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Playoffs stand between Hassan Whiteside and min-to-max history

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Hassan Whitesidewith so much behind him – has everything right in front of him.

Whiteside is set to make his playoff debut, and the postseason will serve as his final – and maybe most important – audition entering free agency. If all goes well, Whiteside, who was playing in Lebanon just two years ago, could become the first player in NBA history to go from a minimum salary one year to a maximum salary the next year.

“You ever woke up on Christmas Day, and you know you’re going to get a gift?” Whiteside said. “I’m that excited.”

But the playoffs, which the Heat open against the Hornets, won’t necessarily be a coronation for Whiteside. The center – who averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and an NBA-high 3.7 blocks per game – developed into a beast during the regular season. But the postseason, facing the same opponent over and over, becomes more about exposing weaknesses – and Whiteside has shown a few of those.

NBA teams have become increasingly good at scheming big men like the 7-foot Whiteside off the floor. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra recalled a December loss to the Wizards, who played so small in the fourth quarter, 6-foot-7 Jared Dudley served as de facto center. Whiteside didn’t play in the final period, which the Heat lost by eight. Spoelstra called it a “painful” experience.

But Whiteside remained confident and talked to his coach.

“I told him, ‘Let me show you I can’t guard smalls,'” Whiteside said. “‘Don’t just assume because I’m 7 feet, 260. Let me show you.”

Whiteside has, improving his ability cover on the perimeter as the season has progressed. But it’s still an area ripe for attempting to expose him, especially considering how well Whiteside plays in traditional matchups.

He has a message for the Hornets or any other foe considering small ball against him.

“You go small if you want,” Whiteside said. “You going to see what’s going to happen.

“They’re going to pay for it.”

Whiteside compares it to high school or college, when he had a massive height advantage. He’ll crash the offensive glass and finish at the rim.

That won’t be Whiteside’s only challenge, though. His man-to-man post defense can be spotty, as he leaps to contest far too many fakes. Al Jefferson will test him there.

Really, this is a great opportunity for Whiteside. I think he’s a fantastic player, but every major question about him – his mental discipline, his emotional maturity – will get pushed in the playoffs.

He’ll have several veteran teammates at his side, including Dwyane Wade, who knows what it takes for a young player to thrive in the playoff pressure cooker.

“When the moments get loud, let guys coach you a little bit,” Wade said. “And he does that. He’ll be fine. It’s basketball. It’s just at higher level. You’ve got to minimize the mistakes, but you’ve also got to let your guys kind of bring you back when you kind of lose it a little bit.”

Whiteside has plenty to lose this postseason, but oh so much to gain.

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.

Report: Needing depth at center, Dallas trades for Willie Cauley-Stein from Golden State

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Dallas took a big hit this week when center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles. The Mavericks’ starting center was a critical pick-and-roll partner with Luka Doncic, a roll man and vertical threat that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor (along with other Dallas shooters), plus Powell was a solid team defender.

Willie Cauley-Stein is going to get a chance to fill that role.

Golden State is trading Cauley-Stein to Dallas for a second-round pick.

Dallas just made a trade for Justin Patton to waive him and clear out a roster spot for this trade.

Cauley-Stein is averaging an efficient 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for Golden State. More importantly for Dallas, he provides the athletic dive man, a threat on the roll they need to keep things open for Doncic.

Dallas could have waited out the market to try and land a better center, but this gives them a reliable fit for minimal cost (a late second-round pick, they kept Golden State’s own second rounder). Cauley-Stein will split time at the five with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic.

For those of you crunching the numbers at home:

For Golden State, in the short term, this move creates a couple of open roster spots. One of those likely will be used to re-sign Marquese Chriss, who was waived last week. The other roster spot likely will go to Ky Bowman.

Golden State adds a pick and a trade exception for sending out a player that was not part of their long-term plans anyway.

In trade about money/roster space, Mavericks send Isaiah Roby to Thunder for Justin Patton, cash

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We have a trade…

That shifts things around on the end of the bench in Dallas so they could create a roster spot forWillie Cauley-Stein (a trade that was announced later). A trade that is mostly about saving some and rolling the dice on a project in OKC.

Dallas is sending Isaiah Roby to OKC for Justin Patton, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What is really going on here?

For Dallas, this is about clearing out a roster spot, it plans to waive Patton. That roster spot is going to Willie Cauley-Stein in a trade with Golden State, that was just reported. The Mavericks lost center Dwight Powell to a torn Achilles this week and needed to bring in a player or two — via trade or free agency — to help bolster the existing front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic. Here is Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

The move also clears out a little cash for Dallas.

In Oklahoma City, they get a young player to develop but also save some money.

Roby has not played in an NBA game yet. The rookie out of Nebraska — taken 45th overall last June — is a development project, but one who passes the eye test for an NBA power forward. He did a lot of things well in college — scoring, rebounding, works hard off the ball — but can he do that at an NBA level? He’s played in nine G-League games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 7 rebounds a game.

 

Bulls: Lauri Markkanen out 4-6 weeks

Lauri Markkanen
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Lauri Markkanen ranked No. 34 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years entering the season.

Instead of building toward that promise, Markkanen has underwhelmed. His shot just isn’t falling as hoped.

Now, the news get even worse.

Bulls:

The Bulls (2.5 games and two games out) have been hanging in the playoff race. But there was already little reason to believe they’d make a postseason push. Now, there’s even less rationale to predict a longshot postseason run.

Markkanen will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason. The 22-year-old can still fulfill his potential as a 7-foot shooter with defensive versatility. But he’s running out of time to show consistent contributions. That’ll make it tougher for Chicago to offer a satisfactory extension.

Two of the very things that could happen for the Bulls are Markkanen shaking off his extended slump and landing a high draft pick.

This could help with both.