Kurt Helin

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, left, and Kyrie Irving celebrate late in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Cleveland.  The Cavaliers won 113-104. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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Cavaliers making most of long break between playoff rounds

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Kyrie Irving‘s freakish knee injury in the NBA Finals last year taught him a valuable lesson about what it takes to get through a postseason.

“A lot of luck,” he said.

One year after medical misfortune sabotaged their title hopes, the Cavaliers, unlike the Golden State Warriors, are relatively healthy as they wait to find out if they’ll play Boston or Atlanta in the second round. Cleveland came out of its first-round sweep of Detroit in good shape, and the Cavs should be close to 100 percent when they open their series against either the Celtics of Hawks next week.

On Wednesday, the Cavs practiced for the first time since purging the youthful Pistons, who lacked the muscle and mettle to beat the defending Eastern Conference champions. Following their workout, LeBron James and the Cavs stretched as a group and Irving stayed on the floor afterward to get in some extra outside shooting and free throws.

Guard J.R. Smith, who made 17 3-pointers against the Pistons, did not practice after hurting his groin during the first half of Sunday’s Game 4 win but Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the injury is not serious.

All of the Cavs should benefit from the eight-day break between games, but Lue said it’s vital to manage the time wisely.

“We played very well and now just having to try to gauge between the two of not doing too much but making sure we do enough,” said Lue, who made some sound decisions in his first playoff series.

And while they wait for the Hawks or Celtics, the Cavs, who had breaks of eight and nine days during the postseason last year, are keeping an eye on all the series still going on while counting their blessings for emerging from a physical, four-game series intact.

They weren’t so fortunate a year ago in the first round, when Kevin Love dislocated his left shoulder, an injury that became more devastating when Irving shattered his kneecap in Game 2 of the Finals.

Because he and the Cavs have experienced that postseason pain, Irving has empathy for the injuries sustained by Warriors superstar Stephen Curry and Los Angeles All-Star guard Chris Paul. Curry is expected to miss at least two weeks with a sprained right knee while Paul broke his right hand and could miss the rest of the postseason along with Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who is done because of a leg injury.

“I’m watching TV and I’m seeing CP come out and you could tell he’s really frustrated, and Steph goes down on a freakish play that could have happened to anyone,” Irving said. “Definitely you’ve got to empathize with those guys. But at the end of the day they still have other guys in that locker room that have to pick up the pieces and they have to figure it out. It’s just part of the playoffs.”

It’s the part that can’t be planned for, but the Cavs aren’t viewing those injuries as giving them any clearer path to a championship.

They know too much can happen.

But following a sometimes worrying and inconsistent regular season, the Cavs are meshing better than they have in months. Lue has been encouraged by the play of Cleveland’s Big 3 – James, Irving and Kevin Love – who combined to average 69.1 points against the Pistons, and how his team is communicating and bonding. The Cavs are connected.

“We’re coming together at the right time,” Lue said. “It’s great to feel that way. We mentioned it in a couple of the press conferences: we never hung our head. We fought through adversity. We were down three or four times in those games and guys just kept playing. We never wavered. We just stuck with it.

“That’s what you like to see. Everyone’s enjoying it in the moment. We’re in a great place right now.”

Lue also knows a rolled ankle or slip on a wet spot can change everything.

“The most important thing in the playoffs is staying healthy,” he said. “The level of intensity picks up. Guys are playing harder, competing harder. Guys are playing more minutes now. Injuries are always very important. If you can get through that first series, which was a tough and physical series for us, with no one being injured, it’s good for us.”

Report: Kings near deal to hire Pistons executive Ken Catanella as assistant GM

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Some awkward moves last summer had people around the league questioning just how much Vlade Divac knew about the NBA’s CBA and complex salary cap rules, or even if he understood how to conduct a trade (he got fleeced by the Sixers in a deal). Owner Vivek Ranadive trusts Divac and wants to keep him as the ultimate direction setter and decision maker, but wants a more experienced hand under him who knows the cap and just how the business end of the basketball side of the operation should work.

Enter Ken Catanella.

