Drew Bogut

Associated Press

Three things to watch: Indiana Pacers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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As we dive into the playoffs, we at PBT are going to break down each first-round playoff series and give you three things to watch in each. The Cavaliers are the Eastern Conference favorites, but the last time these teams met it was one of the best games of the season, a double -OT thriller the Cavs won 125-130, where LeBron James and Paul George had a classic duel. Will we get more of that? Let’s break it down.

How focused with the Cavaliers be on defense? The malaise that enveloped the Cavaliers the second half of this season has become part of the narrative of the postseason — just how vulnerable are the Cavaliers? They had a defensive rating of 111.6 over their final 26 games, a number worse than the Lakers’ season average (and LA was dead last in the league in defense). Tyronn Lue said he has a fix for the team’s defense and when Kevin Love and other Cavs are asked about it they’ve said they can fix it. I’m not sold, they haven’t built good defensive habits, Plus they are going to miss Andrew Bogut in the paint on defense.

The other half of that equation is do the Pacers have the tools to exploit that defense? Expect Paul George to have some huge games because he’s that good, but the Pacers are going to need Myles Turner to put up big numbers (and pull Tristan Thompson out of the paint), plus have Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young have big games as well. The Cavaliers are going to score, can Indiana keep pace?

Who will LeBron James for the Pacers? And who is going to guard Paul George for the Cavaliers? Both teams in this series defensively will want to “cut off the head of the snake” and make someone other than the best player on opposition beat them. Which is a sound strategy — although the Cavaliers have legitimate other top scoring options — but leads to another problem: Who is going to guard these key guys? Who gets the LeBron assignment? Who gets the George assignment.

LeBron torched the Pacers this season, averaging 32.3 points per game on 60 percent shooting in the three meetings where he played (the one game Indiana beat Cleveland LeBron rested). LeBron was able to get into the restricted area and finish at a high rate this season, and the Pacers lack a rim protector who can make him think twice. George will certainly get some time on LeBron, but he shot 52 percent when PG13 was on him this season (stats via Sports VU and the NBA). Of course, there is the drama of Lance Stephenson, and he likely will get some time on LeBron, but Stephenson has lost a step and that’s a bad matchup for the Pacers.

Also, the Pacers do not have a good defender to match up on Kyrie Irving, who could have a big game or two in this series.

Who on the Cavaliers will draw the Paul George assignment? In crunch time that will be LeBron, we saw that at the end of the double-overtime game (remember LeBron and Tristan Thompson yelling at each other over a missed assignment in that stretch?). But it could be too taxing on LeBron to carry the offense and guard George for 40 minutes a game. Expect some Richard Jefferson, but if guys like J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert draw the assignment for a while George is going to put up big numbers. And he has to for the Pacers to have a chance in this series.

Is this the last time we see Paul George in a Pacers’ uniform? George has been brilliant over the last month of the season and reminded everyone why the Pacers’ primary goal this summer is to keep him in Indiana. If George makes the third-team All-NBA — and that’s a coin flip, one that will not land until June 26 at the NBA awards ceremony — then the Pacers can offer him the designated player contract of five years and more than $200 million, and he will stay put.

However, if George doesn’t make that team, the Pacers have to consider trade options this summer. Larry Bird may not pull the trigger, but he can’t lose George for nothing to free agency in the summer of 2018, so there will be pressure this summer if a team steps up with a good offer (and Boston has the pieces to do that, among others). What George wants to do is win, and if the Pacers have a strong series against the Cavaliers and push this to six or seven games, Bird can say to George that this team is close and to trust him to build a contender around George. How this series goes will have some impact on the summer

Prediction: Cavaliers in five. The Pacers starters can hang with the Cavaliers starters, but once these teams start going to the bench the Cavaliers will pull away. The Pacers don’t have the shooters to hang in this series.

Warriors barely hold off Sixers 106-104 to snap three-game skid

Associated Press
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Even after a series of misses from deep where he makes his money, Stephen Curry kept letting it fly from long range.

Then, at last, the ball started falling.

