NBA Playoffs: Magic look for the sweep in Charlotte

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The Magic haven’t been able to get their offense going against Charlotte all series. Dwight Howard has had trouble staying on the floor, and hasn’t been very effective in the post when he is in the game. Vince Carter has been off. The Magic have launched threes and relied on the play of Jameer Nelson, and only the latter has been consistently effective. Yet they still find themselves up 3-0 on the Bobcats thanks to their dominant defense and Charlotte’s impotent offense. 

Can Charlotte take a game on their home floor, or will the Magic enjoy a few extra days off before their second round series? Let’s take a look at what both teams need to do to win game four:
What Charlotte Needs to do to win:

-Get some scoring. When their jump shots have fallen, they haven’t been able to score in the paint. When they finally had success inside in game three, they couldn’t buy an outside shot. Charlotte has kept each game relatively close with their defense, but they need to put the ball in the basket to win.
-Slow down Jameer Nelson. Easier said than done, I realize. Nelson has looked unstoppable. He’s hitting threes, he’s getting into the paint, and he’s draining pull-up jumpers. Howard and Carter are the bigger names, but Nelson’s the one who’s been killing the Bobcats. They need to trap on him and force the other Magic players to step up. The strategy could easily fail, but they need to do something.
-Attack Gortat. The Bobcats have gotten Howard off the floor, but in games two and three they struggled to take advantage when Gortat was in the game. If they can’t outscore the Magic when Orlando’s best player is on the bench for extended periods, they have no chance. 
-Get something out of Diaw. He’s one of the players who could put pressure on the Magic, but he’s alternated between looking passive and forcing up bad shots. He needs to find a rhythm in the worst way. 
-Don’t play like it’s a 3-0 series. The Bobcats have kept themselves in each game by making it ugly and giving tons of effort. If they try to go on tilt and try to outscore the Magic instead of grinding out each defensive possession, it will get ugly. 
What Orlando Needs to do to win:

-Keep Howard on the floor. Howard’s been getting frustrated by ticky-tack calls and physical defense in the post and picking up unnecessary fouls. He has to show maturity and wait for the game to come to him instead of swinging his arms out on offense and asking to pick up fouls. It’s fine for him to get fouls, but he should at least earn them.
-Get something out of Howard and Carter. Carter’s shot hasn’t fallen, and Howard hasn’t been effective when he’s been force-fed in the post. It could work in Orlando’s favor to get both of them going by setting both of them up with some easy looks to start the game.
-Keep playing defense. The Magic are a defense-first team, and that’s why they’re up 3-0. 
-Hope Jameer keeps it going. When he has a big performance, the Bobcats don’t have an answer at the offensive end. 

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.