NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: How Boston can end the season tonight

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Nobody gave Boston much of a chance heading into these playoffs, mostly because they hobbled and sleptwalked their way through the regular season. Ever since the playoffs started, the Celtics and their ultra-powered defense have taken their game to a whole other level, and now they’re one win away from being NBA champions. However, getting that win will be anything but easy. Here’s how the Celtics can win in LA and end this series tonight:
1. Get Ray Allen Going

In Boston, the Celtics were able to take two out of three games without Ray Allen hitting a single three. In Los Angeles, it took a record-breaking shooting night from Allen to get them a win. This game will be tougher for the Celtics than the last two wins were, and they will need Pierce and Allen to get them points in their half-court offense. Ray Allen has the talent, and he’s still much taller than Derek Fisher. If he can use his screens, spot up in transition, and stroke in some threes, he’ll cement his legacy as one of the great shooters of all time.
2. Control the Paint

Los Angeles has owned the paint for most of the playoffs, but Boston’s physicality is starting to wear on them. Perkins, Garnett, and Glen Davis have to continue pushing Gasol off of his spots, even in the pinch post, and force the Lakers to rely on their outside game. If the Lakers get frustrated and start launching shots, that will lead to…
3. Rajon Rondo must be a nightmare in the full-court game

Earlier in the finals, the Lakers limited their mistakes, packed the paint, and turned Rondo into a half-court player. In Boston, Rondo was able to hound the passing lanes on defense, force the Lakers into making turnovers, and get the Celtics running on offense. The more dynamic and worry-free Rondo plays, the more dangerous the Celtics become. 
4. Trust the defense and don’t panic

Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau trust this defense. When Dwight Howard had some big games in the conference finals, they didn’t throw doubles on him and let Orlando’s shooters get good looks. When Kobe got hot in game five, they didn’t panic and let him set up the Laker bigs. Kobe will likely get his, but the Celtics can’t let Kobe or the crowd get them away from the way they play defense. They have to stay at home, make good rotations, and use their traps and pressure to create fast-break opportunities. 
5. Believe they can win

I said it about the Lakers, and the same thing goes for the Celtics. Paul Pierce has to believe he’s about to get another Finals MVP. Rajon Rondo has to believe he’s the best point guard in basketball. Kevin Garnett has to play like the best defensive player in basketball and one of the most complete seven-footers ever to play the game. Perkins has to control the paint and his own emotions. Ray Allen has to believe his next three is hitting all net. Tony Allen has to believe he can guard Kobe. Big Baby has to believe he can take rebounds away from the Lakers’ hulking frontline. Nate Robinson has to believe he’s in the game for a reason. 
Throughout the playoffs, the Celtics have been winning because they have an incredible belief in themselves, their game plans, and their ability to make plays when it counts. In Los Angeles, they will have to be their own biggest fans to win. If they can put one more good game together, they’ll have plenty of their other fans setting up a parade for them when they get home. 

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.