Posts Tagged ‘JR Smith’

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.

***

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.

***

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 …

Morning Shootaround — April 27



VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max | Austin Rivers saves Clippers season | Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season | Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep

No. 1: Report: Pelicans plan to sign Davis to the max — The New Orleans Pelicans have a summer to-do-list that starts and ends with taking care of Anthony Davis. The Pelicans’ immediate future rests on making sure Davis is a part of the organization for years to come and that means signing him to a max deal. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more:

League sources say that the Pels will be as aggressive as possible on July 1 in presenting Davis with a five-year maximum contract that makes him New Orleans’ designated player.

Given that the 22-year-old was voted to start in February’s All-Star Game and will likely earn All-NBA first-team status when voting results are announced in coming days, Davis would be in line to start his max deal at 30 percent of the league’s salary cap as opposed to a mere 25 percent as long as he earns just one of those same honors next season — or if he is named the 2015-16 MVP.

Based on the league’s most recent cap projections, Davis will thus be presented with a five-year pact that will eventually top $30 million annually and could exceed $140 million in total value in a deal that kicks in beginning in 2016-17 and run through his 28th birthday.

Can he really turn down those sort of riches and that level of security in the name of flexibility?

Would he turn that down when he’s clearly comfortable in New Orleans and, by all accounts, highly engaged as the young leader of his team?

Hard to see Davis resisting such lucrative insulation, though he certainly does have the option of signing a shorter extension to keep his free-agent future more open.

***

No. 2: Austin Rivers saves Clippers season — He was supposed to be a bit player in this series, a footnote at best. But make no mistake, with their season on the brink in Game 4 in San Antonio, Austin Rivers stepped up and helped save the Los Angeles Clippers. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports explains how Austin Rivers brought tears to his father’s eyes:

When Doc Rivers walked into the locker room, the scene stopped him. Chris Paul called on the Clippers to congratulate the young guard responsible for saving the season and present him the game ball. Everyone clapped. Everyone let out a long, loud cheer for Austin Rivers.

“For a moment, for a half second maybe, I became a dad in there,” Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports later on Sunday at the AT&T Center. The tears welled in his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away and stiffened in the concrete corridor.

To trade for his son, Rivers had to make a case on the move’s merits to a dubious basketball community. He’s had to live with the criticism. They’ve had to live with it together. They had Sunday together, too.

Austin Rivers had his finest moment in the NBA on Sunday, scoring 16 points, delivering defense, deflections and a 114-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to bring this best-of-seven series 2-2 back to Staples Center. He made deft drives to the basket, fearless finishes to stun the Spurs.

For nine years, Doc Rivers coached and lived in Boston. For most of that time, his wife and children stayed in Orlando. Austin completed middle school and high school, spent a year at Duke and moved onto the NBA. Father and son were separated a long time, often coming and going in moments Doc had flown down and stolen an off-night for a high school game or an ACC game on Tobacco Road.

“Listen, we haven’t been together a lot,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “In a lot of ways, I am his coach.”

More coach than father, he’s trying to say. It’s an honest admission, and it comes tinged with a touch of sadness. Nevertheless, Austin Rivers has had to find his own way with these Clippers, earn his own respect. This was a beginning on Sunday, nothing more, nothing less.

***

No. 3: Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe next season — It’s all about Kobe Bryant next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with a monster free agent summer on tap, the Lakers’ focus will be on Kobe. Lakers boss Jeanie Buss insists the 2015-16 season will be a celebration of one of the franchise’s and NBA’s all-time greats and his 20 years with the franchise. Sean Highkin of ProBasketballTalk.com has the details:

It’s been more or less known without anybody outright saying it for a while that next year will be Kobe Bryant‘s final year. His contract is up in 2016, which will put his career at 20 seasons, all with the Lakers, and the last three have ended with injuries.

