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LeBron James says he wasn’t playing at peak condition in Game 1 vs. Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) LeBron James did pretty much whatever he wanted to against the Celtics in the Cavaliers’ dominating win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

He was efficient, scoring from the outside, rolling downhill and getting to the rim at will, passing to teammates and locking down Boston’s scorers when called upon.

With home-court advantage gone, the Celtics face a virtual must-win Game 2 on Friday night. Boston must find a way to slow down James while not getting eaten up by a supporting cast, which other than Kevin Love‘s big game , didn’t produce at its usual high rate.

Oh, and there’s extra motivation for Cleveland – now 9-0 in these playoffs – which could earn another long rest if it makes quick work of the Celtics.

But here’s the rub for top-seeded Boston on Friday night: James said he wasn’t even playing at peak condition after Cleveland’s 10-day layoff between rounds.

“I felt OK last night,” James said Thursday. “I knew I wouldn’t feel that great after the game, and I don’t feel that great right now. … But I should be much better (Friday).”

Better than 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists? Good luck with that Boston.

Still, James said the Cavs are mentally preparing for the Celtics’ best shot in Game 2.

“There’s going to be some adjustments made from both sides. We have to be ready for it,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t know the exact adjustments, but we know they’re going to make adjustments. That’s what good teams do, and we have to be ready for whatever they bring to the table.”

Most of the damage in Game 1 was done by only two players – James and Love. Kyrie Irving had just 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and usually dependable sharpshooters J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver were a combined 2 for 8 as coach Tyronn Lue used a different second unit to start the second quarter with James resting.

A loss Friday would also leave Boston with the daunting proposition of having to win four out of five games to take the series – a nearly impossible task against a team that since James returned to Cleveland in 2014-15 has a 33-4 playoff record against Eastern Conference opponents.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said his optimism remains high, and that he was “really encouraged” by his team’s performance over the final 18 minutes of the game. It included getting within 11 points with less than 2 minutes to play.

But if the Celtics are going to pick themselves up, it must start with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who scored 17 points, but had to work for every single one just to finish 7 for 19 from the field. He also had a team-high four turnovers – another red flag for Boston’s prospects.

For his part, Thomas said there doesn’t need to be a lot of soul searching.

“There’s nothing to figure out,” Thomas said. “They play their traditional way. I mean, they definitely showed a few bodies that was aggressive on me, but that’s nothing I haven’t seen this whole year. I mean, I’ve seen it all…I’ve just got to be more aggressive, make plays, make shots, and go from there.”

A bigger problem for Boston is that James scored on all seven defenders that the Celtics threw at him in Game 1 – Crowder, Thomas, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Gerald Green and Kelly Olynyk.

Conversely, James has shown an ability to completely stifle Thomas on the defensive end. On the lone one-on-one possession in which Thomas was guarded by James – in the second quarter – the Boston guard was called for a travelling violation after James cut off his driving lane, contested his awkward layup attempt and forced Thomas to catch his own shot, resulting in a turnover.

And even if Thomas can rediscover his shot, he will need more scoring help against the Cavs’ Big Three. It’s a luxury not lost on Lue.

“Any given night, it could be Kyrie, could be LeBron, could be Kevin, Korver, J.R. (Smith), Tristan (Thompson),” Lue said. “So we just take what the defense gives us, and that’s how we try to play. And whatever guys are doing, we try to ride the hot hand and everyone else will fill in.”

So, with James maybe 100 percent, and more options waiting in the wings, the Celtics indeed face an uphill challenge.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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Heat re-sign Udonis Haslem

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In 2002, not a single team drafted Udonis Haslem.

For the last 15 years, the Heat haven’t been able to quit him.

Heat:

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Haslem isn’t receiving another $4 million windfall like he got last year. He’ll earn $2,328,652 – $1,471,382 paid by the Heat and $857,270 covered by the league (as is done on one-year minimum deals for veterans). An NBA contract, even for the minimum, might be enough of a reward at this point.

To whatever extent Haslem still has a position – he has played just 390 minutes in the last two years – he’s probably a center. The Heat have Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and maybe A.J. Hammons ahead of him. But this isn’t about getting the 37-year-old Haslem on the court, at least not beyond rare spot minutes, where can still be useful as a defender and rebounder.

The Heat want Haslem’s toughness and veteran leadership. He reinforces their culture, and that might be worth a roster spot.

Report: Bulls, agent discussed Derrick Rose returning to Chicago

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Derrick Rose meeting with the Clippers barely registered. He has to meet with the Bucks twice before most noticed.

But it seems Rose and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, have finally figured out how to drum up attention – leak interest from more prominent teams like the LeBron James-led, championship-contending Cavaliers and big-market, widely followed Lakers.

What team could generate even more buzz?

The Bulls!

Sam Amick of USA Today:

If the talks went beyond Armstrong asking the Bulls whether they would sign Rose and the Bulls declining, I’d be surprised.

There’s probably a part of Rose that wants to return to his native Chicago, but it seems his former team has long moved on.

Report: Derrick Rose meeting with Lakers

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Derrick Rose is suddenly in demand – once the market was set at a minimum salary or so.

Not only are the Cavaliers pursuing the former MVP/overhyped role player, so are the Lakers.

ESPN:

Rose is also meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, sources told ESPN’s Chris Haynes and Ramona Shelburne. The Lakers are trying to entice Rose to sign with them, suggesting they can offer more playing time and money in a better environment after Rose’s tumultuous season in New York, sources said.

Rose’s tumultuous season was due in part to Rose. No matter where he signs, he can’t escape himself. And Los Angeles is even further from his native Chicago.

But the Lakers can offer more money. They still have the $4,328,000 room exception. Rose would earn just $2,116,955 on a minimum salary from Cleveland, and the Cavs can bump that offer to only about $2.5 million. (That’d come with exponential additional costs, so they probably wouldn’t do that, anyway.)

The Lakers can also offer a larger role. Lonzo Ball can’t play every minute at point guard, and Rose would fill in the rest. They’ll likely add a point guard, Rose or not. The Cavaliers might be set with Kyrie Irving, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder if they don’t get Rose.

I’m not sure how Rose would work as a veteran mentor, especially on a one-year contract as he eyes a bigger payday next summer. But – say whatever else you want about him, and there’s plenty to say – Rose has remained impressively focused on basketball amid untold chaos. Ball – with outsized attention given LaVar and his media market – can probably relate.

Rockets re-signing Bobby Brown, Troy Williams

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James Harden spearheaded the Rockets’ recruitment of Chris Paul, but the MVP runner-up didn’t work alone.

Paul’s former New Orleans teammates Trevor Ariza and Bobby Brown added appeal.

So, unsurprisingly, with Paul in a contract year, Houston is re-signing Brown. The Rockets are also re-signing Troy Williams.

Alykhan Bijani‏ of ESPN Houston:

Williams’ agency:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brown is an undersized gunner who’s not nearly efficient enough to compensate for his defensive deficiencies, and he turns 33 before the season. But if he helps convince Paul to re-sign, it would be well worth keeping Brown on the roster all year.

The 22-year-old Williams, who went undrafted last year, is the far more intriguing player. A 6-foot-7 forward, he has the athleticism to stick in the NBA. His 3-point shot needs major development – though not quite as much if he becomes more adept at being a small-ball four, an easier task in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system.