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Posts Tagged ‘J.R. Smith’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul touched by HOF trip | Report: Smith to skip Cavs’ mini-camp | Report: Meeks set to return in November | Stevens says veterans will push Brown

No. 1: Trip to Hall of Fame resonates with Paul – LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this summer with the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award for his work with his organization, the Chris Paul Foundation. Initially, Paul was hesitant to come out to Springfield, Mass., for the event, but since then has drastically changed his tone about both the Hall itself and has a newfound respect for his the game at large. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com has more:

Chris Paul admits it — he viewed his trip to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last week as a bit of a nuisance.

It wasn’t the first time the Hall had reached out, but it was the first time the nine-time All-Star finally acquiesced.

“They ask,” Paul conceded to ESPN.com, “but you think, ‘I’m busy’ or ‘Oh no, it’s too far,’ or ‘I have too much other stuff going on.”’

During his tour of the birthplace of basketball, Paul was moved by the stories of African-American pioneers who were banned from hotels and restrooms that welcomed their white teammates. He delighted in locating the plaque of Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the legendary African-American college coach at Winston-Salem State, just miles from where Paul grew up.

It prompted a reflective Paul to deliver one of the most memorable and impassioned speeches from an elite player who wasn’t actually being inducted.

“Today was my first day having the opportunity to come here, and it was kind of touching,” Paul told the audience upon accepting his award. “If not for this game, I am not here. If not for this game, my family is not in the situation we are in. And so I’m grateful for this game and what it has done for me and my family …”

With his voice breaking, and tears welling, Paul pressed on.

“It really hit me today being here around all the history that we take so much for granted,” he said. “And I know I do [that] a lot of times.”

Before long, as Paul shared the story of how he pressured his parents to buy him a pair of Allen Iverson‘s signature shoes, he had Iverson — a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee — weeping, too.

“To be here on his special day … man, this game has taken me places I never imagined,” Paul said. “Guys, you gotta come see this, because it’s bigger than any of us.”

“I haven’t never been here before, and as I walked in I actually felt bad about it,” Paul said. “It hit home today, in a big way, what this game has done for me, and the people I love. You walk in and you see all the history and you realize, ‘I need to support this.’

“I’m one of those people who, my wheels get turning. You want other people to see this. You think, ‘Maybe it would be better if this was in New York or L.A.,’ but that doesn’t make sense. The game was invented here. There is where it has to stay.”

Paul, who is also president of the players’ union, said he plans to go back to his NBA brethren and encourage them to see for themselves how the pioneers of the game paved the way — and to spur them to give back.

“Every experience is different for every person, but this place? It got me,” Paul said. “I can’t wait to bring my son.”

***

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: Call my agent about contract situation | Parker hoping to play five more seasons with Spurs | Report: Bucks, Terry talking deal

No. 1: Cavs’ Smith doesn’t want to talk about contract — For the most part, the big targets in the NBA’s summer free-agent signing period are off the market. A few known entities do remain in the job-seeking mix, one of whom is Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard/fan favorite J.R. Smith. While Cleveland has worked quickly to re-sign LeBron James, Richard Jefferson and James Jones, Smith is waiting on a deal … and not wanting to get into where contract talks are, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

J.R. Smith’s free agency has once again extended deep into the summer, as he remains one of the few players still without a deal.

After a rough last off-season where Smith eventually settled for two-year pact worth $5 million per season with a player option for the second year, the 3-point specialist changed agents. He joined the Klutch Sports Group, which is headed by Rich Paul, the same agent that reps Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Tristan Thompson.

Smith has been quiet about his contract situation, instead focusing on his wedding, honeymoon and golf. But he finally spoke up on Thursday, sending out a video courtesy ofUninterrupted prior to the J.R. Smith 10th Annual Golf Classic in Lakewood Township, New Jersey.

“I know you guys are going to ask me about my contract situation,” Smith said. “You’ve got my agent’s number so you all can call him. Rich Paul. You all know what it is. Klutch. You dig?”

