Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

USA roster taking shape

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kawhi Leonard became the latest player to withdraw his name from consideration for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team this summer. Leonard joins a long list — LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — of players from the team’s pool of 31 names who won’t be going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Leonard made his decision official Thursday afternoon with a statement released by the Spurs. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News reports that Gordan Hayward has also declined an invite.

Reports from the AP, ESPN and Yahoo have 10 of the USA’s 12 roster spots taken by the following players …

Point guards: Kyle Lowry (TOR)
Wings: Jimmy Butler (CHI), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Kevin Durant (OKC), Paul George (IND)
Bigs: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Draymond Green (GSW), DeAndre Jordan (LAC)

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have the other two spots if they want them. James indicated Wednesday that he’s likely to say “no,” but has yet to give a definitive answer.

Remaining players in the pool: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love. Lowry was not in the pool of players released in January, but was needed with so many point guards unavailable.

The full roster is expected to be announced next week and training camp will open on July 18 in Las Vegas. The U.S. will play five exhibition games at various locations before traveling to Rio for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 6.

If James officially declines, Anthony would be the only player going for his third Olympic gold medal (and fourth Olympic medal overall). Of the 10 names on the list so far, Anthony (2004, 2008, 2012) and Durant (2012) are the only ones with Olympic experience. Cousins, DeRozan and Thompson won gold at the 2014 World Cup in Spain (with Irving), while Butler, George, Green, Jordan and Lowry will be making their debuts for the Senior National Team in international competition.

Morning shootaround — June 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics | Durant to play in 2016 Games | Pippen, Rodman maintain ’96 Bulls are best team ever | Thompson, Green likely in for Olympics

No. 1: Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics — What a season it has been for LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers star is fresh off perhaps the biggest win of his career after guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title on Monday. Understandably, the reigning Finals MVP is a bit tired and according to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, James may not take part in the 2016 Olympics in Rio:

In the aftermath of a grueling NBA Finals, LeBron James is leaning toward not competing at the Olympics in Rio this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

While James has not informed USA Basketball of his decision, team officials are operating with the expectation that it is unlikely James will be part of the team.

James, 31, has been a member of USA Basketball since 2004. He is one of three players – along with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony – to be part of three men’s Olympic teams and has been integral to the United State’s resurgence as a basketball super power.

James will likely join a growing list of notable players electing not to play in Rio this summer. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry withdrew earlier this month. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge have also chosen not to play.

Morning shootaround — June 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotions | LeBron went home ‘for the kids’ | Report: DeRozan to test free agencyCan Thompson back up bold talk? | NBA stars battle bulge too

No. 1: Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotionsDraymond Green, the Golden State’s versatile and valuable, almost positionless forward, is considered to be the defending champions’ emotional leader. Losing him to suspension from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals (9 ET, ABC) would seem, at first glance, to be like stealing the batteries from a very expensive toy. But based on the Warriors’ reactions to Green’s suspension, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hand in it (subtle or not) and the obstacle thrown suddenly in their path to back-to-back championships, the home team at Oracle Arena might be playing Monday with all the emotion they need. And first and foremost, that will be anger, writes J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:

They feel disrespected once more. Put upon. Agitated.

In the Warriors’ worldview, LeBron James baited Draymond Green by stepping over him in Game 4. That prompted the retaliatory strike from Green which struck James in the groin area and drew a flagrant foul 1 penalty from the NBA in a review that was announced Sunday. James all but dared the NBA to do it after Game 4, and now Golden State feels the league capitulated to one of its biggest stars. The flagrant foul ruling put Green above the playoff limit of three flagrant foul points and brought an automatic suspension for Game 5 on Monday. It also brought up some fiery talk from the Warriors, who got an early start on making up for the absence of their emotional leader.

“We’re going to go out there and do it as a team and win for him,” Klay Thompson said.

Alrighty, then.

Other Warriors players and coaches said they noticed a ramped-up intensity after coach Steve Kerr informed the team of Green’s suspension during Sunday’s practice and they feel it will give them the necessary edge in what could have otherwise been seen as a mere coronation process after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals following their victory in Game 4.

