NBA schedule out, here are some news and notes

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The NBA schedule is out and there is a lot to comb through. Here are some things that jumped out to us at first glance, plus the basic details you need to know.

• Games tip-off on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, with five games.

• It is a 66 game season that runs through April 26 (about a week later than normal).

• Game 7 of the NBA finals could be on June 26, again about a week later than normal. (The NBA could not push back farther due to the Olympics, Team USA is expected to open camp July 5.)

• There are 42 sets of back-to-back-to-back games (three games in three nights).

• Miami gets a soft start to the season — 11 out of their first 19 at home and they only leave the Eastern time zone once (against Dallas in the opener).

• The Lakers, on the other hand, open with a back-to-back-to-back (host Bulls, at Kings, home to Jazz). However, they stay west of the Rockies until the middle of January.

• The Lakers are on national television 29 times (counting cable games like NBA TV).

• Miami has one back-to-back-to-back, Feb. 12 to 14.

• Dallas also opens pretty easy early as well with six of their first nine at home and all in the central time zone.

• Over at Daily Thunder they report Oklahoma City has 17 back-to-backs and but only one back-to-back-to-back.

• Oklahoma City gets a soft end to the season — 10 of their last 11 games are against teams that did not make the playoffs last year.

• The league tried to schedule a lot of marquee games. For example the Celtics get the Heat and Bulls both the maximum of four times each.

• Worst schedule stretch of the year goes to the Grizzlies in April — five games in six days starting at the Thunder, home to the Warriors, at Dallas, at Miami, home again to Dallas. Brutal.

• Boston does have an April stretch (13th to 19th) with five games in five different cities and two countries in six days. It’s part of a pattern as Boston spends 18 of its last 27 games on the road.

• Boston has to play 18 of its last 27 games on the road. They also have their first three on the road against the Knicks, Heat and Hornets.

• The Orlando Magic do not come out to Los Angeles to face the Lakers or Clippers this year. So no Dwight Howard in Los Angeles, unless….

• The Bulls circus road trip kicks them out of the United Center from Jan. 29 to Feb. 12, nine straight games. Bulls also start season with seven of first nine on the road.

• The Knicks have three games in four nights in early March and it is harsh: At Boston, at Dallas, at San Antonio.

• Starting Jan. 21 Spurs will spend 13 of 17 games on the road, plus they got two back-to-back-to-backs. The schedule was not nice to the old guys.

• Denver has to play 13 of its last 19 games on the road.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.