Paul has a reputation for being a tough negotiator. Last off-season, he dragged conversations between the Cavs and Thompson into October before Thompson agreed on a five-year deal worth $82 million.

Smith and his reps understand the reality of the market following a wild summer. The enormous cap explosion has led to rotational players receiving around $10 million per season and Smith has earned a pay raise after proving to be such a valuable member of Cleveland’s title team.

However, he’s running into the same issue he dealt with last season. He doesn’t have much leverage.

His colorful personality and history of antics both on and off the court can’t be ignored. A contract is an investment, an agreement that involves trust.

Despite being on his best behavior since coming to Cleveland, he is still a risky investment, especially to other teams around the league that won’t have James to keep him in line or the winning organization that has contributed to his transformation. Those concerns have led to a lack of outside interest for the second straight off-season.

The Cavaliers are scheduled to join James for workouts in Los Angeles next month and training camp starts at the end of September. From that standpoint, there’s a sense of urgency to get a deal finalized. James even pointed that out when announcing his three-year contract with the Cavs last week.

“I’m ecstatic,” James said in his video. “I can’t wait to see my guys. I can’t wait to get back out there in the wine and gold and just get the band back together.

“Lastly, let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

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Cavs-Warriors: The numbers so far

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will play the 19th Game 7 in the history of The Finals on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Either the Warriors will repeat as champions and cap off their 73-win season the right way, or the Cavs will win their first ever title and Cleveland’s first major-sports championship in 52 years.

The Cavs seemingly have momentum, but the Warriors will be playing on their home floor, where they’re 50-4 this season. The home team has won 15 of the previous 18 Game 7s in The Finals. But those 18 series have little to do with this one, in which LeBron James has proven why he’s still the best player in the world.

Before Game 7, here are some numbers to know regarding what has already gone down in this series…

Death of the Death Lineup

The Warriors’ lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green has been generally destructive for opponents over the last two seasons. It looked unbeatable until Games 3 and 4 of the conference finals in Oklahoma City, when it was outscored, 65-24, in just 19 minutes.

It recovered after that and was a plus-14 in 30 minutes through Game 5 of The Finals. But in Game 6, with Andrew Bogut lost to a knee injury, the Death Lineup started the game and was outscored, 27-9, in 11 minutes.

20160618_death_lineup

Now, with the season on the line, the Death Lineup looks vulnerable. Iguodala is dealing with back pain and Barnes has missed his last 14 shots. The Cavs will continue to pay extra attention to Curry and Thompson and force the other guys to beat them.

Replacing Barnes with Shaun Livingston allows the Warriors to play similarly small and versatile, but hurts their spacing. And Livingston hasn’t shot well of late, either.

Make or miss

All six games have been decided by at least 11 points, so both teams have much better numbers on both ends of the floor in the games they’ve won than in the games they’ve lost. But if you look closer at the four factors of efficiency, the biggest difference has been in the Cavs’ shooting.

The difference has been both in the paint (61.0 percent in wins, 47.8 percent in losses) and from 3-point range (42.1 percent, 26.1 percent). And the difference has been with each of the three guys – James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith – that have shot the most for the Cavs.

20160618_cavs_shooting

According to SportVU, the Cavs have shot 17-for-41 (41 percent) on contested jumpers in their three wins and 6-for-39 (15 percent) on contested jumpers in their three losses.

Love or no Love

The Cavs’ two most-used lineups in the series both include James, Irving, Smith and Tristan Thompson. That group is a plus-8 in 68 minutes with Kevin Love and a plus-38 in 58 minutes with Richard Jefferson.

Love has shot 2-for-8 in the last two games and is the only Cleveland starter with a negative plus-minus in the series. He’s a minus-12 in 58 minutes with the Warriors playing without a center and is a plus-4 in 70 minutes in which Golden State has played one of its centers.

Foul trouble was a factor in Love playing less than 12 minutes in Game 6, but his minutes may be limited in Game 7 no matter how many fouls he picks up.

