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Kevin Durant’s defense leads the way for Warriors

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(AP) — Kevin Durant is growing a little tired of questions about his ability to play defense.

“Underrated?” Durant responded when recently asked about the perception of his D. “My coaches don’t feel like that.”

Neither does he, and KD’s menacing, 6-foot-9 presence from the paint to the perimeter is a big reason unbeaten Golden State is closing in on its second championship in three years.

While best known for his sensational scoring and shot-making from every corner of the court, Durant has been tough on LeBron James so far in these NBA Finals by smothering the Cavs superstar. The Warriors are two wins from a title going into Game 3 at Cleveland on Wednesday night.

Durant is chasing his first championship and seems determined to do whatever it takes.

So versatile with his length and ability to alter shots, he even played center during Sunday’s Game 2 when Draymond Green dealt with foul trouble in the 132-113 victory.

“I don’t think there’s many teams in the league who their backup is better than their starter,” Green said. “So I think that’s a luxury that we have with KD here, and when I went out with foul trouble, obviously he – to say pick up the slack is kind of a ridiculous term, because he’s a great player, an MVP, one of the best players in the world. So just the way he played on the defensive end, the way he played on the offensive end, he’s been doing it all playoffs long, but in these Finals, he’s really picked it up, and it’s been huge for us.”

Durant and Green have set the tone all season on the defensive end, establishing an intensity and toughness – and the rest of the Warriors had no choice but to do more during Durant’s 19-game absence this spring with a knee injury.

“If we’re locked in on the defensive end, we’ll score enough points,” Green said. “Even on an off night, we’ll score enough points.”

After his NBA Finals failure five years ago against James and the Heat, Durant vowed to become a legitimate, respected defender who could make nearly as much of an impact blocking shots and crashing the boards.

He insists he can do even more.

“I’ve gotten better, and 2013 is when I feel I really turned the corner as a defender. Around 2012, that’s when coaches stopped thinking they could go at me and get a basket or get me in foul trouble,” Durant said. “But I don’t expect anybody on the outside who really doesn’t know the game to look at me as a defender because once you’re labeled something that’s what you’re going to be. But I feel the last four or five years I’ve definitely continued to get better and better, and smarter. I have the physical tools, but it’s also about mentally knowing what to do.”

Sure, James still notched his record-tying eighth career Finals triple-double and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had big nights. Yet Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and the others kept the pressure on the Cavs.

Durant blocked five shots to go with 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists after going off for 38 points and eight assists in Thursday’s Game 1.

“His defense was amazing, and we needed it. Especially with Draymond out,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s a small game and you got shooters everywhere and you have to be able protect the rim with LeBron coming downhill, with Love posting up and Draymond’s on the bench. So that’s a pretty scary proposition for us. I thought that Kev’s defense was unreal, and it was probably the key to the whole game.”

It could be that Durant’s defense will quiet the critics at last, especially if he comes out a winner after that scrutinized move from Oklahoma City last July to join the super-Warriors.

“I don’t feel like I get picked on or people call sets just to try to score on me. That hasn’t happened in a while,” he said. “I’ve grown leaps and bounds from where I was. I feel like I’ve been a solid defender in this league for a while.”

With all of their offensive firepower, the Warriors often turn a stretch of timely defensive stops into scoring spurts that can swing the momentum. Or, in many cases, give them just the jolt they need to put a game out of reach for good.

“I operate under the assumption that our guys know what to do and they know their system,” Golden State assistant and defensive specialist Ron Adams said. “We have an eclectic system. There’s freedom offensively, and we have some freedom defensively, and we’re good at it.”

When the Warriors added Durant, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West to a roster that blew a 3-1 Finals lead to James and fell short of a repeat last year, many wondered if they would have enough in the middle to defend the rim.

“It was a question mark for some people going into the season, losing (Andrew) Bogut and some other guys,” general manager Bob Myers said. “Ron is interesting. He’s always had good defensive teams. And we take pride in it, we care about it. I know the offense gets most of the attention but our players, they work at it, collectively, individually. They want to be a good defensive team. We try to do it all year. Sometimes it’s better than other times, but this is the time of year you really need it the most. For us, we view it as important as our offense.

“It’s not as sexy, but it’s important.”

