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PBT Mailbag: Should Luka Doncic go No. 1 over Deandre Ayton?

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Welcome to the first ever edition of the PBT Mailbag. This week, we prepare for the 2018 NBA Draft as teams around the league try to scramble for Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, both, or neither.

The draft is one of my favorite dates on the NBA calendar simply because most of the draft board changes via reports and rumors are simply general managers and agents trying to influence via disinformation. It’s really masterful to see, and some of them have gotten so good at it that you can barely even tell that they’re mostly full of crap.

The reality of the situation is that the draft itself is luck influenced by data analysis and risk assessment. What doesn’t become public are the most important things: parents, what their background is, what their support network is, their work ethic, whether they eat nothing but Everlasting Gobstoppers, etc. Talent can float you for you for little bit, and will rise your draft stock, but it takes work and character to go from 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo to MVP-threat Giannis Antetokounmpo. I hope all your teams draft Durants and avoid an Oden on Thursday.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Let’s get to your questions.

Incite

Who gets selected first between Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marvin Bagley and Mo Bamba?

I really like the presumption to this question, which is that the Sacramento Kings are so decidedly dedicated to their insanity that they are all but guaranteed to select Michael Porter Jr. with their No. 2 overall pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are apparently angling to take Doncic with their third overall selection, so that seems to be the answer here. Normally I like to err on the side of disbelief when it comes to big names being reported as favorites in the hours leading up to the draft. However, this is the Kings we are talking about here, and reporting about Porter being their favorite has come from some big-name, big-sourced writers.

Taking Porter with the second overall selection, complete with his injury history and murmurs about his personality, would be such a Kingsy thing to do so I am 100% all in on that definitely happening.

John

Shouldn’t it seem obvious that with the way the NBA is heading that Doncic should he the first pick? A combo guard/wing who can play multiple positions and switch onto multiple guys on defense vs Ayton; a big who can’t stretch the floor and would have trouble finding minutes and a matchup in these last finals?

The NBA has changed a lot in just a few years. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend about the difference between sort of these weird, muscly athletic guys coming out of the college game being sort of outdated already. It wasn’t too long ago that guys like Blake Griffin, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle were boasted as being positionless players. Now we are slowly talking about their limitations.

The 3-pointer is king in the NBA, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The problem with Doncic is translation. There is not some kind of comparative ratio you can use to weigh college players versus professional European players. NBA talent scouts have been looking at guys in domestic college ranks for longer than they have in Europe. Even then, resources put towards Europe versus college scouting has and still is tipped toward the scale of the NCAA.

That’s really where the reticence with Doncic lies, even if DeAndre Ayton seems a little too raw to take a chance on at No. 1. Frankly, the fact that some of the other wing type of guys aren’t higher up the list is a little bit surprising — I guess never count out an NBA team’s propensity to fall in love with a physical freak of nature.

I am not sure Ayton wouldn’t find a role in these past Finals, but certainly given his lack of experience on defense that would be the case in year one. Many of the guys in the top five feel like they will be good enough players over the next three years, a factor that may be pushed further by the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. However, as is often the case, big men are projects coming out of college unless they are can’t-miss guys like Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Sun’s take Ayton with the first pick, they are going to have to wait for him to develop. The hope is that his ceiling will be higher than Doncic’s.

Chris

What does our supreme leader Ernie Grunfield do for DC’s fourth favorite sporting franchise on Thursday night? Does he reach and draft a European superstar? How about a player with more swag than basketball skill? Think he should trade it for a sixth man type who has the season long flu?

Seriously though, is it worth grabbing a center in this day and age? Wall and Gortart’s pick and roll game was unreal when they liked each other.

Confusingly,
Chris from Philly

It feels like the Wizards could really go either way. Their backcourt and wing players are going to cost them a bajillion dollars over the next four years or so, so they could try to bring in a player they’ve had an eye on and try to replicate some of that production with a far cheaper price tag.

Then again, Gortat seemed to be on his way out over the course of this season, and was rumored to be some kind of trade bait, albeit without much value. He certainly doesn’t seem to have a future with the Wizards, and Ian Mahinmi has not really worked out for DC. John Wall does need some extra pick-and-roll help, and they need to get younger across the front line overall.

