Is going home enough for Cavaliers to turn series around?

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OAKLAND —The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a different team at home this year in the playoffs.

They have won eight in a row. The Cavaliers’ offense is 7.9 points per 100 possessions better in Quicken Loans Arena, and their defense is 7.4 per 100 better. At home, the Cavaliers shoot 37 percent from three (31 percent on the road) and they outscore opponents by 8 points per 100 (they get outscored by almost that much on the road).

Is that enough to make these 2018 NBA Finals a series? There still seemed to be a spark in the Cavaliers’ locker room after Game 2, is that enough to ignite the fuel on a home court?

Or are these Cavaliers defeated already? Are we in for a repeat of 2017, when the Cavaliers came home down 0-2 to the Warriors, got 39 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists from LeBron James, and still lost to go down in an insurmountable 0-3 hole?

“We have to make sure that we really bring it in Game 3, because, I mean, that’s really the game right there,” Kevin Love said. “This is a team that you don’t want to be down 0-3 against. We know that…

“Home-court advantage is, can be a real thing. I mean, you look at how good the Warriors are here at Oracle, it’s the same for us at home” Love continued. “We feel like we feed off of our crowd. We really get up to play at home. You know, we know that come Wednesday we’re going to have to be better.”

Cleveland does have to be better, but they have been at home in the postseason. At home the Cavaliers’ role players have been the big difference — they have hit shots, particularly threes. Through the first two games of the Finals, the Cavaliers have shot 19-of-64 from three (29.7 percent). Get that up near their playoff home court average of 37 percent and things look better.

Overall, the Cavaliers have played with better energy and just looked more comfortable at home. Which may be good, but LeBron James doesn’t want his team to lean on that.

“We want to continue to be uncomfortable. Just because we’re going home doesn’t mean we can relax,” LeBron said. “This is the last team in the world you want to relax against. They’ve proven they can win on someone else’s floor, no matter if it’s through adversity as people may call it like when they were going through the Rockets series or whatever the case may be. They’ve proven they can win on someone else’s floor and do it in any fashion, in any way.”

Golden State has won on Cleveland’s court, including Game 3 last year, or closing them out to win a title in 2015’s Game 6.

The Cavaliers were not bad in Game 2 (outside of J.R. Smith) but the Warriors brought their “A” game, the ball was flying around, Stephen Curry started raining threes in the fourth (five in the quarter, an NBA Finals record nine for the game) and Cleveland’s defense had no answer. If the Warriors are focused they are too much for the Cavaliers, but we know the Warriors don’t always feel challenged. If the Warriors bring their “B” game — as they did in Game 1 — they will fall in Cleveland.

Plus, the Warriors have had no answer for LeBron, who has averaged 40 points, 10.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds, shooting 55.8 percent, through the first two games.

“It’s going to be a tough task,” Green said of winning in Cleveland. “You know, with a team going back home, you look at this and J.R. (Smith) shot 2-for-9. Some of the shots he missed, he’s going to make those at home. You know, you can go down the list and kind of say that about everyone.

“So I think it will be very important for us to be locked in from the jump on the defensive side of the ball and not giving those guys easy shots. They’ve got a great crowd and they really feed off of it. So just being locked in on the defensive side of the ball from the jump ball, it will pay dividends for us going into Cleveland.”

One thing both teams know well — being down doesn’t rattle LeBron and the Cavs.

“This team has been down 2-0 in the last series and came back to win it,” Klay Thompson said. “It’s nothing to feel happy about being up 2-0. This team plays great at home, and we expect their other guys to play even better at home, too, not just LeBron.

“So we’re not going to relax at all because this team has been down and out before and counted out by the media, and we’re not going to focus on that. We’re just going to focus on what we can do to win Game 3.”

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

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Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.