Gameplan for Cavaliers should be to stop Klay Thompson

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The Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors was closer than many anticipated, extending to seven games. It was more exciting than some of the prior rounds out West, but Golden State’s veil of invincibility was lifted in the process.

Now we’re getting the Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year in a row, and for many the scales have been reset in Golden State’s favor.

After watching the Cavaliers against the Boston Celtics — including a win on the road for Cleveland in Game 7 — I’m not so sure.

There’s no questioning which team has the better roster, management, and coaching staff. Those are check marks for the team from Oakland. But the Celtics series did show that Cleveland had the ability to respond, both tactically from Tyronn Lue and as Cavaliers role players finally, mercifully stepped up to the plate.

Much has been made of Cleveland needing peak performance from everyone surrounding LeBron James just to win a game in these upcoming NBA Finals, which feels like the right answer. But as we’ve seen, the Warriors can succumb to their own follies, turning the ball over, deadening their offensive attack with a lack of ball movement, and receding from the 3-point line.

The most significant variable when Golden State has underperformed during these playoffs has been Klay Thompson. The sharp-shooting guard has been up and down, notably efficient in most of the biggest wins of the postseason for the Warriors. Thompson has combined solid 3-point shooting, useful passing, and limited turnovers in wins by 10 points or more for Golden State.

Where Thompson has found trouble is when teams decide to clamp down on him from the 3-point line, leading to fewer made threes and perhaps more significantly, turnovers. During losses or in wins of nine points or fewer, Thompson’s assist-to-turnover ratio has jumped by more than half-a-turnover per assist. It’s part of a larger problem for the Warriors, who have generally struggled with changes of possession during these same types of games, playing sloppy and getting themselves into situations where they’ve needed to execute perfectly during the final quarters.

Thompson has also struggled away from Oakland, with his road splits telling much of the same story. On the road, Thompson’s assist percentage has been cut in half, his turnover ratio bumped by 30 percent, and his net rating has been negative. None of the big four for the Warriors have been particularly impressive on the road on average, but between Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green, Thompson’s results have been the worst, especially within the context of just how important his shooting and passing are to the general function of the Golden State offense.

The Warriors’ attack, which we think of as beautiful, flowing, and moving, has seen some stagnation over the postseason. Game 4 against the Rockets was particularly bad, with Golden State forcing shots through isolation sets for Durant, who scored 29 but shot just 36 percent from the field.

Focusing on turn-based offense hasn’t been all bad for the Warriors — Game 3 in that same series was magical for Curry, who owned the third quarter and didn’t make a single shot. But relying on pure talent is not part of Steve Kerr’s gameplan, even if the reigning champs have an abundance of it. They’d like to move the ball and win as a team, and a vital hinge in their offense is how Thompson shoots and passes the ball.

For Cleveland, locking down Thompson will be a matter of selective strategy and matchups. It’s not realistic to try and focus on one of Golden State’s stars to make the rest beat you, because they’ll do just that. But Lue and his staff might watch tape of when the Warriors have struggled and decide that forcing Thompson to do two things he hates — dribble and move away from the 3-point line — might just create a domino effect on the Warriors offense.

Golden State seems infinitely adaptable, and no doubt focusing on Thompson for a game or two will only lead to Kerr’s staff pinpointing an opening. Thompson’s struggles have been a common thread for when the Warriors play below their threshold, and while the Cavaliers might be strategizing on how to limit him, Kerr could just as well be cooking up a plan to optimize Thompson.

Game 1 tips at 6:00 PM PST on Thursday in Oakland, and the smart money still lies with the Warriors in a shortened series. These playoffs have been weird, however, and during the conference finals both teams gave us a bit of a surprise. Don’t be shocked if Thompson ends up being the key to a couple games early in the series for either team.

Watch Bam Adebayo score 38, lift Heat to win over Wizards

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MIAMI (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 38 points and the Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards 110-107 Friday night.

Caleb Martin added 20 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 13 points while Tyler Herro had 11 points and 10 assists for the Heat, who won their second straight at home against Washington after their 113-105 victory Wednesday.

Adebayo’s two free throws with 1:37 remaining put Miami ahead 105-104 lead then extended the advantage on a short jumper with 38 seconds left.

“It was one of those things where my teammates gave me the ball and I was taking advantage of the mismatch,” Adebayo said. “They were shots (Washington) let me have.”

Adebayo has scored in double digits in all 18 of his appearances this season. He’s had double-doubles in half of those games; Miami is 6-3 in those contests.

“He had a lot on his shoulders, really the last several games with a lot of different lineups and everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You need that stability from your leaders. I think at some point we’ll print up these shirts, `Mr. Reliable,’ and I’ll wear them, probably.”

Lowry also had eight assists, seven rebounds and a four-point play with 3:15 left for a 103-102 lead – the 11th of what would be 13 lead changes on the night.

