Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Morning shootaround — June 20


VIDEO: Curry addresses fans at Warriors victory parade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid | Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 | Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? | Avery coulda been a contendah

No. 1: Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid — The Philadelphia 76ers have done so ding-dong-dandy well at drafting a basketball team with all their high picks lately that they apparently are branching into another field: medicine. The team’s front office is sparing no expense in rounding up the best possible sports physicians and orthopedists to examine the right foot of untested 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer wrote about the latest in Embiid’s unnerving foot plight:

76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said on the Breakfast on Broad show Friday that three more doctors will evaluate the latest setback in the healing of Joel Embiid’s right foot.

“We’re still waiting,” O’Neil said. “We have another three doctors to come see him. The nice thing about jobs like these – you can literally get the best experts in the world. All you have to do is call and they love to see us.”

He added that the franchise could get an answer about the 7-foot center’s future in “a couple of weeks.”

The team announced last Saturday night that Embiid had a setback in his recuperation. The 2014 first-round draft pick from Kansas missed what would have been his rookie season after undergoing surgery last June to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot.

It is unknown if Embiid, 21, will have to undergo another surgery, which could sideline him for part of next season. The team is still gathering information, and nothing has been ruled out.

The Cameroonian big man is not expected to participate in the two NBA summers leagues the Sixers will participate in next month although O’Neil said his status is not known. It’s also not known how long he will be sidelined.

O’Neil confirmed that Embiid has been shut down from working out.

There’s a chance this injury will hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in a navicular bone in 2008 and again in 2009. That injury forced Yao to retire in 2011.

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No. 2: Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 — The Los Angeles Lakers appear to want no part of any “We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!” chant, whether it pertains to their status as basketball tenants at Staples Center or to the spot in which they’re sitting for Thursday’s NBA Draft. They’re in the semi-awkward position of having to wait for the Minnesota Timberwolves to choose their man – most likely between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor – before getting their five minutes on the clock. And while 28 other teams would be more than accommodating to welcome Okafor into their fold, the sense that he’s being forced on them – the way a cheap magician forces a certain playing card when doing his parlor tricks – has the Lakers already feeling a little snubbed. After all, they’re the Lakers and Minnesota is the Timberwolves. And yet… As Mark Medina writes for the Los Angeles Daily News:

In less than a week, the Lakers will embark on an NBA draft that could significantly influence the pace of their massive rebuilding project. So with six days remaining before that date on June 25, the Lakers have scheduled numerous workouts in hopes for more clarity involving their No. 2, 27 and 34th picks.

The Lakers [were scheduled to] host a private workout for Duke center Jahlil Okafor on Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, marking the second individual workout Okafor has had wearing a purple and gold practice jersey. The Lakers also plan to host a private workout on Saturday both for Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell and for prospects that might be available at the No. 27 and 34th draft slots. The Lakers will then have private workouts next Monday and Wednesday just for prospects they would consider with the 27th and 34h picks.

The Lakers also held a second workout on Thursday for point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, though his session entailed training with prospects slated for the second round. On Monday, the Lakers invited Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis for an individual workout after seeing him train last weekend in Las Vegas.

The Lakers have also become increasingly doubtful they will have a workout for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. The Lakers believe their lack of progress with those efforts stem from most NBA mock drafts predicting the Minnesota Timberwolves will select with their No. 1 pick. But the Lakers will accommodate their workout schedule should Towns and his representatives express interest in a workout.

It isn’t likely this sort of stuff will buoy the Lakers’ hopes, a sighting by the Twins beat writer for MLB.com:

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No. 3: Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? — A league directive is a league directive, right? When the NBA sends out an advisory to all its member teams to tread lightly when talking about restricted free agents – as ESPN and other outlets have reported – you’d expect that to be taken seriously and heeded. After all, there has been and can be a chilling effect to RFA players’ market value if prospective bidders are convinced their time is being wasted, thanks to the players’ most recent teams going big with the we’re-gonna-match rhetoric. The National Basketball Players Association doesn’t think that’s right and is said to be monitoring such talk, with the possibility of legal action against teams that engage in it. It’s not just some made-up problem, either, according to CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore:

It’s a smart move by the NBPA. The comments generally fall inside two categories. One, to make a player feel loved and let fans know that they’re not going to let a key member of a team go, and two, to discourage teams from putting a bid in on a player knowing they’ll only be tying up their cap space while setting the bar of an offer for the player’s team to match.

In a broader sense, this speaks to a larger problem of the general lowdown underhandedness implicit with the restricted free agency device. A player is granted free agency at the end of his rookie contract, but he’s not actually free in the agent sense — he can negotiate with other teams, can sign offer sheets, but doesn’t actually control where he goes. New Orleans guard Eric Gordon very badly wanted to go to Phoenix several years ago, and the Suns’ training staff might have done wonders for his unreliable body. Despite public angst over the deal and a plea for the Pelicans to not match, New Orleans decided to keep the player they in essence traded Chris Paul for.

