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NBA Daily: One Question For Each Game One Loser

After losing their first game in the conference semis, the Sixers, Bucks and Rockets all have a question that they need to answer if they are to survive their current matchup.

Matt John

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The first game in all except one of the conference semifinals is officially in the books. In a second round in that many hyped to be one of the most all-around intense in history, we’ve seen two blow-outs and one nailbiter. No matter what happens or what reactions show themselves following the first game of a series, everyone comes to the exact same conclusion.

“It’s only one game.”

It’s true. There’s no need to come to any drastic conclusions after only one game has been played in a best-of-seven series. No matter what Paul Pierce says. But, just because each series is still young does not mean there aren’t some causes for concern.

Just like any playoff series, there’s still plenty for every team in its matchup to have to learn and adjust to. For now, let’s take a look at those who lose their first game and the primary question they need to ask themselves as they prepare for their next go-round.

Philadelphia 76ers

How do they withstand a Kawhi Leonard explosion?

People can fault Philly all they want for how they defended Leonard. Stopping the Raptors obviously starts with stopping Kawhi. Honestly though, when you look at his numbers, there’s not much Philadelphia can do.

Kawhi is having the finest postseason performance of his entire career. In an admittingly small sample size, Leonard has simply dominated in basically every way possible. In six games, Leonard is averaging almost 31 points on 58/51/90 splits. Those who say the Kawhi of old is back would be wrong because the Kawhi of old never played this well even when he was making Finals appearances.

It’s not like he’s facing weak defenders along the perimeter either. Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Jimmy Butler are far from a sieve on that end. Yet, Leonard has eaten them all alive. Even with an All-NBA defender like Butler, Philly had no answers for him and they could very well still not have any when the series is done.

Stopping Kawhi at the present time seems out of the question. That does not mean all is lost. There are some guys that frankly can’t be stopped when they’re playing at their best, and Kawhi has certainly proven that he’s one of them. If you shut down the rest of his team, then you still have a chance.

Shutting down the rest of the team means removing the likes of Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol among others. Those guys can be stopped – Lowry has an unflinching reputation for folding in the playoffs – but the Sixers need to find the right personnel to stop them.

How they’re going to do that is anyone’s guess. Siakam has done wonderfully in the playoffs – he outscored every starter on the Sixers – and Gasol has fit like a glove in Toronto. Philly may have more talent, but the Raptors have more guys who can do the little things.

The Sixers also need to exploit mismatches on the Raptors in order to keep up. Again, that’s a hard task because Toronto holds some edges in that department as well. Gasol did an excellent job on Joel Embiid and Kawhi continues to be Ben Simmons’ worst nightmare on the court. Times like these stress the importance of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.

The silver lining for Philly is that after Brooklyn handled them pretty easily in Game 1 of the first round, the Sixers tore through the Nets like a wet sheet of paper. The Raptors are a much more difficult challenge, but Philly has proven that they can get up again when they get knocked down.

Milwaukee Bucks

Who steps up if Giannis struggles?

This was an elephant in the room that the Bucks have justifiably avoided. Giannis has taken the reins as the best two-way player in the league – That label and Most Valuable Player are mutually exclusive – so him having an off-game seemed absurd. That was, until now.

The Celtics went scorched earth on the Bucks in Game 1 – winning 112-90 – with their surprising blowout win on the road centered around their defense on the Greek Freak. Giannis may have put up 22 points and even hit a few threes, but that came at 7-for-21 shooting from the field and 5-for-10 from the charity stripe.

It only gets worse. After such a dominant series against the Pistons, Giannis and co. got a nice serving of humble pie thanks to Al Horford’s per usual excellent defense.

Now that Boston has opened this series by collectively punching Milwaukee right in the teeth, the Bucks have to wonder who can fill in for when Antetokounmpo struggles to get his game going.

Khris Middleton and Nikola Mirotic were the only Bucks who scored in double figures and combined for 29 points. More should be expected from Middleton, who was both excellent in their previous playoff matchup and was an All-Star this season while Mirotic did just about what the Bucks asked of him.

