Kurt Helin

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Toronto vs. Cleveland Game 2 preview: Is there any hope for Raptors?


Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals lacked any drama, unless you think Sonny Corleone’s “talk” with his brother-in-law Carlo in “The Godfather” was a fair and exciting fight. Will Game 2 be any different? Here are three things to watch.

1) How can Toronto defend the Cavaliers better? The problem for Dwane Casey and the Raptors coaching staff is they can make changes around the margins, but there are no good answers with their personnel on how to defend these Cavaliers. After watching Cleveland shoot 42 percent from three through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Raptors extended their defense to take that away — the result was a lay-up line at the rim for Cleveland. The Cavaliers had 56 points in the paint, all but one of LeBron James‘ shots came in the restricted area. Cleveland shot just 7-of-20 from three though, so the defense did work on one level. I guess.

What can Toronto do? Well, Bismack Biyombo must play a whole lot better, and the Raptors need to find a way to keep him closer to the rim. DeMarre Carroll must play a lot better, too. However, that’s not going to be enough. The Raptors can start switching, but that’s going to lead to open three point shooters (and the Cavs are hitting those). Or they could start to trap/double key ball handlers, but again the Cavaliers are moving the ball so well it will end with a Tristan Thompson alley-oop dunk or a J.R. Smith corner three. Toronto doesn’t have any good options, but they certainly can play the options they have with better energy and execution.

2) Will All-Star Kyle Lowry show up for Game 2? In Game 1 Lowry didn’t get one shot in the restricted area, and outside the paint he shot 1-of-10 total. That’s not good enough. After a rough start to the playoffs the All-Star level Lowry showed up in the Miami series (although Hassan Whiteside being out injured likely had a lot to do with that). That Lowry was nowhere to be found in Game 1 — he had Kevin Love switched on to him a few times and couldn’t convert. Lowry needs to attack, go right at the Cavaliers length and shot blocking, he needs to be a force and create shots. He can’t settle — and if he’s shooting threes he has to hit them.

3) Will Cleveland get complacent? We’re reaching here. While it’s possible after nine straight wins in the playoffs the Cavaliers will take their foot off the gas thinking “we got this” and let Toronto back in the series, I don’t think LeBron lets that happen. He’s on a mission. ESPN Zach Lowe summed this series up best on Twitter:

Sixers’ coach Brown praises Ben Simmons: “He’s got a hint of Magic”

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The process worked. Sam Hinkie is gone, but the process landed the Philadelphia 76ers the top spot in the NBA Draft. It leaves the new brain trust with one question:

Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram?

Reports are the Sixers are leaning Simmons. He’s the player with the higher ceiling. And if you’re looking for more proof of how much the Sixers like him, look at what Sixers coach Brett Brown said about Simmons on Fox Sports (via ESPN).

“He’s got a hint of Magic, and at times you can see a younger LeBron where you are not sure what position he is,” Brown told Fox Sports. “One moment you think he is a 4, maybe he is a 3, he looks comfortable handling the ball.

“When you say, ‘What is his identifiable elite NBA skill?’ most people will go immediately to passing.

“When you take that collection of comments, and you add it into a 6-foot-10 frame, the comparison to those two players could be a little reckless and ambitious, but there is no denying he really does come to the draft with a very unique skill package.”

I wish coaches/scouts/media would stop comparing players to Magic and LeBron James and other all-time greats. That’s an unfair burden for a player multiple scouts told me likely is more peak Lamar Odom than either of those two.

The question with Simmons is not the potential, rather it is things like his broken jump shot and, more importantly, his willingness to put in the years of work to fix it. He’s not seen as an internally driven guy, but that can be hard to judge in a 19-year-old.

Officially, the Sixers are still looking into which player to take.

“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,” Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo told NBC right after the Draft Lottery. “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.”

That’s the official line, but when you see comment’s such as Brown’s, it’s clear where the Sixers hearts lie.

Report: Brian Shaw offered assistant coaching job under Luke Walton with Lakers

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Could former Laker Brian Shaw be on his way back to Los Angeles?

Or not. But the former Laker player and assistant coach under Phil Jackson — and more recently deposed Nuggets head coach — has been offered an assistant coaching spot under Luke Walton in L.A., reports Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.

“I have some decisions to make fairly shortly,” Shaw told the Southern California News Group on Wednesday night after the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

“I have an offer and I have some options,” Shaw said.

Shaw has been working as an analyst for ESPN on the Western Conference Finals.

