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Tyronn Lue: Appeal of Cavaliers-Warriors III mirrors Lakers-Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — As the sports world salivates while awaiting a seemingly inevitable NBA Finals, Cavaliers coach Tryonn Lue is keeping his undefeated team focused on its next unknown opponent.

And keeping an eye on the Warriors.

“I’m always watching,” Lue said. “I’m watching everybody.”

But maybe that Northern California team a little more.

With both Cleveland and Golden State at 8-0 in these playoffs and on a collision course toward a potential third straight Finals, there has been heated debate about whether Cavaliers-Warriors 3.0 is good for basketball.

It’s the first time two teams have swept through the first two rounds, and with the way the Cavaliers and Warriors are playing, it doesn’t seem to matter who they’ll face once the conference finals get going.

Lue isn’t overlooking Boston or Washington, one of which will play Cleveland next, but he isn’t buying into this notion that a third helping of Cavaliers vs. Warriors is somehow a hoops overindulgence.

“I think a lot of people wanted to see Boston and the Lakers back in the day,” he said. “I think nowadays, a lot of people want to see Golden State-Cavs. And it’s not a problem. Right now, it’s two of the teams playing some of the best basketball. So, two of the teams that have been in back-to-back Finals, so, why not?

“Why not want to see it again?”

Draymond Green has no objection.

“I know as a basketball fan that’s what I’d want to see,” Golden State’s loquacious forward said. “You hear all the talk about it. You know it’s there, but we’ve got four more games to win before we can reach an NBA Finals. … We’ve got to stay locked in and focused on the now. If that happens, it happens. I know we’ve got to take care of our business and I’m sure they think the same way.”

Following two days off after sweeping Toronto in the second round, the Cavaliers got back in the gym on Wednesday to work on some defensive schemes and push through conditioning drills while DJ Steph Floss, who spins records during games at Quicken Loans Arena, filled the facility with thumping music.

It’s the same routine the Cavs have used while going 16-0 in the first two rounds the past two years, so Lue isn’t changing much.

“We’re just sticking to it and I think with the DJ, it just gives them a different look and it gives guys motivation to work out to the music and just something different,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s worked the last couple years for us, so we’re just going to continue to do it.”

Winning has worked as well, and after staggering to the finish line in the regular season, LeBron James and the Cavaliers have taken their game to another level.

James, who will be appearing in his ninth Eastern Conference finals in 14 years next week, has never been better. He’s averaging 34.4 points – up 8.1 over last year – with 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists in eight games. The extra rest between series has kept him fresh, and the 32-year-old seems extra motivated following a regular season in which Russell Westbrook and James Harden dominated the MVP conversation because of the triple-double exploits.

James has found another gear in the postseason and Lue believes the Cavaliers are capable of shifting even higher – if that’s possible.

“We definitely can get better,” he said. “We know that.”

The Warriors have been more impressive in rolling over Portland and Utah. In its first postseason with Kevin Durant on board, Golden State is winning by an average of 16.5 points per game – nearly 7 points higher than Cleveland and on pace to be the highest point differential in league history.

From the moment last summer when Durant left Oklahoma City and joined Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Co., it’s been assumed they would cross paths with the Cavaliers this June.

And, as Lue said, what’s so bad about that?

“I think last year (the Finals) had some of the best ratings, I think, in NBA history,” he said. “I think now with them adding Durant and the way they’re playing, the way we’re playing, it can be even higher.”

 

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.