NBA Playoffs: Rockets win to avoid elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Rockets win to avoid elimination

HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Jeremy Lin came off the bench to score 21 points and help the Houston Rockets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 108-98 on Wednesday night to avoid elimination.

The Trail Blazers lead the first-round series 3-2 entering Game 6 on Friday in Portland.

A basket by Damian Lillard got the Trail Blazers within two points before James Harden stepped back and swished a 3-pointer to make it 103-98 with about three minutes left.

Harden's shot was the start of a 12-0 Houston run to close it out. He finished with 17 points and seven assists.

Houston finally slowed down LaMarcus Aldridge, limiting him to eight points, after he averaged 35.3 points in the first four games. Wesley Matthews led the Blazers with 27 points and Lillard added 26 (see full recap).

Raptors hang on after blowing big lead
TORONTO -- Kyle Lowry scored a career playoff-high 36 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer after Toronto had blown a 26-point lead, and the Raptors beat the Brooklyn Nets 115-113 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Jonas Valanciunas scored 16 and Greivis Vasquez added 15 for the Raptors, who would advance to face Miami in the second round with a victory in Game 6 on Friday in Brooklyn.

Game 7, if necessary, would be Sunday in Toronto.

Joe Johnson scored 30 points and Mirza Teletovic had 17 for the Nets, who scored 44 points in the fourth quarter (see full recap).

Spurs take series lead over Mavs
SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker had 23 points hours after the birth of his first child and the San Antonio Spurs never trailed in a 109-103 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, taking a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

Manu Ginobili had 19 points and Tiago Splitter added 17 points and 12 rebounds as San Antonio regained home-court advantage in the tense series against their intrastate rival. Tim Duncan added 16 points and 12 rebounds and Kawhi Leonard had 15 points for the Spurs.

Vince Carter scored 28 points, making numerous heavily contested shots in going 10 for 16 from the field for Dallas.

After averaging 16 points in the series' first four games, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki found the stroke in scoring 26 points. Nowitzki was 10-for-20 shooting, but it wasn't enough to overcome Parker and the Spurs returning to form (see full recap).

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet, but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet, but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach the Golden State Warriors at all in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he is not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

"As of right now, I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air. Still waiting for `Ahhhhhh!'" Kerr said, reaching his hands to the sky as if to receive some miracle healing. "It's coming, it's coming. ... I think once we get to Game 1, that might be a good time to make a decision one way or the other."

Golden State, unbeaten this postseason at 12-0 with sweeps of Houston, Utah and San Antonio, hosts the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2 on Thursday and Sunday.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year is still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure at Duke University to repair a spinal fluid leak stemming from back surgery complications nearly two years ago. He filled in addressing the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

"I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies," Kerr joked.

Brown has been coaching the Warriors since Game 3 of the first-round playoff series at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games. Brown was expected back Tuesday.

"Mike's been amazing. It's an awkward situation, again this is so unique," Kerr said. "I'm not sure it's ever happened. ... It's just weird because, on the one hand, Mike has to coach the team as he sees fit. I'm taking part in practices, helping with the messaging, taking part in coaching meetings, but I'm not on the sidelines during games. And so he has to make those decisions as if it's his team, but he's also taking my advice and counsel behind the scenes. So it's not easy, but he's obviously doing a good job. There seems to be a theme when I'm out, I think the team is like 108-2."

Brown is set to go up against LeBron James and a Cleveland team he coached in two separate stints.

Brown wasn't around during the past two Finals when the Warriors faced the Cavaliers, so he has watched some of last year's Finals. Kerr recently reviewed all seven games from 2016, when Golden State squandered a 3-1 lead and missed a repeat championship.

Everything he can do to help Golden State get prepared, Kerr is doing -- until he feels he might be fine to return to the bench.

"I'm not well enough to coach a game and I know that (because) I coached all 82 games and I did OK. I was uncomfortable and in a lot of pain but I did fine, I could make it through," he said. "The first two games of the Portland series, whatever happened, things got worse. You saw me in the fourth quarter of Game 2, I could not sit still in my chair, it was that much pain. I would say I've gotten a little bit better, that's why I'm here talking to you right now, but you can probably tell I'm not sitting here happy-go-lucky."

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Before the offseason craziness starts, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we analyze whether the No. 3 pick or adding an impact free agent is more important for the Sixers.

Camerato
The Sixers have the third pick in the 2017 draft. 
 
They also had the same pick in 2014. 
 
And 2015. 
 
And the number one pick in 2016.
 
The No. 3 is a nice addition of potential young talent, but how much further does *another* high lottery pick progress the Sixers?
 
The team is at a point where they need more experienced players to boost the development of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric … and basically everyone on the roster except Jerryd Bayless, who is the only player under contract for next season with more than four years of NBA experience.
 
Veterans make younger players around them better. This isn’t only being a voice in the locker room either. This season the Sixers could greatly benefit from a vet who is in game with them, not just on the bench. Look at what 35-year-old Joe Johnson did for the Jazz this season. 
 
Do the Sixers need to go out and sign a big name free agent to a max contract? No. They have the money to spend but also a lot of questions to answer about Simmons’ role and Embiid’s health before locking in someone long-term. 
 
Can adding experience develop them further than potential would at this point? Yes.

Haughton
There's always a delicate balance between blending homegrown talent and free agents. With this Sixers team, I think adding another young piece to the core with the No. 3 pick is far more important than luring someone on the free-agent market.

If we're being honest about the team's roster, there are only two real difference makers in Embiid and, in all likelihood, Simmons. In that third draft slot, the Sixers have an opportunity to select yet another top-tier talent and address an area of need (guard or wing) without spending a boatload of cash.

The Sixers' youthful makeup resembles a college team and makes it easier for rookies to mix into the group. That also means the draft pick has a chance to grow on the same track as his teammates and build for the long-term betterment of "The Process" instead of a free agent that is likely trying to speed things up to win now.

Speaking of FAs, there will be a nice pool of guys available for the Sixers. However, it's not like any of them are going to put the team over the top and in the conversation for any postseason hardware.

Stick to the script and focus on the draft. Whichever player hears his name called at No. 3 will have a far bigger fingerprint on where this franchise goes next than anyone acquired via free agency.

Hudrick
The Sixers have identified Embiid and Simmons as their franchise players. Embiid is 23 and Simmons will turn 21 in July. Embiid has played in 31 games and Simmons has yet to take the floor.

I mention this because this Sixers team is still very much building. They're nowhere near a finished product. The veteran additions of Gerald Henderson and Bayless (who was limited to mostly a mentoring role last season) no doubt helped the team last season. But what does signing a marquee free agent do? 

Looking at the market, the two most obvious choices are point guard Kyle Lowry (31) and two guard J.J. Redick (32). Lowry and Redick both fills needs and will make the Sixers better immediately. 

But this team won 28 games last year while only having Embiid for 31 games and not having Simmons at all. Add the No. 3 overall pick to that equation -- whether it's Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, Jayson Tatum or De'Aaron Fox -- and the Sixers should improve on that mark.

There will be a time to sign a big-name free agent. I'm just not sure this is the offseason to do it. They need to get their first-round pick in here and see how that player gels with the team's core. After you see how the team starts to take shape, that's when you need to add a free agent to put you over the top.