The real disappointments were Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez, who were a combined 2-for-10 from the floor. There were already some concerns that Lopez was not a good matchup in this series against Al Horford and he did nothing to quell those fears. Bledsoe, on the other hand, seems to not have gotten past his playoff demons against the Celtics. It goes without saying that Milwaukee needs these two to play better if they are hoping to beat Boston.

Worst of all, the lack of support from the Bucks’ supporting cast in Game 1 fails to dispel the notion that the team lives and dies by the Greek Freak. It’s important to remember that Boston didn’t just steal a game from the Milwaukee. They spanked the deer on their home floor. During the regular season, Milwaukee rarely got blown out and rarely got beaten at home. Boston managed to do both.

To the Bucks’ credit, the odds of Giannis having a game that atrocious again is very low. You should expect him to come back with the vengeance in Game 2 just as much as you should expect the Celtics to be ready for him. The next game should be better than the first, but the Bucks can’t go to war with just Antetokounmpo.

It’s series like these that make you realize that Milwaukee really misses Malcolm Brogdon.

Houston Rockets

What rotation should they go with against the Warriors?

Let’s step back and take a moment to appreciate that from the looks of things, this series will be every bit like the one we had the privilege to witness last season. What we saw last May was one of the most exciting and intense playoff series in NBA history. To get that again would be amazing. Honestly, the Rockets-Warriors matchup could be the Godfather duology of playoff series.

Getting back to the series itself, Game 1 could haunt Houston when this series is over because they absolutely had every opportunity to steal one in Golden State. Even though the Warriors had the lead for the majority of the game, the Rockets kept themselves within distance.

The Rockets definitely have some legitimate gripes with how the game was officiated, but they should take pride in that Clint Capela played about as badly as he could have, Austin Rivers was out with an ankle injury/illness and James Harden didn’t have the most efficient game – but they were still in it until the closing seconds.

Besides, they’ve got other kinks to work out with their rotation. Rivers’ impending return will probably they will have to decide between Gerald Green – a plus/minus of -16 in seven minutes?! – and Iman Shumpert – who up to that point had been playing garbage time minutes – if they don’t cut out both of their minutes entirely.

The same goes for their frontcourt situation. Capela was awful but that not likely to be a problem going forward. PJ Tucker put up a goose egg yet managed to have a plus/minus of +9. The real question is who is going to get minutes off the bench.

The Rockets opted to play Nene as their backup five against the Warriors. Nene didn’t do a bad job scoring eight points and putting up a plus/minus of +7. At the same time, the Rockets relied on the 37-year-old, whose minutes had declined even further this season, in crucial minutes. They even had him on the floor during the Warriors final offensive possession in which Curry hit the dagger three to put them up for good. A bizarre decision by Mike D’Antoni.

Houston doesn’t boast the most depth in the frontcourt, but perhaps it’s worth considering giving Kenneth Faried some burn? The Warriors out-rebounded the Rockets 38-26. Faried isn’t the best option but he had the highest rebound average per-36 on the team besides Capela at 12.2 per game. Maybe he could give the second unit a bit of a jolt.

Since Houston plays Golden State just about better than anyone and was still within a hair of beating its rival, they don’t have as pressing of a concern as Philadelphia or Milwaukee. Still, the majority of the teams who win playoff series win Game 1. If any of these teams who lost are to defy the odds, they do have to make the appropriate adjustments.

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NBA Daily: Veterans Influencing Spurs Youngsters

Having NBA veterans that can ease young players into the league can be very helpful, which is why Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris have been nice additions to the Spurs’ summer league roster.

Matt John

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The Summer League is a time for many things.

It’s a time for young players to get a taste of what professional basketball is like. It’s a time for teams to evaluate what young talent they have their roster. Most importantly of all, it’s a time for growth.

The Summer League, whether it be in Salt Lake, Sacramento or Las Vegas, serves as a transition for the new blood. Most are either fresh out of college or just arrived into the country, who are also either just beginning or have recently begun their NBA career. Making that transition isn’t always seamless. As talented as some of these kids are, they are prone to make mistakes. That’s where having a veteran who has been around the block can help.

