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Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Cavaliers’

Morning shootaround — May 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thompson dominating on glass again | Bird won’t commit to Vogel as coach | Warriors back Green’s star status | Batum wants to re-sign with Hornets

No. 1: Thompson breaking Hawks’ hearts again — Thanks in large part to a monstrous performance in the 2015 playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson netted himself an $82 million payday last summer. His work on the offensive glass against opponents during that 2015 run was something to behold. He averaged 11 or more rebounds in every round from the semifinals on and in the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta, he averaged 4.3 offensive rebounds alone. As the Cavs took a 1-0 lead in their East semifinals series with Atlanta last night, Thompson was up to his old tricks writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

While LeBron James (25 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals), Kyrie Irving (21 points, 8 assists) and Kevin Love (17 points, 11 rebounds) occupied their regular starring roles against Atlanta, Thompson kept setting them up with opportunities to succeed.

“When teams play great defense for 24 seconds and he comes up with those rebounds, it’s just demoralizing to a team because now they have to come out and guard us again,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue of Thompson. “That’s what he’s done for us the last two years. We know what he does and we know what he brings and he knows who he is.”

Thompson let the basketball world know who he is last spring, filling in for the injured Love as the undermanned Cavs made it all the way to the Finals. He was particularly effective against Atlanta in last year’s conference finals — averaging 11.8 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the series while racking up a plus-46 over the four games — and only continued that effort to begin the conference semifinals this year.

Atlanta, which led the league in defensive field goal percentage this season, is used to getting stops. But those stops become watered down if Thompson keeps generating possessions.

“If you help, then he’s active on the boards,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I know it’s more important that we make them miss first. That’s our priority and then we have to have all five guys in there competing, getting after it. Credit to him. He’s a good player. He plays off their penetration and shots well.”

Is it something about the Hawks that unleashes Thompson’s game?

“Every series is different,” Thompson said following the game as he shared the podium with James after adding eight points, two assists and two blocks to his rebound total. “Against the Hawks, in terms of [Paul] Millsap and [Al] Horford, we kind of weigh about the same amount, the same active bigs — for me it’s just staying with it on the glass.

“The first half I only had two offensive rebounds, but I’m just going to keep hitting the glass every possession, and as the fourth quarter, third quarter hits — that’s when I try to use my technique to be able to create second possessions for my teammates.”

Thompson, at 6-foot-10, 238 pounds, is indeed in the same size range as Horford (6-10, 245) and Millsap (6-8, 246), prompting teammate Richard Jefferson to suggest that Atlanta had “two Tristans” when previewing the series. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Jefferson was comparing two of the Hawks’ best players to someone considered to be a bit player for the Cavs.

“Just take the challenge,” Thompson said. “Horford and Millsap are both All-Stars and two terrific players, very good players in our league, so for me as a young guy I want to take advantage of an opportunity. I guess it’s extra motivation just because you’re playing against guys who are All-Stars and very talented. Just try to come with my hard hat and make it tough for them.”

James, who passed Michael Jordan in career postseason wins on Monday with 120, was asked if Thompson serves as the Dennis Rodman to his MJ as he sat beside him.

“I think what Dennis did for the Bulls — on the floor, make sure we note that part — Double T does for our team,” James said, referring to Thompson’s nickname.

While surely Rodman might have picked feather boa over Stetson as his flashy fashion choice, there weren’t rebounds just falling from the sky into his hands, either.

“Just giving us extra possessions, defending guys that are sometimes bigger than him, defending guys that are sometimes smaller than him,” James continued. “We know that every night he’s going to give us everything that he got, and a lot of it sometimes doesn’t show up in the box score. But what he does on the glass is huge for our team.”