Washington is the ultimate roulette team when it comes to the draft. They’ll either get a high VORP guy like Otto Porter Jr. or Bradley Beal, or they’ll draft this year’s Jan Vesely with no inbetween.

Let’s be honest, the best thing that could happen to the Wizards during the draft is that LeBron decides to head to the Western Conference. Any selection after that is secondary.

Alfredo

Chris Paul‘s first trip to the conference finals has convinced me the only way to get a ring is to play for a team who has won before, like Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Warriors, even Cavaliers. This means, those teams who have made the playoffs, but not a deep run, are plum out of luck.

What were the fatal flaws behind the Paul-led Pelicans and Clippers that kept them from getting out of the 2nd round vs. Rockets? Of the teams to have reached the conference finals and Finals, but not won a title yet*, which new team do you see winning next? Are the Pelicans, Hornets and Clippers considered dead end franchises, just because they can’t get out of the 2nd round?

First, I really appreciate the fatalism here. It takes a special kind of broken fan to admit that they think their team will probably never win a championship and that the odds are, for whatever cosmic reason, forever stacked towards the teams who are traditional powers. I really jive with that.

I think it’s easy to say that a lot of those Chris Paul teams suffered because of injury. But there is also something to be said about the surrounding players on the bench for a lot of his squads. Do you realize that Bonzi Wells was a contributor for the Hornets the year they got beaten by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round? That was in 2008, many years after Bonzi was a useful player.

The same can be said about those Clippers teams, who had a lot of front line star power but who also rolled out the likes of Glen Davis and an ancient Danny Granger against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the playoffs. Whose idea was that?

I wouldn’t say it’s fair to call any franchise “dead end” because team owners eventually have to die. That’s the real thing we don’t talk about enough when it comes to why the more sordid franchises are annually terrible. The Knicks would be a great destination if James Dolan decided to wear a fedora and do his Guitar Hero: Bruce Willis thing full time.

You can’t fire an owner but you can hope they sell the team. I’m not sure if that means you should root for team valuations to go up or down, but it’s something.

Daniel

Hey Dane, I wanted to know what kind of food is acceptable for a draft viewing party, and does acceptable draft night food vary for fans of different teams? I’ll take my answer off the air.

I’m really torn here because I think it depends on the context of the draft watch party. Is this a bunch of fans of one team who have struggled for years and are hoping for a breakout star to go to them in the top five? Or is this a bunch of NBA dorks getting together to watch the draft because they have nothing better to do on a Thursday night?

The former deserve to eat whatever their hearts desire. If it’s at your friend’s house, I would say you should go with the least messy thing you can find. Don’t try to eat wings at a buddy’s kitchen island. You’ll end up blowing through two rolls of paper towels all by yourself, and that’s nothing compared to when you sit down and rub something out of your eye 35 minutes later completely forgetting that you ate wings but didn’t wash your hands. You’ll start screaming, although if this is a Kings draft meetup everyone will just assume you are inconsolable about Vlade taking Michael Porter Jr.

If this shindig is just for NBA nerds, you should be doing nothing but snacking. Chex Mix, chips and maybe some guacamole. It’s a Thursday night, it’s a casual get-together, and you have to get up early in the morning.

Xander

Is there any chance Portland acquire someone that could be considered as a 3rd star without trading Collins?

No.

PDX HYPE SQUAD

Will the summer blockbuster, “Uncle Drew” be enough to get us all drinking Pepsi again?

I have to admit something: I have always been a Pepsi drinker. To be honest, seeing the Uncle Drew trailer in the theater made me want to stop drinking it. We have truly reached the zenith of capitalism when commercials that are based on a Robin Williams movie from 1993 end up as movies themselves.

