NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Green drama least of Warriors’ concerns as Game 4 nears — The Golden State Warriors dodged a major bullet yesterday when they found out that All-Star forward Draymond Green would not be suspended for the kick he delivered to the groin of Oklahoma City Thunder Steven Adams in Game 3. All that remains now is simple — avoid their first two-game losing streak in 95 games (playoffs and regular season) in Game 4 tonight (9 ET, TNT). The San Jose Mercury News‘ Tim Kawakami has more on the vast challenge staring the Warriors in their collective faces:
Draymond Green will play Tuesday, get booed with an enthusiasm previously unknown to mankind, and somewhere in there the Warriors will try to save their season, too.
That is just about as much noise, emotion and drama as any two teams could bear, and it’s all packed into Game 4 at Chesapeake Arena.
Will somebody break under this titanic pressure? Can the Warriors use all this nervous energy to spin this series around?
Will Stephen Curry rise above everything and pluck the Warriors from danger precisely when it is most necessary?
How are they going to deal with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and an Oklahoma City group that keeps playing better and better?
“They’re a real good team,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said Monday of the Thunder.
“I think we’re facing a different animal as far as KD and Westbrook.”
What can the Warriors do? Well, in the Cleveland series, Kerr put super-sub Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for center Andrew Bogut in Game 4 and the small-ball Warriors proceeded to run the Cavaliers off the court the next three games.
I would expect that Iguodala, at the very least, will play a larger and larger role (and Harrison Barnes possibly a smaller one) as the series moves along, and Kerr wouldn’t comment when I asked if he might start Iguodala again.
But the Warriors’ “Death Lineup” was demolished by various Thunder units in Game 3, so it will take more than just a lineup switch for the Warriors.
It will take Green bouncing back from his horrible Game 3; if anybody can absorb the rage of 18,000 fans and use it as fuel, it’s Green, but this is now at an emotional apex.
It will take Klay Thompson and Livingston feeling steadier with the ball and calmer on defense.
It will take Kerr and his staff coming up with a few tweaks that help the Warriors find their offensive rhythm and make it tougher on Durant and Westbrook — without anything backfiring on the Warriors.
But mostly, I think it will take Curry, the league’s first unanimous MVP, to play like he deserved every one of those votes and more.
On Monday, a day after looking particularly off-rhythm shooting in Game 3, Curry had that serene look I’ve seen a few times before, usually right before something large is about to happen.
Curry doesn’t want to try to do too much, which was part of the problem Sunday; but he also realizes that the entire team looks to him in the toughest moments.
“Somebody’s just got to take control of the situation,” Curry said of the Game 3 unraveling. “I think individually we’re so competitive in that moment that we wanted to do something about it, we didn’t allow ourselves to work together.
“We make tough shots all the time; we might be talking about this had a couple of them gone in.”
No. 2: Beal expecting max deal this summer — Before the 2015-16 season got rolling, the Washington Wizards opted not to give shooting guard Bradley Beal a contract extension. Beal’s season was hardly a memorable one as injuries limited him to a career-low 55 games as the Wizards fell apart and missed the postseason. Beal will be a restricted free agent this summer and while he’s had some bright moments in D.C., the consensus on whether or not he deserves a maximum contract is up for grabs among many NBA analysts. To Beal, though, there’s no question he deserves that max deal and if he can’t get it in Washington, he may look elsewhere for it. The Washington Post‘s Jorge Castillo has more:
Talk to a Washington Wizards executive about the franchise’s future and Bradley Beal is included as a foundational piece alongside John Wall in the back court. The assumption is Beal and Wall will have at least a few more years to grow together and help propel the Wizards to heights not reached since the Carter administration.
Yet Beal’s inclusion is not a foregone conclusion. Beal is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the NBA’s 29 other teams can offer him a contract once free agency starts on July 1 and the Wizards would have 72 hours to match. Beal reiterated he wants to stay in Washington in a telephone interview from Tokyo last week, but at the right price. That price is a maximum contract.
“I want to be valued the right way,” Beal, 22, said from Japan, where he visited as part of a promotional tour for the NBA and attended a playoff viewing party with fans. “I feel like I’m a max player and that’s what I’m looking for. If Washington can’t meet that requirement then I may be thinking elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that they probably won’t [let me go]. At the end of the day, that’s where I want to be. I think a deal will probably get done but you just never know.”
The exact amount for a maximum contract for Beal will depend on the league’s salary cap next season. Initial projections pegged the figure at $90 million – a $20 million jump from last season — but league executives have been using $92 million as the number and it could increase even further. As a four-year veteran, Beal could earn up to 25 percent of the cap. If the cap is $92 million then a max deal would pay him $23 million next season.
The Wizards have two factors going in their favor: They’re the only team that can sign Beal to a five-year deal (other teams can only go up to four years) and they can exceed the salary cap to retain him because they own his Bird Rights, which allow teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents, provided they have been with the club for at least three years.
But Beal’s injury-plagued season complicates matters. He played a career-low 55 games and was hindered by another stress injury to his right fibula, his fourth in four professional campaigns.
“I hear about it all time, but that doesn’t define me as a player,” Beal said. “That won’t stop me from growing as a player and it won’t stop me from being who I am. The injury thing, that’s behind me. I’m moving forward. I’m past it. I’m focused on my career from here on out. Hell, Steph Curry was hurt his first four years. Look at him now. John [Wall] was hurt his first three or four years. Look at him now. I’m not worried about it. People are going to say what they want to say. At the end of the day, it’s not going to affect me or the money.”
