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Newcomers to Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry embrace Finals

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Watching Part II of the Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals trilogy last spring, Kyle Korver came to a realization.

“These are the two best teams and if you were on one of these two teams you were hopeful that you’d be here at the end,” Korver said Wednesday, a day before the teams meet for the third straight Finals. “I’m excited this worked out that I could be here.”

Korver got added to the mix midway through the season when he was dealt from Atlanta to Cleveland and is one of a dozen players on the two rosters who weren’t on these teams last June when the Cavs rallied from 3-1 down to win the title.

While much of the focus leading up to Cavs vs. Warriors III has been on how the addition of Kevin Durant to Golden State’s star core led by Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will make life even more difficult for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers, there are several other newcomers to the rivalry who could play a key role in determining which team wins a second title in this trilogy.

“It’s pretty intense,” Warriors center Zaza Pachulia said. “Obviously when you play against somebody and it’s the third time in a row and split the seasons and championships, they don’t like each other. … Even though I wasn’t here the last couple years, talking and hearing the stories and watching the film kind of transfers me and I feel like I’ve been part of this team.”

Pachulia passed up a chance at bigger money to have a chance for a title when he signed with Golden State last summer for $2.9 million. He’s part of a revamped center position along with fellow newcomers JaVale McGee and David West.

Swingman Matt Barnes adds more energy off the bench and rookie guard Patrick McCaw has provided another boost.

The Cavaliers added a 3-point specialist in Korver, along with backup point guard Deron Williams and swingman Derrick Williams to the mix in hopes of giving James more offensive options around him.

Many of these players had to take on smaller roles now that they had joined so-called super teams filled with stars. But it was all worth it because of the quest for a championship.

“I felt like when I got here, I could fill in some gaps, fill in some holes just in the way these guys approach the game and the level of seriousness it takes every single day,” West said.

All the newcomers remembered watching these two teams square off the past two Junes as fans. There was Golden State winning its first title since 1975 when the Warriors bested a short-handed Cavaliers squad missing Irving and Kevin Love on Cleveland’s home court in 2015.

Then the Cavs got their revenge last year when they rallied back to claim their city’s first major team championship since 1964 with a Game 7 win in Oakland.

“They’ve been battles, they’ve been wars,” Barnes said. “This is really the grudge match. I think the world has been waiting for this to finally get here.”

Barnes wasn’t exactly a neutral observer last year, having grown up in Northern California and having played with the Warriors before their recent run of dominance. Barnes was a key reserve on the “We Believe” team in 2007 that made it to the second round of the playoffs and said his heart never left the East Bay.

He started this season in Sacramento before getting waived in February and joining the Warriors for the stretch run. Now he’s ready to help avenge last year’s disappointment.

“They know they left a ring on the table,” Barnes said of his teammates. “It kind of goes without saying. It’s not something we talk about. Everybody has been waiting to get to this point in the season.”

Some have waited longer than others. Korver ranks second among all active players with 104 playoff games without a Finals appearance, trailing only Joe Johnson‘s 112 games. West (95 games), Barnes (90) and Deron Williams (85) aren’t far behind.

That all changes Thursday.

“It’s been a long journey, some ups and downs but it’s well worth it once you get here in the Finals,” Williams said. “It’s definitely exciting. I feel blessed to be in this position to compete for a championship.”

Watch Tracy McGrady be enshrined into Orlando Magic Hall of Fame

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Tracy McGrady is a Basketball Hall of Famer, meaning he’s already reached the absolute pinnacle of accolades celebrating his playing career.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t deeply moved by the latest gesture.

McGrady was enshrined Tuesday into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame , a long-deserved hat tip to what the Central Florida native accomplished during his 295-game tenure with the team. The two-time NBA scoring champion went into the Basketball Hall this past September, and said getting recognized by the Magic still meant more than he could express.

“Yes, I got inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, but today is special to me,” McGrady said. “On a personal level, growing up in Auburndale, Florida, my mom used to drive over here every summer when I was playing basketball in Orlando … and I used to tell my mom, I would tell my friends that I was going to be wearing this uniform one day.”

Few wore it better.

Drafted in 1997 about a month after his 18th birthday – by Toronto, Orlando’s opponent on Tuesday night – McGrady went on to play 15 NBA seasons. He was an All-Star seven times, a run that started with each of his four seasons with the Magic, and he remains Orlando’s franchise leader with a scoring average of 28.1 points per game.

“To say you represented the Orlando Magic well would be a vast, vast understatement,” Magic CEO Alex Martins told McGrady during the ceremony.

McGrady’s 62 points against Washington in 2004 remains a Magic single-game record, and he has three of the team’s four highest scoring efforts. The only players to score more points during their tenures in an Orlando uniform are Dwight Howard and Nick Anderson, both of whom played more than twice as many games as McGrady did with the Magic.

