Associated Press

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: LeBron has Cavaliers taking care of business

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What you missed on a Sunday around the NBA while you were busy trying to get your pet tiger out of traffic lanes….

LOS ANGELES — 1) Cavaliers focus on their “business trip,” take care of Clippers with ease. Before tip off Sunday at Staples Center, Doc Rivers was talking about the early start time (12:30 p.m. on the day of the time change, so everyone felt groggy) and if that would impact the game and said he “hoped Los Angeles had done its job.” The L.A. nightlife has softened up many a team for the home team over the years.

LeBron James made sure that didn’t happen. He sat down with teammates and told them this was a business trip (as Chris Haynes reported) — go ahead and enjoy the couple days in L.A. but remember why you’re here.

“Guys understood what this trip was about,” James said postgame. “This is a business trip, and they get an opportunity to be in a great city but at the end of the day, we knew what the main thing was and that was to continue the momentum that we’ve been on. We came out and took care of business.”

The Cavaliers did just that — they looked like a contender in “manhandling” (Doc Rivers’ word) the Clippers from the middle of the first quarter on. Cleveland was sharp on defensive rotations and pressuring the ball, on offense LeBron and Kyrie Irving drove the lane and did a good job kicking the ball out to open shooters when the defense collapsed, the Cavaliers made the extra pass, and they knocked down their shots — 18 three-pointers for the Cavs on 48 percent shooting from three. Cleveland coasted to a 114-90 win, looking every bit the best team in the East and a title contender gearing up for the playoffs.

2) Clippers need to have Blake Griffin for the playoffs. The other thing that was clear at Staples Center Sunday afternoon? Against elite teams, the Clippers miss Blake Griffin. Their up-tempo, share-the-ball, spread pick-and-roll style with Chris Paul dominating the show can beat a lot of teams without Griffin, but go up against an elite team and the dynamic changes. The Clippers’ loss Sunday was evident in the forward matchups: LeBron James and Kevin Love vs. Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green. The Laker combo combined for 3-of-15 shooting.

“It gets real tough (playing without Griffin),” Paul said. “They have three, four guys out there that no shot clock can bail you out (of). Just having Blake to be able to throw the ball into the post, when the shot clock is low, or just that pick-and-roll, just having that pick-and-pop option. Just all the attention that he brings opens it up for all of is. So it has been tough without him, but we have to keep fighting until he gets back.”

There still is no timetable for his return, Doc Rivers said. While his broken hand is doing better, the quad tendon injury that sidelined Griffin for a few games before he punched a Clipper team employee (breaking that hand) still lingers and is the bigger issue now, Rivers said. They are being cautious, but remember Griffin has a four-game suspension to serve for that punch once he is medically cleared.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up triple double against Nets, continues run of strong play. If you are not watching the Nets and point-forward Giannis Antetokounmpo now, you are missing out. The Bucks have become a lot of fun again. The Greek Freak put up a triple-double of 28 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds on Brooklyn Sunday, his fourth triple-double of the season. And the Bucks won again, they remain hot.

4) Knicks Jose Calderon drains game winner to beat Lakers. All the hype was about the last meeting of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. Or Kobe telling Knicks fans they should trust the brilliant mind of Phil Jackson. But with the game on the line, it was the mano-a-mano battle of Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas. Well, it became that after about the ugliest inbounds/last second play in NBA history. But Calderon pulled up and nailed the three, and New York gets another win.

5) DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl remain at odds in Sacramento. There is a lot of frustration in Sacramento right now — owner Vivek Ranadive all but demanded a playoff team so that the Kings’ playoff drought didn’t reach double digits in years, plus the team would have momentum going into their new building next year. Instead, they are a mess with a lot of infighting — after Sunday’s loss DeMarcus Cousins said his one-game suspension was not the organization coming down on him but it was Karl. Even though the suspension came from GM Vlade Divac.

Ranadive can be frustrated, but he needs to look in the mirror. He got rid of Mike Malone just as Malone was genuinely building a culture of winning, plus he had bonded with Cousins in a way no other coach had (look at the culture Malone has built in Denver — Emmanuel Mudiay dropped 30 on Sunday and Denver won again). Ranadive fired him and eventually brought in Karl because he wanted a team that would run, even though the roster is not built for that in the least. The result is a frustrated superstar who doesn’t like the coach, plus a lot of losses. Vlade Divac may not be ready for the day-to-day intricacies of being a GM, but the man also is trying to navigate a minefield of the owners’ making. This summer the Kings need to choose Karl or Cousins, then actually build a roster to play that style and stick with it for a few years. We’ll see if that happens.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.

Watch Rajon Rondo hit ridiculous behind-the-backboard floater

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Everything was going right for the Lakers Friday night. They made it look too easy.

On their way to a 1-0 series lead, some may have tuned out before the shot of the game — a Rajon Rondo floater from the baseline, over the backboard and in.

Incredible. You can end a HORSE game with that shot.

Rondo had seven points on 3-of-7 shooting but also dished out nine assists. Maybe not vintage playoff Rondo, but he fit in with a Lakers team that dominated the Nuggets in Game 1.

Game 2 is Sunday evening.

Report: Mutual interest between Jazz, Derrick Favors in a reunion

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The Utah Jazz could use another big man on the roster who could play the four or the five. That is to say, someone who could play with or as a backup to Rudy Gobert. It’s not the team’s top offseason priority — defenders on the wing win that category — but it’s an area the Jazz would like to address.

How about a Derrick Favors reunion? After a season in New Orleans, would he return to Utah?

Yes. But that doesn’t make it likely, notes Tony Jones of The Athletic.

Here’s the deal. There is mutual interest. Favors would not mind a return to Utah, even if it means coming off the bench as Gobert’s primary backup. But, at this point, that’s all it is … interest. The Jazz have to decide whether Favors would be the right place to spend their most significant chunk of offseason money, especially considering finding a 3-and-D wing is of greater priority. Favors will have multiple suitors on the market, including his incumbent team, the New Orleans Pelicans.

Favors will have multiple offers, although maybe not at the money or number of years he hopes. It’s a tough time to be a center in the NBA looking for a payday. The Jazz have their mid-level exception but will need to use all of that to get the wing defender they need.

After that, Utah is going to be looking for a center on the cheap. Favors — who averaged 9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game playing quality basketball last season — is going to get decent offers. It’s hard to see how that matches up.

But stranger things have happened. This is going to be an upside-down NBA offseason anyway.