Can I just say one more thing about Uncle Drew? How was it that we are in 2018 and we can turn Josh Brolin into a giant pink behemoth and a time-traveling clone, but we haven’t advanced the “make a young guy look old” technology past “Big Momma’s House”? The whole concept of these movies are unbelievable mostly because they look exactly like a guy put on 17 hours of prosthetics just to cross somebody over while Kevin Hart makes quips in the background about taking calcium to cure their broken ankles. I hope it was worth it, Kyrie Irving. I’m setting the “Uncle Drew” over/under on Rotten Tomatoes at 24.5%

Bret O

Out of LBJ, George, and Leonard, who is most likely to end up in a Sixers uni and why?

LeBron James has the most agency out of any of these guys, so it seems like he’s the least likely to head to Philadelphia. More and more rumors come out every day about how he’s heading west, although we don’t know where. Meanwhile, NBA players really do seem to love Russell Westbrook, and whether George ends up in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, I’m not sure that the 76ers are a top destination for him.

That leaves us with Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are refusing to send somewhere in the Western Conference. That fact alone so that gives the most credence that he would be the most likely to end up in Philadelphia out of these three guys. Plus, since Leonard has reportedly said he wants to head to Los Angeles, he’s completely tanked his own trade value. Philly has a few non-essential assets, and could give up something in exchange for a one-year rental on Kawhi as they try to take over the Eastern Conference and convince him to stay on for a championship run.

Andrew T.

Does Kawhi have a no-trade clause? Can he veto any trade? If he does, and refuses to play for the Spurs, do they have to pay him? Is Kawhi worth multiple first round picks?

Kawhi does not have a no-trade clause, and he does not have the ability to veto any trade. If he refuses to play, they do have to pay him although they can just go ahead and fine him right back. We have never seen a player do that for a significant amount of time that would warrant a real intervention from the league or the players union, and I don’t see that happening here.

As it stands today, Leonard is not worth multiple first-round picks. Heck, he’s not even worth one. He has completely killed his trade value, and even under regular circumstances it’s hard to tell what he would garner on a trade market that he hadn’t killed with his own hand. First round picks have sort of varied in their worth over the last decade. First, they started off as easily moved trade pieces. Then they exploded in value, sometimes becoming more important than actual good players. It seems like they’re sort of on the downslope again, although on a very shallow fall.

Doug L.

Does the concept of “hometown discount” exist anymore? Did it ever? There’s examples like Dirk & Durant taking less than they could have gotten, but I don’t remember ever seeing a guy like Evan Turner or Harrison Barnes taking less than what they feel they’re worth. Why does that always seem to come up when discussing someone like Marcus Smart‘s free agency when it almost never happens? Or even other stars like Kyrie, LeBron, Klay, or CP3?

You also have to remember the context for Evan Turner and Harrison Barnes at the time. Barnes was the guy on a team that hasn’t performed up to his potential. Giving him that kind of money was really questionable, especially within the context of how much Klay Thompson had evolved over the course of his contract.

The same can be said for Evan Turner, who was invaluable in the Eastern Conference during his time in Philadelphia and Boston, but who wasn’t necessarily an integral piece of the fabric for either. That doesn’t excuse the Portland Trail Blazers for handing him $17 million a year, but it’s not like anyone was thinking Turner would even need to take a hometown discount.

I think it does exist, but it’s nothing we need to worry about just yet. If multiple MVP-type guys start taking massive cuts just to group together on the same team, then the NBA has a problem.

Adam F.

What should be our new NBA position labels be? Currently 1=PG 2=SG 3=SF 4=PF 5=C. Why can’t we divide it into Play Maker (1) / Wings (2,3) / Bigs (4,5) In fact we could further divide it to quickly accommodate everyone’s unique contributions?

0.5 / Small Wing / Aaron Brooks, non-Boston Isiah Thomas Types, short defensive liabilities who max out as 6th man spark plugs off the bench.

1.0 / Play Maker / The fulcrum of their teams’ offense regardless of traditional size (Giannis, LeBron, Kyrie. Curry, Harden, Durant)

(You could further Classify this like 1.1 = Curry, 1.2 = Harden, 1.3 = Durant/LeBron, 1.4 = Giannis)

1.5 / Unicorn Big / Anthony Davis types. Play Makers who need someone else to initiate the offense but often finish it.

