Finals pick up where they left off with Cavaliers-Warriors III

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — After a summer highlighted by Kevin Durant‘s decision to leave Oklahoma City for the star-laden Golden State Warriors, a six-month regular season and three rounds of playoffs, the NBA Finals are right back where they ended last June.

Not that anyone expected any different.

Take III of the NBA Finals trilogy between Golden State and the Cleveland Cavaliers gives Stephen Curry and Draymond Green a chance to avenge last year’s Warriors collapse and LeBron James the opportunity to add a fourth title in his chase of Michael Jordan’s six.

Perhaps most noteworthy, it gives Durant the chance at a first championship and validation for his decision to leave the Thunder and join the league’s latest super team

“I can’t go out there and do everything on my own or I can’t go out there and just let my teammates do all the work for me,” Durant said Wednesday, a day before the series opener. “I got to do my part and we all got to make it come together as a group.”

This matchup has seemed ordained since James walked off the court in Oakland last June, having delivered his native northeast Ohio its first major team championship since 1964.

James had won two titles as part of another “super team” in Miami but last year’s meant even more to his legacy.

“I’m not in the `prove people wrong, silence critics’ department no more,” James said. “I got a promotion when I got to the 30s. At the end of the day, I know the way I’m built. My only motivation is to be able to compete for a championship every single year.”

The Warriors have been right there the past two years, winning the franchise’s first title in 40 years in 2015 and then blowing a 3-1 lead last year to put a sour ending on a record-breaking 73-win season.

That series turned when Green was suspended for Game 5 and James and Kyrie Irving took over from there.

“Any time someone beats you, you’d love to play them,” Green said. “But at the end of the day winning a championship is winning a championship. You don’t care who you’ve got to take down, you just want to take whoever that is down.”

Here are some other things to watch in Part III:

FINALS REMATCH

While the Cavs and Warriors have played in the Finals the past two years, Durant and James met before that in different uniforms. James won his first title in 2012 with Miami in a five-game series over Durant and the Thunder. Durant played well, averaging 30.6 points and shooting 55 percent but James came out on top.

“I know I’ve grown as a player just through experience from the last five years, but if I don’t go out there and execute, none of that matters,” Durant said.

BROWN CONNECTION

James’ first trip to the Finals came 10 years ago when the Cavs were swept by San Antonio. His coach that year was Mike Brown, who has served as acting coach for the Warriors while Steve Kerr is out following complications from back surgery. Brown had two stints as coach in Cleveland, leading the team to the playoffs five straight times from 2006-10 before returning for a one-year stint in 2013-14 when the Cavs won 33 games.

“It feels a little surreal,” Brown said. “I’m sure come tip-off tomorrow, when I’m looking at those guys in that uniform, it will feel even more that way, but right now just kind of taking everything in stride.”

UNDERDOG CAVS

According to the odds makers in Las Vegas and the number crunchers at analytical sites, the Warriors are the clear favorites to win the series after sweeping their way through the playoffs with a record-setting margin of victory of 16.3 points per game. James has called Golden State a “juggernaut” but the Warriors aren’t buying all that talk.

“We’ve had a great season to this point, a great playoff run. And hopefully we keep it going, but we fully respect and are aware that this team that we’re playing, they’re the champions and we’re not,” Kerr said.

KLAY’S SHOT

One of the few things that hasn’t gone right for Golden State this postseason has been Klay Thompson‘s shooting. He has hit just 38 percent of his shots as his normally reliable jumper has failed him.

“I’ve had a week off,” Thompson said. “So I feel great. Can’t get caught up in your shot falling or not.”

Thompson has been stellar on the defensive end even when his shot has been off and will likely be counted on at times to slow down Irving, who scored 98 points in the final three games last year, including the series-clinching 3-pointer.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Warriors are the first team to win their first 12 games of the postseason, sweeping all three rounds so far. The Cavs haven’t been far behind, losing only in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final to Boston.

This series also features 11 players who have been named All-Stars in their careers, including seven this year. The only other time a Finals matchup featured 11 former All-Stars came in 1983 when Philadelphia swept the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

Spencer Dinwiddie, after facing threat of being forgotten by NBA, flourishing with Nets

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DETROIT – Spencer Dinwiddie looked like he might be finished in the NBA.

Major ACL injury at Colorado? He declared for the 2014 draft while still recovering.

Slipping to the second round? He drew confidence in being the Pistons’ first pick that year and the initial selection of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit.

