Kurt Helin

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In surprise move, Warriors to start Festus Ezeli, bring Andre Iguodala off bench in Game 7


OAKLAND — After he moved through the second half of Game 6 like an old man, Andre Iguodala has been receiving treatment on his back, which was racked with spasms during Thursday night’s contest. A game he started.

It seems to have kept him out of the start of Game 7.

Steve Kerr is starting Festus Ezeli at center and bringing Iguodala off the bench for Game 7 — no death lineup from the opening start. The rest of the starters remain the same: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green.

Kerr can argue that Ezeli brings some of the shot blocking and paint protection to open the game that they lack with Andrew Bogut out since his knee injury in Game 5. If Ezeli plays well, that is true, but he was repeatedly torched by the Cavaliers in Game 6. And something the Warriors don’t talk a lot about, Ezeli has plenty of bumps and bruises of his own right now.

This is likely about keeping Iguodala’s minutes in check early, so that he can play more late as needed. Iguodala is the best defender the Warriors have on LeBron James. If he can’t do it, the job falls to Green, with some Barnes, but that’s a step back and messes with other player rotations.

The Cavaliers starting five remains the same: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson.

Nervous? Luke Walton did yoga, Tyronn Lue napped before Game 7

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OAKLAND — Professional athletes are creatures of routine. That even extends to Game 7 of the NBA Finals — the biggest stage in basketball. Guys don’t mess with their routine.

“I mean, it’s a special day, but you try to keep the same routine,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So Luke (Walton) and I went to yoga like we always do every game day. You probably didn’t know that, did you? I’m guessing Bill Belichick and his staff don’t do that. Just throwing that out there.”

Sixty minutes of Bikram Yoga to answer your question.

“Pregame we have breakfast, and then we had a walkthrough in the ballroom, and I went back and took my nap like I always do,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said with a smile on his face.

The question is will routine and familiarity help the key players in Game 7 ward off nerves.

For Kerr, the specific question is can he get through to wingman Harrison Barnes, who has struggled with his shot the last two games and needs to find it quickly in Game 7 or he will be watching a lot of it from the bench (and Kerr’s options to replace him lack Barnes’ versatility).

“The biggest thing is to realize in the Playoffs and especially The Finals the spotlight is big and there are moments for everybody where things don’t go great and you have to fight through that. And just be solid,” Kerr said of his efforts to coach Barnes and provide advice the past 48 hours. “Go out there and play your game, be aggressive. And whatever happens, happens. But it’s very easy in The Finals, especially, to get caught up in all of that, when the reality is what’s important is to just move on to the next game and lock in and do your best.”

Lue just hopes the routine of the last two games — when LeBron James dominated and the Cavaliers’ won — continues one more day.

“I just think we’re ready and prepared,” Lue said. “I thought the last two games guys were really locked into what we’re trying to do defensively and offensively and executing at a high level. So Game 7 won’t be any different. We have to continue to do the same thing tonight, and they’re ready for this moment.”

Three keys to watch in Game 7 between Cavaliers, Warriors

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OAKLAND — Game 7s are unpredictable.

It’s one game and odd, random things can happen for a night as they often do in one basketball game. Leandro Barbosa or J.R. Smith could be the best player — or at least the most crucial player — for a night. Call it small sample size theater, call it a reaction to intense pressure, call it the will of God, call it whatever you want, the beauty of a Game 7 is that anything can happen.

However, after seven games of strategy, of ups and downs, we know the strategies both teams are trying to employ. We know what they want to do, and while there may be last-second tweaks, we largely know how the other side wants to counter them. It comes down to execution.

Here are three questions, and how they are answered will go a long way to determining who wins.

1) Is LeBron James‘ jumper falling? 
We have all rightfully marveled at LeBron’s brilliant back-to-back games, he has reasserted his claim for best player on the planet in lifting up the Cavaliers to force this Game 7. But the unsung part of this has been his jump shot — it was so bad the first four games that the Warriors were going under picks, playing off him and daring him to shoot jumpers. In the last two games, he is 7-of-14 from three. When his jump shot is falling and defenders have to come out and defend him, it opens up room to drive, it opens up passing lanes for one of the most gifted passers in the game. If LeBron hits a couple of threes in the first quarter, Warriors fans should be worried.

2) Is Harrison Barnes (or Shaun Livingston, or Leandro Barbosa, or anyone not named Curry or Thompson) hitting their jump shots? It can’t just be the Stephen Curry show. At one point during Game 6 he was 4-of-8 from three, the rest of the Warriors were 1-of-18. Eventually Klay Thompson hit a few, but by then the damage was done and the Warriors could not get out of the hole. Golden State needs Harrison Barnes, and he is in such a shooting slump that the Cavaliers are giving him the Tony Allen treatment — they are not even closing out on him anymore. Barnes is going to get chances early in Game 7, and he’s either going to hit them or be on the bench quickly.

“Shot felt good today,” Barnes said after practice Saturday. “Came in last night and did some work as well. I feel good coming into the game.”

If his jumper isn’t falling Steve Kerr will have a quick hook, then it will be up to Barnes’ replacement to hit those shots. The Warriors got 73 wins based on depth — that depth needs to show up Sunday night.

