NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 1: In LA, Suns burned by their own defense

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SBrown_acrobat.jpgGregg Popovich touted the Suns improved defense. Everyone was talking about it. That’s how they were finally going to get over the hump — be just good enough on defense to go with an amazing offense.

The Lakers blew that defense up.

They blew right by it from the perimeter and right into the heart of the Suns defense. The Lakers drove the ball right down the middle — literally, slashing down the center and into the paint all night long. It was the heart of their surprisingly easy 128-107 win.

“To be honest with you guys, it wasn’t exactly the post up plays and big guys,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of the 56 points in the paint the Suns surrendered. “It was the middle drives and perimeter players driving in the paint.”

Everyone expected the Lakers to pound the Suns inside but it was how they did it that was the surprise.

“They were denying, they were denying everywhere,” Shannon Brown said of how the Suns tried to cut off post entry passes from the Lakers. “(Middle drives) is what they were giving us, so we had to take advantage of what they was giving us. There were denying a lot of our entry passes which left the middle wide open for us.”

Gentry went so far as to say the Suns could have lived with what Gasol did. They could have even lived with most of Kobe’s 40 — when his jumper is falling like that there’s nothing you can do. But when Kobe and Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown and even Odom are driving middle right into the heart of the Suns defense, everything breaks down.

“Our strategy is no middle drives,” Amare Stoudemire said. “That’s our strategy, we’ve got to do a better job.”

The Suns to a man talked about stopping those drives. That may be easier said than done — Grant Hill had trouble staying in front of Kobe, and Steve Nash is not exactly a defensive force.

But they can guide players to help. Gentry talked about pushing the Lakers more baseline, taking away the easy shots in the middle. Jared Dudley also said it was simply a matter of Suns players taking responsibility.

“It’s an adjustment (you make) watching film,” Dudley said. “You watch film and you say ‘you can’t have that.’ In the triangle they have to (be forced to) drive baseline. That’s not something that coach can tell you, just as a player you have to take that on yourself.”

For the Lakers, that means making the counter adjustment.

“If they adjust then we just hit our other options,” Brown said. “I’m sure they want to adjust but I know they still want to be aggressive on us. They’re going to take away the first pass, I don’t know about the second and third passes, but they’re gonna still be up, we just got to read the defense.”

The chess match has begun, but we don’t get to see the next moves until Wednesday.

LeBron James shakes off strep throat, leads Cavs past Bucks 102-95

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 27: Rashad Vaughn #20 of the Milwaukee Bucks guards LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 27, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bucks 102-95. 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 (AP) — LeBron James returned from a bout with strep throat and scored 24 points, Kyrie Irving added 25 and the Cleveland Cavaliers held off the Milwaukee Bucks 102-95 on Monday night.

James missed Saturday’s loss to Chicago – the Cavs fell to 0-4 this season without their superstar – and was listed as questionable before arriving at Quicken Loans Arena. He looked fit from the start, delivering an early dunk and adding one in the fourth that he capped by screaming, “That’s and one!” at MiIwaukee’s John Henson, who fouled him.

James’ dunk triggered an 11-0 run that helped put away the Bucks, who were within 86-85 midway through the fourth.

Malcolm Brogdon scored 20 to lead Milwaukee, and Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored just nine on 4-of-13 shooting.

The Bucks may have sustained a costly injury as forward Michael Beasley sprained his left knee in the first half. Beasley’s knee buckled grotesquely as he tried to defend James on the baseline. He scored 11 points before going down and had to be helped to Milwaukee’s locker room.

Looking to stay on top in the East, the Cavs signed free agent point guard Deron Williams before the game.

The three-time All-Star gives Cleveland depth, someone to lead its second unit and a reliable backup for Irving. Williams negotiated a buyout of his contract last week with Dallas before being waived and informing the Cavs he wanted to join them and try to win a title.

Cleveland is more than happy to add him to a bench that has improved in the last month with the additions of Kyle Korver and Derrick Williams, who combined for 27 points in the win.

There’s also a chance the Cavs could sign free agent center Andrew Bogut, who was waived by Philadelphia on Monday and is being courted by several teams.

Derrick Williams beat the horn ending the third quarter by dropping a 3-pointer from 35 feet to give Cleveland a 77-73 lead entering the fourth.

The Cavs were down by seven earlier in the quarter before going on a 13-0 run.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Beasley started for G Khris Middleton, who didn’t make the trip as part of the team’s plan to rest him in back-to-back games. He missed three months with a torn hamstring. … G Matthew Dellavedova spent part of the pregame meeting with former Cavs teammates and coaches. He received his diamond championship ring on Milwaukee’s previous visit. … Coach Jason Kidd said it’s a treat getting to watch Antetokounmpo develop. He’s the only NBA player leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. “It’s a great seat to have,” Kidd said. “When you’re able to see for the last three years, his growth and understanding, how fast he picked up things and how much he wants to be good in this league.”

Cavaliers: Irving became the eighth player in team history with 2,000 career assists. … While James was better, coach Tyronn Lue was under the weather and awaiting results on a strep test. … Deron Williams received a loud ovation when he was introduced during the fourth quarter. He has worn No. 8 throughout his career, but will don 31 for Cleveland. “My first high school number was 31,” he said. “I wanted a single number, but all of them were pretty much taken, so I went with 31.”

 

Dwight Howard pushes Al Horford, gets technical, later ejected for hanging on rim

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) drives past Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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It ended up working out for Atlanta — the Hawks went on a 22-11 run after Dwight Howard was ejected, then hung on for a comfortable win 114-98.

Still, Howard found a way to get tossed. He did it two separate technical fouls in the third quarter. The first came when he shoved Al Horford after the Celtic big fouled Howard under the basket (always a smart move rather than give up a dunk).

The next came a few minutes later when Howard slammed then pulled himself up like a pull-up on the rim, an automatic tech every time.

That’s technicals 10 and 11 on the season for Howard. He’s got some work to do to catch up with DeMarcus Cousins, but still he’s racked up a few.

It just didn’t matter on Monday, with Dennis Schroder leading the way with 21 points for the Hawks.

 

DeMar DeRozan drains game winner to cap 37-point night, Raptors beat Knicks 92-91

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With Kyle Lowry out until around the start of the playoffs, a lot is going to be asked of DeMar DeRozan. Monday night at Madison Square Garden, he delivered.

The Raptors needed a bucket as time ran down, not only got the ball to DeRozan but got the switch so Derrick Rose was guarding him, and that allowed the Raptors star to get to his spot, rise up and bury the midrange jumper for the win.

It capped off an impressive 37-point night for DeRozan — he’s going to need to do more of this in the coming weeks.

Kevin Hart rings bell before start of Sixers game vs. Warriors

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Golden State is in Philadelphia, and so are the celebrities.

Kevin Heart — a Philly native — was on hand and he got to ring the bell pregame (a Sixers tradition).

Having him on hand seems to help as the Sixers were hanging around through the middle of the third quarter with a team looking for its 50th win.