Posts Tagged ‘2015 NBA playoffs’

The Finals Live Blog Game 5

OAKLAND — The biggest game of the season.

That’s what Game 5 is to both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and not just because it’s the next game in these NBA Finals.

It’s the biggest because when it’s over the winner will be a mere four quarters from being able to finish this thing and claim that Larry O’Brien Trophy, feed a championship-starved fan base and etch their names in NBA lore among the other championship teams that preceded them.

Games like these come with the pressure that shows the true character of the men involved. We’ll find out if Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Brothers, are truly ready for prime time? If LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers just needed a little rest to continue engineering one of the all-time great upsets in NBA and sports history (they are a robust 15-0 this season on exactly two days of rest)?

Fifteen just happens to be the magic number tonight.

The Warriors are undefeated this season (a staggering 57-0) when they get a 15-point lead in a game.

#15isthemagicnumber

And they’ve got karma in the house thanks to the Barrys (Rick and Brent “Bones” Barry, one of just three father-son combinations to have won NBA championships joining the Walton and Goukas clans as the only duos to accomplish that feat).

Lineup changes and defensive tweaks are fine. And they worked well for the Warriors in Game 4. Now it’s the Cavaliers’ turn to throw a wrinkle or two into the mix.

LeBron said there will be no lineup change. An extension of the rotation from seven players to say eight or nine, however, seems to be a must. Mike Miller and Shawn Marion need to be on high-alert tonight. But really, guys like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are the ones who need to step up for the Cavs.

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Shump in the corner, getting ready for Game 5.

A post shared by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

Someone is due for a breakout effort tonight, either the Splash Brothers or Smith and Shumpert (they get a nickname if and after they have that breakout game).

Game 5 is the time someone needs to get it done. Because it’s all on the line tonight, right here at Oracle Arena. Winner takes the commanding 3-2 advantage and the chance to finish this series off Tuesday in Cleveland ….

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#15isthemagicnumber

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He whose name should not be spoken … at least until he starts playing better!

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Same starting five as Game 4. No need to fix it if in ain’t broken.

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If you go strictly by the numbers …

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Ugh!

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Brutal start for both teams. Turnovers, bricks, turnovers, etc.

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Warriors pick it up. Cavaliers keep turning it over.

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Why wait?

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Good Draymond vs Good JR

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Well, until JR flattened Draymond and picked up a Flagrant 1

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LeBron playing all five positions. Biggest Cavs player on the floor and running the point. Cavs 17, GSW 16 #unreal

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Still waiting on that Splash Brothers reunion …

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MVP stuff

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I believe the proper term is #BeastMode

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Warriors better pick up the pace because JR is hot!

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Swish

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Don’t know how easy they are, but he is getting whatever he wants, whenever he wants and wherever he wants it.

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Delly with a dive, draws Draymond’s second foul

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Meanwhile, LeBron is in #BeastMode

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Best way for LeBron to keep JR engaged?

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Dirtyvedova … hmmmm!

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Bogut with the assist.

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Two full days of rest = #BeastMode

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Eyes in the back of his head.

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Common foul indeed.

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Harrison Barnes goes up big late and LeBron goes on the poster. Warriors rally for the 51-50 lead at the break.

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It doesn’t matter what language you use, it’s called Ballin’

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Lots of basketball to be played Sir. But it is something worth pondering.

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Small Ball is the name of the game right now.

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I want mine. Strawberry Banana #JambaJuice

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Steph cannot get loose. Simply nowhere for him to go with the Cavs cutting off all angles.

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Stripes messing with us tonight. Don’t let the whistles get in the way.

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Looming large!

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What do you do with a two-day wait for Game 5? Apparently a few people went to the movies.

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Pretty good company …

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Welcome to the new NBA … No Bigs Allowed!

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Down to the wire …

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No LeBron, No business!

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And then there’s that …

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Anything Kerr can AI can do better.

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Mozgov’d again?

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You never say that word!

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The MVP back and forth is breathtaking to watch. Klay and JR can get it on the fun, too.

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Your turn JR …

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LeBron is so preposterously good at this game of basketball. Does it all.

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Coaching shots fired?

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Finals MVP if the Warriors win?

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Extremely inaccurate!

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#StephBack MVP … Delly had no chance.

