Five questions that will decide Game 6 between Golden State and Cleveland


CLEVELAND — We’ve been here before. Golden State is looking to close out the NBA Finals on the road, and they feel confident. The one-game suspension of Draymond Green opened the door for Cleveland, now can they walk through it at home and force a Game 7? Lots of questions, here are five more to consider for Game 6.

1) Draymond Green is back, but will he play like Draymond Green? 
He wasn’t suspended last time, but in Game 4 of the Oklahoma City series — the game after the much-discussed kick to Steven Adams’ groin — Green played his worst game of the playoffs. Worried about picking up another flagrant foul, he kept his emotions in check, and the result was a timid Green who did not help his team on either end. If that Green shows up for Game 6 after being suspended for Game 5 (following a low blow to LeBron James), the Warriors will lose and there will be a Game 7.

“I think I’ve got to come out and play my game regardless,” Green said. “But there are those little fine lines where you just know you can’t cross them. It’s not every play that you’re close to that line. It’s a basketball game, so there are only certain plays where you are. I just have to make sure that I’m well composed when those situations come about, that I control my emotions, that I channel that energy and use it in a positive way to help my team and not in anway to where I may feel like it helps me as a person, me as a man, but hurts my teammates.”

Make no mistake, the return of Green is a game changer for Golden State. Defensively he protects the paint when they go small; offensively he’s a secondary playmaker and the Cavaliers can’t leave him alone (they tried that and he dropped 28 in Game 2). With him in the lineup Golden State believes they can win. Anywhere. Expect an aggressive Green in this game, but he has to remember that Scott Foster — an official with a short fuse — is doing this game. He has to be a little careful.

2) What happens with Andrew Bogut out? “It’s tough not to have Boges out there,” Green said. “He anchors our defense a lot of the time. Very smart, very good passer, great facilitator. It’s not like a loss where you say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” It definitely matters.”

But it matters far less than Green’s return. In Golden State’s Game 4 win in Cleveland, Bogut played 10 minutes. Total. No Bogut means expect more Draymond Green at center, and the Warriors are +51 in this series when he is at center. Golden State is going to need some quality minutes off the bench from Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao so Green can get some rest, but what this injury does is force the Warriors to play their best lineup more.

That leads to a Cavaliers’ question: Does Tyronn Lue play Kevin Love at center more to match up with the Warriors? Love has defended better than his reputation suggests this series, but the Warriors still like to go right at him. Lue has to come up with an answer to slow the small ball Warriors’ lineups, and it can’t just be “we can just outscore them.”

3) Can LeBron James and Kyrie Irving stay that hot? In Game 5, two of the best players in the NBA went ham. We can talk about how the Green suspension did or did not play into that, but Irving and James put together historic performances, combining for 82 points scored.

Can they replicate that performance? I believe LeBron can — he has been the single best and most consistent player in these Finals. He once again is in the Finals MVP conversation, even if his team loses, and he can impact the game with his scoring, passing and defense. That said, he needs his jump shot to fall again (he was 8-of-18 on jumpers in Game 5, 4-of-8 from three).

Irving is the bigger question for me. He was phenomenal in Game 5, but he also made a lot of difficult shots. He was knocking down long two pointers (as was LeBron). None of that will be easily replicated. The Cavaliers need him to both score and get teammates involved — the Cavaliers will need more from J.R. Smith and Love than they got last game, and Irving needs to be a facilitator not just a scorer.

4) Will Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson go off? Last game, Golden State was 4-of-19 on uncontested three point attempts. They generated decent looks, they just missed shots. Don’t expect that to happen again. If Golden State is going to close out this series on the road for the second straight year, they are going to need their two sharpshooters to knock down their opportunities — ones they generate coming off screens, and some they generate themselves. Curry needs to create space for himself and then make Cleveland pay. Put simply, the Warriors need to shoot the ball like the Warriors, and do it in the face of an aggressive and desperate Cavaliers’ defense.

5) Which team executes better? At this point in a playoff series, there are no more surprise adjustments, no more secrets to unveil, both teams know the other’s plays and what they want to do. The game plans are locked in place. The question is execution. Can Cleveland get to the rim and finish? Will the Warriors guards knock down their threes? Who controls the glass? Which team defends better? Both teams know what to do, the question is simply which one will execute their plan.

