Cavaliers see reasons for optimism in Game 1 loss

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OAKLAND — Here is the conventional wisdom after Game 1 of the NBA Finals: “If the Cavaliers can’t win on a night Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are both off, when can they win?”

The Cavaliers don’t see it that way.

They saw a game where they did some good things — like keeping the Splash Brothers in check, attacking the rim, and getting some offensive rebounds. The things that got them a brief lead in the third quarter. They believe just need to finish better in the paint and take better care of the ball. Oh, and slow that Warriors bench a little.

“We missed 28 shots in the paint,” Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue. “We didn’t finish around the basket, so we’ve just got to keep playing the same way we were playing. I thought we were fine. I feel good about how we played. The outcome wasn’t great for us, the score, but to get to the basket missing 28 shots in the paint, that’s not us. So we’ll be better next game.”

“But don’t matter what you do with Steph and Klay, don’t matter what you do with Draymond. Give up 45 points off the bench and 25 points off turnovers on the road, it’s not a good ingredient to win,” LeBron James said.

While the Warriors shot better than 50 percent for much of the game (they finished at 49.4 percent) and carved the Cavaliers up at times with back cuts and dives to the basket, Cleveland seemed fairly happy with their defense. They saw the other end as the big issue.

“I think defensively we had a game plan and we followed it as much as possible,”  LeBron said. “Well, as great as we could for 48 minutes. We had some breakdowns, which we know we can get better with. Offensively, we’ve got to be much better. We’ve got to be much better moving the ball, moving bodies.”

The Warriors switching — particularly with the “death lineup” and other smaller rotations — threw the Cavaliers off their game plan. They saw that and slowed down trying to find mismatches, and in doing so settled for too many isolation plays. Which were defendable.

That and some transition defense lapses — plus just making their shots — are things the Cavaliers see as correctable.

We stayed aggressive no matter what, kept attacking the paint,” J.R. Smith said. “Even though we had some missed shots, some missed threes, we didn’t let that discourage us. We did a pretty good job in transition. We’ve got to do a better job at finding the bigs and guys at the basket. I think we overcompensated for those guys at the three-point line, which is to be expected. We just got to be smarter Game 2.”

It sounds good on paper.

Executing it against a Warriors team that is likely to have their stars hitting more shots — and cleaning up some execution flaws of their own — is going to be the real test.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.