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Love from Down Under even

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LeBron with another 3 from the Oakland Hills. Wow!

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#BeastMode

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#StrengthInNumbers

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Told you, #15isthemagicnumber

Warriors biggest lead … 15!

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LeBron was unreal. Unreal. But the MVP gets the win.

LeBron wants J.R. Smith to keep his head up — and to keep shooting

VIDEO: Cavaliers star LeBron James speaks at Saturday’s media session.

OAKLAND – Steve Kerr lied to the media Thursday night to hide a strategic adjustment for Game 4 of the 2015 Finals until the last possible minute, hoping the element of surprise would boost its impact.

LeBron James may have done the same thing Saturday afternoon before Cleveland’s practice to demonstrate his confidence in a teammate as the Cavaliers head into Game 5 Sunday.

James has to be hoping his fudging of the truth for ulterior motives produces for Cleveland the same type of results Kerr’s generated for Golden State the other night.

Told that J.R. Smith, the Cavs’ designated shooter off the bench, was still in self-deprecation mode Saturday about his poor shooting in Finals play, James responded with an answer that was supportive, encouraging and a little bit imploring of the streaky reserve guard.

For effect, James even said “He can miss a hundred shots,” as a way to show how much faith he has in Smith. Which, of course, would mean both an NBA record for Smith and certain doom for Cleveland.

Smith, who referred to his play as “horse [bleep]” after an 0-for-8 struggle from 3-point range in Game 4, referred to it again Saturday when he said: “I’m ready to play. It’s one game, so the best part about it, I can’t play no worse.”

Even at his current rate – Smith is shooting 29.8 percent (14 of 47) in the Finals, including 25 percent (7 of 28) on three pointers and averaging just nine points – that’s not technically true. And it’s the wrong outlook, James felt, for a guy whose value to the injury-thinned Cavaliers roster has gone up this postseason.

Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, their team simply doesn’t have much offensive firepower besides James. But Smith, at his best, can provide that; he averaged 18.0 points on 50 percent shooting in the four-game sweep of Atlanta in the Eastern Conference finals. He hit 16 of his 34 3-pointers in that series (47.1 percent) and had a playoff career-high in the opener.

That past success and his track record are what Smith should be focusing on, James said, not his struggles of the moment.

“I don’t care how many shots he missed,” the Cavaliers star said. “I don’t want his head to be down like it was in Game 4. It’s a make-or-miss league. J.R. practices enough. We all are all professional athletes and we practice on our craft. But you can never allow someone either from the media or from the fans, from the opposition, from your family to ever see that you’re down about what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter. He has to stay confident.”

Here’s where James opted, if not to lie, then let’s say to deploy some big-time hyperbole.

“He can miss a hundred shots,” he said. “If they’re great looks, they’re drive‑and‑kicks, you shoot them with confidence. If he’s feeling confident about his ability, then I’m confident about it. But as a competitor, once you lose confidence in yourself, then it’s really not much coming back from that. So if he’s confident in himself, he’ll be fine.”

Some folks seeking a barometer in this series have suggested that it’s James, who dipped from his 41.0 points average through the first three outings to 20 points in Game 4. But they neglect that he had his biggest output in Game 1, scoring 44 in Cleveland’s loss at Oracle Arena to start this thing.

Even James’ 20 points in Game 4 might not have been too few, since his cohorts on the Cavs’ front line – Tristan Thompson (12) and Timofey Mozgov (28) – had a big scoring night. Taken together, James-Thompson-Mozgov have scored 62 (Game 1) and 60 (Game 45) in the Cavs’ two losses, 58 (Game 2) and 56 (Game 3) in the victories.

The backcourt has been up and down – 29, 16, 23 and 15 points. But Smith’s impact is easily discerned: He scored 13 and 10 in the two victories, just nine and four in the defeats. So Smith doesn’t need to take 100 shots, he just has to hit enough of them to score in double digits to give Cleveland a better chance.

Rough nights, different reasons, for centers Mozgov, Bogut in Game 4

It was hard to know which of the two starting centers in the 2015 Finals, Golden State’s Andrew Bogut or Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov, had a rougher night Thursday in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Bogut certainly qualified because he wound up as the Warriors’ not-starting center when coach Steve Kerr opted to “go small” to put more spacing and pace in his team’s offense. Bogut, the veteran 7-footer who had been touted all season as an indispensable defender in the paint and a gifted passer and screener in Golden State’s attack, wound up playing in his team’s 103-82 victory for just 2:46.

