Three keys to watch in Game 7 between Cavaliers, Warriors

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OAKLAND — Game 7s are unpredictable.

It’s one game and odd, random things can happen for a night as they often do in one basketball game. Leandro Barbosa or J.R. Smith could be the best player — or at least the most crucial player — for a night. Call it small sample size theater, call it a reaction to intense pressure, call it the will of God, call it whatever you want, the beauty of a Game 7 is that anything can happen.

However, after seven games of strategy, of ups and downs, we know the strategies both teams are trying to employ. We know what they want to do, and while there may be last-second tweaks, we largely know how the other side wants to counter them. It comes down to execution.

Here are three questions, and how they are answered will go a long way to determining who wins.

1) Is LeBron James‘ jumper falling? 
We have all rightfully marveled at LeBron’s brilliant back-to-back games, he has reasserted his claim for best player on the planet in lifting up the Cavaliers to force this Game 7. But the unsung part of this has been his jump shot — it was so bad the first four games that the Warriors were going under picks, playing off him and daring him to shoot jumpers. In the last two games, he is 7-of-14 from three. When his jump shot is falling and defenders have to come out and defend him, it opens up room to drive, it opens up passing lanes for one of the most gifted passers in the game. If LeBron hits a couple of threes in the first quarter, Warriors fans should be worried.

2) Is Harrison Barnes (or Shaun Livingston, or Leandro Barbosa, or anyone not named Curry or Thompson) hitting their jump shots? It can’t just be the Stephen Curry show. At one point during Game 6 he was 4-of-8 from three, the rest of the Warriors were 1-of-18. Eventually Klay Thompson hit a few, but by then the damage was done and the Warriors could not get out of the hole. Golden State needs Harrison Barnes, and he is in such a shooting slump that the Cavaliers are giving him the Tony Allen treatment — they are not even closing out on him anymore. Barnes is going to get chances early in Game 7, and he’s either going to hit them or be on the bench quickly.

“Shot felt good today,” Barnes said after practice Saturday. “Came in last night and did some work as well. I feel good coming into the game.”

If his jumper isn’t falling Steve Kerr will have a quick hook, then it will be up to Barnes’ replacement to hit those shots. The Warriors got 73 wins based on depth — that depth needs to show up Sunday night.

3) How do the Warriors handle the Cavaliers hunting out Curry and attacking defensive mismatches? Cleveland the last couple games has executed what coach Tyronn Lue has preached since the series tipped off — if the Warriors switch everything, find the mismatch and beat it. The goal the last couple games has been to get Curry switched defensively onto LeBron or Tristan Thompson, then go right at him. Curry is not a bad defender, but he is the guy teams most want to attack out of the Warriors starters — especially if they can get a bigger, stronger guy on him that can back Curry down and overpower him. The result is foul trouble for Curry, or he gets worn down a little physically. Does Kerr have one final adjustment to remedy this (like maybe not switching those picks)? What the Cavaliers have done the past couple of games has worked well, it’s up to the Warriors to find a counter.

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.