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Gametime decision: Embiid in for 76ers, Dudley out for Brooklyn

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After being limited to 24 minutes in the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, All-Star center Joel Embiid — a gametime decision heading into Monday’s action — will return to the starting lineup for Game 2.

Embiid produced a staggering line, given the relatively brief appearance — dropping 22 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and five blocks — but struggled to truly impact the action. That allowed Brooklyn to successfully focus their efforts on limiting Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick, which short-circuited the usually effective 76ers offense.

On the opposite bench, the Nets will be missing reserve swingman Jared Dudley, whose crucial contributions to the opening upset went well beyond the box score.

Dudley played 27 minutes, producing four points, four assists and a steal.



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Raptors look to keep rolling in Game 5, while Bucks could benefit from lineup change

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MILWAUKEE — The Eastern Conference finals have become a best-of-three series.

After Game 2, the Milwaukee Bucks looked like the best team in basketball. Now, their second two-game losing streak of the season has brought their first taste of playoff adversity. The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, are very much alive after coming just a possession or two from a 3-0 deficit just a few days ago. They’ve led for 61 percent of the minutes in this series and their complete victory in Game 4 — execution on both ends of the floor, contributions from the entire rotation — sets up a huge Game 5 back in Milwaukee on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Have the Raptors found their mojo? Do the Bucks need to change things up? Here are some numbers of note with the series even at two games apiece.

Half-court issues

Game 4 was the Bucks’ worst defensive game (120 points allowed on 96 possessions) of the postseason, and that was the focus of head coach Mike Budenholzer’s frustration Tuesday night. The league’s No. 1 defense simply can’t have the same kinds of breakdowns going forward.

But the more consistent issues for the Bucks have come on the other end of the floor, where, over the two games in Toronto, they scored less than a point per possession.

Before Game 3, it was noted that the Bucks had been been beating the Raptors in the pace battle. And even with Toronto playing much better in Games 3 and 4, Milwaukee has still scored 30 more points (82-52) on field goals in the first six seconds of the shot clock.

Of course, the counter to that is that the Raptors have been the better team in the half-court. When Milwaukee hasn’t scored in transition, offense has been a struggle. And its in their numbers from beyond the arc where their half-court issues have showed up. In the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, the Bucks have shot 34-for-96 (35 percent) from 3-point range. In the last 12 seconds of the shot clock, they’ve shot just 15-for-68 (22 percent) from 3-point range.

Credit the Toronto defense, which has been terrific in its ability to show help on Giannis Antetokounmpo and recover out to the Bucks’ shooters. Giving Kawhi Leonard the Antetokounmpo assignment for Games 3 and 4 has certainly had an effect. The Bucks have scored just 86 points on the 94 possessions (with Antetokounmpo shooting 7-for-23) that the Raptors’ star has been guarding his Milwaukee counterpart.

In the first half of Game 3, Toronto’s inability to match up in transition led to four Milwaukee 3s in the first six seconds of the shot clock. In the 82 minutes of game time since then, the Bucks have made just one 3 in the first six seconds of the clock.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Game 4 was both the slowest-paced game (each team had the ball just 96 times) and the Raptors’ best game of the series. If Toronto can continue to avoid live-ball turnovers, execute offensively and match up in transition, the Bucks will need to find some more offense late in the clock.

 

What must Milwaukee to better in Game 5?

Back to the old lineup?

Improved offense could come with a lineup change. Budenholzer has made no indication that he’s ready to change things up, but there’s both a reason and a convenient excuse to have Malcolm Brogdon start Game 5.

The reason? The Bucks’ starting lineup has been outscored by nine points in 41 minutes in this series, having scored just 90 points on its 93 offensive possessions.

Nikola Mirotic (6-for-28 from 3-point range in the series) hasn’t been the worst shooter in the starting lineup. That would be Eric Bledsoe, who is 11-for-45, including 2-for-19 from 3-point range, over the four games. But while Mirotic is always an effective floor spacer (because he’s always a threat to shoot out to 28 feet), Brogdon is a more dynamic offensive player.

As a fourth ball-handler in the lineup, Brogdon could push the ball into more transition opportunities. And in the half-court, he would be more successful in attacking Toronto’s close-outs. He has averaged almost four times as many drives per 36 minutes (12.7) as Mirotic (3.5).

So far in this series, the Milwaukee offense has been at its best, scoring 113.4 points per 100 possessions, with Brogdon on the floor. He has the best plus-minutes in the series, with the Bucks having outscored the Raptors by 26 points in his 116 minutes. Mirotic has the worst plus-minus in the series (by a wide margin), with the Raptors having outscored the Bucks by 26 points in his 102 minutes.