Even Kendrick Perkins, the Cavaliers’ deep-reserve big, played more than that Thursday.

This came on the heels of a Game 3 performance in which Bogut played only 17:07. His time has diminished with each game and he’s chipping in only 2.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game after averaging 6.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 23.6 mpg in the regular season. Bogut had called himself out, in fact, prior to Game 4 for not doing enough to help.

“I need to play better,” Bogut had said. “There is no excuse for it. To say you’re tired, injuries, Finals, minutes, there’s no excuse for it. Just be aggressive and hopefully have a good game.”

Adding insult to inactivity. Bogut took heat from some precincts for his post-Game 4 comments stating that LeBron James jumped into the baseline cameraman on the play in which the Cavs star suffered a gash on his head. The Australian center fouled James under the basket and his sprawl into the area behind the basket where photographers sit drove his head right into an NBA Entertainment camera lens.

“Yeah, I think he came down and took two steps and then fell into the cameraman,” Bogut said. “I definitely, definitely didn’t hit him that hard.”

Ordinarily Mozgov might figure to be the reason for Bogut’s struggles. The 7-foot-1 Russian had gotten the better of their clashes early in the series. But with Bogut yielding to Andre Iguodala in Kerr’s reconfigured lineup, Mozgov had a career night – 28 points, 10 rebounds.

Mozgov couldn’t fully enjoy it, though, beyond the Cleveland defeat. He felt his points were due, at least in part, to Bogut’s absence and a sense that the Warriors were conceding some things to him and Tristan Thompson to better hold down James and others. Also, Mozgov got visibily frustrated having to defend, or chase anyway, Iguodala and other wing far from his comfort zone.

“I always want to stay in the paint and protect the paint,” Mozgov said. “They tried the stretch defense, whatever they’re doing. We’ve got three more games and we all have to learn something from this game.”

Said James: “When your big is accustomed to guarding a big for three straight games and there is a change, now our big, meaning Timo, has to make a change. He has to guard a smaller guy, which he’s not been accustomed to ever.”

LeBron proud of Cavs’ playoff newbies


VIDEO: James addresses media before Thursday’s Game 4

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – There are times, LeBron James acknowledged Thursday, when he forgets just who it is he’s working with in these 2015 NBA Finals.

During a heated moment on the court or maybe in a timeout huddle, James’ muscle memory built from six trips to the Finals and 175 playoff appearances kicks in and he starts pushing hard. Then he remembers how raw his teammates are, by comparison, on the NBA’s biggest stage.

James’ two more important teammates through the first three games, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, will be playing in the 18th postseason games of their young careers, all this spring. Among Cleveland’s other starters, Timofey Mozgov has 24 games under his belt already and Iman Shumpert was sitting on 30 as the Cavaliers prepared to face the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

That doesn’t even account for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, playoff newbies whose playoff tickers stopped at 13 and four games, respectively, due to their season-snuffing injuries.

“They’ve done a great job,” James said after the Cavaliers’ shootaround session at their practice facility. “We’ve had some bumps along the way. We’ve had some bruises along the way. And obviously we know what the bruises are. We’ve had quite a few learning experiences. We had a learning experience last game where we didn’t quite close out the game like we should have.

“At the same time, I expect so much out of our group. [Tuesday was] our 17th playoff game together. I expect so much out of us, and then I look back at it and say, ‘This is our first time being in that situation. I shouldn’t be so hard on ’em.’ But we learn from it. We watched the film yesterday, we learned from it, we know how to approach it the next time.”

The Warriors aren’t exactly salty old playoff veterans – four of their starters had played in 37 games prior to Thursday, while Andrew Bogut was at 35, owing to some injuries and lost years in Milwaukee.

Much of the talk out of Golden State’s camp between Games 3 and 4 focused on change, both in strategy and in intensity. There was a sense the Warriors felt they hadn’t imposed their style, their will and their emotions on the Finals through three games.

James, though, didn’t sound interested in what the Cavaliers’ opponents might or might not change.

