Preview: Warriors at Cavaliers

It doesn’t have quite the same juice as it used to when LeBron James was around, but it’s still special when the participants in the last four NBA Finals get together in the regular season. The Cleveland Cavaliers will try to get some revenge when they host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

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The Warriors beat the Cavaliers in three of the last four NBA Finals, including the last two, but Cleveland is no longer among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference since the departure of James. The Cavaliers are fighting to stay out of the basement in the East and lifted themselves to 5-18 with a 99-97 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Golden State is not on top of the West at the moment but remains a Finals favorite and finally looked like the team that won those titles while it rolled the Atlanta Hawks 128-111 on Monday. “We have a great offense where we emphasize ball movement, body movement, making the right play and trying to find a great shot every time down,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant told reporters after the victory. “Tonight, we saw something working in our movement game.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCS Bay Area (Golden State), FS Ohio (Cleveland)

ABOUT THE WARRIORS (16-9): Superstar guard Stephen Curry was playing his second game back after missing 11 with a groin injury on Monday and managed to shake off the last of the rust while exploding for 18 points in the first quarter en route to 30 on 10-of-17 shooting. “I think with Steph, our offense is so free-flowing,” Durant told reporters. “And if it’s Steph getting 18 points in the first quarter or Klay (Thompson) or myself, it starts off with passing the basketball. So, I think, obviously, Steph scored the points, but we all had a hand in setting screens, throwing the ball to him, getting out of the way so he could be aggressive. He’s just all otherworldly when he makes those types of shots and definitely got us going tonight.” Durant finished with 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting and eight assists in the win.

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (5-18): Cleveland is still working on its roster in the post-James era and brought in guard Alec Burks from the Utah Jazz last week in the deal that sent Kyle Korver out of town. Burks finished with 13 points on Monday and punctuated the effort with a go-ahead dunk in the final seconds. “He attacks the basket,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew told reporters of Burks. “Because he’s so athletic, he can maneuver to the basket and get a shot off. The one thing I was trying to do, I wanted to be aggressive on the last play of the game. If the same shot hadn’t gone in, just wanted to take them to overtime. We were going to get the last shot. He just made a really good move with the basketball.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Cavaliers C Tristan Thompson recorded a double-double in seven of the last eight games.

2. Warriors PF Draymond Green (toe) is expected to miss his 10th straight game.

3. Golden State took both regular season meetings in 2017-18 and swept the NBA Finals.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Lakers at Cavaliers

The response shouldn’t be as vicious as the last time he returned to Cleveland after leaving the Cavaliers, but LeBron James isn’t thinking too hard about it. James will make his return on Wednesday, when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Cavaliers.

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James led the Lakers to wins in seven of the last nine games, including a 113-97 triumph in the first half of his homecoming at Miami on Sunday. “I will think about some of the good, I will think about some of the bad, I will think about some of the great that I had with the franchise obviously and then once the tip ball gets going, it is time to go to work,” James told reporters of his trip to Cleveland, where he helped the franchise win its first championship in 2016. “It will be good to see some of my family that will come to the game, see some of my friends as well and get the thing going.” The Cavaliers look nothing like the four-time Eastern Conference championship squad that James left and owns the worst record in the NBA at 2-13. Cleveland appears to be making a turn toward rebuilding as the veterans find their way to the end of the bench or off the roster.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet (Los Angeles), FS Ohio (Cleveland)

ABOUT THE LAKERS (9-7): James scored 51 points in his return to Miami and is second in the NBA in scoring at an average of 28.8 points. “I’ve played for three very, very historic franchises in the time that I played,” James said. “Obviously, in Miami we did some historical things. In Cleveland we was able to do some historical (things). And obviously the Lakers (name) speaks for itself, what they’ve been able to do. And so, my teammates, my coaching staff, they just put that trust in me to go out and make plays, and I just try to be as efficient as possible when I’m on the floor and make things happen.” James became the fifth player in NBA history to score 50 or more points with three different franchises, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Bernard King and Jamal Crawford.