***

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Morning shootaround — May 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat needs Johnson to step up | All about team for Lillard | Raptors face pain, Pacers all gain | Cavs’ Griffin: Expectations, not chemistry, was challenge

No. 1: Heat needs Johnson to step up — As dynamic as Miami’s Dwyane Wade was in Game 6 against the Charlotte Hornets Friday and as durable as he’s been this season, a matinee tipoff time for Game 7 down in South Florida (1 ET, ABC) isn’t the most ideal scenario for the Heat’s 34-year-old leader. That short turnaround time had Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald casting about for the likeliest teammates to step up into a 1-A role Sunday, and after considering the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and a couple others, Skolnick settled on:

The other guy is Joe Johnson.

The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.

“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”

But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.

“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”

In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.

In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.

“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”

No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.

“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”

The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.

It needs more impact.

The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.

But his best performance of the series?

With the start time, this seems the right time for that.

Bonus coverage: He isn’t expected to be in the building Sunday, but here is the Charlotte Observer’s story on “Purple Shirt Guy,” who played such a goofy intrusive role in Game 6.

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Numbers preview: Cavs-Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games and had home-court advantage in the conference finals … and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, the Hawks won just 48 games. Expectations are lower and they’ll be in Cleveland to start the conference semifinals. But the Hawks may be better prepared to make things difficult for the Cavs this time around.

They’re certainly healthier than they were a year ago, when Thabo Sefolosha was out with a broken leg, Paul Millsap was dealing with a shoulder injury, and Kyle Korver was lost to an ankle injury in Game 2. The Hawks are also better defensively than they were last season.

Atlanta was the league’s best defensive team from Christmas to the end of the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they held the Boston Celtics to 12.6 points per 100 possessions under their regular-season mark. Their defense has been strong in transition and at protecting the paint, two huge keys to slowing down LeBron James and the Cavs.

But they weren’t able to do that enough in the regular season, when James averaged 27.3 points on 58 percent shooting as the Cavs swept the season series, 3-0. That’s seven straight wins against Atlanta for the Cavs, who are also healthier and better defensively than they were a year ago.

The Cavs are trying to get back to The Finals with their “Big 3” intact this time. Before they can play for that opportunity, they have to get through the Hawks, which could be a much tougher proposition than it was last year.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Hawks, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Pace: 88.9 (15)
OffRtg: 115.8 (2)
DefRtg: 107.4 (12)
NetRtg: +8.4 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

First round: Beat Boston in six games.
Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 97.7 (13)
DefRtg: 91.3 (3)
NetRtg: +6.3 (5)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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20160429_atl_defense

Hawks playoff notes:

20160429_atl_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Cavs won 3-0 (2-0 in Cleveland).
Nov. 21 – Cavs 109, Hawks 97
Apr. 1 – Cavs 110, Hawks 108 (OT)
Apr. 11 – Cavs 109, Hawks 94

Pace: 99.8
CLE OffRtg: 106.9 (2nd vs. ATL)
ATL OffRtg: 95.5 (21st vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors await word on Curry | Scott fulfills role in L.A. | DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ | Jackson: Penalize refs for blown calls

No. 1: Warriors await word on Curry’s MRI — After a regular season that set a new mark in NBA history (73 wins) and seemed to set a trail for another championship run, the Golden State Warriors’ title hopes may hinge on the news they receive later today. Star guard Stephen Curry took a spill in yesterday’s Game 4 win against the Houston Rockets and was diagnosed with a sprained right knee. He left the game and did not return and now, as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group writes, the Warriors wait with baited breath about what happens next:

A sprained right knee is the initial diagnosis for Curry after the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead by beating Houston 121-94 on Sunday. Warriors players, coaches and management fear worse news might come. Not solely because of what it would mean for the Warriors’ chances at another title. But also because they can’t stand that Curry has to go through this.

He had been fighting to return to action from a sprained right ankle. He wanted desperately to get back on the court with his guys after missing Games 2 and 3. His ankle looked fine Sunday as he changed directions suddenly to split defenders and drove inside the lane without hesitation.

He was clearly rusty. He shot 2 for 9, missing six of his seven 3-point attempts. He had five turnovers. But it seemed he was over the injury.

