Even otherworldly play from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving not enough against Warriors

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CLEVELAND – LeBron James silenced the questions about whether he’s the still the best player the world, nearing a triple-double with 39 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists. Kyrie Irving added 38 dazzling points.

And the Cavaliers still lost.

The Warriors ended a 118-113 Game 3 win on an 11-0 run, spoiling masterful performances by Cleveland’s biggest stars.

“It definitely hurts,” Irving said, his voice quivering. “I’m human.”

Had Golden State – with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and a 15-0 playoff record – finally ground the Cavs into submission? Irving sounded shook.

“I apologize if I’m shivering,” Irving said. “I just got out of the cold tub. So don’t think I’m like getting sensitive on you guys. Just pretty cold.”

So, the Cavs aren’t quite on the verge of tears. But here’s a frigid reality: They’re on the verge of elimination, facing a 3-0 deficit – never before overcome – against arguably the greatest team of all-time.

If LeBron and Irving can play like this and still lose, what hope do the Cavaliers have? What else can they do?

“I gave everything that I had to this game, so I don’t look at it saying I wish I could have did this or I would have did that,” LeBron said. “I left it out on the floor.

“It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career. I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower. So, even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus.”

That’s a different tune from before the series, when LeBron put Golden State in the mix with the Spurs and Celtics as the best teams he has faced. While Irving claimed his demeanor was unrelated to emotion, LeBron is clearly the frustration of playing the Warriors

LeBron slammed the ball after his final turnover practically clinched the game for Golden State. He stewed, barely engaged in the final seconds. As the clock mercifully neared zero, he stormed through hugging teammates on the bench toward the locker room.

Cleveland outscored the Warriors by seven in LeBron’s 45:37 and got outscored by 12 in the other 2:23. Irving played 44:23, making plenty of big shots when the Cavs’ offense might have otherwise stagnated.

All along, Golden State coach Steve Kerr implored his players to keep defending as they were and bet fatigue would set in. After carrying such heavy loads, LeBron and Irving each shot 0-for-3 in the final five minutes.

“When you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, it’s – you hope eventually it’s going to take its toll. I wasn’t sure after awhile. They just were going nuts,” Kerr said. “But I think that we just stayed with it, and our defense finally kicked in.”

Said LeBron: “At times throughout the game I was tired, but that’s just because I was just playing as hard as I could. But I was able to get second and third and fourth winds. I don’t contribute us losing this game because we got tired.”

LeBron keeps saying he’s not tired, but he looked worn down late – which is understandable.

The last teammates to play as many minutes as LeBron and Irving in regulation of a Finals game were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2012 Game 4. The Heat cinched that game when Westbrook committed a boneheaded foul in the final seconds.

Durant has moved on from the Thunder and those problems. After carrying a relatively lesser load than his star counterparts from Cleveland, Durant was fresh late and made all the key plays down the stretch.

Meanwhile, LeBron and Irving are left with the tiring burden of keeping up with a super team. The challenge, always immense, has never seemed greater.

Report: Nuggets lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. undergoes another back surgery

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Michael Porter Jr. underwent back surgery in November, missed nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri then slipped to No. 14 in the draft amid injury concerns.

The Nuggets have been noncommittal about their plans for Porter, but they’ve given an eyebrow-raising update.

Nuggets release:

Michael Porter Jr. has undergone surgery of the lumbar spine at The Carrell Clinic in Dallas, Tex. The Procedure was performed by Dr. Andrew Dossett. There is no timetable for his return to basketball participation.

Porter is a talented forward with the length and skill to make a major impact as a scorer.

But, as this latest surgery underscores, drafting him carried terrifying risk. Denver will have to bear that for a while.

Report: Dirk Nowitzki to re-sign with Mavericks for $5 million

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Dirk Nowitzki is set to play his 20th season – breaking Kobe Bryant’s record for most seasons with a single franchise and tying Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis for most seasons in the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s $5 million team option, but he was never signing elsewhere. He was either going to retire or play for Dallas.

