Warriors look to close out the Nuggets, but is their focus on the right things?

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The Warriors look to be in a perfect position.

They have the series lead over the Nuggets at 3 games to 2. They’re heading home to Oracle Arena to play a close out game where the fans will create an environment that’s rarely seen in pro sports. They have the best player in the series on  their side and, for the most part, have made the crucial adjustments over the course of the series that should inspire confidence.

Things should be looking up.

However rather than focusing on all the good, the main story heading into this crucial game 6 is all about what the Warriors aren’t happy about. Mark Jackson complained heavily after game 5, calling the Nuggets cheap shot artists for playing a physical style with Stephen Curry. Today he’s taken more offense to comments George Karl made about Warriors’ back up center Festus Ezeli.

The focus has shifted from what needs to happen on the court to what’s going on off of it. And for the Warriors, that’s not necessarily a positive.

If anything, it shows that the Nuggets have invaded their heads and have them thinking about issues that aren’t related to what they need to do on the floor instead of the things that they can actually control. And once players lose sight of the things they can control, it often leads to a decrease in effectiveness.

Make no mistake, Jackson is clearly trying to protect Curry and get his star some calls and trips to the foul line that didn’t come in the last game. He’s also showing he has his players’ backs by speaking up for them in the media. These things, in a vacuum, aren’t bad at all.

But they could also serve as distractions for a young team who doesn’t have much experience winning these types of games. Not to mention that they could be interpreted as a coach who isn’t quite sure if his team can simply go on the court and win if the style of play from game 5 carries over to tonight’s contest.

What the Warriors need to do is find a way to play through whatever tactics the Nuggets are using and get back to playing the style that had them in firm control of the series through five games.

That means taking care of the ball offensively and not committing the types of turnovers that the Nuggets can turn into good scoring chances. It means protecting their offensive glass and not allowing the Nuggets to get the second and third scoring chances that not only lead to points, but slow the Warriors’ open court game that Denver has struggled to defend. It also means getting Curry the space he needs to become the scoring and playmaking threat that terrorized the Nuggets in games two through five.

If they can do those things, they have an excellent shot at winning. But the time has come to stop talking about what the other team is doing and instead focus on what they can do for themselves.

From the Nuggets’ side the equation is roughly the same they used in their game 5 victory. They need to pressure the ball to force miscues, hit open shots to keep the Warriors’ defense honest in their perimeter rotations, and continue to force a physical style of play via bigger lineup combinations that can bang the smaller Warriors around.

Accomplishing this means another strong night from Andre Iguodala on both sides of the ball, for Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer to hit some of their open jumpers, and for JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried to control the glass and provide a paint presence on both ends. Add in Ty Lawson pushing the pace and Andre Miller mixing in some good playmaking with his penchant to play isolation ball and the Nuggets have a chance.

Of course none of this will be easy, but the formula is there. If the Nuggets bring the requisite energy and commitment to their game plan, they should be right in the mix to win this game.

Unlike what Mark Jackson seems to be focusing on right now, the game will be won on the hardwood and not in the media. Hopefully his players understand this to be the case and match what the Nuggets are sure to bring to the table tonight. Because if they don’t, this series will head back to Denver for a seventh game.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.