A more nefarious situation occurred without such a public stance in 2009. Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks –before he was the reclamation project that was waived by the Pistons and became an unlikely playoff contributor for Houston — was a restricted free agent in 2009. Teams knew that the Hawks would match any offer, though, and Smith just sat there on the free agency pile before eventually signing an offer sheet with the Grizzlies in the hopes Atlanta would let him go. They did not, and instead got Smith back on a bargain. Meanwhile, last summer the Suns pulled the same trick with Eric Bledsoe, forcing a nasty holdout that stretched on until August. Bledsoe eventually got the kind of big-money deal he was after, but it took the threat of the qualifying offer in order to force the Suns to move.

Banning public comments about a team’s determination to keep their restricted free agency star won’t stop word of a team’s intentions from getting around and impacting value. But it at least keeps it in the behind-curtains world of league rumors and provides a few more percentage points of leverage for a player as he and his agent negotiate a better position.

So then we get to Friday and the Golden State Warriors’ championship parade in downtown Oakland. Looks like somebody forgot about the memo:

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No. 4: Avery coulda been a contendah — Because Avery Johnson, former NBA point guard, one-time NBA champion (1999) and two-time head coach (Mavericks and Nets), is a pretty good self-promoter, one’s first response is to chalk his comments up to bluster. When he says he likely would have landed one of the four recent open coaching jobs if only he’d held off on moving into the college ranks to coach Alabama, it’s easy to think, “Yeah, and my Uncle Fred can say the same thing now that the jobs are all filled.” But Johnson, a New Orleans native who interviewed with that team before it hired Monty Williams in 2010, sounded pretty convincing when he talked with John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

”I know without a shadow of a doubt, that if I had waited, there would have been a high probabiliity I would have got an NBA job based upon the conversations my agent was having with some people,” Johnson said by telephone Thursday. ”But the main thing is that there is no turning back. I’m here at the University of Alabama and this is the right situation.”

Jonnson, 50, would not disclose what NBA teams his agent had exploratory conversations with.
The Pelicans were one of four teams, which included the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets, that had coaching vacancies last month. However, all of those jobs have been filled now.

The Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry on May 30 to replace Monty Williams, who was fired after five seasons. Gentry will be formally introduced by the Pelicans on Monday afternoon. He took part in the Warriors’ parade celebration in Oakland, Calif., on Friday. The Warriors won their first NBA championship in 40 years on Tuesday night after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the NBA Finals.

Johnson is close friends with Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis and he is a longtime friend of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.

”Sometimes change is hard,” Johnson said. ”But from what I’ve heard, Alvin did a nice job interviewing for the job. I think his experiences with the different head coaching jobs that he has had and assistant coaching jobs, he brings a wealth of experience to the franchise.”

Johnson said it is just a matter for the Pelicans to put the right pieces around star power forward Anthony Davis to win big in the Western Conference. [Davis] ended the season with the league’s highest player-efficiency rating at 30.8, which is the 11th highest for a single season in NBA history.

Davis also was a first-team All-NBA selection, finished fifth for the league’s MVP award and averaged 24.4 points and led the league in blocks with a 2.9 average during the regular season.
”I tell you what, his plays are going to work a whole lot better with Anthony Davis,” Johnson said.”I’m happy for Alvin.”

Johnson last coached in the NBA in 2012,when he was fired by the Brooklyn Nets after a 14-14 start.

Johnson was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 after leading the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA Finals appearance but they lost to the Miami Heat. In almost seven seasons as an NBA coach, which included four seasons with the Mavericks starting in 2004, Johnson compiled a 440-254 record.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Melvin Hunt, the interim Denver Nuggets coach who won’t be returning under Mike Malone, has found a spot on Dallas coach Rick Carlisle‘s staff. … Portland guard Steve Blake has exercised his player option to stick with the team next season for a reported $2.1 million. Blazers fans still await decisions on Arron Afflalo (his, if he wants to be back for $7.3 million) and Chris Kaman (theirs, if they want him back for $5 million). … Taj Gibson‘s ankle surgery is going to sideline the Chicago Bulls backup big for an estimated four months. … If Steve Nash is a future Hall of Famer, so is Shawn Marion. Huh? That’s ESPN.com’s claim and they’re sticking to it. … Former GM Danny Ferry‘s buyout and exit from the Atlanta Hawks moved forward with approval of the team’s board. … J.R. Smith didn’t do enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals but he has done wonders for the “phunkeeduck.” Yes, the “phunkeeduck.”

Blogtable: Future for 7-footers?

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: Future for 7-footers? | Going defense-first? | Cavs or Warriors in 2016?



