Challenges of Memphis series primed Golden State for Finals comeback, win

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They had been there before.

They had been down 2-1 to a grinding team who had a defender  opposing fans thought was their “Curry stopper.” The Golden State Warriors had been pounded inside before in these playoffs. They had heard the “jump shooting teams can’t win in the playoffs” before.

Golden State had heard all of that against Memphis — and they made a key adjustment and rattled off three straight wins.

That helped prepare them for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the NBA Finals — where the Warriors again made an adjustment and rattled off three convincing wins.

“Going into the playoffs and playing a Memphis, where that’s a tough team to beat.  All that stuff primed us for this moment,” Draymond Green said drenched in Champaign after the Warriors had completed their comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers and won an NBA title. “It primed us for our non-shooters to make shots.  It primed us for somebody to think they can stop Steph Curry and then all of a sudden you see Steph Curry.  It primed us for we’re too small, we’re a jump shooting team, it will never work.  It primed us for all of that.

“So playing in the Western Conference on the daily, nightly basis, night to night, it gets you ready for everything.  That’s why I think it’s the best conference in the NBA because you see all brands of basketball.  So all of a sudden you run up against the Cavs and, I mean, LeBron James is great.  There is no one like him.  But you’re prepared for everything else because we’ve seen everything.”

Against Memphis in the second round, the adjustment was to ask big man Andrew Bogut to defend light-shooting guard Tony Allen. That allowed Bogut to hang back and protect the rim, helping out on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and not pay a price.

Against Cleveland, there were a few adjustments but the key one was to sit Bogut and start Andre Iguodala — to go small. Bogut barely played the final few games, and more offensive bigs like David Lee got key minutes and run. The shorthanded Cavaliers could not adjust.

“Game 3 of The Finals we figured something out in the fourth quarter, and we decided to go small,” Lee said after the win. “On any other team, a guy like Andrew Bogut is angry and causes a fit.  Instead, he’s the first one up cheering off the bench.  So everybody has had their time to shine this year and that kind of sacrifice is how you win championships, and we were able to bring it home.”

The Warriors players to a man praised the chemistry on the team.

“That’s one thing you don’t see that often in the league,” Iguodala said in an interview on NBA TV. “You got stars and guys who want to be stars. Guys are ‘me, me, me, I want to get paid. I want to be a superstar. I want to have my own shoe.’ But we got just a great group of guys. Management did a great job, I don’t know if they knew personalities and how to match them, it’s crazy because we all really like each other. 

“Teams say that all the time but you know guys don’t really like each other that much. You have three or four cliques — they hang out, they hang out, they hang out. But we had like 10 guys go to dinner, eight guys go to the movies. We had like seven guys go to the movies last night. We all can joke with each other, we throw punches each other and nobody takes it personal.”

In the end, the roster that shot too many jump shots was able to make the adjustments and win the NBA title. Coach Steve Kerr said he knew they could because of what they did on the other end of the court.

“Everyone wanted to talk about how many threes we took.  We’re the number one defensive team in the league, and that’s what wins,” Kerr said. “You’ve got to be able to score points somehow, but you have to be good defensively.  You have to be great defensively to win a title. For whatever reason, that seemed to be overlooked this year.  But the combination of the offense and the defense, that matters, and I don’t think people pointed that out enough.”

They should now.

Three Things to Know: Has 5-11 Portland fallen too far back to make playoffs?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Have the 5-11 Portland Trail Blazers fallen too far back to make playoffs? We’ve all heard a coach say it: “You can’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose it.”

That might apply to the Trail Blazers this season. After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday 137-129, Portland is now 5-11 and the 14 seed in the West, ahead of only the one team possibly more decimated by injuries than themselves (the Warriors). Portland has gone 2-9 in November.

This was a team with Western Conference Finals expectations before the season started, now the question has to be asked:

Has Portland’s slow start to the season dug too big a hole to climb out of and even make the playoffs?

No. But things need to turn around sooner rather than later.

