76ers-Raptors, Blazers-Nuggets set for high-stakes Sport 7 doubleheader

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Kawhi Leonard is searching for to hold the Toronto Raptors to only their second Japanese Convention finals journey in franchise historical past. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press by way of AP)

HOUSTON — The NBA appeared headed for a tasty triple-header of Sport 7s on Mom’s Day, however Stephen Curry had different concepts.

Because of a 33-point second-half explosion from the all-star level guard, the Golden State Warriors closed out the Houston Rockets on Friday. The champs will subsequently get to benefit from the weekend like the remainder of the basketball viewing public: glued to the tube, seeing which two groups will fill out the convention finals matchups.

Golden State will face both the Denver Nuggets or Portland Path Blazers, who open Sunday’s festivities in Denver at 3:30 p.m. Japanese time. Within the East, the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks await the winner of the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, who sq. off in Toronto at 7 p.m.

The East showdown is a pressure-cooker, pitting two groups who’ve spent the previous 12 months aggressively pursuing mercenaries, whereas the West’s is a battle between two organizations whose long-term natural roster constructions might repay with an sudden berth within the convention finals. Better of all, a win on Sunday would symbolize the head second of the previous decade for all 4 franchises.

Toronto is driving excessive thanks largely to Kawhi Leonard, who has regarded unstoppable whereas averaging 31 factors and taking pictures a blistering 56 p.c in the course of the playoffs. After buying the all-star ahead in a summer season commerce for DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors spent all season rigorously managing his minutes.

That technique has paid dividends. Leonard has torched Philadelphia for 45 factors in Sport 1 and 39 factors in Sport four whereas rising as essentially the most reliable participant within the sequence. In the meantime, heart Marc Gasol, a significant midseason addition, has been up and down. At instances, the beefy heart has been in a position to restrict Sixers star Joel Embiid. Throughout Toronto’s losses, although, he’s struggled offensively.

The Raptors are angling for simply the second convention finals journey in franchise historical past. In 2016, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers blitzed them off the courtroom to finish their deepest playoff run in perfunctory trend. This 12 months seems to symbolize a greater shot at reaching the NBA Finals, as Leonard is best than any participant on their crew from two seasons in the past. The Bucks, as proficient as they’re, lack a participant with James’s championship credentials.

Philadelphia, searching for its first convention finals journey since Allen Iverson’s 2001 heyday, has fast-tracked its championship imaginative and prescient this season. First-year GM Elton Model traded a number of rotation gamers and future draft picks to land Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, thereby filling out a sterling beginning lineup round Embiid and his fellow younger star, Ben Simmons.

Butler, the Sixers’ most steady piece on this sequence, has raised his recreation within the postseason, averaging 19.7 factors, 6.Three rebounds and 5.5 assists. Harris, nonetheless, has spent many of the second spherical drifting to the background.

Philly’s younger centerpieces have each skilled sophisticated playoff runs. Embiid has vacillated between dominant and dormant, held again by knee tendinitis and a number of diseases. Simmons, a talented level ahead who merely can’t shoot, broke free with 21 factors in a Sport 6 win over Toronto however has in any other case been saved in examine. In the event that they handle to ship a street upset, it could be a candy milestone for Sixers followers, who have been subjected to an prolonged run of purposeful and painful tanking in recent times.

It doesn’t matter what occurs Sunday, one in every of these groups will dive head first right into a summer season of high-priced questions. Leonard, Gasol and beginning guard Danny Inexperienced are all impending free brokers for Toronto. Leonard, in fact, can be one of the coveted superstars in the marketplace, and a second-round loss wouldn’t precisely be a really perfect recruiting pitch for a Raptors franchise that traditionally has struggled to draw free brokers.

Philadelphia finds itself in almost the identical predicament. Butler and Harris will each be searching for max-level contracts as free brokers, and guard J.J. Redick will hit the market, too. A loss may also elevate one other spherical of questions in regards to the long-term match between Embiid and Simmons, whose offensive kinds are inclined to conflict.

There are fewer existential questions at stake within the West, the place a pair of up-and-coming Northwest Division rivals purpose to capitalize on a lopsided bracket. On a wild remaining night time of the common season, wins by each the Blazers and Nuggets conspired to pit final 12 months’s convention finalists, the Warriors and Rockets, in opposition to one another within the second spherical.

Denver is searching for its first convention finals look since a Carmelo Anthony-led 2009 run, and a house win on Sunday would place the franchise as one of many West’s high future powers. The Nuggets have been pushed by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, rising stars who’ve simply outpaced expectations of their postseason debuts.

Jokic is simply 24, however the Serbian 7-footer has averaged 22.6 factors, 11.eight rebounds and eight.1 assists within the playoffs, and keyed Denver’s offensive along with his bruising scoring and sensible passing. Murray, a 22-year-old Canadian level guard, has fought off questions on his inconsistency to settle in as a dependable scorer and clutch late-game performer.

A loss can be crushing within the short-term, provided that the Nuggets gutted out a Sport 7 win over the San Antonio Spurs within the first spherical and bounced again from a four-overtime Sport Three loss to Portland, however it wouldn’t depart lasting injury. Denver’s homegrown core of Jokic, Murray and guard Gary Harris is in place for the foreseeable future. Certainly, the Nuggets’ largest identify to look at this offseason may be govt Tim Connelly, who emerged as a candidate to develop into the Washington Wizards’ president following Ernie Grunfeld’s April firing.

Of Sunday’s 4 members, no crew has waited so long as Portland to get again to the convention finals. The Blazers’ final convention finals look got here in 2000, once they collapsed in heartbreaking trend to the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant lobbed an iconic alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neal in that recreation, launching a two-decade run full of varied miseries.

There was the so-called “Jail Blazers” period, career-ending knee accidents to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy and a sequence of postseason brick partitions as soon as franchise ahead LaMarcus Aldridge fled to the Spurs as a free agent in 2015. The anguish returned in full power this season, when proprietor longtime proprietor Paul Allen died after a battle with most cancers and heart Jusuf Nurkic suffered a ugly leg harm late within the season that knocked him out of the playoffs.

But all-star guard Damian Lillard has gamely pulled the Blazers by, averaging 29.eight factors and delivering the perfect shot of the playoffs with a 37-foot missile to remove the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder within the first spherical. A street win in opposition to Denver would additional improve his burgeoning fame and mark the crowning achievement of his profession.

A Mom’s Day defeat would sting badly given the franchise’s tortured historical past and the truth that valued function gamers like Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood are all heading to free company. The silver lining? Lillard, Nurkic and guard CJ McCollum are locked into long-term contracts, giving Portland a proficient core that ought to stay within the combine all through the 28-year-old Lillard’s prime.

After all, Blazermaniacs, similar to followers of the Raptors, Sixers and Nuggets, aren’t prepared to begin excited about the longer term fairly but.

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