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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.”

What was Klay Thompson trying to say during this interview?

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In-game interviews are both an interesting layer of texture that adds depth to a TV broadcast and perhaps a distracting commitment for those playing or coaching in an NBA game.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when things like this happen.

As the Golden State Warriors took on the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Klay Thompson was pulled aside for an in-game interview with our friends over at NBC Sports Bay Area. Thompson was asked a question by Kerith Burke about ball movement leading to 3-pointers. Thompson was apparently in need of some sports drink because his answer was a little loopy.

Here’s what Thompson said in response to Burke:

“It’s great on both si— uh. It’s great, both of them are great. And we’re getting out and pushing them on the pace. That’s when we’re at our best.”

I’m not sure what I can parse from that. Maybe you can do better?

Thompson had 27 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the win over the Kings, 130-125.

Raptors, Nuggets to face off in game between conference leaders

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Sunday night’s marquee matchup in the NBA features the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conference.

No, it’s not Boston vs. Golden State, as many would expect. Instead, Toronto and Denver lead their respective conferences a third of the way through the season.

The Raptors (23-8) come into Sunday’s matchup in Denver banged up, but they have company. The Nuggets are missing three starters from opening night but have been able to push through for their best start in decades.

Denver (19-9) leads the Western Conference this late in the season for the first time despite not having forward Paul Millsap (broken toe), guard Gary Harris (hip) and forward Will Barton (core muscle surgery). Coach Michael Malone has dug deep into his bench and found some production.

Most notable among the players stepping up is third-year forward Juancho Hernangomez. The Spaniard has played well this season, including 16 points in a key win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

He also had a big block in the final seconds of a 100-98 win over Golden State in the third game of the season.

“Juancho always plays extremely hard,” Malone told reporters after Friday’s win. “I think in his first two years he was playing very hard but not a lot of discipline. He was just all over the place. I think he’s calming down, he’s understanding who he’s guarding, tendencies, he’s having a lot more discipline within the game plan.”

Toronto has also adjusted to injuries, but it will be tested without center Jonas Valanciunas, who underwent surgery on his dislocated left thumb Thursday and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Forward Kawhi Leonard scored 28 Friday night at Portland after missing two games with a hip injury, and guard Kyle Lowry is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a thigh injury. He didn’t play against the Trail Blazers two nights after having 23 points and 12 assists in a win at Golden State.

Lowry had been struggling a bit before the win over the Warriors, which was a surprise to teammate Fred VanVleet.

“It’s unusual to see a guy who plays at a high level like that go through slumps,” VanVleet told reporters earlier in the week.

“But it comes and goes. It was just shot-making, really. It wasn’t like he wasn’t showing effort. He was probably frustrated he wasn’t making shots, but that comes and goes, and he’s right back where we want him, and where we need him to be.”

VanVleet had 21 points and eight assists Friday and likely will be tasked with trying to contain Denver point guard Jamal Murray.

The job of containing Nuggets center Nikola Jokic should fall to Serge Ibaka or Pascal Siakam, but not many have been able to contain the Serbian.

Toronto will be looking for some revenge, too. The Nuggets snapped the Raptors’ eight-game winning streak with a 106-103 victory on Dec. 3. Jokic had a triple-double and Lowry missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied it.

Denver had Millsap and Harris in that game but won’t have either Sunday.

Jabari Parker says he doesn’t expect benching to be permanent

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Jabari Parker is no longer a part of the Chicago Bulls lineup, and he is reportedly available in a trade.

Parker was taken out of the Bulls regular rotation after their game against the Orlando Magic this week, and it was just another odd story coming out of the Windy City. In addition to the Parker saga, the team has also fired their coach and had a player-organized protest of his replacement.

The Chicago native is the highest paid player on the Bulls roster, but his short time with the team has been rocky. He’s not been the player the Bulls want, and his attitude hasn’t been great, which led to his benching. For his part, Parker told media that he didn’t think his removal from the lineup would be permanent.

Via Chicago Tribune:

“I’m not expecting it to be (permanent),” Parker said. “Everybody is telling me the truth and that’s just to stay ready. They’re not telling me things I want to hear. They’re not pointing fingers. And personally, I know I’ve done my job to embrace Jim as the head coach. I’ve been nothing but welcoming of him. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

It’s hard to say for certain what will happen with Parker, but it does seem at this juncture that he’s more likely to be traded than he is to be reinserted into the Chicago lineup.

Then again, it will be difficult to trade Parker for anything substantive. His deal is expiring after this season, with a team option for next, but it comes at a whopping at $20 million price tag. That will be hard for teams to swallow, and the best choice for the Bulls might be just to eat Parker’s deal for this season and keep their cap flexibility for next.

Stephen Curry talks with astronaut Scott Kelly on Instagram Live about moon landing comments

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Was Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry just using his moon landing comments to sell his shoes? That’s what it seemed like to me, but I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

Meanwhile, Curry has gone on his little PR tour in the wake of his boneheaded “joke” about the moon landing being fake. It’s included talking to astronaut Scott Kelly on Instagram Live this week, and two had a discussion about Curry being more judicious with his words.

The video started with Curry essentially making a kind of public apology directly to Kelly. His words were, in part:

“It was important for me to understand, one the magnitude of things that I say and my comments how much weight they carry, joking or not.

For me to reflect on the last week, it’s been one of those situations where I had President Obama contact me, you [Kelly] and one other astronaut. [You all] really wanted to educate me on how significant the moon landing was — obviously it was real — but in terms of the sense national pride, and how that exploration fo mankind has pushed boundaries and limits on what is possible.”

Kelly went on to remark that he felt like the less-harmful conspiracy theories — like the moon landing or the Flat Earth theory — helped lead folks into the realm that big conspiracies might be true.

Meanwhile teams like the Sacramento Kings are running videos trolling Curry for not believing in very recent history. At least that’s one good thing to come out of this.

You can head over to Stephen Curry’s Instagram and watch the full video of the talk with Kelly.