Warriors have options to guard LeBron James, but he’ll make them work

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source:  As much as anyone has the ability to slow down LeBron James, the Warriors have the ability to slow down LeBron James. They have the personnel and the scheme to counter whatever lineups Cleveland throws at them. The question, and maybe the key to the series, is whether the Warriors’ variety of weapons is enough to overcome the sheer will and power of James, whose presence alone can neutralize teams that, on paper, seem to have enough to stop him.

Golden State doesn’t have that singularly brilliant perimeter stopper that has allowed other teams to successfully limit James, the way Jimmy Butler was in the second round or Kawhi Leonard was in last year’s Finals. There’s no marquee matchup on the defensive end for James, no single nemesis. But the Warriors have such a well-rounded defensive attack that there are at least four different players in their rotation who can more than hold their own.

Harrison Barnes will likely get the first crack at defending James, with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala getting some time on him as well. If Golden State can get away with keeping Barnes on James for stretches, that gives Green the opportunity to battle with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov in the paint. Having that versatility is going to be crucial for the Warriors, given Thompson’s dominance on the glass. Green is the player most suited to defending James, but the Warriors have other players they can at least throw at him, so Steve Kerr will probably avoid using him as long as he can, to use him elsewhere.

The problem with defending James is that there are no shots you want to give him. He hasn’t been shooting well at all in the playoffs so far, so theoretically, the Warriors will want to give him plenty of open jumpers if it means not letting him get to the rim. The problem with this is that giving LeBron James open shots of any kind is just asking him to make you pay, no matter how he’s shooting at the moment, because of who he is.

The Warriors’ best-case scenario is that James’ jumper continues to be off. Even then, it hasn’t stopped him from dominating throughout the playoffs. He’s still been able to overpower defenders both with his own offense and with his still-elite playmaking skills. If the jumper starts falling again, that just makes him even harder to defend.

When the Cavs go small, with James at power forward and Tristan Thompson at center, Green will see the bulk of the time on him. Green’s success guarding James could be the deciding factor in the series — he has the smarts and the instincts, but James can overpower him. If Green sees extended time on James, especially if he plays him one-on-one, James will look to get him in foul trouble, and taking Green out of the game for an extended stretch would be bad news for the Warriors.

Another advantage the Warriors have is the ability to tire James out on the defensive end. Beyond him and Iman Shumpert, Cleveland’s defensive personnel is shaky, especially on the perimeter. James will see some time on Stephen Curry, since he always guards the other team’s best player. If Curry can make James chase him around the three-point line, it will go a long way. Klay Thompson can do the same thing if James gets switched onto him. There are no weak links in the Warriors’ offense, so no matter who James is guarding, they’re going to make him work. If they can get him in foul trouble, so much the better.

For the last five-plus years, James has been an unsolvable riddle for most of his opponents. The Spurs managed to neutralize him last season with Leonard’s otherworldly coverage and a smart team defensive scheme. Golden State has a similarly sound system and plenty of personnel to stop him. The question as always with James is, will it matter?

Already? Giannis Antetokounmpo says Joel Embiid tried to recruit him to Sixers

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The Greek Freak (now trademarked) Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a Buck for a while — he has three fully guaranteed years on his contract after this one, taking him until at least the summer of 2021. At that point, Milwaukee almost certainly will be able to offer him the designated player super max contract that will be hard to turn down. The Greek Freak is going to be in Milwaukee for a long time.

That didn’t stop Joel Embiid, who tried to recruit Antetokounmpo to Sixers during All-Star weekend. Via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

Of course, if somewhere down the line Antetokounmpo and Embiid team up some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist will say “they have been planning this since 2018.”

Embiid probably did this tongue in cheek, but he is fearless about this stuff — remember a couple of summers ago he tried to recruit Kevin Durant through social media.

As for Antetokounmpo and the Sixers, nothing to see here, move along.

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.