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LeBron James splits Orlando “defense,” throws down huge dunk (VIDEO)

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When LeBron James gets up a head of steam, nobody in the NBA is stopping him from getting to the rim.

He picked up a head of steam against Orlando on this play by sliding inside the guy showing out, and from there the dunk was coming, and nobody was stopping it.

Defense has been lacking from both teams in the first half of this game from both teams, which is keeping the game close.

Stephen Curry says it’s “comical that people were saying I’m having a down year”

Associated Press
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Last season Stephen Curry averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.4 rebounds a game, hit 45.4 percent from three,, with a PER of 31.5, and the Warriors were 22 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court.

This season, Curry is averaging 25.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game, is hitting 40.4 percent from three, with a PER of 24.3, and the Warriors are 15 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

So is Stephen Curry having a down year?

Don’t tell him that. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report asked him the question.

“I think it’s comical that people were saying I’m having a down year,” Curry said. “To go black and white and say I’m not having as good a season as I was having last year based on just five points a game or shooting percentage or whatnot…there are other things that you try to do other than just the eye test to try and help your team win. This year has taught me that, for sure. The accolades and the attention and all that stuff, the hype is cool. But it’s really how you feel about your own game.

 “And I can wake up every day and be like, ‘I know what I’m trying to accomplish; I know I’m going to get better.’ I know when I don’t play well and how mad I get at myself. I know when I do play well and how I want to keep that going. Same approach as I had last year.

“Just five fewer points a game. Who cares?”

Curry unquestionably had to adjust his game to fit with Kevin Durant and that led to some rough patches early in the season, they played next to each other more than with each other. They figured it out, and before Durant went down with a knee injury (he’s expected back this weekend) the Warriors were looking like the team every other team feared before the season. However, Curry is right (earlier in that story) that sometimes narratives get set before Christmas that are hard to break after even if they are not true.

Curry’s numbers this season are impressive — not the superhuman numbers of his previous two seasons, but still incredible. One could make a legitimate case that Curry deserves one of the five spots (the fifth, frankly) on an MVP ballot. As pointed out at ProBasketballTalk earlier today, this is a team that plays at the level of a 36 win team when he is off the court (there’s a lot of noise in that stat, but you get the idea).

So it’s hard to argue he’s having a down year.

And if the Warriors go on to win a title this year, you can call his season whatever you want and Curry will not care.

Yes, Nike has interest in signing Lonzo Ball. No, not at his dad’s suggested price tag.

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And now is the season when shoe companies will try to woo the top players in the NBA draft. Guys going near the top of the lottery such as Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, and Malik Monk will have both Nike and Adidas people talking to them, offering them entry-level deals (even the biggest rookie shoe deals now don’t often cross the $2 million line ).

That includes Lonzo Ball. The guy with the father who said his three sons deserve a $1 billion contract combined. (Lonzo is coming out of UCLA and going pro this season, his brothers are still in high school but committed to UCLA.)

Nike co-founder and power broker Phil Knight was in Glendale, Ariz., for the Final Four and was asked by the USA Today about trying to sign Ball to a shoe deal. But about that $1 billion deal…

If he can get it, get it,’’ Knight said.

But apparently the Balls won’t be getting that $1 billion from Nike.

“It’s a little steep,’’ said Knight, and of Lonzo Ball he added, ““He’s an awfully great player. Yeah, we have an interest.”

Saying Nike has interest in Ball is on the news level of saying Warner Bros. is banking on Wonder Woman this summer — it’s not exactly revelatory. How much Nike might pay compared to Adidas, and all sorts of other deals made in proverbial smoky rooms, will determine where Ball signs.

But like everyone entering the league, if Ball wants to get a signature shoe and get paid, he’s going to have to earn it on the court.

 

Slumping Hawks facing tough week against Celtics, Cavaliers

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ATLANTA (AP) — The playoffs are no longer a certainty for the struggling Atlanta Hawks, whose immediate concern has shifted from postseason seeding to not being pushed out the door.

And after losing nine of their last 11, the challenge just got more difficult.

The Hawks, who have slipped to sixth in the eight-team Eastern Conference playoff standings, will play three games in four days against the conference’s top two teams. They play Boston at home on Thursday night before two games against Cleveland.

It’s a critical stretch for a team that is only one game ahead of seventh-place Chicago and two games ahead of Miami and Indiana, who are tied for eighth.

“Maybe this will be the fight that we have to put up to really get us going,” guard Kent Bazemore said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve got some very tough teams left, some very good opponents.”

All-Star forward Paul Millsap missed seven straight games with left knee synovitis before playing a reserve role in a 91-82 loss at the Nets on Sunday.

Coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap “was OK, not great” against Brooklyn and had a good practice on Tuesday. Millsap said he hopes to play his normal starting role against the Celtics.

Two recent losses to Brooklyn, which has the worst record in the NBA, are not the confidence-boosting games needed for a team now preparing to face the East’s best teams.

“I think for our confidence and for our morale, we have to get these wins,” Millsap said. “We have to get out there and compete, because when we do get to the playoffs we have to be playing pretty good basketball. This is a pretty good test for us. Hopefully we just rise to the occasion.”

Millsap said the playoffs begin now for Atlanta.

“I think we’ve got to see it like that,” Millsap said. “I think we’ve got to prepare ourselves as such.”