They do best when doubted, as they were when they fell behind 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They also respond well to perceived slights. Example A would be their 24-0 start after having their championship credentials called into question for everything from lack of injuries to playoff strength of schedule.

Now that they have fresh motivation, the question is whether they have the means to prove their point without the versatile Green, the defensive anchor of their small-ball “Death Lineup” and an offensive facilitator prone to the occasional scoring outburst (such as his 28 points in Game 2).

Much depends on how the Cavaliers choose to prey on his absence: by going big with the likes of Kevin Love or even Timofey Mozgov, or by trying to lure the Warriors into a diminished smaller lineup by extending the minutes of Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. It also could be an opportunity for LeBron to break through now that he doesn’t have to worry about one of the Warriors’ most effective defenders.

The Finals Live Blog — Game 4

THE LAND — Your move Splash Brothers!

LeBron James and his crew answered the call in Game 3 of this series, bouncing back from a 30-point tail dragging in Game 2 to deliver a 30-point whipping of their own Wednesday night.

Now it’s time to see if two-time KIA MVP Stephen Curry and All-Star shooting assassin Klay Thompson will finally get going in The Finals and remind us why we’ve been talking about them being the best shooting backcourt in NBA history. Doing it on the Cavaliers’ home floor tonight in Game 4 would only serve to heighten the drama in this series (not that it needs much more, see Kevin Love and the concussion protocol, Draymond Green insisting that the Warriors got “bullied, punked” in Game 3, etc.)

I don’t know that the Warriors can finish this series the way they want to without Curry and Thompson getting back into the groove they were in during most of their record-setting regular season.

Asking Green and the rest of the Warriors to carry them to victory in two more games, even with at least two more possibly on their home floor, is asking a bit too much.

We know what LeBron will bring tonight. No one knows the magnitude of the moment like does, playing in his sixth straight Finals with legacy on the line each and every time he hits the floor.

It's GAME DAY at the #NBAFinals!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

So it comes down to this, to Game 4, on the road in a hostile environment against an opponent that is wide awake now, the moment of truth, if you will, for the Splash Brothers.

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It was more than just a dunk, LeBron’s epic Game 3 smash …

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You do remember that free agency is just around the corner, right? That’s what friends are for Kevin Durant and James Harden

#JamesHarden#KevinDurant#atwork💯💯💯😙😚✌

A photo posted by @hilqueen23 on

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Happy Birthday Jeff Teague, keep it classy bro!

Join us in wishing Jeff Teague a happy birthday!

A photo posted by @nbatv on

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Where you at Klay T?

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Careful Swish, the is the sort of thing that got the Thunder in trouble in the conference finals. #Respek

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Team USA point guard ranks are thinning by the day!

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Ownership importing some human noisemakers for the Warriors.

Thanks to Joe Lacob & Peter Guber, Dubs employees are on their way to Cleveland for Game 4! #StrengthInNumbers

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

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Stuff Curry is ready!

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Something tells me getting beat by 30 is No. 1 …

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Uncle Drew is locked in and ready to go …

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Love appears to be ready to go. Still not sure if he is going to be in the starting lineup.

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You said this last time Steph!

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Hey man, we matter a little bit …

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Love is A-C-T-I-V-E!

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Gotta give it up to the fans here in Cleveland, the atmosphere around the arena is indeed off the charts.

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Klay is sleeved up and ready to go!

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David Aldridge gets a word or two with Steve Kerr

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Spike Lee representing the Greatest Of All Times! Muhammad Ali!

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This is just wrong!

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Keep your t-shirts!

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What Tommy said!

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Give the political stuff a rest for one night.

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Draymond drawing fouls like a modern day MJ … Jordan Rules?

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In addition to his shooting struggles, Steph got lost on D big time here:

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Who he play for?

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Where you been big fella?

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#SPLASH

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WARRIORS 29, CAVALIERS 28 after the first 12 minutes …

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Stop it. Please. Stop!

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Steph heating up tonight!