VIDEODebating the merits of playing small vs. big

> After watching the “small ball” Finals, what does the future look like for a 7-footer in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Frankly, the NBA better hope that its 7-footers, however rare, aren’t eradicated from the scene. Last I checked, no one was goosing the TV ratings to watch a 6-foot-5-and-under league. Part of the appeal of pro basketball always has been its big men and, in my view, the NBA’s Competition Committee needs to dial back some of the things that favor the shorties. My suggestion: Widen the court and extend the 3-point line an extra foot or two all around. The game has gotten too 3-heavy, diminishing the mid-range game, which always showcased some of the most creative and athletic shot-making. More mid-range ultimately means greater roles for the bigs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There will always be a place for skilled big men in the NBA — emphasis on skilled. Going forward, there should be emphasis on developing an all-around game that includes passing and shooting as a way to spread the floor on offense and ability to come away from the low post to defend.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comCan the 7-footer shoot and move? It’s not the size, it’s the skill set. I would have thought Andrew Bogut plays no matter what because he can be a facilitator on offense as well as defend, not some plodding center who can only impact within arm’s reach of the basket. So if he spends a lot of The Finals riding pine, all bets are off. Be mobile or be increasingly worried.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe future looks like Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor and the next potentially great center coming from the Draft. I don’t buy the idea that the big man is obsolete. Mediocre big men are obsolete. Crummy big men are obsolete. But the next Hakeem Olajuwon won’t be sitting on the bench in The Finals, trust me.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere’s space for seven-footers, and there will be a few — Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Brook and Robin Lopez — that will get big contracts this summer. You need to be mobile and bring some skills to the table, preferably on both ends of the floor. But there’s room in today’s pick-and-roll, spread-the-floor offenses for a big guy  (Tyson Chandler is a good example) who just has to be able to set a good screen, roll hard to the basket, catch the ball and finish. Layups are still more valuable than 3-pointers, and a good roll man opens things up for good shooters.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It depends on what kind of 7-footer you are. The days of big man battleship basketball in the NBA have ended. They went away when Shaquille O’Neal cleared out the big man division. Any dominant big man since then either has been a hybrid/stretch four or a some variation. The skilled 7-footer will always have a place in basketball. So much will depend on the training young bigs get on the way up. If they are schooled in all facets of the game, we’ll see some new hybrids enter into the mix. Work on your free throws and face-up game, young bigs, and you will be fine. I did enjoy the small-ball portion of these Finals, though, and wonder how many more teams will be forced to embrace that approach?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It depends where he is playing. If the Cavaliers had entered The Finals at full health then we might now be discussing the renewal of the 7-footer – we may even be talking about it this time next year, based on Cleveland’s potential to go big with LeBron James, Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. Small-ball succeeded, but that doesn’t mean the death of traditional lineups. Depending on the size and speed of your team, and the strengths and weaknesses of your stars, there are all kinds of ways of winning the championship – and Mike D’Antoni’s system is now officially among the options.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d say it looks brighter than ever. It took David Blatt a game, but once he figured out how to deploy Timofey Mozgov against that vortex of 6-foot-7 players, Mozgov had a pretty big impact on Game 6. Small lineups are the easiest to deploy, mostly because small players are the easiest thing to find. But uncover a seven-footer who can get up and down the court and he can destroy versus a small lineup. One of the oldest maxims in the NBA is height doesn’t grow on trees. And it still doesn’t.

Blogtable: Why not go defense-first?

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: Future for 7-footers? | Going defense-first? | Cavs or Warriors in 2016?