After the back-to-back games against Cleveland on Friday and Sunday, the Hawks close the regular season with games against Charlotte and Indiana next week.

Atlanta was without three starters – Millsap, Bazemore (right knee bruise) and Thabo Sefolosha (right groin strain) for a few games. Bazemore has returned but Sefolosha may not play against Boston.

Much is on the line for Budenholzer, who as president of basketball operations made such offseason decisions as giving Bazemore a $70 million deal for four years and center Dwight Howard a three-year contract worth $70.5 million.

“This is the most enthused I’ve seen him in a long, long time,” Bazemore said of the coach. “He wants it just as much as we do. … When you see him get that rage in his eyes, it does something for you.”

Millsap smiled when told of the description of Budenholzer’s “rage” and said “I’ve seen love. It just all depends on how you look at it.”

Budenholzer was amused by his players’ differing insights into his demeanor and said: “It’s way more love. It’s a passion of love.”

The coach said he has “a great group of guys” – even if the ill-timed slump has added unwelcome drama to the close of the regular season.

“I think we were making progress in this past week and then I think Sunday was a little bit of a step back,” he said. “We want to always be making steps forward and making progress.”

As the NBA season winds down, so many races are undecided

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With just over a week left in the NBA regular season, there’s still a ton to be decided before the playoff field is set.

In the East, four spots remain unclaimed. In the West, two are up for grabs. And while some seedings look wrapped up, none are officially clinched.

Want drama? It’s not hard to find.

“To be in competition like this, it’s a privilege,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Monday was a most-needed day for most of the NBA to catch its breath. The league always tries to avoid scheduling games on the day of the NCAA men’s championship game and would have done so this year if a Portland-Minnesota game didn’t have to be postponed because of floor conditions earlier this season.

Things pick up in earnest again Tuesday.

So to get ready for the final nine days of the season, here’s a primer on playoff chases.

TOP OF THE EAST

Boston (50-27)

Cleveland (49-27)

The Celtics host the Cavaliers on Wednesday, with the winner assured of leaving that night with the No. 1 spot in the East standings. If Cleveland wins, it essentially becomes two victories since the defending champions will also own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Boston. … LeBron James got his first ring in 2012 as a No. 2 seed in the East with Miami, so it’s not as if he’ll be deterred even if the Cavs don’t get that top spot. … Boston is trending up, going 9-2 in its past 11 games. The Cavs have nine wins in their past 20 games.

BEST OF THE WEST

Golden State (63-14)

San Antonio (59-17)

The Warriors have won 11 straight, might get Kevin Durant back this weekend and face only one playoff-bound team in the final five games. It’s only a matter of time before Golden State wraps up the No. 1 seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. … San Antonio can’t be caught for No. 2, and coach Gregg Popovich has two full weeks to get his players rested and his rotation ready.

EAST NO. 3

Toronto (47-30)

Washington (46-31)

Toronto took the season series 2-1, so it’s like the Raptors have a two-game lead with five left. But the Raptors play four of their last five on the road, and still don’t have Kyle Lowry back from wrist surgery. … Washington still has to play Miami twice, Detroit and Charlotte, teams very desperate right now to get in. … Both the Raptors and Wizards have wrapped up home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

WEST NO. 3-4-5

Houston (52-25)

Utah (47-30)

Los Angeles Clippers (47-31)

The Rockets’ magic number for clinching the No. 3 spot is 1, and the only mystery is if MVP candidate James Harden will get some rest. … The Jazz are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and now have to hold off the Clippers in order to host Game 1 of the postseason for the first time since 2001, when John Stockton and Karl Malone were still starters in Utah. … The Clippers won the season series against Utah 3-1, big if tiebreakers are needed.

EAST NO. 5

Milwaukee (40-37)

Atlanta (39-38)

Milwaukee’s schedule is brutal with four road games in the final five, including ones at Oklahoma City, Indiana and Boston – teams all playing for something. … Atlanta took the season series 3-0, but the Hawks have a three-game, four-day stretch this week that goes Boston, at Cleveland, Cleveland.

REST OF THE WEST

Oklahoma City (43-33)

Memphis (42-35)

Portland (38-39)

Denver (36-40)

New Orleans (33-44)

The Thunder are in, the Grizzlies are on the brink of getting in, and the No. 6 seed might come down to the winner of the Oklahoma City at Memphis game on Wednesday. … Portland’s six-game winning streak was snapped in Minnesota on Monday, though the Trail Blazers still own the No. 8 spot for now. … Denver still has to go to Houston, plus plays Oklahoma City twice in the final three games. … New Orleans is alive only in the mathematical sense.

EAST NO. 7

Chicago (38-39)

Miami (37-40)

Indiana (37-40)

Charlotte (36-41)

Detroit (35-42)

The Bulls won’t play another playoff team until the playoffs, if they get in. Chicago’s final five games are at New York, at Philadelphia, at Brooklyn, then home for Orlando and home for Brooklyn again. … Miami goes to Charlotte on Wednesday, in an enormous game for both teams. … Indiana’s next two games are against playoff-bound Toronto and Milwaukee, and the Pacers go to Orlando on Saturday to face former coach Frank Vogel. … All five of Charlotte’s remaining opponents are playoff-bound or hoping. … Detroit needs a miracle.

TO THE LOTTERY

New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, Brooklyn, Dallas, Minnesota, Sacramento, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix have been eliminated.