NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Green’s to-do list for Game 6 is simple — Yesterday, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green made his first comments since being suspended for Game 5 of The Finals. He minced no words about how sorry he was for drawing a suspension and hurting his team in the process, going as far as to say “I have a strong belief that if I play in Game 5, we win.” That didn’t happen and as Game 6 nears (9 p.m. ET, ABC), Green has to keep his emotions in check — and do some other things — if Golden State is to celebrate the anniversary of last season’s title with another one, writes Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group:
Wednesday, Green’s focus was far away from the flagrant foul points, any discussion about the validity of the suspension, or the back-and-forth with LeBron James and himself. His heart and mind seemed to be set on Game 6, the Warriors’ second chance to clinch an NBA title. That’s how he makes this all truly go away.
How does Green make amends? The path is multifaceted. It begins with utmost composure.
The most important thing Green can do Thursday is avoid a flagrant foul. No matter what happens, he will need to be on the floor if Game 7 is necessary in these NBA Finals. That means if the Warriors are having a rough time and things are getting away from them, as has been the case on the road in these playoffs, Green can’t do anything out of frustration.
No flailing. No retaliations. No hard fouls. Any behavior that might possibly be construed as flagrant should be staunchly avoided. He will have to swallow his pride. If James steps over him, if Matthew Dellavedova dives at his knees, if someone from the Cavaliers hits him in the crotch — which would certainly make fans in Oklahoma City and Cleveland tip a cap to karma — Green cannot respond.
Especially with Andrew Bogut out for six to eight weeks with a left knee injury, Green absolutely must make sure he is available for Game 7 if the Warriors need it.
“It was brutal, man,” Green said. “It was one of the weirdest days ever for me. … My emotions were all over the place. At times, I was excited. At times, I was frustrated. At times, I was down. It was just all over the place, an emotional roller coaster that day.”
If missing Game 5 was torturous, imagine Green missing a do-or-die finale to the Finals. He watched the last Warriors game from an A’s suite with friend Marshawn Lynch and general manager Bob Myers by his side. If he misses another game, they will need Lynch there as muscle for the intervention.
But if Green plays his best, there is a good chance the Warriors won’t need a Game 7. In addition to composure, part of his amends would be anchoring the Warriors defense.
Coach Steve Kerr will have little choice but to play Green extended minutes at center. Unless Festus Ezeli is having one of his good nights, which hasn’t happened often in these playoffs, the Warriors don’t have another option.
Kerr has gone to Anderson Varejao and James Michael McAdoo, desperately searching for some big man help. Marreese Speights has hurt the defense when he has been in, limiting his stints on the floor.
After the offensive explosion from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Game 5, the Warriors have to be on point defensively. And that means Green being on point.
We’ve seen how he can dominate a game on that end of the court, especially when he’s bouncing back.
No. 2: Bulls’ Gasol remains unsure about participating in 2016 Olympics — Just two weeks ago, Chicago Bulls standout forward Pau Gasol made it clear concerns over the Zika virus in Brazil have him iffy at best about playing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The native of Spain continues to weigh whether or not he’ll take part in the Games and in an interview with AS.com, Gasol further elaborated his stance:
Pau Gasol was in Barcelona today for the presentation of his summer campusand faced the inevitable question about whether he will be taking part with Spain’s basketball team at August’s Olympic Games in Rio.
The Catalan power forward was unclear about his participation, telling reporters, “I can’t confirm or deny that I will be at the Games” but added that he hoped to be able to make a firm decision “before Spain’s Olympic team is selected”. Gasol admitted that is major concern is the zika virus: “The worries haven’t disappeared and that’s because the risks are real. It’s a big worry. A number of sportsmen and women have already decided not to go the Games because, however small the risks might be, they are still there. The situation is serious”.
Gasol went on to say that he is happy that by voicing his concerns about Zika in public “has helped so that we can talk openly about the matter”. He continued: “Every day something new comes out, advances, a more in-depth analysis. A lot of sportsmen are in their most fertile stage of their lives and so it’s something which requires a great deal of thought. There are no guarantees. It’s not something which should be taken lightly – in Brazil a million and a half have been affected [by Zika]”.
The Chicago Bulls player says he is contemplating freezing his sperm as a precautionary measure if he does finally decide to go to the Gameslike other sportsmen such as Great Britain long jumper Greg Rutherford. Gasol says he would also be open to authorities postponing the Olympics until a later date when the Zika threat dies down.
