Wade on LeBron: “He’s just a total different player”

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LeBron James was the best player on the floor in the fourth quarter of Game 3 — eight points on four shots, plus he got to the line for five free throws. He steadied his team down the stretch. He and the Heat looked like the experienced team, the veterans, while the young Thunder were missing free throws, and James Harden was turning the ball over and picking up a bad foul 35 feet from the hoop while his coach yelled “don’t foul.”

It’s been like this throughout the playoffs for LeBron. He seems comfortable. He always needed that to be his best and last season he seemed taken aback by being the villain and the pressure about his legacy. But this year he’s at peace with everything.

“He’s just a total different player,” Dwyane Wade said after Game 3. “I thought up until the finals last year he was having an amazing playoffs. He had a game where he struggled and he let that get into his mind a little bit and he was thinking too much. Now he’s playing, he’s on the attack, he’s been very aggressive.

“It’s kind of like when he puts his head down and goes to the rim you have to foul him or he’s going to finish. I love when he is attacking the basket because good things happen for us.”

LeBron is just trying to keep it simple.

“I’m just trying to make plays,” LeBron said after the game Sunday. “I told you guys last year I didn’t make enough game-changing plays. I can kind of pride myself on that, I didn’t do it last year in the finals. I’m just trying to make plays.”

He was attacking — he shot just 2-of-8 outside the paint but 9-of-15 in it, plus he got to the line 8 times for free throw attempts. You get those when you attack (which is why the Heat got to the line more all night, that and OKC fouling three-point jump shooters).

With a ring, LeBron’s legacy changes, at least for some fans. It’s not that he becomes beloved by all, he’ll still be the villain, he just becomes one you have to respect a little more.

LeBron, he seems comfortable with that.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.