Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

Morning shootaround — May 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Sixers explore trading Okafor, Noel | Warriors still facing steep odds | LeBron back to Miami? | Fizdale already impressing in Memphis

No. 1: Report: Sixers explore trading Okafor, Noel The Philadelphia 76ers own the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but the suspense doesn’t stop there. Will the Sixers explore the possibilities of parting with two other lottery picks on their roster, Jahlil Okafor and/or Nerlens Noel? There does appear to be a glut of big men on the Philly roster, which is a great problem to have, and so it would be wise for the Sixers to see what value each brings. When you’ve been stuck to the bottom of the East for the last three years, and in the midst of a total overhaul, and have new management in charge, everything’s on the table. Here’s the report from Chad Ford and Marc Stein of ESPN:

In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Russillo and Kanell earlier this month, Sixers coach Brett Brown hinted at the club’s desire to be active.

“Think about these types of resources,” Brown said during the interview. “We have the first pick. We have the 24th and 26th pick. On our current roster, we have Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant [and] Robert Covington. We had a [2014] draft class that effectively redshirted in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

“For the first time in my four years, we’re going to enter a legitimate approach to free agency.”

Colangelo, for his part, told Bleacher Report Radio last week that “everybody is thinking about winning as opposed to prolonging the rebuilding process.”

‎Sources describe Okafor, at this early juncture, as the most likely of the two to be moved in the wake of his rocky rookie season off the floor.

But the Sixers are known to be considering a wide range of possibilities, given the prospect of fellow lottery picks Embiid and Saric finally making their Philadelphia debuts next season to add to the Sixers’ deep frontcourt and the well-chronicled concerns about whether Okafor and Noel can play together.

After winning the recent draft lottery, Philadelphia is in the process of choosing whether to take LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the first overall pick.

Among the options the Sixers have is trying to trade Okafor or Noel for another high pick in the looming draft to address their backcourt needs or building a package around either one in a trade for veteran talent, either in June or in July after free agency starts.

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No. 2: Warriors still facing steep odds — Heading into Game 6, the Warriors have momentum, however small. They’ve won one game to stave off elimination, but now face another, even steeper task, of beating the Thunder in OKC, where the Warriors suffered through a lost pair of games. It helps that Stephen Curry found his groove in Game 5, but the Warriors are trying to do what only 9 teams have managed to pull off, rallying from a 3-1 deficit. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle with the story:

With Thursday’s Game 5 ticking toward its final minute, Stephen Curry dribbled the ball on the right wing as Oklahoma City’s 7-foot center Steven Adams was defending him.

The Warriors’ point guard slashed left to beat Adams in an instant to the elbow of the free-throw line, glided toward the basket and then flipped in a right-handed reverse layup while being fouled.

Just in case his game-clinching play wasn’t enough, Curry marched near half court and yawped three times: “We ain’t going home.”

“That was great grammar, right? My Davidson people are very embarrassed,” Curry said … “We’ve got to bottle up that joy and take it with us to OKC. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, and I think we’re ready for the challenge.”

Sure, in the moment, Curry’s syntax wasn’t pristine, but his points were on the mark. The Warriors aren’t going home, and they’re going to have to play with great joy that has been their identity to win in Oklahoma City.

The Western Conference finals will relocate for Game 6 to Great Plains, a place where the Warriors were embarrassed in Games 3-4 of the Western Conference finals and a place where they’ll have muster up some more magic, if they’re going to continue their historic run.

“Our guys have had a spectacular run, they’ve loved every second of it and they don’t want it to end,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “No matter how you look at it, if you’re not the last team standing, it’s tough. It’s a disappointing way to go out, so we want to hang in there. We want to win the next two and get back to the NBA Finals.

“We know how difficult it’s going to be, but we’ll give it a great shot.”

Curry’s shot with 62 seconds remaining Thursday helped get the best best-of-seven series deficit to 3-2, but the Warriors are well aware of the challenge they still face.

Of the 232 previous teams to dig 3-1 holes since the NBA switched to seven-game format, only nine have come back to win. Fifty of the 53 teams down 3-1 in conference finals have lost.

Still, the Warriors have been reminding anyone who would listen that in their 10th playoff series since Curry arrived on the scene, they’ve won at least one road game in each of the first nine. They haven’t won one at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“It will take all of our IQ, all of our gamesmanship and just 48 great minutes to get a win down there, considering how the last two games have gone,” Curry said.

The Warriors lost consecutive games for the first time all season in Games 3-4 at Oklahoma City. They lost by 28 in Game 3 and by 24 in Game 4.

The coaches differed on explanations for the results of Games 3-4 vs. Game 5. Kerr said it was Warriors center Andrew Bogut dominating the paint, and Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said it was the foul differential.

The Warriors shot 10 more free throws than the Thunder in Game 5. In the series, the teams have been whistled for an identical 108 personal fouls.

Oklahoma City has scored 21 more points at the free-throw line than the Warriors, and the Thunder are leading the series by an aggregate 22 points overall.

“We’ve still got a huge hill to climb, but it’s fun,” Warriors sixth man Andre Iguodala said. “It’s a fun journey.”

A journey that the Warriors ain’t trying to let end – just yet.

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No. 3: LeBron back to Miami? — Of course, you knew it would happen, the talk of LeBron James returning to Miami. Why? Well, because that’s what subject-starved talk show hosts and writers do, they search for possibilities, the juicer the better, especially if there’s a shred of a chance that it could happen. In this case, LeBron is a free agent this summer and can sign anywhere. He has also whined at times about the Cavs and obviously has a bromance with Dwyane Wade. There are plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t happen, namely, the sight of LeBron bailing on Cleveland for the second time would be too much for even him to overcome. Anyway, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wonders if LeBron will return if he wins a championship in Cleveland. Here’s his take:

Cheer for LeBron.

Pray he wins it all.

Hope he makes good on his promise of delivering a championship to Cleveland — the very thing that drove him to abruptly (and rather messily) leave Miami.

That would tip the domino that might make possible this franchise’s biggest blockbuster summer since LeBron first took his talents to South Beach in 2010.