1.75 / Combo Wing / Eric Gordon types who can take over backup Play Maker duties for short stretches while the real play maker rests. Potential to become a 1.1 or 1.2

2.0 / Shooting Wing / Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson types who primarily stretch the floor with their shooting but are big enough to defend traditional guards

2.25 / 3 & 0 Wing / Tim Hardaway Jr, Andrew Wiggins types known for their offense with no accompanying defense

2.5 / 3 & D Wing / Avery Bradley, Robert Covington types known more for their defense but can still stretch the floor on offense

2.75 / 0 & D Wing / Andre Roberson, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest types known for their defense with no accompanying offense

3.0 / Big Wing / Jayson Tatum, Otto Porter types who fill in all current small forward duties, more perimeter oriented. Potential to become a 1.3

3.5 / Power Wing / Name your small ball 4 (Justise Winslow, Jae Crowder types), basically Big Wings who can’t stretch the floor.

4.0 / Power Big / Traditional Power Forward types who score buckets inside, grab rebounds. What they lack is they can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense (Karl Malone, Carlos Boozer types)

4.15 / Combo Big / Karl Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis types who protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. What they lack is girth of a 4.5 of 5.0 and the consistency of a 1.4 or 1.5. Potential to become a 1.4 or 1.5

4.5 / Dive Big / Rudy Gobert, Clint Capella types who protect the paint, dive the lane and are quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. What they lack is the ability to stretch the floor.

4.75 / Shooting Big / Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson types can stretch the floor. What they lack is they can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense.

5.0 / B2B Big / Jonas Valanciunas or Al Jefferson types who can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. They play with their back to the basket and are ground bound

God bless the man who sees people complaining about too much math being used in the NBA and comes up with this.

I think we are missing some key positions left out here. I don’t know how you want to number them, but I think it goes like this:

2.375 / Wings who can sort of dribble but that’s it: Your Evan Turners, your Jeff Greens, your Playoff JR Smiths. What do these guys bring to your team? I don’t know, but a 55-year-old pro scout in your favorite organization loves their HEART.

2.6175 / Every wing player on the current iteration of the Sacramento Kings: No role, and all of them could end up playing as a backup shooting guard or as a small ball four in a couple of years. The only guarantee is it won’t be for the Kings.

3.29 / Young wings on your favorite team that could put it together if they just knew how to play basketball: You know the type. Your Travis Outlaws, your Jordan Clarksons. These guys show flashes of brilliance, athleticism, and top flight basketball IQ for literally minutes at a time. Then it’s right back to the tank, followed by several passes directly at the guy holding nachos courtside. Will they ever figure it out? Maybe your GM should roll the dice and give them another $10 million a year to find out. I bet they will.

4.99 / Bigs who are athletic and who can rebound but don’t have any appreciable NBA-ready skill: JJ Hickson or Thomas Robinson type of guys who don’t seem to know exactly what it is they’re doing but, boy, do they do a lot of it. They’ll get rebounds, mostly over guys exactly like them and stretch fours who would have been backup small forwards a decade ago. Local fans always overestimate how much they should be paid by at least 60%.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

NBA Power Rankings: Can Rockets, Raptors carry impressive seasons into playoffs?

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The final power rankings come out on the final day of the season. There are no real surprises at the top, and the comments on these rankings are as much a look forward for teams as a look back at the season that was.

Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (65-16, Last Week No. 1). This season went as well as could have been imagined for Houston: James Harden is going to win MVP, he and Chris Paul meshed well from Day 1, and their switching defense proved to be top 10 in the league. The Rockets proved to be legitimate title contenders. They went 41-3 in games Harden, Paul and Clint Caplela all played. Their big test comes in about a month when the Western Conference Finals start — they had better be in it, and then we’ll see how they match up with Golden State.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (59-22, LW 2). Like Houston, this was as good a regular season as Toronto could have hoped for: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan stayed healthy all season and led a more egalitarian offense that moved the ball well, plus they finished the season with a top 5 offense and defense. Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time in its history. None of that has fully eased the playoff doubts — the Raptors have never won their first playoff game (0-9) and will face a tough test (probably from Washington, although Miami or Milwaukee could still be the 8 seed).

Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (58-24 LW 3). Time to flip the switch. Due to injuries and a knowledge that they both know where the switch is and can turn it on, the Warriors have coasted through the end of the season. When the Warriors four stars are all on the court the team is 31-10 during the season and remain the title favorites, but they will need to get through the first round without Stephen Curry. More importantly, they need to start defending like a champion again, that end has seen the big drop in recent weeks.

Sixers small icon 4. 76ers (51-30, LW 5). Winners of 15 in a row and with a win Wednesday night against the Bucks they keep the three seed and the easiest path through the playoffs. Keep that three seed and the path to the Eastern Conference Finals is pretty clear — if they can get Joel Embiid back soon, mask and all. They need him. Still, for a team that won 28 games games a season ago the ride this season has been nearly unprecedented.

Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (50-31 LW 7). This has seemed like four seasons in one for Cleveland, with enough drama and changes to be their own reality show. Yet at the end of it all, this is a 50-win team with the best player in the game and the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East again. The one thing that can keep them out of another Finals trip is their defense — can LeBron James turn it on and lift this team’s D up to even league average? That will probably be good enough to make the Finals, but the Cavaliers enter the playoffs weighed down by bad defensive habits.

Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (48-33, LW 8). Back on Jan. 15, the Utah Jazz were 17-26, nine games under .500, five games out of the playoffs, and without Rudy Gobert. Since then they are 31-7 with a frightening defense (Rudy Gobert will win Defensive Player of the Year) and this is the team other top teams in the West wanted to avoid in the first round. With a win in Portland Wednesday night the Jazz will get the three seed, but even if they fall short of that the turnaround of this team — and the play of rookie Donovan Mitchell — has been amazing to watch.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (54-27, LW 4). Wait until next year! Brad Stevens has got my Coach of the Year vote for the job he has done leaning on Al Horford and young players (who traditionally don’t defend well) to have the top-ranked defense in the NBA for the season. Boston earned its two seed, and it’s not impossible they could win a first-round series with a little luck and a hot hand. But next season? With Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back, this team may be the favorites in the East.

Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (48-34, LW 10). Indiana is locked in as the five seed and will face either Cleveland or Philly in the first round — the Pacers went 3-1 against the Cavs this season and 2-1 against the Sixers, so they should have some confidence. The Pacers may be the most surprising team in the league, most of us “experts” had them pegged for 30ish wins and the ability to set tee times for mid-April, instead Victor Oladipo (the lock Most Improved Player) has lifted this team to the postseason and made them a threat there.

Spurs small icon 9. Spurs (47-34, LW 11). That this team won 47 games with Kawhi Leonard essentially being absent all season is a testament to Gregg Popovich and “the Spurs way.” And also LaMarcus Aldridge, who has earned an All-NBA roster spot this season (at either forward or center). That said, without Leonard this is not a team that strikes great fear in the hearts of the teams at the top of the West, the Spurs will defend but their lack of athleticism will catch up with them.

Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (47-34 LW 9).. We’re 81 games into the season and still asking “exactly who are the Thunder?” Down the stretch of the season the Thunder have been wildly inconsistent, both game-to-game and even within games (the win in Miami Monday was a great example, OKC toyed with Miami for much of the game, before decided to get serious and take advantage of their superior athleticism). Still, because of the elite talent on this roster, it’s a team nobody wants to face in the postseason.

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (48-33, LW 6). It looked like they had the three seed locked up a couple weeks ago, but they have stumbled to the finish line and now have to play the Jazz Wednesday night with the three seed on the line. Of late Portland’s offense has relied too heavily on Damian Lillard (who has been brilliant), on Wednesday night and into the playoffs C.J. McCollum and the rest of the Blazers need to pitch in more on that end.

Pelicans small icon 12. Pelicans (47-34, LW 12). When DeMarcus Cousins went down with his torn Achilles we all pretty much wrote off the Pelicans — what Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday did to get this team into the postseason is one of the great stories of the season. Davis isn’t going to win MVP (he will finish top 5 in the voting) but he has played like one the second half of the season. Reaching the postseason means GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry are likely back next season, and the Pelicans will re-sign Cousins. However, this roster still needs work to take the next step. A lot of it.