But just before the half, running back on defense, Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court and lost his feet from under him, his legs awkwardly splitting as if he was just learning how to ice skate. He immediately grabbed his right knee then got up and limped hurriedly to the locker room.

We can guess what happened in that locker room. Curry fought to play. He demanded a chance to at least try. He probably knew his day was over. Maybe his series. Maybe his season. But his heart wouldn’t accept his brain’s understanding.

When Curry was told he couldn’t play before the start of the third quarter, he doubled over in tears in front of the Warriors bench. The frustration and disappointment was too much to bear. Coach Steve Kerr rubbed the back of his star player while Draymond Green barked instructions to his friend.

Every bone in Curry’s body wanted to play but his ligaments overruled them. His ailing right knee wasn’t going to allow him to play. His crushed spirit wouldn’t wait for the privacy of the locker room.

“Get out of here,” Green told Curry. “Don’t let them see you like this. Don’t let them see you cry. We will hold you down. We got this. We will win this for you.”

Last year, in Game 4 at Houston, Curry was flipped midair and landed on his head. He ended up returning to that game. He tried his best to do the same in Game 4 on Sunday.

He tried to gut out his sprained ankle in Game 1, talking team management and the athletic trainers into re-taping him and letting him play. But he could barely move on the court and Kerr sat him down.

And now — after all the rehab and pleading and praying — he was back in the same spot with a new injury. Hoping his sheer will was the ointment his knee needed. Pining for his competitive drive to put his ailing knee in its place.

Curry was the last Warrior to emerge from the locker room and immediately took a seat on the bench. He had a brace on his right knee and a depressed look on his face. He sat on the bench and stared before heading into the warmup fray and get a few shots up.

Before long, he was coming back to the bench, where Warriors head performance therapist Chelsea Lane gave him the bad news. Going back in was not an option.

But before Curry could head to the locker room and get treatment on his knee, he had to get some treatment on his heart. Because in that moment, he couldn’t take it.

“To see a guy like that, Steph go down,” Marreese Speights said. “He never gets emotional. He always keeps his composure. To see him like that, we felt his heart.”

***

No. 2:  Ultimately, Scott filed his role in Lakerland — As was first reported by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and later confirmed by our David Aldridge and the team itself, Byron Scott is out as Los Angeles Lakers coach. While that move is likely met with some celebration by a large portion of Lakers fans, Scott’s time in Los Angeles was — in a unique sense — successful in that he did what he was asked to do for this era of the franchise. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has been around the team long enough to know exactly what the Scott era in L.A. was all about:

But the minute Kobe Bryant walked out of Staples Center for the last time, Scott’s services were no longer needed, his job essentially ceased to exist, he became an instant antique.

The Lakers really had no choice but to fire him, which they did on Sunday in a move that should come with a thank-you note.

They needed someone to guide the team through the turbulent end of the Bryant era, and Scott did exactly that.

They also needed someone to indoctrinate members of the next generation of Laker stars — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — into the daily grind of NBA life. Bryant wasn’t emotionally available for that, there were no other strong veteran presences in the locker room, so Scott needed to play the bad guy, and he did it often and well. He was ripped repeatedly by fans and media for benching and publicly scolding the kids, right up until Russell was busted for videotaping private conversations with Nick Young in a record-setting act of immaturity.

Scott was hired to say goodbye to Bryant, and to rudely greet the future, and . . . to win? Seriously? Winning realistically was never part of the deal, and Lakers management even admitted as much earlier this season. It was decided that the team was going to cling to Bryant’s fading glow for as long as it lasted, celebrate that glow, bask in that glow, and everything else was shadows.

What did the Lakers expect? If they wanted only to win, two years ago they would have hired someone from outside the Lakers family who would not have flinched at benching Bryant for long stretches while he was statistically the worst player in the NBA. They would have hired someone who would have devised the entire offense around the three kids and played them big minutes and let them run the show without any concern for monitoring growing pains.