I said possible. Skeptics might still place the likelihood somewhere between long shot and pipe dream. (Just like they also did before the Big 3 happened down here in ’10, it may bear noting.)

Riley already has said Miami’s offseason priority is re-signing center Hassan Whiteside long term. It has been speculated that doing that and also keeping Dwyane Wade probably would mean the Heat would have to put off its whale-watching excursion until the summer of 2017.

But the Heat isn’t buying that.

Riley has an impressive track record of getting bargains on luxury items and is hoping the club can lock up Whiteside perhaps for less than market value, crafting a deal that would allow the financial leeway to also sign James or Durant.

Whiteside would be the key figure in enticing James to return to Miami or Durant to come here — the whale magnet.

“You know we’re always looking for a whale if there’s one out there. It changes things,” Riley said in his recent postseason State of the Heat media talk. “We have the flexibility to do that.”

The supposition on James and/or Durant becoming available is twofold:

1. That LeBron winning a championship and fulfilling his dream for Cleveland would make him free to leave, but that he would stay with the Cavaliers and keep chasing that title if he fell short this year.

2. Oppositely, that Durant likely would leave Oklahoma City to seek a championship elsewhere if he fell short in these playoffs, but that he would not leave the Thunder as a champion.

And a Cavaliers-Thunder Finals that would have Heat fans begrudgingly rooting for LeBron looms as likely.

The Cavs were 2-2 with Toronto entering Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday night but were overall betting favorites at 7-5 odds to win it all entering the game. Oklahoma City leads Golden State 3-1 entering Thursday’s game and is right behind Cleveland at 8-5 title odds.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith “reported” this week that LeBron might be agreeable to rejoin Miami if he is able to parlay these playoffs into an NBA title for Cleveland. I put “reported” in quotes not derisively or dismissively but because it was speculative in the “I’m hearing” category.

Still, remember it was Smith who broke the news of LeBron coming here in 2010 when the rest of the basketball literati harrumphed that it wouldn’t happen. Smith has his sources, and sources often are not the athlete or agent. Sometimes they are members of an entourage, or family. Sometimes information comes indirectly, indeed.

You know what the initial tip was in 1989 that first led to my knowing Jimmy Johnson was leaving the Miami Hurricanes to join the Dallas Cowboys? An assistant leaving with him, Dave Wannstedt, had a school-age daughter who told a friend who happened to be the child of a friend of mine.)

One thing Smith didn’t address in what he was hearing about James maybe coming back to Miami:

Would the Heat take him back? Specifically, would Riley, after the way LeBron left the Heat president feeling used and angry?

Answer: Very likely, if only because Riley’s bosses, Micky and Nick Arison, might take the rare position of overruling Riley for the good of the franchise.

But if Miami had its choice of signing Durant or taking back James, Riley would have every justification for opting for Durant — and take every delight imaginable in saying “no thanks” to LeBron.

That is the scenario that could play out — could — only if the starting point is LeBron James winning a championship for Cleveland.

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No. 4: Fizdale already impressing in Memphis David Fizdale had many admirers in Miami during his time as an assistant to Erik Spoelstra and was just hired to steer the Grizzlies into their next era. In some ways he’s a mystery, if only because he’s never held a high profile job, other than being visible during the Big Three era in Miami. The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a lengthy essay on Fizzle and here is Tom Schad‘s report:

David Fizdale and Lamont Smith were standing in line at a since-forgotten restaurant, waiting to order a since-forgotten meal, when a 6-foot-8 mass of muscle ran over to greet them.

It was summertime in Miami, about four or five years ago. Fizdale was an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. Smith, his close friend and old college teammate, was in town for a long weekend. They talked some ball, spent some time on South Beach and went to grab a bite to eat.

“There’s a chance we may run into Dwyane or LeBron,” Fizdale told Smith — as in, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, two of the NBA’s most popular superstars.

Cool, Smith thought. He expected a straightforward “shake hands, sit down, share a meal” type of thing. He did not expect to see James rush over and grab Fizdale in a bearhug like a long-lost friend.

“When’s the last time you saw him?” Smith later asked Fizdale.

“Oh,” Fizdale answered. “I saw him last week.”

To Smith, that moment showcased one of the greatest strengths of the man poised to be the next Grizzlies’ coach: An ability to build deep relationships with the players he coaches, whether it’s an undrafted rookie from a small-private school — or arguably the best player on the planet. It’s not so much friendship as it is a mutual understanding, Smith said. It’s the type of connection that can help a coach get the most out of his players.

“He has the utmost respect from those guys, but at the same time, he coaches them. He’s very critical of them,” Smith explained. “I think, again, it all stems back to having that relationship.”

Now, Fizdale will seek to build those same types of relationships in Memphis. A source told The Commercial Appeal on Thursday that the 41-year-old has accepted a four-year contract to become an NBA head coach for the first time. An introductory press conference is expected sometime next week.

Not much is known about Fizdale outside of NBA circles, but former teammates, coaches and players describe him as both fiercely competitive and naturally easygoing. He has the basketball savvy of someone who became a Division I assistant coach at 24, then sharpened his skills in the Miami Heat video room under the guidance of Erik Spoelstra. And he has a laid-back personality befitting his Los Angeles roots.

“You can’t be around Fiz and not feel positive and energized and enjoy his company,” said his college coach, Brad Holland. “You just can’t. That’s who he is.”

Beach ball, and an early start

Andre Speech always liked playing pickup basketball at a court down by the beach in San Diego. So that’s where he and a few friends were one day when Fizdale rolled up.

Speech and the rest of his group were getting ready to leave after a recent loss. Fizdale heard that and insisted they play a few more games.

“We probably ran the court for the next couple hours,” Speech said.

Fizdale and Speech played together at the University of San Diego and were roommates one summer. Speech said Fizdale was generally competitive in everything he did — epic video game battles initially came to mind — but on the court, “Fiz” took it up a notch.

“If his normal competitiveness level was a 7, on the court it was an 11,” Speech said.

Fizdale played point guard at USD, a small private Catholic school in the West Coast Conference, and averaged 8.5 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. He wasn’t a dazzling offensive player but graduated as the program’s all-time career assists leader, with 465. More often than not, he made his mark on the defensive end.

