5 Things to Watch, Heat-Mavericks: Christmas revenge

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GAMES. There will be actual NBA games played today starting at noon. To get you pumped, ready, and primed for the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, we give you five things to keep an eye on today in Heat-Mavericks.

To get you pumped:

The devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t

The Heat would undeniably take this Mavericks team over the one they faced Tlast spring. No J.J. Barea, no Peja Stojakovkic keeping them honest for stretches, no DeShawn Stevenson d’ing up James and generally being an irritant, and most of all, no Tyson Chandler. The Heat still don’t have a quality center (sorry Eddy Curry, sorry again Joel Anthony), so not having to deal with the seven-foot Chandler roaming the paint is helpful. Lamar Odom will be a handful, no doubt, but they’ll still take that over last year’s combo anytime. The Heat have better odds against a deeper but more piecemeal Mavericks team than the cohesive team that took them down in last year’s Finals.

The Wade Conundrum

Dwyane Wade was a huge barometer for the Heat’s success last year. When he was plugged in and engaged, the Heat were hard to stop, especially for the Mavericks. The Mavericks didn’t retain Caron Butler and only brought in Vince Carter one the wing. Jason Terry lacks the size to guard him, Carter the athleticism and toughness. If the Heat are smart, they’ll gear the offense through Wade almost entirely on Sunday.

The Disengaged One doesn’t sound as good as Chosen One

LeBron James vanished in the fourth quarter during the Finals to most people’s delight. The reality is that the Mavericks sent a brilliant blanket coverage at him, using Shawn Marion to over-pursue on the perimeter, forcing James to drive, then bringing two separate help defenders, forcing James to kick out to someone else who couldn’t shoot from the outside. James has to force the issue on Sunday. The result is fouls, which means weaker lineups for the Mavericks and easy points for James. He needs to not worry about making the right play and make the best play. Or he’s going to have flashbacks of June.

Simple percentages

The Mavericks were in fuego in last year’s Finals, hitting 41 percent from the arc. That number figures to drop as Jason Kidd has to come back to earth a bit (right?), Barea is gone,  along with Stevenson. But Odom has three-point range, as does Carter, and there’s always Dirk. The Heat are a great defensive team, but they may have to sacrifice some inside bucket risks in order to keep hand in the face of the perimeter shooters.

Like a Bosh

You know who actually had a pretty good Finals series? Chris Bosh. Bosh used the attention drawn by the Heat’s drivers to get his pick and pop on, and wound up averaging more points than LeBron. He actually neutralized Jason Terry’s impact, if you choose to think of it that way. Bosh is in his hometown, with a crowd that doesn’t like him. He was tagged as being soft and inferior last season. He can set the tone for this year with a strong performance Sunday.

Drake says Raptors ‘are like a college sports team’ (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors are just one win away from their first ever NBA Finals appearance. Kawhi Leonard helped Toronto beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 105-99, on Thursday night in game 5. That gave the Raptors a 3-2 Series lead over the Bucs as they head back to Canada on Saturday.

Meanwhile, rapper Drake and a bunch of fans watched the victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Jurassic Park outside of Air Canada Centre. Elated with the win, Drake of course made statements to local television and to the crowd itself, saying the Raptors were “like a college team”.

Via Twitter:

Game 6 is on Saturday in Ontario at 5:30 p.m. PST.

Kendrick Perkins says not to sleep on Clippers signing Kevin Durant (VIDEO)

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We don’t know what to think about Kevin Durant and his plans for the offseason right now. Reports have him choosing between the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. Others think he might just stay with the Golden State Warriors. At the very least, some have suggested that nobody really knows where he’s going to go, and Durant’s own business partner says he’s undecided.

So take this with a huge, giant, rough-edged grain of salt.

According to former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, he would not be surprised if Durant decided to signed with the Clippers this summer.

Via Twitter:

It’s not even the end of May yet and I’m already tired of talking about Durant. He’s not even playing and he’s tiring. Durant is perhaps the league’s best player, but the next time this story will be interesting will be when he finally signs somewhere in early July.

