Trail Blazers, Knicks top list of upset specials

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There are things we know about this year’s NBA playoffs. The beer in Madison Square Garden will be too expensive. Lakers fans will blame any loss of their team on the referees. Derrick Rose will dominate Indiana and some will claim that as further proof of his deserving the MVP.

And some higher seed is going to get upset in the first round.

The NBA does not (nor will it ever) have NFL-style parity, but there are just too many good teams on the bottom half of the standings this season for one not to rise up and smack down a higher seed. It’s going to happen.

So who is it going to be?

The usual bet is the four-five seed matchup, but not this year. Atlanta is going to put up a better fight than they did last year against Orlando, but to believe in that upset is to believe Jason Collins can best Dwight Howard for four out of seven games. I’m not on board there. As for Denver, they have been special and fun since the trade, out working everybody and sharing the ball on offense. Problem is, the Thunder have similar strengths and better players. Denver will make them work, but OKC will pull away like they did in the last two meetings between these two teams.

No, the potential upsets are the three/six seed matchups. The Knicks and the Trail Blazers have a real shot to advance.

The Knicks have a puncher’s chance in this series. They are not the better team, they are not deeper, they are not anywhere near as committed to their system as the Celtics. Shaq or no Shaq, Boston is superior.

But the Knicks have two guys who can simply take over games and win them single handedly — and they are in a system that gives them the freedom to do that. Boston players will have a hand in the face of Carmelo Anthony all series, but there is no better shooter of contested shots in the league (well, maybe Dirk Nowitzki, but it’s close). Anthony is fully capable of putting up 40+ with that hand in his face and winning a game. At some point in the series Amar’e Stoudemire may shake free of Kevin Garnett and take over a game himself.

Then there is the Knicks secret weapon in Chauncey Billups — his steady hand has long proven to be a big playoff asset. He does not get rattled, he’s seen it all before.

What the Knicks also have with Billups and Anthony is two of the best guys at game winning shots around. If the Knicks can keep it close, so it comes down to a one-possession game, they have serious closers. They’d have a real puncher’s chance because they have the guys that can land the haymaker.

It’s not going to be easy — but it is going to be entertaining. But maybe, just maybe if the Celtics late regular season struggles carry over to the playoffs, the Knicks can shock the world. And give Spike Lee the idea for a new documentary.

The sexy upset pick — and we picked it as well — is Portland to beat Dallas.

There are a couple of reasons why. The trade deadline acquisition by Portland of Gerald Wallace is a key one — a lot of fans don’t realize just how good this guy is. Dirk Nowitzki does, and he knows Wallace will be draped on him all series. And make him work on the defensive end. Wallace is not flashy but the guy is good at everything and works harder than everyone. He’s a monster.

Another reason is LaMarcus Aldridge — he averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season. He will occupy Tyson Chandler’s time and may lead to Chandler in foul trouble. Also, Portland brings Brandon Roy off the bench now and he can win a game (as can Rudy Fernandez from three on the right night). Dallas has depth, they have Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.

Dallas was the better team over the course of the season, but the playoffs are about matchups. And Portland has some advantages there. Enough that they could pull off an upset.

And teach the lesson to Dallas one more, hard time that building for the regular season and playoffs are different.

Celtics interim coach Mazzulla to coach Team Giannis in All-Star Game

New York Knicks (120) Vs. Boston Celtics (117) At TD Garden (OT)
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One way to remove the “interim” tag from your coaching resume is to earn the right to coach in the All-Star Game.

Boston Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzula and his staff will coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game this season. It became official when the 76ers fell to the Magic on Tuesday night, ensuring the Celtics would have the best record in the East by the cut-off date this Sunday.

The Celtics are 36-15 and in first place in the Eastern Conference, even though they have lost 3-of-4 (and needed overtime and a bad no-call on a LeBron James potential game-winner to get that victory). They have a top-five offense and defense in the league and have looked like the team to beat since the start of the season, even if they have had a few injuries and looked bored with the regular season of late.

