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Posts Tagged ‘JR Smith’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavaliers don’t look title ready | Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors | Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks | Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup

No. 1: Cavaliers don’t look title ready — Losses to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards over the weekend has taken the shine off of things in Cleveland, where the world knows it’s championship or bust for LeBron James and company. YEs, they remain the clubhouse favorites to win the Eastern Conference title and represent in The Finals, but they don’t look title ready right now, as Michael Lee of The Vertical points out after Sunday’s LeBron-less loss to the Wizards:

The Cavaliers have way too much talent, experience and shared success to use James’ absence as even a partial excuse for a 113-99 loss to the Wizards – a team that is currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race looking in. Even if their best player – and apparently lone playmaker – decided his mind and body needed a break, the Cavaliers still had three times as many players on maximum contracts than their opponent, but none of them, Lue said, gave maximum effort.

The loss was more alarming and disturbing because it came two days after a loss to the steady-charging Toronto Raptors that led James to say, “We lack mental [strength] right now.” J.R. Smith took the critique to another level after Sunday’s loss with a very nonchalant slam of his team’s performance.

“If we lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and to come out here and play the way we did – you have a lack of energy – maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” Smith said, voice barely rising above a purr. “We shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”

The Cavaliers haven’t reached the point where they should panic but they can’t be extremely comfortable about where they stand. They were supposed to have a much easier run through the East than defending champion Golden State in the West, but they only have a two-game lead over the Raptors for the top spot in the conference while the Warriors’ lead over the 50-win San Antonio Spurs feels more vast than Steph Curry’s limitless range.

No other team in the East made the kind of offseason or midseason upgrades to pose much of a threat to James’ reign over the conference but the struggle has been real. The Cavaliers are easily the most talented team in the East, but they are among the least content. James once blamed complacency as the culprit for the team coasting at times, but the Cavaliers have been involved with a considerable amount of chaos for a team that was only two wins from an NBA championship last June despite missing two of its best players. There has been an intense pursuit of perfection that has robbed this season of the kind of fun that Cleveland’s record (41-17) should otherwise suggest.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been searching for, consistency and efficiency,” veteran forward James Jones told The Vertical. “We’re good enough, talented enough, to do things the majority of the time, to win games against the mid-tier teams. Against the good teams, we can piece together a game or two of really good basketball and look exceptional, but deep down inside we know that we aren’t hitting on all cylinders defensively, offensively. We still have some of the same issues of isolation and ball stopping and not moving bodies. For us, even though we’re having success, it’s not the fact we were winning but the way we were winning that gave us concern and you really can’t enjoy it as much when you know you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

 

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 No. 2: Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors — There’s a reason that some of the men who came before Stephen Curry cannot find a way make sense of what the reigning KIA MVP is doing right now. They’ve simply never seen anything like it, nothing close actually. And that unfamiliarity with a player who can shoot as well as Curry does, and in turn dominates the floor in ways no player has before him, does not register with the likes of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. That inability to frame Curry’s exploits is what lies at the heart of all these doubters of both Curry and the Warriors, writes Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:

The frustration is logical, though, in a historic sense:

When the old stalwarts don’t get what you’re doing … that’s when you know the revolution is well underway.

It works two ways: The criticisms from all-time greats such as Oscar Robertson highlight the vast gap between then and now and serve to motivate the Warriors to make it even greater.

“It’s starting to get a little annoying just because it’s kind of unwarranted from across the board,” Curry said late last week on the “Warriors Plus/Minus” podcast with Marcus Thompson II and me.

“When you hear kind of … obviously legends and people that respect their era and what they were able to accomplish and what they did for the game kind of come at you, it’s kind of, just, weird.”

Some of the skepticism is understandable, because Robertson and others are great figures in the game and, yes, the rules and standards are different now.

Times change, as they did from the era before Robertson to his era and so on …

Some of the carping is logical, because this Warriors team has just the one title (so far); some of it is envy for the current limelight; some is general cantankerousness.

But let’s underline the true heart of the public doubts about Curry and the Warriors coming from Robertson, Stephen Jackson — and even from Clippers coach Doc Rivers and others last offseason:

It’s about questioning Curry’s true status as a generational figure, because he’s a departure from the normal procession of bigger, faster, stronger (Elgin Baylor to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan to LeBron James).

Almost every other NBA quantum leap came in the form of a physical leap forward, and Curry’s ascension isn’t tied to strength, size or speed. He’s a skinny guy who went to Davidson and was supposed to be knocked around by Jackson and Monta Ellis in his first Warriors training camp.

But Curry wasn’t. He survived, they were sent away, and now here he is, with one MVP on his mantle and No. 2 coming at the end of this season.

Curry’s greatness is about an unprecedented talent level and work ethic — no matter what Robertson says about current defense, there is no consistent way to defend a man who can casually dribble into game-winning 38-footers, as Curry did in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

This is new. This is unfathomable, unless you know Curry, unless you’ve spent a few years studying how he is altering this sport.

Curry’s status is comparable to the way Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, the way the West Coast offense and Joe Montana reset football and the way Muhammad Ali made everything before him in boxing seem outdated.


WATCH: Steph Curry with the (12 from deep) shots

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No. 3:  Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks — Amar’e Stoudemire has some interesting memories about his time in New York. There were good times and bad, plenty of ups and downs, and in hindsight, plenty of factors played into his time there alongside Carmelo Anthony. He spoke his mind when asked about his time there, with is Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden for a Sunday game. But Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony didn’t take any of it to heart and he certainly didn’t think Stoudemire was taking shots at him. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has more:

Asked if he feels for his former teammate Anthony for going through another tough season with the Knicks, Stoudemire hinted that Anthony needs to be better to pull the Knicks out of their mess. The Knicks (25-36) have lost 14 of their past 17 games.

“It’s tough,” Stoudemire said before the Heat beat the Knicks 98-81 on Sunday. “When you get involved in this situation, you have to take ownership of it. You have to make sure you made the right decisions for your team and teammates.

“You have to become a complete player in order to bring your team out of a rut. Everyone can’t do it. It’s not always easy.”

