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.

Referee bumps into waitress, tray of drinks spilled on court during Blazers game

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Katy Stevens has been a courtside server at Trail Blazers games for more than a decade — but this year has been unlike any other.

Back in December, LeBron James knocked her over, then helped her back up.

Then on Friday night, veteran referee Tony Brown backed into her and spilled an entire tray of drinks onto the court.

Let me say, as a guy who waited tables/bartended through college and a little while after — that job is hard. Katy is earning her money, and I felt terrible for her. I was not alone, as NBC Sports Northwest noted.

It was a rough night all the way around in the Moda Center. Portland, without Damian Lillard due to a groin injury, fell to the Pelicans 128-115 in a contest between two teams trying to catch Memphis for the final seed in the West (and the Grizzlies lost to the Lakers Friday).

Watch LeBron James score 32; Anthony Davis’ big second half lift Lakers past Grizzlies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 32 points, Anthony Davis recovered from an early injury scare to get 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers returned from the All-Star break with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Avery Bradley added 14 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who finished strong after blowing most of their 25-point lead accumulated in a superb first half. Davis had 14 points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as Los Angeles improved to 42-12 with its fourth straight win since Feb. 6.

Josh Jackson scored a season-high 20 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost back-to-back games in California after heading into the All-Star break with eight wins in 10. Ja Morant added 17 points as Memphis dropped to 0-2 on its four-game West Coast trip, which matches its longest road stretch of the season.

Davis departed less than two minutes after the opening tip when he bruised his right calf on an opponent’s knee. The All-Star went to the locker room and missed the rest of the first quarter, but returned early in the second before scoring 24 points in the second half.

Although James, Davis and Dwight Howard were busy in Chicago over the break, the Lakers returned with impressive defensive focus across the roster. Los Angeles held Memphis to 15-for-38 shooting and forced 11 turnovers in the first half to jump to a 19-point lead.

The Grizzlies trimmed the lead to four points early in the fourth quarter with a prolonged surge. The Lakers hung on with a series of big plays, including a jaw-dropping rebound dunk by Alex Caruso off a missed free throw by Davis with 6:16 to play.

James clinched it with a driving layup followed by a gorgeous fadeaway jumper with 1:12 left. Davis then hit his second 3-pointer in the final minute.

The Lakers improved to 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season. They meet again in Memphis on Feb. 29.

 

Pilot in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash had FAA reprimand for flying in reduced visibility

Image courtesy Kurt Helin
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a Southern California hillside, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, was reprimanded five years ago for flying without permission into airspace while he had reduced visibility, according to a Federal Aviation Administration enforcement record.

Ara Zobayan was counseled by an FAA investigator after he violated FAA rules by crossing into busy airspace near Los Angeles International Airport on May 11, 2015, according to the record, which was first reported Friday by the Los Angeles Times.

The record doesn’t indicate whether Zobayan was carrying any passengers at the time.

Zobayan, 50, died Jan. 26 when his helicopter plunged at high speed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles. Zobayan had been trying to climb above a cloud layer when the aircraft banked left and plunged 1,200 feet (366 meters) at high speed. There has been speculation that the pilot became disoriented in the foggy weather. The crash remains under investigation.

The crash also killed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with six others. The victims will be honored at a Feb. 24 public memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

At the time, Zaboyan was chief pilot for the charter service Island Express Helicopters Inc.

He was flying for the same company during the 2015 incident.

According to the FAA report, Zobayan’s helicopter was near the Hawthorne, California, airport and heading north when he asked the LAX tower for permission to cross LAX airspace. Zobayan was told that weather conditions didn’t meet the minimum for pilots using visual flight rules — that is, flying by sight.

Zaboyan was asked whether he could maintain “VFR conditions.”

Zaboyan replied that he could “maintain special VFR” — meaning he sought permission to fly by sight in less-than-optimal visibility.

When air traffic control denied the request and told him to stay clear of the area, Zobayan replied that he could “maintain VRF” but during the conversation, the helicopter entered the airspace, according to the record.

Zobayan contacted authorities and his company after the incident and was cooperative. But an FAA investigator faulted him for failing to properly plan and review current weather at LAX, which would have allowed him time to communicate earlier with the tower in order to receive clearance, according to the record.

The report said Zobayan “admitted his error, took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance.”

“There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan,” the report said.

Zobayan was counseled “on operating in Class B airspace, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather, and anticipating required action,” the report said. “He was cooperative and receptive to the counseling.”

Island Express Helicopters Inc, reported that it conducted additional ground and flight training with Zaboyan.

Veteran helicopter pilots were divided over the severity of the FAA violation, the Times reported.

“I don’t know a single pilot out there who hasn’t violated a rule,” Shawn Coyle said. “If that’s the only violation he’s ever had then I would say he’s pretty safe.”

But former Island Express pilot Kurt Deetz said entering LAX airspace without approval can be dangerous because of the possible presence of commercial jets. He also questioned Zaboyan’s communication with air traffic controllers.

“You can’t request special VFR and then they deny you and you say, ‘Oh wait a minute, actually I’m VFR’, ” he told the Times. “That’s not how it works. It shows that perhaps his understanding of special VFR as opposed to VFR was cloudy.”

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.