Golden State vs. Cleveland NBA Finals Game 3 Preview: Five Things to watch

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Two games, two overtimes. Two games that could have gone either way. As a fan, you can’t ask for a more entertaining NBA Finals.

Game 3 Tuesday night is when the real chess match begins. After Game 1 the Warriors didn’t make many adjustments, they thought they had an off night in the opener and would simply hit more shots and play better in Game 2. Didn’t work out that way. With Matthew Dellavedova tracking Stephen Curry, the Cavaliers played better defense, the Warriors got out of rhythm and for a second game in a row everything was played at the Cavaliers pace and style. Now it’s on the Warriors to make adjustments.

Here are five things to look for in Game 5 from Cleveland.

1) Warriors will attack the rim and use that to create space. The Warriors have been here before these playoffs — they were down 2-1 to a physical, grinding Memphis team that had Mike Conley living in the jersey of Curry and taking the team out of its flow. I went back and watched Game 4 from that series and what you saw was Curry and the Warriors start to attack the rim — the were not hunting threes, they went to get their points at the bucket. Didn’t matter if Marc Gasol was there, they went at it, then used that to create space for threes off kick-outs. It worked, the Warriors won and didn’t lose again that series. Expect some of the same here, we already started to see it in late in Game 2 including the game-tying scoop shot.

“I was able to get to the paint a little bit more in the second half,” Curry said. “I didn’t finish many of them, but I was able to get in there and either make a play or try to  especially that last shot down the stretch in overtime  I mean of regulation.”

The Warriors are going to come off the picks and go right at the rim, even if Timofey Mozgov is there. How the Cavaliers handle that and how the Warriors finish around the Cavs bigs will be at the heart of deciding Game 3.

2) Can LeBron continue to control the tempo? Of all the monster numbers LeBron James has put up these Finals — the triple-double in Game 2, the 41.4 usage rate through two games — it has been his controlling of the pace of that been maybe the biggest key. This has been a slow, grinding series because he is comfortable at that pace and his patience with the ball is part of what has taken the Warriors out of their flow. The Cavaliers defense is getting the credit, but LeBron’s offensive tempo combined with the aggressive offensive rebounding of the Cavaliers has stymied the Warriors transition game. It has taken away the easy points. For the Cavaliers to keep winning, this cannot change.

3) Matthew Dellavedova vs. Stephen Curry. This is the matchup that got all the hype — and no doubt Dellavedova did a good job in Game 2.

“I don’t expect to shoot like this.  I’ve got to play better, find better shots and be more in a rhythm throughout the course of the game for us to really assert ourselves as a team,” Curry said after Game 2.

“It had everything to do with Delly,” LeBron said of Game 2. “He just kept a body on Steph.  He made Steph work.  He was spectacular, man, defensively.  We needed everything from him.”

As noted above, expect to see Curry start to attack the paint more off the bounce in Game 3, he’s not going to settle, he’s not going to hesitate. Dellavedova has played great defense all playoffs, that’s not about to change, but the Warriors will put a lot more pressure on him starting Tuesday night.

4) Would somebody knock down a shot. Please. I know both teams are playing good defense, but come on — the Cavaliers won Game 2 shooting 32 percent. J.R. Smith was 5-of-13, Iman Shumpert was 2-of-11, and Tristan Thompson was 0-of-5 and all at pretty close range. It wasn’t just the Cavs end of the court, Curry was 1-of-9 on uncontested looks. At some point during this series one of these teams is going to start knocking down their good looks, right? Right? Both of these games have been griding and ugly. Hopefully, a few more shots fall on Tuesday.

5) Fatigue. LeBron is averaging 48.1 minutes per game while carrying an insane load (41.4 percent usage rate). He admitted after Game 2 it’s getting to him a little.

“Did you see how I walked in (to the press conference)?  I’m feeling it.  I’m feeling it right now for sure,” LeBron said after Game 2. He also said he’ll have a couple days to recover and that he is built for this.

Still, at the end of games he lacks lift, he’s not been quite the same. Other players on the Cavaliers are logging heavy minutes, too, while the Warriors have a little more depth. The games now move to every other day for a few games, after having a week off, then a game, then a couple more days off. Will the fatigue and drain start to catch up to the Cavaliers? Or can they continue to put up these kinds of physical, grinding performances?

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
Photo courtesy College Park Skyhawks
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley calls for NBA to put more politics into sports

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley
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Americans are increasingly inviting progressive politics into sports. Football players kneeling the national anthem are no longer an easy target. Even President Donald Trump has softened his tone on Colin Kaepernick.

So, some Republicans are pushing for MORE politics – their politics – in sports (sometimes under the guise of less politics in sports).

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, like Tennessee U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, has criticized the NBA for its relationship with China. It’s grandstanding while the United States itself has a trade deal with China.