“We’re going to play our game,” he said. “For us, it’s not what they do, it’s how we approach the game. We know they’re gonna come in, understand probably for them, feeling like it’s a must-win. But for us, we just go and play our game. We have nothing to lose. We’re undermanned, we’re outmatched. We just go out and play hard, we live with the results.”

Cavaliers’ Dellavedova, Shumpert get green light for Game 4


VIDEO: Dellavedova says he feels like he’s ‘pushed the limit a few times’

CLEVELAND – Matthew Dellavedova made his first public appearance Wednesday with a paper cup in each hand, filled either with the beverage touted on the cups’ exteriors – Gatorade – or some other liquid to help keep him hydrated, a particular problem Tuesday night.

The balancing act kept him from diving to the floor or crashing through anybody as he stepped up to greet the media, just another podium game for the unlikely candidate from Down Under.

Dellavedova, the Cleveland backup point guard thrust into a starter’s role after Kyrie Irving’s knee fracture in Game 1, was taken by ambulance to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment of severe cramping after Game 3 on Tuesday. The 24-year-old Australian had scored 20 points and logged 38 minutes – almost double his 20.6 mpg during the regular season – while hurling himself about the court (and its perimeter) in his feisty, even way.

It helped earn the Cavaliers a 2-1 edge in the series, but it earned Dellavedova an intravenous feed to replenish his fluids. The good news for Cleveland is that Dellavedova joined his teammates at Quicken Loans Arena and said he was fine to play in Game 4 Thursday.

Ditto for Cavs guard Iman Shumpert, who hurt his left shoulder running into a Draymond Green screen in the first quarter Tuesday and left the court in the first quarter. Shumpert turned to play another 24 minutes over the final three quarters and said he would be available in Game 4.

“Good news on Shump’s shoulder,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “He had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging exam), he was examined and evaluated by our medical staff. He has a bruised shoulder and it’s painful, but fortunately no serious damage, and that’s really, really good news.

“Delly, obviously, suffered from some fatigue. I don’t know whether to call it dehydration or something else, but the tank was low, and we’re doing everything we can to fill it back up. That’s the best way I could describe it for you.”

Shumpert admitted that, had he taken the same hit in a regular season game, he might not have come back as a precaution (he dislocated that same shoulder early in the season). But the defensive-minded guard said, “This is The Finals.”

Dellavedova didn’t suffer his cramping until the end of the game. The hospital stay was a precaution, too, but nothing that will get in the way of his next spirited performance.

“I was there for a little bit, but mainly just to rest up and recover,” he said. “We all take it pretty easy today just to get our treatment, and we’ve watched tape and things like that. So, yeah, I’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

Said Blatt of the player who has the same gearbox as a Tasmanian devil: “I told him I was going to limit his minutes, and he said, ‘No, you’re not.’ Look, we’ve got to be realistic and keep our eyes on him and see how he recovers. He emptied the tank last night. Hopefully in the ensuing 48 hours he’s going to be able to catch up and to get back up to par, so to speak, in terms of his body. But he’ll be out there, and we’ll just monitor how he’s doing.”

Right & Wrong: Warriors come out and play in Game 1


VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It was a game that had more rights than wrongs, at least until overtime. But after Cleveland and Golden State ended regulation tied at 98, in the bonus time, everything went wrong for Cleveland, who were outscored 10-2 as Golden State cruised to a Game 1 victory. LeBron James showed why he’s still the king, but the best player eventually fell at the hands of the best team, 108-100.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 1.

Right: Playing in Oakland before one of the loudest crowds in the league, Cleveland got off to perhaps the best possible start, jumping ahead to a 29-15 lead. Meanwhile, the Warriors couldn’t get a bucket, beginning 3-for-15 from the floor, as the Cavs harassed them defensively. That kind of performance from the Cavs over 48 minutes (or 53) is likely untenable, but they’ll need more stretches like that in order to compete with Golden State’s breathtaking offensive runs.

Wrong: We don’t know the extent of the injury, obviously, but if Cleveland is without Kyrie Irving for any extended period of time going forward, it could be a death knell for the Cavaliers’ chances in these Finals. Irving, who missed extensive time in the Eastern Conference finals dealing with left knee tendinitis, logged 43 minutes in Game 1 of The Finals, and posted 23 points, six assists and seven rebounds. His biggest play may have been on the defensive end, when Irving made a chase-down block against Stephen Curry with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, preserving the tie. With 2 minutes remaining in overtime, Irving re-injured his left leg and left the court in obvious pain.

