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NBA Notes: Cavs staying humble with chance to close out Celtics

NBA Notes: Cavs staying humble with chance to close out Celtics

BOSTON -- It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals' matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn't backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

"The closeout game is always the hardest.and Boston is going to make it even harder," said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night -- particularly on the defensive end -- is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday (see full story).

NBA: Charlotte awarded 2019 All-Star Game
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NBA All-Star game will be coming to Charlotte in 2019, two years after the city was to host the event.

The NBA announced Wednesday the game will be played at Spectrum Center, home of the Charlotte Hornets.

The All-Star game had been set for Charlotte last February, but the NBA moved the game to New Orleans because of the state law restricting the rights of LGBT people.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a release that while he understands the concerns of those who say the repeal of the HB2 law didn't go far enough, "the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law."

The All-Star weekend festivities in Charlotte are set for Feb. 15-17, 2019.

Bucks: GM search opening up after Hammond exit
Boasting a budding star and an impressive roster of young talent, the Milwaukee Bucks are opening up their search for a new general manager to lead them into contention in the Eastern Conference.

After longtime GM John Hammond left to join friend Jeff Weltman in the Orlando Magic front office, the Bucks are bringing in respected league executive Rod Thorn to help with the search for a replacement, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bucks were not publicly discussing their search.

Assistant GM Justin Zanik was believed to be the heir apparent to Hammond when he left the Utah Jazz to join the Bucks. Zanik, a promising young executive who was an agent before spending three years under Dennis Lindsey in Utah, will get the opportunity to interview for the position, but outside candidates will also be considered. ESPN first reported the details of Milwaukee's search.

The job figures to be an attractive one for prospective executives. Giannis Antetokounmpo enjoyed a breakout season this year, earning a starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team and cementing himself as a franchise player.

Milwaukee also has Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker to go with Jabari Parker, a former No. 2 overall pick who is recovering from his second torn ACL.

The Bucks are building a new arena and have enjoyed a revival in the city under new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens and coach Jason Kidd.

Whether it is Zanik or someone else, it will be a critical hire to help the Bucks move from a team that lost in six games to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs to one that is ready to challenge the Cavaliers and Celtics at the top of the Eastern Conference (see full story).

Lakers: Celebrity trainer Peterson hired
LOS ANGELES -- A celebrity trainer known for getting the Kardashian clan into shape is going to work for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gunnar Peterson is the Lakers' new director of strength and endurance training, the team announced Wednesday.

Peterson has been a favorite trainer among entertainers and athletes for many years while running a well-regarded private gym in Beverly Hills. His client list has included Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Pete Sampras, along with most of the Kardashian family.

Peterson will develop a strength and conditioning program for the Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka says.

The 16-time NBA champion franchise has replaced several key members of its internal staff since Magic Johnson and Pelinka assumed control of basketball operations earlier this year.

Warriors win in Finals rematch

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USA Today Images

Warriors win in Finals rematch

CLEVELAND — Kevin Durant scored 32 points, Stephen Curry added 23 and the Golden State Warriors extended their road winning streak to 13 games with a 118-108 Martin Luther King holiday victory Monday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, their struggling NBA Finals foes.

Durant scored 16 in the third quarter for the defending NBA champions, who haven't lost outside Oracle Arena since Nov. 22.

LeBron James scored 32 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, which had its home winning streak stopped at 13. Isaiah Thomas, getting his first taste of the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry, had 19 points in a season-high 32 minutes as he works his way back from a hip injury.

It was Golden State's second straight win over the Cavs, who have dropped eight of 10 dating to a loss to the Warriors on Christmas Day. Cleveland was down just 93-91 entering the fourth, but the Cavs missed 17 of 19 shots to open the period, allowing Golden State to throttle away.

The Warriors and Cavs have met in the Finals each of the past three years. There's no guarantee there will be a fourth matchup, and at this point only one of them looks prepared for June (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo posts 27 points, 20 rebounds in Bucks' win
WASHINGTON — Now that he has this basketball thing figured out, Giannis Antetokounmpo showed he wouldn't make a bad long snapper in football, either.

Antetokounmpo hiked the ball through his legs to teammate Khris Middleton for a fast-break dunk and the highlight of his all-around dominant performance as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Washington Wizards 104-95 on Monday. Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in the Bucks' second road victory against the Wizards in 10 days.

"It's not important," Antetokounmpo said of his 20 rebounds. "I was just in the right spot, and the ball just came into my hands."

The Wizards got 27 points and nine assists from John Wall and 19 points off the bench from Kelly Oubre. But just like on Jan. 6 when these teams last met, Antetokounmpo was the difference in Milwaukee pulling away in a tight game late (see full recap).

Porzingis, Beasley help Knicks beat Nets
NEW YORK — Though it hardly appeared like it with thousands of blue-and-orange-dressed fans standing and screaming for them, this was a road game for the New York Knicks.

"It feels like we're playing at home, so it was a good atmosphere for us," Kristaps Porzingis said.

It gets harder from here.

Porzingis had 26 points and nine rebounds, Michael Beasley added 23 points and 10 boards, and the Knicks opened their longest road trip in nearly 30 years by beating the Brooklyn Nets 119-104 on Monday (see full recap).

Schroder leads Hawks over Spurs
ATLANTA — Dennis Schroder loves taking charge with the outcome uncertain in the closing seconds.

It means even more when he can push the Atlanta Hawks to a rare victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

"I'm glad we got the win, first off," Schroder said. "I hit my shots in crunch time. Dewayne Dedmon set great screens and got me open. I just shot with confidence, so it feels great."

Schroder scored 26 points, Ersan Ilyasova added 20 and the Hawks held off the Spurs in the closing seconds to win 102-99 on Monday.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and 11 rebounds for San Antonio, which lost guard Manu Ginobli to a right thigh contusion in the first quarter and played without Kawhi Leonard as the star forward comes back slowly from injuries (see full recap).

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

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AP Images

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid. 

Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December. 

Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps. 

And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court. 

Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split. 

What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free.