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.”

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.