Kurt Helin

Warriors, Cavaliers both know The Finals can turn quickly

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CLEVELAND — Golden State has won the first two games of the NBA Finals, both of those wins coming by double figures and with a few dominant stretches of basketball in there.

Strange as this sounds, that has the Warriors feeling a bit uneasy.

The champions know exactly how fast a series can change, having just pulled off a mathematically improbable comeback from 3-1 down against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. And even with the odds now stacked high against Cleveland in these NBA Finals, the Warriors say they cannot fall into the trap of thinking this series that resumes with Game 3 on Wednesday night is already over.

“That’s a great analogy, one that we’ve already used,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter what the scores are, doesn’t matter if you win by 25 or lose by 25, it’s one game in the series. And we got blown out twice in a row in OKC, down 3-1, and we were able to come back. We know we’re playing against a great team. They’re coming home. They can change the momentum around with just one win.”

Cleveland hopes he’s right.

The Cavs might be without concussed Kevin Love for Game 3, but they are 7-0 at home in these playoffs – winning by an average of 20.9 points.

“It’s a do-or-die game for us,” Cavaliers forward LeBron James said. “We can’t afford to go down 3-0 to any team, especially a team that’s 73-9 in the regular season and playing the type of basketball they’re playing.”

When the Warriors were on the brink of elimination against the Thunder, history suggested that they had a 3.9 percent chance to win the series – 232 previous NBA teams were down 3-1 in a best-of-seven, and only nine won.

Compared to that, Cleveland’s chances look fabulous.

“We’re not in that bad of shape as they were – 3-1 is worse than 2-0,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And they came back and took it one game at a time, like we have to do.”

Teams that have fallen behind 2-0 in the NBA Finals have rallied to win 9.7 percent of the time, with three of them getting it done in 31 past opportunities. The 1969 Boston Celtics, 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and 2006 Miami Heat all lost the first two games of the finals on the road before winning the title – the Celtics doing so in seven games, the Blazers and Heat getting it done in six.

“History,” Lue said, “is something that’s made to be broken.”

Despite their predicament, the Cavaliers certainly seemed confident and loose on Tuesday.

During the open portion of practice, James was laughing with teammates and tossed up the occasional underhanded 60-footer – reacting with mock disbelief when the low-percentage shot didn’t fall. Point guard Kyrie Irving played a long game of 1-on-1 with Cavs assistant coach James Posey, who was on that Heat team that rallied from 2-0 down in the finals against Dallas and hit a huge shot in the clinching game.

Their thinking is simple: Take care of home court Wednesday and Friday, knot the series and see what happens in a best-of-three.

“When they go on their runs, we have to be able to withstand those punches,” Irving said. “And Game 1 and Game 2, we’ve done it at times. We’ve shown that we’re capable of doing it, but we’re just constantly on our heels.”

That’s what the Warriors do against everyone, not just the Cavs.

Cleveland’s biggest lead in the series so far is six points. Golden State’s is 33. In four games this season, including the two regular-season matchups, the Warriors have held the lead for a staggering 87 percent of the time. And in last year’s finals, Golden State won twice in Cleveland – more than proving that it can handle the Cavs’ raucous home crowd.

“We know they’re going to make adjustments,” Warriors star and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry said. “We know they’re going to come out with a sense of urgency in the moment. But we need to have that same mentality, because for what’s at stake, if we’re able to go up 3-0, that is a great position to be in. That is the opportunity in front of us.”

And no one has ever come back in an NBA series from 3-0 down, either.

“We can’t relax,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “No time to relax.”

As expected, Jeremy Lin opts out of deal with Hornets to become free agent

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After a rough season with the Lakers had depressed his value, the Charlotte Hornets got a steal picking up Jeremy Lin for the bi-annual exception last season of $2.2 million. He played a sixth-man role for the Hornets, and while his stats remained similar to the season before — 11.7 points and three assists per game — he had the ball in his hands more than in Houston or Los Angeles, which allowed him to play to his strengths of attacking and creating. He just looked more comfortable.

Which was going to mean a pay raise.

As he said he would do, Lin has opted out to become a free agent, reports Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The question is how much money will Lin get on the open market this summer, a time when a lot of teams will have cash burning a hole in their pocket due to the influx of money from the new television deal spiking the salary cap by $22 million.

Lin could find himself making starter-level money, which in the new NBA is north of $10 million a season. He has said he would like to return to the Hornets, but if he gets paid in that range it will be tough for Charlotte to keep him. The Hornets top priority is re-signing Nicolas Batum, which will be a max or near max deal. After that, the Hornets may only have about $12 million in cap space to resign Lin, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson (the Hornets only have early-Bird rights on Lin, which is not going to cut it, so they need to use cap space to sign him).

There will be teams interested, including potentially Houston where he would reunite with coach Mike D’Antoni. Teams that target Mike Conley and strike out will turn to Lin and Rajon Rondo as their next targets. Teams such as Dallas or New Orleans could be fits.

Wherever he lands up, opting out was the right move for Lin.

Former 12-year NBA center, current 76ers assistant Sean Rooks dies at 46

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Sean Rooks, the 6’10” forward who had played for a dozen years in the NBA then most recently had been a player development specialist with the Philadephia 76ers, has unexpectedly passed away at the age of 46.

