Now we have what we want: Miami vs. Boston

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Give the people what they want.

And this is the series nearly everyone wanted.

Old school big three vs. new school big three. LeBron James against the Celtics again — but this time he has new friends with him for backup. Tradition rich New England vs. modern and stylish Miami.

Celtics vs. Heat.

A seven-game series nearly as anticipated as the NBA finals (certainly by television executives, at least). This series felt destined from the moment these two teams faced off on opening day. The Heat’s path to legitimacy has always seemed to run through Boston.

Now is when we find out if Miami can live up to the hype. Or if Boston’s veterans and defense are still too tough. We find out if the Celtics can execute at the end of games better than Miami, or if the ridiculous athleticism of the Heat will prove to be too much.

It’s a series of fun matchups — Chris Boshvs. Kevin Garnett, Paul Piercevs. LeBron, Dwyane Wadeand Ray Allen, Joel Anthonyvs. Big Baby… OK, not so much the last one. But across the board the matchups are fascinating.

This is a series that is going to be about defense — two of the top five defenses in the NBA. Boston owns the paint and brings help early, Miami relies on athleticism on the wing to pressure the ball handler, it traps and disrupts. These two teams’ regular-season affairs were largely low-scoring, half-court, grind-it-out games that looked like playoff basketball even though the playoffs were a distant dream at the time.

But in a lot of ways this series will be about the Celtics’ ability to exploit their mismatches. Can Rajon Rondo rip up Mike Bibby? Can the Celtics’ bench extend leads? Will Shaquille O’Neal play, and if he does how much does he have to really give?

Usually in the NBA teams have to struggle a little in the playoffs to advance, they need to learn how to win together before a title can be theirs. This Boston team — with its veterans when they got together — was the exception to the rule. They won out of the gate (and taught the Lakers hard lessons about winning together, something L.A. clearly took to heart).

It feels like Boston could teach Miami that same lesson. But it will not be simple. Wade has learned that lesson — he has a ring, too — and will steady the ship. LeBron is hungry and is still the best player in the game. Bosh is just happy to be out of the first round, so he doesn’t fit with the others. But you get the idea.

This is what basketball is about. A clash of athleticism and style, a battle of systems and guys who just destroy defensive systems with their skill.

This is what we’ve all been waiting for. We got what we wanted, which means the winner of this series is the fans.

Grading every NBA team’s 2018 offseason

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman graded every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there. The full results with links to each writeup:

Atlanta Hawks: B-

Boston Celtics: C+

Brooklyn Nets: B+

Charlotte Hornets: D

Chicago Bulls: C-

Cleveland Cavaliers: F

Dallas Mavericks: B

Denver Nuggets: B-

Detroit Pistons: C

Golden State Warriors: A

Houston Rockets: D

Indiana Pacers: B+

Los Angeles Clippers: C-

Los Angeles Lakers: A+

Memphis Grizzlies: B-

Miami Heat: C

Milwaukee Bucks: B-

Minnesota Timberwolves: D

New Orleans Pelicans: C

New York Knicks: C-

Oklahoma City Thunder: A

Orlando Magic: B

Philadelphia 76ers: C-

Phoenix Suns: D+

Portland Trail Blazers: C

Sacramento Kings: C-

San Antonio Spurs: D-

Toronto Raptors: A

Utah Jazz: C

Washington Wizards: B-

Wizards hire WNBA All-Star Kristi Toliver as assistant coach

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WASHINGTON (AP) — WNBA All-Star Kristi Toliver will be an assistant coach for player development for the NBA’s Washington Wizards this season.

Toliver’s job was one of several changes to coach Scott Brooks’ staff announced by the Wizards on Tuesday, two days before they host the Miami Heat to open the season.

Toliver played for the Washington Mystics and helped them reach the WNBA Finals this year, when she also assisted the Wizards’ coaching staff during the NBA Summer League and training game. She is a 10-year pro and two-time All-Star who won an NCAA title at Maryland.

She joins David Adkins, Mike Terpstra and Maz Trakh on the back of the Wizards’ bench. Alex McLean and Landon Tatum were both promoted to assistant coach for player development.

Robert Pack and Ryan Richman will be with Brooks and Tony Brown on the front of the bench.

Pack was a scout for the Portland Trail Blazers last season, after spending two seasons as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans. He also was an assistant to Brooks with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013-15.

 

Austin Rivers: Everybody, ‘so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers,’ overlooking Wizards and Pacers

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We picked the Celtics, Raptors, 76ers and Bucks to be the top four teams in the Eastern Conference this year and ranked the Wizards and Pacers next. If that’s not the consensus, it’s close to it.

Wizards guard Austin Rivers, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

“I think we’re heavily slept-on,” he tells me. “Team’s been to the playoffs, what, the last five, four or five years? Then going into this year, you add me, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and nobody seems to talk about us. So I just think we’re heavily slept-on, but that’s fine. At the end of the day, nothing really matters until the season starts and we set that tone for ourselves. I get the hype of a couple of the other teams, but I think we have a chance to compete with the best of the East.”

I tell him I recently spoke to Tyreke Evans, who said something similar about the Indiana Pacers. Rivers gets more animated.

“Yeah, I would say Indiana’s the other team that gets slept-on, too,” he says. “You look at Indiana, they took Cleveland to seven games and then damn near, arguably could have beaten them.”

Rivers rattles off Evans’ stats from last season, then continues: “That’s who they just added to the team? And nobody seems to talk about the Pacers because everybody’s so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers. And rightfully so: they’re both talented teams. But Indiana is just as good as both those teams. And I think we’re in the same situation.”

I agree the Wizards and Pacers had positive offseasons. But Indiana might have been punching slightly above its weight as a surprise team last year, and Washington’s problem has often been overconfidence.

In that regard, Rivers – acquired in an offseason trade from the Clippers – is already fitting right in. The brashness might be good for Rivers, but it’s not what the Wizards need.

Washington could have a good season. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are a strong starting point in the Eastern Conference, and Dwight Howard could help with the right attitude and health. Rivers is a quality reserve. But let’s pump the brakes on calling Jeff Green a key addition, though Rivers would be only one of many – including someone in his immediate family – to make that error.

Report: Klay Thompson doesn’t plan to give Warriors discount

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Klay Thompson, who will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, has said many times he plans to stay with the Warriors. He even discussed signing a contract extension, which would have capped his compensation far below what he could get in free agency.

But Thompson is apparently no longer interested in offering Golden State that savings.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Thompson has no plans to take a discount, and the Warriors don’t expect him to, league sources say.

Thompson’s max next summer projects be about about $221 million over five years if he makes an All-NBA team (or wins Defensive Player of the Year) this season or about $190 million over five years if he doesn’t.

That’s a steep bill, but the Warriors have little choice but to pay it. They’re in the midst of maybe the greatest run in NBA history, and they’re generating massive revenue. Cheapness would be a terrible reason to break up this team. Thompson is a key contributor, and at least his outside shooting should help the 28-year-old age well.

But costs will get steep in a hurry. If the Warriors re-sign Thompson and Kevin Durant next summer and Draymond Green the following summer to max – not even supermax – deals, keep Stephen Curry then fill the roster with 10 minimum-salary free agents, their projected payroll in 2020-21 would be… about $288 million, including about $115 million in luxury tax. That might be untenable, even for Golden State.

Perhaps, Durant will take one decision out of the Warriors’ hands. But if Durant stays and Thompson seeks every penny, Green could face a belt-tightening team in 2020 free agency.