VIDEOHow the Warriors’ defense made life tough on the Cavs in Game 6

> The Warriors are the 19th NBA champion in the last 20 years to have a top 10 defensive rating during the regular season (they were ranked No. 1). So why don’t more teams focus on defense, and what does a defense-first roster look like?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: There are plenty of coaches who believe that defense wins. But NBA rules are set up to facilitate scoring, grinding defense isn’t very entertaining and there might be a player revolt if a team practiced and played defense as intently as this question suggests. Because even when it’s a source of pride, defense isn’t fun. As for what a team built that way might look like, do we really want to see Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan laboring for points when their team has the ball?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Good teams do concentrate on defense, as evidenced by 19 of the last 20 champions ranking in the top 10. The Spurs went away from defensive emphasis for a year or two, slipped back into the pack and then made a renewed commitment that produced back-to-back Finals appearances and the 2014 championship.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBecause defense isn’t glitzy. It doesn’t sell a lot of tickets. I also think a lot of teams do try to focus on defense, but actually coming up with a good defensive unit is difficult. It didn’t just fall together for the Warriors. They took serious heat for trading Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. They lucked into getting Draymond Green in the Draft. There was no way to anticipate Stephen Curry’s improvement on that side of the ball. There is no “look” to a defense-first roster. The best defender can be on the wing or inside. But there has to be at least a couple players who are not only good in that area, but who also have a strong presence in the locker room to have others follow their lead for a level of commitment that does not come with the same glory as scoring 20 points a game. And there obviously has to be a coach using the strengths the proper way.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I suspect teams do concentrate on D. But not everyone can play it at a high level. The Warriors had athletic players who could guard multiple positions and shut down the perimeter. The Memphis Grizzlies also play terrific D. Any team with a rim protector and quick wingmen will more often than not win games with defense.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Two-way players don’t grow on trees, and teams have to build around the personnel that they have. The Cavs (when healthy) obviously had a higher ceiling offensively, while the Milwaukee Bucks had no choice but to earn wins on defense. Versatility — having guys who can defend multiple positions — is a key. The Warriors (and Bucks) were so good defensively, because they had a lot of like-sized, lengthy defenders, who could switch on screens and prevent dribble penetration. Good offenses get good shots by drawing two defenders to the ball, so having the ability to switch (and keep just one guy on the ball) helps you stay in front of the ball and stay at home on shooters.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Defense doesn’t sell tickets. And at the end of the day, stoking interest still seems to revolve around the idea of playing faster, shooting more 3-pointers and an up-tempo attack. The Warriors nailed the model by fashioning a team that proved to be elite on both ends. With versatile defenders at nearly ever position on a team capable of dominating teams on either or both ends of the floor, they built a champion. That’s as good a place as any to start talking about the ideal, defense-first roster.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Teams haven’t been able to focus on defense at the expense of offense in the years since the old man-to-man rules were relaxed: If you don’t put five scorers on the floor then you become too easy to defend. The goal is to find two-way players like Draymond Green; or else to convince scorers to commit to the defensive end, which is what the 2008 Celtics were able to do with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (and what Cleveland will try to do next season with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love). The Warriors are the ultimate example of a team that commits first to defense – and then knows how to convert those stops and steals into offense.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI read so many stories yesterday about how Warriors had embraced the Mike D’Antoni style of play and were going to change the way NBA teams were built going forward. To which I thought, I don’t remember those D’Antoni teams being all that good on defense. Because to me, as great as the Warriors were offensively — and make no mistake, they were a juggernaut on that end — it was their commitment and ability defensively that made them NBA champions. But sure, it’s probably more exciting to focus on the 3-pointers and the fast pace. But as we all know, defense wins championships.

Blogtable: Cavs or Warriors in 2016?

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: Future for 7-footers? | Going defense-first? | Cavs or Warriors in 2016?



VIDEOThe Starters reflect on The Finals of 2015

> Which team is more likely to reach The Finals in 2016: Warriors or Cavaliers?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Easy. Cleveland. Because the East.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With the Western Conference being a much tougher neighborhood, there will be more challenges to the Warriors. The other question is can they expect/hope to get through another entire season and playoffs virtually injury-free?  The Cavs will still have the best player in the game in LeBron James, an All-Star in Kyrie Irving and we assume, for now, Kevin Love. GM David Griffin is likely to upgrade the talent on the rest of the roster, and I’m expecting a Cleveland with a bit more good health and good luck to be back knocking on the door next June.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I would not be surprised to see either or both make it back. The Warriors are the safer bet, though, because the core will be returning. It’s more difficult to project the Cavaliers’ roster until we know if Kevin Love returns, and the specifics of the new lineup if he does not. How is Anderson Varejao’s health? Where is Irving’s rehab? There are a lot more unknowns. But as long as there is also LeBron James, and if the medical situations have positive outcomes, Cleveland is a contender.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This is easy: Cavaliers. The have LeBron. They’ll be healthy (assuming). And here’s the biggest advantage: They play in the East. The Warriors, meanwhile, must deal with an irritated Kevin Durant and ornery Russell Westbrook, and perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Cleveland is the answer, because they have LeBron James and they’re in the Eastern Conference. But the Warriors were the much better and more complete team. We know that they have what it takes to be an elite squad on both ends of the floor. The Cavs improved defensively in the playoffs, but they still have to prove that they can play top-10 defense over the course of 82 games with a couple of offense-first stars like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ll take a rematch with everybody healthy. Lock it in right now and I’m buying. That said, I think the Cavaliers (provided they are healthy) have the more realistic path back to The Finals. The Warriors will have to grind through the more rugged Western Conference again next season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and several other teams not on the radar will be there to give chase. Cleveland won’t have nearly as many legitimate threats to their Eastern Conference crown. Again, I’d be all in for a Warriors-Cavs healthy rematch, if only to see what might have been this time around with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to go along with LeBron James.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Cavaliers, health willing: They’re in the easier conference, and they figure to be the NBA’s hungriest team next year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI could honestly answer either team right now and feel pretty confident in that answer. Right now, in the afterglow of The Finals, both teams seem like they’re set to make multiple Finals runs over the next half-decade, a rematch the ratings suggest people would like to see. But if I’m picking a team to make it back soonest, I’ll go Cleveland. They’ve shown they can make it to the Finals using a lineup basically composed of LeBron James and four guys from the YMCA, and the landscape in the East remains easier than the gauntlet out West.

LeBron wants J.R. Smith to keep his head up — and to keep shooting

VIDEO: Cavaliers star LeBron James speaks at Saturday’s media session.

