Golden State vs. Cleveland NBA Finals Game 4 preview: Will Warriors finally play with desperation?

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CLEVELAND — Led by LeBron James, the Cavaliers have played all three games of this NBA Finals as if it were a Game 7. They have given it everything — to the point Matthew Dellavedova had to be taken to the hospital after Game 3 due to exhaustion.

Golden State, on the other hand… they are still playing like this is the Western Conference first round. They are not getting to the loose balls, they are not close to outworking the Cavs.

If that doesn’t change Thursday night, Golden State will be down 3-1 to the Cavaliers with the questions of when, not if, they fall.

Here are five things to watch as we head into what is a must-win for the Warriors.

1) Will we see the Stephen Curry from the fourth quarter of Game 3 again? Since the opening tip of Game 1, the Cleveland Cavaliers have played with the energy of a desperate team. Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors largely have not. They have tried to finesse a game being played down in the muck — their pin-downs screens to free up shooters, their dribble hand-offs, have not worked, and they have just looked confused. The Cavaliers have ground any flow, any rhythm out of Warriors.

But in the fourth quarter of Game 3 we finally saw Curry the MVP. Golden State ran him off multiple off-ball picks to create space, they let him run the pick-and-roll with David Lee, and all of it got Curry some looks he felt comfortable enough to knock down. Curry was 5-of-8 from three and had 17 fourth quarter points, and while some of those came with a high degree of difficulty, he was hitting them like he did in the regular season. Golden State believes it has something to build on. If it can replicate some of that, if Curry can get going again, the Warriors will be dangerous.

2) Will LeBron James continue to control the pace? This series has averaged 93.7 possessions per game — seven fewer than the Warriors averaged during the regular season. It is part of the grind that has killed the rhythm of the Warriors’ offense. LeBron James is being patient on offense, working deep into the shot clock and is slowing everything down. Combine that with Tristan Thompson’s offensive rebounding that forces the Warriors to gang rebound rather than leak out, plus just good transition defense with Cavs players getting back, and the Cavaliers have taken away the easy transition buckets on which the Warriors thrive. Golden State will be looking to pick up the pace, but if LeBron and company can continue to control the tempo, it’s advantage Cleveland.

3) Just how tired is Matthew Dellavedova? LeBron? Cleveland’s cult hero and little ball of energy Matthew Dellavedova had to be taken to the hospital and given IVs of fluid after Game 3 due to fatigue. That just adds to the legend of Delly — he gave everything he could, diving on the floor for loose balls until the very end. But that kind of fatigue catches up with a guy. Can he keep chasing Curry off picks for 30 plus minutes and stay in Curry’s jersey as he has? Or is Curry going to find a little space?

Along those same lines, LeBron has admitted his legs have been tired at points. Can he keep playing virtually the entire game, shouldering the load of the entire Cavaliers offense, as he has brilliantly through three games?

4) Does David Lee give Golden State some scoring up front? On offense, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes have been nonexistent — they are 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) over the last two games, and that includes 1-of-10 on threes. Andrew Bogut has floated through games but only impacted them in spots on offense. All through the season when teams loaded up on Curry and Klay Thompson, the front line of the Warriors made teams pay. Cleveland has not be charged a dime. Well, at least until David Lee got minutes late in the game Tuesday, and his threat helped open things up for Curry. Lee will get run again, but he is a defensive liability, and his conditioning is not going to let him play 30+ minutes a night. The Warriors still need Green or Barnes to show up on the offensive end.

5) Who steps up for Cleveland? Every game it’s someone, who will it be this time around? Dellavedova again? Tristan Thompson? Timofey Mozgov? Is it time for the J.R. Smith game? LeBron needs one other guy to step up, and he’s gotten it every game. Who is it this time?

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

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Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.