With the NBA Finals having a set start date of May 30, Sunday was the first of four off days before Game 1 Thursday night in Toronto. Thanks to its sweep of Portland, Golden State has been off since May 20 and that time off has been key for banged-up rotation players such as Andre Iguodala, and DeMarcus Cousins continues to make progress in his attempt to come back from a torn quadriceps muscle. Kevin Durant isn’t as far along in his recovery from a right calf strain, as he has still yet to be cleared for on-court work.
As for Toronto, the Raptors have begun preparations for the franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals trip after taking care of the Bucks Saturday night. The four days off will be welcome, especially with Kyle Lowry still dealing with his left thumb injury and Kawhi Leonard finishing the Eastern Conference Finals at less than full strength after appearing to injure his left leg (Toronto never listed him in the injury report) earlier in the series. With there being no games to break down, for this edition of the Daily Dose we’ll look at some of the news coming out of both camps ahead of the Finals.
Steve Kerr says that Jordan Bell will play in the Finals
After playing well as a rookie during Golden State’s run to the title last season, the expectation was that second-year power forward Jordan Bell would be a consistent factor in the Warriors rotation in 2018-19. That wasn’t how things played out during the regular season, and the same can be said of the playoffs. After averaging 4.0 minutes per game in four appearances against the Clippers in the first round, Bell appeared in just one game during the Warriors’ second-round series against the Rockets. He saw more action in the Western Conference Finals, playing 13.5 minutes per outing and averaging 6.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
Kevon Looney jumped Bell in the pecking order, and given the inconsistent minutes it’s fair to wonder just how much the second-year forward out of Oregon will play in the NBA Finals. Well, head coach Steve Kerr said during his media availability that regardless of who’s healthy Bell will see action during the NBA Finals.
“He’s going to play,” Kerr said according to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury-News. “We’ll see how it all shakes out. It depends on matchups, health and rest. But even if everybody is healthy, Jordan will find his way onto the court. He’s earned that.”
In two games against the Raptors during the regular season Bell played an average of 15.5 minutes per, averaging 2.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. Obviously the regular season and playoffs are entirely different situations, and both meetings occurred before the trade deadline — when Marc Gasol was acquired from Memphis — so the Raptors rotation has a different look than it did in November (a 131-128 Toronto win on November 29) or December (the Raptors won 113-93 on December 12). But at the very least Bell has managed to carve out a spot in the rotation after struggling with inconsistency during the regular season, a good sign for both he and the Warriors heading into the Finals.
Cousins has been out of the lineup since Game 2 of the Warriors’ first round series, as he suffered a torn left quadriceps muscle during the first half of that overtime loss to the Clippers. Durant, on the other hand, has been out since Game 5 of the second round after suffering a right calf strain during the second half of Golden State’s win over the Rockets. Neither has been cleared to return to game action, but Cousins appears to be closer to a return. The hope is that both will be able to play at some point during the NBA Finals, but only Cousins has been cleared to return to on-court activities in practice. The Warriors won’t provide the next update on the status of their two sidelined starters until Wednesday, the day before Game 1.
Should Cousins be able to play during the Finals it’s possible that he comes off the bench, with Toronto currently using Serge Ibaka as the backup center. Ibaka struggled to deal with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid during the second round, and a matchup with Cousins could be just as difficult. The two didn’t face each other this season, as Cousins was still recovering from the ruptured Achilles tendon injury he suffered last season as a member of the Pelicans. He and Ibaka matched up twice last season, with the two sharing the court for just under 24 minutes per game in those meetings. Per NBA.com’s stats Cousins averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.5 three-pointers per when on the court with Ibaka, shooting 37.5% from the field, 35.7% from three and 50.0% from the foul line.
One can’t take too much from these numbers, given the fact that Cousins has changed teams and instead of playing alongside Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis he now shares the court with two of the game’s all-time great shooters (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) and one of the all-time great scorers (Kevin Durant; when healthy). And that doesn’t even touch on the presence of Draymond Green, who is key with regards to his ability to push the tempo and keep the ball moving offensively. This will be an entirely different matchup for both Cousins and Ibaka if it were to occur, and it’s something that could impact both rotations in the way that Embiid’s success against the Toronto backup center did earlier in the postseason.
Raptors are hopeful that OG Anunoby will be able to play at some point in the Finals
Reserve forward OG Anunoby has not appeared in a game since April 9, as he underwent an emergency appendectomy a couple days later. According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, people within the Raptors organization are “quietly optimistic” that he’ll be able to return to action at some point during the Finals. A second-year forward out of Indiana, Anunoby averaged 7.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 three-pointers per game with shooting splits of 45.3% from the field, 33.2% from three and 58.1% from the foul line.
His availability won’t have much of an impact on the Raptors offensively, but adding another athletic defender with length wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Eastern Conference champions. His presence would give the Raptors some more versatility defensively, whether or not Kevin Durant is able to return for the Warriors.
Nick Nurse could be in line for a busy 2019-20 season
While Canada will have a team in the NBA Finals for the first time, this is also an important year for the men’s national team program. With Jay Triano stepping down as the head coach of Canada’s men’s national team, there was a vacancy that needed to be filled ahead of Canada’s participation in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China later this summer. According to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is set to lead Team Canada. There’s been no official announcement, but if he were to take on the job Nurse would join Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (United States) as current NBA head coaches who are also leading national teams.
Among the other candidates for the position were Ryerson head coach Roy Rana, who served as Canada’s coach for four of the six qualifying windows, Spurs assistant Ettore Messina and veteran international coach Gord Herbert. Herbert is expected to be a part of the coaching staff, per Smith’s report. Canada’s group in China includes Australia, Lithuania and Senegal, with only the top two teams advancing into the knockout stage.
Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. will wear a brace during Summer League
Denver rookie Michael Porter Jr. did not appear in a game this season, as the franchise gave him as much time as possible to recover from a back injury that sidelined him for much of his lone season at Missouri. Porter underwent two surgical procedures on his back in 2018, and as a result of the surgeries he developed drop foot. According to Mike Singer of the Denver Post, Porter will wear a brace on his leg as result of the drop foot when he plays in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
The 14th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Porter was considered by many to be the top prospect in his class ahead of the 2017-18 college basketball season. Porter hasn’t lacked for confidence during his rehab, and come July he’ll finally have the opportunity to show off his skills to the league.