When asked if he has any advice for Anthony moving forward, Stoudemire mentioned how he knew at this stage of his career that he needed to surround himself with “other class A players” to chase a title.

“It’s a situation where you have options,” Stoudemire said. “If you want to win, that’s the main priority. And if physically you can’t do it as a player and make your teammates better and get them to the point they can win, then you surround yourself with a team that’s built to win.

“And for me, I knew Father Time was ticking on my clock, so I wanted to put myself in a position around other class A players, put myself in a position to at least compete for a championship.”

Stoudemire played four and a half seasons with the Knicks, and his time overlapped with former fan favorite Lin. Although he did not mention any names, Stoudemire said not every Knick was thrilled with Lin’s exploding popularity back then.

“If he stayed, it would’ve been cool,” Stoudemire said of Lin, who played one season in New York from 2011-12. “But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being the new star, so he didn’t stay long. But Jeremy was a great, great guy. Great teammate. He worked hard. He put the work in, and we’re proud of him to have his moment.

“A lot of times, you gotta enjoy someone’s success,” he continued. “And that wasn’t the case for us during that stretch. … You got to enjoy that. You got to let that player enjoy himself and cherish those moments. He was becoming a star, and I don’t think everybody was pleased with that.”

Anthony did not think Stoudemire was talking about him when it came to being less than receptive to Lin’s brief success in New York.

“Still?” Anthony asked when told that Lin came up when reporters talked to Stoudemire. “That was [four] years ago? I don’t know. I don’t have no comment about that. If [Lin] was becoming a star, we should embrace that. I don’t know. We didn’t embrace it? Was that the word?”

“S—, if that was the case then I’d be upset right now with KP [rookie fan favorite Kristaps Porzingis], if he’s talking about me. I doubt if [Stoudemire is] talking about me. I doubt that. I highly doubt that.”

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No. 4: Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup — The Oklahoma City were the one team most pundits thought to be built to deal with the Golden State Warriors’ vaunted death lineup, a small-ball group that has shredded all comers this season. But in the final minutes of Saturday night’s instant classic, that lineup flummoxed the Thunder as well. Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his staff have until Thursday night (when they meet agains, on TNT) to come up with a fix for what went wrong. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman provides the details:

But lost amidst this hardwood classic was a dilemma that should concern the Thunder in the present. Curry’s impossible accuracy won it. But the Warriors got back into the game with their small-ball death lineup, which completely dictated the final 10 minutes.

With 4:37 left in regulation, Andre Iguodala subbed in for Shaun Livingston, joining Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. The Warriors were down 11. In fewer than five minutes, they forced overtime. Then in five overtime minutes, they outscored the Thunder by three.

So in a little under 10 total minutes, that nightmarish Golden State unit beat the Thunder 36-22. Curry played hero. Green was a defensive menace. The other three chipped in. But of greater consequence, the versatility of that Warriors five-man grouping forced Billy Donovan’s hand, shrinking OKC’s depth.

Breaking news: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder’s two best players. They’re always on the court in crunch time, barring a foul-out…which we’ll get to.

Beyond them, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are the team’s third and fourth most balanced, important talents. You want both on the court in crucial moments.

Which is where the problem lies. When the Warriors slide Green to center and pepper two-way wings all over the court, they challenge you to take one off the floor or risk some uncomfortable mismatches.

After an 8-point, 3-rebound, 0-block disappearance in Oakland, Ibaka was great on Saturday night. The Thunder demolished Golden State 62-32 in rebounds and Ibaka was the key. He had a season-high 20 rebounds, along with 15 points, two blocks and countless other contested and altered shots. He played a team-high 41 minutes. His presence was required.

Which meant Adams was the odd man out. Of late, Adams has been great, providing a sturdy defensive back-line while finishing layups and dunks with more consistency. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in his 28 minutes on Saturday. But in his final 136 seconds, Adams was out of his element.

From the 4:37 mark of the fourth to the 2:21 mark, Donovan kept Adams and Ibaka in together against that small-ball unit. The Warriors quickly blasted off a 7-0 run to get back in the game. Adams was assigned Iguodala. The Warriors recognized it and attacked Adams with Curry and Iguodala in a pick-and-roll. Curry got the big man on a switch and hit the ninth of his 12 3s.

Right after, Donovan subbed in Dion Waiters for Adams, going small and ceding to the Warriors style.

Then as the game navigated through overtime, Adams sat all but nine seconds. Donovan put him in to win the tip at the start of overtime, which he did, and then pulled him at the first whistle, reinserting Waiters.

Durant fouled out 38 seconds later, a crippling blow, presenting Donovan with another choice. Go back big with Adams or stay small? He remained small, choosing Kyle Singler to replace Durant.

And this is the conundrum the Thunder faces against the Warriors. While many believe OKC’s talent could give Golden State its biggest postseason challenge, the Warriors versatile options exposes the Thunder’s roster imbalance. OKC is deep in the frontcourt but thin on the wing. The Warriors small-ball strategy can nullify frontcourt players and force you to dip deep into your bag of wings.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks missed on Joe Johnson, who chose Miami, but rebound by getting Kris Humphries off the waiver wire … Johnson, by the way, chose the Heat because of his connection with players already on the roster … A sprained right ankle will cost Danilo Gallinari all of the Nuggets’ upcoming homestand … Folks in Sacramento are celebrating Vivek Ranadive for the new arena but blaming him for the team that can’t get it rightDamian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers are keeping it rolling on their Eastern Conference road trip

With Irving back, can Cavs finally soar?

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving is ready to return to the court.

Now that Kyrie Irving is back on the floor, can the Cavs finally discover a new “normal?”

You have to feel for the Cavs a bit. Well, sort of. Ever since LeBron James boomeranged back to Cleveland, the team he envisioned never quite took the floor. At the start of last season, the new club had to deal with transition pains caused by a new coach and the arrival of four key pieces on the rotation: LeBron, Kevin Love, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

And then, once the introductions were finally made two months into the season, injuries hit. Anderson Varejao was done for the year. When the playoffs began, Love was finished. Shortly after the NBA Finals began, Irving was finished.