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (2-13): Shooting guard JR Smith, 33, was a big part of that 2016 championship team with James but is not with Cleveland as it attempts to trade the disgruntled veteran. “I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith told The Athletic on Monday. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.” All-Star forward Kevin Love is not going to appear in a Cavaliers uniform any time soon as well and expects to be out until the new year after undergoing toe surgery.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Cavaliers rookie PG Collin Sexton is averaging 18.6 points over the last five games but left Monday’s loss with a hip injury and is day-to-day.

2. Lakers SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 9-of-18 from 3-point range over the last four games.

3. Los Angeles snapped a seven-game losing streak in the series with a 127-113 victory on March 11 despite 24 points and 10 rebounds from Cleveland’s James.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Warriors at Cavaliers Game 4 Preview

The Cleveland Cavaliers have had their opportunities to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. There was LeBron James’ masterful 51-point performance in Game 1, and then Stephen Curry’s 3-16 shooting display in Game 3. Neither contest resulted in a victory for the Cavs, making it hard to believe that the series will last beyond Friday night’s Game 4.

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Golden State took a commanding 3-0 lead Wednesday night with a 110-102 victory at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors survived Curry’s worst game of the postseason. Klay Thompson scored just 10 points on 11 shots, and Draymond Green was a minus-two in 40 minutes.

Kevin Durant was unstoppable in Game 3, scoring 43 points on 15-23 shooting, including a 33-foot three-pointer with 49.8 seconds remaining that put the game away. He outplayed James, who had his worst shooting night of the series but still managed to record a triple-double with 33 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

When James isn’t by far the best player on the court, Cleveland has no chance. If he is able to outperform Durant and Curry by a wide margin, he still needs some help from a supporting cast that hasn’t offered all that much support this postseason. Golden State learned that in the series when they overcame James’ 51-8-8 for an overtime win.

Durant didn’t have it in Game 1, but the Warriors picked him up. When Curry, Thompson and Green underperformed in Game 3, the NBA’s second-best player led them to victory.

Why would Game 4 be any different?

Cleveland’s role players performed a little better at home like they have for the entire postseason. Kevin Love recorded another triple-double, while Rodney Hood finally contributed with 15 points off the bench. But J.R. Smith still had more shots than points after a strong first half, and George Hill was nowhere to be found with five points and four assists. Kyle Korver went scoreless and Jeff Green made one shot.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, one or two role players stepped up in Cleveland’s wins, giving James enough assistance to get the Cavs over the hump. That’s not nearly enough against an all-time great team.

The Cavs didn’t go away quietly last year when they fell into a 3-0 hole. They defeated the Warriors 137-116 in Game 4 behind 40 points from Kyrie Irving and 24 made three-pointers.

Without Irving and the same kind of three-point shooting they had in 2017, Cleveland’s chances of pushing the series back to Oracle Arena are not looking good.

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Warriors at Cavaliers Game 3 Preview

The Cleveland Cavaliers badly need a victory if they plan on turning the NBA Finals into a true series. The Golden State Warriors won the first two games of the best-of-seven series and look to place Cleveland in a major hole when they visit the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

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Cleveland forward LeBron James averaged 40 points in the first two games – including his epic 51-point outing in the opener – and it still wasn’t enough to get his squad a victory. “I don’t like the way I feel, the mood I’m in right now,” James told reporters at his Tuesday media availability. “When you’re down like this, a deficit like this against a team like this, there’s no good feeling. I personally don’t feel good today about the deficit we have. I feel great about (Wednesday), the opportunity we have.” Warriors guard Stephen Curry made an NBA Finals-record nine 3-pointers in Game 2 and is averaging 31 points in the series but he said his team has a lot of work still to do. “We understand how hard it is to win in this building,” Curry told reporters. “No matter what’s gone on in the series, when you change venues, you’ve got to reassert your dominance and try to find that right momentum to start. We have a great opportunity (Wednesday) to do that.”

