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Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

Can Pacers survive with George off the floor in Game 7?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Game 7 is when you leave it all on the floor. If you lose, you have all summer to rest.

In Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Indiana Pacers will need as many minutes from Paul George as he can give them. He’s their best player by a wide margin, their most important player on both ends of the floor. And they’ve been much better in this series with him in the game (plus-48 in 160 minutes) than with him on the bench (minus-33 in 59 minutes).

But part of the issue with the minutes when George is on the bench is who’s on the bench with him. About 10 of those 59 minutes that George has been on the bench have been garbage time (in four different games). But George Hill has been on the floor for less than five of the other 48 minutes that George has been on the bench. Monta Ellis has been on the floor for less than three of the 48.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel has generally rested all three together early in the second and fourth quarters. The Pacers were a plus-4 with George off the floor in the second quarter of Friday’s Game 6 (with Hill subbing in midway through the 4:26 span), but those minutes have generally been terrible for the Pacers.

In 43 non-garbage-time minutes with Ellis, George and Hill all on the bench, the Pacers have been outscored 93-66, scoring less than 80 points per 100 possessions.

If Vogel were to stagger the minutes of his three starting perimeter players, he’d obviously get less time with all three on the floor. But those minutes haven’t been all that great for the Pacers. The Ellis-George-Hill trio is just a plus-1 in 164 minutes in the series and they’ve been their best with two of the three on the floor.

George won’t be able to play 48 minutes on Sunday. But the Pacers don’t have to be awful when he steps off the floor. The Raptors’ first two wins in this series weren’t close, but Game 5 was decided by three points and things really started to go downhill in those first four minutes of the fourth quarter, when George, Hill and Ellis were all on the bench.

This has been an erratic series and you never know what you’re going to get from either of these teams on any given night or in any given period. But Vogel can maximize his team’s chances of winning Game 7 by making sure he has another playmaker on the floor in those few minutes that his best player has to rest.

Morning shootaround — April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers look to finish off Clippers | Pacers’ George willing to play full game | Warriors’ depth getting it done | Drummond to shoot Barry style?

No. 1: Blazers look to close out series tonight — Months ago, when the 2015-16 season began, who would have thought the young, mostly-untested roster of the Portland Trail Blazers would be one win from the Western Conference semifinals? Granted, injuries to the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Chris Paul made life a little easier on Portland in their series with L.A. But nonetheless, the Blazers are on the cusp of their first Western Conference semifinals trip in two years and as John Canzano of The Oregonian writes, want to seal the deal in tonight’s Game 6 in Portland (10:30 ET, ESPN):

The Blazers defeated the Clippers 108-98 Wednesday night in Game 5 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, snatching a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. A Blazers win Friday night at the Moda Center would improbably secure them a second-round date with the Golden State Warriors and add a stunning twist to a surreal season.

As Griffin scooted off toward uncertainty, the Blazers pushed ahead toward inevitability. Doesn’t it feel like this series is over? Doesn’t it seem like the shorthanded Clippers need a miracle?

Fighting without injured stars Chris Paul and Griffin, the Clippers played inspiring basketball Wednesday, pushing the Blazers to the brink before Lillard went nuts in the fourth quarter. But the Blazers won their third consecutive game in the series and left Los Angeles fueled by momentum, optimism and purpose. They return to Portland aware they’re on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable, saying they remain the underdogs but sounding very much like the favorites.

“We want to close the series out,” CJ McCollum said. “We’ve got a unique opportunity here to play an elimination game at home, and we want to make sure we take full advantage of it.”

About 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers spent nearly eight minutes answering questions about his injured stars, his team’s bleak outlook and his long-term hopes for his hard-luck franchise. Near the end, a reporter asked Rivers who he leaned on during such trying moments, when it was hard to stop from growing discouraged.

This series was supposed to be emotional, as two budding rivals went toe-to-toe in what was expected to be the most competitive and alluring series of the first round in the West. But it wasn’t supposed to feature this kind of emotion.

A couple hours after tearing up, Rivers, who had said he was contemplating 10 different lineups, was forced to start Austin Rivers, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and DeAndre Jordan. The group had played just four minutes together all season.

