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NBA announces awards finalists

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The NBA will reveal its major individual honors June 25 in a televised award show.

For now, the league has announced finalists. Click the name of each award for more analysis of the race:

Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Fred VanVleet finalists for Sixth Man of the Year

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Sometimes, the most productive overall reserve wins Sixth Man of the Year. Usually, though, the award goes to the highest-scoring reserve.

When both those players are the same, it’s easy.

Lou Williams – who averaged 22.6 points per game, third-most ever for a Sixth Man of the Year-eligible player* – is deserves to and will likely win the honor when it’s presented June 25. For now, we just know the finalists:

*Ricky Pierce averaged 23.0 points per game for the 1989-90 Bucks. Michael Jordan averaged 22.7 points per game for the 1985-86 Bulls, though he played just 18 games, including seven starts.

Williams (2015) and Gordon (2017) have both previously won this award.

Gordon had a nice season, but he fits the high-scoring model that attracts voters more than he fits the best overall reserve.

VanVleet was a key piece of a deep and dominant Toronto bench.

Report: Raptors and Bucks focusing on Mike Budenholzer in coaching searches

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Two playoff teams – the Raptors and Bucks – are looking for coaches.

Apparently, both want former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Toronto and Milwaukee will already known to be interested in Budenholzer. It sounds as if that interest has only intensified.

Budenholzer is a former Coach of the Year. In Atlanta, his offenses were sophisticated and varied, his defenses usually sound. He has a strong record of player development.

He’s exactly the type of coach good teams like the Raptors and Bucks should covet and can attract. If it comes to it, which would he choose?

Toronto has been so good in the regular season, and nearly its entire rotation – led by stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan – is locked up. Only sixth man Fred VanVleet will be a free agent (restricted), though luxury-tax concerns also loom.

Milwaukee has a young superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo and even lower expectations. The Bucks haven’t won a playoff series in 17 years. With Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, it won’t be terrible difficult to produce the best season Milwaukee has seen in nearly two decades.

This all shapes up nicely for Budenholzer – and the Hawks. They agreed to pay his full remaining salary minus a portion of what he makes on his next job. A bidding war between the Raptors and Bucks would be a windfall for Atlanta.

Cavaliers eliminate Raptors. Again.

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LeBron James has destroyed team after team in the Eastern Conference.

Will the Raptors as we know them be next?

The Cavaliers eliminated Toronto for third straight season with a 128-93 shellacking in Game 4 of their second-round sweep Monday.

LeBron advances to his eighth straight Eastern Conference finals and the 10th of his career. He and the Cavs will face the winner of the Celtics-76ers series, which Boston leads 3-1.

Where the Raptors go from here is anyone’s guess.

Will they fire Dwane Casey? Trade DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry? Keep everyone together despite annual playoff flameouts?

Cleveland swept the Raptors last year and beat them in the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history the  year prior. But this season appeared as if it could be different.

Toronto won a franchise-record 59 games and secured the No. 1 seed in the East. The Raptors were better than the Cavs during the regular season in every major facet – offense, defense, starters, bench.

The Cavaliers played awful defense, bickered in the locker room and shuffled the roster at the trade deadline. They needed seven games just to beat the Pacers, the worst first-round showing ever for a LeBron team . By the end of the series, he said he felt “burnt.”

Then, he roasted the Raptors.

LeBron (29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds) didn’t even appear to expend much energy tonight. He can dominate while coasting – especially when his teammates step up like they did.

Kevin Love (23 points on 13 shots), Kyle Korver (16 points on eight shots), J.R. Smith (15 points on six shots) and George Hill (12 points on eight shots) were all extremely efficient.

Toronto, on the other hand, looked desperate. C.J. Miles and Serge Ibaka started over Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas to spread the floor, but Cleveland scorched the compromised defense. Lucas Nogueira played his first meaningful minutes in the second quarter, and the Raptors immediately surrendered a 10-0 run with the sub-rotation player in. DeRozan, after getting benched for the fourth quarter of Game 3, got ejected for a flagrant foul in the third quarter:

DeRozan finished with 13 points on 11 shots in 33 minutes. Lowry (five points on 2-of-7 shooting) impacted the game even less as a scorer.

Toronto, especially its stars, aren’t good enough against LeBron. If we didn’t know that already, we sure do now.

What will the Raptors do about it? They’ll have a long offseason to figure it out.

LeBron James, Cavaliers clutch, while Raptors fold

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If Toronto loses this series, this is the game they will look back on with the most regret.

It was every Raptor nightmare about this series come to life — Toronto’s inability to beat LeBron James, the inability of their stars to close games after they had a lead, the inability of the Raptors to win the first game of a series, it all came true in the end Tuesday night, in just about the ugliest way possible. Toronto was in their own heads when it mattered most.

Toronto dominated early, led by double digits in the second half, but shot 5-of-24 in the fourth quarter and missed its last 11 shots in regulation. Then in overtime, they shot 3-of-7. Toronto missed every three they took in the final four minutes of regulation and in overtime. Then, at the end of regulation and overtime, when the Raptors needed a bucket, they turned to bench player Fred VanVleet to take the shot — not Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan.

The Cavaliers, as they have all season, showed poise down the stretch — their passes and shots looked like those of a confident team while the Raptors looked tight — and Cleveland took Game 1 in overtime, 113-112. It was a game where Cleveland never led in regulation but did when the buzzer finally sounded.

The Cavaliers lead the series 1-0 having won one on the road. Game 2 is Thursday night in Toronto.

LeBron James was brilliant as expected, 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds (and Tyronn Lue even got some rest for him during the game). Toronto chose from the outset to single-cover LeBron most of the night, primarily with OG Anunoby — and the rookie did a good job, LeBron needed 30 shots to get his 26 points. Anunoby is strong and LeBron couldn’t just overpower him, settling for more fade-aways than the Cavs would prefer.

However, the point of single-covering LeBron is to stay home on the supporting cast and not let them beat you, and the Raptors failed at that — J.R. Smith had 20 points, Kyle Korver 19, Jeff Green 16 and Tristan Thompson 14.

“Guys stepped up tonight, everybody stepped up,” LeBron said. “We got timely stops. They killed us on the glass, but we stuck with it, made timely shots, it’s a huge win for us.”

Lowry and DeRozan started strong but combined to go 3-of-11 in the second half. The Raptors vaunted bench was outscored by the Cavaliers maligned one 37-35.

“We know the head of the snake is DeMar and Kyle, but those six or seven guys that come off that bench are very productive. We knew we had to take them away and take them out of the game for us to be successful, it’s a good start for us this series.”

The best Raptor for much of the game was Jonas Valanciunas, who punished the Cavaliers for starting small with Kevin Love at center. In the third quarter, Valanciunas had 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting plus five boards, dominating inside. However, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue adjusted and put Tristan Thompson in against JV and in the fourth quarter the Raptors’ center was 1-of-7, including a series of point-blank putback misses.

The night started with such promise for Toronto at home.

Toronto shot 62 percent in the first quarter and was up 33-19 after one. Toronto’s offense is far more diverse than Indiana’s, the Raptors have a variety of shot creators, and that exposed the Cavaliers’ defense that had been a mess all season.

However, the Raptors couldn’t hold on to that and the Cavaliers tightened the game up in the second quarter. That was the theme all night, Toronto’s inability to put LeBron and the Cavaliers away. When the pressure was on, the Cavaliers made plays and the Raptors fumbled their chances.

Looking at the body language of Raptors players leaving the court, it’s fair to wonder if they fumbled away their chance to win this series.