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Cavs play harder, smarter, better in NBA Finals

Cavs play harder, smarter, better in NBA Finals

When the Golden State Warriors were up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, you didn't have to go far to find someone to claim the deck was stacked against the Cleveland Cavaliers. By and large, these were Cavs fans.

Now that its tied at 3 with Game 7 looking in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, it's the opposite. The league favors LeBron James. Add the wife of Stephen Curry, Ayesha, to the chorus of nonsense that's inevitable this time of year

The truth is, the NBA Finals aren't easy. The opponent just doesn't lay down. It's about adjustments (even to how games are being called to take advantage), lineup changes, strategical moves and health. One game doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the other. The only common theme has been the margin of 19.6 for the winning team. Golden State has won by as many as 33 points and Cleveland by 30. All margins have been double-digits.


After Curry was sent to the bench with his sixth foul and ejected for tossing his mouthpiece and eventual $25,000 fine, all hell broke loose with his wife venting on social media (always a bad idea), his coach Steve Kerr railing against game officials for being inconsistent that drew a $25,000 fine (probably a good idea given how it worked for Cavs coach Tyronn Lue). 

The reasons the series changed have nothing to do with officials:

  • When James has a mismatch, he's not hesitating. He's no longer being indecisive and going at Golden State's guards on switches immediately. Earlier in the series, he hesitated and tried to avoid contact when defended by Curry in the mid-post. He was bailing him out by falling away and an added benefit is putting Curry in foul trouble early.
  • Harrsion Barnes, who turned down a $64 million extension before the season and is expected to get a max offer in July, has continued to show why he comes with major question marks. In Games 5 and 6, Barnes has a total of five points on 2 of 22 shooting. If he's not burying the corner three-point shot, he has been almost useless.
  • Kevin Love is being paid $22.6 million this season and there seems to be this obligation Lue feels to put him on the court. But the less Love is on the floor, the better. He's averaging 6.2 points in the last four games and hasn't had more than five rebounds or made more than one three-point shot.
  • Kyrie Irving can be a drain defensively but he has mostly stayed away from those dribbling exhibitions that cause the offense to stall. When Golden State has made its runs, this still happens but Irving is making quicker decisions when he sees mismatches, too. He either goes at his man or moves it to the mismatch, such as James on a post up, and then spaces the floor properly by staying at the arc to make double-teaming from the strong side impossible.
  • Tristian Thompson has feasted with 21 points and 26 rebounds in the last two games. All of his points are at the rim, with many of the assists courtesy of James for splittng double-teams with pinpoint passes.
  • And as Mike Prada of SBNation points out here, the Cavs have gotten away with a lot of grabs and holding to disrupt the Warriors on both ends. It has prevented proper switching on defense and cutting on offense. Thompson also is setting screens like Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks, who has a tendency to stretch what's legal vs. illegal because of how he disguises it. He'll set the screen, turn and back into the defender fighting over it. Thompson has adjusted to how the game is called (same with Horford) and if the whistles are blown the Warriors have to do more than complain about it if they hope to win Game 7.


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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Wizards blown out by Spurs, as streak of losses in San Antonio since 1999 continues

Wizards blown out by Spurs, as streak of losses in San Antonio since 1999 continues

The Washington Wizards lost to the San Antonio Spurs 98-90 on Wednesday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Streak continues: Many will tell you that San Antonio, TX is a wonderful city rife with history, good restaurants and warm weather. Please excuse the Washington Wizards if they hate the place.

They lost to the Spurs in a blowout on Wednesday and remain winless in San Antonio going all the way back to 1999. It was their 18th straight loss when playing at the Spurs.

The Spurs win games with their defense and this one was no exception. The Wizards scored their fewest points since Jan. 22, nearly two months, and shot just 42.7 percent. The Spurs hold opponents to the lowest points per game in the NBA (99.0) and the Wizards fell into all of their traps.

Bradley Beal was the only one immune to it. He had 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting. The rest of the Wizards shot just 26-for-69 (37.7%).

Losing in San Antonio has come to be expected for the Wizards, but they picked a bad night to drop a game. The Cavaliers and Sixers both won. Philly winning means more because they passed the Wizards in the East and currently sit fourth while the Wizards are in the sixth spot. 

If the playoffs began with those seeds, the Wizards would see the Cavaliers in the first round. Even though the Cavs aren't what they were a year ago, that should be avoided if possible.


Hustle plays: The Spurs also beat the Wizards at the minor details of the game, something they have long been good at under head coach Gregg Popovich. They got the loose balls and offensive rebounds at key moments to either sustain or steal momentum away from Washington.

In the first half, 40-year-old Manu Ginobli dove on the ground to beat Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and it led to two points by Pau Gasol. In the third quarter, Patty Mills flipped around quickly to steal an outlet pass from Marcin Gortat that led to free throws. And in the third there was one play when the Spurs got three offensive rebounds and ultimately got to the free throw line again.

The Spurs out-rebounded the Wizards 43-34 overall and outdid them in offensive rebounds 12-8. They just wanted it more on this particular night.


Oubre stood out: The Spurs' defense got the best of most players on the Wizards, but Kelly Oubre, Jr. was an exception. The third-year pro has been struggling with his shot in recent weeks, so in this one he stuck to high percentage looks, at least early. He had 10 points in his first nine minutes on 5-for-7 shooting, many of those attempts right around the rim.

Oubre attacked the lane dribbling both to his left and his right. He finished with floaters, tough layups and on one fastbreak with a thunderous left-handed slam:

Oubre ended up with 21 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He shot 9-for-17 from the field and 3-for-6 from three.

Oubre has continued to make an impact defensively, even when his shot is not falling. But he has to get more creative some nights to affect games when he isn't hitting from long range. Wednesday was a good example of how he can use his athleticism to take matters into his own hands.

It is a tricky balance, however, because sometimes his aggression can lead to mistakes. That certainly happened at times even in this game, as he had two turnovers. But when Oubre can contain his explosiveness, he can make a big difference.


Under the weather: Already without Wall, the Wizards had to shorten their rotation by two players against the Spurs as both Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott were out due to flu-like symptoms. In Meeks and Scott, the Wizards were missing two key pieces on their bench.

Instead of giving Tim Frazier and Jason Smith a rare and extended opportunity, head coach Scott Brooks instead chose to tighted things up. He relied heavily on the starters until the game was out of hand.

Brooks also got experimental, playing Tomas Satoransky (zero points, 0-for-7 FG) and Sessions together in the second quarter with Oubre and Otto Porter (12 points, seven rebounds) as the forwards. In the fourth quarter, we saw a lineup with three point guards: Sessions, Frazier and Satoransky.

The fact the Wizards had three days off before this game helped allow Brooks to rely on his starters early. It was also an opportunity for Brooks to see what life will be like when Wall returns. There is a chance Satoransky could see more time off the ball. This gave him another glimpse of how he can use Satoransky in more creative ways once the minutes at point guard go down significantly.


Up next: The Wizards are off Thursday before returning home to host the Denver Nuggets on Friday with a 7 p.m. tipoff on NBC Sports Washington. That will be a special night at Capital One Arena as the Wizards retire Phil Chenier's No. 45 jersey. 

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