Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

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Logo for Diehlman at Halftime column. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

With the NBA playoffs underway, there are plenty of stories to discuss.

The Toronto Raptors have fired head coach Nick Nurse after five seasons. The Raptors brought home their first title in franchise history in Nurse’s first season as their head coach.

Superstar Kawhi Leonard, who departed for the L.A. Clippers after one season in Toronto, took the Raptors’ success with him. Nurse’s record in five seasons was 227-163. He’s a top candidate for head coaching vacancies like the Houston Rockets.

This week, we also saw Warriors’ forward Draymond Green get suspended for one game after kicking Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis in the ribcage mid-game. If you watch the replay, fans and media members have very different stances on who started the whole thing.

While Sabonis did grab Green’s leg, that doesn’t give the latter the right to stomp on a man’s chest. Green’s suspension didn’t affect anything, as the Warriors won 114-97 in Game 3 on Thursday, April 20.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight

The Philadelphia 76ers were in cruise control over the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series. That translates to “everything is going according to plan.”

By defeating the Nets in four games, the 76ers are the first team this season to advance to the Conference Semifinals — and the only one to record a sweep in the first round. They also swept an opponent for the first time since 1991!

Despite Joel Embiid going down with another injury and not playing in Game 4, Philadelphia still marched into the Barclays Center and finished the job. James Harden, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey all stepped up in different ways.

What’s amazing is that four of the five Nets’ starters were brought in at the trade deadline! Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson came from Phoenix while Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie — who is in his second stint in Brooklyn — came from Dallas.

For the second round, Philadelphia will face the winner of the Celtics-Hawks series. With Boston leading 3-1, that series will stretch to Tuesday, April 25, at the minimum for a fifth game. The 76ers’ next goal is to finally get out of the second round.

Lowlight

In my bracket predictions, I had both L.A. teams going home in the first round. That may be true… at least for one of them.

The L.A. Clippers are down 3-1 in their series with the Phoenix Suns. It’s amazing that they won’t get swept, considering that Russell Westbrook is holding down the fort while Paul George has been out, and Kawhi Leonard sat out Games 3 and 4 due to a knee issue. Westbrook is averaging 26 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks through the four games so far! Remember, this is a guy who took a bench role with the Lakers earlier in the year.

I have to imagine, though, that Clippers’ fans want to see George and Leonard on the floor more. I’m not saying they should play through injury, but their tenure in L.A. has been frustrating.

As one of the best defensive duos in the NBA, neither has seen the court for more than 60 games per year since their arrival with the Clippers. Leonard was out for the entirety of last season! Now, we wait and see if Westbrook and company can extend, or even win, this series.

Random Stat

The career of Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson has been an interesting one. After a breakout 2019-20 season, his stats and minutes per game have steadily declined.

That has not been the case in the Heat’s series with Milwaukee, though. In Game 3 on Saturday, Robinson scored 20 points and shot 5-6 from downtown on his 29th birthday. Through three games against the Bucks, Robinson is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting an otherworldly 76.9%
from the 3-point range! To be fair, he scored three points in six minutes in Game 1 by hitting
one 3-pointer.

With Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo going down with injuries and with Tyler Herro basically out for the rest of the season, Miami will need their reserves to step up. That’s where Robinson comes in.

At 76.9%, he leads the league in 3-point percentage this postseason. He also brings veteran leadership, since he’s played in postseason runs before, including the 2020 “Bubble Finals.”

If the Heat wants to upset the top seed in the East, I’ll be looking to see how players like Robinson do in the upcoming games.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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