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Live by the 3 …

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Not sure what Steph is watching on D, but he keeps losing his man.

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Kyrie showing off his improved defensive prowess.

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The story of the game for the Warriors. Getting waxed on the boards.

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CAVALIERS 55, WARRIORS 50 at halftime … You wanted a close one, you got it!

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SPLASH BROTHERS are SPLASHING

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Not the kids!

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Andy V getting it from the former home crowd for …

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🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

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

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WARRIORS 79, CAVALIERS 77 at the end 3 … NO COMPLAINTS ABOUT A BLOWOUT TONIGHT!

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Way too much. And the Warriors keep getting timely buckets (3s from all over). 93-84 Warriors with 5:56 to play. The crowd in here is nervous!

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Brilliant player making clutch plays all over the floor.

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Basically …

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Draymond kept his cool there, double fouls and no techs or Flagrants.

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This is what all the LeBron/Draymond fuss was about …

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Freaky moment. Guy had Trump Sucks written on his chest and stomach. Republican National Convention is a month away.

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Steph with a driving layup and dagger. No one questioning him right now.

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SPLASH BROTHERS putting the game away at the line …

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WARRIORS 108, CAVALIERS 97 — SPLASH BROTHERS REVENGE!

Warriors head home with a 3-1 lead and a chance to close the Cavaliers out before the home crowd at Oracle Monday night to win their second straight Larry O’Brien trophy. Don’t guess anyone will waste time questioning Steph (38 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds) or Klay (25 and 4 rebounds) tonight.

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Dubs lead the series, 3-1. #StrengthInNumbers

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

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Morning shootaround — June 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love likely to play, be reserve in Game 4 | Thompson trying to snap out of funk | Report: Durant not considering Rockets | Terry plans to play 2 more seasons

No. 1: Report: Love likely to come off bench in Game 4 Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love practiced with the team yesterday as it prepares for Game 4 of The Finals tonight (9 ET, ABC). Love has not yet been cleared medically to play after the concussion he suffered in Game 2 ultimately kept him out of Game 3 on Wednesday night. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Love is not only expected to play tonight but will do so in a reserve role:

Kevin Love is expected to play Friday and it’s likely he will come off the bench in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, league sources told the Beacon Journal.

Love still has another medical examination he must pass on Friday before he is cleared from the league’s concussion protocol, but he took part in some on-court shooting drills Thursday and the team is privately confident he will be available to play.

Coach Tyronn Lue would not discuss Love’s role on Thursday, insisting he hadn’t given it much thought. While one source stressed no final decision has been made yet, it’s likely at this point Love will be a reserve for the first time since April 14, 2010 – the final game of his second year in the league.

When asked generally about how he handles lineup changes, Lue said it’s important to be honest.

“They might not like it at the time, but I’ve always learned in this business if you tell the truth, guys understand and they know what the truth is,” Lue said. “They might be mad for a second, but they can always get back to understanding and realize that’s the right thing. And if you tell the truth, guys can respect that.”

The Cavs beat the Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 Wednesday for their first win in this series while Love sat. Lue inserted Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup, moved LeBron James to power forward and the Cavs flourished with their best game of the series.

The Cavs have privately been concerned for months how Love would match up defensively in a Finals rematch against the Warriors, with one team executive offering during the regular season that Love may have to become the Cavs’ version of David Lee – the high-priced, high-scoring forward who came off the bench last year to help spark the Warriors to a championship.

The Warriors shot 42 percent in Game 3 when both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry struggled to find a rhythm and James neutralized Draymond Green. The always outspoken Green said he didn’t see any difference with James at power forward instead of Love.

“There ain’t no Xs and Os adjustment they made (that) worked. They punked us. That was the gist of it,” Green said. “I continually try to figure out, what adjustment can they make? I didn’t think there was an adjustment they can make other than to play harder than us. And that’s what they did.”