That’s not what they wanted. The old-school Scott was what they wanted. A buddy to Bryant and an unwavering tough guy with everyone else was what they wanted, and that’s what they got.

Now they’ve fired him for it, and, strangely, it all makes sense.

For the first time in years, the Lakers finally have the salary cap space to get dramatically better. For the first time in exactly 20 years, they can remodel the team with an entirely different culture.

This new world needs a new leader, and it couldn’t be Byron Scott.

He did his job, he lost his job. No apologies, no blame, era ended.

***

No. 3: Raptors’ DeRozan: ‘We just stink right now’ — During the regular season, Toronto Raptors All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both ranked in the top 15 in scoring. Through four games of these playoffs, neither player can claim such an honor as Lowry is 26th in scoring and DeRozan is 40th. The Indiana’s defensive length and gameplan has made life rough for Toronto’s stars and changes are likely in order for how they will attack the Pacers in Game 5 Tuesday night (6 ET, TNT). CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore has more on the state of the Raptors:

Lowry was fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made in the regular season, and he is 5-for-27 in the series. DeRozan was second in the NBA in free throws made, and he’s gone 11-for-15 in the series, failing to get to the line at all in the Raptors’ two losses.

“We just stink right now,” DeRozan said Sunday.

Lowry said that he simply has “got to shoot the shots better.” He has said similar things all series. If only it was that easy.

“Every time I’m coming off there are two or three guys there,” DeRozan said. “They are doing a great job of sitting in and bringing help consistently having a body on me or Kyle, not really leaving us either on the perimeter.”

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said that Indiana deserves credit, but Lowry and DeRozan have just not been at their best. When it comes to DeRozan, Casey said that a change in approach might be necessary.

“He may have to be a facilitator,” Casey said. “He’s our leading scorer, he’s gotta take the shots that are there, but in other situations, where they’re taking him out, he understand that [he has to] move the ball.”

Without calling out DeRozan specifically, Casey said that was not what happened in Saturday’s embarrassing 100-83 loss. He wants the Raptors to be more patient and purposeful.

“We took some tough shots that we could’ve made another pass, extra pass to open people,” Casey said. “Everybody tried to do it on their own instead of involving everybody, moving the basketball, sharing the ball, getting it to the weak side.”

DeRozan’s difficulties are particularly alarming. At his best, it looks like he can get 20 points in his sleep. Against Indiana, his typical smooth glides to the basket have largely been replaced by awkward, forced jumpers. The most obvious sign of his development is how comfortable he has become handling the ball, surveying the defense and making smart plays. The most obvious sign of his need for improvement is how he’s handled playoff pressure.

Over the years, DeRozan has often talked about the game slowing down for him. He studies film obsessively and has seen every type of defense imaginable. Against Paul George and the Pacers, though, he seems a beat or two behind. The same is true for Lowry, who is usually relentless with the ball but has had trouble finding openings to attack.

“Me and DeMar, we talked,” Lowry said. “They’re playing defense on us and rushing us into things, making us speed up our shots, and the shots that we normally take with patience, we’re taking a little bit — if it takes us 0.9 seconds to usually shoot ’em, we’re shooting them in 0.4.”

“I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not upset at how I’m playing,” Lowry said. “But I’ve got to be positive. At the end of the day my teammates bank on me to be positive and lead these guys, and that’s what I’m going to do no matter how I’m shooting the ball.”

After three games, it appeared that the Raptors had solved Indiana. After four, an upset once again feels possible. If Toronto can just take care of the ball and take advantage of it depth, Lowry and DeRozan don’t have to be superstars to advance to the second round. They just have to be more like themselves.