For this year’s summer league. San Antonio brought in two who fit the profile: Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris.

Morris has bounced around between the NBA and the G League since being drafted 41st overall by the Lakers back in 2011. He’s been around the league long enough that playing in the Summer League wasn’t originally in the plans. That all changed when the Spurs called him.

“They actually reached out to me and told me they were interested,” Morris said. “When an organization like the Spurs calls you, you can come in and show that you can blend in and the high character is going to follow you the rest of the way.”

Robinson has also been a journeyman since being selected sixth overall by the Kings back in 2012. Now that he has found himself on the Spurs, he praised the organization for its player development.

“To even get any type of time under anybody on this staff is helpful for any player,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s summer league, mini-camp, or the real roster, it’s always helpful to learn from these guys. They’re like the Mecca of NBA basketball.”

Not many can say that they are the veteran of a summer league team, but Morris not only has that role but also appears to have embraced it since coming on for the Spurs. So much so that even though he takes that responsibility seriously, he and his teammates can have a laugh about it.

“I joke with the guys that I’m transitioning to that vet stage like a little baby vet,” Morris said. “To be able to extend whatever knowledge to the young guys, and kind of getting me in that mode as opposed to being that guy that was drafted, just transitioning to being a mentor and just helping where I can.”

There are various ways in which those are designated as mentors decide to use their role. Some give very little advice while others give nothing but advice. For Morris, he has implemented a “trial by fire” strategy for his younger teammates.

“First, you want them to go out there and play freely,” Morris said. “You don’t want to give them too much advice at first. You just kind of sit back and just watch… You don’t want to put too many things in their ear. Everything is already going 100 miles per hour for you out there and as they go along, just give my advice as we go along.”

As the other veteran/mentor on the squad, Robinson’s approach is simple on the court – just being himself for the Spurs.

“I’m not trying to show that I can do anything different,” Robinson said. “I just want to show that I’m doing everything that they ask me to do the first time.”

Since coming to San Antonio, Robinson has gotten to know some of the Spurs’ young talent. He even took the time to praise some of the Spurs’ young talent – in particular, one of the Spurs’ most recent first-rounders, Keldon Johnson.

“‘Baby Russ’. That’s what I called him” Robinson said. “He doesn’t get tired. He’s super aggressive… He’s big, athletic. I definitely see the makings of a superstar.”

Both Morris and Robinson are leaving impressions with the younger players on their squad. The Spurs other first-rounder this season, Luka Samanic, spoke highly of what they’ve been able to do for him primarily with how he handles his mistakes.

“If I do one quick mistake in the beginning, then it affects my game later,” Samanic said. “So they’re all about ‘Don’t worry about mistakes. You’ll miss shots. It’s all normal here.’ So they helped me a lot with that.”

Blake Ahearn, who coached the Spurs at the Utah Summer League, praised both Robinson and Morris for the calming influence they have on the team.

“It’s huge,” Ahearn said. “Having some of those calming-presence guys on the floor helps those younger guys… That’s a good luxury for coaches to have.”

Spurs assistant Becky Hammon also heaped praise for the two veterans primarily for what they have been able to do for the Spurs’ young players off the court while also reiterating the value guys like that have on these teams.

“They’ve been talking to them in their ear the whole time about what it takes to be a professional and get opportunities,” Hammon said. “Their leadership on the court, off the court has been very helpful. Obviously, having guys like that in a situation like that is very helpful and invaluable.”

Now, undoubtedly, the goal for Robinson and Morris is to be in the NBA again. They’ve been there before and their willingness to play in the summer league shows that they’re not giving up on their dreams.

Regardless of whether they make it, they can take comfort that, in the end, they positively impacted the Spurs of tomorrow.

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NBA Daily: Carsen Edwards Sending Good Vibrations in Las Vegas

Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards took Las Vegas by storm not only earning a multi-year contract but likely a significant role in Boston this coming season.

Shane Rhodes

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Las Vegas can be a scary place; just ask Carsen Edwards.

