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Cavaliers return home, seek first series win over Celtics

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers have survived so much this season.

They’re one loss from facing a scenario no NBA team has survived — being down 0-3 in a playoff series.

The Eastern Conference finals shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Saturday with the Boston Celtics holding a 2-0 lead. History is already way, way in the Celtics’ favor.

Of the 300 teams to take 2-0 leads in best-of-seven series, 281 won the series.

Then again, of the 19 teams who’ve made the comeback, two were piloted by LeBron James.

So, unless the Celtics steal Game 3, this series isn’t over. But the Cavs have their heels on the edge of history’s cliff.

“We’re down 0-2. No need to panic,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I mean, we played a Game 7, so I mean, that’s the danger. The danger’s not like we come out and don’t play well tomorrow and lose, it’s over. We still have games to play.”

The Cavs did indeed already play a Game 7 in the playoffs — avoiding elimination by beating the Indiana Pacers in the first round. The Celtics faced the same situation in the opening round against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Boston has won both games in the conference finals by double digits — including a 107-94 victory in Game 2. James posted his fifth triple-double with 40 or more points (42) in that game, and the Cavs still lost.

Jaylen Brown has scored 23 points in both games of this series, and overall Boston’s starting backcourt (Brown and Terry Rozier) has outscored the Cavs’ starting guards 72-12.

But Boston is just 1-4 on the road in this postseason, with statistical drops in just about every major category when playing away from TD Garden.

The Celtics are also a young team missing its two best players (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward). The Cavs aren’t what they once were (remember, Irving used to play for them), but organizationally they are the three-time defending conference champs.

“Like what happened in previous games, what happens in the future is all out the window,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s just about what happens in that 48-minute segment. Our guys know that. We’re going to have to play really hard. We’re going to have to play really connected.

“Obviously, with all they’ve accomplished over the last two years, they’ve been tremendous on the road and at home, but especially at home. It’ll be a heck of a challenge.”

The Cavs are 5-1 at home in the 2018 playoffs, with two buzzer beaters from James to steal two games. James steered the 2007 Cavs back from an 0-2 hole to beat the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals, and James and Irving co-piloted the Cavs from deficits of 0-2 and 1-3 in the 2016 Finals to stun the Warriors.

Only four players remain from the 2016 championship team — James, Kevin Love, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson — and Kyle Korver represents the only other current Cavs player on the 2017 Finals team that lost in five games to Golden State.

And yet this veteran group lost its composure in the second half of Game 2, blowing an eight-point halftime lead and missing all eight 3s in the fourth quarter.

“Going to the Finals a bunch of years in a row, when things don’t go the way you want them to it’s like, ‘Man, why didn’t that work?'” Korver said. “And this year there’s been a lot of turnover.

“We just have to learn how to — not learn how to, we know how to — we have to be focused on just playing through (mistakes), staying positive.”

Dwight Howard could miss start of Wizards camp with bad back

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Dwight Howard joked Monday about the sore back that’s expected to keep him out for the start of training camp with the Washington Wizards.

Coach Scott Brooks downplayed the significance of the injury, too. Still, it’s not ideal that the team needs to put off incorporating its one offseason addition to the starting lineup.

“I’ve been having to do a lot of traveling with shoe companies and stuff like that in China. So just from training, traveling – and airplanes weren’t made for tall people. … It kind of sucks to fly 15 hours curled up in the fetal position,” said Howard, a 6-foot-11 center entering his 15th NBA season.

“So just a minor setback. It shouldn’t take that long for me to get back on the court,” he added. “I’ve been feeling great all summer. Just something that we’ll have to deal with, and it shouldn’t keep me out too long.”

The Wizards traded away starting center Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers and added Howard, who’ll turn 33 in December, on a two-year, $11 million contract with a player option. He averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds last season for a Charlotte Hornets team that missed the playoffs and now is with his fourth team in four years.

That means adjusting yet again – to new teammates, to a new coach, to a new system.