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ABC

ABOUT THE WARRIORS: Swingman Andre Iguodala (left knee) was termed questionable for Game 3 and it will be decided Wednesday whether or not he plays for the first since May 20. “He’s doing better,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said at his Tuesday press conference. “He told me he’s feeling better, so I would upgrade him to questionable. But I think he’s getting closer, and I’m hopeful that he can play.” Meanwhile, forward Kevin Durant is getting it done on the offensive end with back-to-back 26-point outings and he has topped 20 points in all 19 postseason games.

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: Playoff disappointment Rodney Hood will receive some minutes in Game 3 as Cleveland searches for anybody who can provide scoring punch to complement James and power forward Kevin Love. Hood was acquired from Utah Jazz in February and hasn’t fit in and is averaging just 4.4 points in the postseason but coach Tyronn Lue said “we’re going to give Rodney a chance” and Hood proclaims he is ready. “I don’t know when it’s going to come or what stage of the game, but just being ready,” Hood, who has played just four minutes in the series, told reporters. “I’ve been preparing, I’ve been working hard, so if I get the opportunity, just go out there and play. Just have fun.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Warriors averaged 123 points while winning the first two games.

2. Golden State G Shaun Livingston has made all nine of his field-goal attempts in the series and C JaVale McGee is 8-of-9 shooting.

3. Love is averaging 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the series.

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Cavaliers at Warriors Game 2

The Cleveland Cavaliers got two days off to digest the mistakes made down the stretch that allowed the Golden State Warriors to escape with a win in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals and put it behind them. The Cavaliers will get another chance to steal homecourt advantage when they visit the Warriors for Game 2 on Sunday.

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Cleveland had a chance to take the lead at the end of regulation, but JR Smith dribbled out the clock instead of putting up a shot after securing an offensive rebound and the Cavaliers went on to suffer a 124-114 defeat in overtime to heavily-favored Golden State. “We lost a tough game. It’s over. It’s behind us,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue told reporters. “We did a lot of great things in that game, so we’ve got to carry it over. We’ve got to play better on Sunday. We’ve got to expect that they’re going to play better, so we have to play better on Sunday. I know we’re capable of doing that.” The Warriors were never publicly among those that thought the series would be a runaway victory and keeping their collective feet on the gas in Game 2 is a priority. “I know their goal is to come to Oracle and just get one (game),” Golden State guard Klay Thompson told reporters. “So, we have to have it in the back of our minds that we want to protect home court. And if we don’t take care of business Sunday, we obviously lose that advantage. Game 1 is over with. I do not expect them to still be deflated. I expect them to play with great energy out of the gate on Sunday.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: Cleveland superstar LeBron James turned in one of the great performances in NBA Finals history in Game 1 with 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but he might have to play even better going forward. “I hope so,” Lue joked when asked if James could play any better. “I know that’s asking a lot. But we need him to lead by example, being aggressive, attacking the basket. We know they’re going to come and help. They’re a help team, and guys are going to get shots. If you don’t have a shot, you’ve got to put it on the floor and make another play. He did that last night, and he has to keep it up.” James could use more help on the offensive end after being joined in double figures by just Kevin Love (21 points) and Smith (10) in Game 1.

ABOUT THE WARRIORS: Golden State shot 51.1 percent from the floor and 95 percent from the free-throw line while committing just eight turnovers in Game 1 but was still pushed to overtime, in part because Cleveland dominated on the boards with 19 offensive rebounds. “The glaring weakness on film was our lack of aggression on the boards,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “That’s something we’ve got to clean up.” Stephen Curry led the offense with 29 points and nine assists while Draymond Green turned in a strong all-around performance with 13 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, five steals and a pair of blocks.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Warriors SF Andre Iguodala (knee) is doubtful for Game 2.

2. Love will not be suspended by the league for coming off the bench and stepping onto the floor during a skirmish at the end of overtime in Game 1.

3. Golden State SF Kevin Durant went 1-of-7 from 3-point range in Game 1 and is shooting 31.7 percent from beyond the arc in the postseason.

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Cavaliers at Warriors Game 1 Preview

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season and the series begins Thursday night in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won two of the first three meetings and the latest matchup will likely begin with Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (concussion) sitting out.