Lakers president Jeanie Buss seems to know the end of the Kobe era is coming, if you go by her comments on a Sunday morning Bleacher Report radio interview:

Bryant has said that he doesn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour when he hangs it up, but it seems pretty obvious that it’s coming. And for the impact he’s had on the NBA and the sport worldwide, he deserves to take a victory lap regardless of what the Lakers do next season.

***

No. 4: Trail Blazers vow to show heart, avoid sweep — The Portland Trail Blazers insist they will not go away quietly. They will not be swept out of these playoffs without a fight. Their season is on the line tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies and they vow to fight until the very end. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian explains:

A little more than nine weeks ago, the Trail Blazers‘ practice court was brimming with confidence and gusto.

They had just made a splash at the NBA trade deadline, acquiring Arron Afflalo to strengthen their bench and add depth for what figured to be a long and successful playoff run. Pundits universally lauded the move. San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich hailed it as a “great addition.” The Blazers boldly pronounced they were poised to contend for an NBA Championship.

Oh how things have changed.

On Sunday afternoon, that confidence and gusto had been replaced with disappointment and dejection. The Memphis Grizzlies have pummeled the Blazers in their best-of-seven Western Conference playoffs series, using muscle, moxie and better talent to build a 3-0 lead. No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

And that history hovered over the Blazers like a thick fog Sunday at the practice facility in Tualatin, where they gathered for what could be their final practice of the season. No one said the season was done. Everyone promised to show heart and fight and claw until the final buzzer sounds at the end of Game 4, which is scheduled for 7:30 Monday night at the Moda Center.

But there was no escaping the daunting challenging in front of them. And there was no masking the inevitable gloom that comes with the reality the season is all but over.

“Right now, we’re at the point where we have to just have some heart and have some pride,” Damian Lillard said.

The Blazers spouted off the usual array of clichés, promising to take the series “one game at a time” and “only think about tomorrow’s game.” But history is impossible to ignore. And when the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics on Sunday, they became the 112th team in 112 chances to win a series after building a 3-0 lead.

“You can’t think about it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “You just have to go game-by-game. If you try to think about, ‘Oh, we’re down 0-3 and let’s try to win the series,’ I think that’s when you think about the history. But if you just go game-by-game, just focus on getting Game 4, then anything’s possible.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s summer pursuit of Kevin Love will no doubt be complicated after the “bush league” play from Kelly Olynyk … Knocked down and out, gutsy Jae Crowder embodied toughness of Celtics this season … The Hawks are still a bit salty after their poor shooting effort in a Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn NetsSteals could help the Bucks steal another playoff win if the Chicago Bulls aren’t more careful with the ball … Kevin Love‘s absence in Cleveland with that shoulder dislocation will depend on his personal injury history

 

LeBron, Cavaliers calm on eve of close-out opportunity against Celtics


VIDEO: Cavaliers playoff rookie Kevin Love is delivering the goods

BOSTON — For a team poised to close out its first round playoff series and move on to a conference semifinal matchup the basketball world has been buzzing about since the summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t appear to be overwhelmed at all by the moment.

There is no added internal pressure on the eve of Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 win-and-move-on opportunity against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

In fact, the Cavaliers couldn’t be more calm or measured in their approach.

“It’s no sprint, it’s a marathon,” a totally relaxed LeBron James said Saturday afternoon. “That’s what this postseason is about. And all I’m concerned about is how well we play in this game [Sunday]. We want to play well, we have an opportunity to close out. But it’s not the end of the world and our team is not approaching it that way. We want to play well and we want to play just as hard as we did in the last game and hopefully that results in a win.”

The Chicago Bulls hold a 3-1 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on the other side of the bracket. But the Cavaliers are not looking beyond Game 4 and what the Celtics are sure to bring to a pressure-packed environment.

“This is a very important game,” LeBron said. “You know the type of pressure the opposing team is under. It’s win or go-home for them. And they’re going to bring everything they have in the tool box to get this victory. For us, we have to stay calm and play our game, do what we’ve been doing over the course of this series, and treat a Game 4 like a Game 1. We want to play well, we want to defend well, we want to get the ball up the floor more and move the ball and share the ball and things will take care of itself.”

