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South Florida All-Star Classic hosted by LeBron and Wade reminds us of what we’ll miss

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There have been plenty of recreational, pickup, and charity basketball games this summer that featured various groups of NBA stars showcasing their talents. But arguably none of them were as star-studded or as competitive as the South Florida All-Star Classic at Florida International University on Saturday, hosted by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

Largely absent from this one was the high volume of crazy dunks, sick passes, and overall spectacular plays that we’ve come to expect when a majority of the game’s best players converge on a single court, but it was with good reason: The players seemed genuinely invested in whether or not their team would win or lose. As a result, not only was there actual defense played, but players went hard at each other, and with a more serious demeanor than we’ve seen at any of these types of games since the lockout began.

Carmelo Anthony, for example, seemed determined not to let Kevin Durant get going, and bodied him up with an aggressive and physical defensive display — even away from the ball — that we rarely see from the Knicks All-Star. Amar’e Stoudemire was consistent in providing weak-side defensive help, and had some physical possessions of his own against a noticeably-bulkier Bosh. And of course, Wade spent some time defending James, and did so with enough strength to make sure his Miami Heat teammate was unable to back him down in the post.

Add in the fact that the game was whistled so tightly down the stretch that James had conversations with the officials after seemingly every possession, and you definitely got the vibe that this game meant something. It came down to the wire, and featured a big-time clutch three-pointer from Anthony which tied it up for Team Wade and sent the festivities into overtime. That was when we saw LeBron try to attack Wade down low, but he had to settle for free throws after spinning past him and being fouled by Stoudemire coming over to help.

With Wade’s team having sealed the game by securing a four-point lead with just a couple of seconds to play, James ended it by pulling up for a jumper from half-court, which swished through the hoop as if he had only shot it from 15 feet out, as opposed to 50.

All in all, it was a competitive, fan-friendly event that was as close to real basketball as we’ve seen since the NBA concluded its season in June. The game benefited the Mary’s Court Foundation, established by Isiah Thomas and his wife in 2010 primarily for the purposes of youth academic success, increased school attendance and higher graduation rates.

source:  Nike provided the uniforms for the event, which had S.F.A.S.C. on the front, and BBNS where the names would normally be on the back — short for “BasketBall Never Stops,” the mantra the company has been repeating all summer as a reminder that for the players who truly love the game, there is no offseason.

Nike also used the event to debut the LeBron 9 “Cannon” edition, which James wore on the court, and which hit the Miami House of Hoops in limited quantities later that night. The Miami release was the first LeBron 9 to hit stores in North America, and was released exclusively in Miami as a sign of appreciation and respect for LeBron’s South Florida fans and community.

Afterward, James took the microphone at center court, and, surrounded by the rest of the stars who participated, gave a heart-felt message to the fans in attendance.

“There’s no us without you guys,” James said. “[Without] every last one of you guys, there’s no us as players. Thank you all. Thank you so much. We appreciate every last one of you.”

There was no doubting the sincerity of LeBron’s words. And the respect, effort, passion, and intensity he and the rest of the players brought to the game was a vivid yet all-too-brief reminder of exactly what we’ll be missing if the lockout drags on and regular season basketball is lost.

If you want to see the game, it is on demand at this link.

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.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter 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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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.