Barely playing with the Pistons in two seasons? He engineered a trade to the Bulls, who needed a backup point guard and had roster room then played well for Chicago’s summer-league team.

But the Bulls traded for Michael Carter-Williams just before the season and waived Dinwiddie, who signed in the D-League. For the first time in years, the player who believed since he was 4 years old he’d make the NBA was neither in the league nor on track to reach it.

Then, the Nets called.

They weren’t offering much – $100,000 guaranteed in exchange for Dinwiddie signing a three-year minimum contract in December 2017. If he lasted a month, the rest of his salary that season ($726,672) would become guaranteed. But the remaining two seasons would remain up to Brooklyn. If Dinwiddie flopped, he’d get waived with a small payout. If he exceeded expectations, he’d be stuck on a cheap contract for years.

“A lot of people don’t make it out of the D-League,” Dinwiddie said. “Or, if I don’t sign it, then what if nobody picks me up? Am I still down there? Am I overseas right now?

“It’s very easy to be forgotten about in this league. There’s a lot of good players all over the world that, whatever reason, didn’t hit off right off the bat, and their careers paid the price for it.

“I was told that there was no other opportunity. There was no other option. So, obviously I wanted to be in the NBA. So, I signed.”

Much to Brooklyn’s benefit. And maybe Dinwiddie’s.

Dinwiddie played relatively well in a narrow role last season, doing enough to show he belonged in the NBA. This year, he’s making his case as an NBA starter.

After injuries to Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell, Dinwiddie became the Nets’ starting point guard. Tasked with greater responsibility, Dinwiddie is playing his best basketball. He averages 13.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, but those marks don’t quite show how he has steadied an erratic team.

Dinwiddie ranks No. 18 overall in real plus-minus – behind only potential All-Stars, Robert Covington, and Tyus Jones and ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. That isn’t to say Dinwiddie is as good as those stars. But that his production holds its own in such elite company is also revelatory.

Especially considering Dinwiddie’s contract.

He ranks third in real plus-minus among players on minimum salaries, behind only Nikola Jokic and Tyus Jones:

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This makes Dinwiddie an intriguing trade candidate in advance of next month’s deadline.

How helpful would it be to have a credible starting-caliber point guard making just the minimum this year and next? That’d free so much money – below the salary cap and/or luxury-tax line – to spend on other positions.

The Nets aren’t positioned to take advantage. They’re still below the cap and, still recovering from years of lost draft picks, not ready to build a competitive roster. They also might want to tank next season, as they’ll finally keep their own first-rounder in 2019. Plus, Russell is acclimating back into the rotation, and Lin should return next season.

If Dinwiddie no longer fits in Brooklyn, in a sudden reversal, numerous teams should covet him. He’s not sweating whether he gets moved, but whatever happens, it won’t change how he views the Nets.

“I’m forever indebted to Brooklyn for giving me this opportunity,” Dinwiddie said.

Of course, the Nets could keep him. They’re trying to build a culture, and continuity matters for that. They’d also be positioned to extend his contract next December, two years from when he initially signed (as would a team that trades for him).

Dinwiddie’s max extension would follow the same format as Josh Richardson‘s with the Heat and Norman Powell‘s with the Raptors – which were each worth $42 million over four years – though a rising salary cap will lift Dinwiddie’s max slightly. Perhaps, Dinwiddie could get more in unrestricted free agency in 2019. But for someone set to earn around the minimum his first four seasons, an extension would provide nice security.

Dinwiddie isn’t holding his breath for a payday in December, though.

“You know how long a year is?” Dinwiddie said. “A year in the NBA is an eternity. Anything can happen.”

Just look at Dinwiddie’s last year.

“When we first got him, he was really not a confident player,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Very timid to make plays.”

Now, he’s hitting gamewinners, including one at Detroit on Sunday:

Did that one mean more to him?

“I’ve kind of tip-toed around it. Let’s just be real here,” Dinwiddie said. “I start my career off here. For lack of a better word, I was essentially cut. So how would y’all feel?”

This wasn’t the caretaking point guard the Pistons and Bulls gave up on. Dinwiddie was holding court in the visiting locker room, assured he belonged.

The 6-foot-6 point guard plays with an even keel, steadily using his size advantage offensively and defensively. He’s not flashy, and this doesn’t appear fluky. A sudden jump in 3-point shooting is the easiest way a prolonged hot stretch can be mistaken for a meaningful breakthrough, but Dinwiddie is shooting just 34% from beyond the arc – below his mark last year (38%) and below league average. A high 3-point attempt rate makes his outside shooting helpful, and that’s something he can more easily control than whether the ball goes in.

