Cavs are confident the Finals aren’t over despite loss of Kyrie Irving

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OAKLAND — However anybody wants to spin it, Kyrie Irving’s season-ending knee injury sucked the wind out of what had been shaping up to be a phenomenal NBA Finals. The Cavaliers have dealt with injuries throughout the postseason, and they’ve had very little room for error because of it.

But the Warriors are better, and healthier, than any of the three teams they played in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland was already a longshot in this series. Now, it feels lie a question of whether it will be over in four games or five.

Not that the Cavs are ready to throw in the towel.

“Look, we’ve found a way,” head coach David Blatt said Saturday before practice. “We won a Chicago series without Kevin [Love] and with Kyrie pretty limited and missing a couple of games or missing parts of games. Obviously, in the Atlanta series the same thing with Kev out and Kyrie out for parts of that series. That’s a credit to the work that all the team has done. Certainly LeBron has recognized the need to take even more responsibility and has done it in a great way.”

The Warriors’ coaching staff has anticipated this mentality and hammering into the players how successful the Cavs have been with James on the floor without their other two stars. The key to their success has been smallball lineups with James at power forward and Tristan Thompson at center. But those lineups are highly effective when they’re an option, another look the Cavs can throw at teams. When it’s their only option against a team as versatile as the Warriors, it might be a different story.

“From an analytics standpoint, it’s not a big sample size,” said Cavs GM David Griffin of the lineup data for James-led lineups without Irving or Love. “I think you have to take a little bit of that with a grain of salt because it’s also about match ups and we were really fortunate the teams we played lent themselves to the style we were going to play. Golden State is a totally different animal. If you get to choose, you’ll always choose more talent. But I’m really grateful we’ve got the mentality we have.”source: Getty Images

That mentality already has the team making adjustments. Matthew Dellavedova will start for Irving, because they don’t have many other options. But as good as he’s been in these playoffs, he played an ineffective nine minutes in Game 1 and expecting him to guard Stephen Curry for long stretches is going to be a lot to ask. Still, the Cavs are confident they can make it work.

I guess with Delly in or whoever we may add into the starting lineup, there’s going to be a little more ball movement just because of the guys we have on the court. When we’re moving the ball and we’re sharing it and screening for each other, pinning away, we’re pretty tough to guard. So we’ve made our adjustments. But also, at the same time, if LeBron’s on the block, that’s almost your best bet right there.

The challenge for the Warriors, now, is going to be to keep the same focus now that their opponent’s second-best player is out of the picture. Losing Irving, especially the much-improved version that showed up in Game 1, changes things drastically for Cleveland.

“A lot of people are saying the series is over, but that’s not true,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “This is a team that’s more than capable. They did beat the Atlanta Hawks twice without him, and that was the best team in the East. So you’ve got to respect what the other guys can do. Obviously, Kyrie’s a huge part of their team. He’s one of their best players. But you can’t let your guard down. They’ve still got guys who are more than capable of making plays.”

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”