Los Angeles Clippers

Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards

PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards

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SEASON RECORDS

Raptors: 48-33 (4th place in Eastern Conference)
Wizards: 46-36 (5th place in Eastern Conference)
Toronto won the regular season series 3-0.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS

Raptors: 108.1 points scored per 100 possessions (3rd in NBA); 104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (23rd in NBA).
Wizards: 101.9 points scored per 100 possessions (19th in NBA); 100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (5th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

Does offense win, or does defense: The Wizards struggle to score at times, and the Raptors can’t stop anybody. John Wall was second in the league in assists behind only Chris Paul, so he knows how to distribute when the defense takes the ball out of his hands. It’s unclear if Toronto will be able to slow Wall or Bradley Beal, but if the Wizards backcourt runs wild on the suspect defense of the Raptors, home court advantage could disappear in one of the first two games of the series.

Paul Pierce: After averaging just 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting over his last 10 games of the regular season (via NBA.com’s John Schuhmann), it’s worth wondering why Pierce is running his mouth. “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” he said, which caused DeMar DeRozan to fire back before the playoff matchups were finalized. “Paul Pierce has always gotta say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he said. He’d just better hope Chicago wins (against Atlanta) or whatever has got to happen so he won’t see what ‘It’ is.” Rhetoric aside, the Wizards are going to need Pierce to be more of a factor to be able to consistently compete in this series.

Raptors bench: Toronto’s second-most used lineup features Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough. While not a murderer’s row of household names, this group managed to post a net rating of +17.7 in 229 minutes on the season (via SI.com). The Wizards are not a deep team, and things get thin for them pretty fast once they need to insert the reserves. This could be a real advantage for Toronto in the series, and will remain something to watch.

PREDICTION

Neither of these teams have looked all that capable for the bulk of the second half of the season, but Wall is the best player in this series, so I’ll look to him to find a way to get the job done.

Wizards in 7.

PBT Extra: Will Spurs depth, versatility prove too much for Clippers?

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers
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The Clippers and Spurs is a series worthy of the NBA Conference finals. These are the second and third best teams in the West, two of the top five teams in all the NBA.

And they square off in the first round. But sure, the playoff format system is just fine.

Jenna Corrado and I discuss what will decide this bloodbath of a series, one that likely goes six games at least. I just think Doc Rivers the GM has tied the hands of Doc Rivers the coach too much — the Spurs versatility and depth gives Gregg Popovich more options. He’s got more pieces on the chess board to move around.

But execution will be key, and with Chris Paul at the helm of a desperate Clipper team, they could pull off the upset.

PBT Awards: All-NBA

NBA All-Star Game 2015
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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
  • F: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
  • C: Al Horford, Hawks

There are just so many good forwards, you can’t mention them all. Apologies to DeAndre Jordan, who easily could have been that third center.

Brett Pollakoff

First team

  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Second team

  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
  • C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • F: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
  • C: Al Horford, Hawks

Sean Highkin

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: John Wall, Washington Wizards
  • F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls

The first team is self-explanatory. The positional logjam forces Paul and Westbrook onto the second team — it’s a little ridiculous that they can’t be on the first team, but there are only two guard spots and it would be hard to justify not giving them to the top two MVP candidates. Aldridge carried the Blazers through several injuries and even put off thumb surgery until the summer, without falling off at all. The Gasol brothers were great for different reasons. Marc has a legit case for First Team honors, and Pau was the Bulls’ most consistent player while Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler missed time with injuries.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

I could easily flip Horford and Jordan between the second and third teams, and DeMarcus Cousins isn’t far behind.

Putting Butler at forward might be cheating a bit, but he guarded small forwards often enough to qualify in my book. Apologies to Blake Griffin, who would have taken that spot if I hadn’t fudged Butler’s position.