Right: Golden State’s depth was huge during their 67-win regular season. And after a slow start in Game 1 of The Finals, the Warriors got a jump-start from their bench. Marreese Speights returned from injury to score six quick points, and Andre Iguodala picked up the task of defending LeBron James. Of course, James was terrific, finishing with 44 points, eight boards and six assists, but he made just 1 of his last 6 shots, with Iguodala hounding him on every possession.

Wrong: Cleveland used a short bench, only playing J.R. Smith, James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova. That can work in the postseason, when teams have a few days off between games. But tonight those three combined for nine points, all from Smith, who shot 3-for-13. Jones, a great 3-point shooter, played 17 minutes and only attempted one shot. If the Cavs are going to make a run at the Warriors, their only production can’t come from just James and Irving.

Right: Golden State coach Steve Kerr may be in his first campaign as a head coach, but he made multiple moves that worked out in his favor. And perhaps no decision was bigger (figuratively) than going small in overtime. After Cleveland turned to a “big” lineup with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov playing together, Kerr countered by going small, using Draymond Green at center with Harrison Barnes and Iguodala as forwards. It gave the Warriors a jump-start, and helped their offense click into place in the overtime session.

Wrong: Cleveland has had an advantage on the boards throughout the postseason, with Thompson, Mozgov and James controlling the paint. And while those three continued their work — particularly Thompson, who finished with 15 rebounds — the Warriors put in work on the boards and finished with 56 rebounds, the same as Cleveland. Golden State used a team approach, as ten members of the Warriors each had at least three rebounds.

Next labor deal without work stoppage? Silver, Roberts share hope, at least


VIDEO: Adam Silver news conference

OAKLAND – Maybe it was only some California dreamin’, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver agreed Thursday with the head of the NBA players union that the next league’s collective bargaining agreement might be negotiated without the usual rancor or threat of a lockout.

“Yeah, I hope there is an opportunity for that,” Silver said during his traditional pre-Finals news conference held each year before Game 1. “Certainly we’ve had discussions [with] the players association about getting together as early as this summer to begin talking about how both sides the collective bargaining agreement is working [and] if there were to be changes, what changes we’d like to see made.”

The current CBA, a 10-year deal hammered out during a lockout that reduced the 2011-12 season to 66 games, can be re-opened by either side after the 2016-17 season. That has seemed a certainty almost from the start, with many players feeling the give-backs in the deal were too great, essentially reducing the players’ share of revenues from 57 percent to about 50. Meanwhile, the owners have issues of their own, such as the flood of increased TV rights fees that could swell the salary cap from $67 million per team next season to $90 million one year later.

But earlier this spring, Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), said in an interview with the Boston Globe she was “optimistic that not only a new deal could be reached without another work stoppage but perhaps prior to the current CBA expiration.”

“There’s going to be a deal and my view is let’s get it done,” Roberts was quoted as saying. “[Silver] has said the same to me, so I think the good news is we don’t have the backdrop of poverty. There’s all this money. The game is growing in popularity. Everyone should be singing, ‘Hallelujah.’

“Wouldn’t it be great for everybody … if we could say these were the major issues that we knew we had to deal with and we saw no reason to wait until 2017, so we got them done?”

That outlook might come easier now, with a re-opening two years away and each side focused on what it probably assumes are reasonable demands or concessions the other surely would be happy to make. That could change in 24 months, but for now …

“My feeling is the league is doing incredibly well,” Silver said. “The players are doing really well. Popularity is at an all-time high. So I think it would be very constructive to sit down sooner than later to start talking about, to the extent there should be changes in the collective bargaining agreement, what both sides would like to see.”