“He’d get a step on you and be tipping balls, getting deflections,” said Smith, who is now the head coach at USD. “He was a monster defender.”

Holland always viewed Fizdale as his coach on the floor at San Diego, so shortly after the point guard graduated with a communications degree in 1996, Holland gave him his first coaching opportunity off the floor. In 1998, at 24 years old, Fizdale became a full-time assistant coach, instructing players barely younger than he was — many of them his former teammates. (Coincidentally, one such player was San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego, who was reportedly a finalist for the Grizzlies’ job before it was offered to Fizdale.)

Those first few years as an assistant were where Fizdale first found the balance between friend and coach. He remained close with many on the team — making late-night pizza runs with Smith, for example — but demanded respect at practice.

“I was impressed with how quickly he made that transition, but yet players loved to be around him,” Holland said. “Even though the players he was coaching were not that much younger than him, they were hanging on every word. They loved Fiz.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are the Knicks trying to trade back into the Draft? … It might be a decent idea of the Blazers re-signed free agent Mo Harkless … Speaking of the Blazers, here’s a Q&A with GM Neil Olshey … Mike D’Antoni has a few fans as he prepares to take over the Rockets.

Love facing another referendum on his role, ‘fit,’ if Cavs pushed to Game 7?

Either Kevin Love has one of the most fragile psyches in the NBA, particularly among those with All-Star caliber gifts, or media coverage of his slump in the middle of the Eastern Conference finals is more about their timing than his.

Love played badly in Games 3 and 4 against the Raptors in Toronto Saturday and Monday, then fired back with an outstanding Game 5 in the Cavaliers’ home rout to take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 Friday night back at Air Canada Centre (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Love went from 13 total points on 5-for-23 shooting on the Raptors’ court to 25 points with 8-for-10 accuracy at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday. He was the Cavs’ focal point early, as he routinely has been this season in their attempts to get him going early. And this time, as it had frequently during Cleveland’s 10-0 start to the playoffs, it worked.

Afterward, though, so much of the focus was put on Love’s personal ordeal and pep talks he got from teammates and from coach Tyronn Lue in the two days prior to Game 5. Fellow stretch-big man Channing Frye was helpful, Love mentioned to reporters. Lue, too, helped boost Love’s spirits and focus. Meanwhile LeBron James, the team’s leader, spoke from experience about the tough times a talented player endures when he feels he might be letting his crew down.

“It’s very difficult and you feel like you’re by yourself,” James said from the postgame podium. “I’ve been there before, when you’re a big part of a puzzle and things just don’t go the way you either dreamed about or the way you thought it was going to be. You feel like you’re by yourself for 24 or 48 hours or however long the case may be. To see him come out the way he did [in Game 5], just aggressive [in the low post] … we continued to go to him.”

But this is about Love, the same fellow who spoke frequently through the playoffs’ first month about a conversation he’d had with Lue in late March. The same fellow whose confidence and trust were buoyed when Lue was promoted to replace David Blatt as Cavs coach. Now he needed an intervention of sorts in the 48 hours between Game 4 and Game 5?

Draymond Green had two nightmarish games for Golden State in the West finals and created an outrageous distraction with his kick to Steven Adams‘ groin, yet none of the Warriors was questioning Green’s status in their pecking order. Love does the same – no groin kick, but forgettable performances – and it’s time for another referendum on his fit and long-term viability in Cleveland?

Maybe more that the networks and national media are just now paying attention.

Veteran Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, as reported by the Akron Beacon Journal, saw folks reaching for a storyline at Love’s expense.

“He doesn’t have anything to make up for. No disrespect to anybody here, but that all a bunch of media B.S., if you ask me,” Jefferson said in the hallway at Quicken Loans Arena. “The guy had a bad game. We’d won 10 straight. He can have a bad game. Was he the only one who didn’t shoot the ball well? No. Was he the only person that might have struggled a little bit defensively? It looked like [Raptors point guard] Kyle Lowry had 30-something points.

“As a group it was never him, it was never one individual. That was who was going to be the fall guy in the media’s eyes. We didn’t view it that way. Yes, we wanted him to play better, we all did. But he didn’t need to prove anything to us. He’d had eight double-doubles in the first 10 games. We were a little taken aback that everyone thought it was his fault.”

Love pitched in 12 points in the first quarter – going 4 for 4 from the field and 2 for 2 from 3-point range. His first shot was an 8-foot turnaround hook, his second a 26-foot 3-pointer. He added a 14-foot fade, two free throws and another 3, then finished the quarter with two blocks of Cory Joseph in the final two seconds.

“He’s an offensive force down low,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve done a good job on him the entire series. He gets it going, and we’ve got to meet his force with our force and do a better job of one-on-one defense with him in the low post and not just look at him out on the 3-point line.”

If Love performs poorly in Game 6 Friday and Cleveland loses, will it just be about a basketball failing? Or will the onus be on him again, to the point he’ll need a booster shot of motivational chatter for Game 7 Sunday?

A better question might be: How will the media folks get their psychotherapist couches through U.S./Canada customs in time to do their jobs?

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 240) Featuring Stu Jackson

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is not the blueprint Golden State Warriors All-Star and emotional leader Draymond Green envisioned for the 2016 NBA playoffs.

He never imagined going out like this, in the middle of the firestorm for his kick to the nether regions of Thunder big man Steven Adams, his team blitzed by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals and on the doorstep of elimination if they cannot find a way to slow the Thunder down in Game 5 Thursday at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, TNT). Yet here they are, Green and the Warriors, fighting for their playoff lives against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is shining at the right time.

It’s desperation for the Warriors, who haven’t been in this position during their two-year dream ride through the regular season and playoffs. Even with the unanimous KIA MVP Stephen Curry and his Splash Brothers partner Klay Thompson healthy and firing away, the Warriors cannot seem to solve the Thunder.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have issues of their own to deal with in the Toronto Raptors, who tied the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 by winning both games at the Air Canada Centre. Game 5 tonight Quicken Loans Arena (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) serves as the turning point in this series.

