PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards

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SEASON RECORDS

Raptors: 48-33 (4th place in Eastern Conference)
Wizards: 46-36 (5th place in Eastern Conference)
Toronto won the regular season series 3-0.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS

Raptors: 108.1 points scored per 100 possessions (3rd in NBA); 104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (23rd in NBA).
Wizards: 101.9 points scored per 100 possessions (19th in NBA); 100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (5th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

Does offense win, or does defense: The Wizards struggle to score at times, and the Raptors can’t stop anybody. John Wall was second in the league in assists behind only Chris Paul, so he knows how to distribute when the defense takes the ball out of his hands. It’s unclear if Toronto will be able to slow Wall or Bradley Beal, but if the Wizards backcourt runs wild on the suspect defense of the Raptors, home court advantage could disappear in one of the first two games of the series.

Paul Pierce: After averaging just 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting over his last 10 games of the regular season (via NBA.com’s John Schuhmann), it’s worth wondering why Pierce is running his mouth. “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” he said, which caused DeMar DeRozan to fire back before the playoff matchups were finalized. “Paul Pierce has always gotta say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he said. He’d just better hope Chicago wins (against Atlanta) or whatever has got to happen so he won’t see what ‘It’ is.” Rhetoric aside, the Wizards are going to need Pierce to be more of a factor to be able to consistently compete in this series.

Raptors bench: Toronto’s second-most used lineup features Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough. While not a murderer’s row of household names, this group managed to post a net rating of +17.7 in 229 minutes on the season (via SI.com). The Wizards are not a deep team, and things get thin for them pretty fast once they need to insert the reserves. This could be a real advantage for Toronto in the series, and will remain something to watch.

PREDICTION

Neither of these teams have looked all that capable for the bulk of the second half of the season, but Wall is the best player in this series, so I’ll look to him to find a way to get the job done.

Wizards in 7.

NBA makes it official, moves up free agency six hours to 6 p.m. June 30 (Eastern)

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I’d like to think this means we’ll all be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour on June 30. I also know better.

There is a frenzy of activity right as free agency opens (Tampering? There is no tampering in the NBA…), which traditionally has been as the clock turns to July 1 in New York, right at midnight. Things got so active that a lot of agents and players made sure they were in Los Angeles, even if they didn’t live there in the offseason, just so things started at the more reasonable hour of 9 p.m.

Now the NBA has made the rumors official: Free agency will begin at 6 p.m. Eastern on June 30. Six hours earlier than before.

This was done as an agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

This is going to be a wild July with a lot of big-name free agents — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler — and maybe a third of the players in the league on the market, plus there are a lot more teams with cap space to spend this season. It’s going to be a frenzy.

Now we know what time the wild times start.

Why does Kevin Durant respond on social media? “I’m qualified to talk about basketball”

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Every NBA player gets ripped on social media, even the guys who are not on social media. Most of the time players just ignore it, the way they ignore fans yelling stuff courtside or distant family asking them for money.

Kevin Durant, however, gets into it sometimes, even with national media members (and even had a burner account). Which always becomes a thing.

Why? Why not just ignore it? From Durant himself at practice Friday, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Because I have social media,” Durant said Friday… “I mean, I’m a human being with a social media account. I could see if I ventured off into like politics, culinary arts or music and gave my input, but I’m sticking to something that I know. You know what I’m saying? This is all I know. I’m actually talking about stuff that I know. I’m qualified to talk about basketball.

“So when I respond to something, especially if it’s about me personally, of course I’m going to tell you if you wrong about it. When I’m on the training table getting treatment on my calf and I see a tweet that come by and I disagree — I don’t talk to people because I’m worried about what they say, it’s just that I’m interested. So if you talking about in-game or the NBA Finals, they’re the same to me, you know what I’m saying?”

Durant seems to have more time on hands to get into these spats while he is out injured. Which likely will last into the start of the NBA Finals.

Does this mean the Drake/Durant beef is inevitable?

LeBron likes Instagram of Kyrie Irving in Lakers jersey, Internet goes berserk

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The Lakers landing Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer might be their best realistic option. It’s far, far from a lock — the Knicks, and yes Celtics, will make their pitch, too — but reuniting the pair that won a title in Cleveland is on the Lakers’ radar. (Insert your own, “you know who should coach this team” Tyronn Lue joke here.)

Fueling the speculation, LeBron James and Irving were seen hanging out together at a club in Los Angeles recently. Then Friday, this happened: Cuffthelegend posted this on Instagram and LeBron liked it.

View this post on Instagram

I like how this feels

A post shared by Savage Season 365 (@cuffsthelegend) on

(For the record, Cuffthelegend gets some stuff right, he’s not a guy who posts stuff out of nowhere.)

Of course, NBA Twitter and the web responded to this in its usual measured, thoughtful way. Some Lakers fans think the deal is done, others mock the idea altogether.

Two thoughts on Irving and the Lakers:

• Multiple reports say Irving is open to it. Irving also has a strong relationship with Kevin Durant, and Boston still plans to trade for Anthony Davis and then try to re-sign Irving (even if Boston fans are done with Kyrie). The only person who knows which way Irving is leaning right now is Irving, and there’s a good chance he changes his mind in the next five weeks anyway.

• If the Lakers are going to land a star free agent this summer, it will be because LeBron was an active recruiter. These elite players have options, and the Laker front office is not inspiring confidence of late, it will be on LeBron to win guys over.

 

Jeremy Lin: Milwaukee security guard asked for my pass to Raptors team bus

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Jeremy Lin has discussed people not believing he plays in the NBA.

It apparently still happens.

Lin, whose Raptors are playing the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, via Bill Michaels Sports Talk Network:

After Game 2 in Milwaukee, I was trying to get to the team bus and one of the dudes in the Milwaukee arena just screams at me. He’s like, “Where do you think you’re going?!” And I’m like, “Uh, I’m trying to get to the team bus.” He’s like, “What?! Where’s your pass?” I was like, “I don’t have a pass. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a pass.”

This happens in a lot of arenas, so I just kind of go with the flow.

It’s a fine line. Lin shouldn’t be profiled as a non-athlete because he’s Asian-American. Arena staffers should keep everyone safe by stopping unauthorized people.