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Higher power: LeBron James soaring into 7th straight NBA Finals

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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James will one day take his final bow, the brightest spotlight moving on to someone else.

There will come a time when his legs lose some explosiveness and those vicious dunks will be rendered ordinary. Someday, his jumper won’t fall as often, and that astonishing court vision, the key to his game, will become cloudy.

James will face the end of his career one day. Just not anytime soon.

On the eve of his seventh straight NBA Finals appearance, and 10 years since he debuted on basketball’s grand stage, James’ reign continues: undisputed king of the court.

During a postseason in which he has led the champion Cleveland Cavaliers to a 12-1 record and chased down Michael Jordan as the No. 1 scorer in playoff history, James has not only positioned himself for a fourth title, but intensified the debate over whether he’s the greatest player in NBA history.

He isn’t slowing down while building his case.

James has always dismissed the Jordan comparisons, saying that kind of talk is “only great for barbershops” and that original gravity-defying No. 23 has been his motivational muse, not a target. But after the Cavs won their third straight conference title, punishing an overmatched Boston team in five games – he supplanted Jordan during the clincher – James discussed his place alongside someone who was “like a god” to him growing up.

“I did pretty much everything that M.J. did when I was a kid,” James said. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore black and red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn’t go bald like Mike, but I’m getting there. … But other than that, I did everything Mike did. I even wore a wristband on my forearm. I didn’t do the hoop earring, either. That was Mike.

“But I did everything Mike did, man.”

And he’s not done, not by a long shot.

James is on a mission, and it’s far from accomplished.

By having one of his finest statistical postseasons – 32.5 points per game, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 57 percent shooting through 13 games – James is dismissing any argument about the league’s true MVP. Although he’ll finish behind Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard when the regular-season award is given out next month, James has reminded everyone over the past six weeks that he remains the measuring stick at 32.

He’s raising the bar even higher, during a decade in which his actions – on and off the floor – have shaped the league.

“LeBron James has dominated, seriously dominated, this era of basketball. His domination has been about the equivalent to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s in his time,” Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said. “He’s playing for his place in history, to be talked about as one of the best to ever play. The conversation will come down between he, Kareem and Michael Jordan. Then it’s just a matter of taste. Who do you want?”

Of all his accomplishments, making seven straight final rounds is near the top of the list. When the ball goes up in Game 1 on Thursday, James will be the seventh player to appear in seven consecutive Finals, and the first since Bill Russell led a handful of Celtics on their dynastic run in the 1960s.

James reluctantly reflects on what he’s done. As the Cavs prepared for the Warriors, he took a moment to consider his latest feat.

“It’s going to be great for my legacy,” he said. “Once I’m done playing the game and can look back on the game and say, `Oh, this guy went to three straight Finals, four straight Finals, five, six, whatever. It’s great to be talked about, see what I was able to accomplish as an individual. When you talk about longevity and being able to just play at a high level for a long period of time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that and take two franchises to four Finals apiece – and no one has ever done that either.

“I’ve always been proud to be part of the biggest stage in our league, and it’s the Finals.”

And this is Act III of a three-year drama with Golden State.

After ending Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought last season, James has been unburdened, free of the criticism or consequences. Early in Game 1, he will become the first player with 6,000 points in the postseason, and there’s no reason to think he won’t pass 7,000 in due time.

Whatever he finishes with, Cavs veteran forward Richard Jefferson doesn’t think anyone will catch him.

“Like the Joe DiMaggio hit streak, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100, there are certain records that will be unbreakable,” Jefferson said. “Whoever tries to get to that is going to have to play in 10 NBA Finals and average 30 points a game to get there. Let’s put that in perspective: that’s impossible. What he’s doing right now is obviously on a level that has never been seen before. To pass Michael Jordan when you’re still in the prime of your career, one of the greats of all-time? That record will be unbreakable.

“If he adds another 1,000 points, who’s going to be able to come in and go to 10 NBA Finals in this modern age? It’s impossible.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.

Eric Gordon buckets, Draymond Green turnover seals game for Rockets

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For the second game in a row, the Houston Rockets were clutch in the fourth quarter and the defending champion Warriors clanked and fumbled their way to a loss.

Houston won Game 3 98-94 because down the stretch Eric Gordon made plays (and free throws) and Draymond Green fumbled away the Warriors chance.

It started with the Rockets up one with less than two minutes to go, when Eric Gordon — who led the Rockets with 24 points — drained a three that gave Houston some breathing room.

Six seconds later, Draymond Green answered with a three to keep it a one-point game.

With 10 seconds left in the game, a Trevor Ariza free throw made it a two-point game, giving the Warriors a chance to come down and tie or win. Then Green did this.

Gordon was fouled, hit two free throws, and it was ballgame.

The Rockets are now up 3-2 in the series and are one win away from the Finals.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.