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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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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade on time they faced off 1-on-1: “We was out there killing each other”

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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are good friends, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. They and their families hang out and ride banana boats together in the off-season.

They are also both incredibly competitive men.

So you had to figure they went 1-on-1 against each other at some point. It happened, once. Wade and LeBron talked about it on Channing Frye’s Road Trippin’ podcast(transcription via the USA Today).

James: “We played 1-on-1 one time in our whole life, and it was during the finals. Eastern Conference finals 2010 (they meant the 2010-11 season, that ECF was in May 2011). Our first year.”

Wade: “It was more-so to set a precedent for our teammates because we got our ass kicked the game before, Game 1 by Chicago. They tore us.”

James: “MVP Rose tore our ass up in Chicago, and we came in the next day, we was like we need to set the tone, so we was out there killing each other playing 1-on-1.”

Wade: “We never finished.”

James: “We never finished. We got to the point where (head coach Erik Spoelstra) blew the whistle, like bring it in.”

Wade: “Everybody was just watching us. We was going at it. We competitive, we was going at it, but we was setting a tone for this is how it’s gotta go. You gotta be able to go at this. We’re two of the best players in this game. We going at each other in the Eastern Conference finals right now. We out there killing each other, and this is what ya’ll better do tomorrow. Because we got beat on the boards by 20-something and we have to come with it, and we won four in a row.”

A 2011 Heat practice? There has to be video of this somewhere.

Miami did win that Eastern Conference Finals, but LeBron and Wade should have gone at it again during the NBA Finals, where the Heat lost to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks.

Report: Rockets’ Luc Mbah a Moute expected to miss 2-3 weeks

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The Rockets’ rotation is excellent, and their deep bench is lacking.

That’s part of the reason Luc Richard Mbah a Moute posted a ridiculous +57 in a 30-point win earlier this season.

But Houston will miss the forward for a while after he injured his shoulder against the Hornets yesterday.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni’s first inclination might be to shorten his rotation. He should mostly resist it.

Home-court advantage is important, and P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza can play more power forward (with Eric Gordon absorbing more minutes at small forward). But it’s also better to play Troy Williams more now than to wear down the players Houston will rely on in the playoffs, when D’Antoni will surely keep his rotation tight.

PBT Podcast: Early trade deadline breakdown with Dan Feldman

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The NBA’s trade market did not collapse after the Jahlil Okafor trade.

There’s more to come, but with the trade deadline is less than two months away, we have more questions than answers. DeAndre Jordan very likely could be on the move from the Clippers (and Lou Williams, too). But what is Memphis going to do about Mark Gasol? New Orleans with DeMarcus Cousins? Oklahoma City with Paul George? And if any of those guys are available, who is a buyer? Cleveland? Milwaukee? Portland?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down the high end of the trade market, plus talk about other guys who could be on the move — maybe Nikola Mirotic from Chicago, and what about someone like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from Charlotte — before Feb. 8 gets here. The last couple of trade deadlines have been interesting, but will we see a move that changes the landscape of the NBA playoffs in a meaningful way?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Joel Embiid calls out Karl Anthony-Towns’ defense during Instagram trash talk

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Joel Embiid often gloats on Instagram after 76ers wins.

Of course he did after Philadelphia beat Minnesota on Tuesday, specifically calling attention to this move on Karl-Anthony Towns (and this 76ers fan custom):

Embiid:

Towns commented:

That caption was as trash as your picture quality

Embiid replied:

Better quality than your defense

Embiid insisted it’s all in good fun.

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

https://twitter.com/JCameratoNBCS/status/941395953113804800

I’m not sure Towns is having as much fun as Towns. But I know this:

Embiid had a valid point.