Tim Duncan on how the Spurs are slowing LeBron James: ‘We’re guarding him with five guys’

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SAN ANTONIO — A day after LeBron James was held to just 15 points and didn’t get to the free throw line for a single attempt, Tim Duncan was asked to explain how in the world his team has been able to slow the league’s MVP to playing like a mere mortal for the third consecutive game.

“We’re guarding him with five guys,” Duncan said.

Kawhi Leonard has gotten the bulk of the assignment guarding James, and has done a terrific job of forcing him into where the help awaits as part of the Spurs’ team defensive scheme. But more than that has been the constant awareness by everyone on the San Antonio end of the floor just how dangerous James can be.

“We understand what kind of player he is,” Duncan said. “He’s the best player in the world, so we’re respecting him as that. We’re trying to make his life as difficult as possible every time he touches the ball. When he comes out in the open court, that’s obviously where he really thrives. If we can keep those away and keep his rhythm down, it’s better for us.”

LeBron spoke specifically about what the Spurs have been doing from an Xs and Os standpoint to be able to limit him in the series thus far.

“They’re doing a good job of when I come off pick‑and‑rolls, they have a guy shrink the floor at the elbow and getting a big in front of my body and a guy guarding to pursue the ball as well,” James said. “They are putting me in a position where they can crowd me a lot.  If I can get the ball in transition where I’m facing my defender or maybe just one other defender, I can break their defense down.”

James fully expects to be more aggressive in Game 4, and even guaranteed a better performance. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, however, said it wasn’t all about LeBron, and insisted that his defense is geared to stop whoever Miami happens to get going as long as his team sticks to its principles.

“Our team defense is not just LeBron,” Popovich said. “Just like Miami’s team defense is not just Tim Duncan or Tony Parker. Team defense is exactly what it says — it’s for everyone. You all keep bringing up LeBron, but we’re guarding other people with the same team defense that we’re guarding LeBron, and they’re guarding us with their team defense. It doesn’t change based on every single individual and every time down the court. Team D is team D.”

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.