On the positive side, the Trail Blazers may be six games below .500, they are also only three games back of eight-seed Phoenix and the final playoff spot. They also have a point differential that suggests the Blazers should have at least one more win, maybe two, meaning they are a little better than their record indicates. Get Damian Lillard healthy (he missed the last two games with a back issue but is expected to play Saturday against Cleveland), rack up some wins to change the momentum, and make a late push up the standings once Jusuf Nurkic returns (there is no timeline, but whispers say maybe around the All-Star break)..

Portland is not out of it.

Also on the positive side, Portland has got a run of games at home coming up. Also, the franchise has some history on their side: The 2007-08 Trail Blazers started 5-10, but went on a 13-game win streak and eventually finished 41-41 and made the playoffs.

It’s also not going to be easy to turn things around — there are no nights off in the West, no gimme wins (outside maybe Golden State, until they get healthy again). Also, unlike in 2008, 41 wins will not be enough to make the playoffs. It may not be too big to climb out of, but Portland has dug itself a hole to start the season.

One can’t mention Portland’s struggles without talking injuries, particularly along the front line. Nurkic is out, and the Blazers were counting on Zach Collins to step forward into that role, except he is now out months following shoulder surgery. Pau Gasol never got healthy from his foot injury and was waived. Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere have both missed time with ailments. That has placed a lot on the shoulders of Hassan Whiteside, who has done what he’s always done — stuffed the stat sheet with empty calories, given inconsistent effort, and not set good picks. The injuries up front are why Carmelo Anthony was brought in. Add in a slow start to the season from CJ McCollum (who has turned it around) and Lillard’s injury, and here we are at 5-11.

Portland’s biggest issues are on the defensive end, where they are currently a bottom 10 team. Teams are running a lot on Portland, and while statistically the team has defended well in transition, teams still get too many easy buckets.

Portland was an average defensive team last season, but a top-three offense covered it up. This season we’ve seen how much Nurkic — as a strong pick setter and short-roll option who could facilitate a little — meant to the Blazers offense. Portland is 13th in offensive rating, basically league average. The Portland offense no longer can hide their defensive flaws.

Time has not yet run out on Portland, it’s still early. However, the Blazers need to find some wins. Fast. The first rule of climbing out of a hole is to stop digging.

2) Carmelo Anthony scores 18, but we need to see him next to Lillard; Giannis Antetokounmpo has career-high 15 assists, gets triple-double in win. There were some individual games worth discussing in Milwaukee’s 137-129 win over Portland Thursday.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and he looked better than his first game back. You can see what you want in his numbers, he took six midrange shots, but is now also 5-of-8 from three in two games in Portland.

Here’s the reality with Anthony: This is Lillard’s team and he missed the two games ‘Melo played. It’s too early to judge the Anthony gamble in Portland because we have not seen him yet next to the guy whose team this is and who runs the offense. Lillard is expected to return from his back issues Saturday against Cleveland, we need to watch Anthony in that and the next few games, then see how this marriage is working.

This is how good Giannis Antetokounmpo has played this season: He struggled against the Blazers shooting 9-of-27 (1-of-7 from three), looking a little worn having to play 37 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.

His numbers on the “off” night: 24 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists.

That would be the first ever 20+ point, 15+ rebound, 15+ assist game in Bucks franchise history — and that history has Oscar Robertson in it. Antetokounmpo looks every bit like an MVP player again to start the season.

Finally, CJ McCollum seems to be out of his slump and had 37 points and 10 assists.

3) J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram lead New Orleans to win, hand Phoenix it’s third straight loss. Brandon Ingram scored 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter Thursday, leading the Pelicans to a 124-121 win on the road. Ingram is a restricted free agent this summer and has been putting up “pay the man his money” numbers this season.

J.J. Redick added 26 and was killing it from three.

After a hot start, the Suns have come back to earth losing three in a row and 4-of-5, and now they head out on the road to take on two teams playing well in Minnesota and Denver.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.