Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

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

Morning shootaround — May 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC playing with calmness in postseason | Lowry didn’t intend to diss LeBron | Butler reflects on difficult season | Lakers relieved to land No. 2 pick

No. 1: Thunder continue to show postseason composure  Game 2 of the Western Conference finals is tonight (9 ET, TNT) and the Oklahoma City Thunder look to close the evening with a 2-0 series edge on the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder snagged Game 1 despite falling into a 14-point hole after halftime thanks to a comeback marked by a self-control and smart play in the second half. That aplomb has marked Oklahoma City’s playoff run to date, writes Eric Horne of The Oklahoman:

Yes, composure. The Thunder’s weakness has largely been erased in the NBA Playoffs. There have been slips, but in Game 1 against Golden State, a team OKC collapsed against in every regular-season meeting, the Thunder was more composed than the defending NBA Champions.

“It was huge,” Kevin Durant said of the Thunder’s play in the fourth quarter. “We know coming in here we just wanted to stay together through it all, and I think our guys did a great job mentally of just sticking with it.

“We’ve just had our ups and downs throughout the season, but we just stayed with it.”

“Early in the season when we had a lead into the fourth quarter, we let a lot of games slip away,” said Thunder guard Dion Waiters, who had one of the Thunder’s few uncomposed fourth-quarter moments of the postseason with his inbound elbow in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio.

“I think in the postseason we’ve just been finding ways just to finish it out.”

The Warriors led 46-38 in the second when a Steven Adams dunk was blocked by Draymond Green, setting Golden State off quickly on the fast break. Klay Thompson had a free path to the rim, but as he went up to dunk, Serge Ibaka rushed back on defense and pinned his attempt on the glass.

The Thunder suddenly had a 4-on-3 break. Westbrook passed on an open 3. So did Durant. So did Waiters, who finally drove baseline and passed to Adams for a layup and the foul. It only cut the Warriors’ lead to 46-40, but it was a telling possession.

Waiters said the temptation to match the Warriors shot-for-shot is nonexistent.

“No, we want to get into our offense. That’s what they do,” Waiters said of the Warriors’ rapid-fire offense. “We know they’re going to make shots. Our job is to try to make it as tough as possible and contest. And we live with the results after that.”

Numbers preview: Cavs-Raptors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Conf. semis: Beat Atlanta in four games.
Pace: 91.6 (14)
OffRtg: 117.0 (1)
DefRtg: 106.6 (11)
NetRtg: +10.4 (2)

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

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Toronto Raptors (56-26)

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

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

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20160516_tor_offense

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Raptors playoff notes:

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The matchup

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

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

Matchup notes:

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Blogtable: Which teams will win in the conference finals?

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


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> Your prediction for the Western Conference finals and the Eastern Conference finals? Who will win and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors in seven. This is going to be one great series, with star power coming out of its pores. It’s taken a long time, but OKC finally got strong play from its supporting cast in toppling San Antonio, and the thought here is that guys like Steven Adams, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter should be able to continue that stretch against the Warriors, who enter the series banged up. If Andrew Bogut‘s adductor is an issue throughout the series, OKC’s size will have an even greater impact. The reasons for sticking with GSW are these: 1) Klay Thompson does as good a job as anyone I’ve seen guarding Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t stop him, of course, but he makes it as hard as possible, not allowing Russ to break him down off the dribble. 2) Haven’t seen anyone slow down the Lineup of Death all season, and I don’t see the Thunder having the solution to it, either. 3) One team has the MVP, who makes shots no one else would even contemplate taking, and makes them. The other doesn’t. Fin.

In the East, it’s Cavaliers in six. So glad for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who faced down their playoff demons from past years (and the Indiana series in this year’s first round) to take their team somewhere it’s never been. But it ends against a Cleveland team that just has too many players clicking on too many cylinders. Yes, the Raps won the regular season series. But that Cavs team is buried somewhere near the old Richfield Coliseum. This one has been hyper-hot behind the three-point line, and even if that cools off a bit, Cleveland’s found chemistry that it lacked for long stretches of the regular season. A healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have made a huge difference, and LeBron James has gotten a week’s rest. Too many weapons, too much motivation to return to The Finals.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m already on record in our series preview as picking Cleveland in 5. The Cavaliers’ 3-point tsunami, even if it’s not quite what it was against Atlanta, still is going to be too much for Toronto, which has trouble scoring even against less potent opponents.