And this season, Shumpert has dealt with injuries, which prevented him from delivering anything more than a newborn baby.

LeBron joked that it was “normal” for the Cavs to deal with being incomplete, but today was a step in the other direction when Irving declared himself fit for duty, having healed from his knee injury.

With a simple Michael Jordan-style “I’m back” tweet, Irving has changed the dynamics of the club. He gives the Cavs one more All-Star on the floor, one more scoring option, one less reason to rely so much on LeBron. The Cavs managed to go 17-7 anyway, which is scary once you think about it, how the rest of the teams in the East had their opening and none took advantage of it.

Irving will suit up Sunday against the Sixers, a great team to use as a warm up, which will give him a few days to prepare for the Christmas Day showdown against Steph Curry and the Warriors. Remember, when the Warriors took the Cavs in six games during the Finals, LeBron saluted the champs but also said he wished the Cavs were fully healthy. And that remark took a life of its own, with the Warriors feeling stung by any accusation that they were lucky. Which they were, from the standpoint of avoiding a major injury, unlike OKC and a few other contenders.

“I’m pretty (bleeping) excited,” Irving said at practice, and that pretty much sums up the feeling of his teammates.

The trick now is for the Cavs and Love in particular to mesh with Irving on the floor. In the absence of Irving, Love has played his best ball in Cleveland by far, and feels comfortable with more touches. It’ll be up to coach David Blatt to devise a way to make everyone feel productive and happy.

Irving has practiced pain-free for weeks, and it’s reasonable to suggest he’ll need a few games to get his NBA stamina back. But look: The Cavs have added a three-time All-Star who’s in the prime of his career at age 23. How can it not work?

Morning Shootaround Sept. 12


VIDEO: New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday and his soccer star wife Lauren are a true two-sport super couple

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thompson will be absent from LeBron’s Miami workouts | Holiday, Pelicans taking cautious approach heading into camp| Stunned Canadians assess damage after upset

No. 1: Thompson will be absent from LeBron’s Miami workouts — Not all of the Cleveland Cavaliers will be taking their talents to South Beach for pre-training camp workouts organized by LeBron James. Restricted free agent power forward Tristan Thompson will not be attending the festivities, not without his future with the team solidified with a new contract. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

With the 24-year-old in the midst of a lengthy contract stalemate with the club, he has elected not to appear.

The first day of the camp [was Friday].

James summoned his teammates to join him in South Florida to get a head start on the upcoming season. It will be a year in which the team is a betting favorite to win the NBA Finals.

NEOMG is told that Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Joe Harris, Mo Williams, James Jones, Richard Jefferson and Sasha Kaun are expected to be on the scene in Miami.

Irving, Love and Varejao will be limited as they recover from injuries that required surgery. Timofey Mozgov’s absence is due to being on the mend from a knee scope over the summer.

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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 7


VIDEO: Day Six Wrap: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real | Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie | White ready to take his place in Hall of Fame | Is Bradley Beal worth the max?

No. 1: The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real — Anthony Bennett‘s summer has been one positive step after another, as the former No. 1 overall pick works to reinvent himself and prove that he’s not the “bust” some have labeled him. His work with Team Canada has only bolstered his cause. He’s been a bit of a revelation during the FIBA Americas tournament, playing a vital role on his national team, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun writes:

Anthony Bennett didn’t have the loudest stat-line, but Canada’s resurgent star continues to be a key contributor for the squad.

Bennett quickly earned the confidence of head coach Jay Triano at training camp, was perhaps the best performer at the Pan Am Games in Toronto and was solid in Puerto Rico, before faring well here as well.

“I think Anthony Bennett’s summer has been absolutely fantastic for us,” Triano said after Canada defeated Panama on Sunday.

“He’s engaged in everything that we do on the floor, off the floor, rebounding. We’ve asked him to rebound, and he’s done it on a continuous basis. He runs the floor on a continuous basis. He provides help on the defensive end. He understands our defensive system.”

Confidence is important to Bennett and with Triano letting him just go out and play, he seems relaxed and is having fun. He looked relaxed before the game, throwing down a self-alley-oop reverse dunk in the layup line, and kept going from there.

“Coach was saying, ‘just line ’em up and knock ’em down,’ ” Bennett said.

“This is definitely a fun tournament to play in. A lot of competition, different teams, different styles so you’ve just got to adjust.”

Triano is pleased for the former No. 1 overall draft pick, who has had a tough first couple of NBA seasons.

“We told him earlier this summer if you do those things people are going to understand he’s got a lot of other offensive skills,” Triano said.

“His ability to pass the basketball, his ability to get teammates open. I’m really happy for him as an individual and we need him to continue to play that way.”

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No. 2: Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie — The workload LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put in during their first season together in Cleveland won’t look the same this time around, and that’s not just because Kyrie might not be available until January due to injury. It’s time for a reduction in minutes for both of the Cavaliers’ stars, according to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer:

There was a report about Kyrie Irving not being ready to play until January.

No one knows for sure, as Irving is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured knee cap. But the Cavs do expect him to play well before January. Of course, that can change once they see him in training camp.

Even if Irving’s knee is in excellent shape, they plan to cut his minutes early in the season. He ranked No. 3 in average minutes per game last season. LeBron James was No. 5. I recently wrote about this.

That’s too much for both players during the regular season.

The Cavs signed veteran Mo Williams, who has started 511 games in the NBA. That includes 33 at point guard last season. He averaged 14 points and can take some of the scoring load off Irving in the backcourt.

The Cavs also have Matthew Dellavedova coming back. So they have Williams and Dellavedova to help out at point guard, allowing Irving to miss some games. He also can play fewer minutes.

The re-signing of J.R. Smith should help the Cavs cut the minutes for James during the regular season. The 6-foot-6 Smith can play both shooting guard and small forward.