Nuggets small icon 13. Nuggets (46-35, LW 17).. With their backs against the wall, the Nuggets have won six in a row to force Wednesday night’s “win and you’re in” showdown with the Timberwolves. If Denver doesn’t make it, they shouldn’t look back on the final game as much as things like the March 17 loss to Memphis or the March 13 loss to the Lakers, those were the games they needed to win and didn’t take seriously enough. The sense around the league is Mike Malone’s job is not safe after a season with the league’s 27th ranked defense.

14. Timberwolves (46-35, LW 13). One game to determine if Minnesota can end the longest playoff drought in the NBA (13 seasons). No pressure guys. To win the game the Timberwolves will need what they haven’t gotten consistently all season — good defense out of Karl-Anthony Towns (matched up on Nikola Jokic) and a focused game from Andrew Wiggins. Jimmy Butler was a great pickup by GM Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Buckets has had an All-NBA level season.

Bucks small icon 15. Bucks (44-37 LW 18). Milwaukee has stumbled in the fourth quarter of games recently, not a good sign heading into the postseason. However, with a loss to the Sixers on Wednesday night the Bucks will be the coveted seven seed in the East and face off in the first round against the banged-up Celtics — with Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee will have the best player on the court in that series and a legit shot to win it. Would that be enough to get Joe Prunty the head coaching job full time? With this ownership, hard to say.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (43-38, LW 16). Miami is an interesting team to watch come the playoffs because of their style of play: This is not a “get the ball to our superstar and get out of the way” offense. Rather, they wear teams down with multiple pick-and-roll actions on each trip down the court, they rely on five versatile players, and once the defense slips up Miami makes them pay. But what happens when it’s the postseason and the defense is dialed in and not making those mistakes (or at least not as often)? The Heat have the defense to hang in a series, but do they have the offense to win one?

Wizards small icon 17. Wizards (43-38, LW 15). On paper, this team should scare Toronto or whoever they face in the first round. In reality, the Wizards dropped four in a row before beating a Celtics team Tuesday comprised of guys Brad Stevens had to pluck out of the front row due to injuries sidelining everyone else. Washington is 3-8 in its last 11, with a bottom 10 offense and defense over that stretch. John Wall is back, Bradley Beal can knock down shots, I love Otto Porter’s game, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts right now in Washington. Do you want to bet this team can flip the switch?

Clippers small icon 18. Clippers (42-39 LW 14). It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Los Angeles. Will DeAndre Jordan opt out of his $24.1 million contract to test a tight free agent market (and get out of L.A.) or does he take the cash and wait a year to try his luck? If he does opt out, will the Clippers try to re-sign him or let him go and start a rebuild? Is Doc Rivers back next season (the buzz around the league is no)? If the Clippers do decide to rebuild, what can they get for Lou Williams? L.A. would love to move Danilo Gallinari’s contract, but they will balk at the sweeteners other teams will want to take him on. This ship could sail a lot of different directions this offseason.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (38-43, LW 19). The sense from sources around the league is that Stan Van Gundy is going to lose is GM powers — with former agent Arn Tellem stepping in as head of basketball operations — but will he be back as coach? Whoever is sitting in the big chair, if the Pistons can keep Blake Griffin, the much improved Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson healthy for a majority of the season they should be a playoff team. But that feels like a very big “if.”

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (36-46, LW 20). Mitch Kupchak is in as the new GM in Charlotte, and at his introductory press conference he kept his cards close to his chest (note to Charlotte media, get used to that). Kupchak and Michael Jordan need to decide the big picture question here: Can they put together a consistent playoff team around Kemba Walker, or is it time to trade him and start a rebuild? Either way, is Steve Clifford a part of that future? (Clifford got a relationship with Kupchak, but if the new GM wants to shake things up that will not be enough.) On the bright side, Dwight Howard had a solid season for the Hornets and looked rejuvenated.

Lakers small icon 21. Lakers (34-47 LW 21). Going into the season, a reasonable goal for this team was the mid-30s in wins, with their young core — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle — showing real signs of development. By that measure, this was a good Lakers’ season. This team defended better than expected, and the offense showed flashes. It’s something to build on, no matter who they land or don’t land in free agency this summer.

