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Game 1 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Golden State and Cleveland meet in the NBA Finals once again, but can LeBron pull off another miracle?

Ben Nadeau

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Last July, Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors in free agency set in motion an NBA landscape that always seemed destined to end in this exact fashion. For the third consecutive season, the Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, a grudge match between two franchises that boasted an insane seven All-Stars in 2016-17. Following in the footsteps of Stephen Curry’s rise to stardom and then LeBron James’ legendary comeback down 3-1 will no doubt be difficult, but these powerhouses have enough fireworks to put on a championship-worthy show one more time.

Many have suggested that the addition of Durant will push this series heavily in the Warriors’ favor, but can you really count out the machine-like playoff versions of James and Kyrie Irving? They split their season series at 1-1, but, as if it needs mentioning, the Cavaliers are on a three-game Finals winning streak against the Warriors.

#1 — Golden State Warriors

Naturally, the Warriors followed up their record-breaking 73-win (but ultimately just short) season by adding Durant and learned how to decimate the Western Conference in an entirely new way. Outside of Durant’s month-long absence in March, the Warriors cruised once again to the No. 1 seed in the conference. Even with head coach Steve Kerr still forced to watch from afar, the Warriors are 12-0 in the postseason to this point, easily disposing of the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs (albeit without Kawhi Leonard) en route to their date with destiny.

On their unbeaten jaunt through the conference, the Warriors racked up the postseason’s highest average in points (118.3), assists (27.8) and steals (9.2) per game, doing so with a struggling Klay Thompson in tow. Thompson averaged 24.3 points per game in the playoffs last year, but he’s only reached that mark once in this season’s iteration, even scoring as low as six points on two separate occasions.

Anchored by Stephen Curry, averaging a playoff career-high of 28.6 points per game, and Draymond Green, who should avoid another series-defining suspension, will ask some difficult questions about Cleveland’s suspect-at-times defense. Green can take advantage of his offensive matchup with Kevin Love too — don’t forget the former’s huge 32-point, 15-rebound performance in Game 7’s losing effort last summer.

Once again, the Warriors will call upon Andre Iguodala to shoulder much of the load defensively against James. Durant and Green will spend plenty of time guarding the 13-time All-Star as well, but Iguodala’s steady hand could be a difference-maker off the bench. Even JaVale McGee has proven to be a useful tool in doses for the Warriors, so look for him to be aggressive during his minutes against the Cavaliers’ second unit.

At the end of the day, there’s too much shooting, balance and game-changing bench pieces to doubt the Warriors’ eventual victory in this series. Yes, James is one of the greatest players in league history, but asking him to perform the basketball equivalent of walking on water two Junes in a row is too much.

When you take a 73-win team and add Durant (25 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 55.6 percent from the floor), it’s best not to overcomplicate things.

#2 — Cleveland Cavaliers

In April, as the Cavaliers willingly appeared to cede the top spot in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics, two key buzzwords entered the NBA lexicon: Flip and switch. Could a team go from having a below average defense in the regular season — tied for the 8th-worst defensive rating with the Brooklyn Nets at 108 — to a playoff-ready version at the snap of a finger? Well, as it typically goes with James, nearly anything is plausible.

No franchise in recent memory had been so outwardly disinterested in holding homecourt advantage than the Cavaliers. They frequently slept walked through entire games and committed to entering the postseason as healthy as possible. While the Celtics pulled off their impressive finish as the No. 1 seed, the Cavaliers shrugged and swept their way through eight straight games against the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors, all before taking back that precious advantage in Boston during the first 24 minutes of the conference finals. Make no mistake, despite letting a sloppy effort slip through their hands at home in Game 3 versus the Celtics, the Cavaliers have been just as dominant as their undefeated opposition.

That previously gag-inducing defensive rating now stands at 104.6, a mark that would put Cavaliers among a smattering of the league’s top units during the regular season. Just as important, the offense has been prolific too, and the Cavaliers enter the Finals with the highest averages in field goal percentage (50.7 percent to the Warriors’ 50.2), three-pointers made per game (14.6) and three-point percentage (43.5 percent) in the postseason. Take that red-hot shooting and combine it with the irrational confidence of a roster that already achieved the impossible against this team, and you’ve likely found yourself a competitive series.

The Cavaliers will certainly look to lean on the James and Irving pick-and-roll as Curry struggled with them, albeit while injured, for most of the Finals last year. Of course, the Warriors now have a rangy beast in Durant that’s able (and, more crucially, willing) to play his part defensively — but Cleveland will need to do damage there again to keep pace. In 2016, the Cavaliers focused on denying Curry as much as possible, opting instead to give Harrison Barnes a slew of wide-open attempts. While that strategy largely worked, again, the addition of Durant will complicate Cleveland’s ability to influence the game defensively. The Warriors often live and die by the three-pointer, but having the option to dump it into Durant for an isolation is a wrinkle the Cavaliers may not be equipped to handle.

After James, the defensive abilities on the roster decline quickly, so finding any way to paper mache over those cracks will be key throughout the series. Additionally, the Cavaliers will certainly worry about their lack of size in the paint — should Tristan Thompson get injured or find himself in foul trouble, Cleveland will need to rely on some combination of Love, James, Derrick Williams and Channing Frye to quell the tide at center.

But for all the Cavaliers’ glaring weaknesses, at some point, maybe onlookers should just learn to stop betting against James. The reigning NBA Finals MVP passed Michael Jordan for first place on the all-time postseason scorers list against the Celtics and has shown no signs of slowing down. Frankly, with James on the court, anything is possible — but can it reasonably happen against Golden State four times in seven games?

Who Wins Game 1?

Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine the Warriors losing this series in the long run — they’re just the better team across the board. Still, it’s equally difficult to predict the James-led Cavaliers to go down without snagging a few victories of their own, no matter how fleeting. So, backing the Warriors in six games does two things: It doesn’t bet against the vengeful firepower of Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green, but it also doesn’t make the mistake of counting out James on the sport’s biggest stage.

Either way, Game 1 won’t be one of the contests that Cleveland grabs. After plenty of rest, the Warriors will be energized at home and Durant should be eager to set the stage for a potential legacy-changing series. Irving may outplay Curry in this opener, but don’t expect Thompson to continue shooting this poorly either. At home, the Warriors will open up this NBA Finals grudge match with an important 1-0 lead.

Ben Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft

With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

Spencer Davies

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No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.

A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.

Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three of those boxes checked off.

“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”

During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.

Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.

From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?

“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”

Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even in aspects outside of his offensive ability.

“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”

Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.

A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.

“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”

VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.

“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.

“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”

However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.

“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”

Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.

But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”

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