The NBA playoffs never seem to cooperate.
For months and months, we play all the best-case scenarios out in our heads – the best matchups, the clashing of top-tier stars, the storylines that are of most interest. And then, the pomp always gives way to the circumstance.
Injuries happen, like the ones that sent the Clippers’ Chris Paul (broken hand) and Blake Griffin (quadriceps tendon tear) to the sideline until next season and forced Boston’s Avery Bradley (hamstring) out of the first round and into the offseason after just one game. Memphis was a shell of itself even before the postseason arrived because of health woes, and Dallas — with no Chandler Parsons (knee) and no Deron Williams (sports hernia) for the final three games of the first round loss to Oklahoma City — was doomed by roster decimation as well.
Still, there are plenty of positives to highlight as this reality-based postseason plods on. And luck, as is so often the case in sports, played a part here too. The good kind, of course.
• The Golden State Warriors, who were the undeniable benefactors of several opponent injuries en route to their title in 2015, appear to have gotten lucky again. At least when compared to their Clippers counterparts, that is.
Reigning MVP Stephen Curry could return from his right knee sprain as soon as Game 3, with plenty of time to get comfortable again before the Western Conference Finals appearance that looks so likely at the moment (the Warriors are up 1-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers after winning 118-106 in Game 1). Coach Steve Kerr even told reporters on Tuesday that Curry will be listed as “doubtful” for Game 2 on Wednesday. Considering there were questions about Curry being done for the season when he went down in Houston in Game 4 on April 24, the champs will most certainly take it.
• Here’s all you need to know about how long it has been since the Toronto Raptors reached the second round of the playoffs: the aforementioned MVP’s father, Dell Curry, played 71 games for that Vince Carter-led team of 2000-01 that would eventually fall to Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-game, second-round series.
No matter what happens in the Raptors’ second-round matchup with Miami, downing the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 on Sunday was a big moment for a franchise that was in flux just a few years ago. And again, good fortune came into play here too.
Seven months after the Raptors lured Masai Ujiri out of Denver to head up their front office, he had a deal in place in Dec. 2013 that would have sent point guard Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks in exchange for Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace and a first-round pick. The Knicks killed the deal, with Lowry telling USA TODAY Sports earlier this season that “that deal was done.”
Three seasons later, the Lowry-DeMar DeRozan backcourt was the building block of what has become a top-tier Eastern Conference team. On the flip side, Ujiri made several key calls that ultimately brought the Raptors to this point: among them, the wise decision to retain coach Dwane Casey (who has been there since 2011) while later adding DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, and Bismack Biyombo via free agency last summer and Norman Powell by way of a second-round draft pick last June. DeRozan, of course, will be the top priority this summer when the Raptors hope to keep him from heading elsewhere in free agency.
The quickest way to do just that? Give him a max deal with for the full five years on Day 1 of free agency, or run the risk of losing him to teams like the Los Angeles Lakers who so desperately need an injection of star power. DeRozan wants to be there, but he wants a max payday too.
• Speaking of paydays, Portland coach Terry Stotts should be due for one in the not-so-distant future. Yet Stotts, the former head coach in Atlanta and Milwaukee who came to the Blazers in 2012 after four years as a Dallas Mavericks assistant, has a team option on his contract for next season that has yet to be picked up. What’s more, according to a person with knowledge of his situation, he has yet to discuss a possible extension with Blazers management.
The person expressed optimism that a deal will eventually get done, but one never truly knows until it happens. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of that process.
This is as much a no-brainer as you’ll find in today’s NBA coaching ranks, what with the Blazers losing four of five starters from last season, nearly getting to the same playoff seed (fourth in the West last season, fifth in 2015-16) and reaching the second round for just the second time since 2000. Portland owner Paul Allen & Co. are lucky to have Stotts, who finished second in Coach of the Year voting behind the Warriors’ Steve Kerr.
• Lest the luck narrative get traction all over again as it relates to the Warriors, there’s nothing lucky about what they’ve done on the defensive end this postseason.
With and without Curry, and with a major hat-tip to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, they’re tough to score on. In all, the Warriors’ defensive rating (91.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats) is tied for tops among playoffs teams with San Antonio (91.2 entering Monday). Only the Atlanta Hawks (entering Monday) have held opponents to a lower field-goal percentage (38.4 percent compared to 38.9 percent).