Five things to watch in NBA Finals Game 6: Will LeBron get any help to force a Game 7?

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We know who and what the Golden State Warriors are, we’ve seen it for 103 games now. We’ve seen Stephen Curry hit those ridiculous step-back threes off the bounce, and we know he can keep doing it. We have seen Draymond Green defend and knock down threes. We’ve seen this team destroy opponents in transition. We’ve seen this team defend brilliantly.

After the last two games of these NBA Finals, we have a pretty good idea what the Golden State Warriors will bring in Game 6 Tuesday night as they try to win the franchises’ first title since David Beckham was born. They will go small and bring everything mentioned in that first paragraph.

The big questions are all on the Cavaliers side at this point — they need to find an answer to the Warriors small-ball lineup. David Blatt tried going big and lost by 21. He tried going small and lost by 13. Now what?

Here are five things to keep an eye on as we head into Game 6:

1) Can LeBron do anything more? There have been so many statistics — LeBron James scored or assisted on 70 of the Cavaliers 91 points in Game 4 — and so many stories written about the load LeBron is carrying. This is my new favorite stat (via Seth Partnow): On LeBron’s shots, assists, and the offensive rebounds off his shots the Cavaliers have an eFG% of 51.6 percent, on all other shots not created by LeBron it is 30.7 percent.

Can LeBron do any more? He may have to if the Cavaliers want to play one more game.

“I don’t put a ceiling on what I can do,” LeBron said after Game 5. “I don’t know. I mean, tonight I gave up two offensive rebounds, one to Barbosa in the first half, one to Harrison Barnes, which allowed him to get an and-one with Iguodala with the left-hand trick shot. I had a couple turnovers, a couple miscues defensively, and I’ve got to be better. I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t put a ceiling on what I’m capable of doing. I know I’m shouldering a lot of the burden, but it is what it is.”

2) Will any other Cavaliers step up and knock down some shots? LeBron’s kingdom for a little help.

The Cavaliers have struggled faced with a bit of their own medicine. Against the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers went under picks and dared Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, or any other Hawk not named Korver to beat them from three. Atlanta couldn’t. Now the Warriors are daring Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and any Cavalier save LeBron to beat them from three. They haven’t, not consistently.

Through the last two games the Cavaliers are 23-of- 65 (35.4 percent) on uncontested shots. The Cavaliers need to knock down their open looks.

3) Will the Cavaliers have the legs left to close out the game, or will fatigue get them again? Those shooting numbers speak to a team with dead legs. So does the fourth quarter collapses the last couple games. The Cavaliers are going with a seven-man rotation and asking those guys to give NBA Finals level effort for heavy minutes. They wear down. LeBron gets gassed. And they fade late while the Warriors seem just to get hot (despite shrinking their rotations some the last couple games). Now add in just one day off between games (with a lot of travel) and you could see a fatigued Cavaliers team.

Mostly, the Cavaliers need to defend better late somehow.

“You know, we needed our best defensive quarter tonight in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t get it,” LeBron said after Game 5. “We gave up 31 points in the fourth.  Some of them were free throws, but a lot of them were them just breaking us down.  So we’ve got to do a better job of that.”

One other note: Will the Warriors fade a little? Kerr has tightened his rotations, and Stephen Curry needed fluids (not an IV) after feeling dehydrated after Game 5. Will his legs be a little dead, too?

4) Will David Blatt go big or small? He’s tried both. Neither worked. It’s counter-intuitive to go small against the Warriors, who would rather play at the pace small ball tends to generate (and Game 5 was five possessions faster than Game 4, more to the Warriors liking). However, while Timofey Mozgov may have poured in 28 in Game 4 he was exposed defensively out on the perimeter (plus the paint opened up, as did transition opportunities for the Warriors). The problem for Blatt is he just does not have the chess pieces to move around the board here. There are no good options that will obviously work. Maybe he throws a little of both at the Warriors this time around.

But it feels like the Warriors have solved the puzzle. And the series.

5) Are the Warriors ready to withstand the Cavaliers best punch? Closeout games are the hardest ones to win. Especially on the road. The Warriors may have figured out how to win the Xs and Os battle, they may be the deeper and fresher team, but can they withstand the effort and intensity of what will be a desperate LeBron and Cavaliers team. For the first three games of the series, the Warriors were not ready for the level of energy and focus on every possession needed to win the NBA Finals. They finally figured that out.

But now the Cavaliers are about to crank that up to 11. Has Golden State figured that out too? Will they withstand the opening rush that the Cavaliers will bring to start the game?

If so, this likely is the end of the NBA season. If not, the dance will continue on Friday night.

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.

 

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.