Three things to watch tonight in NBA Playoffs: Will Curry play for Warriors? Does it matter?

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From now through the end of the playoffs, each day the team at PBT will give you a little preview of what will be coming that night and what to look for on the court. For Monday, the things to look for starts with the very basic question of whether Curry is even on the court.

1) Will Stephen Curry play for Warriors? Will it even matter? Stephen Curry has said he wants to play in Game 2 Monday. However, he did not go through practice with Golden State Sunday and is officially listed as “questionable” with a sprained ankle suffered in the Warriors blowout Game 1 win against Houston. Considering Curry’s ankle injury history (he’s had two surgeries on that same ankle) and his importance to their playoff run, Steve Kerr may be leaning toward having Curry sit out Game 2.

The real question is, can Houston do anything about it if he does sit? Technically Houston outscored Golden State by six points when Curry was on the bench through the first three quarters of Game 1 (which eliminates the garbage time of the fourth when Curry sat), but this will be different. The bickering Rockets tried to get James Harden going (17 points on 19 shots), but the Warriors did a great job of not fouling (zero free throw attempts for Harden), and the Rockets lack the shooters to prevent help from getting in the way of Harden. J.B. Bickerstaff has work to do looking for ways to get Harden playing downhill and back to being Harden.

This is simple for the Rockets: If Curry sits this is the road game Houston needs to steal to have any shot in this series. If the Rockets’ can’t, go ahead and start booking tee times.

2) Will DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry show up for the playoffs in Game 2? Toronto was the No. 2 seed in the East on the strength of their backcourt — the second best in the NBA — but the Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who terrorized the league for much of the season didn’t show up for Game 1. They combined to shoot 8-of-32 from the floor overall, 1-of-10 from three, and they had nine turnovers. Credit the Pacers physical defense with some of that — they contested 20 of those shots and Lowry/DeRozan hit just four of them — but Toronto’s All-Stars are better than this.

Lowry and DeRozan — and coach Dwane Casey — said all the right things Sunday about them not being rattled by the pressure of history (the Raptors haven’t advanced out of the first round since the Vince Carter era), now they need to back that up. In part, that means coming up with play designs to create space for the guards, but then the duo just needs to hit shots. The Raptors didn’t play to their strengths or identity, that needs to change..

By the way, the Raptors don’t just need to adjust on the offensive end. DeRozan was assigned Paul George defensively much of Game 1 and was torched — George had 27 of his 33 points in the second half and keyed the Pacers’ win. Specifically, expect a change in who is on Goerge (Norman Powell?) from the Raptors, as well as how they deal with George on the pick-and-roll. Expect hedging and traps.

3) What can Rick Carlisle do to get Dallas buckets? Other than get back to playing Justin Anderson more. Dallas has far less talent than Oklahoma City. That’s not up for debate. The Mavericks’ only hope to make their first round series interesting was for brilliant coach Rick Carlisle to come up with some masterful stroke that neutralized Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the talent gulf. We’ve come to expect him to do just that. Except it didn’t happen in Game 1. Not even close, OKC won in a blowout.

For all the talk of the OKC offense it was the team’s defense that owned Dallas and decided that game. It was the best Thunder defensive performance in some time, they were active and aggressive. Carlisle has to find a way to get players not born in Germany some buckets to open up the floor — one way would be to play Justin Anderson more. The rookie started the six-game winning streak Dallas had to make the playoffs, and then Carlisle went away from him to get more minutes to trusted veterans. Stop it, go with what worked. To add to Carlisle’s challenges, for Game 2 J.J. Barea is out injured and Deron Williams is questionable. So that talent gulf just got bigger. What I’m saying is I do not envy Carlisle today.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.