Warriors have options to guard LeBron James, but he’ll make them work

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source:  As much as anyone has the ability to slow down LeBron James, the Warriors have the ability to slow down LeBron James. They have the personnel and the scheme to counter whatever lineups Cleveland throws at them. The question, and maybe the key to the series, is whether the Warriors’ variety of weapons is enough to overcome the sheer will and power of James, whose presence alone can neutralize teams that, on paper, seem to have enough to stop him.

Golden State doesn’t have that singularly brilliant perimeter stopper that has allowed other teams to successfully limit James, the way Jimmy Butler was in the second round or Kawhi Leonard was in last year’s Finals. There’s no marquee matchup on the defensive end for James, no single nemesis. But the Warriors have such a well-rounded defensive attack that there are at least four different players in their rotation who can more than hold their own.

Harrison Barnes will likely get the first crack at defending James, with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala getting some time on him as well. If Golden State can get away with keeping Barnes on James for stretches, that gives Green the opportunity to battle with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov in the paint. Having that versatility is going to be crucial for the Warriors, given Thompson’s dominance on the glass. Green is the player most suited to defending James, but the Warriors have other players they can at least throw at him, so Steve Kerr will probably avoid using him as long as he can, to use him elsewhere.

The problem with defending James is that there are no shots you want to give him. He hasn’t been shooting well at all in the playoffs so far, so theoretically, the Warriors will want to give him plenty of open jumpers if it means not letting him get to the rim. The problem with this is that giving LeBron James open shots of any kind is just asking him to make you pay, no matter how he’s shooting at the moment, because of who he is.

The Warriors’ best-case scenario is that James’ jumper continues to be off. Even then, it hasn’t stopped him from dominating throughout the playoffs. He’s still been able to overpower defenders both with his own offense and with his still-elite playmaking skills. If the jumper starts falling again, that just makes him even harder to defend.

When the Cavs go small, with James at power forward and Tristan Thompson at center, Green will see the bulk of the time on him. Green’s success guarding James could be the deciding factor in the series — he has the smarts and the instincts, but James can overpower him. If Green sees extended time on James, especially if he plays him one-on-one, James will look to get him in foul trouble, and taking Green out of the game for an extended stretch would be bad news for the Warriors.

Another advantage the Warriors have is the ability to tire James out on the defensive end. Beyond him and Iman Shumpert, Cleveland’s defensive personnel is shaky, especially on the perimeter. James will see some time on Stephen Curry, since he always guards the other team’s best player. If Curry can make James chase him around the three-point line, it will go a long way. Klay Thompson can do the same thing if James gets switched onto him. There are no weak links in the Warriors’ offense, so no matter who James is guarding, they’re going to make him work. If they can get him in foul trouble, so much the better.

For the last five-plus years, James has been an unsolvable riddle for most of his opponents. The Spurs managed to neutralize him last season with Leonard’s otherworldly coverage and a smart team defensive scheme. Golden State has a similarly sound system and plenty of personnel to stop him. The question as always with James is, will it matter?

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Watch Dwyane Wade have his number retired by Heat

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Dwyane Wade is the greatest Miami Heat player ever.

He was at the heart of every championship the Heat won, he was active and beloved in the community, he was the face of the franchise.

Now his legacy is forever part of the American Airlines Arena — the Heat have retired his number.

Wade is a three-time champion, and 8-time All-NBA player, a 13-time All-Star, and a Finals MVP who averaged 22 points a game over his 16 year NBA career.

Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.

Kings return to Staples Center, beat Clippers for second time in a month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kent Bazemore scored a season-high 23 points, Bogdan Bogdanovic added 20 and the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Clippers on the road for the second time in less than a month, winning 112-103 on Saturday.

De’Aaron Fox had 20 points and eight assists for the surging Kings. They have won two straight out of the All-Star break and eight of 12 overall.

Sacramento blew a 14-point lead in the second half to a Clippers lineup missing injured stars Paul George and Patrick Beverley. But the Kings then shut out Kawhi Leonard and the Clips for more than five straight minutes down the stretch, making a decisive 10-0 run capped by Harry Giles’ percussive dunk with 58 seconds left.

Leonard scored 31 points in his return from his MVP performance in Chicago, but the Clippers returned from the All-Star break with their first three-game losing streak of the season. Lou Williams added 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacramento had a big lead late in the third quarter, but the Clippers took their first lead of the day on Harrell’s leap-and-lean bucket with 8:30 to play.

The Kings reclaimed the lead on Harry Giles’ putback score with 4:17 left, and Bogdanovic hit a clutch 3-pointer two minutes later.

With the Clippers comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, George and Beverley are both getting extra time off to rest persistent injuries.

Reggie Jackson scored eight points in his Clippers debut two days after the Pistons bought him out, while Marcus Morris had six points and five turnovers in 32 minutes in his home debut nearly two weeks after the Clippers acquired him in a three-way trade.

With George and Beverley sidelined, Clippers coach Doc Rivers used his 28th starting lineup in 56 games, putting newcomers Morris and Jackson in the mix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these unfamiliar Clippers returned from eight days off and missed 13 of their first 14 shots on their way to a 4-for-24 first quarter with five turnovers.

Sacramento wasn’t much better, but Bazemore scored 15 points in the first half. Los Angeles had more turnovers than field goals until late in the half, but Jackson’s first basket for the Clippers was a 3-pointer in the final second before halftime.