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No. 3: White ready to take his place in the Hall of Fame — Jo Jo White has had Hall of Fame credentials for years, but only now is the former Boston Celtics great taking his rightful place alongside other Celtics greats in Springfield. Even though the honor seems long overdue, White is appreciative that his time has finally come. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

In playing in seven All-Star Games, being named MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals, and with a franchise-record 488 consecutive games played for the Celtics, White possessed Hall of Fame credentials. But it appears the Naismith committee has been slow to embrace some players from the 1970s who were perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Although White’s accomplishments in the game have always been greatly appreciated in Boston, it has taken years for others to recognize his career as more than just above average.

“I’m just excited and I loved playing sports,” White said. “To touch the athletes you’ve played with, coaches that you had to deal with, and you find you’re getting very, very close to the team that you’re working with. What I’ve went through as a player, I’m just excited.

“I’m still rejoicing from where I’ve gone to where I am to what I had to go through to get where I am. I’ve gone through it.”

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No. 4: Is Bradley Beal worth the max? — The Washington Wizards will have to figure out an answer to that question soon enough. A maxed out backcourt tandem of All-Star point guard John Wall and the sweet-shooting Beal could be on the horizon for a team with grand designs of climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons. Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders ponders the question a full summer ahead of time:

In all likelihood, Beal, whom the Wizards can make a restricted free agent next summer, will command a maximum offer sheet from some team at that time. Quite a few teams will have truckloads of cap space and can have a Brinks truck arrive at the residence of Beal at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2016. Until that time, though, since the Wizards will have the right of first refusal, it makes sense for them to wait—just like the Warriors did with Green, just like the Chicago Bulls did with Jimmy Butler and just like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard.

Make no mistake about it, though, Beal is a maximum player in today’s NBA. That is true despite the fact that he has never played as many as 75 games in any one of his three seasons. It is also true despite the defensive ineptitude that he has shown on a fairly consistent basis over the course of his young career. And yes, it is true despite the fact that he has not consistently shown that he can impact the game on multiple fronts. Above all, he is regarded as a strong offensive player and a deadly three-point shooter (his career three-point conversation rate is about 42 percent). His ability to create his own shot has improved tremendously, and, still at just 22 years old, he is nowhere near his physical prime. As he ages and matures, he will only get better.

Indeed, in today’s NBA, contract impasses are nothing extraordinary. But as it relates to Beal, with his upside, his production thus far and the influx of money that the NBA will see over the next few years, even a blind man can see that this movie ends the same way as the ones we have just witnessed.

In Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Beal is a maximum player. Drawing that conclusion is the easy part. The difficult part, for the Wizards, is determining whether or not he will fulfill the lofty expectations that such a contract would yield and whether they want to be the team to roll the dice on him.

But best believe, in today’s NBA, someone will.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jahlil Okafor is ready to tote the load for the Philadelphia 76ers … The players had a huge hand in the look and design of the Hawks’ new uniformsKyle Lowry chats about his summer slim downDwyane Wade was in attendance for one of the craziest games on college football’s kickoff weekend

ICYMI: The Sixers have good reason to be excited about Nerlens Noel:


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel’s Top 10 Plays from his All-Rookie first team season

Report: J.R. Smith to re-sign with Cavaliers


VIDEO: J.R. Smith lights it up from deep

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The long, strange trip that has been J.R. Smith‘s free-agent summer is over, according to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ swingman. He is returning to the Cavs, per a message he delivered on his Instagram account.

Smith’s struggles in The Finals made it unclear exactly where he stood on the priority list for the Cavaliers this summer as they tended to other free agent business, the signings of LeBron James and Kevin Love being the team’s top priorities.

But Smith explains (above) his reason for opting out of the final year of his deal to test free agency and how that played into the Cavaliers’ summer plans.

The Cavaliers have kept their core group largely intact, with Smith being one of the final pieces to be taken care of before training camp. Smith and Iman Shumpert, acquired last season in a deal with the New York Knicks, were crucial additions for the midseason roster tweaking and subsequent run to The Finals for the Cavaliers.

Smith’s new deal with the Cavaliers is for two years, $5 million for next season and a player option for the second year, per Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Morning Shootaround — June 27


VIDEO: The Knicks’ bold move to Draft Kristaps Porzingis will have long-lasting ramifications for the franchise

NEWS OF THE MORNING

July is even bigger than June for the Cleveland Cavaliers | Four-team race for DeAndre Jordan’s services | Sixers’ concerns about Embiid growing | Upset ‘Melo or not, Porzingis was right pick for Knicks

No. 1: July is even bigger than June for the Cleveland Cavaliers  Playing for a championship is one thing. Playing for the right to contend for more in the future, however, is another beast altogether. The Cleveland Cavaliers are just days away from a colossal offseason, a July even bigger than the June that saw them scrap and claw their way to within two wins of winning the NBA title, that rests on the franchise’s ability to master free agency. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and whoever else needs tending to will be the focus for the Cavaliers and certainly LeBron James. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer sets the summer table for the Cavaliers:

1. I don’t expect J.R. Smith to be back with the Cavs. He turned down his $6.4 million player option, and is looking for a raise with a long-term deal. I doubt the Cavs would want Smith on an extended contract. His emotions are on edge. He was one more flagrant foul away from being suspended in the playoffs. Smith is best on a short-term deal. Smith is an unrestricted free agent.

2. Now that the Cavs will have a huge payroll, they would much prefer to keep Iman Shumpert over Smith. Shumpert is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer that he receives. They will extend the $3.9 million qualifying offer to the guard and try to work out a long-term deal.

3. Look for the Cavaliers to offer maximum contracts to both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. The two deals will be different because they are at different stages of their career. Love can receive a five-year deal in the $100 million range. The Cavs think Love will give it serious consideration. It’s possible that Love will sign a  “1-and-1” contract. It would pay him the maximum salary in 2015-16, and a one-year player option for 2016-17. An agent wants the player option just in case your client has a horrendous injury in 2015-16, so he can at least pocket a maximum salary for 2016-17.

4. The Cavs believe Love came to a comfort level with the team by the end of the season. He knows that this is his best place to contend for a title. The top contenders in the Western Conference don’t have the salary cap room for him. It’s only the struggling or lesser teams (the Lakers, Boston, etc) that may be able to find a way to fit Love into their cap.

