Khris Middleton goes off in Game 6 win

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Khris Middleton led the Bucks to a win and a 3-3 tie with the Nets as the teams prepare for Game 7 on Saturday night, Rick Carlisle joins Donnie Nelson in a Dallas departure, and the Hawks, Sixers, Jazz and Clippers prepare for a pair of Game 6’s on Friday night.

Bucks 104, Nets 99 – Series tied 3-3 – Game 7 Saturday at Brooklyn

The Bucks remained undefeated at home in these playoffs (5-0, 3-0 vs. Nets) with a relatively easy win over the short-handed Nets on Thursday night as Khris Middleton led the way with a playoff career-high 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five steals and five 3-pointers on 11-of-16 shooting. Giannis Antetokounmpo hit 12-of-20 shots and scored 22 of his 30 points in the paint along with 17 rebounds and three assists, and Jrue Holiday chipped in with 21 points, eight boards, five assists and four steals, despite hitting just 8-of-21 shots and 1-of-10 3-pointers on the night. The Bucks didn’t get a lot of help from anyone outside of their Big 3, but they didn’t need it on a night when Giannis was dominant inside and Middleton did a bunch of everything. The Bucks blew a 17-point lead in Tuesday’s Game 5 loss at Brooklyn, but Giannis took over late in the game and simply didn’t let the Nets creep back into the game, instead putting them away with some impressive play inside, which he did all night. The Bucks were dominant despite hitting just 7-of-33 3-pointers but also rocked the Nets 26-4 in fastbreak points. If you played Middleton in fantasy or DFS, his clutch 5x5 line was massive and you probably did well.

The home teams have won each game in this series and while the Nets aren’t likely to have Kyrie Irving (ankle), it looks like Kevin Durant and James Harden will be good to go, assuming nothing crazy (protocols, unknown injuries, etc.) happens between now and Saturday night. The Nets started their 41st different starting lineup of the season and their fourth different one in these playoffs, starting Durant, Harden, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin and Game 5 hero Jeff Green, who started over Bruce Brown last night.

Durant led the way with 32 points, 11 rebounds, three dimes and two 3-pointers on 15-of-30 shooting, Harden added 16 points, five boards, seven assists, four steals and three 3-pointers on 5-of-9 shooting, and Griffin came through with 12 points, six boards, two steals, a block and a 3-pointer, resulting in the only double-digit scoring performances for the Nets. Durant played all 48 minutes of Game 5 and saw 40 more minutes in this one, so you have to think he’s borderline exhausted. Harden also played 40 minutes, made it through the night in one piece and wasn’t on a minutes count, so everyone but Irving should be good to go on Saturday. This series has been a tale of homecourt and the Nets will have to find a way to keep Durant going, get Harden going and slow the roll of Middleton and Giannis. The Nets have one road win in these playoffs (Game 4 @ Boston) and, like the Bucks, have yet to lose at home. Game 7 figures to be a war but I wouldn’t bet against the Nets at home, as Brooklyn’s finest are going to be rocking the Barclays Center, turning up the volume to 11 on Saturday night.

Shake Up In Big D

A day after Donnie Nelson was relieved of his GM duties in Dallas, head coach Rick Carlisle bailed on Luka Doncic and company, leaving Mark Cuban with a ton of work to do this summer. Cuban says he’ll find a new GM first and then figure out who will coach the team. One name that keeps popping up early is Mavs assistant Jamahl Mosley. Luka is said to have a close relationship with Mosley and has spoken his praises this season. “He’s got the things that are needed for a head coach,” Luka said after Mosley filled in for Carlisle earlier this year. “He can be the head coach,” for sure. Rumors are swirling that Carlisle and Luka didn’t see eye-to-eye so while Carlisle’s departure is a bit surprising, I wouldn’t say it’s shocking. You also have to wonder if Luka played a part in Carlisle’s departure. While he was clearly a fan of Nelson’s, he reportedly often butted heads with Carlisle, even if it wasn’t all that obvious to outsiders. While Cuban is clearly in charge of things in Dallas you can bet that Doncic will have a say in who is going to take the reins of both of the open positions. If not, I’ve underestimated Cuban’s savviness. Luka is all set to sign a $201.5 million extension this summer and while the last 48 hours are concerning if you’re a Mavs fan, no one else can offer Luka that kind of money and there have been no reports of him going somewhere else. And Carlisle and his NBA Championship pedigree are going to be in high demand this offseason. It looks like I picked the wrong week to buy a Mavs hat but at least it doesn’t look like Luka’s going anywhere. At least, for now.

All That Jazz

Mike Conley (hammy) and Donovan Mitchell (ankle) are both listed as questionable for Friday’s Game 6. We’ve yet to see Conley in these playoffs and I’ll be surprised if he plays tonight, while I’ll also be shocked if Mitchell’s not out there. His ankle has been an issue this whole series and he’s all set to play through it, even if he’s not 100 percent.

Bye, Bye Kawhi

To the surprise of no one, Kawhi Leonard won’t play in Friday’s Game 6 due to his right knee injury. We still haven’t been given a proper update on Kawhi’s injury but it’s pretty clear that he could miss several more games, given that there is no timetable for his return and that he returned to L.A. shortly after traveling to Utah prior to Game 5. It’s a terrible break for the Clippers, but they were able to hold it down without him in Utah. Look for Terance Mann to make another start and the Clippers will be hoping that Paul George, who has scored at least 31 points in three straight games, keeps it going tonight. If the Clippers can win at home the teams will play on Sunday in a Game 7 in Utah.

Embiid Iffy for Friday

Joel Embiid (knee) is listed as questionable for Friday night but with the Sixers facing elimination with a loss in Atlanta, it would be absolutely shocking if he doesn’t play.

Trae Probable for Home Hawks

Trae Young is probable for Friday due to his sore right shoulder, but it would take a monumental development for him to sit out a home Game 6. He’s good to go.

News & Notes

A report surfaced on Thursday that Zion Williamson’s family wants him out of New Orleans. There is nothing surprising about this and this franchise has been in some turmoil seemingly forever. I’d expect Zion to run for the hills as soon as it becomes a real option, so the Pelicans better find him a coach and some teammates he loves.

Chris Paul (protocols) will be re-evaluated on Saturday and my guess is the NBA is going to do everything they can to find a way to let him play in the Western Conference Finals. The Suns are probably hoping the Jazz/Clippers series goes seven games to give CP3 plenty of time to clear protocols and not miss any time.

Weekend Schedule

Friday: Game 6 Sixers @ Hawks 7:30, Game 6 Jazz @ Clippers 10:00

Saturday: Game 7 Bucks @ Nets 8:30

Sunday: Both if necessary – Game 7 Clippers @ Jazz 3:30, Hawks @ Sixers 8:00