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Associated Press

Cavaliers’ defense unimpressive but Cleveland survives for 109-108 Game 1 win

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There was no switch flipped.

The Cavaliers’ defense, which has been unimpressive through the final stretch of the season, lived down to that billing — Indiana scored 108 points, shot 45.8 percent from three, had a ridiculous offensive rating of 118.9 points per 100 possessions, and with the game on the line were able to create quality looks.

That included a C.J. Miles’ potential game-winner after the Cavs forced the ball out of the hot hands of Paul George, but Miles was just short, and the Cavaliers survived to get a 109-108 win.

The Cavaliers are now up 1-0 in the first round series, with Game 2 on Monday in Cleveland.

The Pacers should go into that game with confidence that they can hang with Cleveland.

The difference on Saturday the Cavaliers had LeBron James, who scored 32 points on 20 shots, plus had 13 assists, leading an efficient offense that got the shots it wanted against a Pacers defense that had taken a big step back this season. Kyrie Irving added 23 points but on 27 shots. Take Irving out of the mix and the Cavaliers shot 60.8 percent for the game, and they were that hot through the first half (61 percent, including Irving).

The problem for Cleveland was it couldn’t get regular stops, George was making plays — he finished with 29 points — and that Cavs defense allowed the Pacers to hang around. LeBron seemed more pleased with the Cleveland defense than he should have been.

“I thought the effort and energy was there, but we’ve still got some Xs and Os to clean up,” LeBron said after the game.

The Cavaliers has started to pull away in the early parts of the fourth quarter, and it looked like they might coast to a comfortable win, but Indiana responded with an 11-0 run that had the Pacers up two, 105-103, with 3:30 left. Then LeBron answered with an emphatic dunk to tie it, and the Cavaliers were able to pull away a little. Then a beautiful Paul George three, followed by a stop, set up the chance for the Pacers to win it.

On the bright side for Indiana was the play of Lance Stephenson, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists on the game. He showed up when it was time to play LeBron.

Indiana needs to make Cleveland work harder for its buckets. This struggle was more expected, the Pacers defense suffered this season. Part of that was a coaching change from the more defensively focused Frank Vogel to Nate McMillan, but part of it was personnel — when the Pacers were an elite defense they had a good defender in George Hill at the one, now there is Jeff Teague and it’s a step back at a critical position. And that’s just one example. In this game, Kyrie Irving was pumped when he saw Aaron Brooks lined up to try to stop him.

Whichever team cleans up its defense more will have the upper hand on Monday in Game 2.

Pacers’ C.J. Miles had good look at game winner against Cavs, just fell short (VIDEO)

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I was waiting for Jeff Van Gundy or Mark Jackson to say “well, it’s a make or miss league.”

Down one and going against a sloppy Cavaliers defense (for most of the game), the Indiana Pacers got a clean look at a game winner as time expired. LeBron James had gone up to double and take the ball out of Paul George‘s hands — LeBron said postgame their one goal was not to let the red-hot George take the shot — and he passed to C.J. Miles, who shook Richard Jefferson with a pull-up and got a clean look.

It just fell short.

Cleveland survived for the 109-108 win, going up 1-0 in the first round series. Game 2 is Monday in Cleveland, and the Pacers should go into that game with confidence.

LeBron James’ classic reaction to obvious traveling call (VIDEO)

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LeBron James was at the center of the first playoff game this season, putting up numbers and keeping the Cavaliers in front of the Pacers — LeBron had 14 first half points and a dozen more in the third quarter.

But the best player on the planet made a mistake middle-school coach preaches — don’t leave the ground with the ball in your hand unless you have a plan. LeBron’s options dried up, and he landed for the travel.

Then was trying not to laugh.

LeBron and the Cavs’ offense has been clicking, and he was doing some great stuff as well.

After strange season, Hawks hope they’ve figured things out

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ATLANTA (AP) — Maybe the Atlanta Hawks finally figured things out.

If so, their timing is impeccable.

After a regular season marked largely by perplexing inconsistency, the Hawks turned in some of their best performances over the final week.

Two victories against defending NBA champion Cleveland, including a 26-point comeback. Another win against the Boston Celtics, the top-seeded team in the East.

Now, heading into an opening-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards, the Hawks are overflowing with confidence.

“I think we’re playing probably as good or better than we have all year, especially offensively,” coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday. “That’s what you want to be doing going into the playoffs. I think the team’s in a good mindset, a good place.”

Make no mistake this season was a disappointment for the Hawks, who just two years had a franchise-record 60 wins and were the top seed in the East. Last season, they slipped to 48-34 and underwent a major shake-up that included the signing of polarizing center Dwight Howard and the promotion of Dennis Schroder to starting point guard.

