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LaMarcus Aldridge trying to find his place with Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge admitted to feeling some frustration following an offseason filled with trade rumors.

They troubled him enough to do something he hadn’t really done before. The 6-foot-11 forward reached out to coach Gregg Popovich for a serious talk about his place on the team as it continues its transition, slowly but surely, away from the Tim Duncan/Big Three era.

“The relationship has always been great, it’s no issue,” Aldridge said. “It’s just that I’m trying how to mesh who I was to who I am now and trying to get more out of me in the system.”

The success of those talks could go a long way in determining if the Spurs can keep their place among the top teams in the rugged Western Conference.

San Antonio essentially stood pat in the offseason, adding Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne while losing Jonathon Simmons and David Lee. The Spurs will again rely on veterans like Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol while anticipating improvement from younger players like Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes.

Entering his 12th NBA season, Aldridge has averaged 18.0 and 17.3 points in two seasons with San Antonio. Those are respectable numbers, but not for a four-time All-Star with Portland who became the biggest free agent signing in Spurs history.

“It was a probably a little bit of frustration at one point on my end because I felt like I wasn’t really fitting into the system as well as I could and I wasn’t helping to the level I felt like I could,” Aldridge said.

The frustration grew in the postseason, which ended with a sweep by Golden State in the conference finals.

Aldridge averaged 15.5 points against the Warriors, but only 11.3 points in the final three games after the Spurs lost Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 1. While fans and Aldridge himself are demanding more, Popovich and his teammates simply want more of the same.

“I feel like he played well for us last year,” said Leonard, who sat out the entire preseason as a precaution to protect his right quadriceps. “Come in and be a presence on both ends of the floor be aggressive.”

Aldridge said he is healthy after missing two games in early March due to a minor heart arrhythmia and playing with tendinitis throughout the season. He has looked comfortable and happy in the preseason, averaging 16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games while taking on a greater leadership role.

“Now we’ve got to help (Aldridge) out a little bit more so he’s comfortable in his own space offensively,” Popovich said. “I haven’t done a very good job with that (in the past).”

Some other things to watch from the Spurs early this season:

PROMISING PARKER

Parker’s rapid recovery from a ruptured quadriceps tendon has astounded doctors, the Spurs and even himself. San Antonio’s veteran point guard plans to return by mid- to late-November, which is two to four months sooner than initially expected. Parker could not move for three weeks after suffering the injury May 4 against Houston in the second round of the playoffs. The 35-year-old had to re-learn how to walk and was told he might not be able to bend his knee as he had before. Parker is cleared for all activities, but was held out of full-contact practices.

MURRAY’S GROWTH

Murray is expected to start at point guard while Parker completes his injury rehabilitation. The second-year player out of Washington has averaged 9.3 points and a team-high 3.8 assists in the preseason. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 3.4 points and 1.3 assists in limited minutes last season.

“I’m very optimistic about his future,” Ginobili said. “He’s going to be a great player, a potential All-Star, (but) you don’t know if it’s going to happen now or in five years. It depends a lot him, but he’s a very talented kid.”

MANU RETURNS

Ginobili returns for his 16th season after nearly retiring in the offseason. Admitting it was a “close call,” Ginobili opted to return to the only NBA team he has played for. Ginobili averaged 7.5 points last season, the lowest of his career, but enjoyed one of his most injury-free seasons.

“I still had the appreciation for the game, I still enjoy being here every day,” Ginobili said. “Incredible organization and a place where I feel respected and listened to and appreciated and I appreciate it, too.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT

The Spurs are expected to rely more on their youth than in previous seasons. Second-year players Murray, Bertans and Forbes and rookies Derrick White and Brandon Paul are embracing that opportunity, even impressing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

ONE PLAYER, MULTIPLE ROLES

Gay joined San Antonio after playing the past four seasons in Sacramento. After missing the final two months of last season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, the 12-year veteran has participated fully during the preseason. At 6-foot-8, Gay is expected to play multiple positions in the frontcourt in a role similar to the one filled by Boris Diaw.

“It was a do or die point in my career,” Gay said. “I wanted to be with an organization that is known for winning and can help me raise my game to another level. So, I mean, where else do you go?”

 

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.