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Mike Brown returns to Cleveland, this time with Warriors

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Mike Brown happily slid into his normal seat to coach Steve Kerr’s left for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. For the first time in weeks the Warriors were whole again.

Brown has moved before – not always so willingly – and over the next few days he’ll return to a familiar place.

Golden State’s well-liked top assistant, whose first two stints as a head coach were to nurture a young LeBron James and then pamper Kobe Bryant, is heading to Cleveland, the city that shaped him more than any other.

It’s where he was hired twice and fired twice by the Cavaliers, who are paying him until 2020. It’s where he raised his two sons. It’s where he rooted himself in the community and stayed after losing his job in 2014. And it’s where he still has a home and keeps one of his Harleys, which he took for cruises along Lake Erie to clear his mind.

“He loves those Harleys,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “That just means he has `em in every city he goes to. That’s an addiction.”

When Game 3 tips off Wednesday night with the Warriors holding a 2-0 lead that feels insurmountable, Brown will be back in a building where he and James appeared in their first Finals together 10 years ago.

In 2007, the Cavs were no match for the powerful San Antonio Spurs, who overwhelmed Cleveland and swept the series. Brown can surely appreciate the irony in coming back as part of a juggernaut.

“Circle of life,” Brown said last week. “Like the `Lion King,’ everything comes back around, I guess.”

Brown’s Finals debut must seem like a lifetime ago for the 47-year-old, who guided the Warriors to an 11-0 mark in this postseason while Kerr battled intense pain stemming from back surgeries.

“My guy did OK while I was gone,” Kerr said after the Warriors won Sunday night.

During last year’s Finals in Cleveland, Brown met with Kerr about joining the Warriors staff and replacing Luke Walton, who was bound for the Los Angeles Lakers. The interview came before the Cavs rallied from a 3-1 deficit, and before Kevin Durant announced he was headed to the Bay Area.

After he was fired for the second time by the Cavs, Brown had stepped outside the coaching circle, choosing instead to watch oldest son Elijah play hoops at New Mexico and filming his other son Cameron’s Friday night high school football games. All the while, he stayed connected by talking with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, his mentor and former boss.

Popovich urged him to join Kerr.

Brown’s willingness to accept an assistant’s job despite 563 career regular-season wins and 47 in the playoffs underscores his humility. But that’s Brown: unassuming, ego-less, the consummate teammate.

And while he hasn’t strayed from preparation and the attention he learned growing up in a military family, Brown has shown a willingness to change. He has loosened up. With the Warriors, he had no choice.

Borrowing philosophies from other coaches, Kerr has created a loose atmosphere, believing a less-structured environment allows players to perform more freely and effectively. Kickball games are not uncommon and yoga is practiced regularly. Warriors practices typically begin with loud music booming through loudspeakers.

It can be jarring to outsiders.

“I remember the first few practices, me and Mike, we were new guys and we were looking at each other like: `This is how it goes down here?”‘ Durant said. “So it was an adjustment for both of us. It was great for me to have Mike to kind of like go through the season with me, and kind of help me out and help me get adjusted. It was different for both of us.”

If things had gone differently, Brown might still be Cleveland’s coach. Given only one season on his return, he was dismissed despite a nine-win improvement and a colossal jump defensively. He still had four years left on his contract, and unfinished plans.

Last week, Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he wished his time with Brown had gone better.

“I was a 21-year-old kid, just trying to lead a franchise, and he was a new head coach that I had to get introduced to a new offense, new players, as well as a new system,” Irving said. “I kind of regret being part of that because he was just trying to teach me a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily understand as a 21-year-old. So, he definitely had some great things and the knowledge of the game that’s up there with some great coaches.”

Brown could be in demand again. Kerr’s health may prompt a reshuffling at Golden State, and there are certain to be other vacancies next season.

Brown though, isn’t in any hurry to pack up, and he’s not viewing his trip to Cleveland as anything more than business.

“I’m not looking at this as Cleveland fired me twice, this is the time to get back at them or is there any extra incentive?” he said. “I just want to win. I just want to be a part of a winning program and be the last team, quote/unquote, standing.”

 

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.