Now the Blazers come home, leading 3-2, owning the unlikely opportunity to close out their series and continue their improbable season.

“Obviously we want to finish it off,” Ed Davis said. “We don’t want to come back (to Los Angeles). We’ve got to watch film, focus on us, stay in the moment and just be ready to play.”

***

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DeRozan once again under the microscope for Raptors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The first round series between the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers has become a referendum on the value of DeMar DeRozan, and maybe even a determination of whether DeRozan will remain in Toronto beyond these playoffs.

The question of whether the Raptors should give DeRozan a big contract this summer or let him leave via free agency is one for another day. But it’s hard not to evaluate it as this series goes on and DeRozan’s career playoff *effective field goal percentage continues to hover below 40 percent.

* Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

DeRozan is not the only Raptors All-Star who has shot poorly through the first four games. Among the 33 players who have taken at least 50 shots in the playoffs through Monday, DeRozan (29.6 percent) ranks 33rd in effective field goal percentage and teammate Kyle Lowry (36.4 percent) ranks 32nd.

But Lowry contributes more than his scoring. He has more than twice as many assists (and secondary assists) than DeRozan in the series and provides better defense. Lowry is a plus-13 through four games, while DeRozan is a series-low minus-20. And after averaging 8.4 free throw attempts in the regular season (third most in the league), DeRozan has gone to the line just 15 times in four games.

The numbers tells us that mid-range shots are worse than 3-point shots, pull-up shots are worse than shots off the catch and contested shots are worse than uncontested shots. Kobe Bryant has long been the king of pull-up, contested, mid-range shots, and DeRozan has long been the prince.

According to SportVU, 34 of DeRozan’s 49 jump shots in the series have been contested and 35 have been pull-ups. Of his 71 total shots, 38 have been from mid-range.

He’s also a brutal 6-for-17 in the restricted area, with Pacers rookie Myles Turner doing a particularly good job of shutting DeRozan down at the rim. And really, if you were to list the reasons why DeRozan has shot 30 percent, “He’s been guarded by Paul George” and “the Pacers are a top-three defensive team” are Nos. 1 and 2.

But DeRozan has been unable to adapt or use the attention on him to make his teammates better. The Raptors are learning (for the third season in a row) that if you rely heavily on an inefficient, one-on-one scorer in the regular season, it could come back to bite you in the playoffs.

“Every time I’m coming off, there’s two to three guys there,” DeRozan said on Sunday. “They’re doing a great job of sitting in, bringing help, consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter. It’s just a thing of us figuring it out and using our teammates, get them going to get guys off of us.”

Toronto managed to win a game (Game 2) in which DeRozan shot 5-for-18 and didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and his nine trips to the line somewhat made up for his 7-for-19 performance in Game 3. But, while other other top-2 seeds are taking care of business, the Raptors are even with a team that won 11 fewer games and ranked 23rd offensively in the regular season.

Is DeRozan just a regular season star? He’s got at least two more games to prove otherwise. Game 5 is Tuesday (6 p.m. ET, TNT).

“You go through your ups and downs,” DeRozan said. “But it’s all about how you figure it out in a process to get out of that. If we do what we’re supposed to do, all of this will be erased.”

“We’re going to ride or die with DeMar and Kyle,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They haven’t shot the ball great, but again it’s still basketball. So we’re going to go with them. They’re our star players. They’re All-Stars for a reason.”

Morning shootaround — April 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors await word on Curry | Scott fulfills role in L.A. | DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ | Jackson: Penalize refs for blown calls

No. 1: Warriors await word on Curry’s MRI — After a regular season that set a new mark in NBA history (73 wins) and seemed to set a trail for another championship run, the Golden State Warriors’ title hopes may hinge on the news they receive later today. Star guard Stephen Curry took a spill in yesterday’s Game 4 win against the Houston Rockets and was diagnosed with a sprained right knee. He left the game and did not return and now, as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group writes, the Warriors wait with baited breath about what happens next:

A sprained right knee is the initial diagnosis for Curry after the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead by beating Houston 121-94 on Sunday. Warriors players, coaches and management fear worse news might come. Not solely because of what it would mean for the Warriors’ chances at another title. But also because they can’t stand that Curry has to go through this.

