Associated Press

Iman Shumpert sparks Cavaliers after J.R. Smith hurts hamstring in Game 2

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Iman Shumpert went from odd-man out to go-to guy in just two games.

Cleveland’s enigmatic shooting guard never even peeled off his warmups off in the series opener against Indiana, exiled to coach Tyronn Lue’s bench as a high-salaried cheerleader.

This was Shumpert’s playoff nightmare, and the demotion stung as he had never sat out a game before in his six-year career when healthy and in uniform.

On Monday night, Shumpert got a reprieve and made the most of it.

Needed to start the second half after J.R. Smith‘s left hamstring tightened up, Shumpert provided scoring, defensive pressure on Paul George and some attitude as Cleveland survived another late rally by Indiana for a 117-111 win to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference series.

“What I saw was a true professional,” LeBron James said of Shumpert, whose struggles late in the regular season led to his Game 1 benching. “We needed it. We needed that energy from him.”

The Cavs, who got 89 points from their Big 3 of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Game 2, may need more from Shumpert if Smith’s injury lingers. Smith wasn’t happy the Cavs’ medical staff kept him out of the game and vowed he’d be ready for Game 3 on Thursday night in Indianapolis.

“If they let me play, I’ll play,” he said. “My leg ain’t broke.”

Cleveland didn’t practice on Tuesday, choosing the first of two days off before Thursday’s Game 3 at Indianapolis for rest and treatment.

Smith was visibly upset at the team’s decision to sit him in the second half. He emerged from the locker room after his teammates and immediately took a seat on the baseline floor. Guard Deron Williams briefly spoke to Smith, who has struggled with consistency after missing three months following surgery for a broken right thumb.

If Smith can’t go in Game 3, the Cavs will likely start Shumpert, who did a nice job harassing George during the third quarter when the Cavs took control and opened a 19-point lead.

Shumpert picked up a foul guarding George in his first 30 seconds on the floor before knocking down a 3-pointer from the corner, forcing Indiana coach Nate McMillan to call time. On his way back to the bench, Shumpert stomped past teammates with a look of defiance. He may have still been fuming at being left out of the rotation in the opener, but he was taking out his frustration on the Pacers.

Later in the quarter, Shumpert forced a jump ball when he tied up George near the sideline and then sneered at Indiana’s star forward. He finished with five points in 20 minutes, but his contributions went way beyond the box score.

“Shump was unbelievable,” Lue said. “Just staying ready, being professional. He came in and made it tough on Paul George. We held Paul George to four points in that third quarter where our defense was really good. Shump sparked that, made a couple shots for us also. Just his energy defensively, made a couple shots, his tenacity it was really good for us. We needed that spark.”

Maybe that spark will ignite a larger fire in the defending champions, who allowed a big lead in the fourth quarter to nearly disappear again before finishing off the Pacers.

If nothing else, Shumpert’s performance was a reminder that depth is crucial in the playoffs, things can change quickly because of injuries and benches often shrink in crunch time.

It wasn’t long ago that Shumpert was starting, but a poor stretch from mid-March until the final regular season game damaged Lue’s confidence in him. To his credit, Shumpert didn’t hang his head, knowing that there might be a time when he was needed.

It arrived and he delivered.

“He’s been great on the bench, cheering guys on, keeping guys motivated and when it was his turn to play, he stepped up and played well,” Lue said. “That’s what we need from Shump.”

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.