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Cleveland star LeBron James doesn’t understand why there is complaining that the two teams are once again sharing the Finals’ stage. “Teams have had their opportunities to beat the Cavs over the last four years, and teams have had the opportunities to beat the Warriors over the last four years,” James told reporters at his Wednesday press conference. “If you want to see somebody else in the postseason, then you got to beat them.” There also has been a lot of chatter about how James lacks a supporting case – an odd notion for a team that is in the NBA Finals and one Warriors coach Steve Kerr doesn’t prescribe to in the least. “You don’t get to the Finals with one man, no matter how good that one man is,” Kerr said at his press conference. “So we have great respect for the Cavs, their resiliency. The fact that they’re here four years in a row – we know exactly how hard that is. So we’re preparing for a lot more than just LeBron, that’s for sure.”

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ABC

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: Love suffered a concussion in Friday’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics and has yet to pass the protocol, and coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t know if he will be available. Love, a five-time All-Star, was seen on the practice floor Wednesday and Lue did indicate that he will start the contest if he is cleared to play. Love’s presence would alleviate some pressure off James, who is averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in a stellar postseason.

ABOUT THE WARRIORS: Veteran defensive stopper Andre Iguodala (left leg) will miss his fifth consecutive contest, leaving Golden State without a player who typically shadows James. “Well, he was MVP of the series in 2015, largely because he took that role on of guarding LeBron, but also because of what he did offensively,” Kerr told reporters in reference to Iguodala’s importance. “He’s doing a little bit better. Some encouraging signs, but we have ruled him out for Game 1.” Kerr said the duty of guarding James will be spread among at least four players – forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green and guards Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Warriors PG Stephen Curry made 25 3-pointers over the final five games of the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets and averaged 28.2 points during the stretch.

2. James has topped 40 points seven times this postseason, one shy of Jerry West’s postseason record set in 1965.

3. Golden State SF Kevin Durant is averaging 29 points in the postseason and has topped 20 in all 17 games.

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Warriors vs Cavaliers NBA Finals Breakdown

They’re baaaaack. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers rematch is officially set.

When the ball tips on Thursday night it will be history in the making, the first time in the NBA, NHL, MLB, or NFL that the same two teams have squared off four years in a row. And while some may complain about an element of fatigue in seeing the same matchup year after year, the fact is LeBron vs. the once-in-a-lifetime Warriors is a gift for basketball fans new and old.

The 2018 NBA Finals will once again feature the greatest player of an era versus its greatest team, with multiple legacies at stake. Here are some of the most compelling storylines ahead of Thursday’s Game 1:

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LeBron vs. the World

The undermanned Cavaliers enter the Finals as major underdogs — the Warriors are 12-point favourites to win Game 1 on their homecourt.

With a supporting cast that would struggle to see the court if they played for the other team, Cleveland will again need a superhuman performance from LeBron James in order to have a fighting chance.

In last year’s Finals, on a Cavs team that featured Kyrie Irving and a healthy Kevin Love, James averaged a triple-double with 33 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game — and Cleveland still lost the series in five games.

This post-season James has done the unthinkable and taken his game to another level.

James has already become the only player to ever post over 600 total points, 160 rebounds, and 150 assists, and 30 made-threes in a single playoffs— and the Finals haven’t even begun!

He’s carried a major load throughout the first three rounds, but that’s nothing new for James. He already owns three of the top-nine usage rates in playoff history (2009, 2015, and this year). The only other player in that top nine is Michael Jordan.

But in the process he’s logged a staggering amount of playing time. He’s played 14 per cent more minutes than anybody else in the NBA this season and, in his 15th campaign, has already appeared in 100 games. James was pushed to the brink of exhaustion in beating the Warriors back in 2016, and he’s relied on even more now.

Can James keep it up?

Injuries to key players

Two of the most important supporting cast members will likely be sidelined for at least the start of the series — and potentially the entire Finals.

Kevin Love suffered a concussion in Game 6 of the East Finals and is taking part in the NBA’s concussion protocol with no clear timetable for his return set.