5. Love is coming off major shoulder surgery. His is expected to fully recover. He has also dealt with some back problems. Love missed seven regular season games in 2014-15. He missed five in 2013-14. He had a broken hand in 2012-13, missing 65 games. Injuries are a concern, but it’s not as if he has been Anderson Varejao — who simply can’t stay healthy.

6. The summer of 2016 is the “Money Summer.” It’s when the salary cap is expected to increase by at least 30 percent. So a maximum contract to Love this summer is considerably less than a maximum deal a year from now. It’s why LeBron James started the “1-and-1” deal last summer, and it’s why he’s expected to sign another contract like that this summer with the Cavs.

7. Thompson’s long-term maximum deal would be about $70 million for four years. He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer that he receives from another team. Does Thompson play for a “qualifying offer” in the $7 million range and aim to be an unrestricted free agent in 2016 when they big money really flows? That’s something his agent Rich Paul (who also represents James) will have to discuss with Thompson. It was Paul and his chief negotiator, Mark Termini, who helped James design the “1-and-1” contract approach last summer.

 

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No. 2:Four team race for DeAndre Jordan’s services — So there is a rift between Los Angeles Clippers free agent center DeAndre Jordan and All-Star point guard Chris Paul, or at least that’s the latest smoke rising from Hollywood. Even after Doc Rivers dismissed the rumors that two of his stars were not on the same page all season, the rumblings have not stopped. Jordan’s choice this summer in free agency could very well be influenced by his reportedly deteriorating relationship with Paul. There is apparently a four-team race for Jordan’s services. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times provides some context:

The Clippers’ main focus now is on keeping Jordan.

The season ended with Rivers denying reports Jordan and Chris Paul had a beef with each other.

But other NBA officials not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said there indeed is a rift between Jordan and Paul.

The officials said Jordan wants to be more involved in the offense and wants to be an All-Star, and he’s not sure whether those things can happen on the Clippers with All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin.

Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons has been recruiting Jordan, the officials said. The two have been hanging out together in Jordan’s hometown of Houston.

When free agency starts at 9:01 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Jordan will be home in Houston.

The officials said four teams will visit Jordan at home — the Clippers, Lakers, Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Clippers can offer Jordan the most security.

He can sign a five-year maximum deal for $108 million with the Clippers. Other teams under the salary cap can offer Jordan a maximum deal of four years for $80 million, with an opt-out clause after the third season.

Jordan can also sign a two-year deal with the Clippers with a player option for after the 2016 season, giving him a starting salary of about $18.8 million for next season.


VIDEO: What’s up with DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers

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No. 3: Sixers’ concerns about Embiid growing? — Jahlil Okafor was more than just the obvious No. 3 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, he was a security pick for the Philadelphia 76ers. With growing concerns about the health and future of Joel Embiid, the 76ers had to make the right choice with that No. 3 pick. Sixers boss Sam Hinkie is as concerned as anyone about his prized big man from the 2014 Draft, writes John Smallwood of The Philadelphia Daily News:

Conspiracy theorists had looked at the timing of the Sixers’ announcement that redshirt rookie center Joel Embiid was not healing as well as anticipated from the foot injury and surgery that cost him last season and determined that it was a smokescreen to hide Hinkie’s true intentions for Thursday’s NBA draft.

Yesterday, that was put to rest. The concerns about Embiid are all too real.

Hinkie said selecting Duke University freshman center Jahlil Okafor third overall was not connected to Embiid’s situation. He said Okafor was the pick because he was the best player available.

But what if there was no issue with Embiid?

“I’d like to think we’d have had the courage to do it anyway,” Hinkie responded when asked if he would have still selected Okafor. “I knew and it’s hard to unknow where things stood with Joel, but I’d like to think we’d have the courage anyway.”

It would almost have been better had it been the mysterious Hinkie talking about Embiid. It would be easier on the concern meter to believe it was just Hinkie being Hinkie and not wanting to divulge any information that he feels might weaken his position.

The troubling thing about this is that it was clear that Hinkie does not know for sure what is going on with Embiid.

“[Embiid] feels really good,” Hinkie said. “That’s part of what makes this, um, maybe confusing is the right word.

“It’s certainly confusing for Joel. He said, ‘I can’t believe how good I feel and I’ve felt great for a while.’ It seems hard to believe that something is wrong.”

Something, however, is wrong – or rather, not quite right.

A CT scan of Embiid’s foot about a week ago led to the Sixers making the infamous Saturday night release saying things weren’t as healed as “anticipated.”

Hinkie pointed out that a year ago, while some had said it would be a 4- to 6-month recovery from surgery to repair the navicular bone in Embiid’s right foot, that he had a more conservative estimate, at that time, of up to 8 months.

Embiid had the surgery on June 20, 2014, which makes it more than 12 months and there are still issues.

“I’ll give a timeline that might help clear some things up but might also help show why we’re looking so hard to try to understand,” Hinkie said. “Joel we’ve watched like a hawk in rehab every day of the year.

“The nature of navicular injuries and the nature of stress fractures is that you see these slow improvements and then you slow [rehabilitation] down and check things.

“Anytime you get any kind of negative feedback, you unload, slow down and re-assess.

“As part of that, we have a set of pro-active MRIs on Joel, and each of those we sent out to a variety of doctors both internally and externally and ask, “What do you think?’ We get the consensus responses and move from there.”

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No. 4: Upset ‘Melo or not, Porzingis was right pick for Knicks — It doesn’t matter where you come down on the New York Knicks’ Draft night decision to select Kristaps Porzingis over several other more NBA-ready prospects. What’s done is done. And Phil Jackson believes that Porzingis was the right choice, even if his star player, Carmelo Anthony, does not. Porzingis was the only choice, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, for a franchise that can no longer operate strictly for the short-term:

The Daily News first reported on Friday that Anthony is upset over Jackson’s decision to draft Porzingis, a 19-year-old, 7-foot-1 project. Anthony, according to a source, doesn’t understand why Jackson would waste such a high pick on a player who can’t help immediately. That, of course, is just the point. It would be short-sighted of Jackson to draft, for example, Willie Cauley-Stein, who could make a bigger contribution in years one and two.

