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Three things Raptors need to do to beat Warriors

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The Toronto Raptors are not just happy to be here.

From the moment they finally got over the hump and won the Eastern Conference Finals, the team has followed the lead of Kawhi Leonard and been focused and looking ahead. Nobody would blame them for celebrating making the Finals — their fans sure did — but the Raptors as a team have been focused.

Toronto has a shot at winning this series.

They are not the favorites (nor should they be against the two-time defending champs), but the Raptors have the pieces to push and maybe even beat the Warriors. They have little margin for error. They need Leonard to continue to be dominant on both ends, including keeping up his improved playmaking. They need the secondary players — Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, etc. — to not be hesitant and knock down shots. The bench needs to play like it did the last two games against Milwaukee with Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell knocking down threes. And that halfcourt defense that was so good against Milwaukee has to be great again — and they need to keep playing that hard on defense even as Golden State scores in bunches. Because it will. Toronto can’t let up.

Here are three other, less obvious things the Rockets need to do to dethrone the Warriors.

• Attack Golden State’s centers on switches in the pick-and-roll.

The Warriors role out a group of long, switchable defenders with Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green (plus Kevin Durant if/when he returns). The Raptors need to create mismatches with the other guys on the court and attack. For example, have Stephen Curry’s man set the screen for Leonard and try to force that switch (and the help that would follow).

The other place to attack is the Warriors big men — if Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, DeMarcus Cousins (when he returns), or Andrew Bogut get switched onto Lowry or Leonard, the Raptors need to attack that. Fast. The Warriors big men cannot match up.

Golden State will likely counter this with traps, particularly against Leonard to force the ball out of his hands. He has to be a playmaker there, then trust Gasol as a secondary playmaker in a 4-on-3, or get the ball to other shooters, and the Raptors need to make the Warriors pay for that trap.

Danny Green has to break out of his shooting slump and stay on the court.

Against the Bucks last round, as Danny Green struggled with his shot — he hit just one of his last 15 three-point attempts — Nick Nurse could turn to VanVleet and the bench. The final couple of games (after VanVleet’s wife had their son) he was lighting it up.

The problem is the Warriors will light him up. VanVleet is listed at 6’0” while Lowry is 6’1”. Curry and Thompson are 6’3” and 6’7” and will shoot right over the top of smaller defenders. Just ask Portland.

Green, at 6’6” is the kind of size and plays the type of defense the Raptors will need to have a shot in this series. If he is still slumping and not an offensive threat, the Warriors will be able to help off him and cause more trouble.

• Toronto cannot have another of its disastrous Game 1s.

Toronto came into these playoffs with a reputation of blowing Game 1s in ugly fashion — and it has lived up to that billing. The Raptors lost to the Magic in the first game of the first round. This past round, they led by as many as 13 but didn’t score on their final seven possessions and blew the chance to steal Game 1 on the road.

Toronto bounced back to beat Orlando and Milwaukee. It will be far tougher to dig out of that hole against Golden State.

Game 1 sets up for Toronto: At home, Golden State has been off for nine days and should be rusty, and no Kevin Durant. This is one Toronto needs to have confidence in this series. Lose this one and the Warriors will smell blood in the water.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.