Warriors

Heat win NBA title in dominant fashion

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Heat win NBA title in dominant fashion

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Music blared and confetti fell, the only celebration LeBron James really wanted in Miami. Not that one two summers ago, the welcoming rally where he boasted of multiple titles, perhaps without realizing how hard it would be to win just one. He dreamed of this moment, with teammates surrounding him and the NBA championship trophy beside him. "You know, my dream has become a reality now, and it's the best feeling I ever had," James said. James had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, leading the Miami Heat in a 121-106 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night to win the NBA Finals in five games. Ripped and ridiculed for the way he announced he was leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach, it's all worth it now for James. Best player in the game. Best team in the league. And now, NBA champion. "I'm happy now that eight years later, nine years later since I've been drafted, that I can finally say that I'm a champion, and I did it the right way," James said. "I didn't shortcut anything. You know, I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it, and hard work pays off. It's a great moment for myself." And for his teammates, who watched the Dallas Mavericks celebrate on their floor last year. James left the game along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for a round of hugs and the start for a party he's been waiting for since arriving in the NBA out of high school as the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft. James hopped up and down in the final minutes, shared a long hug with opponent Kevin Durant, and then soaked in the "MVP! MVP! chants during the raucous postgame. "I wanted to become a champion someday," James said. "I didn't know exactly when it would happen, but I put in a lot of hard work." He was a choker last year, the guy who came up small in the fourth quarter, mocked for "shrinking" in the moment while playing with what he called "hatred" in trying to prove his critics wrong. He came to Miami seeking an easier road to the finals but found it tougher than he expected, the Heat coming up empty last year and nearly getting knocked out in the Eastern Conference finals this time by Boston. Facing elimination there, James poured in 45 points on the road to force a Game 7 and the Heat won it at home. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done as a basketball player," James said. "You just put a lot of hard work into it and you hope that one day it will pay off for you." This time, with a chance to clinch, the Heat took control in the second quarter, briefly lost it and blew the game open again in the third behind their role players, James content to pass to wide-open 3-point shooters while the Thunder focused all their attention on him. The disappointment of losing to Dallas in six games a year ago vanished in a blowout of the demoralized Thunder, who got 32 points and 11 rebounds from Durant. Bosh and Wade, the other members of the Big Three who sat alongside James as he promised titles at his Miami welcoming party, both had strong games. Bosh, who wept as the Heat left their own court after losing Game 6 last year, finished with 24 points and Wade scored 20. The Heat also got a huge boost from Mike Miller, who made seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points. That all made it easier for James, the most heavily scrutinized player in the league since his departure from Cleveland, when he announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" on a TV special called "The Decision" that was criticized everywhere from water coolers to the commissioner's office. James has said he wishes he handled things differently, but few who watched the Cavs fail to assemble championship talent around him could have argued with his desire to depart. In Miami he found a team that didn't need him to do it alone, though he reminded everyone during this sensational postseason run that he still could when necessary. He got support whenever he needed it in this series, from Shane Battier's 17 points in Game 2 to Mario Chalmers' 25 in Game 4. In the clincher it was Miller, banged up from so many injuries that he limped from the bench to scorer's table when he checked in. He made his fourth 3-pointer of the half right before James' fast-break basket capped a 15-2 run that extended Miami's lead to 53-36 with 4:42 remaining in the first half. The Thunder were making a remarkably early trip to the finals just three years after starting 3-29, beating the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs along the way. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden all 23 or younger, the Thunder have the pieces in place for a lengthy stay atop the Western Conference. But their inexperience showed in this series, a few questionable decisions, possessions and outright mistakes costing them in their franchise's first finals appearance since Seattle lost to Chicago in 1996. Westbrook scored 19 but made only four of his 20 shots, unable to come up with anything close to his 43-point outing in Game 4, and Harden finished a miserable series with 19. "It hurts, man," Durant said. "We're all brothers on this team and it just hurts to go out like this. We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there. Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough." Nothing they did could have stopped James, anyway. Appearing fully recovered from the leg cramps that forced him to sit out the end of Game 4, he was dominant again, a combination of strength and speed that is practically unmatched in the game and rarely seen in its history. Wade skipped to each side of the court before the opening tip with arms up to pump up the fans, then James showed them nothing wrong with his legs, throwing down an emphatic fast-break dunk to open the scoring. He made consecutive baskets while being fouled, showing no expression after the second, as if he'd hardly even known he was hit. Drawing so much attention from the Thunder, he started finding his wide-open shooters, and the Heat built a nine-point lead before going to the second up 31-26. Oklahoma City got back within five early in the third before consecutive 3-pointers by Chalmers and Battier triggered a 27-7 burst that made it 88-63 on another 3-pointer by Miller. James didn't even score in the run until it was almost over, hitting a pair of free throws after he was flagrantly fouled by Derek Fisher while powering toward the basket. Gone was the tentative player who was mocked for shrinking on the big stage last year, too willing to defer to others who didn't possess half his talents. This time, he was at peace off the court and attacking on it, vowing to have no regrets and playing in such a way they wouldn't be necessary. Miami had outscored Oklahoma City by just 389-384 over the first four games, but the Thunder were buried under a barrage of 14 3-pointers, tying the NBA record. "They just hit 3s after 3s. They got it going and we couldn't stop them," Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. "Things just didn't go our way." Notes: Miami became the third team to sweep the middle three games at home in the 2-3-2 format. The Detroit Pistons took all three from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 before the Heat did it against Dallas in 2006. ... Coach Erik Spoelstra tied Pat Riley for the Heat franchise record with his 34th postseason win. He is 34-22, while Riley was just 34-36. ... The four-game losing streak that Oklahoma City finished the season with was its longest of the season. The Thunder had dropped three straight games to Memphis, Miami and Indiana from April 2-6.