“We are not the players who we are in this league for no reason,” DeRozan said. “We all go through some type of lows in our career at some point. You can’t complain when the playoffs come. You can’t do that. You got to be able to take it on the chin and understand we got to figure it out.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks after Toronto’s practice on Sunday

***

No. 4: Pistons’ Jackson wants ‘consequences’ for referees — The Pistons’ playoff run ended in a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, but Detroit didn’t go down easy. Trailing 100-98 with 10 seconds left, the Pistons stopped the Cavs and got the ball in the hands of guard Reggie Jackson. He tried to work past Cavs guard Kyrie Irving but could not and took a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer that grazed the front of the rim. Afterward, Jackson was upset about what he believes was a missed call and sounded off on NBA officiating, writes Aaron McCann of MLive.com:

This series ended the same way it began, with the Detroit Pistons complaining about officiating.

This time it was Reggie Jackson’s turn.

The Pistons point guard missed a potential game-winning 3-point basket at the buzzer of Detroit’s 100-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, wrapping a four-game sweep for the defending Eastern Conference champions, but felt like a foul should have been called on Kyrie Irving.

“We got a stop with no timeouts, Kyrie decided to pick up early and prevent me from taking a good shot,” Jackson said. “I tried to find a good look, and, uh …”

That’s when Jackson let it rip.

Upset over a no-call, one that perhaps could have been called on a bump from Irving before Jackson pulled up from 26 feet, he said NBA officials need a system in place to hold them responsible.

“Fines, suspensions, being fired,” Jackson said. “The same thing that happens to us. Make bad plays or questionable (calls), you’re not really being productive to the sport. They should have consequences, just like the players. That’s about (all) I’m going to say on that.”

The Pistons trailed by one at half, erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit and stayed within grasp most of the way in the fourth.

But it like their previous three cracks at the Cavs, they could never get over the hump. A Jackson runner in the lane with 8:33 remaining pulled Detroit within a point – the closest it would get to extending the series another game.

“It pisses you off,” Jackson said. “To hear it’s not your time, not your moment, It can go one of two ways. When you think you’ve played well enough, you can take it as inside-outside sources. You all can take that for whatever you want to take it as.

“Those sources, it kind of seems like it’s not made for you to necessarily win. You’ve got to find a way to run through the wall – get over the hump.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who was fined $25,000 by the NBA after Game 1 for criticizing officials, said he’ll let the league weigh in.

The NBA reviews the final two minutes of all games decided by five points or fewer. A report is expected Monday.

“Or you guys can comment on that,” Van Gundy said. “You guys saw the game as much as I did. You’ve all got DVRs – you can watch and comment on it. You want me to comment on it so I can spend another $25,000.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has ‘no hesitation’ in giving All-Star center Andre Drummond a max contract extension this summer … Meet the Golden State Warriors’ oldest fan, a 106-year-old woman named “Sweetie” … Great story on the man who watches the body language of the Indiana Pacers … The Memphis Grizzlies kept on grinding to the bitter end … Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is becoming a surprising clutch performer … For the record, the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets aren’t interested in any kind of on-court dramatics … ICYMI, the Sioux Falls Skyforce are up 1-0 in the NBA D-League Finals …

No penalty from NBA for Drummond’s elbow? LeBron James not surprised

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The reaction to this one from many in the NBA’s 29 other precincts might be along the lines of puh-leeeze: LeBron James suggested Sunday that he doesn’t get his share of whistles when on the receiving end of physical play.

The bruised and bloodied bodies of fallen opponents strewn behind him might argue to the contrary.

But then, when the NBA has an opportunity to review video of some of the hits the Cleveland star takes – like a high elbow from Detroit center Andre Drummond in Game 3 Friday of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference series – and issues no retroactive flagrant or technical fouls or fines, maybe James has a case.

James wasn’t complaining at the Cavaliers’ shootaround session Sunday in advance of their closeout opportunity in Game 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. But he wasn’t hiding his belief, either, that all physical contact isn’t adjudicated fairly.

Asked about the Drummond blow and the absence of any rebuke, James told reporters: “Initially I was surprised. But then I thought who he did it to and I wasn’t surprised.”