The Celtics have tried their best to turn each of these games into grind-it-out slugfests. They’ve played physically and tried their best to rattle the Cavaliers in any way they can.

However, this notion that the Celtics are playing their guts out while the Cavaliers, the more talented and season bunch, are just getting by on talent does not sit well with Cleveland coach David Blatt.

“That’s not fair,” Blatt said. “We’re playing hard. I don’t like that. I do agree that they are playing hard. But we are playing no less hard. And we’re just as committed to the task as they are. It’s not a matter of us just being more talented. That’s just grossly unfair. Our team is making every effort. Our team is engaged. Our team is playing aggressively and maturely. Anyone saying anything other than that is being unfair to our players, and I don’t like it.”

Lebron’s not worried about the narrative playing out elsewhere. Not with the chance to finish the first round business in four games on the line.

“Perception doesn’t matter,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. We go out and work hard and take care of our business just like any other team. Talent doesn’t win basketball games. You have to play hard, you have to execute. We’re in the NBA. Everybody has talent. Everyone’s here for a reason.

“We’re in a position to win our first ever series as a group. For a young team that’s a pretty big deal. We have an opportunity to do that and we just want to take care of business.”

Morning Shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George makes Pacers better right now | James Harden is the ultimate facilitator | Noah, Bulls would love a piece of Cavaliers in the playoffs

No. 1: Paul George makes Pacers better right now — The future can wait. Paul George is back and ready to lift the Indiana Pacers right now. That chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference race got a lot more interesting after George made his triumphant return from injury. Will it be enough to lift the Pacers past the crowd and into that last spot? Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star tackles that question and more:

Paul George makes the Indiana Pacers better, not in the future but right now. And not a little better, but a lot better. At both ends. The Paul George that came back Sunday night against the Heat came back a star in full, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes, making a mess of the Miami Heat’s half-court offense, breaking the game open with consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.

This game was not going to be easy for the Heat, not without injured center Hassan Whiteside and not playing their second road game in 24 hours and their third in four days, but it wasn’t going to be this ugly. It wasn’t going to be a 112-89 blowout for the Pacers, except for one guy.

And the guy isn’t Luis Scola.

All due respect to Scola. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes. He was sensational. But he was not the point of this game, not the spark, not the havoc-wreaking agent at both ends that Paul George was in his return after missing 76 games following that gruesome broken leg in August with Team USA in Las Vegas.

The Pacers are better with George, but how much better? Good enough to pass the Boston Celtics, who are a game ahead for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot? I asked Pacers coach Frank Vogel exactly how much better this Paul George, rusty as he may be, makes the Pacers for the final five games.

“Tough to measure,” Vogel said, “but certainly we’re a lot better with him. We missed him on both ends, but what he’s able to do on the defensive end is almost unparalleled in the NBA. Certainly we’re a lot a stronger on that end, and (with) the scoring punch he gives us on the offensive end as well.”

Boston has the tiebreaker on Indiana, so the Pacers have to not only catch the Celtics but pass them to make the playoffs. Each team has five games left. Time is running out. But it’s like Vogel said.

“There’s no bad time to get a Paul George back,” he said.


VIDEO: Paul George’s return was a hit for the Pacers

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil | Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic | Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City | Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry

No. 1:  Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil — You, too, Phil Jackson? As if the Knicks didn’t have it bad enough this season, now their boss is taking shots at them. In the aftermath of Sunday’s woeful performance at Madison Square Garden against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the critics were out in full force on social media and everywhere else. And that includes Jackson, who took to Twitter to level the team he’s been charged with fixing. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com provides the dirty details:

 

The Knicks lost by 18 points to the Cavs on Sunday to extend their losing streak to seven games. New York is an NBA-worst 10-45.

Sunday’s loss to Cleveland might have hit Jackson a little harder than others.

