PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards



Raptors: 48-33 (4th place in Eastern Conference)
Wizards: 46-36 (5th place in Eastern Conference)
Toronto won the regular season series 3-0.




Raptors: 108.1 points scored per 100 possessions (3rd in NBA); 104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (23rd in NBA).
Wizards: 101.9 points scored per 100 possessions (19th in NBA); 100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (5th in NBA).


Does offense win, or does defense: The Wizards struggle to score at times, and the Raptors can’t stop anybody. John Wall was second in the league in assists behind only Chris Paul, so he knows how to distribute when the defense takes the ball out of his hands. It’s unclear if Toronto will be able to slow Wall or Bradley Beal, but if the Wizards backcourt runs wild on the suspect defense of the Raptors, home court advantage could disappear in one of the first two games of the series.

Paul Pierce: After averaging just 5.6 points on 32 percent shooting over his last 10 games of the regular season (via’s John Schuhmann), it’s worth wondering why Pierce is running his mouth. “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” he said, which caused DeMar DeRozan to fire back before the playoff matchups were finalized. “Paul Pierce has always gotta say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he said. He’d just better hope Chicago wins (against Atlanta) or whatever has got to happen so he won’t see what ‘It’ is.” Rhetoric aside, the Wizards are going to need Pierce to be more of a factor to be able to consistently compete in this series.

Raptors bench: Toronto’s second-most used lineup features Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough. While not a murderer’s row of household names, this group managed to post a net rating of +17.7 in 229 minutes on the season (via The Wizards are not a deep team, and things get thin for them pretty fast once they need to insert the reserves. This could be a real advantage for Toronto in the series, and will remain something to watch.


Neither of these teams have looked all that capable for the bulk of the second half of the season, but Wall is the best player in this series, so I’ll look to him to find a way to get the job done.

Wizards in 7.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: ‘There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets’


As the Mavericks and the Rockets get set to face each other in round one of the NBA playoffs, it’s worth reminding that these are two teams that simply don’t like each other.

While Mark Cuban is at the ownership level and Daryl Morey is merely a general manager, the competitive pair have traded plenty of barbs in the past.

Cuban continued to stoke the flames of the rivalry recently, telling Grantland that the Rockets are, in his opinion, too predictable and simply not that good.

From Greg Rajan of the Houston Chronicle:

In the playoffs, teams with limited game plans get exposed. Conveniently, Cuban believes that Houston, his team’s first-round opponent in this season’s playoffs, is one of the most one-dimensional teams in the playoffs.

“[The biggest difference is] practice time. There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets. You know exactly what they’re gonna do,” he says. “But James Harden is so good. That’s what analytics have begot. Right? Predictability. If you know what the percentages are, in the playoffs, you have time to counter them. Whether you’re good enough to do it is another question. Because they are very talented, and James Harden, I think, is the MVP. Because that’s not a very good team over there.”

Before we get to the obvious shade that was thrown, it’s worth pointing out that Cuban isn’t wrong.

The Rockets play the numbers from a basketball standpoint, and offensively, they look exclusively to create shots in the paint, behind the three-point line, or at the charity stripe — and essentially, nowhere else.

But as Cuban mentions, and as it is in other spots like the NFL where it’s easy for defenses to predict what’s coming, the question becomes whether or not you’re good enough to stop it.

My guess is that Dallas isn’t well-equipped to deal with what Houston does, but it could very well be a long series nonetheless. Cuban’s comments are good for the game’s entertainment value, and that will be even more true if he ends up goading Morey into issuing a public response.

PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Brooklyn Nets vs. Atlanta Hawks

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Nets: 38-44 (8th place in Eastern Conference)
Hawks: 60-22 (1st place in Eastern Conference)
Atlanta won the regular season series 4-0.


Hawks: Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha is out for the season with a leg fracture suffered during an incident with police.

Though he only averaged 18.8 minutes per contest and recently missed 23 games with a calf injury, his defensive presence was of immense help to the bench unit, and the team suffered there in his absence.

Nets: There’s an outside chance that Mirza Teletovic may be back, after being ruled out for the season back in January. The team announced he has been cleared to resume basketball-related activities, and he practiced on Friday. But he will be continued to be listed as OUT for now. Alan Anderson, who missed the last seven games with an ankle injury, also practiced.


Nets: 101.9 points scored per 100 possessions (18th in NBA); 105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (24th in NBA).
Hawks: 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions (T-6th in NBA); 100.7 points allowed per 100 possessions (7th in NBA).


Can the Hawks regain their early-season dominance: Atlanta crushed all comers in the first half of the season, rattling off a 19-game winning streak at one point, and winning 40 of their first 48 games — outpacing even the Warriors in the process. But the second half of the season wasn’t as easy. Sefolosha missed a total of 30 games, and the Hawks went just 17-13 in those contests. Whether it was due to losing their key defensive reserve, coasting to the regular season finish line, or no longer being able to surprise the opposition, Atlanta needs to find a way to get back to playing the elite level of basketball the team showcased for much of the season, and if they can, the Nets won’t be the only team that will have a ton of trouble in stopping them.

