Preview: Dodgers at Red Sox

David Price recorded his first career playoff victory as a starting pitcher in his 12th attempt and now looks to make it two in a row when the Boston Red Sox host the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday for Game 2 of the World Series. The left-hander set aside his longstanding postseason struggles with six scoreless innings in the American League Championship Series-clinching win over Houston.

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Price, who will be trying to help Boston take a 2-0 series lead, was bombarded with questions and routinely ridiculed for his October issues and admitted Tuesday that he feels a lot less pressure now that he is 1-9 as a starter. “It’s definitely a weight lifted off of me, for sure,” Price said during his press conference. “Not like food tastes better or anything like that. But it was time. And I’m definitely glad that the time came and we moved past it. And I look forward to doing the same thing (Wednesday).” The Red Sox recorded an 8-4 win in Game 1 as Andrew Benintendi had four hits and Eduardo Nunez belted a pinch-hit, three-run homer, while Manny Machado drove in three runs for the Dodgers. “Our guys, like you’ve seen all year, are going to fight,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said in his postgame press conference. “And we don’t expect (the Red Sox) to give us anything. So we expect it to be a hard-fought series.”

TV: 8:09 p.m. ET, FOX

PITCHING MATCHUP: Dodgers LH Hyun-Jin Ryu (1-1, 4.40 ERA) vs. Red Sox LH David Price (1-1, 5.11)

Ryu never has pitched in Fenway Park and took some time to study the playing field dimensions on Monday. “When I was in Korea, I only saw Fenway Park through TV, and same like here in the States,” the South Korean said through a translator during his press conference. “It took me this long to actually get here to the Fenway Park. And my initial reaction to the Green Monster is, it’s very tall. I don’t think there is going to be much difference between a left-handed pitcher and a right-handed pitcher because the dimension is still going to stay the same regardless.” The 31-year-old Ryu is 2-1 with a 3.56 ERA in six career postseason starts.

While Price is happy to have a winning start on his postseason resume, Red Sox manager Alex Cora insists the 33-year-old is going about his business in his typical fashion. “Nothing has changed,” Cora said during a press conference. “He talked about it, obviously, after the clincher, that he doesn’t have to answer questions, but he knows that his next start is a big start. (Wednesday) is going to be a big one. So we count on him.” Price is 3-9 with a 5.04 ERA in 20 career postseason appearances (12 starts), with the first two wins coming as a reliever.

WALK-OFFS

1. The Red Sox are 8-0 this postseason when scoring first.

2. Benintendi joined Wally Moses (Game 4, 1946) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Game 3, 2007) as the only Boston players with four hits in a World Series game.

3. Los Angeles DH Matt Kemp became the 36th player to homer in his first World Series at-bat.

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Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Dodgers at Red Sox

The Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the World Series for the second straight season and the Boston Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games this year. The powerful teams begin pursuit of a championship when the Red Sox host the Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 1 of the Fall Classic at Fenway Park.

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Boston is searching for its fourth World Series crown in 15 years while the Dodgers are attempting to end a title drought that dates to 1988. Left-handers Chris Sale (Red Sox) and Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles) square off in the opener of the best-of-7 series in which Boston is viewed as favorites. “I like the underdog role,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said at Monday’s press conference. “I do know that everyone in our clubhouse doesn’t see it as icing on the cake. It’s been our goal since last year to win a World Series. So it’s a good club over there but we still like our guys, and it’s going to be a good one.” The Red Sox rolled through the defending World Series champion Houston Astros in five games in the American League Championship Series while Los Angeles prevailed in seven games over the Milwaukee Brewers on the National League side.

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TV: 8:09 p.m. ET, FOX

PITCHING MATCHUP: Dodgers LH Clayton Kershaw (2-1, 2.37 ERA) vs. Red Sox LH Chris Sale (1-0, 3.48)

Kershaw will be pitching at Fenway Park for the first time during a stellar career that includes three NL Cy Young Awards. “I don’t really think about that stuff,” Kershaw said during a press conference. “I appreciate the history and everything that goes along with Fenway Park. … Check this one off as far as pitching (Tuesday), but I don’t really think about the history part of it too much, honestly.” The 30-year-old Kershaw has experienced mixed results in the postseason and stands 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA in 28 career appearances (22 starts).

