Small ball, no George Hill, enough for Knicks to win, stave off elimination

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The Knicks didn’t solve the Pacers defense Thursday night. New York made some good little runs — with George Hill out for Indiana Raymond Felton was getting into the lane and making things happen more often, plus Chris Copeland showed why he should get more run — but overall the Knicks scored a pedestrian 85 points and shot just 41 percent. They had 12 assists on 32 baskets, so it wasn’t amazing ball movement.

But it was enough.

It was a night when the Pacers went cold — a lot of that had to do with Hill’s absence, but the Pacers were 19-of-33 at the free throw line, too —and the Knicks went back to small ball, which worked. Solid Knicks defense and a few more made baskets led to a comfortable 85-75 Knicks win in Game 5.

That makes the series 3-2 Pacers heading back to Indiana Saturday night for Game 6. That will be the Pacers stand — they do not want a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden (it would be Monday night).

Hill, the Pacers starting point guard, was a surprise scratch with a concussion, something he suffered in the first quarter of Game 4 (he played through i shooting 9-of-14). Hill’s status is up in the air for Game 6. Under NBA concussion policy he has to pass a series of tests after increasing levels of physical activity. The team doctor has to consult with a league neurologist before he is cleared to play.

If he can’t play Saturday it could be rough because the Pacers offense is not the same without him.

D.J. Augustin got the start and was 3-of-9 with zero assists. Gerald Green got some run at the point and he was a mess. It really all fell to Paul George, who had a respectable 23 points and 6 assists.

However, as a team the Pacers shot just 36.2 percent and had 19 turnovers. Credit some of that to a Knicks defense playing with the desperate energy of a team that didn’t want to be eliminated. J.R. Smith had a chasing down Augustin on a breakaway, Tyson Chandler not giving away dunks, there was good all around energy from the Knicks. But the Pacers just missed a lot of shots they can usually make (David West has been doing that all series).

New York got some better offense from key guys. J.R. Smith started out 3-of-5 shooting (but went 1-of-6 after that). Carmelo Anthony hit some key buckets and had 28 points, but needed a very Carmelo 28 shots to get them. Felton was much improved without Hill harassing him.

But Chris Copeland was the star off the bench. Why coach Mike Woodson went away from him at times this series is a mystery because they are just better when he is on the floor — 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 3-of-4 from three. He’s called “I Get Buckets” for a reason.

The Knicks also showed some fight missing before in this series. In the second half the Knicks would have a lead around 10 and the Pacers consistently would push it down — and each time the Knicks made a little run back. The lead was down to three, New York went on an 8-2 run. The lead came back down to 4 and the Knicks ran off six straight.

Everything worked a little better for the Knicks… well, except Jason Kidd. It’s nine straight games since he scored (since before the NFL draft, to give you a time frame) and he was 0-for-1 in this game when he missed a layup.

Back home in Indiana Saturday, expect the Pacers to shoot a little better at home — they will put up more points, with or without George Hill. We will see if the Knicks have another level in their offensive game to come back home for a deciding game.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty:

Owner: Hawks will ‘make every effort imaginable’ to re-sign Paul Millsap

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Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox called re-signing Paul Millsap this summer the team’s “priority.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler went a step further.

Ressler, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“We love Paul Millsap,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are trying to re-sign him. We want him to stay here. We think he is a really special player and a special person that we want on our team and in our locker room and we are going to make every effort imaginable to keep him.”

There’s certainly one effort I can imagine: Offer Millsap a max contract, which projects to be worth $205 million over five years.

That’s not necessarily a wise investment. As excellent and underrated as Millsap is now, he’s 32. He’ll be hard-pressed to maintain anywhere near this level of production over the next five years. And what’s the upside for Atlanta enduring such risk, especially late in his contract? A chance at a playoff-series victory each of the next couple years? The trade-off would make more sense for a team that can accomplish something more meaningful now.

The Hawks seem conflicted about their direction. In the last year, they’ve traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver but also signed Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s starting lineup is split by a glaring age divider – Millsap (32) and Howard (31) on one side, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), Dennis Schroder (23) and Taurean Prince (23) on the other.

Do the Hawks want to rebuild or win now? It almost depends when you ask, and by the offseason, there might be a different answer. But the owner so strongly endorsing re-signing Millsap speaks volumes. Everyone in the organization, including president/coach Mike Budenholzer, answers to Ressler.

Of course, Millsap will hold the cards as an unrestricted free agent. He might prefer to leave Atlanta for a team closer to title contention or any other reason.

But the Hawks can make offer that would be darned hard to refuse.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.