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Can Jazz slow down Warriors’ juggernaut in Game 3?

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP)– So far, the Golden State Warriors have lived up to expectations that they would be a postseason juggernaut.

The two-time defending Western Conference champions have not yet tasted defeat in the NBA playoffs. They also have not faced much of a challenge offensively or defensively in their first six games.

Golden State took a 2-0 lead over the Utah Jazz in their Western Conference semifinal series after leading wire-to-wire yet again in a 115-104 victory on Thursday night. Utah will try to get itself back into the series in Game 3 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

The Warriors have displayed a knack for pouncing on Utah early and quickly digging a hole too deep for the Jazz to climb out of.

Utah endured slow first-quarter starts in Game 1 and Game 2. A second straight slow start on Thursday crippled efforts by the Jazz to rally. They fell behind 33-15 at the end of the first quarter and managed to cut the deficit to six in the fourth quarter before running out of gas.

The Warriors never lost the lead, but Utah forced them to sweat for a while late in the game.

“It wasn’t easy,” Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said. “We felt it. We know we can play better. We broke down in a lot of areas where we should have been better. But in the same breath too, we did some nice things. We had 33 assists. We held them to five offensive rebounds. And at the end of the day we got the (win).”

Even while falling short, the Jazz feel they learned a formula for solving the first quarter jinx in Game 3.

Utah came out strong after halftime. The Jazz attacked the rim more frequently instead of settling for contested jumpers on each possession. They forced turnovers and turned a potential blowout into a tighter affair.

“After we got blitzed there in the first quarter — once we settled in — we kind of figured it out a little bit,” forward Gordon Hayward said. “We figured out how to get into the paint and get some shots for ourselves and some better looks. Our spacing was a lot better. We’re going to have to try to take that and move forward with it.”

Hayward played the biggest role in bringing Utah back. He scored 33 points on 11-of-21 shooting after going 4 of 15 from the field in the series opener.

His contributions provided added value with starting point guard George Hill sidelined because of a sore toe. Hill is still day-to-day heading into Saturday.

“You’re not going to have big windows,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “You got to take advantage of them. I thought he was more aggressive as the game went on, taking his shot and making quick decisions.”

Golden State has excelled at playing efficient offense in both games against Utah. The Warriors dished out 33 assists on 42 field goals on Thursday after notching 32 assists on 40 baskets in the series opener. They have shot 49.1 percent from the field through two games.

Four different players are averaging in double figures for the Warriors in the series. Stephen Curry is leading the way with 22.5 points per game.

Defensively, Golden State has forced 14.5 turnovers per game and is averaging 22 points off of turnovers.

The only time the Warriors looked vulnerable on Thursday was when they got away from the formula that works well for them. Lapses on a few possessions on both ends of the court caused some tense moments, something Golden State wants to shore up heading into Game 3.

“We kind of lost our focus there a little bit,” forward Draymond Green said. “We turned the ball over, had defensive breakdowns. Just didn’t stay locked in. We got to do a better job of that, especially on the road. If you’re able to get a lead, you got to try to put the game away.”

Green tweaked his left knee in Game 2 and left for a short time before returning in the fourth quarter. He is listed as probable for Saturday.

Utah was 29-12 at home during the regular season but lost two of its three home games in the first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Report: Dwight Howard was nearly ejected for language in Game 3

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Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it.  Based on NBA.com matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).

Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.

Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”

Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.

Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.

The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.

Game 4 between the Lakers and Nuggets is Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Lakers lead the series 2-1.

 

J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.