But when you’re picking that high in the draft, you’re looking for a future All-Star, even if that may not help the only current All-Star on your roster, who is 31 and is coming off major knee surgery.

On Friday, Anthony tweeted: “What’s understood doesn’t need to be spoken upon” #DestiNY #TheFutureIsNow.

Anthony should have considered “the future is now” last summer when his instincts told him to leave New York as a free agent to join a contender. The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets were both viable options.

Now Anthony’s stuck with the Knicks, a rebuilding team that barring a few major free agent moves won’t be a playoff team next season. Conversely, the Knicks are stuck with Anthony, his bad knee and his bad contract.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on SiriusXM Radio on Friday that Anthony feels betrayed and hoodwinked by Jackson.

Anthony is apparently upset specifically with Jackson’s decision to draft Porzingis, telling a close friend “are we supposed to wait two or three years for this guy?”

Since January, Anthony has seen his pal J.R. Smith along with Iman Shumpert get traded to Cleveland. And a Knicks source claims that Anthony called Tim Hardaway Jr. after the third-year player was traded to Atlanta for the draft rights to Jerian Grant to express his displeasure with Jackson’s moves.

“He doesn’t understand it,” the source said.

“The bond between mentor and protégé enables us to stay true to our chosen path,” Anthony tweeted along with a photo of himself and Hardaway smiling.

Knicks officials are aware of Anthony’s feelings about the moves. Early Friday, Jackson was asked if he thought about Anthony when picking Porzingis and said: “Carmelo’s always on my mind. He’s our favorite son.”

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VIDEO: Pat Riley and the Miami Heat got Justise out of the NBA Draft

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Lakers think they have a good shot at landing LaMarcus Aldridge … Portland’s Neil Olshey has a demanding juggling act that needs completing this summer …  Will the Pacers regret passing on hometown kids Trey Lyles and RJ Hunter?

The Finals Live Blog Game 6

The champs, Golden State @warriors!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

CLEVELAND — Close-out time at The Finals always brings an extra dose of energy for all involved.

And for LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and this shell-shocked city desperate for a championship, desperation is the name of the game for Game 6 tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.

They have to play with a savage desperation that will interrupt the Golden State Warriors’ two-game run in this series or face the prospect of that title drought extending to yet another year.

That 2-1 lead the Cavaliers celebrated here last week seems so long ago now, with the momentum shift that came with the last two games. The Warriors righted things here in Game 4 and then pressed their advantage in Game 5 Sunday on their home floor.

Now we’ll find out if the best player in the world’s confidence is misplaced or right on target. He’s eyeing a return trip to Oakland for an epic Game 7 showdown. And for the sake of this beleaguered fan base and city (not to mention coach David Blatt), LeBron has to deliver.

Another triple double. Another 40-point game. Another performance for the ages. And a much better showing from his supporting cast. The Cavaliers need it all to keep this series alive. #AllInCLE indeed. All in for Game 6, or else …

 

And yes, that means you J.R. Smith?

IT'S GAME DAY! The biggest game of the season to date tips off at 6pm. #StrengthInNumbers GAME PREVIEW » warriors.com/gameday

A photo posted by Golden State Warriors (@warriors) on

As always, things revolve around LeBron for the Cavaliers. How long he keeps the ball on his touches correlates to the outcome of the game (over 6 seconds on his touches, the Cavs wins … 6 seconds or under, the Warriors win).

#6IsTheMagicNumberForGame6

With so much attention on LeBron and the Cavaliers right now, it feels like we are giving the Warriors short shrift as they are just four quarters away from capturing their first title in 40 years. Their rebound from the first three game of this series has been nothing short of remarkable.

It’s like we’ve forgotten that Stephen Curry, and not LeBron, is the reigning KIA MVP as we head into what could be the final night of the regular season.

That was Steph shredding the Cavaliers’ vaunted defense, led Cleveland cult hero Matthew Dellavedova, for 17 of his team-high 37 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5.

While some, including our very own Steve Aschburner, believe LeBron has already locked up MVP honors, win or lose this series, I happen to believe the victors deserve the spoils. Steph or Andre Iguodala have to be the frontrunners if the Warriors finish this thing off tonight or in Friday’s Game 7.

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Know your history!

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Another interesting pre-game read regarding young Mr. James …

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Good to know that LeBron is preoccupied with more important things than joining Jerry West as the only men to win Finals MVP on the losing side.

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Game 6 X-factors …

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Never Nervous Blatt

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Question of the night … Good J.R. or Bad J.R., who is it going to be?

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This guy’s got jokes!

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Reinforcements …

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Prediction time. Get yours in ASAP!

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Actually 82 might be needed to stave off elimination.

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Gold-toed shoes might do the trick.

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It’s cranked up in the Q right about now!

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LOL

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Marlana VanHoose did the anthem justice. Bravo!

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DWade and LeBron reunited one day?

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Hey, stick to your day job big fella and leave this stuff to me.

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Cavs rocking the home whites might mean something …

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It is hard to fathom how a player with a handle so wicked could be so careless at times.

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Scramble unit!

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Tas with the C-O-N-spiracy

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Coming up empty early and far too often

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Please Hammer, don’t hurt ’em! And pleased to see you made it all this way to see your Warriors.

MC Hammer in prime position to welcome the Warriors onto the floor for Game 6 here in Cleveland

A video posted by Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) on

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Miracles do happen!

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Keep saying it Sir! Preach on!

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Stick to what got you here.

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Andre 2015!

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Rough start for the Cavs. Just barely avoided the Warriors’ magic number #15isawaysthemagicnumber

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What Pip said …

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One of many, so far, but the turnovers are looming large …

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He’s already got three of them.

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Get off his lawn!

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That explains some of it, for sure.

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History in the making, win or lose.

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Things that make you go, hmmm?

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Running out of time on this Shawn Marion thing. And if it was going to happen, LeBron would have subbed Marion in already, right?

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He needs the rest.

Common foul on Shumpert for flooring Draymond Green.