John Wall was the toughest omission otherwise followed by Paul Millsap, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Love (who regressed from last season, disappointed relative to expectations, didn’t play as well as he’s capable, was misused – and still had a pretty good year).

PBT Awards: MVP

Serbia v USA - 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championship
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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I flip-flopped on this up to the end, but in my mind, people underestimate Curry’s value to the Warriors (+15.7 per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) because he doesn’t do it in a traditional way. His gravity opens the Warriors’ offense for Klay Thompson and everyone else. The Warriors are the best team in the league, and they are not near where they are without Curry.

Brett Pollakoff

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

This is an impossible choice, and there is no argument to be made against Curry winning it. He’s been the best player on what’s been the league’s best team all season long, and he’s been the most entertaining player to watch.

But Harden has been just as incredible. He led the Rockets to the two-seed in the West, despite the team losing two starters for the season due to injury (Patrick Beverley and Donatas Montiejunas), and with Dwight Howard missing 40 games, as well.

Harden leads the league in 40-plus point performances, and with no other real offensive threat on that team, he’s the focus of opposing defenses every single night. Curry will probably win it, and he’s equally deserving. But what Harden did for a Rockets team that desperately needed him to be consistently great is, in my opinion, more worthy of being recognized.

Sean Highkin

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

The real choice here is only between the top two guys. Curry is the best player on the best team and Harden is the one that managed to drag a flawed team to the second seed in the West despite a slew of injuries. They’re basically 1 and 1a and there’s no wrong answer. Insert any number of other ways to hedge this choice.

But I’m going with Curry. He has better teammates than Harden, but just his being on the floor completely changes the way teams approach everything defensively. He’s improved on that end, too. It’s an impossible choice. It really is.

Dan Feldman

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

I hate having to leave Russell Westbrook off the ballot. He has a case for No. 1. But in this deep pool, he’s my No. 6. His lack of minutes – insert “availability is the most important ability” cliché – keeps him (and Davis and LeBron) outside the top three, and his lackluster defense drops him below the other two.

Curry has played with better teammates, but he took the Warriors from a little above average to historically great. That’s not a lesser accomplishment than Harden taking the Rockets from bad to very good. It’s a close call between those, but I think Curry played just a little better this season.

NBA and NBPA to introduce HGH blood testing next season

NBA To Announce New Marketing Partnership with PepsiCo
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When the NBA and the NBPA signed the latest collective bargaining agreement in 2011, there was an agreement between the two sides that they would eventually revisit the subject of blood testing for human growth hormone in players and agree to a process for implementing it that both sides found fair. That day has come on Thursday.

From the league’s press release on Thursday afternoon:

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced today that blood testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) will commence under the league’s anti-drug program, effective with the 2015-16 NBA season.

As part of the collective bargaining negotiations in 2011, the NBA and the Players Association agreed to a process for determining how HGH blood testing would be implemented in the NBA.  With that process now completed, beginning with the start of 2015 NBA training camps, all NBA players will be subject to three random, unannounced HGH tests annually (two in-season, one off-season), and players will also be subject to reasonable cause testing for HGH.

If a player tests positive for HGH, he will be suspended 20 games for his first violation and 45 games for his second violation, and he will be dismissed and disqualified from the NBA for his third violation.

Performance-enhancing drugs have always been the elephant in the room in the NBA. They’ve never appeared as prevalent as they are in, say, baseball or cycling. A handful of players (Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and most recently Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes) have been suspended after testing positive for various types of steroids. Commissioner Adam Silver said that the NBA doesn’t have a steroid problem. On the other side, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has come out in favor of the NBA possibly allowing HGH use as long as players were transparent about it.

It will be fascinating to see how many players, if any, get caught under the new policy. The penalties are harsh — 20 games for a first offense, 45 games for a second, a lifetime ban for a third. If the league doesn’t have a PED problem, the new testing policy won’t do much. But if both the NBA and the players’ union want to make sure the league stays clean, it’s a huge step in the right direction.