3) How do the Warriors handle the Cavaliers hunting out Curry and attacking defensive mismatches? Cleveland the last couple games has executed what coach Tyronn Lue has preached since the series tipped off — if the Warriors switch everything, find the mismatch and beat it. The goal the last couple games has been to get Curry switched defensively onto LeBron or Tristan Thompson, then go right at him. Curry is not a bad defender, but he is the guy teams most want to attack out of the Warriors starters — especially if they can get a bigger, stronger guy on him that can back Curry down and overpower him. The result is foul trouble for Curry, or he gets worn down a little physically. Does Kerr have one final adjustment to remedy this (like maybe not switching those picks)? What the Cavaliers have done the past couple of games has worked well, it’s up to the Warriors to find a counter.

Report: Possible first-round pick Damian Jones of Vanderbilt undergoes surgery on torn pectoral

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Damian Jones is a player on the bubble of being drafted in the first round Thursday — he is expected to go late first or early second (we have him going 23rd to Charlotte in our mock draft). That’s a huge distinction — first-round players get guaranteed contracts (they get paid for at least two seasons), second rounders have zero guarantees.

This is not going to help his cause.

Jones has had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, reports Jonathan Givony of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Jones… suffered the chest injury June 11 while bench-pressing 185 pounds during a workout with the Orlando Magic, league sources said. He is expected to make a full recovery by the start of the NBA season.

Jones is home recovering in Baton Rouge, La. He will not compete in the NBA Summer League, but could be ready to return late in training camp.

Jones may still go in the first round to a team willing to be patient.

Jones certainly passes the eye test of being an NBA center — 7-feet tall, long wingspan, 244 pounds, and he showed off a 36-inch vertical at the combine. He shows potential as a scorer with his back to the basket on the block, but the real hope is he can develop into a rim-protecting force inside. Jones, once healthy, has a lot of potential for a team willing to be patient in developing him.

Crucible of Game 7 will help shape legacies of LeBron James, Stephen Curry

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LeBron James had walked into the media interview room at Oracle Arena before practice Saturday wearing a hat with a picture Kermit the Frog sipping tea — the “that’s none of my business” meme — and was asked if Sunday’s NBA Finals Game 7 would define his legacy. He had a one-word answer. The reporter tried to follow up with, “You don’t see it that way?”


In the social media/sports talk radio hot take world we live in now, there is a desire to define a player’s legacy as it happens, rather than sit back and wait until his career is over (or nearly over) to look back at the body of work. Nobody has dealt with this like LeBron. Although the one person who might relate is Stephen Curry, he and his Warriors have are dealing with the same thing.

LeBron is right. The outcome of this unpredictable Game 7 Sunday night will not define his legacy — the man already has two titles, four NBA MVPs, two gold medals, is high on the list of impressive NBA scoring and win records, and is arguably the most physically gifted player ever to play the game. For that matter, Curry has back-to-back MVPs, a ring, is considered the best shooter the game has ever seen, and regardless of what happens Sunday someday we’ll show our kids and grandkids YouTube clips (or wherever we show videos then) of Curry’s step-back 28-foot threes with amazement.

However, the crucible of Game 7 will help shape the legacies of both men and both teams.

No Game 7 in recent memory has had these kinds of legacy implications. What we think of at least one of these men will be different after Sunday night.

For LeBron it would bring a new level of validation — he bet part of his legacy on bringing a championship to Cleveland, the first one that city had seen since Lyndon B. Johnson was president, the first Ford Mustang rolled off an assembly line, and a young fighter named Muhammad Ali had just taken the heavyweight boxing crown from Sonny Liston (and changed his name from Cassius Clay). LeBron would have brought the promise of rings anywhere he went, but going home to Cleveland — for a variety of reasons — he has staked part of his legacy on ending the city’s title drought. He tells us in his Samsung ads it’s all about winning one for The ‘Land.

And he would do it in spectacular fashion — dominating on both ends of the court to lead the first 3-1 comeback in NBA Finals history. He would add another Finals MVP to the resume (he should do that win or lose Sunday). He would do it knocking off the guy in Curry who has stolen the mythical “best player on the planet” belt from him. It’s the kind of performance that should silence critics (but it won’t because LeBron’s haters don’t live in a world of reason or nuance).

One the other side, a win for Curry and the Warriors would bring a different kind of validation — this team desperately wants to be considered one of the all-time greats. They won a title, they won 73 games, and if they win when you and your buddies sit on barstools discussing the greatest NBA teams ever — Jordan’s Bulls, Showtime Lakers, Russell’s Celtics — you will at least have to put this team in the conversation. They have built the perfect team — with the perfect point guard in Curry — for the way the rules are enforced and the game is played today. This is a team that would be very good in any era, but a win gets them in the conversation with the greats — a validation they are very hungry to have. If they lose?

“It’s either win the whole thing or bust for us…” Klay Thompson said after Game 6. “So it would be a great season, but at the same time to us, the players, we’re so competitive, we’d feel like we failed.”

That brings pressure. A lot of pressure.

How teams handle it will go a long way toward determining a winner Sunday night.

“If you don’t feel pressure in a Game 7, you’re probably not human,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said “I told our guys that. Of course they’re going to feel pressure. Of course there’s going to be some anxiety. But how lucky are we to feel that pressure? You could play on a lottery team your whole career and just make a bunch of money and go watch Playoffs every year.”

LeBron approaches it differently.

“You don’t put too much more added pressure on it because it’s a Game 7,” LeBron said. “One thing we all know is it’s the last game of the season, so it’s not like you’re preserving any energy, be out there saying, okay, I’ve got to keep my body ready for the next game. There’s no next game. So look forward to the challenge. I mean, it’s a Game 7, but I don’t put too much more added pressure on it.”

There is no right or wrong approach, only what works for that player, that team.

But only one team will emerge from that crucible on Sunday night with the chance to crow about their legacy.