Do the Cavaliers get back on track before the home crowd or do the Raptors continue their surge south of the border? Forget those blowout wins you’ve seen and concentrate on the moment. That’s what LeBron James and his crew are doing. Same goes for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and their crew, which includes our favorite breakout performer of this postseason, Bismack Biyombo.

We get into all of that and so much more on Episode 240 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Stu Jackson.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Draymond Green is struggling to find answers after his Golden State Warriors suffered a second straight blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals

Cavs, Raptors will ‘dance’ again in Game 4

TORONTO — The home team has won all six games played between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors this season. If the Raptors can keep that trend going in Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Eastern Conference finals will suddenly get very interesting.

Here are things to watch on either end of the floor as the Raptors try to even the series and the Cavs try to get within one win of their second straight trip to The Finals.

Toronto on offense – The value of a good screen

Bismack Biyombo was the big story in Game 3, grabbing 26 rebounds, blocking four shots, and helping limit the Cavs to just 20 points in the paint. He also scored six straight points to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

But Biyombo’s biggest offensive contribution on Saturday were his seven screen assists, five more than any other player recorded. The Raptors struggled offensively through the first two rounds and shot 41 percent in the first two games against the Cavs, who are the worst defensive team they’ve faced in the playoffs.

Toronto broke out offensively in Game 3, scoring 60 points on just 43 possessions in the first half and finishing with 99 on 85. SportVU data tells us that the Raptors set fewer ball screens in Game 3 (68) than they did in Games 1 or 2 (91, 85). But Biyombo’s screens were particularly effective.

According to SportVU, the Raptors scored 36 points (1.29 per possession) on possessions in which Biyombo set a ball screen. That’s more than they scored off Biyombo screens in Games 1 and 2 combined (33, 0.75 per possession).

Here are a couple of screens from Biyombo that allowed DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph attack Tristan Thompson off the dribble…

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Good screening allows the offense to pick which defender they want to go at. The Raptors have three ball-handlers — DeRozan, Joseph and Kyle Lowry — who can take advantage of non-rim-protectors off the dribble and the Cavs have three non-rim-protectors — Thompson, Kevin Love and Channing Frye — on their frontline.

On Sunday, Raptors coach Dwane Casey stressed the importance of both a good screen and the ball-handler’s timing and ability to create space as the screen is being set.

“It’s really important,” Casey said. “I think especially when it’s a physical-type game where the opposing team is into the guard or into the pin-down of the guy receiving the screen. I think it’s really important, the timing, where you don’t set illegal screens or the defense doesn’t hurry you up, and it gives [the screener] an opportunity to get his body on the defender.

“It’s a dance. You’ve got to have a dance partner, is what I call it. The guy that’s receiving the screen has got to be able to dance with the guy guarding him. They’re doing a lot of top-blocking, so you’ve still got to be able to dance with him to take him to the screen and/or create the separation, one of the two. If you’re a point guard and you’re trying to come off on the pick-and-roll, your ability to get separation from the defender is just as important as that screen. So now with the defense heightened and them understanding exactly what you’re doing, it’s even more important.”

Cleveland is not a great defensive team if you pick the right spots to attack and execute with effective screens. Toronto will look to do that again in Game 4.

Cleveland on offense – LeBron with the ball

Of course, the Cavs usually don’t have to be a great defensive team, because their offense is so potent. But that offense took a step backward on Saturday, scoring just 84 points on 84 possessions (37 on 41 in the second half).

Kyrie Irving (3-for-19) and Kevin Love (1-for-9) combined to shoot 4-for-28 in Game 3 after shooting 58 percent combined in their two home games. Regression to the mean was certainly in play, but the Toronto defense deserves some credit for defending better than they did in Games 1 and 2.

Casey spoke about the pick-and-roll “dance” on the Raptors’ end of the floor, but there’s also been an interesting dance going on when LeBron James has had the ball in this series.

Early in Game 1, James posted up DeMarre Carroll on the right side of the floor…

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Biyombo was stationed on the opposite side of the lane, sticking with Thompson so that the weak-side defenders didn’t have to help off the Cavs’ shooters. And of course, James spun baseline, where there was no help, scoring two of the Cavs’ 50 points in the restricted area in Game 1.

Early in Game 2, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor…

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This time, Biyombo slid over to the strong side, to help at the rim…

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… and both DeRozan and Luis Scola sank down to put a body on Thompson. So James just zipped a pass to Love for an open three, with DeRozan a half second too late on his close-out.

In the second quarter of Game 3, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor…

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Biyombo was dancing back and forth, but in the paint and ready to help, with Patrick Patterson putting a body on Thompson. There’s might have been a passing lane there, but it wasn’t as wide as it was in Game 2, and the Raptors were more organized on the weak side, where both guys weren’t helping and DeRozan was in position to recover to J.R. Smith.

The result of the play? James spun baseline, Biyombo stopped him there, and he passed to Love, who forced an ugly, leaning, step-in jumper after Patterson closed out in time.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said with his other two stars struggling, the coach should have leaned more on his best player.

“I should have put the ball in LeBron’s hands a little bit more,” Lue said Sunday, “to let him create and let him draw double teams.”

While the Raptors handled that play in Game 3 better than they did in Cleveland, they didn’t see it as often. In fact, Love posted up more than James did on Saturday, when James more often had the ball on the perimeter.

The Raptors didn’t defend James the same way every time. Sometimes, Carroll was in his shirt…

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… but mostly, he wasn’t.

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And he went under screens, giving James space to shoot or act “like a quarterback” as Carroll says.

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The Raptors would obviously love to make James a jump-shooter. This year, he shot just 34.3 percent from outside the paint, his worst mark since his rookie year. And he’s 4-for-16 from outside the restricted area in this series.

James is less likely to take the bait than he has been in previous years. In these playoffs, 53 percent of his shots have come in the restricted area, up from 36 percent in playoffs past. But he will be happy to use that space to see the floor and find his teammates for open shots.

The key is the other Raptors’ ability to stay at home on the Cavs’ shooters and fight through pin-down screens being set for Smith and Irving. They did a better job of that in Game 3 and will have to continue to be sharp defensively in Game 4.