He signed with Orlando as a free agent, and landing him couldn’t have been easier. McGrady said he once told former Magic coach Doc Rivers after an Orlando-Toronto game to hold a spot for him that summer.

“Nobody had to do any recruiting,” said McGrady, who wore jersey No. 1 in honor of his favorite player growing up – former Orlando star Penny Hardaway. “I knew I was coming home.”

He’s still with the Magic as well, juggling a job as special assistant to the CEO alongside his duties as an ESPN analyst.

McGrady was born in Bartow, Florida, about 60 miles from Orlando. Besides the Raptors and Magic, McGrady also played for Houston, New York, Detroit and Atlanta.

“There isn’t anybody more deserving than him to be in the Magic Hall of Fame,” Martins said.

Three Things to Know: Portland defends Houston well, James Harden goes off anyway

Associated Press

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Portland defends Houston well, it just doesn’t matter with James Harden, Chris Paul some nights. This game exemplifies why Houston is a legitimate threat to Golden State come the playoffs — the Portland Trail Blazers defended the Rockets well, and it just didn’t matter. Houston still put up 115 points on only 90 possessions (stats via Cleaning the Glass, NBA.com estimated 92 possessions), and the Rockets won 115-111. The Rockets can score with anybody — including the Warriors — and that is going to win them playoff games.

Portland did a good job defending the rim Tuesday night — Houston was just 17-of-32 there, 53 percent. Houston took 36 threes (six below their season average), but again Portland did a decent job contesting — the Blazers didn’t let the Rockets get drive-and-kick threes where shooters always got to set their feet, 17 of those 36 threes (47.2 percent) were off-the-dribble with the ball handler shooting (Harden or Paul) but the Rockets hit 10 of those anyway.

At the heart of it all, James Harden was just unstoppable again, scoring 42 points, dishing out 7 assists, and looking every bit the MVP.

On offense, Portland tried to punish the small-ball game of Houston with 19 post ups, but it was undone by an off shooting night from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who were a combined 9-of-32 on the night. The Trail Blazers tried to attack mismatches created because the Rockets switch everything on defense (and have all season), but all that switching has Houston’s help defense working on a tight string and Houston got the stops they needed.

If there was any doubt lingering doubts (and there shouldn’t have been), the Rockets looked legit  — they went into a hostile road environment, made life difficult defensively on two stars, and got the W. Doing it against a (probably) healthy Golden State squad is a different challenge, but Houston is as ready as anyone.

As for Portland, San Antonio (currently) or anyone else who lands in the six seed and gets the Trail Blazers in the first round can watch the tape of this game and know they are in trouble — Portland is defending, and with that they can beat any team they face in the first round.

2) After a day of troubling news about Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris lifts Celtics’ spirit with game-winner. Who needs Kyrie Irving?

Okay, the Celtics do. And he may be out a while now, news came down on Tuesday that Irving’s sore knee is not progressing as hoped, so he going to get a second opinion on what is up with it. It’s not what Celtics fans want to hear — even though the reports say there is no structural issue and he will be back for the playoffs — in a season that has been dominated by injuries in Boston.

What made the Celtics feel better? Marcus Morris with the game-winner against the Thunder Tuesday night.

That’s a quality win for the Celtics, who remain locked in as the two seed in the East. Rookie Jayson Tatum had 23 and 11 for Boston. As for the Thunder, this snapped a six-game win streak, and while they remain the four seed, the Pelicans and Spurs are now just one game back. There is no chill in the Western Conference.

3) Where have these Timberwolves been? Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns play like the leaders Minnesota needs in win. Minnesota has stumbled about going 5-5 since Jimmy Butler went down injured (he said again Tuesday he expects to be back by the end of the regular season), and at points they have looked leaderless and lost.

Which is why Tuesday’s win against the Clippers was a quality step forward — playing a team right on their heels in the playoff chase, Minnesota started doing things right. They finally got Karl-Anthony Towns more touches and shots (he had 19 field-goal attempts, but through the first eight Butler-less games he was getting just one more shot attempt per game than he did during the rest of the season).

Andrew Wiggins was an active and intense defender on the perimeter causing the Clippers problems (he has this in him but doesn’t bring it consistently). Wiggins had three blocks and on one second-half play basically stole the ball from Austin Rivers twice on one possession. On the other end of the floor, Wiggins had 27 points on 16 shots, and he hit 4-of-5 from three.

Finally, Jeff Teague took this game over in the third quarter — the Clippers had no answer for the Teague/Towns pick-and-roll so the Timberwolves ran it over and over and over until they pulled away with a comfortable lead. Teague got where he wanted, scored 20 points on the night, and just took over.

With the win, Minnesota seems on track to make the postseason for the first time since 2004 — that accomplishes a big goal for this team. Its ultimate aspirations are much higher, but making the postseason and getting a taste of it is the first step on that road.