In the meantime, talking about what the mercurial Durant wants is a lost cause. Nobody knows what he wants — maybe not even Durant. That is, until he decides to furiously tweet it at a media member. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, either.

Durant won’t be back for the start of the NBA Finals, which is the real story of interest. Golden State looks great against the Portland Trail Blazers without their former two-time Finals MVP, and if the Warriors win a championship without Durant actively participating in that series, it will make his legacy that much more compex.

Mallory Edens wears shirt with Pusha T as a dig against Drake (PHOTO)

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There has been sort of a weird back-and-forth happening during this Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors. Ontario native Drake has been seen courtside during games in Toronto, and his interaction with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse during Game 4 drew the attention of many around the league.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said that he didn’t believe Drake should be standing where he was, nor touching Nurse during the course of a game. That caused the Raptors fan base — and Drake — to fire back at Budenholzer via Instagram, berthing one of the weirdest beefs in playoff memory.

Adding to that rivalry on Thursday night was Mallory Edens, the daughter of Bucks owner Wes Edens. Sitting next to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Edens could be seen wearing a t-shirt with rapper Pusha T on the front of it.

Pusha T and Drake have had a back-and-forth beef for years.

Via Twitter:

Let’s see what Drake comes up with for Game 6 back in The 6. The Raptors are looking to close the Bucks on Saturday and head to the NBA Finals, and it appears that ol’ Aubrey is ready to go:

Toronto beat the Bucks in Game 5, 105-99.

Raptors beat Bucks, are one win away from first-ever NBA Finals

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The Toronto Raptors now lead the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, 3-2.

Thursday night’s matchup marked a three-game winning streak by the Raptors against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference to take a series lead. Kawhi Leonard & Co. now have the chance to close out Giannis Antetokounmpo back in Ontario for Game 6 on Saturday.

Much of Toronto’s success against Milwaukee in Game 5 was predicated by the same thing that got them through Games 3 and 4. Defense was incredibly important for the Raptors, who again collapsed on Antetokounmpo and pressured the shaky Bucks shooters into poor shots at the arc. Milwaukee shot just 32.3 percent from the 3-point line. Once again, both Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon struggled, combining to go 4-of-13 from deep.

Antetokounmpo had a better shooting night then he had in Game 4, but he scored just 24 points to go with six rebounds and six assists. The Greek Freak was not the same kind of impact player that he was in the first two games, and Nick Nurse forced Milwaukee to rely on its supporting cast yet again.

To that end, Khris Middleton had just six points on 2-of-9 shooting, although he did grab 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Milwaukee’s bench was awful for the second game in a row — Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova scored zero points on five shots in 20 minutes.

Much to the delight of Raptors fans, Toronto’s supporting cast rose to Leonard’s level. Pascal Siakam, who didn’t shoot well, scored 14 points with 10 rebounds and three blocks. Kyle Lowry had a solid playoff performance of 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

Most surprising was Fred VanVleet, who played 37 minutes off the bench to the tune of 21 points — all from 3-point shots. VanVleet has been uneven this postseason, but Danny Green had such a poor outing on Thursday (he scored zero points as well) that it was necessary to play VanVleet heavily. Thankfully for Toronto, it worked out.

As a team the Raptors limited turnovers to just six, shooting an incredible 41.9 percent from the 3-point line thanks in large part to Leonard and VanVleet.

The momentum has shifted significantly in this series, and it has much to do with the coaching changes that Nurse has made to pinpoint the inequities in Milwaukee’s lineup. It also seems like the Bucks have gone cold at just the wrong time, and coach Mike Budenholzer will need to come up with some serious strategy to be able to combat Toronto and stave off elimination. The series heads back to Ontario for Game 6 on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. when the Raptors can close the series at home at the Air Canada Centre for their first-ever NBA Finals berth.

The Raptors beat the Bucks in Game 5, 105-99.