The assistant GM of the Detroit Pistons is deep in talks with the Kings, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Kings were drawn to Catanella’s versatile background in their search for a seasoned front office executive to work under vice president and general manager Vlade Divac.

Catanella joined the Pistons for the 2011-12 season as director of basketball operations and was promoted to assistant general manager in 2014-15. In his previous two stops, Catanella worked with a focus in analytics in the league office and with the Nets.

Sources say Mike Bratz will remain with the club as adviser to the GM and director of scouting. He has developed a strong rapport with Divac since Divac returned to the organization last ‎season.

The Kings had been rumored to be close to hiring David Morway, formerly with the Bucks and Pacers, for that role, but talks fell apart.

Catanella is respected around the league and would be a good fit. This is a guy who has a good balance of understanding both analytics and traditional scouting, plus he’s a guy with a good grasp of the cap and its ramifications. He would be a fantastic fit for the role the Kings are trying to fill.

Let’s just hope they listen to him.

 

New coach Brooks: Focus is on Wizards players, not Durant

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington Wizards can’t promise hiring Scott Brooks as coach will lead to Kevin Durant signing as a free agent, but it doesn’t hurt.

The former Oklahoma City Thunder coach side-stepped the topic of bringing Durant to Washington when he was introduced Wednesday. General manager Ernie Grunfeld said Brooks is in Washington to coach the current players.

That includes All-Star point guard John Wall, who Brooks says has “another level” to his game. Even if the Durant doesn’t become a Wizard, Brooks’ relationship with Wall and his teammates will be crucial to his success after late-season issues with his predecessor, Randy Wittman.

Owner Ted Leonsis says Brooks is a “players’ coach in the new NBA.” As the Wizards seek to be a free agent destination, Brooks is another selling point.

Kobe Bryant goes on Ellen show, takes part in hidden camera prank

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant tosses the ball to the other end of the court in the closing seconds of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Kobe Bryant showed off his sense of humor and his smile a lot more during his final farewell tour than he seemed to in his 19 NBA seasons prior to that.

That Kobe was on display as he swung by the Ellen Show, where the hoops star took part in a hidden camera prank on the esthetician, with Kobe telling the poor old lady he sweats. A lot.

If you want to see Kobe talking about Shaq, his final game, and his plans for the future, here’s the rest of his Ellen interview.

Report: James Harden to have role in picking new Rockets coach, Howard will not

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 18:   Dwight Howard #12 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets wait on the court against the Dallas Mavericks during Game One in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs on April 18, 2015 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Wednesday night likely the end of the Houston Rockets’ season. It’s possible the pull the upset on Golden State just as Jason Terry has predicted, but that’s about as likely as Terry scoring 37 points to lead that charge.

With the season over, there will be significant changes in Houston. Dwight Howard is expected to opt out, and the Rockets will wave goodbye as he goes to test the free agent market. The Rockets also have to think about the coaching position —J.B. Bickerstaff was put in an impossible situation as the interim coach, but the Rockets are expected to conduct a broad search that will include current favorite Jeff Van Gundy.

Calvin Watkins details it for ESPN.

(Rockets’ owner Leslie) Alexander and (GM Daryl) Morey believe that Harden will play a role in helping to hire a coach and potentially sign free agents. Howard is not expected to have a role. It’s expected that he will become a free agent and seek a new team. Orlando, Milwaukee, Portland and Charlotte are the favorites.

Watkins talks about how Howard’s carefree personality that rubbed Kobe Bryant the wrong way a few years back rubbed James Harden the same way. Harden is not the leader that Kobe was, and Howard seemed to be frozen out of the offense and the locker room. Howard, for his part, was frustrated with the lack of respect he thought he deserved from Harden.

The team chemistry was bad from those two on down.

The Rockets have talent, this is not going to be a slow turnaround with the right coach and just a couple good free agent signings. Harden will have to lead both those recruiting efforts and those changes in play on the court — he has to prove he can lead.

What kind of money and how many years Dwight Howard can find on the open market remains one of the most interesting things to watch this summer in the NBA.