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Three things we learned Monday: Cavs lose again, we’re reminded LeBron has a lot of miles on him

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It was the rare TNT Monday games this week, so there was plenty of quality NBA action, but if you were too busy watching Daffy Duck/Coolio mashups then we’ve got you covered with what you need to know from around the league.

1) Dallas knocks off Cleveland, and LeBron James passes Michael Jordan on a list that makes him look old. If you don’t follow the NBA closely, this loss looks far worse — Dallas entered Monday night’s game against Cleveland 17-30, one of the few teams in the West seemingly out of the playoff hunt midway through the season. But if you follow the league you know Dallas finally has gotten healthy and started to win games — they are 7-3 in their last 10, with a top 10 in the NBA offense and defense in that time.

The Cavaliers will attest to that. Kevin Love was out, Tristan Thompson was limited by foul trouble, and Kyrie Irving and LeBron (who had 23/9/9) couldn’t carry the team on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas got the win 104-97 behind 24 points and 11 rebounds from Harrison Barnes. LeBron still had some highlights.

The Cavaliers will finish January 7-8. It’s a midseason swoon, although it’s hard to get worked up over that because the Cavaliers had a mid-season slump last year, changed coaches, and went on to win a ring. LeBron’s Heat teams hit midseason doldrums, too, yet always made the Finals. What is more concerning about the Cavs ability to bounce back is this, via ESPN:

That’s a lot of miles on the tread. Part of the reason LeBron, at just age 32, passed Jordan has been the annual deep playoff runs — he has been to six straight NBA Finals — plus he didn’t spend a year in college like MJ. But the load is not lightening up. LeBron leads the NBA in minutes played per game this season at 37.5 (he’s 11th in total minutes because he’s had nights off). Those minutes are close to what LeBron and coach Tyronn Lue discussed before the season, and there is no better conditioned athlete in the league than LeBron, but still that’s a lot of wear and tear. At some point it’s going to catch up to him. Maybe not this season, maybe not next, but eventually.

2) Miami has won eight in a row.
It seems ridiculous after their start to the season to discuss Miami’s playoff chances, but here we are — after winning their eighth in a row Monday night the Heat are just 4.5 games out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s unlikely they can leapfrog four teams (New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Charlotte) to get in, but if they keep playing like this it’s possible.

Miami won its eighth in a row, beating lowly Brooklyn 104-96 by making the big plays.

The Heat’s offense is good — they are shooting 42.3 percent from three during this win streak — but it is the defense that has keyed the run: Miami is allowing less than a point per possession during this run. And the help on that end is coming not just from Hassan Whiteside but also from unexpected sources.

Maybe more surprising than Miami’s hot streak is Dion Waiters has become a force controlling the game — he had 19 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in the win Monday.

The Heat are at home against the Hawks and Sixers this week, then head out on the road for four as they try to keep this win streak going. And maybe their playoff chances.

3) Mike Conley scores career-high 38 to get Memphis a win. Mike Conley has become an annual snub for the All-Star Game and competes for the title of “most underappreciated player in the NBA.” There’s not much he can do about the ASG snub again this year, but he did do something about getting noticed dropping a career-high 38 on the Suns in the Grizzlies’ win Monday.

Bonus thing we loved from Monday: Andrew Wiggins unleashed a dunk of the year candidate on Orlando.

Jamal Murray: Had bone bruise on foot, “didn’t have the energy I needed”

Jamal Murray
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It ultimately may not have changed anything, not the way LeBron James was playing, but the Jamal Murray in Game 5 did not look like the Jamal Murray who had helped lift the Denver Nuggets to that point. He was clearly bothered and not moving with the speed and fluidity he had throughout the playoffs.

“I have a big bruise on my foot. Just hurt me all game,” Murray said after the loss that eliminated Denver from the playoffs. “I changed shoes and that didn’t help. Yeah, I have a bone bruise. I don’t like to tell everybody what I got. I just like to play through it. Yeah, I was in pain, but it’s cool.

“I was out there. I was struggling a little bit today. Eighty-something days in the bubble and a lot of minutes, I didn’t have the energy I needed to have for my teammates today. Without me moving as hard or cutting as hard or scoring as much… I could have played a lot better this game.”

Murray finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting and dished out eight assists, and part of what slowed him down was the Lakers’ assigned LeBron to guard him for stretches. That said, Murray was not moving like the guy who carved up Utah or who dropped 40 on the Clippers in Game 7. Still, he was out there still trying.

“He was our leader,” Nikola Jokic said of Murray. “His energy through the whole playoffs. He was banged up. He was injured before, even when I came here [to the bubble], he was a little bit banged up… But he’s a dog. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. He’s an amazing shooter. He played amazing.”

Like his coach and teammates, Murray was frustrated to be going home but looked back with pride at the leap the Nuggets made this postseason.

“We proved we can challenge the Clippers, who were the favorites. We proved we can challenge the Lakers,” Murray said. “And it’s only our second year in the playoffs. I wish things went differently, but I’m just proud of our guys, proud of everything we have done, everything we have accomplished. It’s not the end goal, but to make it this far and surprise as many people as we did, it’s a good feeling.

“So just try to come back next year and try to come back stronger.”

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA Finals will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 30, if Miami closes the Easter Conference Finals out in six games. If the series goes seven games the Finals will start on Friday, Oct. 2.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109
Game 5: Celtics 121, Heat 108 (Miami leads series 3-2)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8:30 p.n. (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106
Game 4: Lakers 114, Nuggets 108
Game 5: Lakers 117, Nuggets 107 (Lakers win series 4-1)

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

LeBron James takes over, leads Lakers back to NBA Finals with win

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The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.

 

Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘good to go’ for Game 5 despite sprained ankle

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This was expected, but when the Lakers officially listed Anthony Davis as questionable for Game 5 with a sprained ankle, it raised a few eyebrows.

Davis will play in Game 5 Saturday night, coach Frank Vogel said pregame.

Anthony Davis sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and while he stayed in the game there were questions about how it would respond the next day.

The Lakers are up 3-1 on a Denver team they know will not be easy to close out.

To do that, Los Angeles needs Davis: When AD has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

The Lakers want to close out in five games to get some added rest. The NBA Finals are expected to start next Wednesday, Sept. 30 (unless one conference finals series goes seven games, then it is likely Friday, Oct. 2). If the Lakers lose Saturday but win Game 6 Monday it would be a short turnaround (as it would be after a Game 7).

Denver, however, has played its best basketball whenever it has faced the prospect of packing its bags and going home.