Stephen Curry urged teammates to just be themselves vs Cavs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry spoke up, just in case his Golden State Warriors needed another reminder from their MVP and leader. His message as the NBA Finals began: be yourselves.

Forget the juicy story lines, or avenging something that happened last June, that championship that got away. Set aside the hyped-up Cavs-Dubs rivalry, constant talk of the trilogy, Part III.

Just go play. And it worked splendidly for the two-time reigning MVP and Kevin Durant in their first Finals together.

Durant was utterly dominant 11 months after leaving Oklahoma City last July to join the Warriors, while Curry found a groove once he removed the black sleeve from his shooting arm protecting his tender right elbow. It just didn’t feel right.

They combined for 66 points and 18 assists in a 113-91 Game 1 thumping Thursday night against LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers, who must find a way to defend the high-flying Durant when the best-of-seven series resumes Sunday at Oracle Arena.

“We were really, really good in that department at just being ourselves, playing Warriors basketball, knowing that there’s a lot of talent out on the floor,” said Curry, who had 28 points and 10 assists. “And that’s our best effort to win this championship, is just be ourselves.”

Cleveland might be thinking the same thing a day after that startling Game 1 defeat that featured 20 turnovers and Durant driving to the basket at will with nobody even close as he dunked again and again – six times in the first half alone. When the Cavs left him unguarded on the perimeter, Durant hit 3-pointers.

The Cavs watched film and vowed to get back to basics and the solid fundamentals that carried them this far, especially on the defensive end.

“We have to stop the ball first and foremost,” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love, whose 21 rebounds in Game 1 were a franchise postseason record. “That’s very apparent when you look at the film.”

Not only did the Warriors match a Finals low with just four turnovers, they took Tristan Thompson out of the equation by holding him scoreless. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue changed his rotation as he searched for someone who could make a scoring impact in the middle, saying that led to his decision to only play Thompson 22 minutes.

James and Kyrie Irving shot 19 for 42 between them but the sloppy ball handling allowed the Warriors to take nearly as many shots – 106 – as they had points, and 20 more attempts than the Cavs’ 86.

Golden State was so good that Lue called them the best team he has seen. Sure, the Warriors won a record 73 games a year ago but in the end they failed to hold a 3-1 Finals lead as Cleveland rallied back in the series to win Game 7 and steal a title in Oakland.

They sure look unstoppable lately. Durant has scored at least 25 points in each of his six career Finals games, losing in his only other appearance to LeBron and Miami in 2012. KD also became the first player with at least 38 points and no turnovers in a Finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did so with 41 points on June 19, 2000.

“You cannot simulate what they bring to the table. No matter how many days that you have to prepare, you can’t simulate what they have,” James said. “So it’s great to get the first game up underneath us. We made a lot of mistakes. They capitalized. And we get an opportunity to get a couple days to see what they did and see what we did wrong and how we can be better in Game 2.”

Golden State realizes it might not get quite the open lanes and looks that Durant had Thursday as the Cavs try to adjust in the paint, yet the pass-happy Warriors are more than capable of opening up the game in other ways as efficiently as they move the ball.

“I think it’s part of the reason people enjoy watching us play. People see so much unselfishness, they see the beauty in the pass,” Andre Iguodala said. “It can scare teams at times. What do you do? `Are we giving up 3s? Are we giving up runs at the basket?”‘

That’s up to Cleveland to figure out – and fast.

 

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA x HBCU Classic Presented by AT&T
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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).