While his consistency isn’t always there, Love is a legitimate all-star and difference-maker for the Cavs. His shooting stroke and shot-making ability from all over the court helps spread the floor and create space for James while forcing defences to adjust their game plans.

He’s also a clear number two in the Cavs’ pecking order, and with him out of the lineup Cleveland is forced to roll the dice and hope one of their role players like Jeff Green, Smith, or George Hill comes through with a big performance — which is, um, not ideal.

For the Warriors, they are without glue-guy team captain Andre Iguodala, who is out with a frustrating left leg/knee injury and is reportedly obtaining a second-opinion from medical experts in order to properly diagnose and treat his ailment in order to return for the Cavs series.

Having missed the Warriors’ last four games, his status for the Finals is unclear at the moment, but it sounds like he’ll be out of the lineup again.

The impact of Iguodala’s absence can’t be overstated. He’s Golden State’s best individual LeBron defender the Warriors have – and one of the best in the league at that valued specialty.

Durant gunning for the throne

Last year Durant got the best of James and the Cavs.

The reigning Finals MVP torched Cleveland for over 35 points per game while shooting 56 per cent from the floor and just under 48 per cent from deep.

This season on the whole, Durant has been just as effective in his second year with Golden State. He leads the team at 29 points per game this post-season, although his shooting numbers are down slightly.

The Warriors comparative struggles have brought Durant’s iso-ball style under question at times. Still, there is no questioning his ability to swing a game or a series singlehandedly.

Down the stretch in Game 7, Golden State went to Durant in isolation, who hit jumper after jumper with a single defender on him, quelling any chance Houston had to make a comeback (…the Rockets missing 27 straight three-pointers didn’t exactly help their chances).

Durant seems to relish his matchups with James, eager to enter an arms race over who is the game’s most lethal scorer, and you can expect no different this time around.

Splash Bros

After missing the first six games of the playoffs, Steph Curry has come up big when Golden State needed him most. With his team facing elimination against the Rockets, he made 12 threes in his last two games (along with 16 assists, 14 rebounds and four steals).

The Warriors are undefeated this post-season when Curry makes more than three three-pointers.

Curry and Klay Thompson — who sunk nine threes to keep the Warriors’ season alive in Game 6 — remain the biggest difference-makers, and virtually unstoppable. The duo nailed 24 three-pointers combined over their last two games. For context: Cavaliers’ shooters J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver didn’t reach that total during the entire Cavs-Celtics series.

Golden State’s depth of talent in their starting five gives them a clear edge, and it starts with their backcourt stars — something the Cavs simply don’t have an answer for.

Pace of play

Both the Cavs and Warriors have been in the top ten in scoring and three-pointers made during each season of their now four-year Finals runs. Each club is at its best when overwhelming opponents on offence, but during these playoffs they’ve both had to adjust their styles at times and slog it out.

Golden State were slowed down in the second and third games against Houston, matchups in which both teams were held below 100 points. Taken out of their comfort zone, the Warriors lost both games.

That might be a formula the Cavaliers try to replicate, slowing down the game with a plodding, deliberate offence built around James. Love’s injury forced their hand, but the Cavs found success in Game 7 against Boston playing a defensive-oriented lineup with Green starting in his place. They held the Celtics to under 80 points in the game and are 6-1 when opponents score under 100 in the post-season.

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Cavaliers at Celtics Game 2 Preview

Marcus Morris and his Boston teammates got the best of LeBron James in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals. The second-seeded Celtics look to stymie the Cleveland star for the second consecutive contest when they host the fourth-seeded Cavaliers on Tuesday in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series.

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Morris helped hold James to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting as Boston roared to a 26-point halftime advantage en route to a 108-83 torching of Cleveland in Sunday’s series opener. Morris moved into the starting lineup and had 21 points and 10 rebounds after boasting prior to the opener that he is one of the best in the NBA at defending James. “It’s a team effort, man, it’s not just me,” Morris told reporters after the easy victory. “Everybody played their part in guarding him. He’s obviously the best player in the game, and you need multiple guys and a team to guard him an entire game. I just think we did a great job of that.” Cavaliers veteran swingman Kyle Korver summed up the performance this way: “Bad game, bad first game. There’s lot of things we can do better in the next one.”

TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: James also committed seven turnovers during his porous performance but he said he wasn’t worried about his team trailing in the series. “I have zero level of concern at this stage,” James told reporters. “I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness. You know, you get better throughout the series. You see ways you can get better throughout the series. But I’ve been down 0-1, I’ve been down 0-2, I’ve been down before in the postseason. But for me, there’s never no level of concern, no matter how bad I played tonight with seven turnovers, how inefficient I was shooting the ball.” James had plenty of company in the subpar shooting category as Cleveland shot 36 percent from the field, including a woeful 4-of-26 from 3-point range.

ABOUT THE CELTICS: Morris was one of three Boston players to reach the 20-point mark in the opener as shooting guard Jaylen Brown recorded 23 points and eight rebounds and center Al Horford had 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. But the decision to elevate Morris into the starting power forward spot was the big difference-maker as a player who was just 18-of-59 shooting in the five-game series against Philadelphia made 7-of-12 shots and effectively hounded James. “He was able to really force the issue in the offensive end and make LeBron exert so much energy because then he has to come down and really guard him,” backup point guard Marcus Smart told reporters. “Can’t take plays off against really good players.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Celtics SF Jayson Tatum scored 16 points in Game 1 to halt his franchise rookie record of seven straight games of 20 or more points.

2. Cleveland PF/C Kevin Love (17 points) was just 5-of-14 shooting in the opener after averaging 25 points on 26-of-48 shooting over the previous three playoff games.

3. Boston PG Terry Rozier had just eight points in Game 1 but also had eight assists against just one turnover.

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2018 NBA Playoffs

Second-round preview

With the second round under way, let’s dive in straight into the series on hand.

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Toronto Raptors vs Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers have knocked the Toronto Raptors out of the playoffs the last two years but the Raptors are finally the favored team and hope to play like it when the teams begin their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup.

Enter the TOR/CLE contest

Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

The Boston Celtics needed everything they had to survive a seven-game, first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Their reward is an Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with one of the hottest teams in the league in the rested Philadelphia 76ers.

Enter the BOS/PHI contest

Houston Rockets vs Utah Jazz

The Jazz vs. Rockets series is a classic matchup. The league’s best offense vs. the league’s best defense.

Enter the HOU/UTA contest

Golden State Warriors vs New Orleans Pelicans

One team was supposed to be here all along. The other was two regular-season losses away from missing the playoffs and setting into motion a major overhaul that likely would have included firing its coach and front office, and possibly would have stretched into a trade involving one of the league’s best players. But the stunning sweep of Portland by the Pelicans earned them a spot in the conference semifinals for the first time in a decade. It surely saved the job of head coach Alvin Gentry, and likely the job of GM Dell Demps, too. That means teams anticipating a Pels fire sale can cross off Anthony Davis from their wish lists.

Enter the GSW/NOP contest

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Pacers at Cavaliers Game 5

Every time it looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers are about to roll over and end their reign atop the Eastern Conference, they bounce right back with a win. The Cavaliers will try to take the lead for the first time in the best-of-seven, first-round series when they host the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 on Wednesday.

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Cleveland had a chance to take the series lead in Game 3 and could not hold onto a 17-point advantage in a 92-90 loss, but LeBron James took over down the stretch in Game 4 and guided his team to a 104-100 triumph and tie the series at two games apiece. “We came on the road in a hostile environment and got a big win after a letdown last game,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after the victory. “I thought we played good enough to win that last game. The guys thought that as well. When you lose a tough game like that it’s hard to bounce back, especially on the road. It’s just tribute to our guys’ character, who they are, and we bounced back and won a tough game.” The Pacers are showing plenty of fight in the series and are undaunted by Cleveland taking back homecourt advantage. “It’s 0-0 and it’s anybody’s series right now,” center Myles Turner told reporters. “And we’ve gotta be the hungry team. We’ve got a road win before, and we gotta go do it again.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, TNT, FS Indiana, FS Ohio (Cleveland)

ABOUT THE PACERS: Indiana placed seven scorers in double figures in the Game 4 loss but All-Star Victor Oladipo struggled to 5-of-20 from the floor and Game 3 hero Bojan Bogdanovic went 4-of-13. “I thought we were frantic offensively throughout the game and I just didn’t think we played the game the right way,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan told reporters. “I thought there were some quick shots, some heroic shots that were taken throughout this game, and you’re not going to win if you play the game like that.” The positives came up front, where Turner and reserve center Domantas Sabonis combined for 36 points on 16-of-21 shooting.