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Cavs working the Warriors over with a 28-15 rebounding edge. But …

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What a relief.

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He is definitely here. He and David Lee are both on the bench.

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The team that controls the pace wins these games. Been that way for five straight.

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There  is wrong and then there is just plain damn wrong!

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Do the math.

Tristan Thompson with the monster tip jam to end the half. 45-43 Warriors in a tight one. Big man basketball lives and so do the Cavs, for at least another 24 minutes.

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Might be the last episode of the season … #justsayin

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You and your theorem …

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Numbers game

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What time is check out?

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At best, and not even that right now.

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Cavs have already lost one game trying to match the Warriors’ small-ball attack. Don’t do it again!

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Delly-Time appears to be over …

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This stuff could go on all night.

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Like I said, all night long …

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Oh Festus!

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Rabbit punch!

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Curtains! Oh and LeBron is 8-for-21 from the floor with 12 minutes and 47.1 seconds to play.

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A little harsh.

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Cavs in a 73-61 hole after three. And the fourth has not been kind to them in this series.

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Best player on the planet against the best team on the planet …

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Shade for the King?

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There is an I(guodala) in “team” this time.

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By any means necessary!

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Just sayin …

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A few extra steps never hurt.

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Steph being Steph!

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Anyone that doesn’t appreciate what Shaun Livingston is doing on this stage … SMH!

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He prefers Andre, but we all agree on this one.

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Riley Time!

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Extra pass … Splash!

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23 has a triple double again … no, not that one!

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No way around it. It’s his trophy tonight … if they hold on.

https://twitter.com/JarrodRudolph/status/611014102505365504

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Among other things … Mozgov ballin’ in The Finals, Delly, etc.

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Back to life, back to reality!

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This won’t stop. It just won’t.

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Don’t worry big fella, it’s a wrap!

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Great point. Team first!

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Never fails. Teams win titles.

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Dre Day! Gotta be …

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Good lesson for all involved. Nothing is guaranteed. Not even for LeBron.

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The King fatigued … and still no Shawn Marion, not even for the final 10.6 seconds.

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That’s it. Warriors win it. 105-97 and that puts a wrap on the 2014-15 season and the 2015 playoffs and The Finals!

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Heat fans will never forget …

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The @Warriors are the 2015 #NBAFinals Champions!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

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The Drought is OVER!

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The #KiaMVP & now NBA champion @wardell30!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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#NBAFinals MVP @andre celebrates his first NBA title!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

The Finals Live Blog Game 5

@wardell30 with the speedy dribbling! 🏀💨💨#NBAFinals

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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).

Warriors champ Rick Barry with the crew! #NBAFinals

A photo posted by @nbatv on

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.

Shump in the corner, getting ready for Game 5.

A photo posted 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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@kingjames with his 2nd triple double of the 2015 #NBAFinals. Watch on ABC!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

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Just another #NBAFinals triple-double for @kingjames… 29-12-10 early in the 4th qtr

A photo posted by NBA on TNT (@nbaontnt) on

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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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Back & forth we go on ABC in Game 5 of the 2015 #NBAFinals!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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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.

Morning shootaround — May 10




VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors need their MVP | Kyrie hopes to play through pain | Wizards go onward with Porter | Harden is ready to take burden

No. 1: Warriors need their MVPStephen Curry was a deserving MVP award winner in the regular season as an exciting player whose flash was matched by his ability to elevate Golden State to the best record in the NBA. He was also a big factor in the Warriors’ first-round dusting of the Pelicans but now, here comes his first taste with a challenge. He’s not the only Warrior in a shooting funk, but given his importance, his struggles are definitely the most visible. The Warriors are hardly in trouble in their second-round series with the Grizzlies but they are down 2-1. The last MVP who couldn’t reach the conference finals was LeBron James in 2009-10. Here is Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News on Curry dealing with the spotlight:

On Saturday, Curry had open shots from the outset. And he just didn’t make many of them.

And then the Warriors started to fall behind, Curry’s emotions started to boil over, and that is not how things ever are supposed to go for the Warriors.

“I didn’t see frustration, but he knows that he didn’t have a good game,” Steve Kerr said of Curry after the coach’s podium session.

“Obviously that bothers everybody, but particularly when you’re the star and the MVP and all that and you know that a lot is on your shoulders.

“But that’s part of it. That’s part of the burden that he carries being who he is.”

Michael Jordan did it. Tim Duncan did it. This is Curry’s turn to try it, too.

Curry’s stat line for the game wasn’t terrible: 8 for 21 from the field, 2 for 10 from 3-point distance, 23 points, six assists and four turnovers.

But much of that came in the second half, after Memphis had carved out a huge lead and the Warriors had to throw everything at the Grizzlies just to try to narrow the lead.

The Warriors can’t beat Memphis like that — the Grizzlies are too disciplined to give away a big lead the way New Orleans did in Game 3 of the first round.

No, the Warriors need to jump out to a quick lead against the Grizzlies, and the best way to do that is for Curry to play like an MVP.

His coach looks to him for that; his teammates depend on him for that.


VIDEO: Warriors coach Steve Kerr discusses the team’s Game 3 loss

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Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s playoff action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets | Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason | Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? | Parade plans being made in Golden State

No. 1: The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets — Even with Chris Paul “questionable” for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are confident. They have an edge, of sorts, over the Rockets, according to Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times:

After edging the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the Clippers have advanced to face a team with a lesser recent playoff pedigree than themselves.

The Houston Rockets have won two playoff series since 1997, one fewer than the Clippers have won since Chris Paul arrived in December 2011.

It’s true that Rockets guard Jason Terry won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and stars James Harden and Dwight Howard each advanced to the Finals with other teams, but the group has done little collectively besides getting past the Mavericks in a relatively breezy first-round series this season.

The Rockets and Clippers each won 56 games in the regular season, finishing tied for the league’s third-best record. The Rockets were awarded the second seeding in the Western Conference and the accompanying homecourt advantage in this conference semifinal series against the third-seeded Clippers by virtue of winning the Southwest Division.

