NBA Playoffs: Saturday is the last stand

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G_Wallace.jpg8 teams play today, 4 in Game 3’ss, and 4 in Game 4’s. But for the underdog in each of these contests, this will be their last stand in the hopes of a competitive series. If these teams want to force a Game 7, forget about the elimination game, whenever it comes. Today is their last stand. Here’s a look at what they need to do if they don’t want to wind up like Custer.

Charlotte (hosting Orlando): The Bobcats have done everything to make this a competitive series, and still the Magic have held them at arm’s length. Playoff basketball returns to Charlotte for the first time in a long time today and there’s no way to anticipate what kind of crowd will be on hand for the Bobcats’ playoff debut. They need an emotional crowd, because this team has to surge behind it, play with intensity, and capture every loose ball.

 The Magic are in high gear right now, and burying the Cats at home would make a sweep very likely. As feisty as the Cats have been all season, they have also been known to mail in their fair share, as veterans are wont to do. Going down 3-0 would put the Cats in a hole they would probably be unmotivated to climb out of.

The key is going to be Raymond Felton. Felton was considered a wash against Jameer Nelson before the series started, and now it looks like a complete mismatch. Nelson has been efficient from three, proficient at point, and devastating on the drive. Felton not only has to contain Nelson, but figure out how to get a few buckets of his own. From there, it’s the luck of the three pointer behind a home crowd they need.

Portland (hosting Phoenix): And everything looked so good after Game 1, too. No series’ momentum has swung like this one, with the Suns looking unstoppable in the last two games once they switched Grant Hill on Andre Miller and started defending like they gave a crap. Portland hasn’t just seemed outmanned (and they are, with injuries to Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, and Nicolas Batum), but outclassed. They haven’t responded at all to a raucous home crowd, and have let the Suns dictate the tempo.

A loss tonight would mean three in a row, headed back to Phoenix for an elimination game, potentially coinciding with the announcement of an extension for Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s a lot that can go wrong for the Blazers in that situation, so they need a win today to even the series and force at least two more. They have to adjust to Jason Richardson who went off for 42 points last game and has torched them from the perimeter in transition. They’ve got to slow the ball down, and while they need to stop the ball in transition when Nash is leading the charge, he’s much deadlier when finding open three pointers. They’ve got to keep their heads on, or they might as well start packing up the Rose Garden.

Milwaukee (hosting Atlanta): Another potential sweep series. The Bucks haven’t played badly. That’s the killer. They’ve gotten Brandon Jennings to contribute consistently.They’ve had Ersan Ilyasova step up as a big man. And they’ve gotten good team play. And they just haven’t come close to scratching the Hawks. Milwaukee is going to have to get this done dirty if they want to win, otherwise, this will be a sweep.

The key is going to be turning this game into one of those ugly, slow affairs. While the Hawks run at a slow pace, they have the talent advantage, so more possessions favor them. The Bucks need to turn it into a low possession game and try and connect from the arc, something they’re not great at. John Salmons is going to need the game of his career. A game 4 with a chance to rest up before meeting Orlando is going to be a big carrot for the Hawks.

Thunder (hosting Lakers): Okay, OKC. You got the first playoff win in the first playoff game. And you were loud as hell. But now you have the Lakers’ attention. And while your crowd will likely be close to as loud as they were Thursday night, you’ve got to imagine the Lakers will probably come out with a little fire after facing defeat. The Lakers know a Game 4 win effectively ends this series, with three closeout games in a tight series left, two at home.

If the Thunder can take this game and put LA back on their heels a bit, they’ve got a three game series in which anything can happen. They’ve played well in LA, falling short both times but remaining competitive, so they’d have a lot of hope to pull the miracle. But first thing’s first, they’ve got to win today.

The key is going to be to follow the same formula as the last game. Attack inside, rely on Kevin Durant to have a hot night, have Russell Westbrook destroy whoever is “guarding” him, and swarm on defense. Most important is going to be the defense on Pau Gasol. Gasol has been killer in this series, with everything from off-ball movement leading to dunks, to that patented rainbow fader of his. Jeff Green can’t handle him, neither can Nenad Krstic.

The Thunder have to get Andrew Bynum in foul trouble so they can put Serge Ibaka on Gasol. Another option that may seem crazy would be to go to Etan Thomas, who hasn’t played much at all as the season wore on, to match Gasol’s length and range. Thomas can impact the boards, and might be a better defensive matchup. Then again, it’s Etan Thomas.

This game will say a lot about where both franchises are.

Report: Knicks interested in hiring 76ers’ Elton Brand as GM

76ers general manager Elton Brand
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The 76ers’ eventful offseason has fallen flat so far.

Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) has generally underwhelmed and especially struggled to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid. At 33, Horford faces even more issues as he ages.

Though Tobias Harris has been fine, it’s hard to feel good about his five-year, $180 million deal. That contract makes it difficult to build a quality bench, even if ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. Every team has spending limits, and Philadelphia has tied significant capital to a merely solid forward.

Josh Richardson isn’t shooting as well as he did while looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. It’s also hard not to notice Jimmy Butler thriving in Miami.

The cumulative results are also concerning. Creating enough spacing around Embiid and Simmons was always challenging. This group isn’t coming close to answering that call. That has produced some strain throughout the season.

Will 76ers general manager Elton Brand take the fall for Philadelphia’s problems?