Sale will be pitching for the first time in 10 days and said he is fully healthy now after his mysterious stomach ailment that led to him being hospitalized and missing a start in the ALCS. “There’s no holding back now, I think,” Sale said during a press conference while sidestepping questions about the stomach. “My job’s been the same since the first day I got here. You hand me the ball when you want me to throw it, and take it out of my hand when you want me to stop.” The 29-year-old Sale is 1-2 with a 5.85 ERA in five career postseason appearances (three starts).

WALK-OFFS

1. Two left-handers will again match up in Wednesday’s Game 2 as Roberts tabbed Hyun-Jin Ryu to start and Red Sox manager Alex Cora chose David Price.

2. RF Mookie Betts continues to work out at second base as Boston looks to get DH J.D. Martinez into the lineup in an outfield spot when the series moves to Dodger Stadium for Games 3-5.

3. Matt Kemp will serve as Los Angeles DH with the opener being in an AL ballpark.

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Posted in MLB, Top Fantasy Picks

Red Sox could set club wins record against Indians

The Boston Red Sox had a shot at clinching the best record in baseball and setting a franchise record for wins on Saturday but fell just short with an extra-innings loss. The Red Sox will try to accomplish both feats again when they visit the Cleveland Indians for the rubber match of a three-game set on Sunday.

Boston, which could see the Indians in a potential American League Championship Series, already clinched the AL East but needs one more victory or Houston loss to ensure that it will finish with the top seed in the AL playoffs. The Red Sox suffered a 5-4 loss on Saturday in 11 innings but did get an encouraging sign for the postseason when the middle relief tandem of Brian Johnson and Joe Kelly combined for four scoreless innings. Cleveland was the first team to clinch its division (AL Central) and is trying to get its bullpen in line for the postseason as well but watched left-hander Brad Hand allow an inherited runner to score while getting knocked around in the eighth inning. Both teams figure to go to the bullpen early when swing starters Hector Velazquez of Boston and Adam Plutko of the Indians square off on Sunday.

TV: 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN

PITCHING MATCHUP: Red Sox RH Hector Velazquez (7-2, 3.18 ERA) vs. Indians RH Adam Plutko (4-5, 5.27)

Velazquez is making his eighth start in his 45th appearance and is 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA in that role. The Mexico native last started at Atlanta on Sept. 5 and allowed two runs on five hits and three walks in four innings without factoring in the decision. Velazquez worked one-third of an inning in relief on Friday for his lone action against Cleveland this season.

Plutko is jumping back into the rotation for a turn as Cleveland spreads out the starters in advance of the playoffs and is hoping for better results. Plutko was ripped for five runs on nine hits – three homers – over 4 2/3 innings at Toronto in his last start on Sept. 8. The 26-year-old, who surrendered three blasts in each of his last two starts, kept the ball in the yard at Boston on Aug. 23 but was knocked around for five runs on as many hits in 4 1/3 innings to suffer a loss.

WALK-OFFS

1. Red Sox RF Mookie Betts (left side) could return to right field on Sunday.

2. Cleveland became the first team in history to have four different pitchers reach 200 strikeouts when RHP Mike Clevinger hit the mark on Saturday.

3. Indians 3B Josh Donaldson is 4-for-10 with a homer and two RBIs in the series.

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Posted in MLB, 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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Posted in NBA

Capitals at Golden Knights Game 5 Preview

The Washington Capitals are venturing to Vegas with more than just breaking the bank on their minds – they are looking to capture their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history. The Capitals can do precisely that on Thursday as they look to secure Washington’s first professional sports championship since 1992 with a win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena.