Once he decided to return, the only question was money.

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s option to maximize their flexibility for upgrades, namely signing DeAndre Jordan. Once Yogi Ferrell agreed to an absurdly team-friendly contract, Dallas had enough cap space left to give Nowitzki his team-option amount. If necessary, he would have taken the $4,449,000 room exception.

Nowitzki has had a great career, and this could be his farewell tour. But he also remains a helpful rotation-level player. Though he’s a defensive liability, his outside shooting as a big goes a long way toward floor spacing.

Report: Mavericks re-signing Yogi Ferrell for less than qualifying-offer salary with second year unguaranteed

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The Mavericks expected Yogi Ferrell to accept his qualifying offer.

Turns out, they’ll keep him on an even more team-friendly deal than the one he could have unilaterally signed.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is an awful deal for Ferrell.

As reported, he’ll earn between $2,548,077 and $2,760,417 next season. That range is less than his qualifying offer – which would have paid him a fully guaranteed $2,919,204 next season.

That reduction is acceptable if Ferrell got something in exchange – but he gave Dallas the concession by adding an unguaranteed second year. If he plays well, the Mavericks will keep him at a cheap salary. If he doesn’t, they’ll waive him for no cost. They have all the control.

The promise of the backup shooting guard job is probably just lip service. Teams don’t stick by that if the player struggles. If he produces, he would have gotten the job anyway.

Dallas has plenty of point guard types – Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, J.J Barea, Jalen Brunson and Ferrell. Rick Carlisle uses two of them simultaneously often enough that Ferrell should land in the rotation. But it’s far from a lock.

With this deal, Ferrell is taking all the risk and the Mavericks are getting all the upside.

Thon Maker and Andray Blatche among 18 (!) disciplined for Philippines-Australia brawl

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Thon Maker and Andray Blatche were the biggest names in the Philippines-Australia brawl, but they sure weren’t the only ones involved in the massive fight. The fallout included the Bucks center and former Wizards forward, but it also reaches much further.

FIBA release:

Philippines
The following 10 players are suspended for unsportsmanlike behavior and, in the case of Roger Pogoy, also for inciting unsportsmanlike behavior (in brackets the number of games of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers): Japeth Aguilar and Matthew Wright (1 game each); Terence Romeo, Jayson Castro William, Andray Blatche and Jeth Rosario (3 games each); Roger Pogoy, Carl Cruz and Jio Jalalon (5 games each); Calvin Abueva (6 games, due also to prior unsportsmanlike behavior in a FIBA competition). No sanction is imposed on Gabe Norwood.
Assistant Coach Joseph Uichico is suspended for 3 games for unsportsmanlike behavior. Head Coach Vincent ‘Chot’ Reyes is suspended for 1 game and shall pay a disciplinary fine of CHF 10,000 for inciting unsportsmanlike behavior.
Philippines’ national federation, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, Inc (SBP), is sanctioned for the unsportsmanlike behavior of its delegation members and of its public, as well as for insufficient organization of the game. Philippines will play the next home game behind closed doors while a ban for two more home games has been placed under a probationary period of 3 years. SBP shall also pay a disciplinary fine of CHF 250,000.
Australia
The following 3 players are suspended for unsportsmanlike behavior and, in the case of Chris Goulding and Daniel Kickert, also for inciting unsportsmanlike behavior: Chris Goulding (1 game), Thon Maker (3 games) and Daniel Kickert (5 games). No sanction is imposed on Nathan Sobey and Jason Cadee.
Basketball Australia shall pay a disciplinary fine of CHF 100,000 for the unsportsmanlike behavior of its players and for abusing and/or tampering of equipment, after having removed floor stickers from the court on the eve of the game.

Furthermore, following a thorough evaluation by a group of experts of the officiating during the game, the FIBA Secretary General has decided that the referees of the game shall be removed with immediate effect from the FIBA Elite Program and shall not be nominated to any international competitions organized or recognized by FIBA (including at Zone and Sub-zone level) for a period of one year.