He had been fighting to return to action from a sprained right ankle. He wanted desperately to get back on the court with his guys after missing Games 2 and 3. His ankle looked fine Sunday as he changed directions suddenly to split defenders and drove inside the lane without hesitation.

He was clearly rusty. He shot 2 for 9, missing six of his seven 3-point attempts. He had five turnovers. But it seemed he was over the injury.

But just before the half, running back on defense, Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court and lost his feet from under him, his legs awkwardly splitting as if he was just learning how to ice skate. He immediately grabbed his right knee then got up and limped hurriedly to the locker room.

We can guess what happened in that locker room. Curry fought to play. He demanded a chance to at least try. He probably knew his day was over. Maybe his series. Maybe his season. But his heart wouldn’t accept his brain’s understanding.

When Curry was told he couldn’t play before the start of the third quarter, he doubled over in tears in front of the Warriors bench. The frustration and disappointment was too much to bear. Coach Steve Kerr rubbed the back of his star player while Draymond Green barked instructions to his friend.

Every bone in Curry’s body wanted to play but his ligaments overruled them. His ailing right knee wasn’t going to allow him to play. His crushed spirit wouldn’t wait for the privacy of the locker room.

“Get out of here,” Green told Curry. “Don’t let them see you like this. Don’t let them see you cry. We will hold you down. We got this. We will win this for you.”

Last year, in Game 4 at Houston, Curry was flipped midair and landed on his head. He ended up returning to that game. He tried his best to do the same in Game 4 on Sunday.

He tried to gut out his sprained ankle in Game 1, talking team management and the athletic trainers into re-taping him and letting him play. But he could barely move on the court and Kerr sat him down.

And now — after all the rehab and pleading and praying — he was back in the same spot with a new injury. Hoping his sheer will was the ointment his knee needed. Pining for his competitive drive to put his ailing knee in its place.

Curry was the last Warrior to emerge from the locker room and immediately took a seat on the bench. He had a brace on his right knee and a depressed look on his face. He sat on the bench and stared before heading into the warmup fray and get a few shots up.

Before long, he was coming back to the bench, where Warriors head performance therapist Chelsea Lane gave him the bad news. Going back in was not an option.

But before Curry could head to the locker room and get treatment on his knee, he had to get some treatment on his heart. Because in that moment, he couldn’t take it.

“To see a guy like that, Steph go down,” Marreese Speights said. “He never gets emotional. He always keeps his composure. To see him like that, we felt his heart.”

***

No. 2:  Ultimately, Scott filed his role in Lakerland — As was first reported by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and later confirmed by our David Aldridge and the team itself, Byron Scott is out as Los Angeles Lakers coach. While that move is likely met with some celebration by a large portion of Lakers fans, Scott’s time in Los Angeles was — in a unique sense — successful in that he did what he was asked to do for this era of the franchise. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has been around the team long enough to know exactly what the Scott era in L.A. was all about:

But the minute Kobe Bryant walked out of Staples Center for the last time, Scott’s services were no longer needed, his job essentially ceased to exist, he became an instant antique.

The Lakers really had no choice but to fire him, which they did on Sunday in a move that should come with a thank-you note.

They needed someone to guide the team through the turbulent end of the Bryant era, and Scott did exactly that.

They also needed someone to indoctrinate members of the next generation of Laker stars — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — into the daily grind of NBA life. Bryant wasn’t emotionally available for that, there were no other strong veteran presences in the locker room, so Scott needed to play the bad guy, and he did it often and well. He was ripped repeatedly by fans and media for benching and publicly scolding the kids, right up until Russell was busted for videotaping private conversations with Nick Young in a record-setting act of immaturity.

Scott was hired to say goodbye to Bryant, and to rudely greet the future, and . . . to win? Seriously? Winning realistically was never part of the deal, and Lakers management even admitted as much earlier this season. It was decided that the team was going to cling to Bryant’s fading glow for as long as it lasted, celebrate that glow, bask in that glow, and everything else was shadows.

What did the Lakers expect? If they wanted only to win, two years ago they would have hired someone from outside the Lakers family who would not have flinched at benching Bryant for long stretches while he was statistically the worst player in the NBA. They would have hired someone who would have devised the entire offense around the three kids and played them big minutes and let them run the show without any concern for monitoring growing pains.