The commissioner touched on a variety of other topics during his initial remarks and a Q&A session, including:

  • The scary injuries to Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in back-to-back games brought scrutiny to the league’s concussion protocol because both players returned to play in the games in which they were hurt. But Silver said the protocols worked as intended in both cases. “I’ve had discussions with the players union as to whether there are other ways to do it,” Silver said, “and my response has been, we’re all ears.”
  • There’s no indication the international soccer scandal involving FIFA has anything to do with FIBA, the governing body of international basketball with which the NBA works closely.
  • The new financing proposal for arena construction in Milwaukee is an example of the energy brought by NBA’s recent crop of owners, Silver said. Details still are getting hammered out in what he termed a private-public partnership. Silver said: “I think that team’s going to be in Milwaukee for a long time. And in relatively short time that negotiation will be completed and they’ll be announcing the team is staying with a new arena.”
  • No news on topics such as playoff seedings, revisions to the draft lottery or Hack-a-Shaq strategies, all of which continue to be evaluated for discussion by the Board of Governors this summer.

Kevin Love expects to be back, healthy for Cavs’ (yes, Cavs’) season opener


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks about rehab, returning to Cavs

Kevin Love expects to be playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Opening Night, 2015-16.

There’s the headline out of Love’s session Sunday with reporters after the Cavaliers’ practice at their facility in Independence, Ohio. That means Love, who has been sidelined since Cleveland’s first-round finale against Boston by a dislocated shoulder that required postseason-ending surgery, expects his recovery and rehab to be complete in time for the regular season.

More important, it suggests – as a snapshot of what he’s thinking now or at least what he’s saying about what he’s thinking – that Love will be back by one contractual path or another. Love has a player-option for next season worth approximately $16.7 million, so he could stay by invoking that. Or he could opt-out and sign a new long-term, maximum-salary deal with the Cavs. Or he could opt-out and sign something shorter – say, a two-year deal with another player-option after one – that still would be worth a few million dollars more and provide some back-end security if he needs it.

Again, it’s only a snapshot and could change if any of a dozen or a hundred other moving parts change on Love, the Cavaliers, the NBA’s free-agent marketplace this summer or maybe even global and cosmic events over which none of us has control.

Still, that provides a little bit of calm as Love’s teammates head toward their most important challenge of the season – the Finals, facing the Golden State Warriors in the best-of-seven championship round that begins Thursday – and should cover him from the media throngs who might try to spring loose something click-generating from Love during non-game hours in the Bay Area or in Cleveland. He has been cleared to fly as his left shoulder continues to heal, so Love will accompany the team to California.

A smaller throng was on hand Sunday, with Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal providing the most important nugget:

Asked at Cleveland Clinic Courts if there was any any question in his mind if he’d be back with Cleveland next year, Love said, “No, I truly haven’t even thought about it, but as I mentioned, I expect to be suiting up by Game 1 of next year.”

For the Cavs?

“Yes, sir,” Love said.

Love said he has tuned out the Internet rumors, learning to stay off social media during the season.

That means the Cavs’ injured power forward, missing all but four games in his first taste of the NBA playoffs, also missed tweets such as these that told the story of his chinwag. These should pretty much capture what Love has been up to and how he’s feeling about his very-limited role in pursuit of a championship:

Irving questionable for Game 3 during injury-filled postseason


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hobbled point guard, worked on his shooting at the team’s morning shootaround but still was listed as questionable to play in Game 3 Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena.

Irving missed the second game of the teams’ Eastern Conference finals series Friday and hasn’t been fully healthy since spraining his right foot early in the first round against Boston. Of course, teammate Kevin Love suffered his dislocated left shoulder in the finale against the Celtics, leading to postseason-ending surgery.

The Hawks got similar bad news Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver was ruled out for however long Atlanta stays alive, his right high-ankle sprain from Game 2 requiring more recovery than the Hawks have time this spring. DeMarre Carroll, their primary defender against LeBron James, is trying to play on a badly sprained knee – “It’s a leg,” he said again Sunday when asked for an update – and another key perimeter defender, Thabo Sefolosha, has been out with a leg fracture since an incident with New York police last month.

Injuries have played a big enough role in these playoffs that the catch phrase “last team standing” might apply literally this year. Perhaps more than ever, the NBA championship could go not necessarily to the league’s best team but to the one least derailed by bad breaks. And sprains, strains and tears.

“Obviously, going into the postseason and going through the postseason, health is always the No. 1 thing,” Cavs star LeBron James said Sunday. “Luck comes into play a lot – you get lucky – and then [it’s] the team that’s playing at the highest level, that’s playing great basketball.”