OAKLAND – Steve Kerr lied to the media Thursday night to hide a strategic adjustment for Game 4 of the 2015 Finals until the last possible minute, hoping the element of surprise would boost its impact.

LeBron James may have done the same thing Saturday afternoon before Cleveland’s practice to demonstrate his confidence in a teammate as the Cavaliers head into Game 5 Sunday.

James has to be hoping his fudging of the truth for ulterior motives produces for Cleveland the same type of results Kerr’s generated for Golden State the other night.

Told that J.R. Smith, the Cavs’ designated shooter off the bench, was still in self-deprecation mode Saturday about his poor shooting in Finals play, James responded with an answer that was supportive, encouraging and a little bit imploring of the streaky reserve guard.

For effect, James even said “He can miss a hundred shots,” as a way to show how much faith he has in Smith. Which, of course, would mean both an NBA record for Smith and certain doom for Cleveland.

Smith, who referred to his play as “horse [bleep]” after an 0-for-8 struggle from 3-point range in Game 4, referred to it again Saturday when he said: “I’m ready to play. It’s one game, so the best part about it, I can’t play no worse.”

Even at his current rate – Smith is shooting 29.8 percent (14 of 47) in the Finals, including 25 percent (7 of 28) on three pointers and averaging just nine points – that’s not technically true. And it’s the wrong outlook, James felt, for a guy whose value to the injury-thinned Cavaliers roster has gone up this postseason.

Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, their team simply doesn’t have much offensive firepower besides James. But Smith, at his best, can provide that; he averaged 18.0 points on 50 percent shooting in the four-game sweep of Atlanta in the Eastern Conference finals. He hit 16 of his 34 3-pointers in that series (47.1 percent) and had a playoff career-high in the opener.

That past success and his track record are what Smith should be focusing on, James said, not his struggles of the moment.

“I don’t care how many shots he missed,” the Cavaliers star said. “I don’t want his head to be down like it was in Game 4. It’s a make-or-miss league. J.R. practices enough. We all are all professional athletes and we practice on our craft. But you can never allow someone either from the media or from the fans, from the opposition, from your family to ever see that you’re down about what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter. He has to stay confident.”

Here’s where James opted, if not to lie, then let’s say to deploy some big-time hyperbole.

“He can miss a hundred shots,” he said. “If they’re great looks, they’re drive‑and‑kicks, you shoot them with confidence. If he’s feeling confident about his ability, then I’m confident about it. But as a competitor, once you lose confidence in yourself, then it’s really not much coming back from that. So if he’s confident in himself, he’ll be fine.”

Some folks seeking a barometer in this series have suggested that it’s James, who dipped from his 41.0 points average through the first three outings to 20 points in Game 4. But they neglect that he had his biggest output in Game 1, scoring 44 in Cleveland’s loss at Oracle Arena to start this thing.

Even James’ 20 points in Game 4 might not have been too few, since his cohorts on the Cavs’ front line – Tristan Thompson (12) and Timofey Mozgov (28) – had a big scoring night. Taken together, James-Thompson-Mozgov have scored 62 (Game 1) and 60 (Game 45) in the Cavs’ two losses, 58 (Game 2) and 56 (Game 3) in the victories.

The backcourt has been up and down – 29, 16, 23 and 15 points. But Smith’s impact is easily discerned: He scored 13 and 10 in the two victories, just nine and four in the defeats. So Smith doesn’t need to take 100 shots, he just has to hit enough of them to score in double digits to give Cleveland a better chance.

Rough nights, different reasons, for centers Mozgov, Bogut in Game 4

It was hard to know which of the two starting centers in the 2015 Finals, Golden State’s Andrew Bogut or Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov, had a rougher night Thursday in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Bogut certainly qualified because he wound up as the Warriors’ not-starting center when coach Steve Kerr opted to “go small” to put more spacing and pace in his team’s offense. Bogut, the veteran 7-footer who had been touted all season as an indispensable defender in the paint and a gifted passer and screener in Golden State’s attack, wound up playing in his team’s 103-82 victory for just 2:46.

Even Kendrick Perkins, the Cavaliers’ deep-reserve big, played more than that Thursday.

This came on the heels of a Game 3 performance in which Bogut played only 17:07. His time has diminished with each game and he’s chipping in only 2.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game after averaging 6.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 23.6 mpg in the regular season. Bogut had called himself out, in fact, prior to Game 4 for not doing enough to help.

“I need to play better,” Bogut had said. “There is no excuse for it. To say you’re tired, injuries, Finals, minutes, there’s no excuse for it. Just be aggressive and hopefully have a good game.”

Adding insult to inactivity. Bogut took heat from some precincts for his post-Game 4 comments stating that LeBron James jumped into the baseline cameraman on the play in which the Cavs star suffered a gash on his head. The Australian center fouled James under the basket and his sprawl into the area behind the basket where photographers sit drove his head right into an NBA Entertainment camera lens.