Early offense

The Cavs have flipped the script on the Warriors, outscoring them 97-59 on fast break points, including a mark of 47-19 over the last two games. Both teams have always been lethal in transition, but the Warriors have typically been the team that gets more opportunities early in the shot clock.

Even in the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Cavs got less than 11 percent of their (initial-clock) shots in the first six seconds, according to SportVU. But in The Finals, they’ve taken more than 15 percent of their shots in the first six seconds.

20160618_cle_shot_clock

The Warriors, meanwhile, haven’t been able to get early looks nearly as much as they did in the regular season. And when they have, they haven’t shot nearly as well.

20160618_gsw_shot_clock

First-quarter Cavs

The Cavs haven’t only been better early in the shot clock. They’ve been better early in games. They’ve been outscored by 19 points in the second quarter, two points in the third quarter, and 10 points in the fourth quarter in this series. But they’re a plus-31 in the first quarter.

It’s been both their best offensive and best defensive quarter of the series. And the defense has been particularly strong, allowing the Warriors to score just 95.2 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes.

Of the Warriors’ starters, Thompson has struggled the most in the first quarter, having shot 6-for-25 (3-for-15 from 3-point range). He’s also struggled (2-for-12, 1-for-8) in the fourth, but is 15-for-27 from 3-point range in the second and third quarters.

The trivia

  • This is the 126th Game 7 in NBA history. The home team is 101-24 (0.808) and has won the last seven (including four already in these playoffs).
  • Only 42 of 107 Game 7s in previous rounds have been decided by six points or less, but 10 of the 18 Finals Game 7s have been. The last seven Finals Game 7s have been decided by single digits.
  • James is 3-2 in Game 7s, having gone 0-2 in his first stint with the Cavs and 3-0 with the Miami Heat. The home team has won all five Game 7s he’s been involved in, including his only Finals Game 7 in 2013.
  • Neither the Cavs (in their 46th season) nor the Warriors (in their 70th) have ever played in a Finals Game 7. The Cavs are 2-2 in playoff Game 7s and the home team has won all four Game 7s they’ve been involved in. The Warriors are 4-4 (3-1 at home) in Game 7s.

Morning shootaround — June 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green’s simple to-do list for Game 6 | Gasol still weighing Olympics decision | Report: Cavs’ Smith to test free agencyOkafor learns from trying rookie season

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.

Morning shootaround — June 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bogut to have MRI on knee | Report: Wolves interested in trading for Butler | Reports: Robinson tries out for Seahawks | Rondo reflects on Kings’ season

No. 1: Bogut set to have MRI on left knee — The Cleveland Cavaliers won Game 5 last night in large part because of their shot selection, taking 34 of 83 shots (or 41 percent) were inside the restricted area. Part of that easy access to the front of the rim came with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green being suspended for Game 5 and another part came when Green’s teammate, Andrew Bogut, left the game early in the second quarer. Bogut blocked J.R. Smith‘s shot, but collided with him and landed awkwardly, causing his left knee to buckle. He’ll have an MRI today, writes John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Missing Draymond Green was bad enough for the Warriors, who were without their two most significant big men once Andrew Bogut injured his left knee within the first two minutes of the third quarter Monday night.

Bogut collided with Cleveland guard J.R. Smith after blocking his shot. Bogut planted his left leg when he landed and Smith then fell on it, appearing to hyper-extend it. Bogut remained down, holding his knee on the baseline and writhing in pain for two possessions until the Warriors called timeout and assisted their center to the locker room.

He played just 7½ minutes, didn’t score and had two rebounds, three blocks and four fouls.

 

Bogut will have an MRI exam Tuesday to discover the severity of the injury, which initially was diagnosed as a sprain, and his status for Thursday’s Game 6 in Cleveland hasn’t been determined.

Backup center Festus Ezeli could see a spike in minutes in Game 6 if Bogut doesn’t return, but coach Steve Kerr could also use a variety of players and lean on a smaller alignment.