And it was another close game for the Heat, who are already 4-3 in games decided by three points or less this season.

“That’s what’s happened really for, it seems like several weeks,” Spoelstra said. “It just feels like every single one of these games is going down to the last possession.”

The Wizards cut the deficit on Bradley Beal‘s dunk before Martin made two free throws with 12.5 seconds for the final margin, then hounded Beal defensively on the game’s last possession and forced the Wizards’ All-Star into a miss to end the contest.

“I take pride in trying to make stops,” Martin said. “Those are the types of situations you dream about, game on the line against a guy like Bradley Beal with the ball late shot clock. I just tried to make it as tough as possible.”

Beal and Kyle Kuzma finished with 28 points Kristaps Porzingis added 18 points for the Wizards.

“We did enough throughout the course of the game to put us in position to win,” said Beal, who returned from a one-game absence because of a quadriceps contusion. “We had several leads and ended up giving up those leads late. It was a matter of us getting stops at the defensive ends.”

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler (right knee soreness) missed his fifth straight game because of right knee soreness while shooters Max Strus (right shoulder impingement) and Duncan Robinson (left ankle sprain) also sat out.

The Heat rallied from a 12-point deficit late in the first quarter and cut it to 59-56 at halftime.

“Obviously, we had shots late that were makeable to keep them at bay,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

Another Hornets injury: Hayward out indefinitely with fractured shoulder

Philadelphia 76ers v Charlotte Hornets
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
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The basketball gods have not been kind to the Hornets this season. LaMelo Ball missed the start of the season with a sprained ankle, got back and played just three games before re-injuring it by stepping on a fan’s foot while chasing a loose ball out of bounds. Miles Bridges will not be with the team. Cody Martin had his knee scoped and is out, and Dennis Smith Jr. is out with a sprained ankle — and that’s just the guys out right now.

Now add Gordon Hayward to the list. He is out indefinitely with a fractured shoulder. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

Hayward has a long history of injuries and has battled shoulder issues all season. There had been hope in Charlotte that he could stay healthy long enough to contribute to some wins and build up some potential trade interest (his name came up in Russell Westbrook scenarios, for example). In the 11 games he played, he averaged 16.3 points and shot 38.1% from 3. Of course, a trade was always a longshot because Hayward is owed a fully guaranteed $31.5 million next season, no team was taking that on without sweeteners.

With him injured, a trade is out of the question (other than part of a salary dump).

Kevin Durant says ‘it’s cool to see’ LeBron break all-time scoring record

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LeBron James remains on target to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record, although with the games he has missed this season the target date now looks more like late February/early March.

Kevin Durant is excited to see it, as he told Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“To be the No. 1 in anything, there’s 8 billion people in the world, we just figured that out last week, so to be the No. 1 of all time at scoring the basketball, I’m sure it’s going to be a range of emotions for him,” Durant said at Friday’s shootaround, in advance of a game against the Indiana Pacers. “But to be in an era where we see this live is pretty cool as well. You probably can’t even describe the emotions and feelings him and his family and his friends are going to go through, but it’s cool to see it up close.”

Durant is currently 18th on that all-time scoring list (having just moved past Kevin Garnett), which is impressive in its own right even if he is not going to catch LeBron. LeBron’s feat has taken all of his 20 NBA seasons, and that is what impressed the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich.

“LeBron is taking care of himself so well that he’s been able to play a bundle of games for a lot of years. And that’s what he takes,” Popovich said before his Spurs took on the Lakers. “But he gets credit for taking care of himself and being able to be out there. The way a lot of players don’t even come close to. His commitment to the game and to what he has to do, has allowed him to be in this position.”

LeBron’s quest continues to generate a lot of buzz around the league. He just hopes it’s not the lone bright highlight out of this Lakers’ season, but his team has a lot of work to climb up to the postseason out of a 5-11 start.

 

Leonard, George both out for Clippers Friday, Jokic probable for Nuggets

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When Kawhi Leonard returned and was put in the starting lineup, the Clippers said it was time to buckle down and truly start their season.

Instead, how about another round of injuries?

Paul Goerge is missing his third consecutive game with a hamstring tendon strain, while Leonard has a sprained right ankle and this is his second game out.

Adding to the troubling news for the Clippers in this game, Nikola Jokic is probable.

The Clippers won the first three games Leonard was back, and they have a ridiculous +31.7 net rating in the limited minutes that George and Leonard are on the court together. But the question heading into the season — even among those backing the Clippers to come out of the West (*raises hand*) — was whether would they stay healthy enough to live up to that potential? So far, the signs are not promising.

Yet, the Clippers are 11-8 despite the injuries and just a game back of the top-seeded Suns in a West where no team has run away with it. They are not out of it, but they must find a way to get their stars on the court together for an extended period.