Out West, give me Golden State in 6. Greater depth, the Warriors’ counters to OKC’s bigs and the defending champs’ gang tactics against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will decide this one. Then we get a repeat – but entirely different version – of last year’s Finals matchup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in five in the East. Let’s not underestimate the job coach Tyronn Lue has done in getting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to feel comfortable within themselves and with each other. The Cavs went to The Finals a year ago despite slogging through injuries and battling self-doubt. Now they’re healthy, confident and have added the 3-ball to their arsenal. They’re ready and capable to get back to June and finish the job.

The Warriors in six in the West. The Thunder are now playing with tremendous confidence that borders on cockiness. They’ve been getting solid contributions up and down the roster. That’s enough to make the series interesting. But the Warriors are still the best team in basketball, won the regular season series 3-0 and are on a mission to show all the critics of last year’s championship what they’ve been missing about depth and drive.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWarriors in 6. I could see it going 7. The Thunder will not go quietly, but Golden State beats opponents from too many directions. The Dubs’ health is obviously a big factor.

Cavaliers in 5. This is the Cleveland team a lot of people thought possible all season but has not spotted until recently.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the West, I’m going with the Warriors in a seven-game classic. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should enjoy a tremendous series, and their support help was a bit better than expected through two rounds of the playoffs. And yet: Golden State is a better defensive team, makes fewer mistakes, has Steph Curry and too many additional weapons that will ultimately wear down OKC in a long series.

In the East, folks are sleeping on the Raptors, who are battle tested after a pair of punishing series against the formidable Pacers and Heat, which they survived even after losing Jonas Valenciunas for good. Therefore, I suspect they’ll push the Cavs to four games.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Raptors needed seven games to beat the offensive anemic Indiana Pacers and the score-in-the-paint-or-don’t-score-at-all Miami Heat. The Cavs are more potent than both of those teams combined, but I’ll give Toronto a game because Game 7 on Sunday was the best they’ve looked in the postseason. Cavs in 5.

The Thunder have two of the most dangerous offensive players in the world and can slow down the Warriors by beating them up on the glass. But Golden State has the defenders to make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work hard for their buckets, as well as the league’s No. 1 offense, which never goes stagnant. Warriors in 5.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve gone with the Warriors all season and will not change my mind now, even with the Thunder looking like they are capable of beating anyone they face right now. The Warriors won 73 games for a reason. Golden State will need six games to finish off the Thunder and get back to The Finals for a chance to repeat.

Cleveland has been resting nicely after two sweeps in their first two playoff series. If they play half as well as they did against the Pistons and Hawks, they advance without much of a scare. I’m sure the Cavs would love to make it three straight sweeps, but the Raptors win one up North as the Cavaliers win it in five.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in 5. They’re at at full strength and playing their best basketball of the season.

In the West I’m going to with the Warriors in seven games, because for two years they’ve been the NBA’s most competitive team. Golden State was the hungriest contender in the league all season, which is an amazing achievement for the defending champs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are talented enough to prevail, but can they summon the intensity and focus necessary to upset Golden State? I’m not saying they can’t; I’m just pointing out that no one has done so for a long time.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland will win in 4. They are focused and playing so well right now, and Toronto will be tired and are still dealing with injuries.

On the other side of the country, as I predicted on last week’s Hang Time Podcast, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder will win in seven games. I know, my Twitter mentions are going to go crazy, but the Thunder are white hot right now, and Westbrook and Durant are playing at the peak of their powers. Every year, some team gets hot in the postseason. And right now it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Eastern Conference finals?

