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.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.