“All year long, I’m used to my role changing,” Ezeli said. “If that’s the case, I’ll be ready.”

What he wasn’t ready to do was blame the loss on Bogut’s absence.

“You could look at Bogut’s injury as another thing that sucked energy out of our team, but at the end of the day, those are all semantics,” said Ezeli. “Kyrie (Irving) and LeBron (James) hit some tough shots, but they also got some easy looks to get them going. We turned the ball over, and Bogut not being out there didn’t force those turnovers. We’ve just got to play a better, smarter game. I believe in this team, and I think we’ll be fine.”

Harrison Barnes said, “I hope (Bogut) gets better and he’ll be able to play, but if he’s not there, we’ll have to compensate. Obviously, we’ll have Draymond back, so we’ll have another body, but everyone has to pitch in.”

Morning shootaround — June 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will Love play in Game 4? | Thompson calls Mozgov’s foul ‘kind of dirty’ | Calipari: Murray should go No. 1

No. 1: In wake of Game 3 win, Cavs have Love issues to discuss Due to his failure to pass the NBA’s concussion protocol, Kevin Love was not cleared to play in last night’s Game 3 of The NBA Finals. Despite his absence, though (and thanks to monstrous games from Kyrie Irving and LeBron James), the Cavaliers romped past Golden State , 120-90, to trim the Warriors’ series lead to 2-1. After Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was coy about whether or not Love will play in Game 4 on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has a story on how Love’s status is part of a bigger question for the Cavs at large:

Asked about how he plans – if at all – to reincorporate Love back into these Finals on Friday night, Lue told The Vertical: “I haven’t thought about it.”

In other words: no endorsement for the embattled power forward. In the hour after the Cleveland Cavaliers had come back to life in these NBA Finals – a 120-90 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 on Wednesday night – Lue did nothing to diffuse the drama.

This has been the story of Love’s jagged Cavaliers career, two years of stops and starts, major and mild injuries, disconnection and dissatisfaction. Sometimes, Love’s been rolling. Sometimes, Love’s been less than embraced.

Here had been a complete, crushing victory at the Q, the kind of commanding performance needed to end a seven-game losing streak to the defending champions. Richard Jefferson had substituted for Love in the lineup and delivered an inspired, inventive performance: nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. He defended deftly, delivered the perfect complement to LeBron James (32 points), Kyrie Irving (30) and J.R. Smith (20).

“I gave the game ball to R.J.,” James said.

Just what Love needed. There was no longing for Love – which there seldom is with James. To a man, the Cavaliers gushed over Jefferson, and something you didn’t hear out of them: The assumption that Love takes back the job on Friday night. If Love’s deemed cleared of his concussion, Lue didn’t rush to proclaim that Jefferson’s terrific Game 3 performance would land him back on the bench.

Perhaps the Cavaliers are pushing to something the Golden State Warriors ultimately decided three summers ago: They were better trying to win a championship without Kevin Love than with him. The Warriors passed on a Klay Thompson-Love deal with Minnesota, understanding now that it would’ve been the death knell for the Warriors’ championship aspirations.

Now, Love is 27 years old and in the first year of a five-year, $110 million contract extension. When Love agreed to the deal over the summer, some close to him insisted: He had little, if any, expectation that he would complete that contract in Cleveland. When it was time to find the next scapegoat, post-David Blatt, Love had been conditioned to believe it would be him.

Perhaps that’ll come this summer, but for now there’s the concussion protocol, Game 4 and a chance for redemption. Kevin Love was livid with the doctors telling him he couldn’t play on Wednesday, but no one messes with the brain. Nevertheless, a looming question hangs over Game 4: With or without Kevin Love? On his way out of The Q on Wednesday, I had to ask Ty Lue one more time: “No thought at all about Love, huh?”

“No, sir,” Lue said with a sly smile, and he started walking away, walking toward Game 4 and Friday night, toward one of the biggest choices of his young coaching life.

