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It’s a rite of spring: LeBron James forced to carry Cavaliers

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James recovered quickly from his neck strain. There’s still too much stress on his back.

He’s carrying the Cavaliers. It’s a springtime tradition.

As has been the case for much of his 15-year career, James has had to perform at an extraordinary level throughout these playoffs, most recently in Cleveland’s Game 2 loss at Boston.

Bouncing back after taking a blow to the jaw from Jayson Tatum‘s shoulder that violently twisted his head and sent a chill down the spines of Cleveland fans, James finished with 42 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

It was not enough, however. His teammates failed him and the Cavs fell into a 2-0 hole in the Eastern Conference finals.

Kevin Love (22 points, 15 rebounds) helped, so did Kyle Korver (four 3-pointers) and Tristan Thompson (8 points, 7 rebounds). But too many other Cavs ranged from mediocre to awful.

If Cleveland is to even the series at home, that has to change starting in Game 3 on Saturday.

“We have to ramp it up,” said J.R. Smith, who didn’t score in Game 2 and committed a critical flagrant foul. “We’re playing too slow. We’re making `Bron play hero ball, which is tough to do, especially in the Eastern Conference finals. We got to help him. With that said, we have to give him an opportunity to make him feel confident to give us the ball so we can make the right plays. We got to help him and he’s got to help us.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said James “did everything” in practice Thursday, but the 33-year-old had left the floor by the time media members were allowed in for interviews. James was spotted in the fitness and training area inside the facility.

Lue said the Cavs spent time breaking down video of the two losses. There was plenty to dissect.

Cleveland has had puzzling defensive lapses, and Lue said there were up to nine instances in Game 2 alone where communication breakdowns led to easy baskets or open shots for the Celtics.

On offense, Lue feels Smith and point guard George Hill, who have been outscored 72-12 in two games by Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, need to be more aggressive and attack the basket.

Smith believes it’s simpler than that.

“Make shots, that’s the only thing we can do,” said Smith, who is 2 for 17 and 0 for 7 on 3-pointers in the series. “I mean obviously we can do more on the defensive side, but our main focus is to make shots right now when we get it. If we don’t have them, try to make the next-best play. Right now `Bron and Kev are working overly hard, trying to carry us. We just got to step up and do our job.”

But talking a good game is one thing, playing one is another. The Cavs don’t have time for speeches or excuses. With their season inching toward danger, results are all that matter.

Hill didn’t record an assist in 28 minutes in Game 1 and had three points in Game 2. He missed time in the opening round against Indiana with back spasms and has been puzzled by his drop-off after playing so well in Cleveland’s sweep over Toronto.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself,” he said. “I think a little bit of just trying to be more involved offensively, trying to be more involved defensively, not waiting until a play is possibly called and things like that to go do it. I’ve just got to be more assertive, I’ve got to play with that edge like I did in the second series

“There’s no one to blame but myself. You’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and say, `What can I do better?”‘

The Cavs know they need to be more physical after the Celtics took the fight to them in Boston.

Lue raised some eyebrows following Game 2 when he described Boston’s players as “gooning up” the series. Lue explained he wasn’t being critical.

“It’s not a bad thing to goon it up,” he said. “Like, they’re taking hard fouls, they’re being physical. They’re playing playoff basketball. So that’s all I meant by it.”

Thompson said he loves that Boston is playing “hard and chippy.” But he knows if the Cavs don’t ease the burden on James, this fight could be over sooner than expected.

“Other guys have to contribute and other guys have to step up,” Tristan Thompson said. “Of course, it’s a huge luxury having LeBron on our team. At the same time, we have to be ready to play and we have to do our job.”

And get off James’ back.

 

Carmelo Anthony responds four times to Instagram post calling Kyle Korver better: ‘FOH’

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Carmelo Anthony was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He had just led Syracuse to the national title as a freshman, and some fans and media advocating taking him No. 1 overall ahead of LeBron James (and Darko Milicic).

Korver was the No. 51 pick in the same draft. He looked like this:

Fifteen years later, Anthony and Korver are still in the league. Korver is helping the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, and Anthony and the Thunder already got eliminated. That sparked an Instagram post that clearly irked Anthony:

Anthony has had a better career than Korver. But who’s better right now? It depends on the terms of the debate.

Anthony is still a more-skilled all-around offensive player. (Neither gains credit for their defense.) Anthony can create in ways Korver just can’t.

But any team running its offense through Anthony now is asking for a bad time. Even if that’s that the best style for maximizing him individually, he’s no longer good enough to justify having the ball that much.

Korver is a far superior complementary player. He’s an elite 3-point shooter who moves well off the ball. Anthony struggles in that role.

In a hypothetical game between Anthony plus four average players and Korver plus four average players, I’d lean toward Anthony’s squad. But an actual NBA team capable of winning needs players better than both, and at that point, I’d rather have Korver.

Pistons hire Ed Stefanski to advise owner on searches for general manager and coach, with Dwane Casey reportedly top target

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After interviewing Kiki VanDeWeghe, Ed Stefanski, Gersson Rosas, Trajan Langdon, Brent Barry and Shane Battier, the Pistons picked Stefanski… to help pick the head of basketball operations.

Pistons release:

Detroit Pistons Owner Tom Gores announced today the hiring of Ed Stefanski as a senior executive reporting directly to Mr. Gores with responsibility for helping reshape the team’s basketball operations infrastructure and strategy. In this new role, Mr. Stefanski will assist in the searches now underway for a new head coach and new head of basketball operations; conduct a broad review of the existing structure in which the two jobs were previously combined;  recommend enhancements and improvements to that structure; and act as a long-term strategic adviser to Mr. Gores and the Pistons’ ownership team. His contract has a three-year term.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Pistons’ top target in the coaching search is former Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey, according to league sources.

Gores loves his consultants. He hired former Knicks and Jazz president Dave Checketts as an advisor shortly after buying the Pistons in 2011. That led to keeping Joe Dumars as president of basketball operations for three more, nearly doomed-to-fail, years. When Gores set out to replace Dumars in 2014, the Pistons trumpeted their use of search firm Korn/Ferry. On the recommendation of Korn/Ferry, Gores hired Stan Van Gundy as president-coach.

Now, with Van Gundy out and Detroit untangling those roles, Gores has turned to Stefanski.

Stefanski ran the 76ers from 2007-10, and he worked for the Grizzlies the last few years. Maybe his many years of experience will help in the latest general-manager search.

But then what?

Once the Pistons hire a general manager, what will Stefanski do? How will Gores distribute power so the new general manager and Stefanski aren’t stepping on each other’s toes or, worse, undercutting each other?

Locking in on Casey before hiring a general manager also seems like a mistake. Casey is a good coach and would be a good hire based on his acumen. But that should be the next general’s call. Forcing a coach onto a general manager usually goes poorly – though there might be a selection bias, because the type of team that does that usually has wider problems, too.

Which, yeah.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.