J.R. Smith — the ex-Knick Jackson traded away in a salary dump last month — torched the Knicks for 17 points and four assists in the blowout. Smith hooked up with Iman Shumpert — the fourth-year guard Jackson sent to Cleveland in the same trade — for an eye-popping alley-oop in the fourth quarter that is sure to make all the highlight shows.

The Knicks, on the other hand, couldn’t muster any highlights for their home crowd. They fell behind by 19 in the first quarter and shot just 37 percent from the floor overall, including 3-for-19 (16 percent) from beyond the arc.

New York is well on its way to establishing the worst record in franchise history (the previous mark is 21 wins).

It’s been a nightmare season for Jackson, who stated publicly at the beginning of the season that he believed the Knicks were a playoff team.

***

No. 2: Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic — Chris Bosh‘s season is over. His Miami Heat teammates digested that blow during an exhausting long weekend (from the trade deadline through a weekend loss to the New Orleans Pelicans). And now they have begun the process of trying to recover emotionally from the news that the blood clots in Bosh’s lungs will change all of their lives to welcoming new point Goran Dragic and trying to salvage this season with a playoff berth. They will find out what they are made of this season, what with all of the adversity they will have dealt with by the regular season’s end. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald provides some perspective:

After an emotional 55-hour whirlwind in which Miami split back to-back games, acquired a former third-team All-NBA point guard and learned that All-Star forward Chris Bosh will miss the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs, most Heat players resisted any temptation to exhale or enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Instead, they convened at AmericanAirlines Arena for a voluntary on-court session designed to expedite the acclimation of new Heat point guard Goran Dragic, in advance of Monday’s home game against Philadelphia.

“One of my biggest priorities will be to make Goran feel comfortable as soon as we can,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday afternoon at the Heat’s annual Family Festival. “That’s why we came in… [for] an optional workout that most of the guys showed up to.

“We’ve had to do this already, three, four, five times, where we’ve had to try to get organized with a different lineup, and we’ve become pretty efficient in fast-tracking that process. How long that will take for him, I don’t know, but it’s a priority for me. He’s a high-IQ player. He’ll be able to pick thing up quickly, find out where he can be aggressive and help the team, and that’s what [Sunday] was about.”

Dragic bemoaned his Heat debut Saturday in which he scored 12 points (all in the second half) and shot 4 for 11 with one assist and one turnover in 33 minutes in Miami’s 105-91 loss to New Orleans.

“It was tough. Sometimes you didn’t know where to go,” he said.

Spoelstra noted that “much of our plan early in the season was built around either Chris Bosh or Josh [McRoberts] having the ball in their hands and facilitating the next action. Obviously, that is a big change now.”

On Saturday, Spoelstra at times experimented with a smaller lineup with Luol Deng, Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers paired with one natural power-rotation player.

“It gives us an opportunity to make some plays off the dribble,” Spoelstra said. “As we move forward, we’ll find out if that’s something I go to more. It wasn’t necessarily successful [Saturday]. The alternative wasn’t necessarily successful, either, so I can’t really gauge that right now. But I can certainly see that being a strength of ours, having three guys that can make plays.”

Dragic was often at his best for Phoenix when he pushed the ball and played at a faster tempo. He now joins a team that was last in the league in average possessions per game. So does Spoelstra want to play faster?

“The team will tell us ultimately, but we want to play to his strengths,” Spoelstra said. “We have to defend. We have to be able to play off of misses.”

Regarding the Heat’s pace, Dragic said: “I talked with coach, and I want to play a little bit faster. But it takes time, of course, because last year with LeBron [James], all those guys played fast, but with all the situations with the injuries, coach put that system in that’s slow. Everyone needs to adjust. First of all, I need to adjust to all the players because I’m new here.”

Wade said Sunday he would be “fine” with running more: “When a team misses, let’s get out and see if we can get in transition and get some easy buckets. I need some easy buckets, especially right now to get my rhythm back.”

Wade loved the trade for Dragic but admits “I have to get used to a guy that can create so much attention by putting the ball on the floor. I’m normally that guy.