Nets must keep games close: In three of the four losses to the Hawks this season, Brooklyn was blown out by 17, 11 and 32 points. They lost the final one by just three, but Paul Millsap didn’t play, and the Nets entered the fourth period trailing by 12 points. (And, that was the day after the aforementioned police incident, so Sefolosha and Pero Antic didn’t play, either.) Brooklyn’s best chance to hang is to make the open shots when they come (which hasn’t happened lately), and to stay at home defensively, because they’re not athletic enough from a team-wide standpoint to help and recover before the Hawks zip the ball around to find the open shooters. The Nets can’t let huge deficits become the norm in this series, because they simply don’t have the offensive firepower to get out in transition and answer with huge runs of their own. Stay close and, well, at least there’s a chance.

Don’t leave Kyle Korver: In the four games between the teams during the regular season Korver is shooting 61.9 percent from three-point distance. The Nets can’t leave him to double-team someone else, and they shouldn’t send help, either, because that’s when the Hawks’ offense is at its best.


We saw what the Nets look like when a team uses expert dribble penetration to set up its offense, and moves the ball well to create open shots. The Bulls shredded Brooklyn by doing exactly that just a few days ago, and the Hawks have shown that they can employ that strategy even better, and have done so consistently on a season-long basis. The Nets don’t have any advantages over this Hawks team, and Lionel Hollins knows it. I trust that he knows his team better than I do.

Hawks sweep it in 4 games.

Sounds like Pacers president Larry Bird, head coach Frank Vogel don’t want Roy Hibbert back next year


Roy Hibbert was viewed as a key player for the Pacers during two straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. But his time in the good graces of both head coach Frank Vogel and team president Larry Bird appears to have come to a close.

Indiana missed the playoffs this year (just barely), thanks mostly to All-Star Paul George being sidelined for the bulk of the regular season. At exit interviews, however, both Bird and Vogel made it clear that the organization is ready for a change to a more uptempo style — one that would lead to a diminished role for Hibbert next season.

There’s a lot more to this, but first, the quotes — via Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

“I was talking to coach earlier, we’d like to play a little faster tempo,” Bird said. “And that means we’ve got to run a little faster, maybe at times play a little smaller. We just got into it, so I don’t know what style, but we’d like to change it a little bit. … But I would like to score more points and to do that you’ve got to run.” …

When asked if Hibbert would be benched next year as Indiana pushes for more a quicker pace, Vogel responded: “Yeah, potentially.

“We’ll have to see how it all plays out and what the roster ultimately looks like but there’s a possibility that Roy’s role will be diminished, if we’re trying to play faster and trying to play smaller,” Vogel continued. “But a lot of stuff is going to happen this summer, we’ll see how the roster shapes out coming into next season.” …

Though Bird appeared hopeful that power forward David West, 34, will take his player option and stick around, he sounded less sure about Hibbert. When it comes to Hibbert, the unknown may be the only thing that’s apparent.

“Roy, I have no idea,” Bird said. “We just talked about different things and whatever he does, he does. I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

If all of these remarks are indeed sincere, then Bird and Vogel deserve a ton of credit for being so honest with reporters in discussing the franchise’s future plans.

But it’s worth noting that there may be a very real ulterior motive in play.

Hibbert has a player option for next season for $15.5 million; these comments make it seem as though the team would rather he opt out and explore his options as a free agent instead.

But the smarter thing to do would be for Indiana to hope he opts in, and then trade him for something of value in return — if in fact they’re ready to go in a completely different direction in terms of style, as Bird and Vogel seemed to discuss so candidly now that the Pacers season has finished.

Nets coach Lionel Hollins: ‘I don’t think we have any advantage over the Hawks’


The Nets were able to squeak into the playoffs on the final night of the regular season, even though they relinquished control of their own destiny two days earlier with an embarrassing performance at home against the Bulls.

Brooklyn managed to beat the lowly Orlando Magic, but needed the Pacers to lose in Memphis in order to gain entry into the postseason.

Now that they’re in, few believe they’ll be able to win a single game against the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks. That may include Nets head coach Lionel Hollins, who was as realistic as possible when speaking with reporters on a conference call the day after his team’s postseason berth became official.

From Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York:

“I don’t think we have any advantage over the Hawks,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said in a conference call on Thursday. “That’s why they’re 60-22 and that’s why we’re where we are (38-44). They’re a very good team and we have to go out and develop a game plan to control the tempo, rebound and score against them consistently. They’ve played well against a lot of teams, including us, so it’s not like I think we have the advantage going in. We have to develop a game plan that can help us go out and compete.” …

“They have a very versatile team,” Hollins said. “They have a lot of quickness at every single position and they play relatively small. And that puts you at a disadvantage when the other team is quicker than you because they’re smaller than you. We have to combat that by doing whatever we can and develop that plan as we go forward.”

Hollins is merely stating the obvious.

The Nets will be hard-pressed to win even once against this Hawks team. Just three days earlier, we saw the way the Bulls were able to use dribble penetration, ball movement and timely shooting to shred Brooklyn, in a game that wasn’t close 12 minutes in.

The Hawks have done that more consistently than Chicago has been able to all season long, so while Nets fans may not want to hear it put so bluntly, at least Hollins is aware of the task at hand.