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: James finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in Game 4 but took the time out to praise the efforts of his teammates. Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood, who all joined the team at the trade deadline, combined for 24 points off the bench. “It means a lot to Rodney, Jordan and Larry,” James told reporters. “It’s their first opportunity in the postseason. It was a must-win for us in a hostile environment. For them to play the way they did meant a lot.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Cavaliers PG George Hill (back) is questionable for Game 5.

2. Pacers PF Thaddeus Young grabbed 16 rebounds on Sunday in his first double-double of the series.

3. Cleveland SG Kyle Korver scored 18 points in Game 4 after going scoreless over 20 minutes in Game 3.

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2018 NBA Playoffs

First-round previews

If the playoffs are anything like the wild finish to the regular season, hold on. It took an overtime play-in win just to determine the Western Conference playoff teams, and little was settled outside of the top two seeds in the East heading into Wednesday’s season finale. But now that we have the sixteen teams, it’s on. The NBA’s second season officially begins on Saturday afternoon.

Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards

The Raptors have all sorts of pressure on them this postseason, but they couldn’t have done much better than facing the fledgling Wizards at the start. Washington, which has lost 14 of its last 21 games, welcomed five-time All-Star John Wall back on March 31 after he missed more than two months with a knee injury. Still, Toronto — which was third in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating this season — should be able to survive.

Enter the TOR/WAS Series Tournament

Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Boston, which is without five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving for the playoffs and guard Marcus Smart until at least late April, has its hands full against these Bucks. Milwaukee’s 106-102 win over Boston on April 3 serves as the best evidence of how they match up at the moment. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo will be looking to advance past the first round for the first time (he’s 0-for-2 thus far).

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat

Philadelphia comes in as the league’s hottest team, having won 16 games in a row. Never mind that All-Star big man Joel Embiid went down with an orbital fracture in his left eye eight games into the stretch, the Sixers just kept rolling. When Embiid was asked if he might be able to play for Game 1, he told reporters it’s “unlikely but still a chance.”

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers

LeBron James is no stranger to memorable playoff matchups against the Pacers, but this is a different version of the familiar story. With coach Nate McMillan and All-Star guard Victor Oladipo leading the way, the Pacers were a wonderful surprise this season.

Enter the CLE/IND Series Tournament

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Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Rockets dominated the season series against the Timberwolves, but only one of those games (a 126-108 win on Feb. 13) included Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler from beginning to end. The four-time All-Star tore his meniscus in their second matchup on Feb. 23, then missed the final two meetings before returning on Friday. The Rockets, meanwhile, lost key defender Luc Mbah a Moute to a dislocated shoulder on Tuesday, and he’s expected to miss the first round — if not longer.

Enter the HOU/MIN Series Tournament

Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs

This is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals in name alone, as Golden State is without two-time MVP Stephen Curry this time around and the Spurs’ franchise centerpiece, Kawhi Leonard, remains out after playing just nine games this season. But if anyone is capable of creating a gameplan to upset the ailing defending champions, it’s San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. His Spurs had the fourth-best defensive rating this season. The Warriors, meanwhile, have lost 10 of their last 17 games.

Enter the GSW/SAS Series Tournament

Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The Trail Blazers lost seven of their last 12 games, but the regular season finale win over Utah was enough to earn them the No. 3 seed. Portland, which had the league’s ninth-best defensive rating this season, will have all it can handle with the way Pelicans star Anthony Davis has been playing (a league-leading 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game since DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury Jan. 26).