Now, Hawley is objecting to the NBA’s pre-approved list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys.

Hawley press release:

Today Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is sending a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blasting the league’s apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Senator Hawley writes that, as the NBA is now sanctioning political messages, they must stand up for American values and make clear where they stand on China’s human rights abuses.

Senator Hawley writes, “The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor – much like the censorship decisions of the CCP – are themselves statements about your association’s values. If I am right – if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation – your fans deserve to know that is your view. If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write ‘Back the Blue’ on their jerseys. Or ‘Support our Troops.’ Maybe ‘God Bless America.’ What could be more American than that?”

OF COURSE the NBA was going to limit jersey messages to a pre-approved list. The league doesn’t want the pressure of censoring players’ individual choices. Nor does the league want to condone messages that would offend offend customers and jeopardize revenue. Support for Hong Kong protesters would definitely qualify as financially perilous.

The NBA – a business trying to make money – wants to support its employees and appeal to its audience. These relatively benign phrases accomplish those goals.

That doesn’t prevent NBA players from criticizing China. I take NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his word (especially after the Daryl Morey controversy) that the NBA endorses its employees right to speak out.

The NBA just isn’t going to allow players to give just any message through their jerseys.

Some players are understandably bothered by that limitation. But the biggest pushes for change aren’t going to come through multi-billion-dollar corporations. That’s just reality.

Likewise, though Hawley raises legitimate concerns about China’s treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, scolding an American company for legally acting in its best financial interest is… um… certainly a choice for a U.S. Senator.

Also, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski sent a profane two-word response in response to Hawley’s press release.

Wojnarowski:

NBA executive predicts every team will lose money next season

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The NBA is launching an unprecedented and ambitious operation – hosting the rest of its season in a centralized location with frequent testing – because that’s what’s necessary to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What about next season?

Coronavirus will likely remain a danger on Dec. 1, when the league hopes to begin. That threatens fan attendance. Heck, that could undermine teams playing at all in their home markets. All 30 teams, rather than just 22, adds complications.

Even if the season gets off the ground, there will be financial issues.

Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“The truth is, things are changing so fast that, when it comes to next season, the best we can do is put a stake in the ground and make a guess,” an Eastern Conference team president said. “The reality is nobody is probably going to operate in the black next season.

“The only question is how much each of us are going to lose.”

NBA owners love to cry poor. The actual math often reveals a different picture. There are complexities that teams can hide.

Some teams have already cut employees salaries. But some teams are also doing extravagant things like shipping their courts to Disney World for practice:

Still, NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated 40% of league revenue comes from ticket sales and other game-day sources. If teams are ever believable about losing money, it’d be now. Coronavirus has wrecked so many sectors of the economy.

Revenue falling significantly would be felt by players, who – per the Collective Bargaining Agreement – receive about half of Basketball Related Income. (That 50-50 agreement supersedes players’ stated salaries in their contracts.)

It’s undecided how and when players would suffer those losses.

The 2020-21 salary cap could be reduced. But that would put the burden on players – free agents, draft picks – signing new contracts next offseason.

That’s why the salary cap is reportedly expected to remain roughly flat. There are a couple options within that scenario.

Players could have a larger share of their salaries withheld (as they’re doing this season). Then, at the end of the season, owners would return whatever money is necessary to reach the 50-50 split. However, that would reduce players’ spending power during the season.

Or players could collect their usual salaries with an artificially high salary cap. However, that would likely mean they get more than their entitled 50% share and the salary cap would be reduce in future seasons to offset. Current players – some of whom won’t be in the league in future years – would probably love that. Owners likely wouldn’t accept paying players more sooner.

Increased withholding from player salaries is probably the best option. But there’s plenty to decide about the exact withholding amount and how long the money is held. To ensure enough money is withheld, the percentage should initially be fairly high. Then, as the revenue picture becomes clearer, the withholding amount could decrease in future paychecks.

Of course, that assumes the league finds a safe way to play. Which is the biggest challenge.

Report: Wizards’ Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II test positive for coronavirus

Wizards players Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II
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Bradley Beal not playing sunk the Wizards’ for the NBA’s resumption, anyway.

If that and Davis Bertans sitting out weren’t enough, Washington is also without Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II and Garrison Mathews.

Ava Wallace of The Washington Post:

The NBA announced 25 players tested positive from June 23-29. It’s unclear whether Bryant and Payton were among that group or additional positive cases.

It’s also unclear whether Bryant, Payton and Mathews will join the team at Disney World.

Bryant would be a particularly significant loss. His optimism and energy in tough situations are exactly what the Wizards need right now.

With the Nets severely shorthanded and the Magic looking uninspiring, Washington still has a path to the playoffs.