Golden State and the art of double teaming LeBron James

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OAKLAND — For three games, Golden State’s strategy was to make LeBron James work but make him a shooter — try not to let him rack up assists and get his teammates going. LeBron was single covered — by Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and occasionally others — and the other defenders mostly stayed home. This was moderately effective, LeBron wasn’t efficient, but he was putting up enough points to get the Cavaliers two wins.

In Game 4, the Warriors brought the help. They threw some double teams at LeBron.

However, there is an art to doubling LeBron — he is so gifted as a passer and scorer that if you don’t do it smartly he shreds your defense like Peyton Manning with time in the pocket. The Warriors were smart about it, having the doubles come from various areas and odd angles, plus at different times.

You’ve got to be smart about it because you know how smart he is in reading situations and being able to pick you apart with his drives and his court vision,” Stephen Curry said. “But once  definitely, once he’s committed to a move, he maybe puts his head down and tries to go through a guy, you can help in that situation because it’s harder to pass out of that type of offense.

“You don’t want to double when he’s facing up to the basket and can see everybody, because he obviously can make pretty much any pass in the book.  So if you allow him to see everything right in front of him, that’s where he hurts you.  So you want to avoid those situations.”

The other key Curry said was to be decisive — if the man coming to double is slow or hesitant, LeBron will destroy the plan.

The Warriors often took the man guarding Matthew Dellavedova or J.R. Smith — primarily Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston — and had them double LeBron and pressure him out of his comfort zone. The Cavaliers recognized what is happening, notice on the play below Iman Shumpert comes down and screens Stephen Curry to free up J.R. Smith, who could not hit the shot and make the Warriors pay.

Andre Iguodala has been on the front line guarding LeBron for much of the series and talked about plays like the one above, and how you have to push him out of his comfort zone at just the right time.

“A guy like LeBron who can pass the ball the way he can, you’ve got to see where his eyes are,” Iguodala said. “If he can see the whole floor, it’s tough to double a guy like that.  So it was more surprises.  Klay had a few random double teams that we didn’t even talk about as a scheme, and it worked out for us.  The majority of the time they worked.  But the one or two times we got bit because LeBron could see the floor.

“So it’s just about us being smart and, more importantly, communicating.  Because if I can hear a guy coming on double team, I know where to funnel.  We know how to rotate out of it, and it usually works for us.”

It worked to the tune of holding LeBron to 20 points on 22 shots, plus he had eight assists.

“It’s almost funny when you say a guy had a 20-point game it’s not up to par,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “That’s kind of funny.  But realistically we know that LeBron’s production is critical to us, and for the most part he’s given that and more, much more.”

That defense on LeBron takes a toll on the Warriors defenders as well (which makes Iguodala’s good shooting night in Game 4 even more impressive.

“(LeBron’s physicality) definitely takes your legs out, that’s when your shots come up a little short,” Harrison Barnes said. “That’s why I’ve focused this series to make sure I’ve got a wide base and get the shot up.”

The Warriors are going to bring the double teams again in Game 5 Sunday night at Oracle Arena. The questions are how will the Cavaliers adjust and handle it after watching the film, and will the open Cleveland players knock down their looks?

Watch Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic dunk all over Bol Bol

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Bol Bol had some impressive blocked shots during exhibition games at the NBA’s restart, but he hadn’t gotten one in his 16 limited minutes since the seeding games started. He wanted one.

So Bol tried to get in front of Jusuf Nurkic of Denver on Thursday and… that did not go well.

Bol did later get a blocked shot on Hassan Whiteside.

Nurkic, however, ended the night with 22 points, seven rebounds, and the Trail Blazers got a 125-115 win that has Portland comfortably as the ninth seed, just half-a-game back of eight-seed Memphis. Portland is setting itself up with a better-than-average chance make the playoffs

Kawhi Leonard’s 29 leads Clippers past Mavericks in potential first-round preview

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.

Paul George scored 24 points and Ivica Zubac added 21 points on 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds for the Clippers, who strengthened their hold on the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings.

The Clippers entered the night a just half game ahead of Denver, but they shot 54% against the Mavericks to improve to 2-2 in the restart.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 30 points and Luka Doncic added 29 for Dallas, which fell to 1-3 in the restart.

Dallas likely will finish as the No. 7 seed, making a first-round matchup with the Clippers a strong possibility.

“That’s obviously going to be a tough matchup,” Porzingis said. “They’re one of the favorites to win it all. They have multiple guys that have been there already. But we’re looking forward to the challenge and getting experience in that.”

Doncic was coming off a monster game — 34 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. He made 10 of 21 shots against the Clippers, including 6 of 13 3-pointers.

“Luka’s just a handful,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It takes a whole team to guard him. I thought our guys did a pretty good job overall. We lost him a couple times, which you can never do. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

The Clippers led Dallas by 12 in the third quarter before the Mavericks rallied and tied the game at 101 midway through the fourth. Los Angeles responded with a 9-0 run to regain control. The Clippers shot 62% in the fourth quarter to pull away.

“I just liked how we played overall,” Rivers said. “We played like a team tonight, on both ends.”

Though the Mavericks fell to 1-3 in the restart, Doncic remained confident.

“We’re a great team,” he said. “We’ve always got chances, no matter what. I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. We’ll give our max.”

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win ‘Kobe’s with me every day’

Devin Booker Kobe
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.