If Beal does return to the Wizards, he’ll have a new coach in Scott Brooks, who replaced Randy Wittman. Despite Beal’s contract status, the two met for lunch in Los Angeles recently.
“It was a good move. In some ways he’s similar to Witt,” said Beal, who was not consulted during the coaching search. “He allows his players a lot of freedom on the offensive end but he’s a defensive-minded coach. I got to pick his mind a bit and he’s great. I got a great feel for him. He’s really a player’s coach. He loves to be hands-on. He loves to develop guys and get his guys better.
“On top of that, he’s a proven coach. He’s shown that he can win and he’s shown that he can get his players to the finals. That’s exciting. It’s great to be in a situation to have a coach with that experience. He’s been there before. We’ve been in the playoffs, too. So put those two together and hopefully we make something work.”
“I want to be” in Washington,” Beal said. “I do. It just comes down to July 1st. I want to think about it a little bit, but this has been home for me. It’s great to have our core back and a new coach. So things are changing. It’s just up to me and the front office to get it done.”
No. 3: Love expects to be OK for Game 5 — Kevin Love is one player on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster who is surely glad to be headed back to Ohio for Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals. Love amassed just 23 points on 5-for-23 shooting as Cleveland lost both of its road games to the Toronto Raptors in the series. Adding insult to that is an injury, albeit a minor one, that Love suffered in the waning moments of the third quarter of Game 4 last night. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has more on Love’s injury and his status for Game 5:
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said he hurt himself when he stepped on a referee’s foot near the end of the third quarter, before he sat out the fourth quarter for the second straight game Monday in a Game 4 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Love, who struggled in both losses in Toronto, missed 10 of 14 shots and had only 10 points as the Raptors held off Cleveland 105-99 on Monday night to even the series at 2-2. Love said his knee injury will not prevent him from playing in Game 5 on Wednesday.
“I think Kyrie [Irving] was shooting towards the end of the third quarter, and I stepped on the official’s foot, and it didn’t feel too great,” said Love, who had a total of 13 points and 11 rebounds in Games 3 and 4. “More so the knee [than the ankle hurting]. Will be sore tomorrow, but nothing that will prevent me from playing.”
Asked about Love limping at the end of the third quarter, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, “I’m not sure of his health. But it’s no concern. I thought Channing [Frye] came in and gave us a great lift.
“And like I said, like last game, to just try to put Kevin back in with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter in a hostile game, hostile environment, it’s not fair to him.”
Love said he was ready to return if needed in the fourth quarter Monday night.
“I had a lot of great shots, I just didn’t knock them down,” Love said. “It’s as simple as that. I had a lot of confidence in shooting the ball, a lot of really wide-open 3s, especially to start that first quarter. A number of them went in and out, so I just need to continue to stay aggressive.”
Love also was rejected by Bismack Biyombo on a driving dunk attempt.
“I don’t think I’ve been to the foul line in both games,” said Love, who had 13 free throw attempts in the first two games of the series in Cleveland. “That’s something that I just need to keep telling myself and feel good.”
No. 4: Valanciunas willing to help when needed — Hours before their eventual win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Toronto Raptors got some good news: center Jonas Valanciunas was cleared to play. The big man severely injured his ankle in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat and hadn’t played since. Although Valanciunas ended up registering a DNP-CD in Game 4, he spoke with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun before Game 4 and says he’s willing to chip in wherever he can:
After 16 days of rest and rehabilitation following a badly sprained ankle, Jonas Valanciunas was activated for Monday’s pivotal Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It has been a whirlwind few days for the 7-foot centre. He went from out, to doubtful, to questionable, before passing a pre-game workout test in the Raptors old practice gym at the Air Canada Centre.
“I ran, shot, jumping, I did everything,” Valanciunas told a few of us inside the Raptors locker room prior to the game.
“We practised yesterday I was doing the same stuff as I did today as yesterday, I felt great, I felt comfortable, ready to go.”
On the weekend, he was seen walking regularly, without a limp, for the first time in weeks.
Backup Bismack Biyombo was outstanding in Game 3 and has had his moments since Valanciunas went down and likely would remain the starter for at least the time being, coming off a franchise-record 26-rebound effort.
Valanciunas did not play in the first three quarters as the Cavs stayed small, and said earlier he didn’t care about coming off the bench, because he didn’t want to disrupt the team.
“It’s important. The team is playing great and I want to help. I want to be a part of the good basketball we play,” he said.
“I’m going to try to be active try to do things on the boards to help the team win.”
Valanciunas has started all but six of his appearances as a Raptor. He came off the bench last December against Chicago and did it five times in his rookie season.
“They have a rhythm. I don’t want to break rhythm, they played great last game so I think they know what they’re doing now and they’re going slowly, build ing and give a time for Bis to rest. It’s my goal now, to be helper,” Valanciunas said.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Go small? Go big? For the Oklahoma City Thunder, it hasn’t mattered in the playoffs. They’re winning either way … Quite simply, Kyle Lowry has put the Toronto Raptors on his back the last few games of the Eastern Conference finals … Breaking down that play down the stretch of Game 4 that the Raptors had so much trouble stopping … Can Festus Ezeli be the Golden State Warriors’ Steven Adams in Game 4? … New Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel sees a lot of his old Pacers teams in this new squad he’s inherited … How Rudy Gobert‘s pre-draft workout in Salt Lake City wowed Utah Jazz officials back in the day … Former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett is expected to be one of the many faces at the Brooklyn Nets upcoming minicamp … Toronto Raptors fans just can’t get enough of big man Bismack Biyomobo …