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DeMarcus Cousins thrown into NBA Finals fire with minimal playoff experience

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TORONTO – DeMarcus Cousins spent six-and-a-half seasons trying to lead the Kings into the playoffs, a challenge said was eating him alive. He got traded to the Pelicans and helped them reach last year’s playoffs, but he’d already suffered a season-ending injury by then. He finally appeared in the postseason this year with the Warriors, but he got hurt in just his second playoff game.

Now, he’s playing in the NBA Finals.

“It’s kind of like some kid who grew up in the suburbs going to private school, and then one day you just got dropped in the hood and was told to survive,” Draymond Green said. “You got to figure that out.”

Since the NBA adopted a 16-team postseason in 1984, Cousins’ two prior career playoff games are the fifth-fewest before his NBA Finals debut. Here are the players with the fewest:

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Most of that list – Jordan McRae, Fennis Dembo, Nando De Colo, Terrel Harris, Micheal Williams, Milt Wagner – is comprised of rookies playing in garbage time. Jason Kapono was a third-year player who played in garbage time. Shannon Brown was rookie who came in late to foul.

Only David Rivers – a rookie point guard pressed into duty with injuries to Magic Johnson and Byron Scott – and Cousins held significant roles.

Cousins played eight minutes off the bench in Game 1. He missed both his shots, drew a couple fouls, made a couple nice passes, was a step slow defensively, but still disrupted the Raptors’ offense when in position.

As long as Kevin Durant remains out, there’s probably a role in this series for Cousins. Golden State needs Cousins’ shot creation.

His Finals inexperience might even help the Warriors, who’ve won two straight titles and three in four years. That makes it more difficult for returning players to summon the hunger necessary to compete with Toronto. But Cousins, who just quickly rehabbed through a quad injury Steve Kerr thought would be season-ending, provides a motivating spark.

“It’s a special moment for him, a special moment for us seeing him out there,” Green said. “It will be even more special if we can win this series, and he can get a ring, and we all get a ring.”

Luka Doncic Terance Mann land fists, but not necessarily punches, on each other (video)

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How much force is required for a punch?

That was the question NBA referees had to consider in an altercation between Mavericks rising star Luka Doncic and Clippers rookie Terance Mann last night.

Mann’s physical defense forced Doncic into travelling. After the whistle, Mann swiped the ball from Doncic so L.A. could have it. That’s when the altercation really got heated.

Doncic stuck a fist into Mann’s chest. Mann responded by putting his fist on Doncic’s neck.

I wouldn’t describe either action as a punch. Neither players really swung through. But both landed fists on their opponent. They’re fortunate referees let this go with only a double technical foul. Doncic and Mann left themselves open to bigger penalties.

On a grander sense, the NBA should do something about the initial problem – a player grabbing the ball from an opponent after a turnover. This happens frequently and too often leads to dust-ups. Only a referee should get the ball from a team that lost it. An opposing player trying to take it should receive a tech. A player holding the ball too long should receive a delay of game. Enforcing those rules would end a lot of tension.

Coach of the Year predictions: Quin Snyder, Brad Stevens, or maybe Doc Rivers?

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With the start of the NBA season just more than a week away — it’s predictions time. We’ll be covering most of the postseason awards between now and the opening tip of the NBA season.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks. Today…

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz). This race, like the NBA itself this season, is wide open. And also like the NBA this year, don’t sleep on Utah’s coach picking up some hardware. Outside of that guy in San Antonio, no coach has built a better system and culture than Snyder has in Utah. He has constructed an elite defense around Rudy Gobert owning the paint. On offense, the Jazz can’t just throw the ball to a Stephen Curry or James Harden, so Snyder has implemented a ball and player movement system that keeps defenses off balance. Utah won 50 games last season and this season adds quality veterans in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic — guys who will fit in with that culture. The Jazz are a high profile, potential contending team this season because of what Snyder has built, and the improved status will have voters wanting to recognize Snyder.

Dan Feldman: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics).  Stevens is a good coach. He has flaws, most notably recently his inability to connect with a star like Kyrie Irving. Irving can be particularly difficult to coach, but some of his issues follow most top talents. Stevens will have to show growth in his ability to guide a championship contender. But with these Celtics, Stevens can coach to his strengths — communicating clear roles to his players in a sound scheme. There’s a clear path for Boston to have a good record in the East, and credit for Stevens would likely follow.

Dane Delgado: Alvin Gentry (New Orleans Pelicans). The New Orleans Pelicans have a tough road ahead, with several new players and an outstanding rookie that still needs to get accustomed to life in the NBA. But there’s a lot of hope in The Big Easy that Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will be a postseason team this year, and you can count me in the camp of folks who believe New Orleans will make that leap in it 2019-20. If that’s the case, head coach Alvin Gentry will be tops on the list out west to take home the award for best coach in the NBA. Gentry has a bit of a head start — he’s a proven coach, and last year his team battled admirably through the Anthony Davis trade fiasco. If Gentry can go from 33 wins to the playoffs, one season removed from losing a franchise cornerstone player, I’m not sure who else would even challenge him for Coach of the Year.

Harrison and Brittany Barnes to pay for funeral of Atataina Jefferson

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Harrison Barnes now plays for the Sacramento Kings, but he and wife Brittany still have ties back in Texas. Barnes played for two-and-a-half seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, and now the couple is stepping in to help the community back in Dallas in a big way.

According to multiple reports, the Barneses have offered to pay for the funeral of Atatiana Jefferson, a Texas woman shot and killed by a Forth Worth Police Department officer last week.

That officer, Aaron Dean, has since resigned and been charged with Jefferson’s murder.

Via Twitter:

Jefferson was reportedly watching her 8-year-old nephew when a neighbor called in a welfare check to the non-emergency police line. The neighbor noticed her door was open, and police responded at 2:25 a.m.

From NBC News:

Body camera footage shows the perspective of the officer outside the home, peering inside a window using a flashlight, spotting someone inside standing near a window and telling her, “Put your hands up — show me your hands,” before shooting seconds later. At no point does he identify himself as an officer.

This is extremely generous on the part of the Barnes family and another example of how players can come to grow close to the places they play in.

Lakers exercise 4th-year contract option on Kyle Kuzma

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Lakers have exercised their contract option on forward Kyle Kuzma for the 2020-21 season.

The Lakers made the move Thursday on Kuzma, who is currently out with a foot injury suffered while playing for USA Basketball during the summer.

Kuzma was the 27th overall pick in the 2017 draft out of Utah. He has become a solid NBA scorer, putting up 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds last season while starting 68 games for the Lakers.

Kuzma will make over $3.56 million next season in the fourth-year option of his rookie contract. He is making $1.97 million this season.

The Lakers expect Kuzma to return to action soon. He has been cleared for noncontact basketball activities.

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