That’s not what they wanted. The old-school Scott was what they wanted. A buddy to Bryant and an unwavering tough guy with everyone else was what they wanted, and that’s what they got.

Now they’ve fired him for it, and, strangely, it all makes sense.

For the first time in years, the Lakers finally have the salary cap space to get dramatically better. For the first time in exactly 20 years, they can remodel the team with an entirely different culture.

This new world needs a new leader, and it couldn’t be Byron Scott.

He did his job, he lost his job. No apologies, no blame, era ended.

***

No. 3: Raptors’ DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ — During the regular season, Toronto Raptors All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both ranked in the top 15 in scoring. Through four games of these playoffs, neither player can claim such an honor as Lowry is 26th in scoring and DeRozan is 40th. The Indiana’s defensive length and gameplan has made life rough for Toronto’s stars and changes are likely in order for how they will attack the Pacers in Game 5 Tuesday night (6 ET, TNT). CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore has more on the state of the Raptors:

Lowry was fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made in the regular season, and he is 5-for-27 in the series. DeRozan was second in the NBA in free throws made, and he’s gone 11-for-15 in the series, failing to get to the line at all in the Raptors’ two losses.

“We just stink right now,” DeRozan said Sunday.

Lowry said that he simply has “got to shoot the shots better.” He has said similar things all series. If only it was that easy.

“Every time I’m coming off there are two or three guys there,” DeRozan said. “They are doing a great job of sitting in and bringing help consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter.”

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said that Indiana deserves credit, but Lowry and DeRozan have just not been at their best. When it comes to DeRozan, Casey said that a change in approach might be necessary.

“He may have to be a facilitator,” Casey said. “He’s our leading scorer, he’s gotta take the shots that are there, but in other situations, where they’re taking him out, he understand that [he has to] move the ball.”

Without calling out DeRozan specifically, Casey said that was not what happened in Saturday’s embarrassing 100-83 loss. He wants the Raptors to be more patient and purposeful.

“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people,” Casey said. “Everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side.”

DeRozan’s difficulties are particularly alarming. At his best, it looks like he can get 20 points in his sleep. Against Indiana, his typical smooth glides to the basket have largely been replaced by awkward, forced jumpers. The most obvious sign of his development is how comfortable he has become handling the ball, surveying the defense and making smart plays. The most obvious sign of his need for improvement is how he’s handled playoff pressure.

Over the years, DeRozan has often talked about the game slowing down for him. He studies film obsessively and has seen every type of defense imaginable. Against Paul George and the Pacers, though, he seems a beat or two behind. The same is true for Lowry, who is usually relentless with the ball but has had trouble finding openings to attack.

“Me and DeMar, we talked,” Lowry said. “They’re playing defense on us and rushing us into things, making us speed up our shots, and the shots that we normally take with patience, we’re taking a little bit — if it takes us 0.9 seconds to usually shoot ’em, we’re shooting them in 0.4.”

“I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not upset at how I’m playing,” Lowry said. “But I’ve got to be positive. At the end of the day my teammates bank on me to be positive and lead these guys, and that’s what I’m going to do no matter how I’m shooting the ball.”

After three games, it appeared that the Raptors had solved Indiana. After four, an upset once again feels possible. If Toronto can just take care of the ball and take advantage of it depth, Lowry and DeRozan don’t have to be superstars to advance to the second round. They just have to be more like themselves.

“We are not the players who we are in this league for no reason,” DeRozan said. “We all go through some type of lows in our career at some point. You can’t complain when the playoffs come. You can’t do that. You got to be able to take it on the chin and understand we got to figure it out.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks after Toronto’s practice on Sunday

***

No. 4: Pistons’ Jackson wants ‘consequences’ for referees — The Pistons’ playoff run ended in a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, but Detroit didn’t go down easy. Trailing 100-98 with 10 seconds left, the Pistons stopped the Cavs and got the ball in the hands of guard Reggie Jackson. He tried to work past Cavs guard Kyrie Irving but could not and took a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer that grazed the front of the rim. Afterward, Jackson was upset about what he believes was a missed call and sounded off on NBA officiating, writes Aaron McCann of MLive.com:

This series ended the same way it began, with the Detroit Pistons complaining about officiating.

