Associated Press

On target: Kyle Korver has the perfect shot as Cavs aim for title

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — For months, Kyle Korver felt a little lost in his new surroundings.

Even though he has been around since January after being traded by Atlanta, he still can’t believe he’s with the Cavaliers, the defending champions and his longtime nemesis.

The team he couldn’t conquer.

“I find myself still saying, `The Cavs’ and not `Us,”‘ Korver said with a laugh after practice last week. “And I think, `Wait, that’s me. I’m a Cav! It’s us! It’s we!’ You spend so much time focusing on trying to beat this team, it is a little trippy. I think I’m past it now. I think I’ve gotten to a good point.”

At last, Korver feels at home in Cleveland.

One of the game’s deadliest outside shooters, the 36-year-old forward has helped the Cavs steamroll through the first two rounds of the playoffs without a loss and into the Eastern Conference finals. They begin Wednesday, with Cleveland facing Washington or Boston in what will be Korver’s 100th career playoff game.

After being closely guarded by Indiana in the first round – and used as a decoy by the Cavs – he averaged just five points in the first six games of the playoffs. But Korver broke out in Games 3 and 4 against Toronto, with the Cavs finding weak spots in the Raptors’ defense.

Korver scored 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting in Game 3 and followed in Game 4 by scoring 16 in the second quarter and finishing with 18 points.

The two-game burst – he went 8 of 12 on 3-pointers – boosted Korver’s confidence and gave future opponents even more to think about, as if scheming for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love weren’t enough.

With Korver on the floor, defenses face a dilemma: Stay close and not let him shoot or give him space and deal with the consequences.

“It’s a bonus for us because teams are not going to leave him and that’s what allows LeBron and Kevin and Kyrie to play efficient and get to the basket,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Teams are not going to leave him and we understand that, so even when he’s not shooting the basketball, that’s a weapon that we can use and we understand that. So if they do leave him, he’s going to make them pay. So it’s a weapon for us and we enjoy it.”

Korver has had playoff runs in Atlanta and Chicago ended by James. When he first arrived, the three-time champ told him that his job was simple – catch and shoot. James even studied film to see where Korver most liked to receive passes before he lets loose a shot as pristine as any around.

However, not everything went as planned. Korver’s adjustment lasted longer than he or the Cavs anticipated. A challenging schedule limited his practice and a left foot injury slowed his play.

Now, Korver’s shot and the Cavs are both on target.

“You know sometimes it’s mind boggling just to see that he hasn’t had a shot in six or seven minutes and he gets that one shot and it doesn’t touch the rim,” Lue said. “That’s what happens when you’re a pure shooter and we’re just fortunate to have him on the team. He’s made big shots for us in these playoffs and hopefully he’ll continue to do that for us.”

Beyond his ability to stretch defenses to their breaking points, Korver has brought more knowhow to a veteran team. He’s a tireless worker, obsessive about his habits and unwilling to cut corners. The consummate pro’s pro.

“That’s how I’ve had to be, to make it in the NBA,” he said. “I’m not the most physical gifted person. I have to grind. I have to take care of myself. We brought a lot of guys who have played over 10 years and if you want to last that long, you have to figure out what you need and stick with it every day. It’s what I’ve had to do.”

All that’s left for Korver is to win a ring. And because his days on the floor are dwindling, he’s relishing every pass he catches from James, every practice, every 3-pointer. He’s a free agent at the end of a season that began in Atlanta and could finish with a parade through Cleveland.

“You’re not guaranteed tomorrow,” he said. “How many more games do I possibly get to play with this team? I don’t know, so I definitely savor playing with him and all of these guys. It’s been great.”

And, finally, he knows where he’s at.

 

LeBron James: “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs”

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Cleveland’s defense was pathetic Saturday and the Thunder routed them because of it. The Cavaliers gave up 148 points, allowed the Thunder to shoot 58 percent, and basically were little more than traffic cones for Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder to dribble and pass around. The Cavaliers have lost 8-of-11 and coach Tyronn Lue’s seat is getting warm.