Nets small icon 22. Nets (28-53, LW 25). It’s going to be a long, slow rebuilding process in Brooklyn, but as they start to dig out from the ruins of the “we have to build a contender right now” trades of the past, they are finding some keepers. Rookie center Jarrett Allen showed real promise the second half of the season. Spencer Dinwiddie is a rotation NBA point guard who can be part of the future. Coach Kenny Atkinson is building a strong culture there. The big off-season question in Brooklyn: What to do about D’Angelo Russell.

Knicks small icon 23. Knicks (28-53, LW 22). Nobody around the league expects Jeff Hornacek to keep his job as coach, the only question is do they fire him before the weekend? Oh, and who replaces him? The Knicks are a big market, but a team with big expectations, not the most consistent owner, and star Kristaps Porzingis is expected to miss about half of next season returning from a torn ACL. This coaching job has its challenges. On the bright side this season, Tim Hardaway Jr. played well, and rookie Frank Ntilikina showed flashes to build upon.

Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (24-58 LW 23). Dirk Nowitzki will be back for one more tour of duty, and the celebration of the greatest Maverick ever (and the greatest European player in NBA history) will provide some cover as Dallas continues its rebuild. Dennis Smith Jr. showed off all that athleticism but also looked like a rookie and needs to get far more efficient with his shot and decision making. Dallas will have another top 10 pick to put next to him and Harrison Barnes.

Kings small icon 25. Kings (26-55, LW 24). Sacramento played their youth a lot and quietly, De’Aaron Fox showed real promise as the season went on, and the combination of Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic provides some good shooting on the perimeter to open up space. That said, the Kings don’t take good advantage of all that — they play too slow and take too few threes. Next season they need to open the offense up and let their young athletes — plus whoever they draft — shine.

Bulls small icon 26. Bulls (27-54 LW 27).. The Bulls finally went all in on the rebuild and they found real quality in big man Lauri Markkanen, he can be a key part of the future in Chicago. I’m still not as high on Kris Dunn as Bulls fans, but he looks like a rotation player who can bring some defense. The big off-season question is Zach LaVine, who is coming off an injury and is a restricted free agent. In a tight market, is some team going to come in big and try to steal him? How much would the Bulls pay to match and keep him? It’s going to be an interesting game of poker in the Windy City.

Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (24-58, LW 28). John Collins was the most efficient rookie out there (Ben Simmons could make a good case, too) and whatever is rebuilt in Atlanta he will be a part of it. Taurean Prince is now a legit “3&D” guy on the wing, those are hard to come by. There is still a lot of rebuilding to do in Atlanta, but they have a couple of quality young players now and can add to that in this draft.

Magic small icon 28. Magic (24-57, LW 26). Frank Vogel is going to be let go as coach (he should land on his feet somewhere) and the Magic’s new front office has to bring in someone who knows how to develop talent such as Jonathan Isaac and build up a young roster. Then that front office needs to go get a lot more young talent. The problem is they are locked into paying Bismarck Biyombo $17 million next season, hurting their cap space. Expect a lot of Nikola Vucevic trade rumors this summer (solid center on an expiring contract). The Mario HJezonja era in Orlando is going to end this summer.

Grizzlies small icon 29. Grizzlies (22-59, LW 29). Injuries were a big part of it, but there was no more disappointing team in the NBA than Memphis this season. With the ownership situation settled, expect the status quo next season (including coach J.B. Bickerstaff being back) — and with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol back, plus a high draft pick next to them Memphis should be back at least fighting for a playoff slot next season. (The Grizzlies might be the best fit for Luka Doncic, but do they want him? Depends in part on how the lottery gods treat them.)

Suns small icon 30. Suns (21-61, LW 30). The Suns tanking worked, they will head into the lottery with the best shot at the No. 1 pick. The first big question of the offseason is who will be the next coach of this team? (Expect them to reach out to Villanova’s Jay Wright, expect him to say no.) That coach has to develop talent well — rookie Josh Jackson showed improvement but has a long ways to go. The Elfrid Payton experiment did not work, and both Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender were disappointments. The front office has work to do to put better talent around Devin Booker.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry headline Team USA player pool for 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics

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Carmelo Anthony capped his distinguished Olympic career in the 2016 Games by winning his third gold medal with Team USA.