No. 3: Report: Cavs’ Smith to opt out, test free agency — During the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run of dominance since LeBron James‘ return to Ohio in 2014, no player on the Cavs has made more 3-pointers than J.R. Smith. His 335 3-pointers over the last two seasons is a particularly solid number considering he was acquired in late 2014 and took some time to get acclimated to the offense and such. Smith, like James, can opt out of his contract this summer and see what his skills draw on the open market and that is precisely what he’ll do in a few weeks, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith will not pick up his player option and will become a free agent on July 1, sources told ESPN.com.
Smith has until midnight Thursday to pick up the option for $5.3 million for next season. As has been expected for months, Smith will let it pass and test the market.
Had Smith elected to opt in, his salary for next season was only partially guaranteed.
Cleveland.com first reported Smith elected to test free agency.
No. 4: Okafor learning from rookie season, works on comeback — From a pure statistics standpoint, Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor had a solid season, averaging 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 assists. From a wins-and-losses standpoint, his numbers didn’t do much to alter the course of the Sixers’ trajectory as they finished an NBA-worst 10-72. Okafor was lost for the season in early March to a meniscus tear in his right knee and has been working his way back from that injury. BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy talked with Okafor about his season, his rehab and more in a lengthy interview:
“I think I learned a ton – about myself, about the NBA and just how everything works,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “I think I continue to learn every day, but I definitely learned a lot throughout this year.
“Now, I’m just focused on rehabbing. I had the surgery on my knee about 12 weeks ago and the physicians have basically just told me take my time and take it slow. My knee feels really good, but the people in my circle and the Sixers are just trying to make sure that I don’t try to rush back. I’m confident though because my knee feels good.”
Not so fun was the slew of criticism that Okafor faced throughout the year. Some understandably stemmed from his off-court actions and he certainly can’t let hecklers or instigators get under his skin and give them the reaction they so desperately want. Even though Okafor turned only 20 years old in December, he is the face of a franchise and must carry himself that way. With that said, a lot of the criticism seemed to be in reaction to the Sixers’ record (which doesn’t fall solely on Okafor, by any means) or based on how his fellow rookies were performing. But those kind of doubters come with being an up-and-coming player in the NBA, which is something he is learning.
“As I’m watching these playoffs, I’m just realizing that winning cures everything,” Okafor said. “Obviously, we lost a lot, so with that being said, I’m going to be criticized a lot. But, look, I watched Golden State lose a few games and I saw some fans and reporters criticizing Steph Curry. LeBron James loses and then he gets criticized a lot. When you lose, you get criticized. And I’m obviously nowhere near as good as those guys, so I wouldn’t expect any less criticism for me.”
The first thing that the aforementioned critics typically bring up about Okafor is his defense. For some time, that has been the knock on Jahlil’s game and understandably so since it’s his biggest weakness. He has always been a terrific offensive player who is skilled beyond his years when it comes to post moves and footwork, but he didn’t defend at a high level. At Duke, the coaching staff had him carry so much of the offensive load that he wasn’t asked to do very much on the other end (to conserve his energy), so they built a strong defense around him.
Now, he is being asked to do much more defensively and must step up to the challenge. He knows this, but also believes he made strides on the defensive end throughout his rookie campaign.
“I think I’ve learned a lot; I’m getting used to defending NBA big men,” Okafor said. “I’m getting used to defending the pick-and-roll when you’re playing against a really good point guard and a really good big man. The coaches have told me that they’re happy with the way that I’m developing and I am as well.”
Next year, it may be tougher for defenders to double-team him since the team will add reinforcements in the coming months. New general manager Bryan Colangelo is hoping to accelerate the rebuilding process, which means the Sixers could be active in free agency. Philly also has the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and may get recent lottery picks Joel Embiid and Dario Saric on the floor for the first time.
“It’s very exciting,” Okafor said of the Sixers landing the top pick. “Luckily, I’m not the GM; I wouldn’t want to be the one making the decision between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram because they’re both exceptionally talented players. You can’t go wrong either way. I’m glad I’m not deciding who to pick. I’ve obviously seen what both players did in college and either way, I’m excited to add whoever we end up choosing.”
As far as Embiid’s progress goes, Okafor believes he’ll be ready to play next year.
“He looks hungry and motivated,” Okafor said of Embiid. “He’s obviously been criticized for some stuff that happened to him that he can’t control. I don’t like the criticism. But I see that he’s working extremely hard and, as far as I can tell, he’s ready to play next season.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Richard Jefferson argued as to why Cavs fans shouldn’t boo Draymond Green in Game 6 … The NBA may want to have another All-Star weekend in Miami soon … These NBA Finals could be the longest they’ve been in 32 years if they reach a Game 7 … The Portland Trail Blazers will have new voices on their broadcasts next season … Indiana Pacers star Paul George got a new puppy and named it after Kobe Bryant … A massive mural of Steven Adams was recently unveiled in Oklahoma City …