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis has 20 and 11, leads Pacers past Blazers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 106-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds while T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points each for the Pacers, who have four of their last five.

CJ McCollum had 28 points and eight assists, Gary Trent Jr. had 20 points, and five rebounds, and Hassan Whiteside had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of six.

The Pacers were able to hold off the Blazers’ late push.

After Brogdon made a jumper to give Indiana a 103-93 lead with 1:54 remaining, Portland went on a 7-0 run. McCollum’s floater made it 103-100 with 30 seconds to go.

Myles Turner drilled a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to seal it.

The Trail Blazers went on a 10-1 run late in the first half to push ahead.

McCollum made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 42-40 lead with 3:13 to go in the second quarter. After a free throw by Oladipo, McCollum made another three and then a fadeaway to put the Trail Blazers in front 47-41.

Portland led 49-43 at halftime.

Report: Magic and Pistons talked trading for Nets Spencer Dinwiddie

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Leading up to the NBA trade deadline, at least two NBA teams talked about making a trade for Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. SNY’s Ian Begley reports that the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic had internal discussions about trading for Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie started his NBA career with Detroit before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. After being waived following his only training camp with the Bulls, Dinwiddie signed later that season with the Nets.

That signing has proven to be one of the best finds of Sean Marks’ diamond mining process in Brooklyn. With the Nets, Dinwiddie has become a key rotation player. Last December, Brooklyn inked Dinwiddie to a three-year contract extension that started with this season.

This past summer, Dinwiddie was a key part of the recruiting process to bring free agent Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn. Dinwiddie did that recruiting even though the addition of Irving cost him a spot in starting lineup.

Oddly enough, it’s the presence of Irving on the roster that could lead Marks to consider trading Dinwiddie. With Irving, Durant and Caris LeVert, that’s three players who need the ball a lot. And there is a lot of overlap in position there as well. With a hole at power forward, Begley posited that a Dinwiddie for Aaron Gordon swap might make sense for both Brooklyn and Orlando.

While no trade agreement was reached prior to the deadline, it’s possible that either Detroit (who projects to have $34 million in cap space this summer and needs to add talent) or Orlando (who needs offensive creators) could engage Brooklyn in trade talks this summer. It’s much easier to make a deal that involves big salaries in the summer when teams have more roster flexibility.

Report: Joel Embiid out at least one week with shoulder sprain

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NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters reports that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid will be out at least one week due to a sprained left shoulder.

Embiid underwent further evaluations Thursday after being injured the previous night in a game at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those evaluations showed no structural damage. Embiid will be re-evaluated in one week.

That timeline makes it likely that Embiid will miss the entirety of the Sixers upcoming west coast trip, including games against both Los Angeles teams. Embiid’s absence, combined with that of Ben Simmons, will make it hard for Philadelphia to improve upon their woeful 9-21 road record.

With Simmons out due to an impingement in his back, and Embiid joining him on the sidelines, the 76ers have returned Al Horford to the starting lineup. Horford started with regulars Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson, and fill-ins Glenn Robinson III and Shake Milton in Philadelphia’s home victory over New York on Thursday. That group is likely to continue to open games for Brett Brown until he gets his All-Star duo back in the lineup.

Report: Clippers would like to re-sign Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris as free agents

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The Los Angeles Clippers will have to focus on building their roster around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George moving forward. They locked up several role players to long-term contracts over the summer, but face two critical free agent situations this offseason with Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris. Jovan Buha of The Athletic reports that the Clippers would like to re-sign both players.

Harrell has blossomed into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate while with the Clippers, and will be one of the better big men on the market this summer. Only six to seven teams project to have cap space this summer, but all of them have a need for a player like Harrell. That means LA will likely need to pony up this summer to keep their reserve big man.

The Clippers likely face the same sort of situation with Morris. They acquired him at the trade deadline and gave up a first-round pick to do so. With several picks and swap rights pending to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the Paul George trade last summer, that was a heavy price for Los Angeles to pay.

With the team capped out and lacking draft picks moving forward, LA has little ability to replace either Harrell or Morris if they leave. On the other hand, it could push the Clippers deep into the luxury tax if they retain both Harrell and Morris. Steve Ballmer has the deepest pockets in the NBA, but every owner has their limits. In the end, everything might come down to just how the Clippers season ends. Winning a title, or at least making the NBA Finals, would make it a lot easier to pay to keep the team together.