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


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Eastern Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors’ backup center was a catalyst in Toronto’s clincher Sunday, and he’ll have to do the same for seven games if Toronto is to have a chance at pulling off the upset against Cleveland. The Cavs’ playoff lineup with Channing Frye at center has been one of the most lethal in the postseason, with an offensive rating of 127.2 AND a defensive rating of 88.1, per NBA.com/stats. The Raptors have to have a counter to match up against it, and it turns out that they do — with Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph. That quintet’s defensive rating is even better than Cleveland’s, at 87.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Biyombo’s 17-point, 16-rebound effort Sunday has to be the norm against the Cavs.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Not sure the Raptors can count on this, but if Terrence Ross can have two or three of his mindlessly hot scoring nights, Toronto’s ability to generate points improves dramatically. Ross scored 20 or more four times in 73 appearances, but I’m calling for him to get 20 at least three times if the Raptors are going to push their series to six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comA year after he had an rather uncomfortable season trying to fit into the Cavaliers picture and then missed virtually all of the playoffs, Kevin Love has been a steady force through the first two rounds and if he keeps it up makes Cleveland quite capable of winning it all.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLeBron James. Not exactly an X Factor, but let’s face it. He is the perfect fit for the answer: If LeBron comes up big, his team advances. He can singularly dominate a series as a player no opponent can counter, someone who can initiate the offense as a point guard and pound the boards like a power forward-center.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should be enough to send Toronto home in four. But for insurance’s sake, it’ll be less wear on those three if Channing Frye can continue pulling weight on Cleveland’s amazing 3-point surge. The goal for the Cavs is to win this series quickly and safely — remember, Love and Irving were injured last spring — and efficiently, saving gas for the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Cavs don’t need J.R. Smith to continue to shoot 50 percent from 3-point range to get back to The Finals, but Smith is the ultimate wild card. Cleveland swept through the first two rounds on the strength of its 3-point shooting and Smith (31-for-61) was a big part of that. He’s been given license to shoot (as 61 of his 69 shots have come from beyond the arc), and a free-shooting Smith probably scares both coaching staffs. LeBron James makes him a better shooter and 45 of those 61 threes have been off the pass, but regression from Smith (either with shot selection or success rate) would make this series more interesting.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Two words I honestly never thought I’d utter or write in response to this question: Bismack Biyombo. I know, it sounds crazy. But with Jonas Valanciunas on the mend and the rebounding machine that is Tristan Thompson eager to show off for the local (Cleveland) and hometown (he’s from Toronto) fans, the Raptors will need someone to match his energy, effort and relentless hustle on the boards. After seeing the impact Biyombo had against the Miami Heat in the conference finals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he steps up against the Cavaliers.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: LeBron James is the reason Cleveland will continue to dominate the Eastern bracket. The Cavs’ goal should be to finish off this series ASAP in order to send LeBron onto the NBA Finals on fresh legs, because they’re going to need 40 minutes or more per game from him against Golden State or OKC. This conference final is all about preparing Cleveland to win the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Cleveland is going to win this series, so instead of saying the obvious like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, how about let’s go with Kevin Love? He seems to have found his fit with the Cavs as they’ve gone smaller, and this will be the deepest he’s ever played in his postseason career. I’m curious to see if Love can continue stretching the floor like he did against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Morning Shootaround — May 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clash of styles for Warriors-Thunder | Kyle Lowry’s star shines in Game 7 | Nothing but difficult choices ahead for Heat | King opens up about failures in Brooklyn

No. 1:   Clash of styles for Warriors-Thunder — The most devastating small-ball lineup in basketball against the most dynamic, big-boy lineup in basketball. That’s the clash of styles that will be on display when the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder square off in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals tonight at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, TNT). There are stars all over the place on both sides (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the Thunder), and yet the style of play and the work of support players will likely be the determining factor in the series. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman has more:

NBA fans remember the Stephen Curry 37-foot rainbow that won it in overtime. Thunder fans remember the Kevin Durant desperation turnover and foul that sent it to that extra session. But five minutes before, the Warriors trailed by 11 points when Steve Kerr made his last substitution of regulation.

Klay Thompson entered, joining Curry, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. It’s a five-man group nicknamed the Death Lineup, a small-ball mix of versatile shooters, defenders and playmakers that demolished opponents this season. Including that February night in OKC.

They outscored the Thunder by 11 in the final 4:50 but also dictated the style of play. Coach Billy Donovan took Steven Adams out, played a group of wings and tried to match small with small. It didn’t work.

Three months later, the teams meet again, this time with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. The rosters remain the same, but the Thunder’s identity has morphed, creating a potentially intriguing contrast of styles should OKC stay big when the Warriors unleash their speed.

“Is that the word on the street?” Steven Adams said when told of OKC’s bruising reputation. “Yeah, I’ll take it then. That’s good. I’ll stick with that.”

In beating up the Spurs on the interior — often with a twin tower frontline of Adams and Enes Kanter — OKC embraced its size. The Thunder has maybe the world’s best possible small-ball power forward — Durant — but the rest of its roster doesn’t form around him in that way.

Donovan continues to laud his team’s versatility publicly, saying they can and likely will play varying styles. But the trade-off is simple — should Donovan go small, he’ll be dipping into his thin bag of wings at the expense of his loaded set of big men. More minutes for Kyle Singler, Randy Foye or Anthony Morrow means less for Kanter, Adams or Serge Ibaka.

“Second half of Game 6 against the Spurs, they went small,” Durant said. “I thought Coach made a great adjustment staying big and not panicking.”

The Warriors, of course, are a different beast, both lethal and experienced playing that way. Curry is the star. But Green is the key.