“It was different when LeBron was here because I was in a different place on the court. Now I have to kind of get used to playing with him and vice versa. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to take some trial and error, but I think we can make it up with his ability to attack and finish. It’s going to be good for us. He’s dynamic.”

***


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s not a point guard, huh?

***

No. 3: Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City — The question has lingered for years, whose team is it anyway in Oklahoma City? Kevin Durant is the MVP, the star of stars. But Russell Westbrook has always been their emotional leader, the guy who makes them go, even when Durant is on the floor and healthy. Now that Durant is sidelined again with foot soreness, Westbrook has taken complete control of the situation and is driving the Thunder up the standings. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has more:

A fabulous first quarter was quickly coming undone.

Six empty possessions, marred by four missed shots and two turnovers, to start the second quarter were all Scotty Brooks needed to see. All the momentum the Thunder had constructed in closing the opening period on a 24-6 run was being squandered before his eyes. An 18-point lead had been trimmed to 12.

And so Brooks did what any sensible coach would do.

He reinserted Russell Westbrook.

And Westbrook proceeded to do what he’ll need to do for at least the next week while Kevin Durant recovers from a second surgery on his troublesome right foot.

He dominated play.

Westbrook scored a game-high 21 points, tied his career high of 17 assists and added eight rebounds to lead the Thunder to an authoritative 119-94 win over Denver on Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“He was nearly flawless,” Brooks said.

With four new players added at this year’s trade deadline and, more importantly, news of Durant being out at least one week after undergoing surgery Sunday to place a new screw in his foot to alleviate chronic soreness, Westbrook will have to be at his best in the weeks ahead.

If Sunday was any indication, Westbrook is up for the challenge.

One night after posting 33 points and 10 assists in a win at Charlotte, Westbrook was even better against the Nuggets.

He made 8 of 12 shots and turned the ball over only twice, the first of which didn’t come until 9:41 was left in the third quarter.

“I’m just trying to do a better job of leading, man,” Westbrook said. “That’s my job is to integrate the new guys and lead them into the direction of where we want to go.”

Westbrook was sensational in that second quarter.

That’s when he racked up 10 of his assists after retaking the floor with 8:40 left in the period. It was in that stretch that Westbrook put on the kind of rare passing display that the best point guards regularly use to dominate a game without even shooting.

“I just don’t dominate the game scoring,” Westbrook said, smiling.

Westbrook hooked up with five different teammates during those final nine minutes, making each of them threats and the Thunder a nightmare for the Nuggets to defend.

By the time he was done, Westbrook had scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder’s 31 points in the period. The Thunder ended the frame on a 31-18 run and took a 25-point lead into the locker room.

Westbrook attempted only two shots in the second quarter. Both were 3-point tries. And he made both.

“I think it’s great not just for myself but good for the rest of my teammates,” Westbrook said of his playmaking. “I think they feel comfortable about their game. I can get mine and take shots when I have the opportunity. But I think it’s great for them to have open shots and open looks and feel great about their game. And as you see it works out for us.”

***

No. 4: Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry — Don’t tell Lakers coach Byron Scott the NBA’s bi-coastal cold war is over. He is still caught up in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry from decades ago, the one he played a major part in as a player.  When two of the most storied franchises in all of sports are down and out simultaneously, the folks on the inside have to find motivation wherever they can get it. For Scott, whose star Kobe Bryant is down for the season, that means keeping the fire burning in terms of his disdain for the Celtics. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

The players and coaches that made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry one of the most storied in sports history are nearly all gone now.

The only one left, on the court anyway, as the two teams met at Staples Center on Sunday was Byron Scott, whose disdain for the Boston Celtics as a Los Angeles Lakers player in the 1980s has carried over to his time as a Lakers coach.

“Probably not,” Scott said Sunday when asked if he could have coached the Celtics. “Seriously. Probably not, coached or played for them. I couldn’t be like Rick Fox and played for both.”