“Yeah, I think he came down and took two steps and then fell into the cameraman,” Bogut said. “I definitely, definitely didn’t hit him that hard.”

Ordinarily Mozgov might figure to be the reason for Bogut’s struggles. The 7-foot-1 Russian had gotten the better of their clashes early in the series. But with Bogut yielding to Andre Iguodala in Kerr’s reconfigured lineup, Mozgov had a career night – 28 points, 10 rebounds.

Mozgov couldn’t fully enjoy it, though, beyond the Cleveland defeat. He felt his points were due, at least in part, to Bogut’s absence and a sense that the Warriors were conceding some things to him and Tristan Thompson to better hold down James and others. Also, Mozgov got visibily frustrated having to defend, or chase anyway, Iguodala and other wing far from his comfort zone.

“I always want to stay in the paint and protect the paint,” Mozgov said. “They tried the stretch defense, whatever they’re doing. We’ve got three more games and we all have to learn something from this game.”

Said James: “When your big is accustomed to guarding a big for three straight games and there is a change, now our big, meaning Timo, has to make a change. He has to guard a smaller guy, which he’s not been accustomed to ever.”

LeBron proud of Cavs’ playoff newbies


VIDEO: James addresses media before Thursday’s Game 4

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – There are times, LeBron James acknowledged Thursday, when he forgets just who it is he’s working with in these 2015 NBA Finals.

During a heated moment on the court or maybe in a timeout huddle, James’ muscle memory built from six trips to the Finals and 175 playoff appearances kicks in and he starts pushing hard. Then he remembers how raw his teammates are, by comparison, on the NBA’s biggest stage.

James’ two more important teammates through the first three games, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, will be playing in the 18th postseason games of their young careers, all this spring. Among Cleveland’s other starters, Timofey Mozgov has 24 games under his belt already and Iman Shumpert was sitting on 30 as the Cavaliers prepared to face the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

That doesn’t even account for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, playoff newbies whose playoff tickers stopped at 13 and four games, respectively, due to their season-snuffing injuries.

“They’ve done a great job,” James said after the Cavaliers’ shootaround session at their practice facility. “We’ve had some bumps along the way. We’ve had some bruises along the way. And obviously we know what the bruises are. We’ve had quite a few learning experiences. We had a learning experience last game where we didn’t quite close out the game like we should have.

“At the same time, I expect so much out of our group. [Tuesday was] our 17th playoff game together. I expect so much out of us, and then I look back at it and say, ‘This is our first time being in that situation. I shouldn’t be so hard on ’em.’ But we learn from it. We watched the film yesterday, we learned from it, we know how to approach it the next time.”

The Warriors aren’t exactly salty old playoff veterans – four of their starters had played in 37 games prior to Thursday, while Andrew Bogut was at 35, owing to some injuries and lost years in Milwaukee.

Much of the talk out of Golden State’s camp between Games 3 and 4 focused on change, both in strategy and in intensity. There was a sense the Warriors felt they hadn’t imposed their style, their will and their emotions on the Finals through three games.

James, though, didn’t sound interested in what the Cavaliers’ opponents might or might not change.

“We’re going to play our game,” he said. “For us, it’s not what they do, it’s how we approach the game. We know they’re gonna come in, understand probably for them, feeling like it’s a must-win. But for us, we just go and play our game. We have nothing to lose. We’re undermanned, we’re outmatched. We just go out and play hard, we live with the results.”

Cavaliers’ Dellavedova, Shumpert get green light for Game 4


VIDEO: Dellavedova says he feels like he’s ‘pushed the limit a few times’

CLEVELAND – Matthew Dellavedova made his first public appearance Wednesday with a paper cup in each hand, filled either with the beverage touted on the cups’ exteriors – Gatorade – or some other liquid to help keep him hydrated, a particular problem Tuesday night.

The balancing act kept him from diving to the floor or crashing through anybody as he stepped up to greet the media, just another podium game for the unlikely candidate from Down Under.

Dellavedova, the Cleveland backup point guard thrust into a starter’s role after Kyrie Irving’s knee fracture in Game 1, was taken by ambulance to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment of severe cramping after Game 3 on Tuesday. The 24-year-old Australian had scored 20 points and logged 38 minutes – almost double his 20.6 mpg during the regular season – while hurling himself about the court (and its perimeter) in his feisty, even way.

It helped earn the Cavaliers a 2-1 edge in the series, but it earned Dellavedova an intravenous feed to replenish his fluids. The good news for Cleveland is that Dellavedova joined his teammates at Quicken Loans Arena and said he was fine to play in Game 4 Thursday.

Ditto for Cavs guard Iman Shumpert, who hurt his left shoulder running into a Draymond Green screen in the first quarter Tuesday and left the court in the first quarter. Shumpert turned to play another 24 minutes over the final three quarters and said he would be available in Game 4.

