No. 1: Raptors mindful of past Game 6 flubs -- The Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan-era Toronto Raptors have played in four Game 6s ... and are 0-4 in those games. As tonight's Game 6 with the Milwaukee Bucks nears (7 ET, TNT), the Raptors are not only looking to close out the series but also vanquish some demons of playoffs past. Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun has more:
The historical element of these Game 6 letdowns is one the Raptors spent the past two days dismissing.
“Every season is different,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “Every year is different. Every team is different. I think our team now is more mature, battle ready. I think the only guy who hasn’t played in the playoffs is P.J. (Tucker) probably but he has played in some big games over in Europe.
“Again, mentally you can’t go into Game 6 thinking we still have Game 7 if need be,” Casey said. “We got a game in our pocket. You can’t approach it that way. It is the hardest thing in the NBA to do is to close out a series whatever that game is. We have to go in knowing that and not banking on a Game 7. We want to approach this like it’s Game 7.”
There it is again, ‘Make this our Game 7’ which sounds great but can the Raptors actually take the approach.
Obviously the Bucks are going to have something to say about that. For them this really is Game 7. The Raptors can talk desperation. The Bucks are already there for real.”
The point is talk is cheap and from Casey on down the team knows it.
Kyle Lowry hasn’t forgotten what happened in those Game 6’s a year ago. He remembers sitting at the same podium he sat at yesterday talking about the need to be desperate, the need to try and forget, there is a safety valve in Game 7 in order to get the job done in Game 6.
He’s also past that point. He’s moved on from the cliched ‘Treat it like Game 7’ to the equally cliched ‘take it one possession at time.’
“At the end of the day if we take it possession by possession, it’s very cliché I understand that, but that’s really how you gotta take it,” he said. “Last year we said we had to treat it like a Game 7 and we lost. So we have to treat it like a Game 6 but take it like another, separate game. Every game in this series has been completely different. Game 6 is gonna be a completely different game.”
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No. 2: Conley can't do it all if Grizzlies want a Game 7 -- Take a quick glance at the playoff leaders in scoring, assists, field goal percentage and clutch scoring and you'll find Mike Conley's name near the top in most categories. The Memphis Grizzlies' point guard has been running wild all series long against the San Antonio Spurs. Yet if the Grizzlies want to force a Game 7, they'll need to help Conley out big time tonight in Game 6 (9:30 ET, TNT), writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal:
Memphis returned home for Game 6 Thursday, trailing 3-2 to San Antonio in its first-round playoff series with the Spurs. And the Grizzlies’ recipe for success hasn’t changed.
Legendary soul singer Gladys Knight enjoyed plenty of success with the Pips. In a series where Conley’s been the Grizzlies’ lead singer, he’ll need strong backup if they are to extend this season to a Game 7 Saturday at San Antonio.
“We feel like we have the kind of closers, that if it’s close, who can bring us home,” Fizdale said.
The Grizzlies, though, are at a point where the trio make up their Big Three, and they each need to play at a high level to put the team in position to win a close game
Marc Gasol’s ineffectiveness on the boards is noticeable. The 7-footer averaged nine rebounds in wins but grabbed just five in losses against the Spurs. Gasol picked up just one rebound in 10 fourth-quarter minutes during Game 5 and was routinely beaten by Spurs forward David Lee.
“(Randolph) is a tough cover for any team because he’s so quick, so crafty. He can finish with both hands, hit floaters and shoot the three pretty well,” Spurs forward Pau Gasol said. “And then you have a center like Marc who can pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll. They’ve got every option with that action. They definitely put pressure on our defense and sometimes we cover it better than others, but we just have to stay after it.”
Randolph has been most effective when he can duck into the post and gain deep position, and get his mid-range shot to fall. Marc Gasol’s offense is predicated on his assertiveness. He is at his best when he’s decisive after receiving the basketball and not killing time surveying the defense.
Here’s another harsh reality: The Grizzlies have a -42.2 per 100 possessions net rating without Conley on the floor in the series. In the seven minutes Conley sat in Game 5, the Spurs enjoyed 14-of-17 field goal shooting and scored 35 points.
“We expected it to be a long series,” Conley said. “Every game is a Game 7 in our opinion. We’re treating every game like it’s the last game… We’ve got to do whatever it takes to get Game 6 at home. We’ve just got to execute down the stretch in the fourth quarter against a team like this.”
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No. 3: Cavs' Lue not fretting over LeBron's playoff minutes load -- In the final few weeks of the regular season, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue wanted to do all he could to rest LeBron James and his other stars. After James averaged 43.8 minutes per game in the Cavs' first-round series, workload is apparently not as big of a concern for Lue, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
"Of course, we're always cognizant of LeBron's minutes, but in looking at this situation, we didn't look at the minutes as an issue," Lue told ESPN. "It makes more sense to close out the series and have the additional rest versus playing potentially even more minutes, potentially 96-144 more minutes. Closing out and the rest that comes with it far outweighs the other potential scenario."
James led the way for the Cavs against the Pacers with series averages of 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks. At 32 years old and in his 14th season, his 43.8 minutes per game in the postseason currently leads all players. It is an uptick from his 37.8 minutes per game in the regular season, which also led the league, the most he's played since the 2012-13 season in Miami.
