Andre Iguodala making strong Finals MVP case


CLEVELAND — All season long, Andre Iguodala has sacrificed. He’s seen his minutes cut and his starting job taken away. It was all in preparation for this exact moment. Warriors coach Steve Kerr wanted to increase Harrison Barnes’ confidence and give the second unit a first option. It was a lot to ask of Iguodala, who has been a starter most of his career.

“Part of it was, the bringing off the bench part was to help Harrison and put Harrison in a better role and also to solidify our second unit, which Andre did,” said Kerr. “We tried all season long to give Andre rest. We gave him four or five games off at key times, and we just wanted to keep him fresh as possible. I mean, he looks great out there. He’s been our best player through four games. He guards LeBron pretty much every possession that he’s out there, and his offense has been terrific.”

But being a sixth man is a lot more palatable when you’re also the frontrunner to win Finals MVP if your team wins the title. Iguodala has played stellar defense on LeBron James all series, and he slid comfortably into the starting lineup on Thursday, when Kerr decided to make an adjustment. It paid off in a big way with the Warriors’ convincing 103-82 win over the Cavs, taking back homecourt advantage.

After superhuman performances in the first three games of the Finals, James was held to 20 points on 22 shots on Thursday. It was a perfect storm for the Warriors, who have been content to let the four-time MVP go nuts while taking the Cavs’ role players out of the game. This time, they sent the occasional double-team at James, and none of the other Cavs players made them pay.

“I didn’t think Andre guarded him any differently than he did in the first three games,” Kerr said. “It’s a different game. LeBron’s shots didn’t go in. The same shots may go in next game. And you never know how it’s going to play out. But Andre, he battles him. He’s played him a lot in his career. Whatever team he’s been on, he’s been the guy who has to guard LeBron when LeBron comes to town.”

It’s not just Iguodala’s defense that has made this a series again. He benefitted greatly on the offensive end from being inserted into the starting lineup, speeding up the pace of the game and giving Golden State another perimeter threat.

It’s all because Iguodala was willing to make that sacrifice during the year. He became a situational threat for the Warriors, which has made him a “different look” Kerr can throw out there, rather than a mainstay that’s an obvious player to gameplan for. And now, he’s the X-factor for a title team.

“I think it’s just about playing the game the right way, and our team has been really good at just letting it flow, and whoever’s night it is, that’s the guy’s night. But the majority of the time it’s Steph, because he is who he is and he’s going to do that no matter where he’s at.

As we get older and mature and play this game, great players like that understand maybe it’s not my night, but someone else is going to have a huge game because of me.”

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.