This time it was Reggie Jackson’s turn.

The Pistons point guard missed a potential game-winning 3-point basket at the buzzer of Detroit’s 100-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, wrapping a four-game sweep for the defending Eastern Conference champions, but felt like a foul should have been called on Kyrie Irving.

“We got a stop with no timeouts, Kyrie decided to pick up early and prevent me from taking a good shot,” Jackson said. “I tried to find a good look, and, uh …”

That’s when Jackson let it rip.

Upset over a no-call, one that perhaps could have been called on a bump from Irving before Jackson pulled up from 26 feet, he said NBA officials need a system in place to hold them responsible.

“Fines, suspensions, being fired,” Jackson said. “The same thing that happens to us. Make bad plays or questionable (calls), you’re not really being productive to the sport. They should have consequences, just like the players. That’s about (all) I’m going to say on that.”

The Pistons trailed by one at half, erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit and stayed within grasp most of the way in the fourth.

But it like their previous three cracks at the Cavs, they could never get over the hump. A Jackson runner in the lane with 8:33 remaining pulled Detroit within a point – the closest it would get to extending the series another game.

“It pisses you off,” Jackson said. “To hear it’s not your time, not your moment, It can go one of two ways. When you think you’ve played well enough, you can take it as inside-outside sources. You all can take that for whatever you want to take it as.

“Those sources, it kind of seems like it’s not made for you to necessarily win. You’ve got to find a way to run through the wall – get over the hump.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who was fined $25,000 by the NBA after Game 1 for criticizing officials, said he’ll let the league weigh in.

The NBA reviews the final two minutes of all games decided by five points or fewer. A report is expected Monday.

“Or you guys can comment on that,” Van Gundy said. “You guys saw the game as much as I did. You’ve all got DVRs – you can watch and comment on it. You want me to comment on it so I can spend another $25,000.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has ‘no hesitation’ in giving All-Star center Andre Drummond a max contract extension this summer … Meet the Golden State Warriors’ oldest fan, a 106-year-old woman named “Sweetie” … Great story on the man who watches the body language of the Indiana Pacers … The Memphis Grizzlies kept on grinding to the bitter end … Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is becoming a surprising clutch performer … For the record, the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets aren’t interested in any kind of on-court dramatics … ICYMI, the Sioux Falls Skyforce are up 1-0 in the NBA D-League Finals …

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)

First Six Minutes Will be Critical for Raptors, Pacers in Game 4


VIDEO: Best of Phantom: Raptors vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indiana Pacers are going to even their first round series with the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, TNT), they need to get off to a good start.

The Toronto Raptors, in the regular season, were bad (worst among playoff teams) in the first six minutes of the first quarter and terrific in the last six minutes of the first quarter.

20160422_tor_1stq

The Raptors’ starting lineup has gone through a lot of changes over the course of the season, but has been consistently bad, no matter the configuration. Neither DeMar DeRozan nor Kyle Lowry has been as aggressive early on as they’ve been later in games, and Toronto has been downright awful defensively in the opening minutes.

But things change when Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson *check into the game. Joseph and Patterson combined to averaged just 15.3 points per game, but were two of the league’s best reserves in regard to the lift they provided to their team. The Raptors outscored their opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions in 1,529 regular-season minutes with both on the floor.

* Note: They typically check in separately, Patterson before Joseph.

That number is plus-12.5 points per 100 possessions through the first three games of the first round and Patterson’s raw plus-minus is a series-high plus-35. He and Joseph are still giving the Raptors a big lift when they enter the game.

And in the Raptors’ wins in Games 2 and 3, Toronto actually had the lead when the two checked in. The Raptors have gotten off to better starts (14-7 after six minutes in Game 2, 17-11 in Game 3) than they typically did in the regular season. After winning the first six minutes just 30 times in 82 regular-season games, they’ve done it twice in three playoff games.

“I think it’s a mindset, more than anything else,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said about his team’s stronger starts on Saturday. “Coming out with a sense of desperation, a sense of urgency is the key to that.”

