Getty Images

Warriors not expecting LeBron James, Cavaliers to lose edge

6 Comments

OAKLAND, Calif. — All the chatter is that underdog Cleveland could be completely deflated from the way it flopped in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Determined and as motivated as ever might be more appropriate and fitting whenever LeBron James is in the mix.

“It’s one of the toughest losses I’ve had in my career,” James acknowledged Saturday, “because of everything that kind of went on with the game and the way we played. Obviously, we all know what happened in the game.”

There were miscues aplenty, most notably J.R. Smith‘s offensive rebound in the final seconds of regulation that he dribbled back toward half-court in a tie game rather than shooting for a chance to win it – later insisting he knew the score, though that remains a huge mystery. The decision baffled a frustrated and stunned LeBron, who signaled at his teammate with arms pointed toward the basket.

“The game’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’ve got to move on, move forward.”

James has done so all postseason with an edge, intensity and ability to all-out carry the Cavs – will them to win after win, if you wish.

Yes, with King James on the other side in this familiar June rivalry, Golden State knows much better than to fall into such a trap that the Cavs might be down and out, even if the defending champions have some momentum going into Game 2 on Sunday night back home at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors learned that lasting lesson two years ago, when James led the Cavaliers back from the brink – a daunting 3-1 series deficit – to capture a title in Game 7 on the Warriors’ home floor.

“I know it’s not the exact same team, but we had them down 3-1 a couple years ago. They might have been deflated, and they came back and won, so we’re expecting another great effort from them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve been through this too many times. We beat Houston on the road in Game 1 and the narrative was, you know, series is over. It seems to always be that way. There is just overreaction after a game.”

Draymond Green didn’t sugarcoat it: Golden State got a little lucky to win Game 1 on a night James scored 51 points and the defending champions caught some big breaks.

The Warriors hope to be far better with a chance to take a 2-0 series lead before the series shifts to Northwest Ohio.

“Sometimes you need a little luck. It’s good to be lucky sometimes,” Green said. “I’ll take it.”

Kevin Durant wants the Warriors to remove the luck factor going forward. He even nit-picked that offensive board that Smith secured as something he should have done.

“As you try to lock in on the details as much as possible, that luck factor – good luck, bad luck – you don’t have it creep in if you figure out the detail parts,” Durant said. “To be good at those parts of the game, then you don’t let the luck creep in.”

Golden State gave up 19 offensive boards in all while getting only four.

The Warriors know James is going to score his share of points. They just want to make it harder for him to get good looks, something that is a top priority going into Sunday. James, in his eighth straight NBA Finals and ninth overall, shot 19 for 32 to go with eight assists and eight rebounds in the opener.

“We’ve got to make them work harder in general,” Kerr said. “I thought our defense was subpar the other night.”

James said he is taking antibiotics and using eye drops after getting poked in the eye by Green in the first half. The outer area of James’ eye was still red Saturday.

Klay Thompson expects to play though is listed as questionable with what he called a sprained left ankle while Andre Iguodala remained doubtful as he works back from a bone bruise in his left knee suffered in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against Houston and has cost him the last five games.

Cleveland’s J.R. Smith slid into Thompson’s left leg in the first quarter of the series opener Thursday night. Thompson was dealing with stiffness, swelling and more pain Saturday.

“It is a Finals game, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to play,” Thompson said. “It’s something you definitely don’t want to have in the NBA championship.”

Nor does James want blood in his eye to affect his vision or alter his view of the basket.

So, did he go off for 51 with only one good eye?

“No, I had some points before that already,” a good-natured James said, chuckling.

 

Dwight Howard reportedly to return to Washington D.C., start on-court steps in recovery

Associated Press
2 Comments

The return of Dwight Howard should solve all the Wizards problems…

Low hanging fruit jokes aside, Howard was expected to be out two-to-three months for back surgery that happened at the end of November, that would have him back in the coming weeks, and he is now on his way back to the nation’s capital, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Howard played in nine games for the Wizards this season, scoring an efficient 12.8 points and grabbing 9.2 rebounds a game.

The Wizards have been starting Thomas Bryant, with Bobby Portis playing some five behind him, in recent games. How Howard fits into that when healthy will be a question for coach Scott Brooks.

