easy buckets for the Thunder. Controlling the tempo — and ideally, frustrating the Thunder — will be huge for Dallas.

Will the Thunder be able to execute in the clutch? The biggest knock on former Thunder coach Scott Brooks? His team is unimaginative and too predictable — Westbrook and Durant isolations — in the clutch, and it cost them games. So in comes Billy Donovan and… meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Thunder have struggled late in games. Since the All-Star break, the Thunder have been outscored in the fourth (by 50 points). After the All-Star break, the Thunder were involved in 15 games that were within five points in the last five minutes of the game (the standard NBA definition of crunch time) and in those minutes Durant and Westbrook took 69 percent of the Thunder’s shots. If you’re predictable, you’re defendable. And while I just talked about the offense, it’s the Thunder defense in the clutch that has been worse. Oklahoma City was 3-12 in those 15 close games.

Dallas will grind the series down as much as they can, and if the Thunder are truly the contenders they believe they are, they need to execute in the clutch to win these games. The Westbrook/Durant pick-and-roll, as dangerous as it can be, is not enough.

Prediction: Thunder in six. Maybe OKC is better than I think, maybe they thrash Dallas (that’s more likely than a Mavs series win). But expect Dallas to make them work for it. That said talent will win out. And the Thunder have way more of it.