Given the size, speed and power of James’ game, at a muscular 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, the sense among NBA observers long has been that he dishes out punishment without even trying, just from incidental contact that can hurt. The flip side is that, given his strength, he absorbs a lot of contact without getting knocked off course or sent to the floor, resulting in fewer whistles that way as well.

“He’s the Shaq of guards and forwards,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s so strong and so physical when he goes to the basket guys are bouncing off of him. Those are still fouls. But he doesn’t get that call because he’s so big and so strong and so physical.”

Lue, since taking over at midseason as the Cavs head coach, assiduously avoids criticizing the referees or NBA HQ over calls made or not made. It’s a button many coaches push at playoff time, dating back at least to Phil Jackson‘s tweaks while with the Bulls and the Lakers and probably all the way back to Red Auerbach and John Kundla.

Their goal: Plant a seed for the next game. But it can get expensive – witness Stan Van Gundy‘s $25,000 fine after Game 1 for bemoaning what he felt was the refs’ disinterest in calling offensive fouls on James – and it doesn’t suit Lue’s personality.

“It’s their job to clean it up,” said Lue, who proudly notes that he never got a technical foul in 11 years as an NBA point guard. “It’s not my job to complain about the situation at hand.”

James rarely is shy in complaining in the moment about calls he feels should have gone his way. His lightning-rod game and expressive gripes, added to every NBA player’s default position regarding fouls, generates a lot of hoots and hollers from fans in arenas who think James actually gets preferential treatment from the refs.

Some teammates, such as Cavs center Tristan Thompson, are in the middle of the physical play that ramps up in the playoffs and see it differently.

“He gets beat up the most. He gets beat up the most in the league,” Thompson said. “He takes a lot of hits night in and night out, especially in this series, and he keeps pushing and he stays mature.”

James takes the hits but clearly he doesn’t take them lightly. He had a no-nonsense look Sunday morning, suggesting a resolve to limit the Pistons’ shots at him by limiting their playoff run to the minimum of four games.

“I just like to gather my composure, my guys’ composure, going against the opponents’ fans,” James said this close-out opportunity on the road. “I thrive adversity and hostile environments.”

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

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In LeBron’s career, shorter playoff series not necessarily better


VIDEO: Cavs ready for Game 3 in Detroit

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – No team has done it and none likely will break through this postseason, as far as cruising through the NBA playoffs without a loss. Five teams currently are unbeaten but 2-0 is a long way from 16-0 and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers know it.

Even for the old school, perfection was elusive. Hall of Famer and man of few words Moses Malone missed by just one on his famous 1983 prediction of “Fo’, fo’, ‘fo” and that was back in the days of three rounds rather than four.

The appeal is obvious, beyond bragging rights. Fewer games at this point on the NBA calendar is better than more, given wear and tear on the players’ bodies and their minds. Keeping series short cuts down on the adjustments an opponent can make and, even bigger, on exposures to injury. There also are psychological benefits to advancing quickly and earning extra days off while upcoming opponents still are fighting to survive.

LeBron James qualifies as the league’s active expert on long playoff runs, given his five straight Finals appearances and six overall. So, in advance of Game 3 against Detroit in the Eastern Conference first round (7 ET, ESPN), James talked Friday morning at The Palace of Auburn Hills about his experiences not just winning the four games that matter most in these best-of-seven series but avoiding seven games. Or six or ideally even five.

“It’s been a balance of both,” James said before the Cavaliers’ shootaround. “I’ve had points of my career where we’ve swept a lot and it’s hurt us the next series, ’cause we got out of rhythm. I’ve had times where we were banged up as a team and we needed to rest, and it benefited us.”

James and his teams are on a roll, with 15 consecutive victories in the first round, including sweeps of Boston (2015), Charlotte (2014) and Milwaukee (2013). As far as his personal playoff history, his scattergram shows eight four-game series (a 7-1 record), nine five-game series (8-1), 11 six-game series (7-4) and five seven-gamers (3-2).

