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Thursday Trends: 3 Plays in the NBA Bubble

So some things never change.

Like Dion Waiters’ belief being stronger than your doubt.

But in these Bubble-licious times, much is different than we anticipated. We should be used to odd circumstances by now — after all, who knew we would have a reality TV star overriding the science-based recommendations of one of the most decorated infectious disease specialists on the planet? Or that pizza delivery drivers would become essential workers? Or that the Miami Marlins would be in first place in baseball’s National League East on August 6 after playing just six games?

Here are three NBA trends not everyone saw coming, and how seriously you should take them:

 

“Cash Considerations” Cashing In

Yes, cash considerations. That’s what the Phoenix Suns got for forward TJ Warren and a second-round pick on NBA Draft night. Warren, best known previously for getting the finger and getting called “trash” and “soft” and “not on my f—- level” by the Heat’s Jimmy Butler. Warren has been above everyone level’s in Orlando, averaging 39.7 points in three games, all Indiana Pacers wins.

Will it continue?: Well, not to this degree, since a run like this would rank with anything Michael Jordan ever did -to anyone other than LaBradford Smith. But, while few noticed, Warren was shooting 61 percent in February and 51 percent in March, while averaging 19.9 points per game. So he’s good.

The Betting Edge: Do you trust Indiana in the playoffs? That depends on Domantas Sabonis and Vic Oladipo more than Warren. If the Pacers keep winning, they’ll likely finish 4th or 5th in the East, especially since they have two regular Bubble games left with the Heat. Then they’ll likely face the Heat. And, the Butler-Warren intrigue aside, the Pacers aren’t beating the Heat unless they can throw more at Bam Adebayo than just Myles Turner up front, and can exploit the Heat’s point of attack defensive issues with Oladipo. Will Sabonis (foot) come back? Will Oladipo (knee) round into form? If not, the Pacers are still a first round exit.

 

Raptors Rise 

They’re taking this Lockdown in the Bubble seriously, eh? First in defense through three games with a ridiculous 96.1 rating. Small sample size? Sure. But there’s no reason it can’t continue. The Raptors are quick, long, switchy and deep, and they did a number on the Heat’s offense Monday, frustrating sniper Duncan Robinson off the floor. This has been the NBA’s best team since February 15.

Will it continue?: Why wouldn’t it? Toronto is fully healthy for the first time all season, and has developed a game independent of Kawhi Leonard. Nick Nurse has already proven to be an elite coach. Plus, Kyle Lowry is good for a final minute flop that seals the deal.

The Betting Edge: Keep picking the Raptors until other bettors catch on. News seems to travel slow to the States for some reason (we are dismantling the federal post office here, after all), and even with a few NBA analysts catching on, it’s not like anyone really listens to Kendrick Perkins.

 

Lakers Clankers 

They’re first in the West for sure, having clinched that already, even with LeBron James somehow characterizing that as some sort of unexpected achievement. Anthony Davis is taking the leap after the leap after the leap, establishing himself as a top-5 player until his bad luck forces him to fracture an orbital bone, and LeBron — while disconnected at times so far — should pick up his play when it matters. But here’s the thing: beyond them, this team just isn’t that good offensively, and it’s mostly reflected in their shooting. Even with Rajon Rondo absent for now (which is for the best), the Lakers are making just 25 percent of their three point shots in the Bubble regular season games, and it’s hard to see how that gets much better. That’s the reason they were dead last in offensive rating in the Bubble through four games, at 96.6, which is what TJ Warren now scores for Indiana in a quarter.

Will it last?: Well, this is almost impossible to predict, since you’re counting on the likes of the aforementioned erratic Waiters, TMZ Kyle Kuzma and the always amusing JR Smith. (And what happened to Danny Green?). The question is how much it matters if the Lakers defend as they can, even without Avery Bradley, and Davis and James play to their potential together.

The Betting Edge: It’s difficult to trade 2’s for 3’s all game. If the Lakers draw Portland in the first round, they’re unlikely to lose, but the Blazers might be worth a play on the points a couple of times, with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum likely to do damage.

 

News

Miami Heat: Rebounding will be crucial against Raptors

The Miami Heat are set to battle the Toronto Raptors in a battle of the second and third-seeded teams in the Eastern Conference. There are certainly many storylines to watch in this game, as both teams have talent and stars at several positions. With what looks like an even matchup on paper, the margin for error shrinks. This is something that could work to the Miami Heat’s advantage in one area in particular: rebounding.

Toronto has given up the second-most rebounds in the NBA. With 48.5 per game allowed on the season, they trail only the Chicago Bulls in that category. The 13.2 offensive rebounds are the most-allowed in the NBA and they’re tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for 17th in most defensive rebounds with 35.4.

The Miami Heat have certainly done their part in keeping opponents off the glass. They allow the least amount of defensive rebounds per game with 31.2 per contest. They also only allow 9.3 rebounds per contest on the offensive glass.

For what it’s worth, the Miami Heat are 20th in the NBA 44.6 rebounds per game. They average nine rebounds on the offensive glass and 35.6 rebounds defensively.