"I mean, I don't understand why people make a big deal out of minutes," Lue told reporters Wednesday, when his team had its first full practice session as a group since sweeping Indiana on Sunday. "He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games, and then he had a week off again. So next [series] he might play 48 minutes."
James will end up having played only four games in three weeks by the time the Cavs' second-round series tips off Monday against either the Toronto Raptors or the Milwaukee Bucks.
"It's just part of the playoffs -- how he's feeling, how the games are going," said Lue, who played James the entire second half of Game 3 against the Pacers when Cleveland rallied back from down 26 in the third quarter to win. "But there's no back-to-backs.
"Teams are suffering because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes."
"Some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would've been different series," Lue explained without naming names. "So, whatever."
"I think a lot of guys are capable of doing that," Lue said when asked what percentage of players could play 40-plus minutes and not have a significant drop off in performance. "A lot of guys are taking care of their body. NBA players are some of the best-conditioned guys in athletics in their sport, so they can definitely do it. I think a lot of times coaches get sidetracked by what other guys, what the media said or whatever. But you just got to go off what you feel, how the guys feel, how the players feel and what your team needs at this time. So, if Bron plays 46 minutes and [Kyrie Irving] plays 45 minutes and we win, then it's worth it. And if we need them to play that many minutes to win in the playoffs, then it's absolutely worth it."
James addressed his heavy minutes following Game 4.
"The game plan is from the coaching staff," James said. "Coaches always ask me how I'm feeling throughout the game, and I feel great. If I'm out on the floor and I'm hurting us by playing a lot of minutes, then I need to come out. But in this series, I played a lot of minutes, and I felt great. I actually could have played the whole game if need be."
This wasn't hyperbole by James. Multiple team sources told ESPN that James tried to plead his case to stay in the game when being subbed out briefly at the end of the third quarter of Game 4.
Lue added that James has benefited by scheduled games off to rest during the regular season and rarely practicing in order to preserve his body for the long haul.
"We gave him games off here and there, but also, for him to play those kinds of minutes, it was good for him because he said he was able to stay in shape because we wasn't practicing as much," Lue said. "He knows his body better than anyone. He said he feels great, and he feels worse when he doesn't play, so we'll see how that works out."
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No. 4: Warriors try to soldier on as Kerr mends -- Game 6 of the LA Clippers vs. Utah Jazz series will decide who the No. 1-seeded Golden State Warriors face in the Western Conference semifinals. As the Warriors wait for that news, they are also trying to get along without coach Steve Kerr, who is out indefinitely due to some medical issues. Conner Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has more on that:
A master communicator, Kerr is adept at putting others at ease. Now, even as he takes an indefinite hiatus from the sideline to seek a solution to his chronic pain, Kerr is peppering his players with a singular reminder: It has always been their team, not his. His reduced role shouldn’t hurt their chances of winning an NBA championship.
Still, the question of when Kerr will return to in-game coaching hangs over Golden State as it prepares to face the winner of a Jazz-Clippers series that Utah leads 3-2. Kerr missed practice Wednesday, and according to a report by NBC Sports Bay Area, he is consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center. The Warriors will let Kerr’s health dictate when he re-joins the bench.
“The idea is that, if he’s healthy enough to coach, he coaches,” general manager Bob Myers said in an interview Wednesday afternoon with 95.7 The Game. “There has to be a string of days. For you to throw yourself back in the fire, it has to be, ‘I’ve had a good three days. I’ve had a good five days,’ and you don’t see that changing.”
On Monday, two days after he watched Game 3 from the team hotel, Kerr attended morning shoot-around and watched Game 4 from the visiting locker room. Brown’s primary objective is maintaining status quo, a goal made easier by the all-inclusive environment Kerr helped foster. The two meet daily. Whenever Brown has a question about the substitution pattern or game plan, he doesn’t hesitate to shoot Kerr a text message.
“Just being here a year, and having the veterans that we have and the staff that we have, and the communication that we’ve had from jump street has made it, in my opinion, a seamless transition,” said Brown, who guided Golden State to wins over the Trail Blazers in games 3 and Game 4. “Without all that, I don’t know that it’d be as seamless.”
More than overseeing practices and substitution patterns, Brown is tasked with helping players handle the emotional toll of Kerr’s absence. This is a man who, over his three years in Oakland, has become as much a friend and mentor to his players as he is a coach. While pursuing the franchise’s second NBA title in three years, those close to him are wracked with what-ifs about Kerr’s health.
“This stuff doesn’t matter, man,” Durant said of basketball. “We want him healthy for the rest of his life. That’s what our main concern is. We don’t want him healthy just so he can coach us in the playoffs. We want him healthy so he can live an everyday life as normal as he can. We’re all praying for him.”
Perhaps no one within the organization feels Kerr’s struggle as intensely as Myers. Last season, the two bonded over shared adversity. While Kerr navigated his health concerns, Myers grieved his brother-in-law, who was killed by a boulder while hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in September 2015.
“I can’t wait, guys, until he feels good,” Myers, his voice cracking, said in his radio interview Wednesday. “That’ll be a great day.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tristan Thompson is finally OK with the fact his consecutive games played streak is over ... Russell Westbrook is taking some time before he figures out his next move contract-wise ... Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got hit with a $100,000 fine by the NBA for confronting an official mid-game ... GM Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets are trying to build for the future ... The LA Clippers' reserves need to step it up, and pronto ... Close losses over the years have helped the Utah Jazz thrive in the postseason so far ...