Utah Jazz may have inside track for two seed

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Nobody out West has the cushy ride that Miami does the rest of the way this season. That is the Hummer stretch limo of easy paths to the playoffs.

But out in the West, where 1.5 games separate seeds two to five, and just 4.5 separate two seed Dallas to the eighth seeded Spurs, every little advantage helps.

And the Jazz and Suns have that advantage.

NBA.com broke down the remaining schedules for the teams out West, and suddenly Jazz is sounding good. Utah sits just a half a game back of Dallas for second overall, but they have just four games remaining against teams over .500 this season, while the Mavericks have six. The remaining Dallas teams combined have a winning percentage of .532, Utah just .504. Dallas plays two more games, but against quality opponents that could be trouble.

Then again the Suns could beat them both out. Just one game back of Utah, they have a slightly easier route. While they play six teams over .500, the overall winning percentage of teams remaining on their schedule is .499.

Utah may well get that two seed, and the three is not out of the question for the Suns (although Dallas will not lose a lot of games from here on out, they are playing well). Those three teams are in a dogfight.

Denver will have a hard time moving up out of the four/five spot — they have the hardest schedule remaining out West. They play six teams over .500, one below, and the teams left have a winning percentage of .584. That is tough sledding. The Lakers have a pretty balanced schedule — four home, four road, opponent winning percentage of .504 — but despite their sporadic play lately their lead is too big for someone to dislodge them from the top seed.

In the bottom few spots in the West, don’t be shocked to see Portland move up a little. Maybe to sixth. They have the easiest schedule left of any team in the West, an opponent winning percentage of .498.

The currently eighth-seeded Spurs may have a hard time moving out of that slot and avoiding the Lakers in the first round — they have the second toughest schedule left, seven teams left over .500, just two below.

It all shakes out well for the Jazz, a franchise that believes if it gets home court and avoids the Lakers it can reach the conference Finals. They may be in for a shock there. But they could get the two seed.

Heat players past, present throw support behind David Fizdale heading to Memphis

David Fizdale
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The Memphis Grizzlies have found their man — Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale has been offered the head coaching job in Memphis. He’s a smart coach who earned the trust of elite players and was a key part of the staff that helped Miami to a couple of rings.

It’s a good hire. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what a couple Heat players from that era had to say.

Mario Chalmers had a first-hand view — he was traded from Miami to Memphis in the middle of last season. The point guard who went the other way in that deal, Beno Udrih, also helped push the deal along.

Fizdale is going to be a popular hire with the players. That said, if the Grizzlies can’t keep Mike Conley in free agency the team is going to have struggles this season, regardless of who coaches them.

Watch Kevin Love drop 25 points on Toronto

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Before Game 5, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue told Kevin Love just to stay aggressive. Channing Frye told him the same thing.

Love took that advice to heart. From the opening tip of Game 5, Love was attacking — backing down the overmatched Luis Scola and knocking down threes. Love had 12 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 25, helping spark an easy, 38-point Cavaliers win in Game 5.

Now, can Love do this on the road in Game 6?

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.