Oklahoma City Thunder vs Miami Heat

LeBron James: Kevin Durant will feel title pressure ‘when I retire’

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A statistical projection developed by John Hollinger pegs the Oklahoma City Thunder as this season’s most likely NBA champions. So does Kevin Pelton’s formula.

The Thunder of have the the league’s best record (42-12_, best player (Kevin Durant) and arguably best No. 2 once he returns (Russell Westbrook). They’ve been to the Finals before and have fallen short.

This is the exact profile of a team that should face immense pressure to win a title.

So why hasn’t Oklahoma City, which admittedly does deal with some high expectations, come under the strongest microscope?

LeBron James.

And he knows it.

Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

When does he think the pressure will truly shift to Durant to take the Larry O’Brien trophy?

“When I retire,” James replied. “When I retire. They’re still talking about, am I going to win a third? You know…”

LeBron is the most analyzed athlete of all time. The best player in basketball, a sport with the most identifiable stars, he’s failed and succeeded in dramatic fashion during the internet era. Nobody before him has been put so thoroughly through the ringer on Twitter, television and hundreds of other forms of communication.

He’s won the last two NBA titles, so thoroughly capturing our attention that Durant and the Thunder don’t have a chance. The pressure on LeBron to win a title his first season in Miami was higher than on any non-defending champion ever, so it sure hasn’t gone away now that the Heat have entrenched themselves as favorites.

Not even Durant’s MVP-caliber season will change that.

However, I wonder whether Durant’s success influenced LeBron’s quote. I thought Ben Standig of CSN Washington might a wise point yesterday:

Until recently, LeBron hadn’t sought as much attention during the Heat’s championship run. But that’s changed in a hurry.

It seemed LeBron learned a less from his bluster during his first year in Miami – “Not one, not two, not three…” – and wanted to keep a, relatively, lower profile.

Now, I think he’s purposefully going out of his way to draw attention. The Heat have coasted most of the season. If they don’t kick it into gear, they won’t win a third straight title. Maybe a brighter spotlight will bring out their best effort.

The plan makes sense. Miami can’t keep going like this.

As LeBron knows, the pressure is on.

Heat players past, present throw support behind David Fizdale heading to Memphis

David Fizdale
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The Memphis Grizzlies have found their man — Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale has been offered the head coaching job in Memphis. He’s a smart coach who earned the trust of elite players and was a key part of the staff that helped Miami to a couple of rings.

It’s a good hire. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what a couple Heat players from that era had to say.

Mario Chalmers had a first-hand view — he was traded from Miami to Memphis in the middle of last season. The point guard who went the other way in that deal, Beno Udrih, also helped push the deal along.

Fizdale is going to be a popular hire with the players. That said, if the Grizzlies can’t keep Mike Conley in free agency the team is going to have struggles this season, regardless of who coaches them.

Watch Kevin Love drop 25 points on Toronto

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Before Game 5, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue told Kevin Love just to stay aggressive. Channing Frye told him the same thing.

Love took that advice to heart. From the opening tip of Game 5, Love was attacking — backing down the overmatched Luis Scola and knocking down threes. Love had 12 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 25, helping spark an easy, 38-point Cavaliers win in Game 5.

Now, can Love do this on the road in Game 6?

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.