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While teams that hold a 3-1 series lead on the NHL’s grandest stage own a 32-1 record, the Capitals have failed to close the deal with that same advantage on a league-most five occasions in their star-crossed history – and as recently as 2015 against the New York Rangers. “There’s been heartbreak here, we know that. But I think that’s kind of scarred over and has made us a little stronger for it,” said Washington forward T.J. Oshie, who scored a goal and set up two others in Monday’s 6-2 romp to give him 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in his past 15 contests. While the Capitals are looking to exorcise some demons, Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said his expansion team essentially is playing with the house’s money. “The pressure is off us now,” Gallant told reporters in a conference call. “We’re going to go out and play and work hard and go have some fun. So we’ll see what happens.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: The recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy has been a heated debate in Washington, with some tabbing Braden Holtby (15-7, 2.13 goals-against average) as the front-runner since his paddle save on the doorstep in the waning moments of Game 2 arguably turned this series around. The former Vezina Trophy winner recorded consecutive shutouts to eliminate Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals and has won five of six overall, with a .965 save percentage in those victories. Three-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin (NHL high-tying 14 goals, 12 assists) and fellow Russian countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov (12 goals, 19 assists) are also in the mix, with the latter netting four assists on Monday to become the fifth player since 1997 to reach the 30-point plateau in a single postseason – moving within five points of the 36 recorded by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in the 2009 playoffs.

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: James Neal has reached the 20-goal plateau in all of his 10 NHL seasons, but the 30-year-old felt a bit snake-bitten during the first period of Game 4 when his bid into an open net caromed off the far post. “Man, you want those chances,” Neal told reporters. “Nine times out of 10, you probably put that in the back of the net.” Three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t been receiving as many fortunate bounces of late, as he has answered a 12-3 mark with a .947 save percentage in the first three rounds with a 1-3 record and .845 save percentage in the Final.

OVERTIME

1. Washington C Nicklas Backstrom notched three assists in Game 4, boosting his total to nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his past six contests.

2. Vegas, which has dropped three in a row, did not lose four straight games during its inaugural season.

3. The 1942 Detroit Red Wings are the lone team to lose the Stanley Cup Final after holding a 3-1 series lead.

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Posted in NHL

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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Posted in NBA

Golden Knights at Capitals Game 4 Preview

The Washington Capitals hope the momentum of their first-ever home win in the Stanley Cup Finals will go a long way toward recording another versus the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 on Monday, thereby bringing them one victory away from grabbing the chalice for the first time in franchise history. Three-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin scored the signature diving goal in Saturday’s 3-1 triumph, helping the Capitals claim a 2-1 edge in the series.

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“I thought it was just sort of the right thing in our first victory in the Final at home that Alex would score the goal,” coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “I thought that was a little bit of poetic justice, if you will, for all the tough times.” Ovechkin matched a franchise high (John Druce) with his NHL high-tying 14th tally (Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele) to push his point total to 25 to reside two shy of fellow Russian Evgeny Kutznetsov, who rebounded from an upper-body injury in Wednesday’s 3-2 win to score and set up a goal in Game 3. Tomas Nosek netted his fourth goal in five games on Saturday when he took advantage of Braden Holtby’s misplay for the Golden Knights, who have dropped two in a row for the first time since the final two games of the regular season (April 5-7). “We had twice as much time off as they have in the playoffs. We should have a lot in the tank,” Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland told TSN. “I just think we’re not playing our identity. We’re trying to make too many plays.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Shea Theodore has parlayed a solid season into a strong playoffs for Vegas, however his play in both Games 2 and 3 left a bit to be desired – and he knows it. “I just have to be much better than I was,” said the 22-year-old defenseman, who saw his broken stick lead to Kuznetsov’s goal at 12:50 of the second period while his botched clearing attempt resulted in fourth-liner Jay Beagle setting up Devante Smith-Pelly with 6:07 remaining in the third. Theodore also didn’t do himself any favors by allowing Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen to skate past him, resulting in Marc-Andre Fleury to be whistled for tripping to negate a Vegas power play in the latter stages of the second period.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Beagle answered one assist in his previous eight games by setting up a pair of goals, including tapping the puck to Kuznetsov on a 2-on-1 rush. “(The assist isn’t) as good as a goal, but I want it out of my hands when it’s me and him, that’s for sure,” the 32-year-old Beagle said of Kutznetsov, who curiously referenced an NBA Hall of Famer in a nod to playing while at less than 100 percent. “It’s emotional stuff. Like Michael Jordan, when he play(ed) his best game, he got hurt, got 53 points,” the 26-year-old Kuznetsov told reporters, although it’s not known which game he’s referencing. “I mean like when you’re hurt, you play a little better always.”