 

New York congressman insults Knicks, James Dolan funds opponent

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Things are changing with the Knicks. Leon Rose is in the front office, Tom Thibodeau is the coach, and together they are talking about developing players and having a plan moving forward. It’s a reason for hope…

Then there’s James Dolan.

Max Rose, a Democratic congressman from Staten Island, echoed the voice for a lot of Knicks fans when he said: “I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace.”

We have seen how Dolan reacts to fans saying he should sell the team. In the case of Rose, he is fundraising for the Republican running against him. It would be easy to say “Dolan is a big President Donald Trump supporter and donates to GOP causes all the time” and this isn’t personal, except Dolan sent out an email to help raise funds for Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and the New York Post got a hold of it.

“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform,” Dolan wrote in a personal email to friends last week that was obtained by The Post. “I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. … Please join me in helping Nicole defeat Max Rose for Congress.

“It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection.

That’s personal. Dolan isn’t just asking other people to donate.

A $50,000 check from MSG Sports was cut Tuesday to “The Governing Majority Fund,” a PAC run by former Reps. John Faso and Jeff Denham, Dolan confirmed. The PAC’s mission is to help Republicans take back the House.

Rose represents New York’s 11th District, a solid Republican district until the 2018 midterms when it became one of 30 districts nationally that flipped blue. The GOP is trying to turn a number of those back, including Rose’s district.

Whatever you think of Rose’s politics (he’s a former Army Ranger, which helped him in a more conservative district), what he said about wanting Dolan to sell the franchise is what many Knicks fans are thinking. Dolan just doesn’t like to hear it. Maybe Rose and Thibodeau can turn the Knicks around — they certainly deserve a chance — but the team has struggled since Dolan became the owner and that’s not a coincidence.

Whatever Rose and Knicks fans want, it’s also highly unlikely Dolan sells the team, there are no rumblings about that around the league (and he certainly has had chances).

Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps shifts to become Jazz assistant coach

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While teams have moved away from anyone in a dual coach/GM role, some people bounce between coach and the front office around the NBA: Steve Kerr was once the Suns’ GM before being the Warriors coach; Sean Marks was on the bench in San Antonio before moving to their front office and eventually the head guy in Brooklyn.

Now Dell Demps is making that move. The former general manager for the New Orleans Pelicans, who was let go a year ago, will be an assistant coach on Quin Synder’s staff in Utah. Demps was the GM of the Spurs G-League team years back and hired Snyder to coach it.

“I was fortunate to work with Dell to begin my career as a head coach in professional basketball and I know he will delve into his role on the bench,” Snyder said in a statement. “He has an incredible work ethic and commitment to his craft. His vast experience both as a player and in front office roles brings a unique perspective that will be invaluable to our team. We’re excited to welcome him to the Jazz.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Coach Snyder again,” Demps said. “I have always had tremendous respect for Quin and the Jazz organization. I look forward to joining this talented coaching staff and working with our players. My wife Anita and I couldn’t be more excited to make the move to Utah and become a part of a tremendous community.”

Demps was not the only hire by Snyder, who is also bringing former NBA player Keyon Dooling. He played for 13 years in the league and then has worked with the National Basketball Players Association in various roles — most recently as a wellness counselor and mental health advocate — in recent years. Dooling played for two years at Missouri in college, a team coached by Snyder.

“Keyon is a fantastic addition for us on multiple levels and someone I’ve always had tremendous respect for since our time at Missouri where we formed a close bond that has continued throughout the years,” said Snyder. “He’s a natural leader who was a captain on multiple teams in the league and I have no doubt that the way he approached the game as a player will translate to the work he puts in with our roster on the court.”

New Kings’ GM doesn’t change fact De’Aaron Fox expects max contract extension

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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New Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair is just getting the photos of his family framed and settling into his office, but he’s made one critical decision already: Luke Walton will be back as Sacramento’s coach. McNair also decided he wants to see the Kings return to more of the up-tempo style of a couple of seasons ago (before Walton arrived). Looming after that is the 2020 NBA Draft, where the Kings have the No. 12 pick.

When free agency comes, the question becomes: Will the Sacramento Kings offer De'Aaron Fox a max contract extension?

The young point guard expects one, reports James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.

League sources have confirmed to NBC Sports California that the Kings, under previous management, already had a discussion with Fox’s representation on an extension.

