Three Things To Watch in Game 5: Can Cleveland keep knocking down its threes?

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OAKLAND — The Cavaliers felt they finally played like themselves in Game 4. The Warriors thought they had an off game that let the Cavaliers get up a head of steam, but they can correct it. Which is it? We find out Monday night, here are three things to watch for in Game 5.

1) Can the Cavaliers knock down threes like that again? On the road? The Cavaliers set a new NBA record hitting 24 threes in Game 4, and doing it on just 45 shots. They were 6-of-9 from the left corner, they were killing it above the break, and particularly when uncontested (as a team the Cavaliers shot 63 percent overall in the game on uncontested looks).

Can they replicate that?

The Cavs believe they can. They said that this is who they are and this is why they play with pace.

The Warriors think they helped Cleveland get rolling.

“Those 24, I would say probably 10 of them were just mental breakdowns and giving them open looks,” Stephen Curry said. “And they’re obviously great three-point shooters. If you give them open looks, they’re capable of making it, and they can make them in furies. So just staying connected to bodies, trying to stay close on screens, on switches, making sure we’re talking and communicating. And the biggest thing is early in the game you can’t let them get going, because they feed off of that.”

“So we saw a lot of things on tape,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Most of the stuff I already mentioned. Not boxing out, not handling one-on-one defense very well, a lot of breakdowns communication-wise. You see all that stuff. And then it’s a lot easier for the team to look at it on film, and you go over your game plan, you remind them of what you’re trying to do, and you go from there.”

I expect a more focused Warriors defense. Cleveland is capable of beating that, but they’re going to be challenged more in this game.

2) Stephen Curry can’t be 4-of-13 overall and 2-of-9 from three.
Kevin Durant was the Warriors MVP through the first three games (so much for that “he’s riding the Warriors’ coattails” to a title, he’s asserted himself) but Curry was right on his heels. In those games, Curry had 28, 31, and 31 points, and shot a combined 14-of-29 from three. His image had taken a hit last Finals, and he was making up for it.

Then in Game 4 he had 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and he was 0-of-5 on uncontested shots.

“They did a good job on him in Game 4,” Kerr said. “We ran a lot of on-ball stuff in the first half, we ran a lot of off-ball stuff in the second half. Hardest thing is playing from behind. No matter what, it’s difficult. We were down 20 right away in the first quarter. And so playing from behind is a difficult proposition, and you start searching for some things. And we were scattered the rest of the game. But there’s some things we can do to free him up, and we’ll try that tomorrow.”

“Well, he’s dangerous, so we just wanted to limit his shots, take the ball out of his hands. And we did a good job of that in Game 4,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. We have to try to do it again in Game 5.”

With Durant — not to mention Klay Thompson — in the fold, Curry doesn’t have to carry the offense, but he’s got to be assertive and have his moments in Game 5. Another poor outing and he will need to pack for a flight to Cleveland.

3) Does anyone get in foul trouble? Which is a kind way of saying. “please basketball gods, let this game be officiated better than the disaster that was Game 4.” The Cavs would have won anyway, but last game the officials were inconsistent, they let the game get away from them, then they tried to reel it back in by calling technicals.

In the wake of that mess, expect the Game 5 officials to call things a little tighter and try to establish a clear line early. Which may not be ideal for a Cleveland team that needs to be physical to throw Golden State off its game. Here is what Kyrie Irving said about what the Cavs need to continue from Game 4.

“Just our physicality,” Irving said. “I thought we brought a physicality to the game. I thought our defensive mindset was really good, and I thought offensively we really played with a pace. We shared the basketball. We moved bodies, and it was very effective for us. So we have to have a carry over to Game 5.”

Will the officials let them? Or will someone, from either team, get in early foul trouble and alter the course of this game?

I just hope we’re not talking about the officiating postgame again.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.