Mazzulla deserves credit for helping the team move past former coach Ime Udoka was suspended due to an improper affair with a franchise employee. It could have been a distraction that blew up the Boston season, but he got them focused beyond that, and with that could get some Coach of the Year votes (in a crowded field).

First, however, he has to coach the All-Star Game.

Are Pistons going to hold on to Bojan Bodanovic into next season?

Milwaukee Bucks v Detroit Pistons
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For much of the run-up to the Feb. 9 trade deadline, Bojan Bogdanovic has been one of the best and most discussed players available. The 6’8″ wing who can knock down 3s and do some secondary shot creation could help a lot of teams.

One of those is the Pistons, who want to take a big step forward next season. Bogdanovic told Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype the front office spoke to him, and it doesn’t sound like he will get traded.

“Having conversations with the club, Troy [Weaver, general manager] and the owners, they assured me that we’re going to be great next year,” Bogdanovic said. “We have a lot of cap space to sign great players. We’re going to have a high pick again, so that’s going to help us a lot. We have a great young group of guys. When Cade [Cunningham] went down, that kind of hurt us big time. We were thinking that maybe we’d be fighting for the play-in tournament, but when he went down, he was our main guy. All of our offensive strategies were connected to him. When he went down, our season, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs without him.”

The Pistons reportedly have set the price for Bogdanovic at an unprotected first-round pick, which is very steep. This may simply be a case of Detroit being willing to keep Bogdanovic around if nobody wants to meet that price. They did just extend him for two years, $39.1 million and he would be the kind of professional veteran that is good to have in the locker room around a younger team.

Bogdanovic, for his part, would rather not hear the rumors.

“I heard the rumors, but I’m trying to stay away from those conversations,” Bogdanovic said. “I don’t even have any social media like Twitter. I don’t read much about that. It’s not in my control. It’s about the franchises. I’m just going to try and stay focused and play as best I can. Then, we’ll see what’s going to happen at the end of the trade deadline.”

The rumors are not going anywhere, they will stick around through the trade deadline. Bogdanovic may as well.

Report: Mavericks looking for another star at trade deadline. Good luck with that.

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Two things are true. First, the painted-over mural was right, the Dallas Mavericks desperately need a second star to go next to Luka Dončić. Second, they have backed themselves into a corner without the trade assets or cap space to easily make that happen.

It may be a longshot, but the Mavericks are open to trading anyone but Dončić to find that second star at the deadline, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reminds us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Dallas is open to this, of course they are.

The challenges start with, what star is available? The best player maybe on the market right now is John Collins or Bojan Bogdanovic, and while both would help the Mavericks neither is changing the team’s fortunes the way they would hope.

If Toronto decides to become sellers things get interesting. However, as of the latest reports, they are on the fence and telling teams they are waiting to decide what they will do at the deadline (sell, stand pat, or become buyers). Fred VanVleet could be available, and would essentially be a Jalen Brunson replacement, certainly a step up from where the Mavericks are currently. However, the Clippers and others could drive up the asking price, plus the Mavericks would have to step up and pay him this summer, VanVleet is expected to opt out of his $22.8 million contract. O.G. Anunoby would be a great fit next to Dončić, but he is not a star, he is more of a high-level role player.

Pascal Siakam could be that second star next to Dončić, a 6’8″ wing who can finish at the rim, shoot 3s, and would be a great secondary shot creator. It’s a good fit. Siakam is not an elite defender — Dallas would want some 3&D guys added to the roster — but he would be the kind of addition Dallas needs.

Dallas can offer its three first-round picks starting in 2024, but is some combination of those picks and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith going to entice the Raptors? They will look for a massive package for Siakam and likely see better offers than Dallas can construct.

It may not be easy to pull off, and likely will wait until the offseason (at the earliest), but know the Mavericks are serious about a second star.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.