Out West, Golden State has been playing without backup forward Marreese Speights (calf). Houston has done without guard Patrick Beverley (wrist) and forward Donatas Montiejunas (back), while center Dwight Howard has been touch-and-go daily after a knee sprain.

But the Cavaliers aren’t feeling any more sorry for the others – despite James’ back-pat gesture to Carroll when the Hawks guard was helped off late in Game 1 – than those rivals are for Cleveland. Even James has been playing through dings that have been noticeable on the court, including an ankle he rolled and a sore back he endured against Chicago.

Asked about setting an example in playing through pain for younger teammates such as Irving, James said: “I can’t speak on someone else’s injury. Everyone’s body is different. For me, if I felt like I was hurting the team, then I shouldn’t play. But if I felt like I could give something to the team, I wanted to be on the floor. Obviously I’m playing trough injuries right now, multiple injuries right now. I mean a lot to this team and I understand my presence, and if I can give something, I’m going to be out there.”

James added: “We haven’t been the healthiest. Had a little luck here and there. But we’ve been playing at a high level. So we’ve got like one-and-a-half out of the three.”

Kind of like having a sturdy James, the scaled-back contributions of Irving and no Love. One-and-a-half out of the three.

Korver’s absence, series edge won’t impact Cavaliers’ use of Irving


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – No one would blame the Cleveland Cavaliers if they loaded up injured point guard Kyrie Irving‘s dance card with contingencies that had nothing to do with his aching left knee.

Irving, who sat out Game 2 Friday in Atlanta after playing only 27 minutes in the series opener, would appear to be facing no urgency to rush back into action, given Cleveland’s 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The series has shifted to the Cavaliers’ home court for the next two games. The Hawks’ lineup took a serious hit Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver (right high-ankle sprain) was ruled out for the rest of his team’s postseason.

And with the Finals set to start on June 4, the longer the Cavs could go before Irving puts any fresh wear or tear on his knee likely would be helpful in dealing with Golden State or Houston for a championship.

But that isn’t how Irving’s team is approaching his absence. Coach David Blatt said Irving still is listed as questionable for Game 3 Sunday and that his participation will be determined by Irving and a doctor’s decision.

“If he’s able to play, then he’ll play,” Blatt said. “He’s a big part of the team and the series is not finished. But if he’s not able to play, he won’t.”

That’s the problem Atlanta faces in the wake of Korver’s playoff-ending injury, suffered in the third quarter Friday when Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto the Hawks player’s ankle while diving for a loose ball. Korver had struggled with his shot at times lately, but few this side of Steph Curry are as feared from 3-point range. Atlanta was 5-2 this postseason when the 34-year-old wing player made at least three attempts from the arc.

“We will miss him,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters Saturday. “It’s very, very difficult for him personally but more so for how much this team has done together, how much he’s been a part of that. He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber.”

Budenholzer said he had not decided who would replace Korver in the starting lineup. The Hawks already are shorthanded with perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha hurt in a confrontation with New York police in April. Also, DeMarre Carroll – Budenholzer’s preferred defender vs. LeBron James – still is nursing a sore knee suffered late in Game 1.

“Injuries are such a big part of our league and a big part of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody has to deal with them, and we’re not any different. Of course, we’d like to have everyone healthy and be at full speed. That’s the ideal. But you can’t spend too much time or frustration thinking about it or concerned about it.”

Cleveland knows all too well, with Irving hobbled – the point guard did play some 1-on-1 after his team’s practice with assistant coach Phil Handy providing resistance – and Kevin Love’s postseason wiped out by a shoulder injury in the first-round finale against Boston.

The Cavaliers have grown in confidence and competence around their leader, LeBron James. And while it might seem as if James is back in his early Cleveland era, as far as limited star assistance, he didn’t breathe any life into that theory Saturday.

“I never felt I had to do it by myself, even in the past,” James said. “Mentally, I just wasn’t who I am today. My hard drive wasn’t as big as it is today. That’s all it comes from. I’m able to handle a lot of situations that I wasn’t able to handle at 24, 25 years old.

“I just tried to do it [before] by just playing the game of basketball, just going out and just playing – that’s such a small dosage of what the game is all about. The mental side is way more important than the physical and just playing basketball.”

Until the next sore knee or high-ankle sprain, anyway.