Can the Cavaliers even get out of the East? LeBron James wasn’t even asking that question after the Saturday loss, he wants his team to get to the conference finals first. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”

It’s January, it’s far too early to write LeBron and the Cavaliers off — his teams have won the East for seven straight seasons in a row for a reason. Cleveland’s mid-season malaise is a thing and they snap out of it, Isaiah Thomas will find his legs and play better, but this season has shown some troubling structural flaws in the Cavaliers. Ones that could bite them in the playoffs. Ones they are active in the trade market trying to address, or at least shore up a little.

Nobody around the league is comfortable picking against a LeBron team in the East — he has been to seven straight Finals for a reason (and how impressive an achievement that is gets overlooked). But this seems to be the weakest LeBron team since he bolted Cleveland (the first time?), and a second-round matchup vs. Toronto is no gimme anymore. LeBron is right to be concerned.

Former LSU star, Trail Blazer Tim Quarterman arrested after leading police on high-speed chase

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If you missed Tim Quarterman’s cup of coffee in the NBA nobody can blame you. The 6’6″ point guard was a star at LSU who went undrafted but got a chance to earn a roster spot in Portland. He bounced between the NBA and D-League last season playing in 16 games for the Trail Blazers, but then this summer was traded to Houston for cash, and the Rockets quickly waived him. He had signed to play in China but never got there due to visa issues, he did not play a game there.

Now he has some big trouble stateside. From Tupelo, Miss., television station WTVA (hat tip to the Times-Picayune):

Master Sgt. Ray Hall with the Mississippi Highway Patrol says the incident began sometime near 10:50 p.m. when troopers attempted to stop a 2018 Dodge Ram pickup truck for traveling eastbound on Highway 278 at a high rate of speed.

Quarterman failed to stop and led officers on the pursuit… The Mississippi Highway Patrol says the pursuit ended near (a family’s) home when Quarterman intentionally rammed a Pontotoc police officer causing both vehicles to crash.

Both Quarterman and the police officer were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

This led to charges of aggravated assault and felony fleeing, according to the report.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: “We are better than them”

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Houston’s home win Saturday night against Golden State was much more important for the Rockets than the Warriors. Not in terms of the standings (Golden State is still 3.5 games up there), but about confidence — the Rockets needed to know they can beat the defending NBA champions. This game fueled their belief that they have a shot against the Warriors.

Houston big man Clint Capela was trying to say that… then took it a step too far.

Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela told ESPN. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.

“We are better than them.”

It goes without saying that January games are poor predictors of May playoff series. That said, I have two quick thoughts here:

• The Rockets are the team best built to have a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors. (They can score with Golden State, and they have good switchable defenders on the wing, the two things needed to have a chance.)

• I want guys to say this. I want teams going up against the Warriors to believe — that is the first step to actually doing it. You think the Cavaliers feel confident like this right now? The Rockets have the swagger and are over the intimidation factor, that’s step one.

Chris Paul scores 33, Rockets topple Warriors 116-108

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden felt closer to normal after struggling in his first game back from a hamstring injury, and the Houston Rockets got a big game from Chris Paul to down the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Paul scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, Harden bested Stephen Curry twice in the final seconds and the Rockets held off the Warriors 116-108 to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

The victory gives Houston a 2-1 series advantage over Golden State after the reigning NBA champions had won the series the previous three seasons.

“Obviously they’re a championship caliber team for the past four years … and that’s what we’re trying to build our way up to,” Harden said.

Harden stepped back from Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left, then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout.

Harden finished with 22 points. Paul added two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

“It’s been a good streak, disappointing end to it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We played pretty poorly, did a lot of things to hurt ourselves and we’re playing a great team. Can’t get away with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni raved about the performance of the 32-year-old Paul .

“The guy is a winner, he’s been a winner, he’s going to win,” D’Antoni said.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts and 6 of 20 overall. It was just the sixth time in his career that he’d attempted 20 or more shots while making six or fewer.

“It was just one of those nights where I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor,” he said. “So I’ve got to take that responsibility for that one. It was pretty bad.”

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half.

It was Harden’s second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday.

The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points.

Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left.