Rooks had interviewed earlier on Tuesday to join Jeff Hornacek’s new staff in New York, and was out having dinner in Philadephia when he collapsed in a restaurant, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Rooks had worked for the Sixers the past two seasons.

The Sixers released this statement on behalf of his mother, Deborah Brown:

“It is with deep sadness and overwhelming grief that we mourn the sudden loss of my son, Sean. Our family asks that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this incredibly difficult time.”

Rooks was well liked by players, and several took to social media to express their condolences and feelings.

Rooks grew up in the Fontana area east of Los Angeles in Southern California, then went on to play four years in college at Arizona. He was drafted in the second round by the Mavericks, and also went on to play for the Timberwolves, Lakers, Clippers, Hawks, Hornets, and Magic.

As a coach he had spent five seasons in the NBA D-League and was working his way up the ladder.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Thompson acknowledges Zika concern, but wants to play in Rio

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CLEVELAND — Not even Zika worries will deter Klay Thompson from playing in the Olympics if asked.

The Golden State guard, while he and other potential Olympians in these NBA Finals acknowledged having some concerns about the Zika virus, made clear Tuesday he would accept any invitation that comes his way to represent USA Basketball at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“It would be an honor to play for Team USA,” Thompson said. “I’d love to go to Brazil.”

His insistence that he wants to play came one day after his Warriors teammate Stephen Curry announced he won’t, citing needs to rest and heal as his primary reasons.

The Cleveland-Golden State finals matchup is loaded with Olympic prospects. Curry won’t be going, but as many as seven other players in the series may still represent the U.S. this summer – and there’s likely international Olympians like Australian teammates Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova, plus Nigeria’s Festus Ezeli.

Warriors forward Draymond Green was downright emphatic about his hope to be there.

“Hell, yeah,” Green said when asked if he wants to play, dragging his words out for theatrics.

Golden State’s Harrison Barnes also said he wants to go, and 2012 gold medalist Andre Iguodala also hopes to play – but indicated he isn’t sure to make the cut.

“I’m on the list,” Iguodala said, “but I think I’m the No. 14 pick.”

There are 12 slots on the U.S. roster.

Cleveland star and three-time Olympian LeBron James hasn’t decided about playing in Rio yet, part of the reason why USA Basketball is working on two different roster scenarios in advance of the anticipated team announcement later this month. Kevin Love remains a possibility, and Kyrie Irving said he will decide after the finals.

Irving said the Cavs are in a tough series with the Warriors, “so I haven’t really thought about it.”

What many are thinking about, however, is Zika and its risks.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus and although there have been outbreaks across other countries, Brazil has been hit hard. Zika is known to cause severe birth defects, part of the reason NBC “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie – who is pregnant – said Tuesday she will not accompany the network’s team to Brazil for the Olympics.

U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen has already cited Zika concerns as his reasons for dropping out from Olympic consideration, and the World Health Organization is putting together an emergency committee to study the virus and examine risks of the games behind held in Brazil.

Bogut can’t stand getting shots, so him already getting several as precautions for visiting Brazil shows how much he wants to represent Australia.

“Just being bitten by a mosquito and then come down with something is a pretty scary prospect,” Bogut said. “I’ve had my yellow fever shot already, which is a battle in itself. And then you’ve got malaria and you’ve got Zika. So being able to get that from an insect is pretty scary stuff.”

He then half-seriously detailed a precaution option.

“Might have to buy a hazmat outfit to arrive,” he said.

Curry said Zika fears didn’t factor into his decision. He wants to use the time off this summer to prepare for next season, the rigors of two years capped by NBA Finals appearances taking a toll.

“As his coach, I’m pleased,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He needs rest. … He weighed all the dynamics and realized that a summer of rest would be the best thing for him long-term. And I think that’s the wise choice.”

But Thompson said he thinks a couple weeks off between the finals and Olympic preparations will be enough for him.

“The best thing about Team USA, no one’s logging heavy minutes,” Thompson said.

Thompson acknowledged Zika worries him somewhat – “mosquitoes love me,” he quipped – but not enough to deter him from wanting to play.

“It’s no joking matter,” Thompson said. “It’s a little concerning. But at the same time, you’ve just got to take the precautionary steps to avoid it.”

 

UPDATE: Likely No. 1 pick Ben Simmons has signed with Nike

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While the Philadelphia 76ers refuse to admit it officially, that they are going to use the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft to take LSU’s Ben Simmons is about as big a secret as Bruce Wayne being Batman.

Since he knows where he is going to land (and the size of the market), he sat down and hammered out a shoe deal with Nike, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and later confirmed by Simmons himself.

Adidas reportedly had a larger original offer was around $10 million plus incentives, and that was eventually increased to where it could be worth $17 million if he hit those targets, reports Nick DePaula of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports. Nike’s offer ended up at around $12 million for five years.

Rookie shoe deals are sort of like other rookie contracts — it’s a lot of money to you and me, it’s a lot more money than these players have ever seen, but if they perform well the real money is in the next contract. Simmons has elite player potential, but there are questions about his motor and drive to get better. If he’s got that, Nike will have another star in the fold.