Walton reportedly wanted Shaw as a top assistant, but there is an “inside Lakers’ politics” angle to this as well. There is still a sense that after next season (or maybe a year later, depending on the internal struggles) Jim Buss would step aside as the head of Lakers’ basketball operations if this team isn’t “a contender.” (How clean this transfer of power would be is certainly up for debate.) Lead owner Jeanie Buss could then bring in a new head of the basketball side, and who may well be her fiance Phil Jackson. If true, Luke Walton has strong Jackson ties and likely survives any shakeup (he wisely got five guaranteed years on his contract just in case) and Shaw, another guy from the Jackson coaching tree, likely would as well. But will Jim Buss sign off on two Jackson guys on the staff?

Expect Shaw to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.


What changed Phil Jackson’s mind and brought in Jeff Hornacek as Knicks coach?


Knicks fans are happy — they were clearly in the “anyone but Kurt Rambis” camp.

Knicks players are mostly happy — the majority of them, including Carmelo Anthony, didn’t love the triangle offense.

However, the fact that Jeff Hornacek is the guy the Knicks have reportedly settled on to be their next head coach raises a lot of questions.

Chief among them: What changed Knicks’ president Phil Jackson’s mind about the triangle and hiring within his coaching tree?

Back in April, Jackson was adamant the triangle offense was staying — he and Kurt Rambis even ran a clinic on the offense for the 10 or so Knicks players who showed up. Here was Jackson’s quote about the search at the time:

“Only people I probably know will be in the interview process. I will reach out to make connections to some people. But I’ve been in this position, in the NBA over 50 years, and I’ve seen a lot of situations where coaches end up coming in without simpatico with the general manager and those things don’t work well.”

Jackson clearly wanted his good friend Rambis to get the job. He campaigned for it, and the buzz around the league was that the other people he spoke with — Frank Vogel, Nate McMillan, etc. — were simply pawns so Jackson could say he did a thorough search. The one exception was Luke Walton, but after having a front-row seat for Stephen Curry and the small-ball revolution, he didn’t want to come to New York and run the triangle. So it was Rambis.

Until it wasn’t.

Hornacek ran a few triangle sets and had some triangle principles in his offense in Phoenix (the majority of NBA teams do), but his was an up-tempo offense where the ball was dominated by the team’s quality point guards. Jeff Van Gundy said on SiriusXM NBA Radio he heard Hornacek would not be forced to run the triangle, he could run an offense that suits the Knicks personnel. Likely this will mean a faster pace and some Kristaps Porzingis at the five.

What changed in Phil Jackson? Or, more likely, was he told to change? Frank Isola speculated about this at the New York Daily News.

There was a sense that Garden chairman James Dolan would not sign off on a coach with a 65-164 record (Rambis). Whether it ever came to that is unclear. But Jackson was also well aware that Rambis was hardly the choice of the people and the players. According to a source, several Knicks expressed concerns over Rambis’ coaching style in the weeks after Rambis was hired to replace Derek Fisher.

Jackson was brought in and paid handsomely in part to keep Dolan out of basketball decisions. Which is a good thing. But if Dolan was the firewall that prevented Rambis from getting the job and the triangle from staying, then Knicks fans owe him a big thank you. The owner who should mostly stay out of basketball operations stepped in at the right time.

This is a big summer for Jackson and his plans in New York — he’s been up and down in the big chair, having nailed the Porzingis draft pick last summer, plus he made a few solid free-agent signings. Now he needs to build on that. The rebuild needs to take its next step forward, and that means getting more talent on the roster (and the Knicks first-round draft pick, the seventh overall, goes to Denver this year, from a deal Jackson inherited). He needs to convince guys to come to New York in what will be a loud and crowded free agent marketplace where nearly every team has money to burn. More than just getting guys, he needs to get quality players that fit with how Hornacek wants to play — that starts with getting a quality pick-and-roll point guard.

This is the summer where we start to see exactly how good an executive Jackson will be.

The fact he didn’t get the guy he wanted as coach makes “how good is he?” a very valid question.

Watch Stephen Curry go flying into stands after loose ball, end up with bump on elbow


Golden State looked more like the team that racked up 73 wins rolling past Oklahoma City in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors led most of the way but blew the game open when Stephen Curry led a 15-2 “Curry flurry” run in the third quarter.

One of his signature plays of the night came in the first half, when Curry leapt over the courtside seats and into the first row chasing a loose ball. He stayed down for a bit, but got back up and by the third quarter was clearly himself again.

Clearly he banged that elbow pretty good on that leap — I’m no doctor, but that swelling on the elbow is not normal.