“If you back off of him, he’s going to make a good decision,” Casey said. “So we have to mix up how we want to play him, whether it’s up on him or back or sending help or not sending help. There’s not one way you can play a great player like he is.”

Morning Shootaround — May 23


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder rush started with a kick | LeBron vows to protect himself | Green’s kick will get more scrutiny | Waiters at center of OKC’s passing fancy

No. 1: Thunder rush started with a kick The blitz started after Draymond Green delivered a kick to the nether regions on Steven Adams and by the time it was over, the Oklahoma City Thunder had blown the Golden State Warriors off the court in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Whatever notion there was that the reigning champion Warriors were head and shoulders better than a team they beat all three times during the regular season seems to have vanished. But as our very own Shaun Powell explains, the Thunder rush in Game 3 started with a kick:

This might be the first documented case where somebody kicked someone else in the manhood, and the kicker collapsed harder than the victim.

This isn’t meant to make light of Draymond Green‘s curious foot placement on the body of Steven Adams, but an attempt to explain what happened next, how Green and the Warriors wound up wearing the ice bag and wincing. Through three games of the Western Conference finals, they’re down 2-1 to the Thunder, and fresh off a Game 3 beatdown, and facing their most serious challenge since becoming a superteam a little more than a year ago.

There’s certainly no reason for them to panic, or to overstate a 28-point loss. It is, however, time for them and everyone to concede the obvious, that this Oklahoma City team and this series is unlike anything the Warriors have seen before.

The record will show the Warriors trailed 2-1 twice in the playoffs since last season, to the Grizzlies and Cavaliers. Each time the Warriors responded emphatically, and both on the road. They won by 17 in Memphis and 21 in Cleveland and once order was swiftly restored, the Warriors went about the business of being champions.

But these aren’t the scoring-challenged Grizzlies or the injury-ravaged Cavs. These are the Thunder, healthy and loaded, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked in. Finally, the Warriors are being confronted by a threat without asterisks, an opponent on their level or close enough.

And what do we make of the Warriors at this point? Well, it’ll be up to the NBA police to determine if Green’s kick was malicious enough to warrant a one-game suspension. After having the ball stripped from him during a jump shot against Adams, Green’s right foot caught Adams flush during the follow through. That will be tricky for the league; how can you know for sure about intent? Without that, it would be a reach if the NBA punishes Green and therefore affects a playoff series, even though Cleveland’s Dahntay Jones was just hit with a suspension for a similar crime, and even if this was the second time in as many games where Green connected with Adams’ groin.

No surprise, there was dueling stances on the subject.

Adams: “It’s happened before. He’s pretty accurate.”

Westbrook: “I don’t think you can keep kicking somebody in their private areas. It looks intentional to me.”

Green: “I was following through with my shot and my leg went up. I don’t see how anyone can say I did that on purpose. I didn’t even know it happened.”

Green did plead guilty of delivering a dud of a performance, and for that, he kicked himself.

“Awful,” he said.

***

No. 2: LeBron James vows to protect himself As the physicality continues to rise in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James has made a vow to protect himself. What, exactly, he’s protecting himself from remains the question, especially since he’s initiated as much contact as he’s received from the Toronto Raptors. But after things got a little testy for both sides in Game 3, LeBron has made a vow to protect himself tonight in Game 4 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

This is not the first time LeBron James vowed to protect himself.

After Cleveland’s 99-84 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern finals Saturday night – the Cavs’ first loss of the postseason – James was asked about his ability to shake off hard fouls without retaliation.

There were a couple against him in Game 3 – including one by his own teammate – and James got a little testy as the contact continued but ultimately dusted himself off and went to the foul line.

One play in particular, a hard foul committed by one of the Raptors’ stars of the night, Bismack Biyombo, in which he wrapped James around the neck and popped him in the jaw to try to stop a layup with 3:21 to go, was on James’ brain.

Biyombo was assessed a flagrant foul. But in the immediate aftermath of the play, James first jumped toward Biyombo before peeling away to cool off. He made both free throws to cut the Cavs’ deficit to 12.

“At the end of the day, I’m important to this team,” James said. “I can’t afford to react in any kind of way that will get me thrown out of a game, but I will protect myself, I will protect myself.”

And then James quoted his friend and rapper Jay Z, using the following reference to illustrate his place as one of the NBA’s brightest stars, and the target on his back that exists because of it.

Quoting Jay Z’s “The Streets is Watching,” James said “If I shoot you, then I’m brainless; if you shoot me, you’re famous.”

The Cavaliers essentially shrugged off the loss. They tipped their caps to the Raptors, and said there was little they needed to change after the 15-point defeat. Just play a little better.

Asked if losing for the first time in the playoffs constituted “adversity,” James said “why not?” Commenting on the collectively poor outings from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who shot a combined 4-of-28, James quipped “I think it’s good for them.”

There was virtually no sense coming from the Cavs that this series had changed yet, that the upper hand so firmly in Cleveland’s grasp had slipped. But James and the Cavs are definitely going to have to protect themselves.

***

No. 3: Green’s kick will get more scrutiny Draymond Green insists his kick that landed below the waist line of Steven Adams was not intentional. Whether or not that explanation satisfies the league’s disciplinary office remains to be seen. One way or another, word will come down before Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup (9 p.m. ET, TNT). Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group takes a deeper dive into the play that changed the game and perhaps the series:

Draymond Green insisted his kick in the area of the family jewels of Steven Adams was unintentional as he flailed on the follow-through to draw a foul.

While Adams crouched in agony as Green pleaded his case, it all went the Oklahoma City Thunder’s way after that.

The Warriors were blasted by the Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, losing 133-105 on Sunday and now trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Afterward, Green had to answer for the low blow.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I hit him,” Green said of Adams. “I walked to the 3-point line, clapped everybody’s hand. I turned around, he’s on the floor. I’m going like, ‘What happened?’ ”

After Green was whistled for a flagrant foul and hit two free throws on the shooting foul, the Thunder responded with a 24-5 run to close out the first half with a 72-47 lead.

“This is the Western Conference finals,” Warriors center Festus Ezeli said coach Steve Kerr told the team.