And because their bench is so good, the Raptors have never given those leads up. The Pacers led for less than one minute in Game 2 and less than two minutes in Game 3.

If the Raptors continue have a lead when Joseph and Patterson check in, they’re in terrific shape for the rest of this series.

“We want to start off the game the right way,” Patterson said. “That is hitting them first. That is making a statement. That is setting the tone from the jump.

“When Kyle and DeMar and the starters come out from the jump and set the tone, that makes our job a lot easier.”

If the Pacers want to have a chance, they need to take advantage of those first six minutes of the first quarter, which have been a problem for Toronto.

Their inability to do that in Games 2 and 3 could bring about a lineup change. Pacers coach Frank Vogel started the third quarter on Thursday with Myles Turner instead of Lavoy Allen up front. Turner certainly brings more energy than Allen, and energy is what the Pacers need.

Of course, after practice on Saturday, Vogel wouldn’t divulge any planned changes, or even the likelihood of a change, for Game 4. Stay tuned … and tune in early, for what may be the most important six minutes of the series.

Analytics Art: Lowry still searching for shot in playoffs


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry talks about his role as a leader in Toronto

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Kyle Lowry made his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance in 2016 while solidifying his standing as one of the league’s elite point guards. The Toronto Raptors won 56 games in the improved Eastern Conference due to his exploits, just one victory off the pace set by the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.

Although Toronto suffered first-round playoff exits in 2014 and ‘15, this season seemed to yield new promise. Lowry’s play oozed confidence on a nightly basis and he ended 2015-16 with career highs in points (21.2 per game) steals (2.1) and rebounds (4.7).

All the while, the 30-year-old’s outside shooting touch thrived. Not only did Lowry attempt a career-high 7.1 3-pointers per game, but he made a career-best 38.8 percent of them.

Everything was clicking for Lowry during the regular season, but the postseason has proved much tougher for him. Though he played well in the 2014 playoffs — averaging 21.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists during a seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets — he hasn’t experienced the same individual success since.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Lowry was an absolute eyesore in the playoff setting a season ago. During the course of getting swept by John Wall and the Washington Wizards, he shot a ghastly 31.6 percent from the field and an ugly 21.7 percent from 3-point range. Even worse, Lowry failed to reach double-digit scoring in two of Toronto’s four games.

Toronto has turned its first-round fortunes around so far at least as it has built a 2-1 series edge the Indiana Pacers. But while the Raptors are finally winning playoff games again, Lowry’s shooting efficiency remains elusive.

Through the first three games of the series, Lowry is shooting 31.9 percent overall and 22.7 percent on 3-pointers. He’s averaging 8.0 assists per game, but his persistent shooting woes in the playoffs have to be a concern for coach Dwane Casey.

Lowry is a solid bet to make one of the All-NBA teams this year for his stellar regular season performance. That being said, he needs to re-establish that standing if Toronto is going to have any hope of a deep playoff run.

Morning shootaround — April 15


VIDEO: Which East teams will win their series in the first round?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry realizing his impact on league lore | Casey miffed over Game 1 tipoff time | Anthony talks frankly with Knicks’ brass | Hornets pull together

No. 1: Curry starting to realize his place in league lore Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET, the Golden State Warriors start their playoff trek in what they hope will be a mirror of their regular season — total domination of any and all comers en route to another NBA championship. Leading the charge will be reigning Kia MVP and superstar Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors to a record 73 wins and put up an individual season just as remarkable to boot. In a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Curry explains how he is starting to fathom just how his current run is affecting not only today’s NBA, but generations to come:

“I was watching some show where they were talking about Kobe’s last game,” the 27-year-old Curry told USA TODAY Sports. “And (they talked about) the fans who were my age, or a little younger, who didn’t get to see (Michael) Jordan play much but they saw Kobe play his whole career. … That was like passing the torch to him, (or) obviously LeBron (James) or whatever.”

The epiphany, you see, is that the torch is in his hands right now.

“For the youth that are watching today’s game and where it is, that would be something very special, in 15 or 20 years, (to) hear stories of kids growing up watching me play and being inspired by what I do on the floor, and how I play the game and what not,” Curry continued. “I have certain guys who I looked up to. Jordan, Kobe, those guys. Passing that on to doing my part to kind of keep that influence of basketball where it should be is kind of why I play the game.”

