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Pacers’ Paul George: ‘We could at least be up 2-1 and really be in the driver’s seat in this series’

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George‘s stone face and somber tone reflected the mood of the Indiana Pacers.

With their season on the brink, they must win – or go home.

Despite pushing defending champion Cleveland to the edge in three straight playoff games, Indiana now finds itself in danger of becoming the first Pacers team to be swept in a best-of-seven series.

“That’s the most frustrating thing, we could at least be up 2-1 and really be in the driver’s seat in this series,” George said one day after Indiana blew a 26-point lead and lost for the third time in six days. “We haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities we’ve had, and we’re paying the price for it right now.”

The Pacers have been outscored by just 12 points, the smallest margin ever for a team down 3-o in a best-of-seven series.

Indiana’s inability to close out games this year dumped the team to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and a dreaded series with the defending NBA champions. Last year, the same problem resulted in a first-round exit, courtesy of Toronto.

But those examples pale in comparison to the hard lessons they’ve been getting from LeBron James, who has beaten Indiana in seemingly every way possible this series.

In Game 1, James double-teamed George in the closing seconds, forcing the four-time All-Star to pass the ball. C.J. Miles then missed an open 14-footer for the win.

In Game 2, James helped the Cavs hold on for a six-point win after setting a screen to free Kyrie Irving for an uncontested layup that extended Cleveland’s lead to seven with 29.6 seconds left.

In Game 3, James had a triple-double as he almost single-handedly rallied the Cavs from a 25-point halftime deficit. He scored 28 of his 41 points in the second half as Cleveland completed the largest second-half comeback in playoff history – all while Irving and Kevin Love watched the fourth quarter from the bench.

The reward: A one-day break before James and the Cavs try to deliver a knockout punch.

“We were on point defensively, and offensively we knew exactly what we wanted to do,” James said. “The best way to get offense is to defensively create missed shots. We did a better job contesting shots and getting body on body (in the second half). The first half was not us, but they made us not be us.”

The Cavs are now chasing their seventh straight postseason win, their 11th consecutive first-round win since James’ return. James needs one more victory to become the first player to win 21 consecutive first-round games since the current playoff format began in 1984. He’s tied with three former Los Angeles Lakers – Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

It would be the fourth time in six years that James’ team ended the Pacers’ season. George and Lance Stephenson are the only players who have endured every one of those losses, perhaps none more painful than Thursday’s.

The evidence was on display during Friday’s practice, which was virtually devoid of the laughter and chatter that existed just two days earlier.

“I think they’re pissed off that we allowed that game to get away and we should be,” coach Nate McMIllan said. “We need to learn a lesson from that team. It’s a 48-minute game, and to win we had to come out (of halftime) with even more urgency against that team and we didn’t do that. It wasn’t so much what they did as much as it was what we didn’t do.”

Now the question is how the Pacers will respond to a historic collapse.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. But after everything that has happened over the past week, Indiana’s more difficult challenge may be coping with the fact they’ve been so close that they could be leading 2-1 or 3-0 heading into Sunday.

“I’m not a moral victory guy, especially now after three games in a row,” Miles said. “We felt like we could compete against anybody we were matched up with in the playoffs. So it’s not about being close. Nobody’s ever won a ring by being close.”

 

Reports: Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets among teams calling about Eric Bledsoe

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Eric Bledsoe is done with the Suns. His excuse that his “I Dont wanna be here” Tweet was about a hair salon is as believable as myself, Bruce Willis, and Andre Agassi Tweeting about our time in hair salons. The Suns have told him to go home, and they will work to trade him. Most likely, the Suns are going to get crushed in this deal — they have no leverage, Bledsoe is a free agent in less than two years (2019), plus most teams are not looking for another point guard. But he is being shopped, and he’d like to go to a winning team.

Where will Bledsoe get traded?

A few names have come up — the Knicks, Bucks, and Nuggets are the ones out in public now. There are more, but let’s take a look at those three.

The Knicks have one of the two worst backcourts in the NBA (the Bulls are in that mix, too) so they certainly could use Bledsoe short term. However, long term he doesn’t fit on the Kristaps Porzingis timeline so how much would New York give up to get him.

That price is too high, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Suns have asked about young Knicks such as Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in trade talks about guard Eric Bledsoe, sources confirm. But New York have been opposed to trading either young player, sources told ESPN. Hernangomez has not been in head coach Jeff Hornacek’s regular rotation in the first two games of the season, which has left the second-year center frustrated. But Hernangomez’s lack of playing time isn’t a sign that the club is looking to move him. Ntilikina has dealt with several injuries early in his career but the point guard remains part of the young core New York wants to build around and management, as of Monday afternoon, did not want to move him in a Bledsoe deal.

Then there is Milwaukee.

On the court, this makes some sense. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the point forward who has the ball in his hands, but Bledsoe is adept off the ball and can hit the three. The move would send Malcolm Brogdon back to the bench, which he may not like but is a good thing for a team looking to bolster its depth.

The trade likely would involve Jabari Parker going West, along with salary filler such as Matthew Dellavedova. Parker is coming off multiple injuries, but he still knows how to score inside and in the right system has value. Whether that system is in Phoenix depends on what kind of system they want to run and roster they want to build.

Then there is Denver.

Denver likes Jamal Murray at the point guard spot and is ready to move on from Emmanuel Mudiay, so there could be a point guard swap but with some more salary coming back to Phoenix (Denver likely would want to dump Kenneth Faried but the Suns will want something that helps them out more than that). This makes some sense as it gives the Suns a young point guard with some skills to try out, while the Nuggets get deeper at a spot of need.

Other deals are lurking (yes LeBron James and Bledsoe are tight, but that deal is a long shot), and the Suns rightfully are going to take the best deal they can find, regardless of whether Bledsoe wants to be there or not. The only questions are how fast do they get it done, and what are teams offering?

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough: Eric Bledsoe hair-salon claim about tweet was unbelievable

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Eric Bledsoe reportedly requested a trade from the Suns before the season then tweeted yesterday:

Clear message?

Apparently not.

After sending home Bledsoe today, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough explained his rationale:

The hair salon! What a wonderful excuse.

Is it true? I’m not going to call Bledsoe a liar. It might be.

It’s also probably true that Bledsoe isn’t long for Phoenix.

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.