Curry scored 29 points on his 29th birthday, Klay Thompson added 28 and the Golden State Warriors used a frenetic fourth-quarter rally to snap a three-game skid and beat the Philadelphia 76ers 106-104 on Tuesday night.

“That’s what I love about Steph is that he’s never going to stop shooting and he never loses confidence,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s the mark of a star, when it’s not your night and you still hit big shots to help your team win.”

Dario Saric intentionally missed his second free throw with 2.6 seconds remaining to try to give the Sixers one last shot, but Curry secured the ball.

Curry struggled to knock down open 3-pointers again but came through from deep with 5:38 left and again with a key baseline 3 at 3:42. Matt Barnes hit one a minute later from the opposite corner for a 104-99 lead.

“He found it at the right time and he came through for us when we needed it the most,” Draymond Green said of Curry.

Curry’s jumper with 9:55 to play pulled the Warriors within 90-86 after Golden State trailed 90-78 to begin the final quarter. Green’s 3 at 8:04 made it a one-point game, and Shaun Livingston gave Golden State the lead the next time down.

Green had 20 points with 11 free throws, eight assists, eight rebounds and six blocks for the Warriors, who trailed by as many as 16 in the third.

He reminded his teammates during one timeout it would take everything to pull out of this recent rut.

“The only way to change that is to grind your way out of it. It’s not going to be pretty,” Green said.

Saric had 25 points in the Sixers’ eighth straight loss to Golden State. The Warriors’ winning streak in the series matches their longest ever, along with a stretch from Dec. 16, 1971, to March 11, `73.

Curry shot just 8 for 23 and 5 of 13 from 3-point range, making him 26 for 89 from deep in his past eight games.

The Warriors aren’t worried. Thompson and others remind him of all his incredible feats.

“He’ll have a huge breakout game coming soon,” Thompson said. “He’s better missing now than come May or June.”

Earlier in the day, Curry refused to call his shooting of late a slump, and Kerr insists nobody can expect the two-time reigning MVP to match his NBA-record 402 3s last season.

“I never really use that word, because a slump to me almost (seems) like you’re losing confidence,” Curry said.

The Warriors returned to the Bay Area following a brutal road stretch – which included losing Kevin Durant to a sprained left knee – and barely bounced back to avoid their first four-game losing streak since Feb. 26, 2013, to March 2, `13.

Golden State moved a half-game ahead of the idle Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference.

KD’S HEALTH

Durant took set shots and moved around the court earlier in the day without his knee brace and soon could add jumpers. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated late this month to determine whether he might return before the regular season concludes.

TIP-INS

76ers: The Sixers shot 56 percent in the first to stay within 35-34. … F Robert Covington started after he missed Sunday’s win at the Lakers with soreness in his right knee. … Philadelphia has lost five straight at Oracle Arena since its last win in Oakland, 104-97, on Dec. 31, 2011.

Warriors: Green became the 11th player in franchise history with 400 blocked shots. He moved past Andrew Bogut for 10th place on the franchise list. … The Warriors are 11-1 at home vs. the Eastern Conference with three in a row against the East at Oracle this week. … Curry, playing on his birthday for the fourth straight year, has scored at least 25 points on his past four birthdays. … Rookie Patrick McCaw made his first shot after going 0 for 12 and missing all six of his 3-point tries in Saturday’s loss at San Antonio.

 

Report: Cavaliers, Larry Sanders seriously discussing contract

AP Photo/Tom Lynn
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Andrew Bogut out.

Larry Sanders in?

After working out for the Cavaliers, Sanders could soon join Cleveland.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Sanders last played in 2014. A run of confrontations and suspensions for drugs led him into a program for anxiety, depression and mood disorders, sidetracking his NBA career.

If Sanders has a better hold on things, he could help Cleveland. The Cavs rely on undersized Tristan Thompson and stretch Channing Frye at center. Sanders – a ferocious shot-blocker and finisher at his peak – could provide an interior-minded alternative.

But how much of his athleticism remains at age 28 and so long removed professional basketball? Can Sanders handle the stress of the NBA and a championship chase? How will his attitude be?