“It was just like a stern, ‘We know we’re better than that.’ “

The 72 points were the most allowed by the Warriors in any half this season, as they lost their poise in the heat of a frenetic playoff game on the road.

Fans chanted “kick him out” at the officials as they reviewed video of Green’s kick to Adams., but a Flagrant Foul 1 was assessed that he didn’t think he deserved.

“If I was throwing a shot, I’m not trying to kick somebody in the midsection,” Green said. “I’m sure he’d want to have kids one day. I’m not trying to end that on the basketball court. That don’t make sense.

“I know my core’s not strong enough to stop my leg halfway from wherever it was going.”

Asked if he felt the kick was intentional or not, Adams said, “I have no idea, mate. That’s for other people to make the judgment.”

***

No. 4: Dion Waiters at the center of Thunder ball movement party He wouldn’t be the first person you’d look for when the topic of ball movement comes up regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder. But there he was in Game 3 Sunday, Dion Waiters in the middle of the ball movement mix for a Thunder team that dismantled the Golden State Warriors by sharing the wealth beyond just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Erik Horne of the The Oklahoman explains:

With the Thunder leading by three points in the first quarter, Billy Donovan made his first substitution at 7:19, bringing in Dion Waiters.

Less than two minutes later, Waiters picked up the ball on the break and saw 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli in front of him. The Thunder guard hesitated a beat to get Ezeli thinking he was going to pull up for a jumper. Wrong.

Waiters blew by Ezeli … but looked stuffed at the rim before uncoiling a wraparound pass to Serge Ibaka for an easy dunk.

Jokes have been made about “Waiters Island,” a place where ball movement stops and jumpers go up. But Waiters’ infectious passing spread throughout the Thunder in its 133-105 blowout of the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

By the end of the first quarter, the Thunder had nine assists on 13 made baskets. If Russell Westbrook captained the assist effort with five in the first, Waiters was his running mate, providing arguably the top two helpers of the night.

“We had several different ballhandlers in there that could help contribute and make plays alongside of Russell and Kevin,” Donovan said. “I thought our ball movement was very good. We got everybody involved. It was good to see that.”

Two possessions after Ibaka’s dunk, Waiters saw an opening on the fast break, but it closed quickly. He drove into a mass of bodies in the lane, yet managed to twist his arms around for a highlight assist, releasing the ball softly into the path of Kevin Durant for a layup and the 25-13 lead.

Waiters said even with his view partially obstructed, he saw the double team coming and knew Durant was running to the rim.

“I knew two was gonna collapse,” Waiters said. “(He’s) 6-11. All you have to do is give him the ball, he’s gonna finish.”

Waiters finished with 13 points, three assists and one turnover. When he entered at 8:41 in the third, he tiptoed the baseline and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer, then hit a rainbow jump shot of his own at 3:40 put the Thunder ahead 33.

By then, the Showtime passing had reached rare levels even for the Thunder. Westbrook finished with a team-best 12 assists, but his one that wasn’t could have been the most impressive. Westbrook jumped out on a two-on-one break and threw a through-the-legs pass to Randy Foye who was fouled at 3:35. The lead was 34.

Even in a runaway, the Thunder was still passing it around with gusto. It finished with 21 assists, 19 coming in the first three quarters in which OKC put the game out of hand.

In Sunday’s victory, the so-called island was inhabited by all the Thunder, with Waiters handing out the early invites.

“They’re gonna make you pass the ball, the way they’re playing us,” Waiters said. “They’re loading up on guys and they’re almost begging you to pass.

“Your job is to be as aggressive as possible with the ball so you can make the right play … and the smart play at the same time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The big man who saved the Eastern Conference finals from a sweep: Bismack Biyombo … Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is eager to get to work under Frank Vogel … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is set to interview Stephen Silas for the vacant position on his coaching staff … Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue admits he should have gone to LeBron James more in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Raptors … Toronto native Cory Joseph is fired up and believes the Raptors can hang with the Cavaliers …

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

***

No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

***

No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning shootaround — May 21





NEWS OF THE MORNING
Love conquers all | Thibs cleans house | Kerr’s fight continues | Casey defends Lowry | D’Antoni or Silas in Houston?
No. 1: Playoffs a perfect fit for Love here — A season ago there were all the problems trying to fit into the new atmosphere and new system and new team in Cleveland. Then came the playoffs and he was quickly injured and forced to the sidelines. But a year later Kevin Love is not only comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs for his career and having fun riding the wave. Our own Steve Aschburner caught up with Love, who talked about the change:

“I think there’s a sense of purpose now,” Love said. “We have our identity. And we also know that because of last year [injuries to Irving and Iman Shumpert, as well as Love], things can be taken away from you at any time.”

For Love the biggest difference between playoff basketball and that regular-season variety to which he was limited in six seasons with Minnesota is the urgency.

“Every play really does matter,” said Love, who made it to three All-Star games before ever helping a team reach the playoffs.

“Plays in the first, second, third quarters that can change the ball game in the fourth. Everything counts. One bad defensive play. A technical foul [or a flagrant] where they get the ball back and hit a three. Things that, in the regular season, you might be able to brush off. Here you have to really stick with it.”

Love said he has embraced the physical nature of the postseason, too, and he’s reminded himself to attack the offensive boards, rather than floating from his spots around the perimeter.

“I’ve had a mentality where I want to hit first,” said Love, who takes enough punishment — shoulder “stingers” in particular — to unnerve some Cleveland fans. “It’s going to get chippy. Both teams want to win so bad. You definitely remember [hard fouls]. But whether it’s a success or failure, you have to handle it quickly and get on to the next play.”

***

No. 2: Thibodeau cleans out Wolves front office — You really didn’t expect Tom Thibodeau to take long to put his footprint on the Timberwolves, did you? The new leader of the wolfpack came down hard on Friday, firing GM Milt Newton, president of basketball operations Rob Babcock and several others and it’s likely just the start. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the gory details:

“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”

Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. I’ve been through it on both ends. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all.”

These could be the first of many moves made by Thibodeau, who is clearly intent on building the organization in his image.

He spent a lot of time preparing for this. During his season away from the NBA, Thibodeau visited 13 franchises looking for ideas on how to run a front office, assemble and coach a team.

