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NBA Playoff Predictions: Plenty of Warriors love…and Bucks, too

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It’s prediction time… and of course we’re talking Golden State Warriors a lot.

How could we not? They are the most talented team, they’ve won the last two titles, and they are the clear favorites for good reason. However, we’ve got love for the Bucks (and Raptors) and see a few upsets along the way.

Here are our predictions:

Do you predict an upset in the first round (lower seed beating a higher seed)?

Eastern Conference:

Kurt Helin: While I think Indiana can push Boston — especially with Marcus Smart out injured — there will be no first-round upsets in the East. There is too big a gap between the top four and bottom four (if Indiana had a healthy Victor Oladipo, this could be a different conversation.

Dan Feldman: No. The top four of the East is loaded. The bottom three is… not. Though I do predict with Marcus Smart out, the fifth-seeded Pacers will push the Celtics to seven — the home team winning every game.

Dane Delgado: I could certainly see the Indiana Pacers beating the Boston Celtics in the first round. Boston will be without Marcus Smart for at least the first two playoff series, and the Celtics are a mess internally. Rotationally, they still haven’t fully recovered from Gordon Hayward‘s injury, and they have not shown the flashes of brilliance that they did last year. We still don’t know if Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown will step up the way they have in the past, and this team only won one more game than the Pacers. Indiana is spunky and is playing without their best player. I wouldn’t count on it, but the Celtics are weirdos and the Pacers are a capital “T” Team.

Western Conference:

Kurt Helin: Denver’s gambit to get the Trail Blazers the three seed (and put the Rockets on the Warriors side of the bracket) helps out Oklahoma City. The Thunder have stumbled and struggled since the All-Star break, with Paul George‘s shoulder issue a big part of that, but OKC is a team better built for playoff basketball. Combine that with Portland being without Jusuf Nurkic and the Blazers will fall again in the first round. Also, while I think Houston will be Utah, that series will go deep and be close.

Dan Feldman: Thunder over Trail Blazers. It’d be different if Jusuf Nurkic were healthy, but Portland is not the same on either end of the court without him. It’s not that I especially like Oklahoma City. I don’t. But the Thunder swept the Trail Blazers in the regular season, and Portland tried to avoid this matchup. It’s as if the Trail Blazers know what’s likely coming.

Dane Delgado: The West is almost the opposite of the East. Three out of the four first-round playoff series could end with the “lower” seed beating the “higher” seed. Utah could strangle the life out of Houston’s offense. The Oklahoma City Thunder have swept the season series with the Trail Blazers, who are also missing Jusuf Nurkic. The Denver Nuggets are a fast-paced team with no playoff experience going up against the stalwarts of the playoffs in the Spurs. If I had to pick a series to go south, I would go with the Spurs beating the Nuggets in a major upset. Or the Thunder. Hmm… can I get back you?

Who will win the conference finals?

Eastern Conference:

Kurt Helin: Toronto over Boston. These are not the Raptors that fall short in the playoffs, new coach Nick Nurse has worked all season to find different lineups that make this team more versatile, plus they have a closer now in Kawhi Leonard. I’m predicting Boston to beat Milwaukee in the second round, but if Malcolm Brogdon is back healthy and Marcus Smart is not, the Bucks will win that series. Either way, I’ll take the Raptors to represent the East.

Dan Feldman: Bucks. I really like these Raptors. The 76ers and Celtics have the requisite talent to have a chance. But Milwaukee has been the NBA’s best team throughout the season. We ought to take that more seriously.

Dane Delgado: The Milwaukee Bucks. Many times it’s reasonable to expect that teams with no playoff experience won’t be able to plow through the postseason the way a more veteran team might be able to do. But the East is riddled with flawed teams top to bottom, particularly at the top. Milwaukee is the most complete team in the conference with the best player.

Western Conference:

Kurt Helin: Golden State over Denver. The only things that will beat the Warriors are injuries or boredom, and I don’t think they will get that bored. It’s trendy to pick Denver to get upset in the first round, but I believe in this team and they set themselves up with an easier path to the conference finals (I would have picked Houston over Denver, but that’s not how the seedings shook out).

Dan Feldman: Warriors. Houston could test them in the second round, but there’s no way to pick anyone else. The Warriors have all the talent and experience anyone could want.

Dane Delgado: Who would pick against the Golden State Warriors at this juncture? Unless something affects this team’s health, they should make their way to the Conference Finals and beyond. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the cakewalk it’s been in the past. The Warriors still need to flick the proverbial switch into playoff mode, so there is some doubt cast about their readiness for this moment. It might take them few games to ramp up, and the second round could actually be their biggest test, but I expect to see them in June once again.

Who will win the NBA Finals?

Kurt Helin: Golden State over Toronto, but this is going to go six or seven games. For the first time in a couple of years, the Warriors biggest test will be on the biggest stage in the NBA Finals, but in the end they just have too much and they know they are trying to win one more before this team breaks up this summer.

Dan Feldman: Warriors. Whether to pick Golden State or the field is a tough question this year. There are teams that can beat the Warriors. But if asked to pick a single team, there’s no way I’m choosing anyone else.

Dane Delgado: There’s no reason to bet against the Golden State Warriors… until there is a reason. This team still has the most talent, the most experience, and the best track record. Health is the biggest thing with the Warriors, and when Stephen Curry rolled his ankle the last week of the season Golden State fans collectively gasped for their playoff lives. Still, Kevin Durant seems ready, Draymond Green is rested up from not doing anything all season long, and Andre Iguodala still is able to contribute. My heart wants the Milwaukee Bucks to win this whole thing, but my head says they will have to wait.

Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead peaceful protest

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While many NBA players have spoken out on social media and attended rallies in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police, maybe none has been as vocal and active as the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown.