OVERTIME

1. Vegas C William Karlsson, who led the team with 43 goals in the regular season, did not register a single shot attempt in Game 3.

2. His Game 3 gaffe notwithstanding, Holtby has permitted just three goals since being pierced for five in the series opener.

3. The Golden Knights’ third line of Erik Haula, David Perron and James Neal were a combined minus-9, with Haula collecting the lone two shots by the contingent.

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Posted in NHL

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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Posted in NBA

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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Posted in NBA

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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Capitals at Golden Knights Game 2 Preview

Those looking to break the bank in Sin City have often tried to disprove the theory that “The House always wins,” often times leaving with a bruised ego and a lighter wallet. The Vegas Golden Knights, who have posted better odds at home than most tables in the casino, aim to continue their good fortune at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals.

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Tomas Nosek scored the go-ahead goal midway into the third period and added insurance into the empty net in Monday’s 6-4 triumph for Vegas, which has outscored the opposition 31-16 en route to posting a 7-1 mark at home in the playoffs. The 25-year-old Nosek, who has eight regular-season goals in 84 career contests, owns four points (three goals, one assist) in his last three games while fellow fourth-liner Ryan Reaves has tallied in back-to-back contests for the first time since April 6 and 8, 2017. “We didn’t play our best game,” Capitals superstar captain Alex Ovechkin told reporters after his club’s first contest since a Game 7 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday. “I think next game is going to be different and all the nervousness, all the bad things (go) away (from) this game. We just have to forget about it and bounce back.” Countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov notched an assist in the topsy-turvy series opener to extend his franchise-record postseason point streak to 11 games, during which the 26-year-old Russian has scored six goals and set up 10 others.

 

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Habitual line-stepper Tom Wilson’s blindsided hit on Jonathan Marchessault did not result in a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Tuesday, with the league citing that it was shoulder to shoulder rather than to the head and that it was in the flow of the game. The 24-year-old Wilson, who received a three-game suspension in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Pittsburgh, said he has no plans to change his playing style. “You always have your reputation,” Wilson told reporters. “When you play my physical style, you’re going to have that reputation. I trust myself. I play the game hard. It’s my job to bring that energy, that physicality. Right after he got up, he said ‘good hit.'”

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Reilly Smith continued his stellar postseason by scorin

 

g a goal and setting up another in the series opener, giving him 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 16 outings. Fellow forward Marchessault has done him one better with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists), snapping a tie with New York Islanders’ Jude Drouin (1975) and San Jose Sharks’ Igor Larionov (1994) for the most with a franchise in its first-ever postseason. Marchessault, who set up Smith’s second-period goal, has flustered the Capitals with four assists in three encounters this season.

OVERTIME

1. Washington’s John Carlson scored his 17th career playoff goal in the opener to move past Kevin Hatcher for the most by a defenseman in franchise history.

2. Vegas’ lone postseason home loss came in double overtime on April 28, a 4-3 decision against the Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

3. Capitals RW T.J. Oshie set up a pair of goals in the series opener to push his point total to 13 (four goals, nine assists) in the past 12 games.

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Warriors at Rockets Game 7 Preview

The Golden State Warriors found the form that made them NBA champions in the second half on Saturday and used it to run away with a win and force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals. The Warriors will try to carry that momentum on the road and earn their fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals when they visit the Houston Rockets on Monday.

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The Rockets jumped out to a 39-22 lead after the first quarter in Game 6 and held a 61-51 edge at the break only to score 25 points in the second half and suffer a 115-86 setback as Golden State exploded behind Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. “We’d like to get off to a better start,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “But we like — we like our formula. We like our defense against these guys, and we feel confident that we can carry this through to Game 7 on the road and continue to make things as difficult as possible on Houston without fouling.” Houston is confident heading home despite the beating it took in the second half on Saturday and the uncertainty surrounding the health of point guard Chris Paul. “If you asked us when we were in the Bahamas this summer, this team together, you know, Western Conference Finals, Game 7 to go to the finals against the Warriors, we’ll take that,” Rockets star James Harden told reporters. “So, nothing changes for us. We know what we have to do.”