“Not to be dramatic, but I really thought I was about to die.”

Edwards, among a number of other players and NBA-related persons, found himself in the midst of two earthquakes – magnitude 6.7 and 7.1 – that rocked southern Nevada and California last week. “I was in my room by myself,” Edwards said, “and I’m on the 16th floor so, right then I’m thinking – and I know this sounds deep – how am I going to survive?”

Fortunately, for Edwards, his days reading about covering online betting odds in the Silver State may be numbered.

While the earthquakes may have shaken Las Vegas, the Purdue University product has sent the Boston Celtics his own good vibrations. Edwards has impressed mightily during his stint with the Summer League Celtics, so much so that, while fellow second-round pick Tremont Waters recently agreed to a two-way deal with Boston, the Celtics have reportedly are negotiating a full-time deal with the Edwards. And, while he has remained humble when questioned about his high-quality play, it’s hard to imagine that Edwards will see much more time in Las Vegas beyond the coming Summer League Tournament.

“My first experience was a blessing, man” Edwards told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so happy to be here, just to have this opportunity and put on that jersey and be out there.”

Edwards, a standout Boilermaker, has been a certified bucket-getter in his short Summer League tenure. Through four games (and two starts), the diminutive combo-guard has averaged 18 points to go along with 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a steal in just 23 minutes per contest. Edwards has gotten to his spots on the floor with ease – when it hasn’t been easy, he’s simply put his head down and bullied his way there – and he certainly hasn’t been afraid to pull up from deep.

Edwards has also come along as a shooter since his last showing in the NCAA tournament. In three seasons with Purdue, Edwards posted field goal and three-point percentages of 41.2% and 36.8%, respectively. Since Edwards has proven himself one of the Summer League’s best and most consistent shooters; he has shot 52% from the floor and 48.4% from three-point range.

“I just try to make the right decisions,” Edwards said. “I just try to get into my space, places where I’m comfortable.”

Despite his relative inexperience against NBA-level competition, a continued ascent for Edwards – and an end to his Summer League career after just his rookie appearance – shouldn’t be put out of the question as players and teams head into next season and beyond.

And, while he may not have wanted to slip into the second round of June’s 2019 NBA Draft, Edwards may have hit the jackpot in landing with Boston.

While Head Coach Brad Stevens has struggled with certain aspects of coaching, he has never had a problem with maximizing the production of his guards. 2011’s Mr. Irrelevant, Isaiah Thomas, was a Most Valuable Player candidate in 2017, while Kyrie Irving, despite the reported unrest, posted arguably the two best statistical seasons of his career with the Celtics. Others, including Avery Bradley, Evan Turner and Jordan Crawford have flourished under his watch, and Edwards may be the next player to benefit from Stevens’ system.

Still, Edwards’ work is far from over, and he knows it. “It’s not the same [as in college],” he said as he pointed out that he still needed to focus on his defense, decisions making and consistency. “I’m still learning so much.”

“I know [the Boston Celtics] just want me to improve. Help the team win, but continue to try and improve and be consistent every game.”

Edwards isn’t the perfect prospect or one without his deficiencies by any means. They have yet to do so in the Summer League, and his strong, stocky build should help counteract this to a degree, but NBA competition will take advantage of Edwards’ 6-foot-flat height. And, if it wasn’t already obvious, Edwards is a score-first, pass later type of guard; while that necessarily isn’t a bad thing, given the role he should serve with the Celtics, Edwards’ passing ability must improve as he transitions to the NBA game.

“[NBA players] are more athletic, they have more length,” Edwards said. “Playing against those guys, it’s tough.”

As Edwards pointed out, it will, in fact, be tough for him. But, between the roster and coaching fit and his own talent, it’s as if everything has started to come together for the talented guard and it is there for the taking.

After his debut, Edwards noted his primary Summer League goal was to win. “I just want to make an impact on the team and just help us win,” Edwards said.

Should he take advantage of what’s in front of him, Edwards has the chance to be something special in the NBA, and he could help the Celtics do just that for a long time.