Opportunities for second-chance points for Miami Heat

The lack of rebounding on the part of Toronto and Miami’s willingness to crash the offensive glass may work out in their favor. This may lead to second-chance points: a category that Miami needs to be better in. They rank 21st in the NBA with 12.4 second-chance points per game.

Miami put together a good rebounding game on Sunday against Brooklyn.  Outrebounding the nets 62-56, they certainly were able to win the battle on the glass. Winning that same battle will be important for Miami on Tuesday night. This Toronto team is extremely talented, especially on the perimeter. Bam Adebayo had 16 rebounds on Sunday night,leading the way for Miami. He leads the team in rebounds and 10.6 per game on the season. Expect him to play a crucial role on Tuesday night.

This will be a great test for the Miami Heat and a win against the Raptors will add another impressive notch to their 2019 season. But in order to do that, they have to rebound.

Goran Dragic provides spark in nailbiting victory

Sunday’s action on the hardwood was exciting to the very end. The Miami Heat beat the Brooklyn Nets by a 109-106 score. It seemed like every starter contributed, and that was great to see. This season in particular, Miami has been all about balance in terms of scoring and that was evident on Sunday. And they once again got a major impact off the bench from Goran Dragic.

Dragic provides spark for Miami Heat

Dragic contributed 24 points, six assists, and two rebounds in 31 minutes of play. His 24 points were the most since he scored 25 on November 7 against the Phoenix Suns. This was another case of a player stepping up and helping Miami get the job done. He went three-of-six from behind the three-point line. He also chipped in three free throws.

Sunday night he was definitely looking for his shot, going nine-of-18 from the field. His 18 shot attempts were his most to this point in the season. If the Miami Heat can get him going on a consistent basis, that’s just another weapon they have in their arsenal.  Miami’s versatility this season has allowed Dragic to seamlessly transition from starter to sixth man. That’s the benefit of having depth on the roster. The rookies are playing so well that Miami can mix and match their lineups. For Miami, it’s a nice luxury to have.

With games against the Toronto raptors and Boston Celtics coming up, the Miami Heat need to be firing on all cylinders.  Dragic has been a valuable piece to their success so far. Playing well and with efficiency will be key for both the Heat and Dragic and it will be interesting to see how they do over these next couple of games. These will be two very difficult road tests and will pit Miami against two of the best in the Eastern Conference.

Warriors look like end of the Big 3 Heat

All the signs were similar Friday night.

Not closing out on rotations. Hands on hips. Looking lost. Looking spent.

As the storyline shifts to whether a superstar leaves this summer.

The 2018-19 Warriors have become the 2013-14 Heat.

Now, some will — and did — point to the absence of Kevin Durant as the real reason why the Warriors have fallen behind 3-1 to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors. Naturally, that’s a huge component, though the Warriors were nearly unbeatable this season when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson played, and Durant didn’t. There seems to be something else at play here. Teams get tired of each other. But they also just get tired. Tired of all the extra games. Tired of all the roster attrition. Tired of all the media. Tired of all the expectations.

Remember what Dwyane Wade told me after the 2013-14 season?

“Last year wasn’t fun.”

Here was that story: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2217199-the-exclusive-d-wade-qa-on-why-last-year-wasnt-fun-and-life-after-lebron

It wasn’t fun for anyone. Not the players. Not the coach (seen here in one of the grainy photos I took on that final night in 2014 in San Antonio.)

And now, here we are again.

And it’s Kawhi — and to a much lesser degree, Danny Green — again.

A much hungrier team.

A much seemingly happier team.

And the likely end of a mini-dynasty.

Our own Ricky Marc had an astute observation:

Five Reasons: NBA Finals Predictions

As the NBA Finals start Thursday, we sampled the opinions of the various members of the Five Reasons Sports Network — because, naturally, we know better than anyone.

And, naturally, our first host didn’t really give a result.

Here you go…

 

Giancarlo Navas, Miami Heat Beat:
My heart is telling me Raptors in 5 but my brain is saying Warriors in 7, it’s a huge gulf so it’s probably something in-between. Raptors in 7? Can’t see them winning a closeout in Oracle (the last game that will be played in that arena), and 5 seems a bit ambitious on my part.

The Raptor defense has been incredible this post-season, but the Warriors will present more off ball movement than any other series for them. The Sixers and Bucks offense wasn’t incredibly motion and ball movement based so the question of how much the Raptors will switch off-ball screens is front and center. They have the defensive versatility to switch 1-4 and maybe even 5 on some occasions with Ibaka and Siakam if he sees time at center, which is a possibility if OG Anunoby will be back this series.

