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Game 3 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron looked visibly exhausted in the Cavaliers’ Game 2 loss — is his best still enough?

Ben Nadeau

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For perhaps the first time ever, a large portion of NBA fans may feel just a little bit sorry for LeBron James. Despite his best efforts to run through a physical Golden State Warriors defense, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 2 by a score of 132-113 — their second double-digit defeat in a row. To his credit, James has been near-perfect for the underdogs thus far, and, in Game 2, racked up a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists) while also biting the next-to-impossible bullet of defending Kevin Durant on most possessions.

But as the television cameras caught an exhausted James trying to catch his breath on the bench during the late third quarter, the realization of possible mortality set in. At 32 years of age, we’ve already seen James transcend the game of basketball on countless occasions, but particularly so against this very team one year ago. The memories of that 3-1 comeback are now fleeting, replaced by nightmares of the Slim Reaper, who, as you’ve likely heard, has already outscored Harrison Barnes’ dismal 2016 Finals output in just two games.

Of course, hope hasn’t been completely extinguished for the Cavaliers, but there’s a strange feeling of resignation echoing across the country. Betting against James is a sure fire way to look silly, but if his supporting cast continues to come up empty at home, there’s almost no chance for Cleveland to repeat their miraculous task once again. Kyrie Irving’s late surge helped him finish with 19 points and seven assists, but his 8-for-23 shooting performance was difficult to swallow as Stephen Curry cruised to an easy triple-double of his own.

However, the Cavaliers received very little outside of James, Irving and Kevin Love (27 points, seven rebounds) in their Game 2 loss. Tristan Thompson, lauded as one of the Cavaliers’ only rebounding threats against the Warriors, has managed just eight points and eight rebounds through two games, tallying an overall poor plus-minus of -31. For Thompson, who scored 15 points and 16 rebounds in last year’s crucial Game 6 alone, it’s disappointing, but for a Cavaliers side desperately looking for answers, it may as well be the death knell.

Additionally, J.R. Smith struggled once again as he failed to score a single point in 14 minutes, but the Cavaliers’ bench didn’t fare much better. Key players like Channing Frye and Deron Williams combined to shoot just 1-for-10 and Iman Shumpert’s strong line of six points, four rebounds and three steals was sullied by converting just one of his six attempts from the floor. If Game 3 is to fall Cleveland’s way, they’ll need more from their veteran-laden roster across the board — a daunting request against this rigid Warriors defense.

The Warriors recovered from a sloppy, 20 turnover performance to reach basketball euphoria in the second half. In fact, the only player to record a negative plus-minus in more than 10 minutes of game time was Shaun Livingston, with a -10, a fair representation of just how solid this Warriors team is on both sides of the ball. The headlines will certainly go to Curry (32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists) and Durant (33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and five blocks), but Klay Thompson’s much-awaited arrival was a game-changer in Game 2.

Thompson’s 22-point effort was his highest total since he scored 21 in the series-clincher against the Utah Jazz two rounds and almost a full month ago. Thompson and Draymond Green contributed seven of the Warriors’ 18 three-pointers after going for a combined 1-for-10 from deep in Game 1. Thanks to the effortless scoring of Curry and Durant and the swarming defense of Thompson and Green, there was little room left to operate for a Cleveland team that must now regroup with their season on the line.

Cleveland’s supporting cast should certainly improve at home in Game 3, but Golden State is a beast that this league has never seen before. Just ask the exhausted (and impatient) James — this is clearly new territory for him too.

During his postgame press conference, head coach Steve Kerr — who was back on the sidelines for the first time since April 19 — spoke about the Warriors and offered up this gem:

“Tonight was a game based on talent, we had a lot of guys who played exceptionally well individually. . . but heading to Cleveland, we’re going to have to be a lot smarter. We play that same game in Cleveland, there’s no way we win.”

Sure, whatever you say, Steve.

Who Wins Game 3?

Ultimately, you may not feel much sympathy for James and his status as a four-time MVP, three-time NBA champion and eventual first-ballot lock for the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t make the sight any less strange to behold. Exhausted on the bench and outwardly frustrated in the locker room, James has played incredible basketball through two games and it hasn’t even been close to enough.

Outside of James and Love, few Cavaliers have proven worthy of their hearty challenge at hand, so it’d be tough to bet against Golden State at this point, even on the road. Cleveland will need one of Irving’s superhuman efforts to delay this inevitable drive toward the NBA’s new era. If the likes of Smith, Frye and Thompson finally show up, the dynamic in Game 3 could change completely — but, alas, that day may not come in this series. In all likelihood, the Warriors should move one game closer to an undefeated postseason after defeating the Cavaliers in Game 3.

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

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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