Hard to be a contender if hiding weak defenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround — June 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs looking for their defense | Turner: Mid-range shots are ‘the future’ | Presti confident about OKC’s offseason | Chandler says he’s ‘happy’ for now in Phoenix

No. 1: Cavs looking defenseless in these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rumbled through the Eastern Conference portion of the 2016 playoff bracket, shielding themselves from just about every blow the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors could throw at them. As Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com points out, Cavs star LeBron James took that shield metaphor literally early on, giving each of his teammates a literal shield to illustrate how the team must stand strong together to reach its title goal. Yet as Cleveland faces a 2-0 series deficit in The Finals, it is left at a loss for what to do next:

Golden State is up 2-0 following a 110-77 battering of the Cavs Sunday night at Oracle Arena. After cruising through the first three rounds with a 12-2 mark, Cleveland has been outscored in this series by a staggering 48 points.

“What we’ve done these last two games doesn’t put a damper or a cloud over how we got to this point,” James argued. “We’re still here…”

Cleveland won’t be here for long if this continues.

Right now the Cavaliers, who possess the second-highest payroll in league history, are defenseless and the outcomes have shown as much. They’re absent of a shield, but most significantly they’re absent of fight. They’re going up against a Western Conference predator who’s equipped with an abundance of ammo and all the Cavaliers have done is scurried for cover.

Is home court at The Q going to make that huge of a difference come Wednesday? Cleveland had two days to prepare for Game 2, and yet still rolled up in a ball when adversity came knocking.

Before Kevin Love exited the game with concussion symptoms, he suffered from Draymond Green symptoms. The Warriors’ forward was in his head and made it a point to stay attached to Love more than he did in Game 1.

Love was 2-of-7 from the field with three boards in 20 minutes of play. He looked intimidated. It looked like he didn’t want any part of that game. Green was so glued to him that Love gave him a little shove in the first half. Green just smiled, and got right back in Love’s personal space.

Kyrie Irving struggled the most, going 5-of-14 for 10 points in 33 minutes. He’s now shooting 33 percent for the series. But the team typically goes as the leader of the team goes.

“LeBron is in a unique situation to where we all know how (bleeping) good he really is,” Channing Frye said. “The humility he has with us shows us, ‘Hey, I need you guys for all of us to succeed.’ We know he’s going to help us, but he needs everybody to be locked in.”

First and foremost, James needs to be locked in. In these two games, the four-time MVP is averaging 21.0 points on 42 percent shooting and has coughed the ball up 11 times. The Warriors have suddenly transformed into a scary defensive bunch.

The perimeter defensive mixture of Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Green has been a nightmare for James. Whether James wants to admit it or not, he is being contained. And if he’s contained, the Cavaliers will end up being ashamed when it’s all said and done. The series is far from over, but the poor body language and the disconnect in communication is in dire need of repair.

James and the Cavaliers are being exposed before our very eyes, and there’s no shield that can hide that.

Morning shootaround — June 5


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Hornacek gets the point | Wall still climbing | Work ahead for Presti | Too much LeBron? | The Ali Effect

No. 1: Hornacek emphasizes getting the point — During the most productive part of his playing career, Jeff Hornacek ran with John Stockton in Utah. During his only other stint as a head coach, he was able to choose from Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas on any given night. Now that he’s taken over on the bench with the Knicks, it’s sounding like Hornacek has a point guard at the top of his wish list in New York, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“We have a young player that’s obviously inexperienced after his first year,’’ Hornacek said at Friday’s press conference. “He’ll get better and better. Jose is kind of later in his career. If we can find a middle guy to bridge those two guys, it would be good. There’s a lot of guys out there. I’m sure Phil [Jackson, team president] and Steve [Mills, general manager] are looking at everything.’’

“If there’s something out there in free agency to bring in that guy, in between, that can help guide the younger guard and assist the older point guard, that would make the team better,’’ Hornacek added.

It’s not a strong crop of free-agent point guards, with Memphis’ Mike Conley leading the top tier. Resurgent Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony’s choice, is next, but some in the organization believe he hangs onto the ball too much. Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Ty Lawson, Jeremy Lin, Miami’s unsung Tyler Johnson, Aaron Brooks and Mario Chalmers are also free agents. Sources have indicated the Knicks consider Lawson’s off-court issues too big a risk and Lin’s defense too gaping.

