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LeBron James feeling stress of facing mighty Warriors again

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CLEVELAND – Kevin Durant hit a dagger pull-up 3-pointer from the left wing in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland. Kevin Durant hit a dagger pull-up 3-pointer from the left wing in Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals in Cleveland.

“Nah, that wasn’t the same shot,” LeBron James said. “The one he made tonight was about four or five feet behind the one he made last year.”

LeBron has shown off his memory throughout these playoffs, but he wasn’t flaunting here. He wanted everyone else to remember just how good these Warriors are. Don’t treat what they do as routine, because it is not.

Since adding Durant, Golden State has put itself in discussion as the greatest team of all-time. Stephen Curry can shoot 3-for-16, including 1-for-10 on 3-pointers, on a Klay Thompson off night, and the Warriors can still win because of Durant. Golden State’s talent – don’t forget about the other star, Draymond Green – is perhaps unrivaled.

LeBron was asked to expound on the difference between the 2015-2016 Warriors, whom the Cavs faced in the Finals both years, and the 2017-2018 Warriors with Durant

“You guys asked me this last year, what was the difference between the Warriors the previous year and this year, and what was my answer?” LeBron said.

The question wasn’t rhetorical. LeBron stared at the questioner until someone else in the room yelled out “Kevin Durant.”

“Alright,” LeBron said. “There it is.

“Kevin Durant was my answer. He’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played against that this league has ever seen. His ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball, make plays at his length, his size, his speed. So, there it is.”

Remember, the Warriors won the title in 2015 and a record 73 regular-season games and three Finals games in 2016. They were already elite without Durant.

Now?

“It adds a level of stress,” LeBron said. “Because you know that you can never relax. You know if you relax, they make you pay, and making you pay could cost you a game.”

The Cavaliers could realistically be up 2-1 in these Finals. They blew a chance to win Game 1 on J.R. Smith‘s late boneheaded play, and they led Game 3 with three minutes left.

Instead the Warriors are up 3-0 with a chance to sweep Friday. Give them an inch, and they take a mile.

Dating back to Kyrie Irving‘s trade request, the Cavs have given many feet. That leads to questions about whether LeBron will use his player option to leave Cleveland this summer.

But even if the Cavaliers led the Finals 2-1, Golden State would still be favored in the series. The heavy speculation about LeBron’s future might be delayed in that scenario, but it’d still be coming. It’s as inevitable as these Warriors.

So, what will LeBron do about them? At this point, it’s a question for the offseason, primarily – though not completely yet.

“Friday morning when I wake up,” LeBron said, “I’ll be locked in and ready for Game 4.”

Reports: Nets to buyout Kenneth Faried, who will sign with Rockets

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He seems to have found it in a guy the Brooklyn Nets are ready to let go — Kenneth Faried. The Nets are buying him out and “the Manimal” will instantly sign in Houston.

Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the story and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN filled in the details.

Faried would step in instantly in Houston and get the kind of run he was not in Brooklyn, where he appeared in just a dozen games this season for a total of 118 minutes. When he did play for the Nets Faried has looked solid — 59.5 percent shooting, strong on the boards — but it was hard to read much into his limited run. Faried will bring hustle and effort to Houston, we’ll see how much skill he has left.

The Rockets need to clear a roster spot to sign Faried. While the team does have Carmelo Anthony on the roster but in limbo, the more likely solution is letting go of the just signed James Nunnally.

Everything big and small goes right for DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors debut

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LOS ANGELES — It was the little things.

Not that DeMarcus Cousins’ overall line — he fouled out with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and he was +21, all in 15 minutes — was bad at all. In fact, it was pretty damn good. In his first game in nearly a year, Cousins looked like a slightly rusty version of himself. All the trademarks were there, from hitting threes to complaining about calls.

Cousins made the Warriors better from the moment he stepped on the court, and while the big things were obvious it was the little things should worry any challenger to the crown. For example:

• Cousins’ ability to not just score but to be a playmaker out of the midpost adds a new dimension to the Warriors offense.

• Cousins provides versatility to sets the Warriors already run regularly. For example, in the third quarter, he was the guy making the entry pass on the double-screen play the Warriors like, with Draymond Green in the post and Klay Thompson curing off the screens. Cousins set a hard screen that freed Thompson up for a clean look.

• He gives them another three-point shooter, one that creates matchup problems for defenses. The Clippers chose to chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over picks and play on top of them, but that means the big has to drop back and protect against backcuts and drives. Do that with Cousins off the ball and he’s wide open for threes.

“I want to know what the scouting report is on me,” Cousins joked about how open he was from deep.

• Cousins is strong on the offensive glass and that’s going to lead to more kick-out threes for Golden State’s shooters.

• Cousins also gives the Warriors some defense. He’s a big body in the paint who knows how to get in the way. At one point on back-to-back plays Cousins drew a charge on Tobias Harris, then on the next trip down stripped Harris when he drove.

“Like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said of how he felt on the night. “It’s been a long journey… this was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out on the floor again and playing the game that I love.”

Cousins was part of the Warriors picking up their seventh straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94. Curry led the way with 28 points.

Everything went Cousins’ way — he even got a standing ovation from the bench when he fouled out.

“Hopefully that’s the last time we give him a standing ovation when he fouls out, but it was great to see him out there,” Durant said.

“Probably all the fakest love I’ve received in my life,” Cousins joked.

The NBA world shook when Cousins signed with the Warriors last July. Everyone knew it was going to take him a long time to get healthy and right, but Golden State was a team that could be patient and wait for him, not rush him back, and when he did play it would be another weapon to punish switches or just use in their existing sets.

“I thought, good for him. It’s a good spot for him,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said of his reaction when he read about the Cousins signing. “And then I thought, wow, that’s not right.”

Cousins started the game with Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, which meant nobody could really double him.

“This is a first, like in my entire basketball career,” Cousins said of the lack of doubles thrown at him. “I definitely can get used to this.”

Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior was a thunderous dunk, one created because his man had to focus on Durant (and Danilo Gallinari was late with the rotation).

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked.

Cousins said he was nervous before the game but his girlfriend sent him a picture of himself in the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair the day after his surgery. That helped put the journey in perspective.

“It’s been a year since his injury, he’s gone through a long rehab process…” Kerr said before the game. “This is not the end of the story, this is sort of the middle of the story and it’s a milestone but there is a long way to go.”

Cousins is going to get better at things big and small as that journey continues.

Which should scare the rest of the NBA.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).