Now, it’s time for the next generation of Americans to take over.

Gregg Popovich will succeed Mike Krzyzewski as coach, but the players could look similar to previous international competitions.

USA Basketball released its player pool for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics, and it features plenty of familiar faces – just not Anthony:

This list includes nearly every very good American basketball player, but USA Basketball isn’t bound to follow it. These players are invited to a mini-camp this July, and that will give them a leg up. But if someone outside this 35-man list emerges as worthy of a World Cup or Olympic roster spot, he’ll get consideration.

The two notable snubs: LaMarcus Aldridge and Otto Porter.

Aldridge will be 36 by the 2019 World Cup and probably too far past his prim to deserve a roster spot. But Paul is even older and got invited. This could have something to do with Aldridge repeatedly withdrawing previously.

Porter is just 24, and his 3-and-D game could mesh extremely well with a team of stars. Apparently, he remains underrated.

Three Things to Know: Raptors stave off creeping doubt

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Raptors got a much-needed win over the Celtics. Toronto had lost five of eight, including two straight – to the Celtics and Cavaliers, its chief competition in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors had been the East’s best team throughout the season. A “reset” offense and a deep bench seemingly had them poised for playoff success. But this late skid instilled plenty of doubt in a team that has disappointed annually in the postseason.

A 96-78 win over Boston ought to calm panic in Toronto.

This wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Raptors played with more purpose. They defended more aggressively, kept the ball moving and relied on balanced contributions. Kyle Lowry made a positive impact the day after his dud against Cleveland, which followed him going to San Antonio to watch Villanova win the national championship. The reserves came up big.

These weren’t necessarily the Celtics that Toronto would face in the postseason. Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin were out. Boston used 11 players through three quarters.

But that only increased the impetus for the Raptors to win.

They didn’t prove anything last night. This team can’t do that until the playoffs, anyway. But at least Toronto stopped the bleeding (of a boo-boo that probably looked worse than it actually was).

2) The Mavericks out-tanked the Magic. Dallas’ 105-100 loss to Orlando might wind up last night’s most significant game on the NBA’s long-term landscape. The defeat dropped the Mavericks (24-55) ahead of the Magic (24-54) in the tight tank race.

Dallas pulled out all the stops. Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki – who all started the previous game – sat last night. Two-way player Johnathan Motley started and played 41 minutes. Aaron Harrison started and played 42 minutes. Kyle Collinsworth and Dorian Finney-Smith each played 35 minutes. Another two-way player, Jalen Jones, played 27 minutes. It’s as if the Mavericks were trying to overwhelm their already-overmatched players.

Orlando didn’t idly watch Dallas tank. The Magic rested Nikola Vucevic. Three starters – Aaron Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Bismack Biyombo – sat the entire fourth quarter. Jamel Artis played 32 minutes.

But Gordon (20 points in 26 minutes) did too much in his limited playing time and got the Magic the unneeded win.

3) The Spurs fell to the Lakers, but at least remain in playoff position. Last night’s games otherwise featured chalk between a team in the playoff race and a team not – 76ers over Pistons, Heat over Hawks, Pelicans over Grizzlies. But San Antonio fell to Los Angeles, 122-112, in overtime.

The Lakers, without their own draft picks this year, are still feisty. They’ve got nothing to tank for. Kyle Kuzma scored 30 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points on nine shots) and Channing Frye (19 points on nine shots) were remarkably efficient.

The Spurs still haven’t clinched a playoff berth, so a loss to an eliminated team is a real letdown.

The Western Conference playoff-race standings now:

4. Utah Jazz (45-33)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)

5. San Antonio Spurs (45-34)

7. Minnesota Timberwolves  (44-34)

7. New Orleans Pelicans (44-34)

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9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)

10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)

Tonight will feature a couple big games – Clippers at Jazz and Timberwolves at Nuggets.