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz

The Jazz boasted the NBA’s best defense for the final few months of the regular season, and now they’ll try to stop a star-studded Thunder squad that finished 10th in offensive rating. But the Jazz have to score too, and therein lies the most pressing question of their postseason: Can rookie guard Donovan Mitchell be the same star-caliber player on this stage? Utah certainly needs him to be.

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NBA Finals Fantasy Game 1 Recap

Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors began their NBA Finals rematch this past thursday at the Oracle Arena. With the Cavaliers coming into this game with the best postseason record thus far (12-2) and outscoring opponents by a combined 177 pts, Game 1’s result was quite a surprise and unusual for NBA Fans.

Not only that the season record breaking Golden State Warriors took game 1 to the Cavaliers, 104-89,  in comfortable fashion, the fact that Stephen Curry and and Klay Thompson struggled throughout the game will raise many questions to the Cavs.

The response from the bench when both Splash Brothers were unable to make their presence felt was nothing but astounding.

Shaun Livingston put up some impressive numbers in game 1 with a career playoff high of 20 pts. He went 8 for 10 from the field with 4 boards and 3 assists.

The Cavaliers just couldn’t cope with the Warriors’ reserve unit which outscored their opponent’s bench 45-11.

Leandro Barbosa’s 11 pts and Andre Iguodala’s tough defense against the Lebron James were quite impressive.

Iguodala, last season’s NBA Finals MVP definitely picked up where he left off against the Cavaliers’ large forward. He made James do a number a mistakes and bad shots. He was able to also to contribute offensively with 12 pts with 7 boards and 6 assists. The size advantage of James on Iguodala is quite huge and its hard to believe how well the Warriors’ player is coping with it without drawing many fouls. A mix of experience and smart defending is key in his matchup to slow down James’ dominance in the game.

The Cavaliers only shot 33% from long range and 38% from the field but its really the cold streak of certain of their players that stepped up in the early series.

With the Warriors extremely difficult to beat at the Oracle Arena, the key games the Cavaliers should be focusing on winning are games 3 to 5. This could shift momentum in the series and keep them on pace for what could maybe be a 7 game series.

 

 

 

 

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Playoffs Fantasy Basketball

Eastern Conference Round 2 Preview

On to round two of playoffs fantasy basketball. The seeding order got respected with the top four team moving on. After dismantling the Pistons in four game, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had enough rest (8 days) to take on the Atlanta Hawks. The other series sets up the north versus the south. The Toronto Raptors will go against the Miami Heat. Both team were pushed to the brink of a game 7 during round one. The Eastern conference round 2 will begin May 2nd with the Hawks flying in to Cleveland for Game 1. The Heat will be in Toronto the following day to start their series as well. Join FanPicks to play the NBA playoffs.

 

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers                                                                               Photo credit: Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports

For the Atlanta Hawks, facing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers is starting to look less like a matchup than a recurring nightmare.

The Hawks got swept by Cleveland this season, dropping the three meetings by an average of almost 10 points (109.3 to 99.7). When they met in the Eastern Conference finals last spring, the result was the same: four consecutive Cavaliers victories, an especially ignominious way for Atlanta’s sparkling 60-victory season to end. And if you go back even further to 2009, the previous postseason clash between both sides, well it ended in a sweep again. See the trend?

Nothing either of these teams did in the first round (sweep of Detroit for Cleveland and 4-2 win against Boston for Atlanta) suggests that things will be different this year.

 

NBA: Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors                                                                               Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today Sports

The Toronto Raptors fans have reason to celebrate, even if it’s only the second round. For the second-time in their 21-year history, they won a best-of-seven playoff series, outlasting the Indiana Pacers in seven games.It wasn’t pretty and it came so close to falling apart in the fourth quarter of Game 7, but coach Dwane Casey can now breath easy.

While the Raptors had their ups and downs in the first round, the Heat had their ups and downs this season. But both had regular-season success against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have long been the clear favorite to win the Eastern Conference. One of them will get the chance to put the Cavs to the test in the conference finals, should the defending conference champs win their series with the Atlanta Hawks.

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