Steve Nash preaches patience as Suns work to correct issues

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The Suns dropped their final preseason game on Thursday, and unfortunately for them, the result was a familiar one. The Nuggets cruised to a second straight blowout victory over Phoenix, but this one was far more humbling for the Suns, considering that Nene, Al Harrington, and Ty Lawson all sat this one out due to minor injury concerns.

That meant that the 110-85 final came in a game where Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer, and DeMarre Carroll were the ones doing the damage offensively for Denver. And, the Nuggets were able to consistently get easy baskets at the rim to the tune of 54 points in the paint.

Things don’t look great for the Suns heading into the regular season. Besides the defensive concerns — which the team is attempting to address with the help of new assistant coach Elston Turner — Phoenix is without a reliable go-to scorer, which means more work for Steve Nash to do to create offensively, and more pressure on his teammates to convert those opportunities when they are presented.

Nash remains optimistic, however, and reminded us that with the shortened training camp, the lack of results to this point should be somewhat expected.

“We can’t get down, we’ve only been working for 12 days now,” Nash said after Thursday night’s loss. “We’re trying to incorporate some new guys and trying to figure things out.”

The new guys are Ronnie price and Shannon Brown, who seem to have secured the backup point guard and shooting guard positions respectively for now. Sebastian Telfair was also brought in, and will certainly get some opportunity behind Nash at the point guard spot, as well. But Price has outplayed him and has earned those minutes thus far. Rookie Markieff Morris has impressed in his two preseason outings, generally playing well offensively while doing an above-average job on the boards. But being a rookie, he still needs to learn how to defend at the NBA level, as evidenced by the fact that he fouled out of both preseason contests.

The makeup of this Suns team is different than in seasons past, with far less star power that jumps off the page when looking up and down the roster. That doesn’t mean the team can’t find some measure of success, but it will have to come from hard work and execution rather than raw talent.

“We’re not an ultra-talented team,” Nash said. “We’ve got to work hard, we’ve got to play with a fire, and we’ve got to have great cohesion and chemistry, and those are things that take time. We can play hard right away, we can play hard every night, but to find that cohesion to get really effective and efficient at both ends of the floor, it can take time.”

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

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.