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Lue lauds LeBron’s lighter load, potentially snubbing old Heat mates

If they could, the web site designers here at Hang Time HQ would put this item in a dashed-line box, suitable for clipping and saving, to be brought out or tacked to a bulletin board if Miami and Cleveland happen to meet for the Eastern Conference championship.

(Actually, the dashed line would be easy enough, but no one here wants to deal with the liability of so many readers trying to actually clip and save digitized content on their monitor screen.)

So skip the line and savor the quotes. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, depending how you spin it, seemed perhaps to slight a couple members of the Heat Saturday when he told reporters that LeBron James, for the first time, has the help he needs in the playoffs, such that less (scoring points, for instance) is turning out to be more for Cleveland. The Cavs have two sweeps under their belt and have been waiting a whole week to learn the identity of their next opponent.

Many might quibble and suggest that playing alongside Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the other two in the Heat’s Big Three, qualifies as more than enough help.

Lue talked about the lighter workload his team’s star is lugging this spring and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com was there to chronicle it:

“LeBron is letting the game come to him,” Lue said after practice Saturday. “When he wants to be aggressive and he sees fit to be aggressive when the teams have a good run or whatever they may have, then he just takes over the game … And with Kyrie (Irving) and Kevin (Love) playing at a high level, he can take a lot of mileage off of his body, reduce his (usage) rate and just kind of seeing and figuring out the flow of the game.”

James has a career postseason scoring average of 28 points per game in 11 trips to the playoffs. He is averaging a career low 23.5 points in this postseason thus far and doesn’t even lead the Cavs in scoring, as Irving is averaging 24.4 points through the first two rounds.

Despite the fact that James played with two likely future Hall of Famers in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during in his time in Miami, Lue said he believes the four-time MVP has never been afforded such help around him during a playoff run.

“I don’t think he’s been in this position before where he can just sit back and see the flow of the game, see where he has to take over the game and it’s been great for him,” said Lue. “I mean, to average 23 points or 24 points and sweep both series is big for us because now our other guys are stepping up, they’re playing well and we know LeBron always can play well.”

Lue sounded as if he was assessing James at this particular stage of his career and the way he’s made it a priority to serve Irving’s and Love’s games. With Miami, most of the expectations still were on James – the Mt. Rushmoriest of the Heat’s three stars – to produce titles in his prime, with Wade and Bosh figuring out their places around him.

McMenamin goes on to note that, compared to a year ago when Irving and Love were hurt and ultimately sidelined in the postseason, James is playing much more efficiently this time. He felt he had to be a volume shooter last year and was, averaging 27.2 field goal attempts to get his 30.1 points in the playoffs. This time around, James is averaging 19.1 shots. Both his minutes and his usage rate in the Cavs’ attack are down.

Miami, of course, had enough to focus on Sunday to not get caught up in parsing Lue’s comments. But given the click-bait generated last week when James wondered about the definition of “valuable” when news came of Steph Curry‘s second MVP award, and his expressed opinion that Portland Terry Stotts should have won Coach of the Year – the implication being that Golden State’s Steve Kerr should not have – it seems only fair to play the same game with the Cavs coach.

Clip-and-save might not work. But there’s always print-and-save.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 238) Steph, Dwight, Playoffs and More!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Stephen Curry is back. He told the crowd at the Moda Center exactly that Monday night, when he stole the show in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers.

That was a day before he officially collected his second straight KIA MVP, the first player in NBA history to do it unanimously.

Let the debates begin about where he stands all time — best shooter ever, best scorer we’ve seen, up there with Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, etc. — even though he’s still just toe-deep into what is shaping up as a spectacular, future Hall of Fame career.

If Steph can keep up his current pace, there’s no question he’ll be in that conversation about the greatest players to grace the league. There was a tie a few years ago that the same things were being predicted for Dwight Howard. But that forecast got cloudy when he left Orlando for Los Angeles and then bolted the Lakers for Houston and … well, you know the story.

Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith dove into that conversation with Dwight on TNT Tuesday night in some must-see-TV, in case you missed it.

The point is, things change quickly in the NBA, the biggest name in the game today could find himself on the back burner if he’s not careful, as Dwight can attest. So it makes perfect sense that we celebrate Steph’s continued ascent while discussing Dwight’s looming huge free agent summer on Episode 238 of The Hang Time Podcast … Steph, Dwight, Playoffs and more.

We also shine the spotlight on Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and their 3-2 lead over the San Antonio Spurs with a chance to send the mighty Spurs fishing for the season and what that could mean for the remainder of this postseason.

Check it all out on Episode 238 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 is the NBA’s first unanimous KIA MVP