Sanders invites big questions – and brings big potential.

Cavaliers make it official, Andrew Bogut out for rest of season and playoffs

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Andrew Bogut had played a whopping :58 seconds for the Cleveland Cavaliers after being signed as a free agent (he had been traded to Philadephia as part of the Nerlens Noel deal, then waived) when it happened.

Bogut closed out on Miami’s Okaro White at the arc, so White put the ball on the floor and tried to drive past the big man, but White’s knee hit Bogut clean in the shin. Bogut went to the ground grabbing his leg, clearly in a lot of pain and had to be helped to the locker room. The diagnoses came back before the game was over, Bogut had a broken tibia.

Wednesday the Cavaliers announced what was expected, Bogut is done for the regular season and playoffs. From the press release:

Andrew Bogut underwent additional imaging and evaluation at the Cleveland Clinic yesterday related to his fractured left tibia. His tibia has been set and he is undergoing a non-surgical treatment and recovery plan commencing immediately with an extended period of immobilization and healing stimulation. He will not be available to play the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, but is expected to successfully complete his recovery process in advance of training camp for the 2017-18 NBA season.

While not devastating, this is a blow to the Cavaliers heading into the playoffs. Cleveland was counting on him to fill a role for them off the bench providing depth and size, essentially playing Timofey Mozgov role but with better passing and decision making. Now they remain a bit thin on the front line.

Three Things We Learned Monday: Kawhi Leonard outduels James Harden, makes MVP case in Spurs win

Associated Press
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Busy Monday around the NBA, but I want to talk about Luke Cage, the Marvel comics series put on Netflix. I loved the first couple episodes, I was hooked, and then this show went for a walk in the wilderness. The clever writing and banter from the barbershop gave way to cliché or story lines that had the subtlety of an Adam Sandler film. It still was pretty good, I was just disappointed it didn’t fulfill its own promise.

1) Kawhi Leonard outduels James Harden, makes MVP case in Spurs win.
James Harden, one of the co-frontrunners for MVP (along with Russell Westbrook), had 39 points on 20 shots, plus dished out 12 assists. The Spurs defended him well, but he was 7-of-13 on contested shots. He was more than impressive in his leading of the Rocket offense, as he has been all season.

And he was the second best player on the court. Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs to their eighth straight win with 39 points on 18 shots, he was 7-of-10 on contested looks, but he mostly strengthened his MVP case with his clutch play in the final minute when he hit the game winner on one end and blocked Harden on the other.

That is the core of Leonard’s case for the award — he is scoring 26.3 points a game and is the focal point of the fifth best offense in the NBA (the Spurs ranking), but he is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, something the two people considered ahead of him on the list are not near. Leonard is making his MVP case, and it’s a strong one.

2) Andrew Bogut fractures tibia in first couple minutes on court with Cavaliers, likely done for season.
This just sucks. Andrew Bogut was a great pickup for the Cavaliers, someone who could come in and essentially play a better version of the Timofey Mozgov “big off the bench” role for the Cavs in certain matchups, giving them depth and versatility up front. It was a good fit.

Then in the first couple minutes on the court with his new team, this happened.

It was a fluke play. Bogut closed out on Miami’s Okaro White at the arc, and White made the right play putting the ball on the floor and trying to drive past him. However, White’s knee hit Bogut clean in the shin and fractured his leg. Bogut went to the ground clearly in pain.

The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East, but this is the kind of little thing that could matter in the Finals.

3) Clippers seem back, pick up win over Celtics at home. If the Clippers can stay healthy and find their form from the first month of the season, they can make the West playoffs interesting. I’m far from sold they can do it, but they looked closer to that Monday night beating the Celtics than anything we have seen in a while.

Chris Paul‘s brilliance kept the game close in the first half, then midway through the third the Clippers took off and outscored the Celtics 63-35 to close the game and get the win. It was an offensive tour d’ force, with a combination of finding open men rolling hard to the rim, or getting the ball to open shooters who were knocking down shots. Chief among them was Jamal Crawford, who had 19 points in the game but almost all of those during the Clippers run, when he was draining threes.