Hard to be a contender if hiding weak defenders

CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have, between them, a half dozen appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. But none on the league’s annual All-Defensive squads.

J.R. Smith is one of the streakiest and most dangerous 3-point shooters in the game, but by his own admission, he only made a commitment to the other side of the ball, as it’s called, within the last few months. He’s been in the NBA for 12 years.

Even LeBron James, who twice finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year award and strung together six top-10 finishes from 2009-2014, has slipped back in the balloting since his return to Cleveland. In the first two games of the 2016 Finals, James has been caught napping, neglecting his man or needlessly switching to create a liability in the Cavaliers’ attempts to stop (or slow down) Golden State.

Which leads to this question: Shouldn’t All-Star caliber offensive players be able to play good, if not stellar defense?

Physically, you’d think that any player who has the necessary quickness, instincts and elevation to score proficiently ought to be able to mirror some or most of that at the other end. But it isn’t always so, and in Cleveland’s case, the starting lineup is carrying two or three guys who seem overmatched defensively.

“Some of the skill sets, kids pick up when they’re younger,” Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams said over the weekend. “Some kids are two-way players – they enjoy it, they see the value of it. Some guys come up as one-way players. Having said that, everyone has different gifts. There are some guys who never commit to defense who maybe could be better.”

Adams, it should be noted, was speaking generically about NBA players. He wasn’t talking about any Cleveland players specifically, so this is a non-starter as bulletin board material heading into Game 3 Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

But as a longtime defensive guru wherever he has worked, Adams has seen players who come up as AAU darlings, expected only to flash their dazzling ball skills, as often or more than he’s seen real knee-bending, shorts-tugging defensive diggers who also happen to shoot lights out.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.

“Look at Kyle Korver, who transformed in our [Chicago Bulls] program to be a good defensive player,” Adams said. “Before that, he was not considered an asset. Watching him in Atlanta the last couple of years, they’ll put him on guys that we never would have put him on. And he’s guarding them pretty well.

“I think it’s your mentality. Sometimes it’s how you’re raised as a basketball player. A coach you have who’s maybe more offensive- than defensive-oriented. Or maybe if he’s defensive-oriented, you’re stunted offensively and you make up for it at some point.”

Steph Curry, Golden State’s two-time Most Valuable Player winner, has taken home two of those trophies while lugging around a reputation as a willing but mediocre defender. Other Warriors – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala – are considered to be excellent on defense.

“Ever since I was a kid, I just hated to be scored on,” Thompson said. “Playing 1-on-1 with my brothers growing up, I think I developed that instinct not to have my big brother or little brother score on me, and I just carried it over to the pros.

“The best players to ever play this game were two-way players, and that’s what makes our team so good – we’ve got so many two-way players. Guys who play both sides of the ball, both in our starters and off our bench. Why not take pride in defense? It’s 50 percent of the game.”

So your typical All-Star has the tools, at least, to play defense well?

“All of those guys have the ability,” Thompson said. “But a lot of guys have big workloads for their teams. So you’ve got to cut ’em some slack.”

Given that it’s rare for even the best teams to have five defensive craftsmen in the lineup, Adams was asked how many slackers a good team can hide or survive?

“It can’t be too many,” he said. “If you have three really good core defenders, hopefully at least one of them’s a perimeter player, then that’s not a bad formula.

“You try to weave in the weaker defenders. Hide them in certain cases. Help them, so they have confidence they’re not going to be exposed.”

Adams gave credit to Mark Jackson, Golden State’s coach before Steve Kerr took over in 2014-15, with laying a strong defensive foundation.

“We had good defensive receptivity when we came in,” Adams said. “But you have to have guys who have defensive chips in ’em. That’s really the key thing, I think. It’s very hard to play good team defense without some defenders who have that innate ability or that mindset toward playing defense – and are good at it.