If so, he could have a fallback job under new Knicks president Leon Rose.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

According to a league source, Elton Brand has been targeted by Rose as a candidate for Knicks GM. Brand, 41, is currently the Sixers GM and is under contract next season, complicating any designs of bringing him to New York. The source said Rose wanted to see if Brand was dismissed after the playoffs.

It’s nearly impossible to see Brand going to New York unless the 76ers fire him. Though the titles in each franchise would be the same, they’re very different roles. He holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. With the Knicks, Brand would work under Rose.

Would the 76ers fire Brand? Maybe. It could depend how they do in the playoffs, and this team still has a championship upside this season.

Even with an early-round loss, Philadelphia seems more likely to fire coach Brett Brown than make a larger change. But it’s not as if Brand – who held minimal front-office experience when hired in 2018 – has done much to instill confidence. There’s not a great affirmative case for keeping him.

The Knicks have Scott Perry as general manager, but he’s a holdover from the Steve Mills regime. After all the handwringing about Steve Stoute saying the Knicks will hire a new coach while they still had Mike Miller as interim coach, this more reflects reality. Professional sports are a cutthroat business. It’s perfectly fine for the Knicks to seek a new general manager while still having someone in that position running out the clock.

Could that be Brand? He’s smart and connects well with people. His long playing career provides invaluable experience. He’d fit well as No. 2 in an NBA front office.

But, right now, he has an even better job.

Carmelo Anthony: Nuggets should have won 2009 championship

Carmelo Anthony in 2009 Lakers-Nuggets Western Conference finals
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Carmelo Anthony said he would’ve won multiple championships if the Pistons drafted him in 2003.

Of course, Detroit picked Darko Milicic No. 2. Anthony went to the Nuggets No. 3.

But Anthony still had a big opportunity to win a title.

Denver – led by Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin – reached the 2009 Western Conference finals. Facing the Lakers, the Nuggets lost Game 1 by two points then won Game 2 by three points in Los Angeles. The Lakers then won Games 3, 5 and 6 to take the series.

Anthony on Instagram with Dwyane Wade:

I was sick, because we were supposed to beat them that year. I don’t like saying “We should have.” I don’t like saying all that. But when you re-evaluate everything. We really wanted Orlando in that Finals that year. We was like, “If we get Game 1 in L.A. or Game 2, we’re going back to Denver, we’re sweeping them.” We was going to beat them. We was going to beat them that year if we would’ve won in L.A. If we would’ve won both games, we would’ve beat them. And we would’ve swept Orlando that year.

Wade:

Orlando was alright, but they weren’t –

Anthony:

No, would’ve swept them. We would’ve swept them that year.

Yes, Denver would have likely won the series if taking the first two games in Los Angeles. The Nuggets also would’ve had a strong chance against the Magic, whom the Lakers beat in five in the Finals.

But it’s a major leap just to give Denver another win in Los Angeles. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets throughout the season. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets in that series. The Lakers were better than everyone. They had just reached the NBA Finals the prior season and were on their way to winning consecutive titles. This wasn’t some unfortunate break for Denver.

And even if the Nuggets won Game 2, the series wouldn’t have been over as Anthony says. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant and had savvy veterans like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. They wouldn’t have just folded with a 2-0 deficit.

Sometimes, lesser teams beat better teams. The Nuggets COULD have beaten the Lakers.

But SHOULD have? Nah. Not even close.

Parents: Obi Toppin wants to play for Golden State Warriors

Obi Toppin and mother, Roni Toppin
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Dayton star Obi Toppin declared for the NBA draft. The Warriors will have a high pick (whenever the draft is held).

Could it be a fit?

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Golden State,” Toppin’s mother, Roni, said when asked by Dell and Sonya Curry who Obi wants to play for on an episode of the “Raising Fame” podcast.

“Let’s go to the Bay.”

Toppin’s father, Obadiah, was a well-known street baller in Brooklyn who played for several semi-professional teams. He seconded his wife’s declaration, and praised Dell and Sonya’s son, Warriors superstar Steph Curry.

“I got my few point guards that I always dreamed of playing for, just because they were the truest point guards — like Steph Curry,” Obadiah said. “I think Obi would be great playing with Steph Curry.”

These are Toppin’s parents, not Toppin himself. The elder Toppins might also be just flattering their interviewers, Stephen Curry‘s parents.

But I bet many top draft picks want to play for the Warriors.

Golden State is a sleeping giant with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Highly picked rookies rarely join a contender. This is a special opportunity.

Players have extremely limited control of where they get drafted. After all, the draft is a mechanism designed by teams and for teams. But draft prospects can choose when and where to work out, whether to share medical information with certain teams. They can even threaten to be disgruntled if drafted by a certain team.

The most common strategy for controlling draft destination – choosing workouts – might be limited this year. It’s possible there are no workouts anywhere.

But if Toppin wants to join the Warriors, best of luck to him making that happen.

Washington big man Isaiah Stewart declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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University of Washington forward/center Isaiah Stewart had declared for the 2020 NBA Draft.

The six-foot-nine big man averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a freshman for the Huskies. He possesses one of the longest wingspans in this draft class at seven-foot-four. That length, combined with his strength and athleticism, makes Stewart an ideal defender at the NBA level.

Stewart shot 57% from the floor and 77% at the free throw line. ESPN currently ranks Stewart at 26th on their draft board.

The 250-pound Stewart earned All-Pac-12 first team honors. These honors came after winning the Naismith Award for national high school player of the year in 2019.

The 2020 NBA Draft remains scheduled for Thursday, June 25. That date, as are all dates associated with sports, is up in the air as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.