Swapping Brogdon for Mirotic is just a return to the Bucks’ old starting lineup, which played 597 minutes together in the regular season. It wasn’t the most dominant lineup in the league — its mark of plus-6.2 points per 100 possessions ranked 19th among 40 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together — but it’s a plus-10 in just 10 minutes in this series.

The Bucks are 10-3 in these playoffs, but they’ve lost the first quarter in eight of their last 10 games. A lineup change probably couldn’t hurt.

 

Inside The NBA: How banged up is Kawhi?

Fixing the glass

In Games 1 and 2, the Bucks outscored Toronto, 41-21, on second chance points. In Games 3 and 4, second-chance points were even at 26 for each team.

The Raptors were able to fix their rebounding issues without going to their big lineup. Playing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol together helped them rebound better in the Philadelphia series, but the two bigs played just 10 minutes together in Games 3 and 4. In total, Ibaka and Gasol have played 22 minutes together in the conference finals after playing 77 minutes together over the last four games of the Philly series.

Among the Raptors’ eight rotation guys, their defensive rebounding percentage has been highest (they’ve grabbed 74.5 percent of available defensive boards) with Norman Powell on the floor.

The Raptors were obviously the more desperate team in Games 3 and 4. Now both teams are two games from The Finals and two games from the end of their season. That should make for an intense Game 5.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.



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Cavs’ Gilbert: ‘We killed it’ with Kyrie trade

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The decision to trade Kyrie Irving to Boston for a future first-round pick, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic and Jae Crowder was a bonafide win for the Cavaliers.

That’s how Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert feels, anyway, a sentiment expressed via The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday. Citing Irving’s desire to be traded — and his agent alluding to his need for knee surgery if he wasn’t dealt — Gilbert dubbed the Cavs’ escape from the awkward predicament nothing short of a win for the hard-fallen franchise.

“We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves [general manager] Koby [Altman] made, we killed it in that trade,” Gilbert declared.

Irving has averaged 24.1 points, 6.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds en route to a pair of All-Star appearances in his two years with the Celtics. He missed the 2018 Playoffs due to injury, however, before Boston suffered a 4-1 second-round defeat to Milwaukee in 2019. Irving is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Cleveland, meanwhile, used the Nets pick they acquired in the trade to draft Collin Sexton, who earned All-Rookie Second Team honors in 2018-19. Zizic showed promise as the Cavs’ backup center this season, while Crowder and Thomas were traded again just months after Cleveland acquired them.

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Report: Juwan Howard to become Michigan coach

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP)  — Juwan Howard is coming back to Michigan.

The former member of the Fab Five has agreed to a five-year deal to coach the Wolverines, a person with direct knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made.

Michigan is giving the Miami Heat assistant coach his first shot at being a head coach, other than during the NBA’s summer league. He replaces John Beilein, who left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Howard helped Michigan reach the national championship game twice, playing alongside Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. The school later removed the Fab Five’s Final Four banners from Crisler Arena as part of self-imposed sanctions that stemmed from one of the NCAA’s largest financial scandals.

A federal investigation revealed now-deceased booster Ed Martin gave Webber and three non-Fab Five players more than $600,000. The NCAA forced the school to dissociate from the former players involved until 2013. The saga stained the university and basketball program, leading to many years of struggles.

Beilein became the leader Michigan needed, running the program without a hint of controversy and bringing the school back to the national title game in 2013 and 2018. The Wolverines also won two Big Ten season championships – an accomplishment the Fab Five never reached – along with a pair of conference tournament titles while becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach.

When Beilein left, however, there did not appear to be a top candidate to take his place. Assistant Luke Yaklich, a defensive specialist, has been at Michigan for only two seasons and assistant Saddi Washington has been on the staff for just three. Butler coach LaVall Jordan, a former assistant of Beilein’s, has been a head coach for just three seasons. Providence coach Ed Cooley agreed to an extension and withdrew from consideration for the Michigan job.

Although Howard doesn’t have ties to Michigan’s recent history with Beilein, his connection to the school is significant. Howard’s hiring may bring a wave of excitement with endorsements from former teammates such as Webber and Rose along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. His coaching experience in the NBA also make him an attractive coach for top prospects.

Howard had been a candidate to be a head coach in the NBA, including at Cleveland coincidently.

The 46-year-old Howard, who is from Chicago, played at Michigan for three seasons before Washington drafted him No. 5 overall in 1994. The two-time NBA champion with the Heat and one-time All-Star averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists during his career that ended after the 2012-13 season.

Howard went into coaching after retiring as a player, starting as an assistant coach focused on player development with the Heat being promoted to an assistant coach with one of the franchises he played for during his 19-year career.

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