When they reminisce about great Lakers and Celtics games in history, Sunday’s game will be nothing more than a forgotten footnote. A momentary blip in the radar as both teams attempt to quickly rebuild into the championship contending teams again.

The only two that probably felt like Sunday’s game had any added significance was Scott and Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

“It’s probably more of a rivalry between Danny and me than the guys in the locker room,” Scott said. “He’s in the front office sitting there probably saying if we don’t win another game, let’s beat them. The guys in the locker room probably don’t understand the history of the rivalry between these two franchises and that’s unfortunate. … It’s the best rivalry in all of sports.”

The chances of the Lakers and Celtics ever rekindling the decade-long magic they had in the 1960s and 1980s are pretty slim in the current NBA. It’s more likely they could get together for a three-year reunion like they enjoyed from 2008 to 2010.

“Guys jump up and move around so much so often nowadays, Scott said. “They don’t have the same type of loyalty that we used to in those days with one organization.”

The one player who does is Kobe Bryant, who is going into the last year of his contract with the Lakers next season, which will give him an unprecedented 20 seasons with one team.

Bryant told the “Grantland Basketball Hour” on Sunday that he isn’t looking for a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour next season and isn’t even sure if next season will be his last. Scott this week even raised the possibility of Bryant playing a season or two past his current deal depending on how he looks.

No matter what Bryant decides to do after next season, he will play a big role in the Lakers’ plans at recruiting free agents this summer and getting them to believe that the Lakers are not far from becoming a contending team again if they came on board.

“I think Kobe still has that pull and it’s an attraction for guys,” Scott said. “I think this organization speaks for itself as far as what we’re all about and that’s an attraction in itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Portland Trail Blazers’ fourth quarter troubles could be paralysis by analysis … Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers are warming up at just the right time … Every move made and the analysis to go with it from NBA.com’s Trade Tracker … The new-look Pistons look ready to rock

ICYMI:  Admit it Knicks fans, this is one of those times when you actually miss J.R. Smith …


VIDEO: J.R. Smith goes showtime at the Garden

Report: Knicks shopping Calderon, Bargnani


VIDEO: The Game Time crew breaks down the job Phil Jackson is doing in New York

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Phil Jackson is not done dealing yet in New York.

The New York Knicks’ boss didn’t necessarily expect to take apart the roster this soon in New York, but after moving J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert last week to Cleveland, it appears Jackson is intent on doing more trade business in these opening days of the New Year.

Both Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani are in Jackson’s crosshairs now, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ian Begley. Amar’e Stoudemire, however, is not believed to be in the current plans:

The New York Knicks are actively tryi‎ng to trade veterans Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani as part of their ongoing roster clearout, according to league sources.

The Knicks recently dealt J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland and waived center Samuel Dalembert to start the process of disassembling a roster mired in the worst start in franchise history at 5-35.

Knicks president Phil Jackson, in publicly taking the blame for the team’s dreadful record under rookie coach Derek Fisher, said Saturday that “no one should be surprised” if the club continues to reshape its roster through deals prior to the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

But ‎sources maintain that the Knicks are not looking to move Stoudemire and, at least for now, intend to keep him for the rest of the season. That could theoretically lead to Stoudemire — who has relished his time with the Knicks despite the club’s struggles — re-signing with them over the summer at a reduced rate. The 32-year-old former All-Star, who has been plagued by knee injuries in recent years, is playing out the final year of his current contract at $23.4 million.

Calderon, meanwhile, has no shortage of admirers around the league despite his struggles this season, averaging a mere 9.3 points per game on 40.8-percent shooting. But the two years left on his contract after this season — worth $15.1 million — could make it difficult to move the 33-year-old Spaniard, ‎who arrived in New York in late June as the Knicks’ foremost return in the Tyson Chandler deal with Dallas.

Sources say Bargnani, meanwhile, is a candidate to be waived next month if New York can’t find a deal for the former No. 1 overall pick and his $11.5 million expiring contract before the Feb. 19 deadline for deals.