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Morning shootaround — June 4





NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all in Thunder’s heads | K.D. looms over champs | Cavs have need for speed | Can Porzingis be tops? | Kings deflated


No. 1:
Westbrook says Thunder need mental toughness — All through the playoffs we saw what the Thunder could do with their extraordinary length and athleticism and speed and ability to dominate on the glass. But after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook says that for OKC to be able to take the next step to winning a championship they have to get stronger in that one other key area — their heads. Westbrook made those observations to Berry Trammel and Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“Mental toughness,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten very, very well at that point, but I think to make the next step, we have to constantly do that throughout the whole season, not just late in the playoffs, because I thought we turned the page when it got to this time of year, but I think if we constantly keep that from start to finish, it makes it easier for us in certain situations.”

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No. 2: Durant is on minds of Warriors — That might be LeBron James and the Cavaliers standings squarely in front of them. But the fact is that the specter of Kevin Durant’s free agency is something on the minds of the Warriors even as they bid for a second consecutive championship. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper caught up with several key figures who admitted that K.D. looms in the Golden State locker room:

“Guys have definitely asked questions,” center Andrew Bogut told NBA.com. “We’re not immune to it. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the rumors, heard the rumors, all that kind of stuff. Different guys at different times have been scratching their head and thinking, ‘Why?’ The only way we can dispel all that stuff is maybe we’ve got to win five straight. Who knows? It’s one of those things we can’t really control, but we can control trying to make them make a tough decision.”

It clearly hasn’t been a problem that’s reached the level of distraction — again, check the Warriors’ recent resume — but the potential of a major roster jolt to the best team in the league, even for Durant, has been on players’ minds.

“Guys obviously ask questions at certain times,” Bogut said. “We’ve had two good years. Guys definitely find it interesting. But we understand that it’s a business and you’re not going to be able to stop. If an owner or a GM wants to do something, they’re going to do it.”

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No. 3: Lue tells LeBron to pick up the pace — After scoring a playoff-low 89 points in Game 1 of The Finals and showing an offense that was stagnant and ineffective, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue had a simple solution after reviewing the game film. He told LeBron James to pick up the pace, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

“I just told LeBron I need him to play faster,” Lue said Friday. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”

James put up a strong stat line with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday’s Game 1. But the Cavs scored only 89 points, and their offense lacked the flow that saw them rip through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 12-2 record. The Warriors slowed them with their ability to switch defenders and force the Cavs into deliberate isolation sets. Twice in the first half the Cavs were called for 24-second violations, which is rare for them.

Lue’s message was reminiscent of January, when his first order of business when taking over the coaching job from David Blatt was to make a point of the Cavs’ need to put their foot on the gas. It contributed to the Cavs turning into the No. 1 offense in the league in terms of efficiency over the last two months of the season.
“They make you stagnant and make you play one-on-one basketball because that’s all you can get,” Lue said. “So if we pick up the pace and play with a faster tempo offensively, I think we’ll be fine.”

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No. 4: Hornacek says Porzingis could be NBA best — Do you think Jeff Hornacek knows how to drum up headlines on the back pages of the New York tabloids? On his first official day on the job as the new boss of the Knicks, Hornacek is saying that second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis can be a top-five player and maybe the best in the league, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Ian Begley of ESPN.com:

“His ceiling -– wow,” Hornacek said after his introductory news conference when asked about Porzingis’ potential. “I don’t want to put pressure on the kid, but let’s face it: At that size and his skills and his abilities — why can’t he be a top-five player in this league?

“Why can’t he be the best player in this league? He’ll continue to grow over these years. He’s 20 years old. He’s got a lot of things he’ll learn just from experience, and I’m sure five to six years from now you’ll be saying, ‘Look how good this kid is.’ He’s already good.”