Instead of improving, Atlanta dropped even farther (43-39) and was actually in danger of missing the playoffs before the final-week surge.

Even though the Hawks will be making their 10th straight postseason appearance, the team has generated little buzz around the NBA or even in its own city, where home games continue to be marked by thousands of empty seats and most sports fans seem more focused on the start of baseball season, the NFL draft and a promising new soccer team, Atlanta United.

Howard shrugged off the lack of support.

“Keep `they’ outcha life,” he said. “All the people who don’t believe in us, that’s `they.’ You’ve got to keep `they’ outcha life. It doesn’t matter what `they ` want. It matters what we want.”

Atlanta’s offensive improvement has coincided with a reduction in Howard’s minutes late in the season, and Budenholzer seems intent on sticking with an extended rotation during the playoffs. He praised the play of the bench, which includes former starter Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, Mike Dunleavy and Jose Calderon.

“We have a deep bench and I think we’re going to try to use as much of it as we can,” Budenholzer said. “We’re in a little bit of a unique position where, at least going into Game 1, the plan is to keep a deep rotation and play a lot of guys and continue to massage that. If we need to adjust in a game, we will.”

Off the court, All-Star forward Paul Millsap shook things up by dressing down the team when things looked especially bleak – a change of pace for the normally soft-spoken player. He demanded better ball movement. He urged the bench players to get into the game. He wanted to see teammates high-fiving each other and playing with enthusiasm.

“Just the little things,” Millsap said. “We’re trying to get back to that, which makes a really good basketball team. Down the stretch, I wanted to emphasize that. These last few days, you’ve seen a completely different group.”

The Hawks will continue to go with a starting lineup that includes Tim Hardaway Jr. and rookie forward Taurean Prince. That leaves Bazemore coming off the bench, an unusual role for someone who’s in the first year of a $70 million contract.

He isn’t complaining, saying this is “the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Indeed, after battling injuries late in the year, Atlanta has everyone ready to go against the Wizards, who won the season series 3-1.

Game 1 is Sunday in Washington.

“I think we’ve got a helluva team,” Schroder said. “Everybody’s back now. We showed what we can do and who we can beat. We’ve just got to keep competing and doing the same things.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 .

Orlando CEO says Scott Skiles warned about culture under GM Rob Hennigan

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After a 25-win season in 2014-15, the Orlando Magic hired no-nonsense coach Scott Skiles to bring some discipline and accountability to the locker room, and some wins to the record. The next season under Skiles the Magic won 35 games, then after the season Skiles unexpectedly left the team after having issues with GM Rob Hennigan, particularly about the use of a few players and their value.

On his way out the door, and even before, Skiles warned Magic ownership about the soft team culture under Hennigan. The Magic brought in Frank Vogel as coach and he ran into some of the same issues as Skiles, got the team to only 29 wins, and this time it was Hennigan who was let go after the season.

Speaking with the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said Skiles gave them warnings about the team culture under Hennigan and the also let go GM Scott Perry.

“Scott certainly had his concerns; I don’t think that was any secret,” Martins said when I asked if he should have listened to Skiles instead of Hennigan. “He made that very well known. He and I had several conversations about things during his tenure here.”

From talking to people close to the situation and listening to Martin’s public comments, it appears Skiles felt Hennigan and Perry coddled players and undermined the coaching staff’s ability to instill accountability. Skiles is a no-nonsense basketball lifer who didn’t like the work ethic of his young players or the culture created by the inexperienced Hennigan….

“There were things Scott could have done better and one of them is that he could have been more patient,” Martins said. “We were clearly having those conversations [about the culture] and working toward solutions, but Scott didn’t want to be patient about it.”

You can’t blame him, because coaches are usually the ones let go, not the GM. Part of what changed is that Vogel was a proven winner who knows how to build a strong team and culture, and he had a four-year contract. Vogel wasn’t going anywhere, so Hennigan was.

There was surprise around the league GM Perry was caught up in the house cleaning, he was well respected by other teams. Perry reportedly had pushed for a trade that would have brought the Magic DeMarcus Cousins for Nikola Vucevic and either Evan Fournier or draft picks, but Hennigan shot the idea down, worried Orlando couldn’t re-sign Cousins and, ironically, about Cousins impact on team culture. New Orleans stepped in and made a trade for Cousins.

The Magic have said they are going to take their time and get the right GM in place, but there are key decisions coming this summer to turn this franchise around. That will start with the NBA Draft, where the Magic will have a high pick (currently fifth before the lottery). There also are decisions about whether to bring Jeff Green back, what free agents to chase, and to consider trades of guys like Vucevic or Terrence Ross.