The Wizards would need to make up three games and jump three teams in the final 24 games of the season to make the playoffs.

Surprise: Emanuel Terry joins Heat, not Team USA as planned

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) — Emanuel Terry’s plans to play for his country this weekend have been thwarted, for a very good reason.

He’s back in the NBA instead.

Terry was signed to a 10-day contract Wednesday by the Miami Heat, who made the move after he spent a few days with USA Basketball in its training camp at the University of Miami this week. So instead of playing Panama on Friday and Argentina on Monday in the last games of qualifying for the FIBA World Cup, Terry will be with the Sioux Falls Skyforce for a G League game in Long Island on Thursday and then with the Heat this weekend.

Terry got told of the move just before Team USA broke camp in Miami. He says he’s “had dreams about this.”

Terry averaged 4.5 points in two games with Phoenix earlier this season.

Team USA has already won enough games to qualify for the World Championships in China this summer.

Joel Embiid out week with left knee soreness, no structural damage found

Getty Images
3 Comments

What the Philadelphia 76ers need is time on the court to get all their new players used to each other, their rotations set, and just to find a way to get the most talented starting five in the East to gel before the playoffs start. They have 24 games to make it happen.

This does not help that cause.

The Sixers announced Joel Embiid will miss at least a week to get treatment on a sore left knee, the team announced. Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the details.

Embiid felt some soreness and was getting treatment before the All-Star break but did not miss games.

Obviously, what matters most is Embiid being healthy in the postseason, so rest now is better than the alternative.

But this is still not ideal. Especially as the Sixers try to make up a game and climb past the Pacers to ensure home court in the first round of the playoffs.

Through four games (73 total minutes) the new starting lineup of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Embiid has been a force — a 116.5 offensive rating and a 91.9 defensive rating. Small sample size theater is at play here, things have not always looked completely smooth to the eye test (see the loss to Boston), and both Butler and Embiid have chaffed against coach Brett Brown’s system at points this season, but a +24.6 net rating through four games is an auspicious sign.

They just need more time to come together, and this injury cuts into that. At least a little.

The more significant concern starts when the bench comes into play. In the playoffs, Brown will likely want to keep two of his big four on the court with the subs (probably an eight-man rotation, nine tops). That’s where the real interesting stuff comes in the next few weeks: Which players would be willing to get their rest a little earlier in the first half to get more opportunities (read: shots) with the ball in their hands with the second unit? Butler? Harris? Which four work best together when it gets down to pairs?

Finding all of that out is now on hold temporarily.

Not just numbers, David Griffin says being GM means handling “noise” around team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Analytics are a part of the job.

Just often not the most important part.

Part of what has fueled the rise in popularity of the NBA in recent years has been player movement around the league — and how much fans love to talk about the possibilities. Fans love to play GM. Those fans are increasingly savvy and understand analytics better, they know how to go to the NBA stat page and look up detailed data, and they know how to work ESPN’s trade machine. It leads to more “who says no?” trade Tweets than overpriced coffee shops in Seattle.

Ask any current or former general manager/team president — for example, former Suns and Cavaliers GM David Griffin — about the job and they almost cut off the question to say there is so much more to it than a spreadsheet. For example, keeping players happy and helping them understand/deal with social media is now part of the gig. Even in the evaluation of players, there is the eye test and other intel gathered about them, all of which matters as much or more than just the data.

“It’s got to be a marriage of all of them, you know analytics are never the answer in and of themselves,” Griffin told NBC Sports. “But there is infinitely more data available to us thanks not only to SAP but Second Spectrum… they have given us far more robust data sets to make decisions from. I think because of that people think the answers are in the numbers, but the reality is the numbers only answer the better questions you ask it to solve. I think people lose sight of that. The numbers are a part of the process, they are not the answers in and of themselves.”

That’s the idea behind “GM School,” a new competition show coming to NBA TV (it premieres Wednesday night at 8 ET, with repeat broadcasts throughout the week). The show takes four contestants who are data-driven, die-hard basketball fans and pits them against each other in a series of challenges to show they have what it takes to be in a front office. The contestants don’t just have to pick players to draft (out of an anonymous pool), they need to articulate why they fit with the team philosophy. They have to do a press conference.