The moves were made shortly after the NBA’s scouting combine finished, as the team is ramping up preparations for June’s draft.

***

No. 3: Being back with Warriors helps Kerr with recovery — What should have been one of the best, most fun-filled seasons of Steve Kerr’s career in the NBA has instead been a constant battle with pain as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Though he’s far from mended, Kerr told our Scott Howard-Cooper that there’s no way he’s walking away from the job and the group of players that are the best medicine:

“I wouldn’t equate my health with anything that’s happened basketball-wise,” Kerr said. “I’ll put it this way. Under normal circumstances if I hadn’t had this health issue this would have been one of the great years of my life. But instead it was, honestly, one of the worst. Probably the worst.”
But quit, now that he’s made it back this far?

No. Not a chance. Not even if he could have slid into some advisory role with the team and whispered to assistant coach Luke Walton not to take the Los Angeles Lakers job because the big chair was opening on the Golden State bench. Not even if the Warriors follow their 73-9 finish, the best record in league history, with a second consecutive title in June and Kerr can go out on top like few others.

He loves the gig too much. Returning to broadcasting isn’t appealing, as good as he was as an analyst, and the idea of becoming head of basketball operations somewhere again, a role he had for three years with the Phoenix Suns, practically makes him cringe. GMs are separated from the team a lot, and the daily interaction is exactly what Kerr enjoys most. Nothing at age 50, far removed from a playing career of five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, compares to the competitive energy, the trash talking, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush of being on the sideline and under pressure, especially in the playoffs.

That is why Kerr fought his way back to the Warriors. It’s not that he wanted to get healthy to return to the job. He wanted to return to the job to get healthy.

Kerr required the frenzy of the 2015-16 Warriors.
“I needed the job to distract me and engage me,” he said.

***

No. 4: Casey says Lowry didn’t quit — With his team already getting hammered before halftime of Game 2 on Thursday night, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry headed to the locker room early and opened the door for a ton of criticism. But Toronto coach Dwane Casey came to Lowry’s defense and said there’s no way the quarterback gave up on his team, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com:

“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings I know during the game. … I don’t think he quit on his team.”

Lowry faced criticism after he left the bench with 2½ minutes remaining in the second quarter “just to kind of decompress.” At the time, he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had committed five turnovers. Cleveland closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

“It’s whatever. I think it’s an overreaction, personally. I’ve done it countless times,” Lowry reiterated. “Maybe I went to go to the bathroom. I’ve done it before, going to the bathroom. It’s just the magnitude of the situation, which makes it a lot bigger than what it really it is.

“So next time I’ll clarify, ‘Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Hey, I’m doing this.’ I’ll make sure I’m clear on it so everyone knows.”

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Lowry is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 1-for-15 from 3-point territory.

The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 50 points. Game 3 is Saturday in Toronto.

***

No. 5: Rockets search down to D’Antoni vs. Silas — It could be down to a matter of years in Houston. The final two in the Rockets’ search for a new head coach is evidently down to 65-year-old veteran Mike D’Antoni or 42-year-old up-and-coming Stephen Silas. The deciding factor could even be the choice of lead assistant. Jeff Bzdelik with D’Antoni or Lionel Hollins with Silas. So says the always tapped in Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though very traditional in his approach, Hollins has long been favored by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who hoped to add Hollins to Kevin McHale’s coaching staff after the 2013-14 season before Hollins landed the head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets.

Much of the conversations with D’Antoni since his meeting with Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have also been about the staff he would put together with Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik emerging as D’Antoni’s likely choice as a defensive specialist. Bzdelik, a former Nuggets head coach, met with Morey and Alexander about the Rockets head coaching position on Thursday.

Just as D’Antoni, 65, has had many head coaching stops — with the Nuggets, Suns, Knicks and Lakers in addition to a celebrated career in Italy — Silas has been with five teams as an assistant. Silas, 42, coached with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Charlotte for his current position under former Rockets assistant Steve Clifford.

Silas, the son of longtime NBA head coach Paul Silas, who was a candidate to be the Rockets head coach in 2003, became the youngest assistant coach in NBA history when he was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats at age 27 in 2000.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry says his elbow is fine and because of that the Warriors are feeling better heading into Game 3…Is America ready for Vice President Mark Cuban?…The buddy-love between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade doesn’t sit right with NBA old-timers…Pat Riley says he’s expecting a lot more from Goran Dragic next season….It seems that Draymond Green has a very long memory…New head coach Frank Vogel says the Magic are ready to take the next step…Steven Adams is getting bruised and battered in the playoffs, but will keep plugging away…The Coyote is retiring in San Antonio.

Morning shootaround — May 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant silenced in third quarter | LeBron: ‘I have no idea’ what flagrant foul is on me | Report: Magic confident they can get Vogel | Ginobili to talk with Duncan, Popovich

No. 1: Warriors find way to keep Durant under wraps  In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant finished with 26 points on 10-for-30 shooting. His shooting woes were more about him just plain missing shots than anything the Golden State Warriors threw at him defensively. In Game 2 of the series last night, Durant got his points (29) and had a solid shooting night in terms of raw numbers (11-for-18), but a third quarter stretch cut off OKC’s hopes of a win. Erik Horne of The Oklahoma has more on Durant’s Game 2:

Coming off a scorching 23-point first half, Kevin Durant hoisted his first shot attempt of the third quarter. The fadeaway jumper fell, a textbook Durant stroke.

It came halfway through the quarter. The Thunder trailed by double digits. It was far too late on a night when the turnover issues of Durant vs. Warriors past came back in full force in Golden State’s 118-91 win.

Still, it was Durant’s only made shot from the field in the third: a pull-up jumper at 6:22 that was sandwiched in between Stephen Curry’spersonal 14-point barrage. Durant had only two shot attempts in the entire third quarter in which the Thunder was outscored 31-19.

Why?

“They were sending three guys and I was trying to make the right pass,” Durant said. “I was turning the ball over, playing in a crowd.”

