Raptors have best defense Warriors have faced in this era

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TORONTO – In their five-year run as the NBA’s best team, the Warriors have ranked second, first, first, third and first in points scored per possession during the regular season. In the last three years, Golden State has annually scored even more efficiently in the playoffs despite facing better competition.

“I would imagine that we’re going to be encountering a few issues,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

“You’re going to have to figure them out. And maybe a help defender is going to have to save you at the end, or a help-the-helper defender may have to save you.”

That level of sophistication requires not just skilled defenders and not just smart ones, but a lineup full of both. A single misread or failed assignment can doom a defense against Golden State.

Toronto might just have the players to handle such a gargantuan task in the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol have won Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard, Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka have made All-Defensive teams. Kyle Lowry has been a perennial candidate for that honor. Pascal Siakam was arguably the Raptors’ best defender this regular season.

These are mostly veterans who can quickly recognize the Warriors’ unrelenting modes of attack and communicate well on the fly.

If there’s a weakness, it’s cohesion. Gasol was acquired just before the trade deadline. Though they played together for years with the Spurs, Leonard and Green are new to Toronto.

But the results have been so impressive already.

NBA teams averaged 110.4 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 107.1 – 3.3 better than the baseline.

The Magic averaged 108.9 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 96.2 in their first-round series – 12.7 better than the baseline.

The 76ers averaged 112.6 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 105.1 in their second-round series – 7.5 better than the baseline.

The Bucks averaged 113.8 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 106.7 in the Eastern Conference finals – 7.1 better than the baseline.

Adding those relative-to-the-baseline numbers produces what I call a Defensive Quality Score.

There’s no perfect way to measure a team’s defense in the playoffs. Regular-season results are a good indicator, but so much changes in the postseason. Playoff matchups matter significantly. But this method includes each level and gives teams more credit for sustaining good defense deep into the playoffs

The Raptors’ Defensive Quality Score (30.6) is by far the best of any team entering a series against Golden State in the last five years.

Here’s how all the Warriors’ opponents fared in Defensive Quality Score entering the matchup:

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Golden State’s offense doesn’t appear as overwhelming with Durant sidelined. But Stephen Curry can still be the center of an elite attack. Klay Thompson is an excellent secondary scorer, and Draymond Green‘s playmaking fuels so much when Curry gets blitzed.

This will be a challenge unlike any Toronto has faced this postseason.

But this will also be a challenge unlike any the Warriors have faced during their dynasty.

Bucks’ minor-league coach goes on epic rant, calls ref ‘f—ing clown’ (video)

Bucks' minor-league affiliate Wisconsin Herd vs. Pistons minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Drive
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After coaching the Wisconsin Herd (Bucks’ minor-league affiliate) to a loss to the Grand Rapids Drive (Pistons’ minor-league affiliate), Chad Buford – son of Spurs CEO R.C. Buford – had a normal one.

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

Buford:

The officiating definitely went right for Grand Rapids. That was as unprofessional as an officiating performance. I hope you tweet this out and tag the league, because that was embarrassing. Matt Rafferty is a f—ing clown. That being said, we have to be so much better at the end of games. We can’t blow a 21-point lead with 12 minutes to go. However bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating the referees are, we have to be better at closing games. And so that’s the way I feel.

Herd:

The words are amazing: “f—ing clown,” “illegal,” “cheating.”

But the hair really completes the whole unhinged motif.

Mavericks protesting loss to Hawks

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was irate after his team’s loss to the Hawks on Saturday.

He’s putting his money where his Twitter fingers are.

Dallas is protesting the game, according to the Last Two Minute Report. That requires posting a $10,000 fee to be refunded only if the challenge prevails.

The contentious play occurred in the final 10 seconds. Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith was called for goaltending Trae Young‘s shot. The play was reviewed and ruled a clean block. However, officials determined the whistle was therefore inadvertent and blew while John Collins was in his shooting motion on a successful putback attempt. So, Collins’ basket counted.

The Mavericks are claiming officials misapplied the rules – a key distinction for a protest. A simple missed call won’t get it done.

Protests rarely succeed. This one probably won’t.

But I think Dallas has a chance. The whistle wasn’t inadvertent. It was intentional. It was for a wrong call. But it was intentional.

Even if the challenge is successful and the Mavericks get their desired jump ball in a re-do, they’d still be trailing by two in the final seconds. They’d still be underdogs.

On the other hand, odds still strongly favor Cuban getting fined… eventually.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

The NBA plans to await commissioner Adam Silver’s ruling on a Dallas Mavericks game protest before leveling possible discipline on owner Mark Cuban for his behavior during and after the Mavericks’ loss to Atlanta on Saturday night.

Three Things to Know: It was a good day, Lakers get LeBron game-winner, sign Markieff Morris

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) It was a good day, Lakers get LeBron dagger, sign Markieff Morris.
The ghost of drafts past and playoffs future haunted the Lakers on Sunday — all in the form of Jayson Tatum.

Three years ago, the Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball No. 2, the Celtics took Jayson Tatum No. 3 — and Tatum has proven to be the better pick. On Sunday, taking over playmaking responsibilities with Kemba Walker out, Tatum dropped 41 on the Lakers, forced L.A. to adjust its defense and double him in the fourth. It was Tatum who pushed Boston to a lead in the third quarter. After the game, LeBron gave Tatum a shoutout on Instagram.

LeBron, however, had the final word (the day before the Kobe Bryant memorial in the same building, it was fitting). In what was one of the best games of the regular season — despite some questionable officiating that took the flow out of the game late — it was LeBron’s fade-away midranger over Jaylen Brown that was the game-winner.

 

If the Lakers had drafted Tatum, he likely would have been traded to New Orleans — just like Ball was — to bring Anthony Davis west. Tatum is an All-Star, but Davis was all-world on Sunday with 32 points and 13 rebounds, both team highs. The Lakers don’t win this, or much of anything else this season, without him.

Tatum’s big night was also a reminder the Lakers struggle to slow athletic wings — something that could be a real issue come the playoffs. Big wings — such as Kawhi Leonard and Ben Simmons (more point guard than wing, but same ball handling concept) — have had big nights against the Lakers. Look around the West and you can see where this could be a serious playoff issue.

Can Markieff Morris help? The Lakers officially signed him on Sunday after he cleared waivers (Los Angeles let DeMarcus Cousins go to make room). Morris will come off the bench at the four behind Anthony Davis, and could play next to AD (with Kyle Kuzma at the three) in some lineups.

Can Morris handle Leonard or Paul George or Bojan Bogdanovic? Probably not, but Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma can’t either. Morris is another player the Lakers can throw in that mix. If need be, the Lakers can close games with LeBron on that wing player down the stretch — he can have a defensive impact. And we know he knows how to close games.

2) Zion Williamson was too much for Golden State to handle. Every game, Zion Williamson gets a little bit better. Which is scary.

Over his last five game he has averaged 27.4 points on 63.1 percent shooting. He’s also averaging 3.4 offensive rebounds a game — and if he doesn’t get the rebound, he’ll just rip it away from the guy who did.

That was just two of the 28 points Williamson put up against the Warriors Thursday. Every bucket seemed to be a highlight. Williamson also dropped a defender to the ground.

And, of course, there were the monster dunks.

These are not empty-calorie points that Zion is getting, he could be leading them to the playoffs. The Pelicans are 4-1 in their last five games with a +9.9 net rating. They sit just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Grizzlies have the toughest remaining schedule in the West while the Pelicans have the easiest.

3) Just 56 games into the season, the Bucks have already clinched a playoff spot. On Sunday, Bradley Beal dropped 53 points on Chicago and that still wasn’t enough to get the lowly Wizards a win; they fell to the Chicago Bulls.

The Wizards are ninth in the East, and their loss clinched a playoff spot for the Bucks. Already. Just 56 games into the season — the 48-8 Bucks are 27.5 games up on the Wizards now. The Bucks can lose every game from here on out and they are in the playoffs.

Milwaukee is on pace to win 70 games, and their owner has hinted the team sees that as a goal. The Bucks also have title aspirations, and they may want to ask the Warriors if the push for winning 70+ games is worth it come the playoffs. That said, the Bucks have gotten Giannis Antetokounmpo rest because they are blowing teams out, so he doesn’t have to play late. Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.9 minutes a game and is 72nd in the league in total minutes played in the league this season. His workload has not been that brutal.

Mike Budenholzer just needs to be willing to up those minutes this postseason, up to 42 or more a night some games, to make sure they win. Budenholzer said last season that he didn’t think more minutes for the Greek Freak was the answer to the Bucks playoff struggles, if the Bucks are going to win the East this season — they should, they are the best team — he will need to change that mindset.

Zion Williamson rips ball away from rebounder, drops defender with move, dunks a lot

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Zion Williamson is must-watch television already

Healthy and finally on the court for just 12 games, he is growing more comfortable and improving each night. Zion averaged 27.4 points per game over his last five games, shooting 63.1 percent, and pulling down 3.4 offensive rebounds a game.

And if he doesn’t get the rebound, he’ll just rip it away from the guy who did, as he did against the Warriors Sunday.

Every Zion game feels like a highlight factory. Against the Warriors, he also dropped a defender.

And, of course, there were the monster dunks.

The Pelicans are 4-1 in their last five games with a +9.9 net rating. They sit just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Grizzlies have the toughest remaining schedule in the West while the Pelicans have the easiest.

Which is to say, Zion might be able to lead New Orleans to the playoffs.

Either way, it will be impossible not to watch.