“You take Oklahoma City, they have a lot of good defenders on their team and they have a defensive mindset. Then Kevin [Durant] really committed to defense in that last series and when he does that, they’re fantastic.”

Blogtable: Who wins The 2016 Finals (and why)?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> Cavs or Warriors? Who you got and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Man. This should be great. Obviously Cleveland is at full strength this year compared to last, and presents far greater challenges for Golden State’s defense. But the Cavs don’t have the collective length and defensive athleticism that the Thunder has. Kyrie Irving is a nightmare with the ball, but the Warriors just survived seven games of Russell Westbrook‘s attacks, and Westbrook is a much more active defender than Irving. The Cavs’ bench is more experienced than OKC’s, but again, it isn’t as athletic. Size with quickness is what gave the Warriors problems. Stephen Curry looked better and better as the series with the Thunder went on; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s closer. I think this series comes down to a couple of things: 1. can Kevin Love really hurt Golden State offensively, to the point where the Warriors would have to do more than single-cover him with Draymond Green?, 2. can Cleveland score and/or protect the ball enough to keep the Warriors from getting out in transition, where lethal results almost always follow? My guesses are not quite enough of either. Warriors in 7.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMaybe I’m bringing some Eastern Conference bias to this – I was basically embedded in Cleveland’s playoff run through Detroit, Atlanta and Toronto – but the way this team has played at its peak, the fit LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have found, coach Tyronn Lue‘s grasp of the reins and artful tweaks along the way, and the confidence the Cavs have in the 3-ball have won me over. Golden State will be facing a vastly different opponent this time around – and keep in mind, backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova hasn’t recklessly rolled over anybody’s ankle yet in these playoffs (cue ominous organ chord). Mostly, though, I’m thinking that LeBron With Help is a mighty force. There’s also an underlying urgency to his push back to The Finals, because this championship-to-The-‘Land business is going to be getting harder, not easier, with each passing season. Cavaliers in 6.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHave you seen 73-9? Have you seen the comeback from 3-1? They have extraordinary talent, a still under-appreciated inner drive and just find a way. The Warriors will win it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State has come too far — through the long, challenging regular season, through the comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder — to stop now. Home court will pay off. Being able to throw multiple quality defenders at LeBron James, from Draymond Green to Andre Iguodala to the other help that will come on the double, will pay off. And, of course, the brothers Splash. The Warriors still have a little too much for the Cavs. Warriors in 7.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: A healthy Cavs team would’ve beaten the Warriors last year. Now? It could be wrong place, wrong time for the Cavs. Three critical players on the Warriors are better: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And they still have a functional Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are more cohesive but both will clearly defer to LeBron James when things get tight, turning the Cavs into a predictable outfit. I see it going seven games, but in the end, we’ll be scraping what’s left of Cleveland’s battered image off the sidewalk once again. Warriors in 7.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThis will be a much more enjoyable series than it was last year, when the Cavs scored less than a point per possession in all six games. Cleveland is a lot tougher to defend than they were a year ago, not only because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy, but also because they have a second unit that spreads the floor around LeBron James. But no team is more qualified to defend the Cavs than the Warriors, who will be impossible to stop over 4-7 games themselves. Warriors in 6.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I continue to believe that the Warriors are the superior team and the best shooting team I’ve seen in all of my years watching the NBA. And in this instance, I still believe them to be the superior team to the Cavaliers. That said, this series went six games last time with LeBron James playing without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for basically the entire series. It goes seven games this year with the Warriors still on top. In a battle of the best 3-point shooting teams in the game, I’m going with who is No. 1. Warriors in 7.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAs a rule it is wrong to pick against the Warriors. They are the NBA’s most competitive team and its toughest out. And yet here comes LeBron James with a healthy roster to make amends for The 2015 Finals. The leading player of his generation returned to Cleveland to win the championship, and I think that’s going to be happen in Game 6 on his home floor. Cavaliers in 6.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: On the heels of my near-triumphant Thunder in 7 prediction, I’m not sure my voice holds much weight. But I digress. The Warriors hit a speed bump the last two weeks, and then righted the ship in a very public and impressive way, just in time to roll into The Finals against Cleveland. The way the Thunder were able to compete against Golden State was by playing lock-down defense, and I don’t think Cleveland can reach that level, or at least sustain it for four games. As good as Cleveland has been this postseason, I think the Warriors pick up where they left off and keep on running and shooting. Warriors in 6. 