TV: 9 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT THE WARRIORS: Thompson finished with 35 points and went 9-of-14 from 3-point range in Game 6 as Golden State started to push the pace and move the ball. “I feel like we’re the best team in the world and most fun team in the world to watch when we’re pushing that ball, getting defensive stops and making plays,” Thompson told reporters. “We’ve got too much talent not just to hit singles like coach always says. Trust the next man ahead of us. It will end up working in our favor most of the time.” Thompson added four steals to his performance and his teammates credited his work on Harden at the defensive end for sparking the offense.

ABOUT THE ROCKETS: Paul sat out Game 6 with a hamstring injury suffered in the final minute of Game 5 and remains uncertain for Game 7. Houston committed 21 turnovers without their point guard on the floor in Game 6, including nine by Harden, who finished with 32 points and nine assists but continued a trend of poor shooting from beyond the arc with a 4-of-12 effort. “There’s no pressure,” Harden told reporters of Game 7. “It’s an opportunity, though, an opportunity that we all are excited to be a part of. Game 7 at our house. That’s what we worked the entire regular season for, is homecourt advantage. We’re going to come out and we’re going to be ready.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Warriors SF Andre Iguodala (knee) sat out the last three games and is questionable for Game 7.

2. Houston SG Gerald Green is 6-of-9 from 3-point range over the last two games.

3. Golden State PF Draymond Green collected 10 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and four steals in Game 6.

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Capitals at Golden Knights Game 1 Preview

The Vegas Golden Knights started their inaugural season looking to be competitive and could end it with a championship as they host the Washington Capitals on Monday night for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals. The Golden Knights needed only 15 games to dispatch Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg in the Western Conference playoffs to give themselves seven days off before facing the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals.

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Veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a .947 save percentage in the playoffs, leads the way for Vegas while Jonathan Marchessault boasts eight goals to along with 18 points in the postseason and told NHL.com: “We’re on a mission. Nobody is going to stand in front of us.” Washington, which dropped both meetings with the Golden Knights in the regular season, is the last obstacle as the Capitals make their first appearance in the finals since 1998 while seeking their first Cup after losing in the second round of the playoffs as the Presidents’ Trophy winners in 2016 and 2017. Washington lost the first two games of the playoffs at home before beating Columbus in six contests, eliminated its nemesis Pittsburgh and won at Tampa Bay in Game 7 on Wednesday to reach the finals in the 13th season for seven-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner Ovechkin (607 goals). “I think our group here really understands what it means to be a team and how to win,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby told reporters. “Maybe in the past we’ve had more skill or been better on paper or whatever. But this team, everyone knows their role and everyone wants to pitch in and everyone is comfortable with each other. I haven’t been on a team like this where, in any situation, we’re confident.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Ovechkin boasts career highs of 12 goals and 22 points in the playoffs after scoring the winner in Game 7 on Wednesday and Washington general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters: “This is the most systematic he’s played throughout his career.” The 32-year-old gets plenty of help from fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has a franchise-record 24 playoff points this season and owns at least one in 10 straight contests (six goals). Defenseman Brooks Orpik is the only Washington player with Stanley Cup finals experience and the 37-year-old is having his best career postseason with three assists and an NHL-best, plus-15 rating.

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Fleury won three Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, including the last two seasons, and veteran forward James Neal reached the finals with Nashville in 2017 to give Vegas two players with plenty of knowledge on this big stage. “I think they’re just, with their experience and presence, they stay calm,” Golden Knights center William Karlsson, who has 13 points in the playoffs after scoring 43 goals in the regular season, told reporters. “I don’t really ask them too much. Just having them around has a calming feeling. That’s enough for me.” Forward Reilly Smith is tied for second in the league during the playoffs with 14 assists.

OVERTIME

1. The Capitals have converted 28.8 percent of their power-play chances in the playoffs and Vegas has killed off 82.5 percent – both best among the final four teams.

2. Holtby is 12-6-0 in the playoffs with a 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage after posting shutouts in the last two games.

3. This is the first finals in 11 years and the sixth in NHL history to match two teams both going after their first Stanley Cup.

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Posted in NHL