With lofty win total unlikely this year, here's a number the Warriors can chase

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AP

With lofty win total unlikely this year, here's a number the Warriors can chase

OAKLAND -- Getting to 73 wins is impossible for the Warriors, and the pursuit of it never entered their minds.

Reaching 69 wins, their average in three seasons under coach Steve Kerr, is highly improbable.

Even winning 67 games, the lowest total under Kerr, is extremely unlikely.

There is, however, a number the Warriors are aiming for that also happens to be within their grasp -- but only if they can fight through the regular-season malaise and break an unhealthy tendency.

They can get to 35 victories at Oracle Arena. Currently 16-6 at home, the Warriors would have to go 19-0 to reach 35, and it’s possible insofar as they are less than two years removed from posting an NBA-record 54 consecutive wins at home.

Can a team that once went 14 months without losing at Oracle summon a three-month stretch of perfection at home?

The schedule invites the possibility, but it’s still up to the Warriors and how they cope with tug of three long seasons and that tendency to float a bit in front of their home fans, two factors that have had more effect at home than on the road.

“In general, the appropriate fear we always talk about, it’s there on the road for most games and it’s not there as much at home,” Kerr conceded Monday.

Kevin Durant used different phrasing but echoed the comments of the coach.

“You tend to relax a bit when you’re at home because you’ve got your home crowd,” he acknowledged. “You’re just comfortable in that situation. You can go home and go to sleep in your own bed after the game. So you relax a bit.

“On the road, it just feels like this is the last game of your career. It just feels that way, especially when you’re playing a tough opponent and somewhere with a crowd that’s going to be really, really into it.”

Having gone 39-2, 39-2 and 36-5 over the last three seasons, the Warriors are assured of having their worst home record under Kerr. Still, 35 is not impossible.

The drop is not unanticipated, as Kerr experienced something similar as a member of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when they won three straight championships as their regular-season wins steadily dropped, from 72 to 69 to 62.

“Where it has truly been the most tangible and palpable is home games against lesser opponents,” Kerr said. “We’ve lost six. Maybe two of those are playoff teams.

“We didn’t lose those games the last the last three years. We dominated the home floor. That’s where it really shows.”

The Warriors have lost at home to the Rockets, Pistons, Kings, Nuggets, Hornets and Clippers. Only Houston is a playoff lock. Detroit, Denver and the Clippers are on the fringe of the postseason race. Charlotte is a longshot, Sacramento a no-shot.

