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NBA roundup: Curry misfires, LeBron's oddity, Wade and Durant


NBA roundup: Curry misfires, LeBron's oddity, Wade and Durant

News and notes from around the NBA including Stephen Curry's struggles against Matthew Dellavedova, LeBron James's great and weird stat line, plus another Kevin Durant-Miami note...

* In a game filled with unusual plays and moments, Curry misfiring throughout ranked high on the list of oddities. Curry's single worst shooting performance of the season came Sunday night in the Cavaliers' victory, which evened the NBA Finals 1-1. He finished 5 of 23 (21.7 %) from the field. 

Players have off nights, but Curry hasn't looked like his usual, free-flowing self through two games. Cleveland's defensive plan and the assertive Dellavedova, are among the reasons why.

The Cavaliers are sending multiple defenders at Curry, especially up high at the beginning of possessions, forcing the ball from his hands and putting other Warriors into playmaker mode. Klay Thompson (34 points) made them pay. Draymond Green (zero field goals in regulation, four turnovers did not). The plan also led to Curry rushing shots and looking seventh-grade-dance awkward. Dellavedova's gritty defensive approach played a major role.

* LeBron James's Game 2 performance surpassed his 44-point effort in the series opener. That's because he was more point guard (11 assists) than chucker for most of the game; attacked the glass (16 rebounds); got to the free throw line (14 of 18) and limited turnovers (3) despite so much responsibility over 50 minutes.  Yet James also missed 17 of 21 shots after halftime to finish 11 of 35 overall. Such inefficiency and other suspect moments over the final minutes -- went 0 for 7 FG and 1-2 from the line over final 8:13 -- for a second straight game would have put his late-game efforts in the spotlight with a loss. 

* Two quick follow-ups to a Sunday post in this section about why Dwyane Wade's contract talks with the Miami Heat are worth monitoring in regards to Kevin Durant's free agency in 2016:

  • Wade, appearing on ABC's NBA Finals coverage Sunday night, briefly addressed his contract status. The all-star guard must decide whether to pick up his player option for $16.125 million next season. Transcription via Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel:

“Well, listen, it’s summer time,” Wade said when asked about his contract. “So when summer time and free agency [come together], it’s going to be a lot of talk. And right now, I’m glad that the Finals is going and we’re here. “And we’ll worry about that in July. Right now, we’re going to focus on these Finals.”

Key here is use of July. That's the month when free agency begins. If Wade were opting into his contract, he would do so in June. This could all be nothing more than negotiating. It's hard imagining any team paying Wade $16 million next season - unless the Lakers or Knicks go wild for a big name. There's certainly the possibility of a multi-year offer from another team. Miami likely offers him one, but ideally not until after next season so the franchise can remain financially flexible for free agents like Durant. 

  • Durant officially closed on the selling of his condo in Miami. Only mentioning this because 1) needed to fill up some space and 2) Many of the responses I received on Twitter Sunday after posting the Wade-Durant link focused on the selling of this property as indication that Durant was out on the Heat. Now, if home purchases were an indication of where players play, the NBA would need to add even more Los Angeles-based teams. No clue why Durant sold the pad, though making a 73 percent return, as the article indicates, is plenty of reason. As mentioned previously, every team in the NBA wants Durant and around half of them will be in position for such a bold addition. That likely includes the Heat. Based on Pat Riley's track record, that' worth noting.

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players


Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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