Newcomers to Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry embrace Finals

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Watching Part II of the Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals trilogy last spring, Kyle Korver came to a realization.

“These are the two best teams and if you were on one of these two teams you were hopeful that you’d be here at the end,” Korver said Wednesday, a day before the teams meet for the third straight Finals. “I’m excited this worked out that I could be here.”

Korver got added to the mix midway through the season when he was dealt from Atlanta to Cleveland and is one of a dozen players on the two rosters who weren’t on these teams last June when the Cavs rallied from 3-1 down to win the title.

While much of the focus leading up to Cavs vs. Warriors III has been on how the addition of Kevin Durant to Golden State’s star core led by Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will make life even more difficult for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers, there are several other newcomers to the rivalry who could play a key role in determining which team wins a second title in this trilogy.

“It’s pretty intense,” Warriors center Zaza Pachulia said. “Obviously when you play against somebody and it’s the third time in a row and split the seasons and championships, they don’t like each other. … Even though I wasn’t here the last couple years, talking and hearing the stories and watching the film kind of transfers me and I feel like I’ve been part of this team.”

Pachulia passed up a chance at bigger money to have a chance for a title when he signed with Golden State last summer for $2.9 million. He’s part of a revamped center position along with fellow newcomers JaVale McGee and David West.

Swingman Matt Barnes adds more energy off the bench and rookie guard Patrick McCaw has provided another boost.

The Cavaliers added a 3-point specialist in Korver, along with backup point guard Deron Williams and swingman Derrick Williams to the mix in hopes of giving James more offensive options around him.

Many of these players had to take on smaller roles now that they had joined so-called super teams filled with stars. But it was all worth it because of the quest for a championship.

“I felt like when I got here, I could fill in some gaps, fill in some holes just in the way these guys approach the game and the level of seriousness it takes every single day,” West said.

All the newcomers remembered watching these two teams square off the past two Junes as fans. There was Golden State winning its first title since 1975 when the Warriors bested a short-handed Cavaliers squad missing Irving and Kevin Love on Cleveland’s home court in 2015.

Then the Cavs got their revenge last year when they rallied back to claim their city’s first major team championship since 1964 with a Game 7 win in Oakland.

“They’ve been battles, they’ve been wars,” Barnes said. “This is really the grudge match. I think the world has been waiting for this to finally get here.”

Barnes wasn’t exactly a neutral observer last year, having grown up in Northern California and having played with the Warriors before their recent run of dominance. Barnes was a key reserve on the “We Believe” team in 2007 that made it to the second round of the playoffs and said his heart never left the East Bay.

He started this season in Sacramento before getting waived in February and joining the Warriors for the stretch run. Now he’s ready to help avenge last year’s disappointment.

“They know they left a ring on the table,” Barnes said of his teammates. “It kind of goes without saying. It’s not something we talk about. Everybody has been waiting to get to this point in the season.”

Some have waited longer than others. Korver ranks second among all active players with 104 playoff games without a Finals appearance, trailing only Joe Johnson‘s 112 games. West (95 games), Barnes (90) and Deron Williams (85) aren’t far behind.

That all changes Thursday.

“It’s been a long journey, some ups and downs but it’s well worth it once you get here in the Finals,” Williams said. “It’s definitely exciting. I feel blessed to be in this position to compete for a championship.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.