Depending on where the NBA’s final salary cap numbers come in, Fox is eligible for a five-year max money contract worth between $150-180 million. Don’t expect a discounted rate. He will ask for and likely get whatever the maximum is allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

If the salary cap were to remain flat for two years (possible, but not probable), a five-year max extension to Fox’s rookie contract is $158 million. The number will likely be higher than that, and if Fox makes a huge leap and becomes an All-NBA player, it jumps up to nearly $190 million (not likely to happen, but not impossible).

Fox averaged 21.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, but fully healthy he stepped up his play in the bubble averaging 26.2 points a game on 50.4% shooting and dishing out 7.3 assists a game. He was by far the Kings’ best player.

In the bubble, the Kings seemed to lack an identity. What kind of team did they want to be? McNair has come in and decided that — this is going to be an uptempo, transition team. Fox would be at the heart of that plan.

McNair said at his introductory press conference he sees Fox as a cornerstone piece.

“De’Aaron is an incredible young talent,” McNair said. “I’ve loved to see what he’s done and what he’s improved on over the years and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”

If this team is going to get back to running more, Fox is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker in transition as the league has. The Kings need to pay to keep him happy, then get players to go around him that fit that style. Expect McNair to spend the next season evaluating and shifting the roster around to fit that style. The problem is the pressure of the playoffs — the Kings haven’t been in 14 years, one short of tying the Donald Sterling Clippers for the longest drought in league history. There is pressure from ownership to make the playoffs and start winning sooner rather than later. It will be a tough balancing act for McNair. Welcome to sitting in the big chair.

Deciding to pay Fox may be the easiest of his decisions.

 

LeBron James one win away from history: 10th NBA Finals apperance

Lakers star LeBron James
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LeBron James can reach a 10th NBA Finals, done by only three greats of the game.

Anthony Davis is on the verge of his first.

The final step for the Los Angeles Lakers shapes up as the toughest.

They have to knock out the Denver Nuggets, who have been on the brink of dismissal from the bubble six times and every time refused to go.

“You can never be comfortable around this team,” Davis said. “They have been in this situation twice. We’ve been in the situation twice. But both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team is not going to go away.”

Game 5 is Saturday. The Lakers have ended both their series thus far in five games.

But the Nuggets were also down 3-1 against both Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, fell far behind in Game 5, and then battled back to not only win the game but eventually the series.

No team had ever erased two 3-1 deficits in one postseason and now the Nuggets need to do it a third time. It’s a predicament they could have avoided, if they’d gotten one more defensive stop in Game 2 or given up a few less second-chance points in Game 4.

“These are all close games we’re playing,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Going to keep battling it out.”

Murray was sensational again in Game 4, though James slowed him enough down the stretch after taking on the defensive assignment to help the Lakers pull out a 114-108 victory.

One more win, and James ties NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third on the career list with 10 NBA Finals appearances. Only Hall of Famers Bill Russell (12) and Sam Jones (11) of the Boston Celtics have gone to more.

It would be James’ first with the Lakers after five appearances in Cleveland and four in Miami, and the Lakers’ first trip to the finals since winning the last of their 16 championships in 2010.

James and Davis have been the unquestioned catalysts of this run, and they’re good strong support from some playoff-tested veterans. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds Thursday in his first start of this postseason, helping send Los Angeles to its overwhelming 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.

Rajon Rondo contributed 11 points and moved into eighth place on the career list with seven more assists.

“In the postseason, every possession is so important,” James said. “When you can have guys that have been in the moments and can understand and also be able to make adjustments on the fly, and know that you can count on them down the stretch, it just makes the team and you individually feel so much more confident in the outcome.”

The younger Nuggets don’t have those type of veterans, but they have the experience of this historic postseason run that could have ended on Aug. 25, the night of Game 5 against Utah. A month later, they are still at Disney World, still trying to prove that hope is not lost until four games are.

“I think people out there probably think this is exactly where we want them. It’s not. We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”

If they do, Game 6 would be Monday night. If not, the Lakers will be preparing to face Miami, in its first appearance since James left in 2014, or the Celtics, their greatest rival they could tie with a 17th NBA title.

The Lakers won’t think about any of that until the Nuggets are finally gone.

“Like I said last game, we’ve got to put them away,” Davis said. “They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is. We just have to make sure we counter everything they do.”