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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Without Durant for Game 6 Warriors face biggest test

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The NBA playoffs are in crunch time 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) Warriors three-peat dreams now depend on how Warriors respond to Kevin Durant injury. Golden State came into these playoffs with the most feared starting lineup in the league. Now, 40 percent of it is out injured. DeMarcus Cousins tore his left quadriceps muscle in the second game of the playoffs, then late in a critical Game 5 Wednesday night Kevin Durant pulled up with a non-contact injury that looked ominous.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game it was not Durant’s Achilles but that KD would not play in Game 6. An MRI on Thursday will give us more details (for the sake of watching the best player in the game today, let’s hope it’s not as serious as it looked).

How the Warriors respond to this will determine their 2019 title hopes.

The Warriors hung on to win Game 5 at home, in part because Stephen Curry stepped up. Once again Houston went at him when it had the ball and that seemed to transfer over and wear on Curry, slowing him on offense. He was 4-of-14 overall and 1-of-8 from three before Durant’s injury. After Durant went to the locker room, Curry shot 5-of-9 for 16 points including going 2-of-3 from deep. He answered the call.

The Warriors got the 104-99 victory that gives them a 3-2 series lead — meaning two cracks to eliminate the Rockets, at least one of those without Durant. Game 6 is Friday night in Houston.

Game 5 was not without its controversial ending — did Klay Thompson step out of bounds with the ball with about 11 seconds left and the Warriors up three?

A frozen screenshot makes it look like Thompson stepped out with the ball, before making a poor pass that the Warriors were fortunate to ultimately recover. I would argue Chris Paul or James Harden could or should have been called for bumping Thompson out of bounds on that sequence, but we’d need better camera angles than the ones we got to see to be definitive. The Last Two Minute Report for this ending will be interesting.

That report is ultimately moot. The bigger question is Game 6.

Steve Kerr said postgame Durant will not play, I’d be shocked if he’s even on the plane to Houston (whatever the injury is he suffered, better to stay and get treatment). Harden — who had 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting in Game 5 — and company will come out with an appropriate level of desperation on their home court. This is a prideful Rockets team that believes it would win the series, Durant or no Durant playing.

The question is how the Warriors respond. Golden State needs MVP-level Stephen Curry and big nights from Klay Thompson on offense and Draymond Green on defense. Can Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and the rest of the role players step up for a night. Do the Warriors have one 2015-style, pre-Durant night in them?

The team has leaned heavily on KD these playoffs, how they respond without him will define their 2019 title chances.

2) Boston’s disappointing season ends appropriately at hands of improving, impressive Milwaukee. Too much of the aftermath of Game 5 in Milwaukee has focused on the Celtics — their poor play, their sad effort, their obvious lack of cohesion and trust as teammates that has gone on all season, and what the future now hold for Kyrie Irving and that Boston roster. With good reason, it’s compelling.

However, let’s stop a minute to praise the Milwaukee Bucks.

One year ago, a Celtics team without its two star players eliminated the Bucks in seven games in the first round. Milwaukee took those lessons and adapted — Jason Kidd was out as coach, Mike Budenholzer was in (note to the Lakers… that’s how you run a coaching search). GM Jon Horst knew Coach Bud’s style and went and got him shooting in the form of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks changed their systems on both ends of the court, evolved and grew up, and became the best regular season team in the league this year.

Plenty of fans and pundits questioned if the Bucks style could translate to the postseason (*meekly raises his own hand*) but they have been dominant. On both ends. It has translated just fine.

In a closeout Game 5 Wednesday, the Bucks held the Celtics to an offensive rating of 82.7 and 31.2 percent shooting for the game. Milwaukee contested shots in the paint — the Celtics shot 6-of-19 in the paint for the first half — and chased Celtics off the arc. Boston played right into Milwaukee’s hands with Irving and his desire to play hero ball. Irving shot 5-of-16 with zero assists in the first half and finished the game 6-of-21 from the floor for 15 points.

Milwaukee had a balanced attack. As expected, Antetokounmpo led the way with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

However, the Greek Freak had only had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, the Bucks won this game because Milwaukee played team basketball. Khris Middleton had 19 points and 8 rebounds for the game, Eric Bledsoe had 18 points, and George Hill had another impressive night off the bench with 16 points.

Milwaukee looks like contenders, they deserve all the praise for that.

We’ve got all summer to watch what Boston does next.

3) Tyronn Lue moves on from the Lakers, which says all you need to know about the Lakers right now. Coaching LeBron James is hard. It’s not that he does not want to be pushed and coached, but he is as high IQ a player as we have seen in the game, and a coach has to earn his trust. It’s not just given. Tyronn Lue has that trust and respect. He can get in LeBron’s face and call him out — and have LeBron come back at him — and their relationship is not damaged.

Which is why Lue as the Lakers’ coach made sense — the man is one of six coaches alive today who have won an NBA title. He may not have been an ideal choice for Lakers fans, but he can coach LeBron and was eager to do it again — and win again.

Rob Pelinka and the Lakers treated Lue like a first-year coach in negotiations. The Lakers would offer no more than three years on the contract — lining it up with LeBron’s deal — while Lue demanded five years. Also, the Lakers were pushing assistant coaches on him, and every experienced coach wants to pick his assistants. Frank Vogel was not someone Lue knows well, but that fit made some sense. Then Pelinka tried to push Jason Kidd as well — no coach with options is going to let a GM put his potential replacement right next to him on the bench and create a power struggle (and Kidd loves a good power struggle).

Pelinka didn’t think Lue had another option, there were no other offers on the table.

Lue did have an option — walk away. Do another season of NBA TV, spend more time with family and friends. Live his life.

Lue wanted the Lakers job but he didn’t need the Lakers job. Pelinka — and Kurt Rambis, and Jeanie Buss, and the entire Laker management team — misread the room and made a mistake.

Now the Lakers are reportedly looking at Frank Vogel, Lionel Holins, and Mike Woodson. Good luck with that.

All that with Kurt Rambis gaining power within the Laker front office. That would be the Rambis who was 32-132 as a coach in Minnesota, and was equally unimpressive as the interim coach in New York (granted, that was a tough situation, but he talked about playing Kristaps Porzingis at the three). Rambis has his skeletons. However, owner Jeanie Buss trusts him, and his wife Linda and Buss go back a long way and she is a trusted advisor.

Buss has stuck within her comfort zone as owner. She has gone with the people she knows, she trusts, people within the Laker family who do things the “Lakers way.” Except, that way has missed the playoff six years in a row and looked a mess the past couple of years. That way had the Lakers mishandle the very public Anthony Davis trade negotiations where they not only didn’t get their man but also fractured their locker room in the process. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ co-tenant at Staples Center looking like the much better run organization, the one that elite free agents are seriously considering this summer (the Clippers are the first choice before the Lakers for a number of them).

The smart play here is for Buss to realize what is not working, step back, and make a major change to the organization. Go hire a top-flight president of basketball operations, give him the power, let him choose the coach and, more importantly, round out the roster around LeBron and said coach. (Tim Connelly in Denver reportedly is making only $2 million a season in that role, well below market value, and is considering a leap to Washington… and notice the Nuggets are young and still playing.)

The Laker organization needs a shake up. If not, the kind of success that Buss wants — and Lakers fans expect — will remain elusive, the victories fleeting. The Lakers need an organizational identity, right now they are just a brand.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.