Q: Ira, who you got? Who you want, Toronto or Philly? — Andy.
A: Two different questions. First, for all of Doc Rivers’ playoff struggles in his various stops, it would be hard to fathom this 76ers team, with Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris becoming the first NBA team to blow at 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. So if you’re asking who I think will win, I would have to think the 76ers, if only from a historical perspective. As far as who I want, that matters little (albeit there is concern about the COVID-testing requirement when flying back into the United States). As far as the Heat’s choice, it would appear the Raptors have significantly fewer weapons than the 76ers, but Nick Nurse does have a way of maximizing. So I would think they would lean that way (unless Embiid’s thumb gets even worse). But, again, I think that will wind up moot, with the 76ers having two chances to put it away with one more win.
Q: Come on, how inflamed can a knee be that you skip a potential playoff clincher? — Adam.
A: Because sometimes player and team, alike, have to take a somewhat longer view. The Heat are targeting a championship, not just a second-round appearance. Plus there still is nearly $200 million left on Jimmy Butler’s contract/extension. So you have an investment to protect, as well. And this also is not as simple as pop a couple of Advil and get back to work. If that’s all it took, both Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry would have been out there on Tuesday night. No, hardly optimal this time of year. But still better in April than, say, May or June.
Q: I shouldn’t say his improvement has been overlooked, but the extent of Max Strus’ improvement is gaining traction as evidenced in the Most Improved Player voting. Strus’ overall contributions have far exceeded expectations compared to the usual learning curve of players new to the NBA. While Strus, isn’t an All-Star he’s been vital to the Heat’s winning record this season, much like P.J. Tucker. — Leonard, Cornelius, N.C.
A: I wouldn’t overstate a single third-place vote for Most Improved Player as validation for Max Strus. But it is fair to cite his growth from two-way player to playoff starter. You can make a similar argument with Gabe Vincent, and perhaps Caleb Martin. The common thread there is finding the right place at the right time, something that benefited all three.