A more aggressive shot hunter, Dinwiddie can develop as a passer next. Among 284 players who qualify for the assist-per-game lead, Dinwiddie ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio, behind only Tomas Satoransky and Shelvin Mack. The leaderboard, with assists and turnovers per game noted:

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While that’s helpful in some ways, especially on the young and up-tempo Nets, Dinwiddie doesn’t often enough create quality looks through his passing. He takes what the defense gives him and nothing more.

“He’s not a high-risk guy,” Atkinson said. “It’s just not his personality.”

It’s the same mindset that contributed to Dinwiddie accepting Brooklyn’s team-friendly offer last season.

The Nets couldn’t be happier with the results. Dinwiddie is aware he lost a potential opportunity to prove himself then hit free agency sooner, but he chalks up any thoughts of regret to looking through the lens of 20-20 hindsight.

And no matter what happens through the rest of his minimum contract, he’ll always have Sunday, when he got revenge against the Pistons.

“No hard feelings,” Dinwiddie said before breaking into a slight grin, “especially after a win.”

Jordan Clarkson on Lakers’ win over Knicks: ‘We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing’

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The Lakers outscored the Knicks by one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, four in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth quarter en route to a 127-107 victory yesterday.

What’s one way to describe that?

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson in his on-court, post-game interview:

We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing.

That quote is obviously fantastic on its own. Making it better: The NBA published it!

Video of the key moment is above.

Report: Kawhi Leonard disconnected from Spurs

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Spurs star Kawhi Leonard missed most of the season with a vexing quad injury, returned, went out with a shoulder injury and is now sidelined indefinitely with the quad injury.

San Antonio (30-18) has played well without Leonard, but apparently this saga has taken a toll behind the scenes.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.

Beyond the current rehab for the right quadriceps injury that has caused Leonard, an All-NBA forward, to miss most of the regular season, there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership.

In an interview with ESPN, Buford rejected the reporting of turbulence between the franchise and Leonard.

This is extremely vague. Leonard has always looked like a dutiful follower in the Spurs’ strong Popovich-led culture. Is this just frustration from injuries? Frustration from injuries causing other minor issues to boil over? Something else major entirely?

The Spurs spent big on long-term contracts for Pau Gasol and Patty Mills last summer, arguably jeopardizing Leonard’s chances of winning another title in San Antonio. Leonard is an elite two-way player in his prime (at least when healthy), and the Spurs were seemingly locking into a team that will likely top out at very good, not great.

So, what’s going on with Leonard now? Aldridge’s situation might be illustrative. Everyone in San Antonio denied a problem, as the Spurs are doing now. But Popovich revealed a couple weeks ago that Aldridge requested a trade. Popovich didn’t panic, though. He met with Aldridge, communicated and found a workable solution. The same can and probably will happen with Leonard.

But that’s no guarantee, and Leonard can opt out next year. Until this is settled, it’s a huge issue with potential to shake up typically stable San Antonio – and maybe beyond.

Wizards’ players-only meeting doesn’t go well

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The concept of a “team meeting” is sort of silly. At what does players discussing the team – something that happens nearly every day – rise to “meeting” status?

But these team meetings happen ever year, usually when a team is struggling. The Cavaliers, Thunder and Lakers have already had confabs labeled a “team meeting” this season. Teams usually emerge saying they’ve found solutions to their problems. Sometimes, it translates onto the court. Usually, there’s not a significant turnaround.

I’ve never seen a public response to the meeting itself like with the Wizards, though.

John Wall, via Cam Ellis of NBC Sports Washington:

“At our team meeting, I think a couple guys took it in a negative way,” Wall said after the team’s win in Detroit. “It hurt our team. Instead of using it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a bit.”

Bradley Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.

“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”

Yeesh.

Nobody seemed to remember exactly when the meeting occurred, which says something. It sounds as if airing grievances actually hurt team chemistry.

The Wizards (26-20) are good, but not as good as hoped/expected. They too often coast against bad teams, and coach Scott Brooks has openly questioned their effort. So, what’s the solution?

Wall, via Buckner:

“Front office got to figure it out.”

If you’re one of Wall’s teammates who clashed at the meeting, and now you’re hearing him bring it up publicly and imply roster moves might be the solution, how would you feel about your future in Washington?