In Washington, everything revolves around the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Last season, when Wall appeared in only 41 of 82 games, the Wizards went 43-39 and were eighth in the Eastern Conference, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Toronto Raptors.

Howard, an eight-time All-Star, said that he has not had a chance to get on a court with Wall and Beal to start getting a feel for one another.

“But one thing that I have done is I’ve watched a lot of film to really learn the tendencies of my teammates. Where they like the ball. Where they like to get screened at. Just things that will really help them get to their sweet spots,” Howard said. “A lot of times, the best way to really understand your teammate is by watching film.”

Brooks, Beal and others said all the right things at Monday’s media day about Howard.

“He’s going to make my job a lot easier. He’s going to make everybody’s job a lot easier on both ends of the floor, because you still have to respect his ability at the rim. He averaged 16 and 13 last year. Those are great numbers, you know? In our system, those can increase, easily,” said Beal, who led Washington in scoring by averaging 22.6 points and was an All-Star for the first time.

“Watching him, if you don’t hit him, it’s over. He’s going to dunk on you. And I love it. Because I think that’s going to get me hyped – just being able to have a big who’ll just flush it on you every time and somebody who will block some shots if you get beat on defense,” Beal said. “He’s a threat on both ends of the floor.”

Now it’s just a matter of getting Howard out on that floor with the rest of the Wizards.

“We’re just going to be careful. Not sure if he will practice tomorrow” when camp opens, Brooks said at the club’s media day.

Brooks listed Howard’s status as “day-to-day,” saying he wasn’t “overly concerned.”

“But we’re not going to rush him to get back,” the coach said.

 

LeBron James forcefully shoots down idea he came to Los Angeles for showbiz

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LeBron James is a smart man, one who knows what his empire is built upon:

Basketball.

And him being better than anyone else in the world at it.

While his post-career life is in Los Angeles — his production company has “The Wall” on NBC, is in the early stages of putting together an NBC comedy about the family life of Ben Simmons, is producing “The Shop” on HBO, is making “Space Jam 2” with LeBron as the star, and more — do not suggest to LeBron that might get in the way of basketball.

“I’m a basketball player. I play ball, that’s what I do,” LeBron said earlier in his press conference. “That’s what I live by and when I do it at the level I do it at everything else takes care of itself.

“As far as my business, those things have been taking care of themselves long before I came out here to be part of the Lakers franchise.”

LeBron is right about that. His production company — led by Maverick Carter — has been working on Space Jam for a couple of years now, and if LeBron had decided to stay in Cleveland or sign in Philadephia or anywhere else that project would still be going forward. They’d still be filming next summer in the off-season, regardless of where he played.

LeBron is very good at compartmentalizing his life. The great ones are. Kobe Bryant had side projects, but it never slowed down the effort he put into the game. Same is going on right now with Stephen Curry and James Harden. Michael Jordan did it before them, and Magic Johnson before him. Those guys have brands that are empires of their own now, but they all know what the foundation of that success is.

And they don’t let anything get in the way of basketball. Not like that.

Enes Kanter: ‘When I think about playoffs, my nipples get hard’

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The Knicks season should be about laying a foundation. They’ll remain patient with their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, returning from injury. They said they won’t trade draft picks.

But they’ve also paid enough lip service to competing this season to, um, excite Enes Kanter.

SNY:

We’ll be sure to check in on the softness of Kanter’s nipples when the Knicks miss the playoffs by dozens of games.

Tom Thibodeau says he expect Jimmy Butler to report to Timberwolves if not traded within week

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Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor reportedly ordered team president Tom Thibodeau to trade Jimmy Butler, who is excused from participating in media day and training camp (apparently because of his hand injury).

But Thibodeau isn’t rushing to proclaim Butler will be dealt.

Chris Hine of the StarTribune:

Kent Youngblood of the StarTribune:

If Butler isn’t traded in the next week, this could get incredibly awkward. Would Butler report? If he does, how would Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each react?

I expect this to be moot. The odds are stacked highly in favor of Minnesota dealing Butler soon.

But, now, there’s a close deadline with even more drama looming on the other side.