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Warriors try to solve their LeBron James problem in Game 2

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OAKLAND — For a decade now, the conventional wisdom on slowing down LeBron James and his teams came down to one basic tenet: Let him be a scorer, or let him be a passer, but don’t let him be both.

LeBron seems to have evolved past that in these playoffs.

“In the past that may have been true, but I think that every year it is different,” Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams said of the scorer vs. passer idea. “He’s a different athlete right now, so the concerns about his offense, there are things he’s doing better than in the past.”

“There were parts of my game you could disrespect earlier in my career. You can’t do that now,” LeBron said more directly.

The ability of No. 23 to control and change the game is the biggest challenge for Golden State heading into Game 2 Sunday at Oracle Arena.

LeBron carved up the Warriors defense like a surgeon in Game 1. He was a scorer with the 51 points, but he was a passer too with eight assists — and he should have had a lot more, the Cavaliers shot 3-of-17 from three on passes from LeBron.

It’s not how the Cavaliers attacked the Warriors — using a high pick to force a switch that puts Stephen Curry or Kevon Looney on LeBron — that caused Golden State trouble.

“It’s the fourth year, every year they’ve done the same thing,” Shaun Livingston said.

Rather, it was the Warriors execution of their defensive principles they think got them in trouble. It could have been a hangover from dealing with the simpler Rockets’ attack.

“When you get switched onto LeBron, he’s different from (James) Harden. He’s going to look to pass early in a possession,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re running a lot of sets, really good sets where they isolate him. But then you’ve got (Kyle) Korver on a pindown or you’ve got (Kevin) Love off of a curl.

“So there’s more going on around that isolated player, for the most part, with Cleveland. And LeBron obviously is such a great passer, he’s going to try to pick you apart.”

“He puts great stress on the defense,” Adams said of LeBron. “But we have our formulas we try to follow. He’s gonna score, but we can do a better job than we did the first game….

“You’re always going to make mistakes, you can’t be perfect offensively or defensively. With mistakes, the question is how will you cover them up? Is your ball pressure good enough to, perhaps, take away the real penetrating part of passing that sets an offense up?”

In Game 1 it was not. The Warriors’ communication also was not as sharp as it needed to be.

“I think in the first game we didn’t communicate well,” Looney said. “We left (Kevin Durant) out there on an island on some of those screens without communicating. It is our job, and me as a big, to let him know when the screens are coming, and just be louder on the backside.

“Draymond (Green) talked to us, Andre (Iguodala) talked to us just about communicating. Our defense is a lot better when we’re communicating and we’re rotating and we’re activated. LeBron is gonna make shots, he’s a great scorer and been on a tear these whole playoffs, we’ve got to make it tough for him, make him work for each bucket, change the defense on him — he’s such a smart player if you give him the same diet he’s going to pick it apart, so just give him different looks and pray for the best.”

The Warriors want to make LeBron a jump shooter on Sunday night. Which sounds good, except in Game 1 LeBron was knocking down his jumpers (7-of-14). Still, that is better than the alternative.

“Once he gets into the paint, the defense breaks down and that’s when you get into scramble mode, and I think where they are strongest,” Livingston said. “Guys are able to get involved and get their offense going.”

The Warriors also want to be more physical with LeBron in Game 2 (again, easier said than done). The bottom line is to not let LeBron get comfortable.

“I didn’t think we made him work hard enough, though,” Kerr said of Game 1. “I thought everything was smooth sailing for him. It’s one thing to have a philosophy where you’re going to say, hey, we’re going to make this guy beat us and shut everybody else down. You can have that philosophy in general. Lot of teams have done it with superstars in the past, whether you’re talking about Kobe or Michael (Jordan) or LeBron or whoever.

“But it only works if you actually make the guy have to really use a lot of energy. That’s not necessarily our strategy. Of course we’re trying to keep other guys down, but we’ve got to make them work harder in general. I thought our defense was subpar the other night.”

If it’s subpar again on Sunday night, the Warriors could be heading to Cleveland in a tie series.

Vince Carter wins NBA Sportsmanship Award

Hawks forward Vince Carter
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Vince Carter’s 22-year NBA career ended amid the chaos of coronavirus, preventing him from getting the deserved fanfare.

But fellow players will send Carter into retirement with the NBA Sportsmanship Award.

NBA release:

NBA players have selected Vince Carter as the recipient of the 2019-20 NBA Sportsmanship Award, the NBA announced today.

Carter, who spent the 2019-20 season with the Atlanta Hawks, announced his retirement from the NBA in June after playing a league-record 22 seasons.  He receives the Joe Dumars Trophy as the winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.  Dumars, a two-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, played 14 NBA seasons and won the inaugural Sportsmanship Award in the 1995-96 season.

Each NBA team nominated one of its players for the NBA Sportsmanship Award, which is designed to honor a player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.  From the list of 30 team nominees, a panel of league executives selected one finalist from each of the NBA’s six divisions.  Current NBA players selected the winner from the list of six finalists, with more than 250 players submitting their votes through confidential balloting conducted by the league office.

Full voting (with first-, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place votes and voting points):

1. Vince Carter (Hawks): 143-70-34-13-4-2-2,520

2. Garrett Temple (Nets): 22-78-63-52-25-26-1,746

3. Steven Adams (Thunder): 34-57-41-52-58-24-1,632

4. Harrison Barnes (Kings): 24-25-75-48-35-59-1,418

5. Langston Galloway (Pistons): 23-22-29-60-79-53-1,244

7. Tyus Jones (Grizzlies): 20-14-24-41-65-102-1,016

What a nice honor for Carter, who gracefully aged from high-profile star to veteran mentor.

Heat: Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic doubtful for Game 2 of NBA Finals

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic
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Bam Adebayo‘s and Goran Dragic‘s injuries… not looking great for the Heat approaching Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Heat:

This is a disaster for Miami. The Lakers dominated Game 1, and now the Heat have two starters hobbled at best. At worst and more likely, Adebayo and Dragic are out.

Adebayo would be the bigger loss. Miami was completely overmatched when facing Anthony Davis without a center. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard can try to keep up, but they’re far from great solutions.

At least the Heat have more options at point guard. Kendrick Nunn can get an elevated role (especially after excelling in garbage time of Game 1). Jimmy Butler can become the de facto point guard. Tyler Herro can also play the position. But Dragic was playing so well during Miami’s run through the Eastern Conference. This is also a major setback.

 

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.

Report: 76ers focused on Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni in coaching search

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The 76ers appeared focused on Mike D’Antoni in their coaching search.

Then, Doc Rivers surprisingly became available.

The former Clippers coach met with the 76ers and is now in the center of the conversation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For the Sixers now, the focus is on Rivers and D’Antoni, a source told ESPN. A decision is expected this week.

Rivers would be an easier fit with this roster than D’Antoni, whose style doesn’t appear to work as well with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Rivers also looks like he’d help Philadelphia take the next step.

But that seemed like it’d be true with the Clippers and wasn’t.

Tyronn Lue’s candidacy with the 76ers has clearly faded. Could he join the Clippers, Rockets or Pelicans? If Philadelphia hires Rivers, maybe D’Antoni still lands with the Pacers?

Rivers’ availability has definitely thrown a wrench in the coaching carousel.