How do the Cavaliers defend Stephen Curry?

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In each three of their playoff series so far, the Cavaliers allowed more points from a point guard than anyone else. Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague have all bested their season scoring averages against Cleveland.

Now, the Cavaliers face the NBA’s best point guard and reigning MVP – Stephen Curry – in the NBA Finals.

How will they slow him down?

“The same way you slow me down,” LeBron James said. “You can’t.”

At least Warriors have several defenders to throw at LeBron – Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala. Cleveland’s roster isn’t nearly as well-suited to contain Curry.

Kyrie Irving said he’d start games on Curry. That’s no easy task for healthy Irving, but Curry can absolutely exploit a hobbled Irving with screen after screen on and off the ball.

Iman Shumpert is the Cavaliers’ best bet on Curry – for both his on-ball perimeter defense and ability to switch on pick-and-rolls. His length can prevent Curry the sliver of space he needs to shoot, and he’s strong enough to handle bigs.

But if Shumpert is on Curry, where does Cleveland hide Irving? Klay Thompson would drag Irving all around the court off the ball, and Harrison Barnes would punish him inside. Remove Irving entirely, and the Cavaliers’ offense suffers.

It’s much easier to play Irving when a Golden State reserve – Andre Iguodala , Shaun Livingston or Leandro Barbosa – is in the game. But Livingston can post up Irving, Barbosa can blow by him, and Iguodala can shoot 3s over him. Irving defending a taller, but stationary, Iguodala is probably the lesser of all evils.

Matthew Dellavedova will also get his turns on Curry. Dellavedova has played good defense throughout the playoffs, but a larger sample raises concerns. Dellavedova will work hard on that end, fighting through screens and getting physical, but his limited athleticism reduces his effectiveness. Curry should eat Dellavedova alive in transition – an area of particular concern for Cleveland.

in this chess match, the Cavaliers should consider whom Curry guards on the other end. Cleveland cross-matching (relative to the defensive matchups Golden State sets) would make it easier for Curry to lose his man on fastbreaks. The Golden State point guard is a terror in transition, hunting open 3s.

Not that he’s easy to stop in halfcourt, either.

Curry doesn’t need much space to shoot, which makes switching on pick-and-rolls an ideal strategy – when possible. Tristan Thompson can probably handle it. Timofey Mozgov probably can’t. LeBron can. Shumpert probably can. Irving probably can’t. Dellavedova might.

That leaves few workable switching combinations – Shumpert-Thompson, Shumpert-LeBron, LeBron-Thompson. At least – if Thompson primarily guards Green and Shumpert primarily guards Curry – Cleveland can switch on Golden State’s favored Curry-Green pick-and-roll.

When Andrew Bogut (guarded by Mozgov) sets a ball screen, the Cavaliers might favor the more conservative approach they’ve shown the second half the season. Curry’s man will try to force him inside the arc, where Mozgov will back off and protect the paint. Curry can drain long 2s, but forcing him into that shot, is a relative win.

LeBron will also have turns in the Curry pick-and-rolls. If Cleveland tries hiding Irving on Barnes or Iguodala, that puts LeBron on Green. So do Cleveland’s small lineups – at least when the Warriors don’t counter with Green at center, which they very well could do.

Long story short, LeBron will be involved in Cleveland’s defense of Curry. LeBron might even directly guard Curry for stretches.

The Cavaliers – especially with LeBron on him – might even try trapping to keep Curry off balance. Curry is a good enough ball-handler and passer to beat those traps, and the Warriors’ other players pass well, which would keep a short-handed defense underneath scrambling.

But at least Cleveland has options for defending Curry. Maybe none of them work, but at least there are options.

In the regular season, the Cavaliers were pretty middling defending point guards. Per 82games, Cleveland was nearly average by both efficiency and volume against opposing point guards:

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But as the playoffs have shown, Cleveland is vulnerable here.

It seemed Teague in particular should have attacked the Cavaliers more. He often found success when he did.

Curry presents a far greater challenge.

Look for the Cavaliers to keep Irving on Curry as much as possible. That might be an infinitesimal amount, but the more they can, the better.

Shumpert is the most obvious candidate to do the heavy lifting once Irving falters. LeBron would do well too, but in anything more than limited stretches, the job gets too taxing for him – especially considering his heavy offensive burden.

The Warriors will drag Mozgov into pick-and-rolls, which he can handle OK, but not as well as Thompson. That might tempt Cleveland to go small more often, which might push Golden State to play small, too. The Warriors’ small lineups are dangerous, but at least they offer a place for Irving to hide on defense.

The Cavaliers plan for containing Curry will trickle down into many other decisions for both teams, but the Cavaliers’ challenge starts there.

It’s a big one.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.