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No Love lost: Cavaliers’ star accepts reduced rule as champs roll

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kevin Love doesn’t mind being a third wheel or a fourth or even a fifth.

His scoring average has dipped and he’s taking fewer shots. And he’s OK with that. He has not been a major part of Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue’s plans in the playoffs so far. And he’s not complaining about that, either.

In short, Love isn’t demanding more, well, love.

“I told him (Lue), `We’re 8-0. I don’t mind it,”‘ he said Thursday following practice. “If I get five or six shots, if I get 15 shots, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as we win. I’ve been in this position before. We’re having success so I’m happy. Feel good.”

As the Cavaliers wait for the winner of the Boston-Washington series as their opponent in the Eastern Conference finals, Love’s reduced role in his third postseason for Cleveland has become a topic for discussion.

And while the All-Star forward has found himself at the center of previous controversies during his time with the Cavs, there are no hidden meanings or subliminal messages at work this time.

Love was once something of an outsider in Cleveland, but those days are long gone and he’s now a pivotal part of everything for the defending champions, who are undefeated through two rounds.

But don’t be fooled by his statistical slide to this point of the playoffs. That could soon change as well.

When the Cavs resume their march toward a possible second title next week, Lue hinted that Love, who has even sat out the entire fourth quarter in two victories, could be a bigger factor.

“Some of it’s my fault because we haven’t really featured him a lot because of the matchups we had on other teams,” Lue said. “He has been great. His whole mindset is winning and that’s what it’s all about in the playoffs. In this next series, we have some matchups he can definitely take advantage of and it’s on me to make sure we do that.”

During Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto, Love averaged just 12 points – he averaged 19 during the regular season – and he scored just 5 in Game 4 on 2-of-7 shooting.

One of the reasons for Love’s drop-off against Toronto is that he was often guarded by Serge Ibaka, a defensive specialist acquired in part to take away one of Cleveland’s most potent weapons. Also, with the way LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are playing, the Cavs didn’t need as much from Love.

Their “Big 3” has been reduced to a “Terrific 2” but things could be much different in the conference final, where matchups could dictate more minutes for Love.

Love’s ability to post up and pop outside for 3-pointers makes him challenging to cover. Lue knows there may be a chance to get the 6-foot-10 big man more involved.

“The playoffs is a game of matchups,” he said. “That’s why Toronto went out and got Ibaka, to try and slow Kevin down. Maybe we didn’t feature Kevin enough against Toronto, maybe we showed `em too much respect and that’s on me. But next round I’ve got to do a better job of really getting Kevin involved and really establishing Kevin.”

Love’s willingness to accept a lesser role in the postseason is not only a sign of his comfort in Cleveland, but also his willingness to put the team first.

“It’s just growth,” Lue said. “Growth for Kevin, growth for this team and it’s all about winning. When you come here it’s all about one thing, and that’s just trying to win a championship. However you gotta do it, you gotta do it. And it’s about sacrifice. Scoring the basketball is not the most important thing, it’s the small things that Kevin’s been doing that goes uncharted.”

Love’s defense, so often questioned in the past, has been solid and he remains a force on the boards. And, at some point in this postseason, the Cavs may need him to have a 20- or 30-plus-point game.

Cleveland’s halfway to the 16 wins for another title. If eight more follow, Love will likely have a hand in them.

“He hasn’t gotten a lot of touches,” Lue said. “That’s on me to get him more involved. What we had going offensively was working, and we had to stay with it to get to 8-0, where we’re at right now. And he understands that and next series will be totally different.”

 

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.