Saturday, he drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest at the Martin Luther King National Historic Park.

Brown was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Brown’s protest still had a run-in with Atlanta police.

This protest is one of many nationwide happening for a fifth straight night in the wake of the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. That death happened not long after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Brown, like many nationwide, hope these protests and this frustration can be channeled into real change. Something this nation needs.

Pistons’ Dwane Casey’s says “we all have to be and do better” in wake of George Floyd’s death

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A lot of NBA players have spoken out about the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer. Stephen Jackson, a friend of Floyd’s, has been the most vocal. Recently players have spoken out about the racism they felt at other times in their lives.

Few have had the experience of Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey. He grew up in Kentucky during desegregation and was in the midst of some of the uglier days of our nation.

Casey released this statement in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“Fifty-four years ago I was an eight-year-old boy living in rural Kentucky when the schools were desegregated.  I walked into a white school where I was not wanted nor welcomed.  At that time there were no cell phones to record my treatment, no cable news stations with 24/7 coverage, no social media to record the reality of the situation or offer support nor condemnation.  But I can remember exactly how I felt as an eight-year-old child.  I felt helpless.  I felt as if I was neither seen, nor heard, nor understood.  As I have watched the events unfold in the days following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a city where I coached and once called home, I see how many people continue to feel those same feelings – helpless, frustrated, invisible, angry.

“I understand the outrage because it seems the list continues to grow: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.  The injustices continue to mount and nothing seems to be changing.

“Fifty-four years later, my son is now eight years old and I look at the world he is growing up in and wonder, how much has really changed? How often is he judged on sight?  Is he growing up in a world where he is seen, and heard, and understood?  Does he feel helpless?  Will he be treated like George Floyd or Ahmaud Abrey?  What have we really done in the last 54 years to make his eight-year-old world better than mine was?  We all have to be and do better.

“We have to change the way we see and hear each other.  We have to work together to find solutions to make the justice system just.  Black, white and brown people have to work together to find new answers.   The only way we can stop the systemic problems that people of color have faced all our lives is through honesty and transparency.  We have to understand why people are at their limit at this moment.  It takes empathy, in its truest form.  It takes a culture shift, it takes action.  Let’s stop the injustice now.  Let’s not allow another generation to continue to live in a world where they are treated as unequal.  Now is the time for real change.”

Now is the time for change, but we need to act to make it happen, not just hope.

Jerry West: Lakers vs. Clippers NBA Finals “would be the ultimate competition”

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Jerry West is a Lakers’ legend, a Hall of Fame player who led the franchise to its first championship, later helped put together the Showtime Lakers as the GM. He has a statue outside Staples Center and has a case for greatest Laker ever.

Right now, West is a consultant to Steve Ballmer and the Clippers.

If the NBA goes with a 1-16 seeding in its return, it sets up a potential Lakers vs. Clippers NBA Finals — and West wants to see it, he said on the Dan Patrick Show.

“For me, Dan, that would be the ultimate competition. I think in Los Angeles, they have so many Laker fans, my goodness. The enormous success that the Lakers have had over the years, they are a really good team now, two of the best players we’ve seen in a long time on one team. I think it would be incredible for the people in the west. I’m not sure how that would go over for the teams back east who want to see their respective teams get an opportunity to play.

“That would be a situation where I think it would be unbelievably competitive. It would be compelling. I don’t know how many teams in the same city have competed for a championship in any sport, much less the NBA. It would make a compelling story, but, in all likelihood, I think you’re going to see things that will be a little bit more normal.”

Some teams are pushing back again the 1-16 seeding, not because of this season when all the teams are in Orlando but because if it happens it would open the door to that seeding every playoffs (a lot of teams oppose it in a traditional season).

That hallway series between the Lakers and Clippers would lose some luster being played in a fanless building on the other end of the country (the Lakers would basically have seven home games, their fans have at least a 50/50 split at Clippers’ home games). However, in a league driven by star power, LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — with Patrick Beverley talking a lot of smack — would draw ratings.

One way or another, we need to see this series these playoffs.

 

GMs want more players, roster flexibility when NBA restarts games

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If the NBA had polled general managers last summer — long before the coronavirus had upended our lives and the league — GMs would have wanted more roster flexibility and players. They want more options. It’s the default position for any GM.

However, throw in the coronavirus and the restart of the NBA coming in July, and those GMs see that flexibility as a must. That’s what they said in the GM survey given recently by the league, as reported by Tim Bontemps at ESPN.

One thing that achieved widespread consensus was the need for teams to have more flexibility with their rosters no matter how the league chooses to resume play. When asked if the playoffs should have expanded rosters or teams should have more of an ability to replace players sidelined by injury or illness, only two teams voted for neither option. Twelve voted for expanded rosters, and 16 voted for an increased ability to replace players who are injured or sick…

There also was a strong preference to add two-way players to playoff rosters — something that previously wasn’t the case. Only three teams said they would vote against adding two-way players to playoff rosters, while 19 said they would support it if rosters remain the same size. The eight other teams said they would support adding two-way players even if rosters expanded beyond 15.

In addition, 16 teams said they preferred that the league add two roster spots for the playoffs, while nine voted for one extra spot and five voted for three.

Making two-way players — guys already in the team’s system — available for the playoffs feels like a no-brainer for the league. Adding a roster spot so playoff teams could add a veteran at a position of weakness makes sense as well.

The reason the GMs want the flexibility is obvious — this is an unprecedented situation, the schedule will be condensed (with teams playing every other day), and it’s possible a player or players could be sidelined by the virus for a couple of weeks. Depth is going to matter to teams.

Expect the league to allow some modifications to rosters, and some of those may well carry over into next season.