“Good news on Shump’s shoulder,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “He had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging exam), he was examined and evaluated by our medical staff. He has a bruised shoulder and it’s painful, but fortunately no serious damage, and that’s really, really good news.

“Delly, obviously, suffered from some fatigue. I don’t know whether to call it dehydration or something else, but the tank was low, and we’re doing everything we can to fill it back up. That’s the best way I could describe it for you.”

Shumpert admitted that, had he taken the same hit in a regular season game, he might not have come back as a precaution (he dislocated that same shoulder early in the season). But the defensive-minded guard said, “This is The Finals.”

Dellavedova didn’t suffer his cramping until the end of the game. The hospital stay was a precaution, too, but nothing that will get in the way of his next spirited performance.

“I was there for a little bit, but mainly just to rest up and recover,” he said. “We all take it pretty easy today just to get our treatment, and we’ve watched tape and things like that. So, yeah, I’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

Said Blatt of the player who has the same gearbox as a Tasmanian devil: “I told him I was going to limit his minutes, and he said, ‘No, you’re not.’ Look, we’ve got to be realistic and keep our eyes on him and see how he recovers. He emptied the tank last night. Hopefully in the ensuing 48 hours he’s going to be able to catch up and to get back up to par, so to speak, in terms of his body. But he’ll be out there, and we’ll just monitor how he’s doing.”

Blogtable: Thoughts on these Finals so far?

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: Thoughts on these Finals? | Best arena atmosphere? | Next player-turned-analyst?



VIDEOMini-Movie from Game 3 of The Finals

> After three games of these NBA Finals, what strikes you most about this series?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: That we’re seeing a new level of special from LeBron James. It’s possible his heavy lifting in this series might still go for naught, but already he has taken his game to new heights by boosting his run-of-the-mill teammates — with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out — right along with him. I contend I saw something click, in him and in them, from the start of the Chicago semifinal series. They started it licking the grievous wound of losing Love and finished with a confidence and belief — most notably, James in guys like Matthew Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert — that made what’s happening now seem downright reasonable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s easy and incredibly tempting to say the transformation of Matthew Dellavedova into a minor god and I will. But even more so is the total commitment to the task and all-in attitude by LeBron James. Jalen Rose described his first two games of the series as “monstropolis” and then James went out in Game 3 and did everything but breath fire. We might be witnessing the greatest Finals performance ever.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The difference in focus. Maybe it’s even emotional toughness. The Cavaliers are locked in. They are playing with an attitude that goes beyond typical confidence. The Warriors have not played with a champion’s mindset most of the playoffs. That has continued into The Finals, where Cleveland has been able to exploit it like no previous opponent. The best part about the Cavs so far is the worst part about the Warriors.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Steph Curry’s shooting issues. It’s the No. 1 factor in The Finals, the biggest worry for the Warriors and perhaps a mystery to the Cavs as well. Maybe Curry broke the spell with his searing second half on Tuesday, but until he does that for four quarters, you wonder if his 2015 Finals will be as surprisingly lacking as LeBron James‘ 2011 Finals, when he shrank unexpectedly against the Dallas Mavericks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Cavs have flipped the switch defensively like no team I’ve seen before. They’re the lowest ranked defensive team (20th in the regular season) to make The Finals since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, and they probably benefitted from some opponents playing sub-par offense in the first three rounds. But they have answered all the questions through the first three games, holding the Warriors (the No. 2 offense in the regular season) under a point per possession. There was one stretch of the third quarter in Game 3, where they were just on a string and anytime a Warrior got near the basket, he was turned away. In the last 37 years, the only three teams to win a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season — the 1988 Lakers, the 1995 Rockets and the 2001 Lakers — had won the title the year before. So this has been a remarkable turnaround by a team that doesn’t have that experience and that was never all that focused on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The frivolous nature of the Warriors’ play on this stage remains a stunner. Where is the urgency? Coach Steve Kerr warned them and made sure to have Luke Walton do the same. They did not want a crew without an Finals experience showing up here and assuming that this was going to be like anything else they’ve done as a group. And yet, three games in, the Warriors still don’t seem to get it. They remind me of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. They assume there will be another chance to reach this point and chase that Larry O’Brien Trophy. There are no such guarantees, though.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The importance of experience and hunger is crucial. The older stars tend to be hungrier. The 2008 Celtics were hungrier than the Lakers. The 2011 Mavericks were hungrier than the Heat. The 2012 Heat were hungrier than the Thunder. LeBron James understands how difficult it is to win the championship more so than Stephen Curry. Maybe Curry will have learned from this experience in time to lead his team back to the championship. Or, maybe he needs to lose this Finals in order to come back as LeBron did from his own loss in 2011.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Just how little we actually know. Seems like we all watched the Warriors romp through the regular season and thought they’d just continue on during the postseason, but they reached the NBA Finals and, at least in Games 2 and 3, ran into a brick wall that they don’t seem to be able to solve. The Warriors were so dominant during the regular season, but now all that seems out the window. The Cavs have junked it up, slowed things down and tipped what seemed like a mismatched series in the completely opposite direction.