Most important in this series is the way that the Raptors defend the Draymond/Steph high screen and roll. It’s been the key to the Durant-less offense and it looked lethal against the Blazers (ranked 16th in defense for the season for what it’s worth). If Durant plays in this series it will be a far less motion based offense and more elbow and isolation sets with Siakam and Kawhi probably sharing the Durant responsibility. I also feel this will oddly be the best series for Lowry, he will have the most space to operate against a small Warrior team unlike the giant Bucks and Sixer teams and it will be empirically the worst defense he will have seen these playoffs (Orlando was a top 10 defense this year!!!!). Look for a healthy dose of pick and roll for Kyle as the ball handler and screener. Klay will likely see the most time on him so Steph can’t be so easily put in pick and roll, he will likely be hidden on Danny Green who has been cold all post season. Similar to the Sixer series where they got away with leaving JJ Redick on him. Danny Green will be able to shoot over Curry so easily so if he gets going and Steph has to be moved onto Kyle that will change things dramatically.
*****
Alex Toledo, Miami Heat Beat:
As much as I want to go with the Raptors here, can’t say I believe the Warriors are losing until I see it. They also need to be the best version of themselves on the offensive end, which is gonna be tough considering Boogie Cousins is active for Game 1 and KD might be returning later in the series. The Raptors’ brilliant defensive scheme is what really gives them a shot, but the Warriors simply will have too many weapons for the Raptors to try and contain. Warriors in 6
*****
Ricardo Montes de Oca, Cinco Razones:

Warriors in 5. Yes, Kawhi is the best player in the world right now. Yes, the Raptors story is refreshing. And yet the Warriors, probably without one of the best player in this generation and with one of the starters with little minutes, are going to have an easy path for a three-peat. I cannot see Lowry and Gasol having a good series and I am giving one game to the Raptors, just because they have Kawhi.

*****
Jeremy Tache, Swings & Mishes:
In what world would I pick against the Warriors? I just…I can’t imagine that team losing 4 of their next 7 games after what I saw from them against the Blazers. While I think the Raptors are better than some might, and I believe Siakam and Lowry will outperform expectations, Curry and co. will be too much to handle. Yay for dynasties.
*****
Alejandro Villegas, Cinco Razones:
I think the Golden State Warriors will take it in six games, even though they´re probably not going to have Kevin Durant at all for the series. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors are going to make it interesting and give us a better NBA Finals than what we had last year, but I don´t see the Raptors winning four times against this Golden State team.
*****
Chris Wittyngham, Five Reasons flagship:
Warriors in 4. I think Giancarlo is going to occupy my “I think this series is closer than you think” corner. So I’m going the exact opposite end of the spectrum. As a basketball public, we spend a lot of time talking ourselves into competitors. For LeBron in the East. For the Warriors. Sometimes, there are no peers for the greats. This Golden State team is one of them. Sweep
*****
Alfredo Arteaga, 3 Yards Per Carry
The Raptors genuinely have one of the better teams to face Golden State by eastern conference standards, and might have the best player in the series. In the end, the greatest team of a generation has the experience and the collective will to impose their game on this series. Intangibles such as experience tend to matter much more in the championship rounds. Kawhi and a good Toronto team make it interesting, but fall short of a 7th game.
Warriors in 6.
*****
Josh Houtz, Fantasy On 5:
I’d be lying if I said I let the outcome of a basketball ruin my day. Truth is, I have not cared much about the sport since Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsey Bogues played for the Charlotte Hornets. So it’s been awhile.
With all that said, I have watched more basketball over the last two months than I have in the last three years combined. And although the Golden State Warriors have reached Brady and the Patriots level of hatred, it’s still not the same.
However, my Finals prediction isn’t the same either. And while so many are taking the Warriors to win the series, I’m not. Instead, I’m going with the King of the North and NBA MVP Kawhi Leondard. He’s the best player on the court in these finals and when the  dust settles, he will be the one holding up the, *googles NBA trophy name* Larry O’Brien trophy?
Raptors in 6
*****
Greg Sylvander, Miami Heat Beat:
Warriors in 6
Steph Curry Finals MVP

Is there hope in the East for the Heat?

Well, that went as expected.

The Eastern Conference first round was full of mismatches, especially with Indiana missing Victor Oladipo, and so it should have surprised no one that all four series were slaughters, with the favorites taking 16 of 18 games.

It was also a stark reminder of how far the Miami Heat are from serious contention in the conference. They finished behind the Nets, Pistons and Magic, teams with just a couple of certifiable stars between them. The Heat can talk about injuries (and they were banged up than the Magic in particular, though not the Nets). But the reality is, they’re just not good enough — and with Dwyane Wade retiring, likely about to get worse.

This isn’t us saying it.

It’s you.

After the four top teams in the East easily advanced, we polled it at @5ReasonsSports.

At last count, the Raptors and Celtics were “leading” at about 33 percent each, followed by the 76ers, with the Bucks way behind — because they have Giannis.

But the most popular response was “none of the above.”

It’s hard to envision the Heat passing the Bucks anytime soon. The 76ers? Even if Jimmy Butler leaves, they still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in their early 20s, and probably Tobias Harris. The Celtics may lose Kyrie Irving, but they are still stocked with assets.

The only real wild card is Toronto, considering they could lose Kawhi Leonard, likely to the Clippers.

But — and this is sad to say — if you’re betting Masai Ujiri vs. Pat Riley lately, you go with Ujiri.