Durant finished with eight turnovers, upping his season average against the Warriors to 6.4 per game – his most against any opponent.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said it wasn’t anything new. Durant’s seen the double and triple teams the Warriors threw at him. The swarming. The sneak attacks from a help defender as his back is turned.

Donovan wants Durant to be a willing passer, but he also wants better decisions from his star … and those around him. On Durant’s pass attempt to Roberson, Durant held the ball for seconds, probing and waiting for movement before trying to laser a pass between three players.

“… so maybe I’ve just gotta shoot over three people,” Durant said in postgame.

No, but Donovan wants better decisions from not just Durant, but the players around him.

“He’s got to do a better job, and we’ve got to do a better job creating open avenues and gaps for him to either pass it or drive it when teams elect to kind of send somebody at him,” Donovan said. “When he’s up there playmaking and they’re coming at him, obviously you’ve got to make those decisions very quickly.

“So I think Kevin watching the film will have a chance to get better from it.”

Raptors hope to protect the basket better in Game 2


VIDEO: Best of Phantom: Toronto vs. Cleveland Game 1

CLEVELAND — The Toronto Raptors did not want to get beaten by a barrage of 3-pointers like the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks did.

The Cleveland Cavaliers averaged 16.8 threes per game through the first two rounds, shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc. After getting through a seven-game series against a Miami Heat team that wasn’t going to beat them from the outside, the Raptors adjusted their defensive game plan.

The result was only seven 3-pointers from the Cavs on 20 attempts in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Good defense from the Raptors?

Not really.

Instead of shooting 3s, the Cavs just went to the basket, early and often on their way to a 115-84 blowout in Game 1. The Cavs’ 25 baskets in the restricted area on Tuesday were the most they’ve had in any game this season and the most any team has had in a game in the 2016 playoffs. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined to shoot 17-for-18 at the basket.

Across the league, 3-point shooting has been trending up for several years. But even with the Golden State Warriors and, now, the Cavs taking 3-point shooting to new levels, layups are still more valuable than 3s. Even with their increased proficiency from beyond the arc in the playoffs, the Cavs’ shots in the restricted area — shot at 63 percent — have been worth 1.26 points per attempt this year, while their 3s — 37 percent — have been worth just 1.12 points per attempt.

The Raptors have been one of the league’s best teams at protecting the paint, and allowed the Cavs to get just 35 buckets in the restricted area over their three regular season meetings. But on Tuesday, bad on-ball defense was exacerbated by a lack of help near the basket.

This doesn’t have to be a simple choice between taking away 3s or taking away layups. You can do both if, when you’re aggressive on the perimeter, you have a rim protector as a second line of defense. Bismack Biyombo is the Raptors’ rim protector, but he often wasn’t in position to actually protect the rim in Game 1.

One issue is that the Cavs’ have only one non-shooting big in their rotation. And when Tristan Thompson goes to the bench, they have five players, with Kevin Love or Channing Frye at center, who can shoot 3s.

Here’s Iman Shumpert catching a pass from Irving after setting a screen and having a clear lane to the basket, because all five defenders have both feet outside the paint:

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Here’s all 10 players on the perimeter, opening the paint for Matthew Dellavedova to cut through and get an and-one off a pass from Frye:

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But Thompson was on the floor for 13 of the Cavs’ 22 non-garbage time layups and dunks. Five of those 13 were in transition, but there were other examples of Biyombo just not being in position to help.

Here are two examples of DeMarre Carroll being left on an island with James while Biyombo is on the other side of the paint with Thompson:

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The dilemma here is that, if Biyombo slides over to the strong side to help on James, one of the other weak-side defenders has to slide down into the paint to prevent a duck-in from Thompson. If that happens, a shooter is open on the weak-side and nobody throws cross-court darts to open shooters better than James.

But there were other times on Tuesday when Biyombo got caught too far away from the basket without that weak-side worry. Here’s Irving crossing over Cory Joseph and rejecting a screen from Thompson in transition, with Biyombo’s feet above the foul line:

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So the Raptors have to figure out how they’re going to protect the rim better in Game 2 on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), both with Thompson on the floor and with him on the bench. For Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey, defensive improvement has to start on the ball. Carroll, in particular, got beat off the dribble too often in Game 1.

“You have to pick your poison with those guys,” Casey said Wednesday. “Some of the straight-line drives, it’s just like in the summertime, you’re guarding a guy one-on-one, you’ve got to get down in the stance and understand your cushion that you can have on the guy. If you get too close, he’s going to blow by you. If you’re off too far, he’s going to pull up.”

As for defending the Cavs’ five-out lineups, Casey says a more tactical adjustment is in order.

“We made some adjustments on that to make sure we still have help there at the rim,” Casey said. “We’ve got to take away the first beast, which is their 3-point shooting. We did that, but now we’ve got to make adjustments to make sure we have bodies on the drives.”

Casey was on the staff in Dallas when the Mavs beat James’ Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals, using a zone at times to keep James away from the basket. The Raptors have rarely used zone this season, but when he was asked if he had a zone look in his back pocket, Casey’s response was clear.

“Always,” said. “Always.”

Desperate times could call for desperate measures.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 239) Playoff Shake Up

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA’s version of the Final Four has given us at least one surprise in the form of the Oklahoma City Thunder. They stunned the champion Golden State Warriors in Game 1 and will look to do more of the same behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant when they face off against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the Warriors in Game 2 tonight at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, TNT).

On the other side of the conference divide, the Cleveland Cavaliers and their Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have yet to drop a game in this postseason. The Toronto Raptors thought they were ready for the challenge but found out in Game 1 that they simply were not. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have to crank it up and quickly, if the Raptors are going to be the first team in this postseason to stretch the Cavaliers beyond four games.

In addition to plenty of playoff storylines, we finally know the order for next month’s NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers, after three years of taking lumps on and off the court, can finally see some light at the end of their dark path.

They own the No. 1 pick in a top-heavy two-man Draft and will pick between LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram. According to our in-house Draft guru Scott Howard-Cooper, Ingram is the choice (at least that’s the way he sees it in his first Mock Draft on NBA.com).

Let the debate begin.

We get into all of that and so much more on Episode 239 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors have their hands full with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder