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Three things to watch in Game 2: If Cleveland cleans up its mistakes, is that enough?

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OAKLAND — After getting blown out in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were not distraught nor did they feel overwhelmed. Rather, they think they beat themselves mostly.

Make no mistake, the Warriors are good, but the Cavaliers think they gave Game 1 away by turning the ball over and not communicating well on defense.

“We have to be much better,” LeBron James said. Game 1 was the feel-out for us, and they definitely took advantage of all our miscues. We just have to get better.”

“Watching basketball throughout the course of the season, you obviously know they’re very good,” J.R. Smith said Saturday. “But one thing about us, it’s all about us. If we take care of what we’re supposed to take care of, it doesn’t matter if it’s the ’96 Bulls, it doesn’t matter. We would win. We just gotta worry about us, understand that no matter what they do, if we do what we’re supposed to do, they can’t beat us.”

Here are the three things to watch, and what the Cavaliers need to improve, if they are going to steal game 2 on the road.

1) Cleveland will play more focused defense, will protect the rim, and they will get physical.
If there is one thing everyone agrees on about Game 2, it’s that the Cavaliers are going to get physical.

“You have to be the first one to hit,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought they hit us first. You have to be physical. The game is physical. You have to bring a physicality to the game, one through five. And I thought last game we weren’t as physical as we needed to be. We were off bodies, let them run free. So we have to do a better job of being on bodies, being physical and bringing the contact to the game.”

What that means in practical terms is the uncontested layup line the Warriors had in Game 1 will go away. Part of that is being physical, but a larger part is just making better decisions on defense, particularly in transition where the Cavaliers were terrible. Protecting the rim will be a priority.

“We have to stop the ball,” Lue said. “That’s the most important thing. We can’t let Durant get easy baskets like that. With him being probably one of the best scorers in the NBA, you can’t give guys like that easy opportunities at the basket. So we have to do a good job of stopping the basketball, but we also have to get back out to shooters. One guy has to stop the ball and the other guys have to get back and get to Steph and Klay and those guys. But we have to stop the basketball first.”

2) Cleveland needs to clean up its offensive mistakes — don’t turn the ball over and dominate the glass. One other thing both sides expect in Game 2 is for Cleveland to do a better job taking care of the ball — they are not going to turn the ball over 20 times again.

The Cavaliers admitted that Golden State’s defense — aggressive and using their athleticism and length — made them indecisive at points. They also said that was correctable.

“So when we make a move to the basket, we just have to be decisive — take it to the basket or make the pass,” Lue said. And I thought they did a good job of just playing in between, making us be off guard. So we make a move, we have to be direct with what we’re going to do; if not, move the basketball.”

“We had a lot of unforced turnovers,” LeBron added. “Some of them was aggression. I had two charges — that’s aggression, I can take those. But I also had some where I got caught up in the air, trying to make some skip passes, and they were able to pick them off. Those are like pick-sixes. It’s like throwing the ball to Deion Sanders. For the most part, it’s going to be a touchdown going the other way.”

If Cleveland is going to win they also need to dominate inside the paint and on the glass, something they did not do in Game 1. Tristan Thompson needs to be a force for Cleveland on both ends, and in Game 1 he had just four rebounds.

“Trash. Trash,” is how Thompson defined his Game 1. “I have to be better. I have to bring more energy, make it tough for them. I know they’re watching film, and something for them it’s to keep me off the glass. It’s going to be a wrestling match down there, and you have to keep it going and make it tough for them and just try to wear them out.”

3) How fast is this game played? The first game of the NBA Finals had 102 possessions, not lightning fast but right at the Warriors pace for the season — meaning it was right in Golden State’s comfort zone (and faster than the Cavs played this season). Check out this stat from Michael Pina writing for Vice Sports.

During the 2015 Finals, the pace was 95.3 possessions per 48 minutes when James was on the floor. That dropped to 94.8 in last year’s seven-game classic. With James in the game on Thursday night, the pace was 102.1.

So the Cavaliers are going to slow the game down and grind it out, right? No. Not if you ask them. To a man they said they needed to play with more pace.

“We’re a team that plays with pace. We know that,” LeBron said. And in order for us to be as good as we can be offensively, we have to play with pace. But we have to control the ball as well.”

“When we get stops, we have to get out. We have to play with pace,” Lue said. “We’ve got to play in transition. They’re a great team in the half court, as far as loading up and taking away what they want to take away. So when we get stops, we have to get out and run and play with pace.”

To be fair, Cleveland dominated the Warriors in fast break points a year ago. They can do better in this category, but it also is fraught with risk. It makes sense for the Cavaliers to push the ball when they create turnovers or off Warriors misses, but if nothing is there they need to pull out and slow it down. If this turns into a track meet the Warriors will win.

Tristan Thompson, what did you think of your Game 1 performance? “Trash. Trash.”

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OAKLAND — There were plenty of Cavaliers players who struggled in Game 1, there’s plenty of blame to go around if you’re looking to do that.

However, nobody’s off night was more glaring than Tristan Thompson‘s — just four rebounds in just 22 minutes of action. If the Cavaliers are going to have a chance in this series Thompson has to be exceptional, he has to be a force on the glass, and he will be the first to admit he was not in Game 1.

“Trash. Trash,” is how Thompson described his Game 1 before the Cavaliers practice Saturday. “I have to be better. I have to bring more energy, make it tough for them. I know they’re watching film, and something for them it’s to keep me off the glass. It’s going to be a wrestling match down there, and you have to keep it going and make it tough for them and just try to wear them out.

“Make them run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Just take it to another level. Playing against the Warriors, you can’t just play hard. You have to play hard to a level where it’s past the thermostat. It’s a different level with this team. So guys have to be reminded — I have to be reminded — that against this team, you have to go balls out.”

Golden State made a very conscious effort to get a body — or bodies — on Thompson to force him off the glass. As coach Tyronn Lue noted, that did open the door for others, as Kevin Love had five offensive rebounds in the game. Also, Lue said he limited Thompson’s minutes because once they got way down they needed more scoring, but without him on the court Cleveland’s defense suffered.

It was all very frustrating for Thompson.

“It’s definitely frustrating because you always want to play well, especially Game 1 of the NBA Finals,” he said. “You want to come out and compete. But it’s a long series. It’s like a boxing match. You have a lot of rounds, and tomorrow is Round 2. You have to be better. And it’s all in the past. You can’t get that back. You come out and you play well in Game 2, everyone will forget about Game 1. So that’s how I look at it.”

Expect the Cavaliers to play harder, smarter, and more physically in Game 2 — and Thompson will be the barometer of that.

Will that be enough is the question to be answered Sunday night.

J.R. Smith: “If we take care of what we’re supposed to take care of… we would win”

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OAKLAND — J.R. Smith summed up the theme of many of the Cavaliers the past couple of days, that they beat themselves more than the Warriors beat them in Game 1.

Then Smith took it to a whole other level. A ridiculous level.

“Watching basketball throughout the course of the season, you obviously know they’re very good,” Smith said Saturday before the Cavaliers’ practiced. “But one thing about us, it’s all about us. If we take care of what we’re supposed to take care of, it doesn’t matter if it’s the ’96 Bulls, it doesn’t matter. We would win. We just gotta worry about us, understand that no matter what they do, if we do what we’re supposed to do, they can’t beat us.”

Not the Jordan/LeBron thing again, just make it stop.

Smith was on fire with his comments Saturday. At one point he was asked about the Cavaliers wanting to get more physical and muddy the game up on Sunday, but the reporter phrased it “dirtying up the game.” Smith had fun with that.

“Dirtying up the game? I don’t know about that. They got one guy who keeps kicking people in the nuts. I don’t know about that,” Smith said. “But we won’t dirty up the game. We just play physical. Some people don’t like physicality, and that’s what it is. But we just got to play our game and the way we know how to play, and that’s what’s been successful for us.”

The game is going to get more physical, the days of the Warriors getting uncontested layups are over. Whether the Cavaliers playing better is enough remains to be seen.

Warriors not worried about Klay Thompson’s shooting slump as long as he keeps defending

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OAKLAND — The Finals did not shake Klay Thompson out of his shooting slump. In Game 1 he was 3-of-13 from the field for six points and he missed all five of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Nobody on the Warriors much cares — and not just because they won Game 1 in a rout anyway. It’s because Thompson is doing what every coach from YMCA youth leagues up through the NBA preaches — if you’re not scoring points, contribute in other ways. For Thompson, that is defense: Cleveland players guarded by Thompson shot 1-of-12 in Game 1, according to ESPN.

Thompson himself will take that tradeoff.

“If I score six points a game and it gets us four wins and an NBA championship, I can do that every year,” Thompson said.

His shooting slump goes back to the San Antonio series, and even beyond. Thompson is shooting 29 percent over his last five games. The best way to understand it is to look at his shot chart from the last five games.

A lot of fans want to attribute the struggles to the fact Kevin Durant is now on the team, so Thompson has slid down the offensive pecking order in Golden State. Nobody with the team is buying that.

“He averaged more points this year than last year, he averaged more shots, so I think we always look at the last game or the last week, but I don’t feel the need to overreact to any of it,” Warriors GM Bob Myers said. “I told him to have fun, it’s the NBA Finals…

“He’s a great shooter. It’s like a hitter with a great swing, they’re gonna start hitting. I’d tell him don’t change anything, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Thompson is doing just that. He was asked how his approach to Game 2 will differ from Game 1.

“Same one I had Game 1 — just be aggressive, don’t settle for good shots but hunt for great shots,” Thompson said. “Try to get a few quick ones early; that always helps. That’s about it. Just play hard and I’ll be fine.”

When Thompson missed a couple he would normally make to start a game, he starts to hunt twos at times and takes more difficult ones than he needs. He’s a shooter, trying to shoot his way out of the slump. But the Warriors can live with that because of everything else he brings to the court.

“Well, if he’s not making shots, he’s still a respected shooter and nobody’s going to give him open shots if he starts to miss,” Kevin Durant said. “So we know the gravity he pulls when he’s out there, and his movement off of the ball is one of the main reasons why we’re a good team. And his defense is the reason why we’re one of the best defensive teams in the league as well.”

“The most important thing is the way he’s defending,” Draymond Green said. “We have enough guys who can score on this team that if one guy can’t get it going, we can go other places. Then our ball movement and our flow allows everyone else to get baskets as well. We’re not just going to say, `Oh, man, we really need to get Klay going.”‘

The Cavaliers should be worried if Thompson gets going — on a team loaded with some of the greatest shooters in the game, nobody gets as white hot for a quarter or a half as Thompson. He is capable of insane numbers.

“He’s very competitive, but he doesn’t show it like Draymond shows it,” Myers said. “His personality is to hold himself to a high standard, he’s kind of a perfectionist, but at the same time his perfection is he wants to play well for his teammates… his demeanor is he just wants to win, but he wants to do well, everyobody does.

“I think he’s focused more on our record than his own statistics. I know he wants to do better, but we’re not really worried about it.”

“Well, it is easy to overlook my shooting woes when we have been winning like this,” Thompson said. “So if we keep this up, it’s great, I can live with this all day. But I’m such a perfectionist, I try to hold myself to such a high standard that, as a competitor, sometimes it does drive you a little to the edge to be better. But you just have to keep everything in front of you.”

Another report that Lakers may not select Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick

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Lonzo Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who has incredible court vision and passing skills, whose ability to play in transition transformed UCLA this past season into one of the better teams in the nation.

However, he has some weaknesses — he isn’t strong as a pick-and-roll point guard, and his funky shooting stroke doesn’t work as well off the dribble — that have teams being hesitant.

Including the Lakers at No. 2. While most mock drafts still have the Lakers taking Ball, there are more and more rumblings that the Lakers are not sold. The latest of those comes from Jordan Schultz of the Huffington Post.

This time of year there are so many smokescreens by teams that it’s like being at a Cypress Hill concert. This could be part of that, the Lakers are reportedly testing the trade market for Jordan Clarkson which suggests they will take Ball.

I will say I’ve heard most teams don’t care about LaVar. They see him as a manageable distraction.

Most scouts have Ball second in this draft, but Josh Jackson out of Kansas is not as far behind as some think. De'Aaron Fox is climbing everybody’s board (and did outplay Ball head-to-head twice). While Ball is considered top two by most, not everyone is sold on Ball, one scout told me he sees Ball as a future solid NBA starting point guard, nothing more (not an All-Star player). The question for everyone in the draft is how much are they willing to put in the work to improve their weaknesses

The Lakers are not good enough to be thinking of drafting for need — what they need is talent. They need the best guy on the board. If they work out Jackson and rate him higher, then take him. If they love Fox, take him. They can’t take Ball just because it plays well with the fan base (the Southern California kid playing for his hometown team), if whoever they draft plays well the fans will come around. However, if they have Ball second, take him. (And why throw out a smokescreen, to throw Boston off? They’re taking Markelle Fultz.)

This will be the Lakers third consecutive No. 2 pick (D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram) and they need a big hit here, they can’t afford a strikeout.