In the years James’ Cleveland and Miami teams have reached The Finals, they’ve played in a total of six sweeps, winning five. But the two runs that ended with championships, in 2012 and 2013, curiously had none. They logged 23 games both teams en route to the Larry O’Brien trophy, the most James ever has played in a postseason.

So shorter hasn’t necessarily been better.

“It all depends on that particular season,” James said. “You can’t really base it on another season. It depends on how you’re feeling and how that other team is playing in that particular season.”

James was asked for the third or fourth time this week about Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson‘s brash claims that he has “gotten in” the Cleveland star’s head. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talked with the 19-year-old Johnson about verbally poking at a dangerous opponent. But James saved his most pointed responses for Game 2 and, presumably, for Game 3, because he didn’t get drawn into a war of words Friday morning.

“I don’t think it’s about that,” James said. “There’s always going to be conversation outside of the four lines, and how much you indulge in it can take away from what the main thing is.

“Guys have been always kind of trash-talking me since I was a kid. My coaches always told me, it’s not about that. It’s about trying to score and whatever you can do to help your team stay focused.”

Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry still iffy for Game 3 | Pistons’ Johnson on LeBron: ‘I’m definitely in his head’ | Report: Blatt, Rambis top names on Knicks’ list | New era begins in Minnesota

No. 1: Curry improving, but not quite fully healthy yet Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors’ series with the Houston Rockets is tonight (9:30 ET, TNT), but the status of the Warriors’ star player, Stephen Curry, remains as unknown as it was yesterday. Although Curry took part in practice on Wednesday, neither he nor team officials were ready to declare him ready to play tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Go ahead and exhale, Warriors fans: Stephen Curry returned to practice Wednesday.

Go ahead and fret, Warriors fans: Curry would not declare himself game-ready.

He joined his teammates for their workout at Toyota Center, his first extended, on-court session since he injured his right ankle Saturday. Curry was encouraged by how the ankle felt, but not enough to peer confidently toward Game 3 against Houston on Thursday night.

“Based on how I feel right now, I probably couldn’t play,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “Tomorrow, it could be different. … The trainers are trying to get me right, but how I feel on the floor is a big part of it.

“That’s why I didn’t play in Game 2. I tried to simulate moves I’d probably have to do in the game (during warm-ups), and I couldn’t do it. If that happens tomorrow at full speed, then we’ll adjust accordingly.

“Obviously, my heart is geared toward playing and being out there with my teammates.”

 …

Head coach Steve Kerr hears all the chatter about the Warriors proceeding cautiously with Curry because they hold a two games-to-none lead on the Rockets. This logic suggests the Warriors can beat Houston without him, as they did Monday night, but they will need him to win another championship.

Kerr, naturally, narrowed his vision after Wednesday’s practice. He insisted he will rely only on the guidance of team doctors, and input from Curry himself, in deciding whether No. 30 suits up for Game 3.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Kerr said. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter the series score. It’s nice to be up 2-0 and say we’ll give him rest, but it really isn’t about that.

“It’s about whether he’s OK or not. And if he’s not quite OK and there’s a risk of him injuring himself or making it worse, then we won’t play him.”

The Warriors practiced for more than an hour after their arrival in Houston, but they did not scrimmage. Curry participated in all the drills, then went through his customary, post-practice shooting routine.

Kerr said Curry moved well during the practice, showing no signs of favoring his ankle. That was a striking contrast with the start of the second half Saturday, when Curry tried to play but lasted less than three minutes before Kerr removed him, worried about his obviously limited mobility.

There were times in Curry’s shooting session when the ball repeatedly and strangely bounced off the back rim. There also were times when he found his familiar rhythm, draining 8 of 10 three-point attempts during one stretch.

He acknowledged some concern about becoming rusty if he sits too long. If Curry doesn’t play Thursday night, and returns for Game 4 on Sunday, he will have gone seven full days without any game action.

“I’m definitely encouraged,” Curry said of Wednesday’s time on the court. “It’s better, and as long as it’s continuing to get better, I think we’re in good shape.