Chris Paul’s game-winning miss helps Rockets end Blazers’ 13-game streak

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Tuesday night at Moda Center was electric. It was a game of switches, both between opposing big men on the pick-and-roll and as the lead batted between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

It was all we could have asked for between two of the best teams in the NBA.

The Blazers were aided by a hot start from Al-Farouq Aminu from beyond the arc. The defensive stalwart hit four threes in the first quarter alone for Portland as the Blazers took a four point lead into the second period. Houston, accustomed to playing in Rip City when their arena is at its loudest, wasn’t phased by the atmosphere.

James Harden went off — he finished with 42 points and seven assists — and looked unstoppable. At one point, after nailing a 3-pointer in the first half, Harden turned around and gave the Portland sideline a look. The leading MVP candidate was there to play, and the rain of boos that came down from the 300 level at the Moda only fueled his fire.

On the other side of the court, Portland’s star point guard seemed just off of center. Perhaps it was anticipating the soon-to-be birth of his child or just the stress that comes with upholding a 13-game winning streak, but Damian Lillard‘s aim was poor and he wasn’t as large a factor as he’s been all winter. In fact, both Lillard and C.J. McCollum were quiet on the night. McCollum, the other half of the second-highest scoring duo since the All-Star Break, had just eight points on a night where he shot 4-of-15 from the field.

But the story of these two teams, and why they remain top playoff contenders, is their defense. That showed all night, with the margin between the two staying razor thin until the final seconds. The Blazers’ strategy was to force switches, often getting Moe Harkless, Jusuf Nurkic, or Evan Turner on smaller Rockets players while hoping to either attack the basket or swing the ball after the Rockets’ excellent help defense reacted.

Houston countered brilliantly, often guarding Nurkic with either Luc Mbah a Moute or PJ Tucker as they forced the issue of small ball on Portland. Much of the game rode on the offensive decision-making from Blazers in the post or the ability of the Rockets guards to burn past the likes of Nurkic and Ed Davis off the switch.

Chris Paul was the other factor for Houston — no shock as he loves going against Lillard — especially from beyond the 3-point line. Five of Paul’s six made field goals were from beyond the arc, and he dismantled slower Portland defenders as he snaked, shaked, and flailed his way around pick-and-rolls.

Despite the close play, Houston appeared to have struck a defiant blow when Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer with 1:55 to go, giving the Rockets a nine-point lead. But Portland rallied, with Lillard quickly drawing a three-shot foul to push the Blazers closer. Portland scored twice more in quick succession, and they were once again within striking distance for the win.

The game came down to a final Houston possession with five seconds left as Paul missed long on a floater in the middle of the lane. Miraculously, the ball hit off the back of the iron, out of reach of any Blazers rebounder (although a crafty hold by Paul on Aminu certainly helped).

Houston recovered the rebound, and closed against a heated rival.

Meanwhile the story for both teams at the end of the game was clear: both are for real.

The Rockets, leaders of the West even before the Golden State Warriors were bitten by the injury bug, showed they could come into a hostile environment against a team that badly wanted to win in Portland. Houston’s resolve was clear; while the Blazers never looked unfocused, the Rockets did feel like the senior team and the leadership from Harden and Paul was a preview for what we should expect come playoff time. That’s big, especially when you consider Paul’s playoff demons and the hovering expectation that the Warriors are somehow going to come charging back and blow everyone out come spring.

For the Blazers, the sadness of the 13-game streak will linger but for a moment. Portland, who was essentially a .500 team until Christmas, looked like they were ready for the big moment. Many of the Blazers’ players, including Nurkic, Aminu, and Harkless, have struggled with inconsistency all season long. But as they took on the Rockets, all three were the ones keeping Portland in it when Lillard and McCollum struggled. I had my doubts about the Blazers perhaps longer than most, but even in defeat Portland’s showing against Houston makes them look like a solid favorite in any first round playoff series they draw, and not just because of seeding.

Houston beat the Blazers, 115-111.

Let’s do this again sometime soon. Say, in mid-May?

It’ll make sense when you watch it: Steven Adams uses Al Horford to scratch his head

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Look, Steven Adams is a weird guy. He’s always answering questions with weird, unrelated scientific terms or calling former teammates “dicks” with a smirk on his face. Adams has a subtle and fun personality.

This? This isn’t so subtle.

As the Boston Celtics took on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, it was time for a regular old free throw. The kind that happens all the time during NBA games. But Adams, apparently bored with how they usually go, wanted to mix up his routine on the lane line for this one.

That’s when he apparently decided to use Al Horford‘s right forearm as a means to scratch his own head.

Just … just watch the video:


I don’t know either.

Meanwhile, Marcus Morris beat the Thunder with 1.8 seconds to go. Oof.