Numbers preview: The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Time for the rematch.

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are back in The Finals. One team won a record 73 games in the regular season, but faced elimination three times in the playoffs. The other fired its coach in January, but cruised through the first three rounds.

All that doesn’t matter at this point. No matter how they got here, the Warriors and Cavs are back where they were a year ago. And the next 4-7 games will determine if Golden State finishes off its historical season the right way or if LeBron James finally brings a title to Cleveland.

This is the 14th time that the same two teams have met in The Finals in consecutive years. The team that won the first meeting has repeated in six of the previous 13 occurrences, while the team that lost the first time has gotten revenge seven times.

Going back to Game 4 of last year’s Finals, the Warriors have won five straight games (by an average of 16.4 points) against Cleveland. But this is a different Cavs team than the Warriors have seen before. The East champs have taken things to a new level offensively, with a potent starting lineup (different than the one Golden State faced in the regular season) and a second unit that has been impossible to guard.

Through three rounds, the Cavs have been the more prolific 3-point shooting team with the more efficient offense. They’ve been playing a much different style than what we saw in last year’s Finals. And both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy this time. Of course, the Warriors found a nice rhythm from beyond the arc in coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference finals.

The Cavs have the rest advantage. The Warriors have home-court advantage. There will be plenty of narratives to follow over the next few weeks, but the 2016 NBA title will be determined on the floor.

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Numbers preview: Cavs-Raptors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers have always been the clear favorite in the Eastern Conference. At any point in the season, you would have a hard time finding a neutral party who believed that any other East team could stop the Cavs from getting back to The Finals.

Still, the Cavs were always, at best, the third-best team in the league. They were never nearly as good offensively as the Golden State Warriors or nearly as good defensively as the San Antonio Spurs.

But Cleveland has found a new gear in the postseason. The Cavs’ haven’t been a great defensive team in the playoffs, but they haven’t needed to be, because they’ve scored a ridiculous 117 points per 100 possessions as they’ve swept through the first two rounds.

The Cavs have become the most prolific and the most proficient 3-point shooting team in the postseason. The Atlanta Hawks were the league’s best defensive team since Christmas, but couldn’t stop the Cavs’ onslaught in the conference semifinals.

The Toronto Raptors are seemingly just happy to be in the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. But there are reasons the Raptors won 56 games, including two of the three they played against the Cavs this season. They were a top-five offensive team with a much-improved defense. They’ve escaped the competitive bottom half of the East bracket and they played their most complete game of the postseason in Game 7 against the Miami Heat on Sunday.

The Cavs have the opportunity to be the first team to ever go 12-0 on its way to The Finals. To keep that from happening, the Raptors will have to find a way to slow down Cleveland’s potent offense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, 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.
Conf. semis: Beat Atlanta in four games.
Pace: 91.6 (14)
OffRtg: 117.0 (1)
DefRtg: 106.6 (11)
NetRtg: +10.4 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Toronto Raptors (56-26)

First round: Beat Indiana in seven games.
Conf. semis: Beat Miami in seven games.
Pace: 92.0 (12)
OffRtg: 99.4 (11)
DefRtg: 101.5 (6)
NetRtg: -2.1 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Raptors playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 2-1 (Home team won all three games).
Nov. 25 – Raptors 103, Cavs 99
Jan. 4 – Cavs 122, Raptors 100
Feb. 26 – Raptors 99, Cavs 97

Pace: 89.6
CLE OffRtg: 119.7 (1st vs. TOR)
TOR OffRtg: 111.1 (5th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

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