The Warriors, in every home loss, have started drowsily or played too carelessly or were self-destructive enough to give back a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

“This is the first year in my four years where we’ve lost a lot of home games that we shouldn’t,” Kerr said. “That just points to emotional fatigue. Trying to get up for 82 games is a difficult thing, especially in Year 4 of a quest to get back to The Finals.”

Coming off a successful road trip during which they won four of five games, the Warriors this week face the Knicks, Timberwolves and Celtics -- the latter two being playoff locks.

A home sweep is difficult, of course, but hardly inconceivable. And if the Warriors can pull that off, they’d have only four remaining home games against teams fighting for a top-four playoff slot: the Thunder and Spurs twice each.

Oklahoma City appears to be getting their act together. The Spurs, while still formidable, are starting to look like a team in decline.

They’re also the two teams most likely to get the full attention of the Warriors, who began the week by sitting through video of their last three games, during which they committed numerous hideous errors.

The message: Their unforced mistakes are the surest route to defeat.

“There are key points of the year where we have to hit the reset button in terms of our priorities,” Kerr said. “Right now is one of those times. This is an important week for us. We need to take care of the ball. We need to be smart and make good decisions. If we do that, we’re really, really hard to beat.”

Carr excited to work with Gruden: 'I want him to be tough on me'

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AP

Carr excited to work with Gruden: 'I want him to be tough on me'

Jon Gruden has been interviewed several times since becoming Raiders head coach. Quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t listened to most of those sessions, and certainly doesn’t seek them out.

One landed in Carr’s inbox recently, and something Gruden said really resonated.

Gruden’s message, paraphrased: If Derek Carr is not successful, then I’ve failed as a coach.

There are two comments in that one. Gruden considers Carr extremely talented, and he’s taking responsibility for unlocking the quarterback's vast potential.

Gruden will be hands on in Carr’s development, with all the coaching intensity and fire and eyebrow raises that have become Gruden’s signature.

“He’s going to demand of me. He’s going to push me,” Carr said on this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast, which will drop Tuesday morning (Subcribe right here). “He’s going to make me be the best version of myself.”

Carr had a direct answer to skeptics wondering aloud whether he can thrive under Gruden’s particular coaching style.

“I want him to be tough on me,” Carr said. “For anyone who thinks I want him to be a different way has no clue about me or how I play football or how I prepare to play this game. I don’t need to tell stories about how I prepare or manage myself.

“(Jon) and I are going to get along great. I hope that he demands of me. I hope he’s hard on me. I don’t need to know he loves me. He has already told me that about 20 times. I appreciate that and we’ll be friends forever, but I know he’ll be demanding and tell me what I need to do. Let’s go fix problems that I have and let’s do what I need to do to win championships. Hopefully that will give people some insight and hopefully that’s the story that gets out, because that’s the truth.”

Carr met his new head coach briefly before his introductory press conference, but has known Gruden since filming the Gruden QB Camp segment back in 2014. They got along great then, and in each interaction since.

“We have so much more in common that people realize,” Carr said. “I think it would blow some people’s minds. Him and I are very similar in the way we go about our business and how we carry ourselves. It’s an exciting time.”

Carr’s excited to have some stability in his football life. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback will start his fifth NFL season with his fourth head coach, fourth go-round with an offensive coordinator and third offensive scheme. Gruden signed a 10-year contract. OC Greg Olson signed a four-year pact. They’ll be here a while, and Carr’s excited about that.

“It’s going to be really nice,” Carr said. “To know Jon signed on for a 10 years and (Olson) signed on for a long time shows me a couple of things. No. 1: that they believe in me. I don’t think Coach Gruden would’ve quit his day job, which I’m thankful he did. To get (Olson) out of a good spot in L.A (with the Rams), shows that they believe in me and that’s awesome. And, No. 2: I’m going to have two people I can talk to in a different language for years to come. We can grow within the relationship, and hopefully we’ll all ride off together. It’s set up that way right now, and we have a lot of work to do to reach that point.”