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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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After 73 underclassmen pull out of NBA draft, here are the final early entries

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The NBA and NCAA made a smart move a couple years ago, altering the withdrawal date from the draft so that underclassmen could declare, get feedback from NBA teams, then make an informed choice and either stay in or pull out of the draft.

This year, 73 underclassmen got that feedback and pulled out of the draft.

Below is the list of who is still in. Yes, there are far more people there than there are slots in the draft (and we’ve not even gotten to international players, who can pull out later). Some of them are just ready to move on from their college program and start making money overseas, some others will find their route to the NBA will have to go through Summer League, the D-League, and more.

Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky, 6-10, Freshman
Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6-11, Freshman
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
OG Anunoby, Indiana, 6-8, Sophomore
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, 6-7, Sophomore
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, Freshman
Jordan Bell, Oregon, 6-9, Junior
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana, 6-4, Junior
Antonio Blakeney, LSU, 6-4, Sophomore
Tony Bradley, North Carolina, 6-10, Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky, 6-2, Sophomore
Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, Junior
Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 6-10, Sophomore
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA), 6-8, Junior
John Collins, Wake Forest, 6-10, Sophomore
Zach Collins, Gonzaga, 7-1, Freshman
Chance Comanche, Arizona, 6-11, Sophomore
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon, 6-4, Sophomore
PJ Dozier, South Carolina, 6-6, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, 6-1, Sophomore
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX), 6-7, Sophomore
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6-4, Freshman
Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, Freshman
Harry Giles, Duke, 6-10, Freshman
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky, 7-1, Sophomore
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6-10, Freshman
Frank Jackson, Duke, 6-3, Freshman
Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, Freshman
Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, Junior
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge, 6-5, Junior
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville, 6-9, Junior
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State, 6-8, Freshman
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan, 5-9, Junior
Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, Sophomore
Kyle Kuzma, Utah, 6-9, Junior
TJ Leaf, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6-9, Sophomore
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-1, Freshman
Eric Mika, BYU, 6-10, Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville, 6-3, Sophomore
Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, Freshman
Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, Junior
Austin Nichols, Virginia, 6-8, Junior
Semi Ojeleye, SMU, 6-7, Junior
Cameron Oliver, Nevada, 6-8, Sophomore
Justin Patton, Creighton, 7-1, Freshman
L.J. Peak, Georgetown, 6-5, Junior
Ivan Rabb, California, 6-11, Sophomore
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6-4, Junior
Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, Junior
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay, 6-2, Junior
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State, 6-7, Sophomore
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio, 6-1, Junior
Kobi Simmons, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6-3, Freshman
Edmond Sumner, Xavier, 6-6, Sophomore
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, Sophomore
Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6-8, Freshman
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State, 6-4, Junior
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State, 7-1, Junior
Melo Trimble, Maryland, 6-3, Junior
Craig Victor II, LSU, 6-9, Junior
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA), 6-10, Sophomore
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, Junior
D.J. Wilson, Michigan, 6-10, Junior

Will Steve Kerr coach the Warriors in Finals? Still no timetable for his return.

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The Warriors are 12-0 in the playoffs, advancing this far with historic numbers.

They’ve done it with Mike Brown on the bench instead of Steve Kerr, but with the challenge of Cleveland awaiting in the Finals (let’s just admit that’s what’s happening, even if they haven’t closed it out yet) will the Warriors have the architect of their system in a suit on the sidelines for the Finals.

That hasn’t been decided. But don’t bet on it, listening to the tone of what Warriors GM Bob Myers told Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

Hopefully, this latest procedure lets Kerr live a pain-free life. Whether he returns to coaching — in the Finals or beyond — is secondary.

Plus just having him in the room planning as the Warriors move into the Finals will be huge. He’s still the architect of this team.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.