The Clippers have dominated Houston in recent seasons, winning 11 of the last 14 games. But the Rockets won the final two games between the teams this season and Howard did not play in any of the four games in the series this season.

“Obviously, they have a good thing going,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “James has had an unbelievable year, Dwight had a huge series against Dallas and really all the way down the line. They’re a great team.”

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No. 2: Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason — The standard for toughness and determination in this postseason, at least in the Eastern Conference, is the Washington Wizards. Playing on the road to start both their first round series and the conference semifinals, the Wizards remain unblemished, perfect after five games. They are the embodiment of toughness, says Mike Lee of The Washington Post:

Bradley Beal and John Wall showed up at the postgame podium looking as if they had just been sparring for 12 rounds instead of playing basketball for four quarters. Beal had petroleum jelly covering two scratches under his right eye that came after Atlanta Hawks reserve guard Kent Bazemore inexplicably kicked him in the face while chasing down a loose ball. Wall had his left wrist and hand heavily taped after an awkward landing that was exacerbated by Beal tripping and falling on him.

At different times during the Washington Wizards’ 104-98 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Beal and Wall provided moments of spectacular play and trepidation for a team that suddenly doesn’t know how to lose. Beal matched his playoff career high with 28 points, his third 20-point game this postseason. Wall added 18 points and a game-high 13 assists , extending a string of four consecutive double-doubles that has seen him dish out 55 assists over those games. Beal and Wall have been a representation of the mental and physical toughness required to win at this time of year, having already led the Wizards to more postseason wins in the past two seasons than the previous 27 seasons combined.

“We two guys that’s going to fight until the end,” Wall said after winning at Philips Arena for just the second time in his career and first time this season. “If it ain’t broke, you can’t get us off the court.”

The win almost felt bittersweet after Beal sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter when he landed awkwardly on Hawks center Al Horford. Beal returned to hobble around for a few minutes but finally got benched, pulled a towel over his head and sobbed uncontrollably as the final seconds ticked off. He continued to weep through a postgame television interview and on his way for X-rays , which turned out negative. With a protective sleeve on his right leg, Beal walked with a slight limp after the game, and Coach Randy Wittman was uncertain about Beal’s availability for Game 2.

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No. 3: Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? — No Kevin Love. No J.R. Smith (for the first two games). Some think that’s a “no go” for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they open their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight against the Chicago Bulls. But LeBron James and Kyrie Irving might have something to say about that. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer raises some questions and provides some answers as this long awaited series gets ready for tip off:

1. It’s impossible to know how the Cavs will play in the first two games. Once General Manager David Griffin made his two deals in January, J.R. Smith sat out only one game with the Cavs. That was a 117-78 loss to Boston when the Cavs rested most of their key players, a game meaning nothing. So it’s only this game where we’ll see what the Cavs look like without Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and Smith (two-game suspension).

2. That’s why it’s so hard to know how the Cavs will perform against the Bulls. It’s great to have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, they give your team a chance in nearly every game. But the Bulls are a tall team, and they also have some skilled scorers. I’m very, very worried about this matchup.

3. The 6-foot-10 Love would have been a big deal in the Bulls series. He probably would have been defended by Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol — pulling one of the Bulls big men away from the basket. Coach David Blatt loves a power forward — “a Stretch-4” — who can shoot. That’s Love. Without him, James Jones will be the best option for some parts in the game when the Cavs want a power forward who can shoot. But Jones won’t demand the defensive attention of Love.

4. When the Cavs start Smith and Love, the have two guys capable of making jump shots from long range. That helps keep the middle open for James and Irving to drive to the rim. Of course, Irving and James also can shoot from the outside. But they are even more dangerous when they drive to the rim.

5. When Smith returns from his suspension, the Cavs can play three guards — Iman Shumpert, Smith and Irving — with James at power forward and a big man (Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson) at center. Not sure what they will do in the first two games with no Smith, other than Shawn Marion will see some action at forward — and Mike Miller at guard.

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No. 4: Parade plans being made in Golden State — Five down and 11 more to go for the Golden State Warriors, who have looked every bit of the championship caliber team many assumed they would after an epic regular season. Sure, there is a long way to go, but the path is there for them to grind all the way to a championship. Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News has done the math and is convinced that there will be parade through the streets of Oakland this summer:

There was one moment among the many, one move among the multitudes, one particularly providential part of Game 1 at Oracle Arena on Sunday.

It was presumptive MVP Stephen Curry casually dribbling into a high screen-and-roll, luring Zach Randolph to the perimeter … and then a sudden Curry fake that sent Randolph lunging to the right, a Curry sublime flash to the left, and a 3-point splash.

It was poetry. It shook the walls of the old building.

What opponent can stop that? Who can beat the Warriors when they have everything going at full throttle?

Nobody. That’s sort of important to know and point out, 11 victories from a title.

And though it was just a single play on the way to the Warriors’ commanding 101-86 victory over Memphis, it communicated everything important about this team and that player.

This is why the Warriors are already in total control of this series, this is why Curry will win the MVP on Monday (reported first by CSN Bay Area, with a 1 p.m. news conference as reported by this newspaper’s Marcus Thompson II).

And this is why the Warriors are in such a special place, time and mood.

Curry and his teammates know they can’t look too far ahead — not even to potentially winning the MVP, Curry said Sunday.

They realize that any little stumble or loss of focus could put them in jeopardy at any time.

But if they play like this for the rest of the playoffs, the Warriors are going to win the championship, there just isn’t much doubt anymore.

“It’s a fun time,” Curry said after his 22-point, seven-assist, four-steal performance. “The pressure is on.

“The vibe around the league is at a high, and I think we’re ready for the moment, just trying to stay in the moment.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks have dug themselves a hole and must grind their way out of it, with the starting unit on the floor more, in the Eastern Conference semifinals … Grizzles look ordinary without Mike Conley in their first blush against the Warriors … Spurs still dancing around questions about the future of Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the crewIman Shumpert is the X-factor for the Cavaliers against his hometown Chicago Bulls …  Tom Thibodeau still has the blueprint for defeating a LeBron James led team …


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