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Markieff Morris: Wizards better than Raptors; Giannis Antetokounmpo: Bucks better than Celtics

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The Raptors beat the Wizards 4-2 in their first-round series. The Celtics beat the Bucks 4-3 in their first-round series.

But that didn’t stop players on Washington and Milwaukee from claiming superiority.

Wizards forward Markieff Morris, via Hoop District:

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, via ESPN:

I thought we were the better team. But, unfortunately, we cannot move to the second round. But it was a good series. But we have a better team.

Antetokounmpo has a much stronger case.

The Bucks pushed Boston – without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis, which is the team we’re judging – to seven games. The home team won all seven games. The Bucks outscored the Celtics by 12.3 points per game in Milwaukee – more than the Celtics’ advantage in Boston, 10.3 points per game. If this series were played on a neutral court – the theoretical best way to judge “better team” – the Bucks might have won.

Toronto was better than Washington all season and looked better throughout the series. That result wasn’t a fluke. The Wizards keep talking big, and – led by John Wall and Bradley Beal – they’re pretty talented. But they too rarely back it up. This seems like more of the same.

Warriors guard Klay Thompson: Playing Pelicans far more tiring than playing Spurs

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The Warriors appeared to have very little trouble with the Pelicans in a Game 1 win.

But Golden State faced one major issue against New Orleans after beating the Spurs in the first round.

Klay Thompson, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“Man, it was tiring,” Klay Thompson said after scoring a game-high 27 points in a 123-101 win. “The Spurs, they are a little older, so they play a little more methodical. They try to beat us up in the half court and low block. This team is kind of like playing ourselves. It’s like, you make a bucket, you can’t relax. You have to sprint back, find a shooter and they are pushing the tempo. It’s a whole different ballgame.”

Draymond Green, via Haynes:

“Klay looked at me on the bench and said, ‘Man, Draymond, I got more tired tonight than I did in any game against the Spurs,'” Green said with a laugh. “That kind of sums it up. It’s a completely different tempo. They are really pushing the ball, like he said, and nonetheless, as long as we are getting back into transition and not giving up easy stuff, I think that plays into our hands.”

The Pelicans played at the NBA’s fastest pace during the regular season, the Spurs one of the slowest. San Antonio did a good job dictating tempo in the first-round series (easier with Stephen Curry out). The Warriors had far more possessions in Game 1 against New Orleans than any game against the Spurs.

Golden State can play well at multiple speeds. The Pelicans have only one gear, and – once Curry returns – it might be the one the Warriors are best at.

That doesn’t bode well for New Orleans once Thompson and crew get their legs under them.

It should also prepare the Warriors for the Rockets, who are slower than the typical Mike D’Antoni team but still crank up the pace at times.

Bloodied and beaten, LeBron James and Cavaliers drop Game 6 to Pacers

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LeBron James looked human.

More than any other time since he left Cleveland in 2010, his team can’t afford him to.

Thaddeus Young bloodied him with an errant elbow. Victor Oladipo dunked on him. Lance Stephenson taunted him relentlessly.

And, when LeBron usually delivers a knockout punch, he failed to finish off the Pacers.

LeBron lost for the first time in his last 12 closeout games, the Cavaliers falling 121-87 to Indiana in Game 6 Friday.

At 3-3, this is already the worst first-round series by a LeBron team. He won his previous 12, most via sweep and only two requiring six games.

He’ll try to avoid his first first-round elimination in Game 7 Sunday in Cleveland. Home teams have won 80% of Game 7s, but home teams in series between No. 4 and No. 5 seeds (like this one) are just 3-4 in Game 7s. That’s a small sample, but it speaks to the competitiveness in even matchups like this.

And Indiana is certainly making it competitive.

Oladipo (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals) was the best player on the court. Six of his teammates scored double figures in the most lopsided win in Pacers history.

On the other hand, it’s becoming only more clear – as if it weren’t already – LeBron must singlehandedly carry the Cavs to the second round if they’re going to get here. He has scored 46, 32 and 44 points in wins and 24, 28 and now 22 points in losses this series.

Neither LeBron nor Oladipo played in the fourth quarter, the result clear much sooner. Stephenson ran on court to strum an air guitar during third-quarter play, either believing a timeout had been called or just not caring.

The Pacers are playing loose, hard and effectively. They’ve outscored Cleveland by 44 in this series.

The Cavaliers should be favored Sunday. But Indiana has pushed and pushed and pushed and isn’t stopping.

Steve Clifford says he wants to coach next season

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The Hornets firing Steve Clifford was understandable. The coach was working for a new general manager (Mitch Kupchak) who didn’t hire him, and Clifford didn’t have a good enough record (36-46 each of the last two seasons) to protect himself.

It’s clear how these things go.

But once Charlotte made the move, it was very unclear what’d happen with Clifford. He missed about a quarter of the season with health issues. Perhaps, not coaching was best for him.

Clifford, in a Q&A with Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Q. What’s your feeling, as far as coaching?

A. My hope is to be a head coach again (in the NBA) next year. There is a lot of movement in the league. There are certainly jobs I’m interested in. I’m looking into it. I want to be involved in the NBA. I enjoy coaching a great deal (in general), but I also (particularly) enjoy the competition in this league.

Q. If you aren’t offered a head-coaching job, would you be receptive to being an NBA assistant again?

A. Definitely. That’s not something I would do right now, but if there’s not a head-coaching opportunity, that’s definitely something I would consider.

If Clifford is ready to coach, he should be a serious candidate for every team trying to win now.

The straightforward Clifford is a strong communicator. What he did with Charlotte’s 2016 team – which won 48 games and was brimming with expiring contracts – is one of the most underrated coaching jobs in recent memory. Clifford is an excellent defensive tactician, and he’s evolving offensively.

The Hornets might have just been unlucky lately. They had the point difference typical of a 42-40 team the last couple seasons but went 36-46 each year.

That said, Clifford probably could have done a better job with his rotations last season, even amid injury and a cap-pinched roster. Charlotte was too inept whenever Kemba Walker sat. More staggering could have helped.

Clifford is not a no-brainer hire. But he deserves major consideration around the league.

Wizards’ Otto Porter out for rest of Raptors series

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The Wizards – down 3-2 to the Raptors in their first-round series entering tonight’s Game 6 – were already in a hole.

It just got deeper with Otto Porter sidelined.

Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

Porter has been just so-so in this series, but at his best, he’s an ideal complementary player – a knockdown spot-up 3-point shooter and plus defender. There’s no chance of him regaining that form against Toronto now.

This vaults Kelly Oubre into a larger role. He’s already talking the talk. Now, it’s even more important he walks the walk. Oubre hasn’t been great in this series, either, but he has potential.

How Washington fills in the rest of its rotation will be trickier. Not only did Porter start at small forward, he unlocked more versatile lineups as a small-ball power forward. This will mean more Markieff Morris and Mike Scott at power forward, which means more Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi at center. The Wizards’ bigs will look more traditional. Washington also might use more three-guard lineups with three of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Ty Lawson and Tomas Satoransky.