“I thought they did an excellent job,” Griffin said of the contestants. “Being at NBA TV before this and getting to see things in a totally different light, I had a different appreciation for this process than I would have otherwise. I thought they did a fantastic job — SAP and the partners affiliated with this — of putting together four really diverse contestants who all had strengths of their own, each was unique from the other, so it was a cool process.”

Like the real GM job, this is about more than the numbers.

“It’s not just taking into account everyone thinks they understand analytics — I hope we speak to the analytics crowd — but it’s about the totality, we hope, of what the job requires,” Griffin said.

There are things that a show like this could just not do justice to with a test.

For example, how to set up an organization that can handle the volume of noise that swirls around a good team. Griffin had to deal with that first hand as the GM of the Cavaliers during LeBron James’ second tour of duty with the franchise.

“One of the things that’s critical to running an organization that’s going to be all about winning — and the only thing that will mark success is winning a championship — is that you’re naturally going to be subjected to more noise around the process,” Griffin said. There’s going to be more tension in the system — and that can be a positive thing if you make it out. You have to become really adept at dealing with adversity and turning adversity into a positive, galvanizing force.

“I think you’ve seen Golden State do that this year with the blowup between Draymond [Green] and KD [Kevin Durant]. They’ve come out of that a stronger, better version of themselves, and that’s what you have to do as an elite franchise. All adversity becomes opportunity for you.”

It’s one thing for a Warriors’ team that is now veteran and savvy to embrace adversity — and tune out the social media noise it creates around the team — and it’s something else entirely for an up-and-coming team with players who have not been there before.

“I think that for teams that are going from being lottery bound year after year to being truly elite there are several steps in that process that are very difficult and painful. And people don’t always welcome adversity…” Griffin said. “You’re not going to get to a championship caliber team from a team of young kids who were in the lottery overnight.”

Some players get thrown off seeing the media used to deliver messages about them and their trade availability — as happened a lot with the Lakers/Anthony Davis saga around the trade deadline, for example. The Lakers, as an organization, has seen more than its fair share of drama over the years and understands how to handle it, but the young core players on the team were going through this part of the business for the first time.

Griffin said the key is being proactive — talking to players to help them understand it before everything overwhelms them.

“[The Lakers] were dealing with more media and more scrutiny than most teams ever do because they are one of the flagship franchises in our league,” Griffin said. “Magic Johnson grew up in that spotlight. I doubt anything happened that they weren’t prepared for. But what happens is LeBron’s presence by itself brings that kind of spotlight. It takes some time to learn how to deal with it.

“Again, if you don’t get in front of it from a leadership standpoint, if you let it just happen, the proliferation of sports media and social media, it just creates so much around your players that, to some degree, if you’re not telling them how to decipher it, they can’t help but to take it poorly. You need to do a really deft job as a leader of getting people to ignore those things. I think Kevin Durant called it a ‘toxic’ environment around a LeBron James team. I don’t think he meant that relative to LeBron and his actions. I think he meant it just relative to the sheer volume of noise around a team. That takes getting used to.”

Handling social media and its fallout is now part of a GM’s job. Like it or not.

“All of these players are on social media, they are subject to noise from more angles and at a greater volume than any players ever have been,” Griffin said. “And because of that, I think it makes it really important that you run the kind of organization that you love each other enough that you tell each other what you need to hear. You have to have conversations. You have to be in front of those messages with Lonzo Ball ahead of time. You have to talk to Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma ahead of time. So that when those things happen, they understand it’s just a natural outcropping of being on a team of that magnitude. That it happens because you matter as a franchise.”

Whenever a GM job comes open in the NBA now, Griffin’s name is one of the first to come up. Most recently that was with the Pelicans (although the buzz All-Star Weekend is that things never really got too serious between the sides). Griffin is open to returning to the NBA, but he’s in a position to be picky about the gig he takes now.

“I think the blessing of doing what I’m doing relative to NBA TV is selectivity,” Griffin said. “It’s helped me be radically better at analyzing things than maybe I wouldn’t have been as good at. As I look at it now, the thing that would attract me to an opportunity is just the opportunity to be in lockstep with ownership. To have ownership, the coach, and the front office all on the same page moving forward and sharing a vision…

“You have to raise a family, and if you’re not going to come at it with that approach it’s probably not a situation that would speak to me.”