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Kawhi Leonard dominates, Raptors roll Sixers in Game 1

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This is why the Toronto Raptors got Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard was the best player on the court Saturday night in Game 1 against Philadelphia, scoring 45 points on 16-of-23 shooting, grabbing 11 rebounds, and dominating defensively with plays like this.

Behind Leonard’s play and the Toronto starters outplaying the Philly starters, the Raptors raced out to an early lead, held off charges, and when things got tight played like a team who had largely been together for a while — not adding players through trades during the season — on their way to an easy 108-95 win.

So much for that Game 1 Toronto curse. Leonard smashed that.

This was domination in the critical areas of the game and the series by Toronto. It wasn’t just Leonard, Pascal Siakam had 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting, and the two of them dominated the first quarter, helping Toronto shake off those Game 1 jitters. On the night, Leonard and Siakam shot a combined 28-of-37.

The other key thing — right at the top of our “three things to watch in this series” preview — was Marc Gasol keeping Joel Embiid in check. For the game, Embiid shot just 5-of-18 and got to the free throw line only six times. When he is not a force inside the Sixers offense is not smooth, and that was the case in this game. Toronto didn’t match Gasol with Embiid all game, Serge Ibaka got time on Embiid and the Sixers didn’t take advantage of that and pound Embiid in the post (but they likely will try in Game 2).

Philly had stretches of good offense, but this is not the kind of shot chart that leads to wins.

J.J. Redick led Philly with 17 points as no player got above 20.

All game long the Raptors also did a good job of pushing the pace, particularly against the Sixer bench units, to get some easy buckets before the defense got set.

Philadelphia needs to win the battle of the starting lineups to win this series, but to open Game 1 it was the Raptors starters who took charge. Toronto made 14 consecutive shots at one point in the first quarter. Leonard and Siakam combined for 34 points in the first quarter alone, outscoring the Sixers by themselves (31). It was more than just those two, the Raptors had a 77.8 true shooting percentage and zero turnovers in the first quarter, and with that a 162 offensive rating. However, the Sixers scored too and it was 39-31 after one.

The Sixers closed the gap to one in the second quarter, but Leonard came back in and stretched the lead back out, 62-53 at the half. Leonard had a career-best 27 first-half points in a playoff game.

It was like that all game. Toronto’s defense made plays when it mattered but Philly’s offense still had impressive stretches, it just couldn’t get stops.

If that doesn’t change for Philadelphia, this series will be a lot shorter than they imagined. We will see how the Sixers respond to adversity now.

Damon Jones says Lakers are in play for Kawhi Leonard

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I had heard from multiple sources going back to Summer League last year that the Lakers were not an option for Kawhi Leonard. He’s a guy who does not like a lot of drama and chaos around him, he just wants to play basketball, and being with LeBron James on the Lakers is to live in the spotlight with drama your constant companion.

Did the Anthony Davis trade change his thinking? Damon Jones, the former NBA player and assistant coach, said yes it did on ESPN’s Get Up show. He said a source that would know told him the Lakers are now in play.

Two thoughts here:

First, nobody knows what Kawhi Leonard is thinking. We can all play the “read the tea leafs” game — at the Raptors’ championship parade some fans started a “one more year” chant and Leonard’s close advisor Uncle Dennis (as he is commonly known) had one finger up and was chanting along, read what you want into that — but none of us really know which way Leonard leans. The “people close to Leonard” have sent mixed signals from the start, some have different agendas, and they are not Leonard. Stay in Toronto, come to the Clippers or Lakers? We don’t know.

Second, getting Leonard to the Lakers requires a semi-complicated salary cap move. After the Davis trade the Lakers have between $23 million and $27 million in salary cap space (depending on how much of Davis’ trade kicker he is going to take, if any) but that is not enough to sign Leonard to a max contract. And he’s not taking a discount. Los Angeles could create the room by delaying the Davis trade for a month. Follow along: Currently, the Davis trade can’t be executed until July 6. However, if the Lakers draft whoever the Pelicans want with the No. 4 pick, sign him, then wait a month and include that player and his salary in the trade (the CBA says a draft pick cannot be traded for 30 days after he signs his contract) then the Lakers could have $32.5 million in cap space, enough to sign Leonard (or Kemba Walker, or Jimmy Butler, or Kyrie Irving, or any free agent with 7-9 years of service and earning a max deal).

Except, the Pelicans want to get the trade done and, I was told, don’t have to agree to this delay. Would the Lakers have to throw in another second round pick or something to make this work? Maybe.

That all assumes Leonard wants to come to the Lakers. And nobody really knows that for sure.

Whatever happens, the board man gonna get paid.

 

 

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.