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NBA Daily: Karl-Anthony Towns Confident About What Lies Ahead

David Yapkowitz sits down with Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns to discuss the injury-filled finish to last season, the moves the organization made this offseason and what lies ahead.

David Yapkowitz

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After making a huge trade for Jimmy Butler one year ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves had just broken one of the NBA’s longest playoff droughts when they made the postseason.

Fast forward to the present – Butler was traded, Tom Thibodeau got let go and the Wolves failed to reach the postseason with a 36-46 record.

There is room for optimism, however. Minnesota is still led by Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the top rising stars in the league with the prime of his career ahead of him. He’s arguably the best big man in the NBA at the young age of 23 years old.

The Wolves locked Towns up for the foreseeable future after he signed a Supermax contract extension back in September. He believes his game will definitely expand and grow as head coach Ryan Saunders continues to work with him.

“I feel that I’m going to be able to do a little more,” Towns told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive interview. “I got more freedom, I got a head coach that’s going to use my talents a little better. It’s going to be good.”

The major changes to the Wolves organization didn’t stop with the roster or the coaching staff. Thibodeau had a dual role as head coach and president of basketball operations. To replace his front office duties, the team brought in longtime executive Gersson Rosas, who comes from the Houston Rockets with 16 years of executive duty experience.

After taking over head coaching duties back in January, Saunders will now have a full offseason and training camp with the team to implement his style of play. All of this combined is something that Towns believes will be helpful to the team.

“It’s going to be big,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “I think not just only Ryan [Saunders] but having such a different culture, a different team. I think that’s going to be a big change for us. It’s going to be a very beneficial change.”

The Wolves are hoping part of that change is going to be a healthy roster. The team struggled with key injuries, especially late in the season when they were trying to mount a late playoff push. Robert Covington, who had emerged as a great compliment to Towns, missed a big part of the second half of the season. Jeff Teague was also in and out of the lineup all year.

Minnesota was firmly in the playoff picture for most of the season, even when they were hovering near the bottom, but the key injuries really took a toll as the year came winding down.

“We had a lot of change. That constitutes to that and our season. We didn’t make the playoffs because we just ran into the injury bug. Injuries really hit us and took our spark out of us,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “We were in a great spot before the injuries, but it happens. That’s just how the league works. You got to find ways to win, we just came up a little short.”

Luckily, there are some added reinforcements on the way. The Wolves acquired highly touted prospect Jarrett Culver out of Texas Tech in a draft-night trade. Culver has the ability to play multiple positions, especially on the defensive end. Although he is being held out of summer league, there’s no denying his potential.

In the second round, the Wolves drafted Jaylen Nowell, a high-scoring guard who shot 44 percent from three-point range last season at Washington. He’s only 19 years old and has plenty of unlocked potential as well for a second-round player.

“I see him [Culver] bringing a lot of versatility. I see him bringing length, I see him bringing a hungriness to the team, he wants to prove himself. We’re going to have a very, very good rookie on our hands,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “And let’s also not forget Jaylen Nowell. He’s a high IQ player and we’re very fortunate he fell to us.”

The draft isn’t the only area where the Wolves improved their roster. They made a couple of solid free agent moves as well, signing a trio of versatile forwards in Jordan Bell, Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh.

Bell has seen sporadic playing time the past few seasons with the Golden State Warriors, but he’s still young and has already shown an ability to switch defensively from guards to bigs. Layman had a solid year as one of Portland’s key contributors off the bench. Vonleh has bounced around the league a bit, but was one of the lone bright spots for the Knicks last season.

“They’re going to bring a lot of experience from great organizations,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “They bring a lot of playoff experience as well, and they’re also going to bring us a lot of talent. They’re all very versatile and they bring a lot to the table.”

And as the 2019 NBA Summer League is now in full swing with free agency winding down, Towns is happy with the steps the Wolves have taken. He’s confident in this team and what lies ahead.

“We’ve already taken the next step, there is no next step, we’ve already taken the next step,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve made the changes to our team that we needed to make and we’re ready to go.”

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