Blogtable: Best arena atmosphere you’ve ever been in?

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: Thoughts on these Finals? | Best arena atmosphere? | Next player-turned-analyst?



VIDEOVIDEO: Trey Kerby of The Starters sees just how loud Warriors fans can be

> A lot has been made about the crowds at Oracle and Quicken Loans arenas. What’s the best NBA arena atmosphere you’ve ever experienced in all your years covering the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com It’s not always about cheering and celebrating, you know. That’s why I’m going with Game 6 of the 1998 Finals at the then-Delta Center in Salt Lake City. There was a desperation in the stands that day from the Utah Jazz fans, facing elimination by the Chicago Bulls – again. And for a lot of others, there was a real sense that the Bulls’ championship run and, once more, Michael Jordan’s career might be ending. So as Jordan stole the ball away from Karl Malone late, followed by the play that became The Shot (push of Bryon Russell included), that was like the air being sucked right out of that building. It was excellence personified, the classic ending … if not of Jordan’s career, of the very best and most memorable part of it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com I’m planting the flag in two old places that no longer exist — Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium. Boston Garden, with its upper deck that practically hung out over the court, had an intimate, we’re-in-this-with-you feel, a rousing, knowledgeable fan base, and was almost a living, breathing organism during the Larry Bird era. Chicago Stadium seemed to have the broad shoulders of Chicago, felt vast and overpowering and was absolutely, positively the loudest arena ever and nobody is in second place. During the first three-peat when the starting lineups were introduced, the PA announcer barely got out the first syllables of “From North Carolina …” and the roof (and your head) would rattle. I’ve been to Oracle, The Q, OKC and they just can’t touch it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com It’s so hard to pick one. Chicago Stadium was deafening when Michael Jordan was introduced before games, Boston Garden had a magnet that pulled people to the front of their seat as Larry Bird released from the perimeter, and there wasn’t a night of leaving Oracle Arena without your ears buzzing in the 2007 playoffs as the Warriors shocked the Mavericks in the first round and Baron Davis demolished Andrei Kirilenko with a dunk in the West semifinals. But nothing beats Arco Arena in the 2002 Western Conference finals, Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, ear plugs mandatory. It was the noise, of course, from voices to cow bells, but the building itself made a big difference. Arco — now Sleep Train Arena — was a barn, a gym, a comfortable corner hangout. The intensity of the Lakers-Kings relationship and the hellacious energy from fans is still unforgettable. The outcome was not a good one for Sacramento, but the atmosphere was perfect.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Hard to beat the old Chicago Stadium during the Michael Jordan years. The rickety place had stairwells that led nowhere, the concourses were narrow and outdated and the smell of stale beer and hot sausage on the fryer filled the air, but the place shook. I thought it might crumble from the noise when Jordan hit those 3-pointers in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals against the Blazers and gave “The Shrug.” Honorable mention: The original “Hive” in Charlotte, the Charlotte Coliseum.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The craziest NBA atmosphere I’ve been in was Game 7 of last year’s first round at the Air Canada Centre. That was a loud building in the first place, but when the Raptors came back from 10 points down with less than six minutes to go to pull within one, and then forced a turnover in the final seconds to give themselves a chance to win, I think I heard the noise in my deaf ear. One other cool atmosphere was at the Meadowlands (really) for the Nets vs. Knicks first-round series in 2004. The crowd was 50-50, which mean there was cheering for every basket and a lot of back-and-forth between fans of the two teams.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s an extremely difficult question. There are so many games to choose from. But the one that sticks out for me is Game 4 of a 2011 first-round playoff series between the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Brandon Roy put on a show for the ages to rally the Blazers to an 84-82 win that saw the home team outscore Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs 35-15 in the fourth quarter. Portland rallied from an 18-point hole early in the fourth quarter to tie the series at 2-2. The wave of energy going through the building in that fourth quarter is like nothing I ever experienced before that or anything I’ve felt since. It was unreal. I woke up the next morning and my ears were still ringing.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The atmosphere in Boston, in both the old Garden and the new Garden, has been consistently intimidating in the playoffs. The feeling in the old place helped create a mystique for Larry Bird‘s Celtics, and in the new building the fans fed off the energy of Kevin Garnett. It is the consistency of the support that stands out: We’re talking about a span from the 1980s to 2010 and yet it has felt as if nothing changed.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Cleveland crowd tonight for Game 3 was pretty great, but there are two instances that I’ll never forget:

1. The Detroit Pistons crowds in 2005 were LOUD, and then they went completely silent when Robert Horry went crazy from the perimeter in Game 5 of The Finals. That silence was deafening.

2. I know Miami fans were criticized for leaving early during Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, but the majority of them stayed in place, and when Ray Allen stepped back and knocked in the three to tie the game with seconds left, a buzz went through the American Airlines Arena unlike anything I’ve felt before in an NBA arena.