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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Veteran Spurs shoot way to Game 7

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Pressure? What pressure? Veteran Spurs step up, shoot San Antonio into Game 7 vs. Denver. It’s why San Antonio was a trendy upset pick in the first round against Denver: Experience. Guys they could trust in the clutch who would step up and make plays, and a coach in Gregg Popovich who would put them in positions to do just that.

Backs against the wall in Game 6, the Spurs experience mattered.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, changing his strategy to attack more by facing up on Nikola Jokic. DeMar DeRozan added 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting. Rudy Gay came off the bench for 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The veterans took advantage of a soft Nuggets defense and just destroyed them from the midrange — look at this shot chart.

The end result was a 120-103 San Antonio win on their home court. It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver.

The other key to this win was the San Antonio defense, and the strategy behind it. Jokic and Jamal Murray had success with a two-man game (a lot of pick-and-rolls) and the Spurs lived with that, not helping off shooters to defend the actions. The result was Jokic had a career-high (and Nuggets franchise playoff high) 43 points, doing that in 30 shots. He was a beast on the night.

However, Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets offense were missing. Denver was taken out of its flow.

In Game 7, can that Spurs defense again take the Nuggets out of rhythm, or will the Nuggets role players feel more comfortable and shoot better than 25 percent (6-of-24) from three? It’s one game, anything can happen, and usually one unexpected player ends up being the star.

It’s good we have at least one game seven in the first round.

2) RIP John Havlicek, a basketball legend and true Celtic. John Havlicek left a heck of a legacy on the court — eight NBA titles (8-0 in the Finals), 11-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Defensive team, 13-time All-Star, Hall of Famer, probably the greatest sixth man the game has ever seen.

What matters more is his legacy off the court, where former teammates and everyone who interacted with the man praised him.

Hondo passed away Thursday at the age of 79. The love that poured in for him was genuine, and the thoughts about his game secondary.

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history. A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players. We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

3) Houston will be in Bay Area before Warriors/Clippers Game 6 ends. There is another Game 6 on Friday night, the feisty Los Angeles Clippers — and their pick-and-roll combination of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell — will try to force a Game 7 against the championship favorites, the Golden State Warriors.

The Houston Rockets aren’t buying the Clippers’ chances.

Friday the Rockets are flying up to the Bay Area to get comfortable and rested before the series with the Warriors — before Game 6 is even. Tim MacMahon of ESPN first reported this.

It’s more about the league’s scheduling than the Clippers. If the Warriors win Friday (Golden State is a 10-point favorite), then the Rockets/Warriors series starts on Sunday. Steve Kerr can thank the Television Gods that run NBA playoff scheduling that gives his team just one day off to prepare for the Rockets.

The Rockets, wisely, want to be ready for the most likely outcome, which means a game on Sunday.

The Warriors admitted they were complacent in Game 5 at home, expecting to win and defending like they thought a win was their birthright. One would think blowing a 31-point lead at home earlier in the series would have taught the Warriors a lesson about underestimating the Clippers — this team is hard not to like, with its energy, passion, and Williams getting buckets — but the Warriors racked up a lot of bad habits during the regular season and they have not been that easy to shake through five games.

The Clippers have been surprising teams and spoiling plans all season long. They may do it to the Rockets, but Houston wants to be prepared for what we all know is coming — the defacto Western Conference Finals. Which probably start Sunday.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.

Ex-Sacramento Kings exec gets 7 years for siphoning $13.4M

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former top Sacramento Kings executive was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for siphoning $13.4 million from the team.

Jeffrey David, 44, the team’s former chief revenue officer, pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

David diverted the sponsorship payments of five companies to a bank account he controlled from October 2012 through July 2016, using the money to buy and remodel Southern California beachfront properties, pay for a private jet membership and pay off credit card bills.

“The brazen scheme involved forgeries, stolen corporate executive identities, money laundering and even instructing a former colleague to destroy evidence,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in a statement. “Today’s sentence should deter others from committing substantial frauds such as this one.”

David’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, disagreed with the sentence from U.S. District Judge William Shubb.

“We see no appropriate purpose served by a sentence this lengthy,” Reichel wrote in an email, citing David’s “tremendous life work” before and after his crimes as cause for a reduced sentence.

“The Kings received back every single penny of the previously purloined money, and Mr. David worked very hard to make sure that happened. He is tremendously remorseful,” Reichel said.

The Kings have received over $13.2 million in restitution to date, according to the Department of Justice.

David is scheduled to begin his sentence on Aug. 20.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

It was a long road to this point, Antetokounmpo was playing second-division ball in Greece when the Bucks drafted him at No. 15 back in 2013. The word we used to describe his game at the time was “raw” — he was a long way from the player he would become. What he also turned out to be was driven. Willing to put in the work, be coached, and put in the long hours to get better and maximize his potential. Antetokounmpo earned the chance to walk up on that stage and accept the MVP award.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first-place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results: