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NBA’s best-performing team this season, by far, getting little love entering playoffs

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About a month ago, Sam Amick of The Athletic named his sleeper pick for the 2019 NBA championship.

His choice: The league’s most dominant team.

The Bucks went an NBA-best 60-22. They ranked first in defensive rating, fourth in offensive rating and first in net rating. They have the likely Most Valuable Player in Giannis Antetokounmpo and likely Coach of the Year in Mike Budenholzer. Antetokounmpo could also contend for Defensive Player of the Year.

Why the heck are we classifying Milwaukee as a sleeper?

Oh, right. The Warriors.

Golden State is heavily favored to win its third straight title and fourth in five years. The Warriors coasted through the regular season, but they’re loaded and experienced. Nobody can match their talent: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Iguodala.

Still, it seems the Bucks are getting overlooked. They’ve been the best team throughout the season. That ought to inspire more confidence.

Milwaukee outscored teams by 8.6 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. That was 2.2 points per 100 possession ahead of everyone else.

Of the 23 prior teams to have a net-rating advantage of at least 2.0 over the rest of the field, 17 won the title. Six of the last seven won.

The only recent exception: The 2001 Spurs, whose net rating topped every other team’s by at least 2.6. They lost to the eventual-champion Lakers, who lagged 5.0 points behind in the regular season. Those Lakers are maybe the classic case of a team that cruised through the regular season then cranked up the intensity in the playoffs.

The Warriors could certainly do the same. Heck, they’re so good, they might not even need to.

But Milwaukee should be viewed as a formidable threat.

Here’s every team with a net-rating advantage of at least 2.0 over every other team in a season:

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The Bucks are commonly compared to the 2015 Hawks, another Budenholzer-coached team that won 60 games. Atlanta scraped through the first two rounds then got swept by the Cavaliers in the conference finals.

But the Hawks had the point difference typical of a 56-win team. They ranked just fourth in net rating, only 1.0 ahead of Cleveland. Milwaukee had the point difference typical of a 61-win team.

Sure, regular-season performance far from perfectly predicts playoff results. But Atlanta wasn’t nearly as impressive in the regular season as the Bucks.

And Milwaukee rated even better before resting players late in the season with the No. 1 seed already clinched. (Though, to be fair, that effect was also felt with prior top teams.)

On paper, this seems like 2015 in some ways. The Warriors demonstrated themselves as the clear top team, but few felt confident in them entering the playoffs. Now, we look back on that title as if were inevitable.

Maybe we’ll do the same with the Bucks after this postseason. They’ve looked the most like a championship team throughout this season. If I had any guts, I’d pick them to win the title.

But, like nearly everyone else, I just can’t bet on a team other than Golden State.

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.

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Boston, Philadelphia, Denver? (And some playoff talk)

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Will Kyrie Irving stay in Boston? If not, what is Plan B?

Is Jimmy Butler back in Philadelphia next season? If he is will Tobias Harris be back?

What are the next steps to turn Denver into a contender?

I get into all of those things with the wise Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (and Celtics Blog, and Real GM), we break down those three teams recently turned out of the playoffs. We also start off talking about teams actually in the playoffs, particularly Toronto’s comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals, and how those teams can take advantage against the Warriors with Kevin Durant out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.