“How quickly that happens, I don’t know. Today was, in the words of Ice Cube, a good day.”

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Even $25K fine can’t spoil Van Gundy’s day


Angry or chastened, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy remains one of the most quotable, candid and entertaining bench bosses in the NBA.

Van Gundy got a little too, er, entertaining Sunday in the Pistons’ Game 1 loss to Cleveland when he criticized the officiating in the live TV quarter-break interview on ABC. He felt Cavaliers’ forward LeBron James was getting preferential treatment in not being called for a couple offensive fouls and NBA headquarters felt on Monday that Van Gundy was out of line in his comments.

So on Tuesday Van Gundy got entertaining about the $25,000 fine imposed by the league for those initial comments.

First, he quibbled with the suggestion that $25K is chump change, even for an NBA head coach/president of basketball operations with a salary estimated at $7 million annually, as reported by the Detroit Free Press:

“Slap on the wrist?” Van Gundy jokingly lamented when asked about the fine. “Relative to what? That’s a lot of money, my man. That’s not a slap on the wrist. A slap on the wrist would’ve been a reprimand. Put a reprimand or letter of censure in my file. That would’ve been a slap on the wrist. This was a punishment.”

Sideline reporter Lisa Salters caught Van Gundy in a typical truthful moment Sunday, and he paid the price.

“I probably deserved to be penalized for being myself,’’ Van Gundy said. “I got no comments on it.”

Considering that Monday was a big day for another three-lettered operation known for requiring big checks from certain citizens, Van Gundy was asked about the tax implications of his fine.

“That’s a good question, ‘Is it tax-deductible?'” he wondered. “It goes to charity, which is good. I support most charitable organizations. I don’t know which one I just supported, but I’m happy to do it.”

‘Reaction Jackson’ gets costly T

VIDEO: Pistons reflect on Game 1 loss.

CLEVELAND – Much has been made of Reggie Jackson‘s status as the lone Detroit Pistons starter with actual NBA postseason experience, an indication of how young and raw that group is.

So who was it acting like the newbie in Game 1 Sunday, costing his team a point at an inopportune time in its opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers? That’s right, Reaction Jackson.

It’s not as if Jackson, who turned 26 Saturday, is the Pistons’ resident old head (guard Steve Blake, at 36, is the oldest player on the roster). In fact, he’s one of the most obviously irrepressible, high-revving players in the league. But he messed up when he overreacted to a non-call with 3:24 left to play, his team trailing 96-92 and the pull-up jumper he’d just taken from 13 feet bouncing off.

Jackson felt he had gotten fouled and let it be known vociferously to referee Derrick Stafford, walking up fast on close on the veteran NBA official for an easy-to-give technical foul. Kyrie Irving hit the free throw, then one more on the ensuing possession.

So when Jackson drove for a layup and got a call his time for an and-1 play, Detroit still trailed 98-95. And it would get worse before it got better, the Cavaliers’ pumping their lead to nine in the final minute.

Van Gundy had been outspoken about the refs in his TV interview after the first quarter, alleging that LeBron James was getting away with offensive fouls. But the Detroit coach didn’t go there afterward, instead mentioning Jackson’s ill-advised exchange.

“I understand you’re frustrated, you think you got fouled, whatever,” Van Gundy said. “Doesn’t matter. First of all, we can’t give [points] away even in the first quarter. We don’t have the margin for error against this team to give those. But certainly not at that point in the game. I mean, one point’s huge. … He knows that. I’m sure if you ask him, he’ll tell you the same thing.”

Uh, we did. And he didn’t.

“Nah,” Jackson said, when asked if he regretted his technical. “I wish I got the call. I wish [the ref] had seen me get slapped on the arm.”

Van Gundy’s logic seemed preferable, though.

“So because ‘I’m mad at the referee, the way I’ll show my anger is give the Cavaliers a point,’ ” Van Gundy said. “It doesn’t make sense.”


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