It’s easy to forget how quickly this happened.

Nearly four years ago, on an April 25, 2012 day that is still fresh on the minds of those who were there, Curry entered an operating room in Van Nuys, Calif. without knowing whether his ailing right ankle would ever be the same. Ankle problems plagued the early years of his career, and they threatened everything on that fateful day.

Yet the damage wasn’t as bad as had been feared, and an arthroscopic surgery was enough to get the job done. Curry, who played 78 games in each of the following two seasons while playing at an All-Star level, was on his way again.

Curry has been on the NBA’s version of the Autobahn ever since, racing past all his fellow All Stars and stealing the spotlight from James at a time when the Cavaliers star has appeared in five consecutive Finals. This season, more than any other, is adding to his lore.

In winning the first scoring title of his seven-year career, he became the most improved scorer in NBA history among players who won the MVP award in theseason before (plus-6.3 points per game, from 23.8 to 30.1, ahead of Larry Bird’s plus-4.5 in the 1984-85 season, according to ESPN). He shattered his own single-season three-point record, finishing with 402 after hitting 286 in the 2014-15 season (he now holds four of the top seven marks all-time).

By hitting a career-high 50.4% of his shots overall, 45.4% from three-point range and 90.8% from the free throw line, Curry achieved a 50-45-90 shooting mark that had only been reached by Warriors coach Steve Kerr (while with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls) and future Hall of Famer/Warriors player development consultant Steve Nash (while with the 2007-08 Suns). Curry, for good measure, is the first perimeter player to average 30 points per game on 50-plus percent shooting since Michael Jordan in 1991-92.

It’s natural to wonder when Curry’s rise will peak. The possibilities for his future, much like his shot, seem limitless. What’s more, for anyone wondering about confidence that always plays a huge part, his willingness to entertain the question about being the best player of all time tells you all you need to know.

“I don’t think about (being the best) on a daily basis, but the way that I prepare and the way that I work, I try to let that kind of goal show itself, if that makes any sense,” Curry said. “When I step forward on the floor, I have the confidence that I’m the best player playing that night and that I am the most prepared at what I need to be doing.

“For me, I don’t want to cheat the game by saying, or kind of doing lip service by saying I want to be the greatest ever. I want to be able to show it. So hopefully that will speak volumes more than me running around touting my own self, which I think that’s wasted energy.”

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Numbers preview: Raptors-Pacers


VIDEO: Raptors vs. Pacers: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Is this the year the Toronto Raptors get it done?

In their 21-year history, the Raptors have never won a best-of-7 playoff series. Their only series victory came in 2001, when the first round was a best-of-5. Each of the last two seasons, they had home-court advantage in the first round, lost it in Game 1, and got knocked out by a lower seed. So, after a third straight year of setting a franchise record for regular-season wins, there’s added pressure on Dwane Casey and his team to finally take the next step.

The Indiana Pacers are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. They said goodbye to the frontline that helped them get to the conference finals twice and tried to change their identity, but eventually settled back into being a team that played two traditional bigs, did its best work on defense, and struggled to score.

This is the only first-round matchup between a team that ranks in the top five in offensive efficiency and one that ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency. And it may be determined by the Pacers’ ability to score against what has been an improved Toronto defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 2-7 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (56-26)

Pace: 95.3 (29)
OffRtg: 107.0 (5)
DefRtg: 102.7 (11)
NetRtg: +4.3 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Indiana: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

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Indiana Pacers (45-37)

Pace: 99.0 (10)
OffRtg: 102.4 (23)
DefRtg: 100.2 (3)
NetRtg: +2.2 (11)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Pacers notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-1 (2-0 in Toronto)
Oct. 28 – Raptors 106, Pacers 99
Dec. 14 – Pacers 106, Raptors 90
Mar. 17 – Raptors 101, Pacers 94 (OT)
Apr. 8 – Raptors 111, Pacers 98

Pace: 98.5
TOR OffRtg: 100.2 (14th vs. IND)
IND OffRtg: 98.9 (19th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

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