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No. 5: Non-firing of Karl finished Kings season — Ever since they lost to the Lakers in the playoffs way back in the early part of the last decade, it’s never been a good time to be a member of the Kings. But when the rumors of coach George Karl being fired before the All-Star break didn’t come to pass, things hit a new low in the locker room. That’s what veteran Caron Butler told the gang on ESPN’s First Take, as related by James Herbert of CBSsports.com

“As players, from All-Star break and everything, I mean, as far as we knew, he was fired,” Butler said. “We’re in Philadelphia a game before All-Star break and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘You’re not moving [on], I’m coming back.’ It was deflating to the locker room, it was deflating to the guys, and we tried to move forward and tried to do the best that we possibly could. But that was deflating to the team, it was a big blow and it was tough to move forward.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Even the Cavaliers felt ripped off by the price of tickets to see them lose Game 1 in Oakland… Charles Barkley says he’ll own up to being wrong if the Warriors win title again…Gordon Gund is selling his 15 percent share of the Cavaliers to Dan Gilbert…A young LeBron James was amazed by Muhammad Ali…Ex-teammate Anderson Varejao says Matthew Dellavedova needs to do those things to stay in the NBA...David Blatt is back as a head coach in Istanbul, Turkey…Who you gonna call?

Morning shootaround — June 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Health, experience key in 2016 Finals | Curry: ‘Face of NBA’ talk ‘annoying’ | Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek | Durant’s teammates await his decision

No. 1: Health, experience at center of these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into The 2015 NBA Finals without power forward Kevin Love (shoulder) and only had star guard Kyrie Irving for one game before he suffered a series-ending knee injury. The Golden State Warriors entered The 2015 NBA Finals healthy, but green in terms of experience on the big stage. Oh, but how those storylines have changed as Game 1 of The 2016 NBA Finals (9 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle details how wellness and familiarity will be key in this Finals rematch:

“We’re a better team than we were last year, based on experience and what we’ve been through,” Stephen Curry said. “We’re better equipped to handle the scene of the Finals — all of that is kind of thrown at you when you get to the Finals the first time. Obviously, they have some guys healthy, and they’re playing really good basketball, rolling through the Eastern Conference.”

On the periphery, this looks like a rematch of last year’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games to bring home a title for the first time in 40 years. But the Warriors and Cavaliers are far different teams than the ones that arrived at Oracle Arena a year ago.

The Warriors are champions, a team that felt that target on its back all season and extraordinarily dodged the arrows to complete the best regular season in NBA history.

They went into last season’s NBA Finals with no players who had been there and only one who had advanced as far as the conference finals. This season, they have 13 men with rings.

“I think we’re much better,” Klay Thompson said. “I think we know what to expect on this stage. I don’t think anyone is going to be nervous, like we were last year. Now, we know to expect that shots can be a little harder to come by and fouls can be a little harder.”

The Cavaliers are healthy again.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, who left Game 1 of last year’s Finals with a fractured kneecap, has been unstoppable at getting to the rim this postseason. Kevin Love, who was lost early in last year’s playoffs to a dislocated shoulder, has nine postseason double-doubles this year.

Cleveland made an under-the-radar acquisition of Channing Frye near the trade deadline, and the 6-foot-11 center has a playoff-best 82.1 true-shooting percentage — a number that includes free-throw shooting and both three-point and two-point field-goal shooting.

“I think they’re dramatically different,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of the Cavs. “Obviously, they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they also changed their style. They tried to grind us to pulp last year, playing big. They were slowing the ball and the pace down. This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, and they’re not playing Timofey Mozgov. They’ve got shooting all over the place, so it’s a much different team.”

The Warriors are going to have to adjust, but Kerr wasn’t ready to reveal his plan just yet: “I won’t tell you what I’m going to do.”

Cleveland (12-2 this postseason) has outscored its opponents by 177 points in the first three rounds and opened by winning its first 10 games, the first East team to accomplish the feat.

That should be the narrative of the Finals, but this is a player-driven league, so it’ll come down to Stephen Curry against LeBron James — players who rarely will guard each other.

“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who’s what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. The fact that we won the championship last year and were the last team standing obviously is what was most important to me. Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously story lines that the basketball fans will think are pretty cool.”