Warriors -Cavs in Finals

thCAK5EL9U

The Warriors will need Curry and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson to be every ounce the marksmen they were in the regular season against the Cavaliers, a team that is peaking and breezed through a less challenging Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

All question marks regarding Cleveland’s championship viability minus Kevin Love were erased in back-to-back convincing series—a 4-2 beatdown of the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals that really wasn’t even close, and a swift deletion of the Atlanta Hawks in the Conference Finals.

The teams enter the Finals as clear superiors of arbitrary regions, as ESPN noted.

Cavaliers/Warriors: 24-5 this postseason. The last time a pair of teams entered the Finals with a better record was 1991 (Bulls/Lakers 22-4).

LeBron James and Steph Curry won’t guard each other beyond an occasional switched screen, but all eyes will focus on these two beloved superstars. LeBron, with *some* help at various points, carried the Cavaliers on his shoulders throughout the playoffs. Only Anthony Davis has averaged more points per contest in these playoffs than Curry (29.4 PPG) and James (27.6), and Davis only played four games.

Warriors power forward Draymond Green is the presumed favorite to guard LeBron James. Green’s rare combination of quickness and brute force has had some success guarding LeBron.

“He’s been here before, plenty of times,” Curry said. “We’re excited about the challenge. He had to win his first one at some point. We’ve got a home-court advantage we need to capitalize. This is what you dream about.”

Assuming Kyrie Irving is healthy and fully recovered from a chronic, bothersome knee issue, he’ll at least be part of the solution for hampering Curry. As we’ve seen throughout the season and playoffs, we can expect the Cavs to aggressively swarm Curry on high pick-and-rolls. It’s stopping the Warriors counter for the quick double team—whether that be Draymond Green 4-on-3s or perimeter swings to Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala.

The Cavs would be wise to force the ball to Thompson, who never quite found a consistent stroke against the Rockets.

It’s hard to envision any losers in this dream NBA Finals series, but Las Vegas oddsmakers are calling the Warriors six-point favorites out of the gate, according to CBS . It would be too simple to say the team with the better star would win, but look at where we are now.

King Felix Gets Win #8

Mariners-Logo

Hernandez (8-1) got four double plays in his second shutout this season. He struck out eight and walked one in his first win at Tropicana Field after going 0-2 in four previous starts.

Brad Boxberger (2-3) relieved Chris Archer after he pitched two-hit ball for eighth innings, and Boxberger walked Seth Smith and Robinson Cano with two outs.

Cruz then made it 3-0 on a long home run that landed in a center-field 10,000 gallon fish tank that is home to a group of cownose rays. It was just the fourth homer into the tank since 2007.

“Three-run homers, they’re not bad,” McClendon said. “Makes you feel pretty good.”

Cruz has six homers when Hernandez pitches.

“I love that guy,” Hernandez said.

This is the Mariners’ first three-game road sweep against the Rays since Sept. 2000.

Seattle (23-23) reached the .500 mark for the first time since April 12.

Archer tied a career high with 12 strikeouts for the Rays, who have lost five in a row. The right-hander had stretches where he retired 12 and 11 batters in a row.

“It was a really good game,” Hernandez said. “That was tough competition.”

Bulls Fire Coach

Chicago Bulls logo

Tom Thibodeau is no longer the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, the team announced Thursday. Thibodeau, who took over as the Bulls’ head coach in 2010, was let go with two years and approximately $9 million left on his contract.

Thibodeau was 394-255 in his five seasons with the Bulls. He took the team to the playoffs each year, and they reached Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-11. The defensive-minded coach did is his best to keep the Bulls afloat despite several battles with injury, especially in regards to star Derrick Rose. The Bulls were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the 2015 playoffs.

Tensions had mounted throughout the year between the Bulls and Thibodeau. As early as January, there were reports that the relationship between the Bulls’ front office and Thibodeau was deteriorating. The relationship has slowly soured in the last two years and completely fell apart as the Bulls’ disappointing season ended with a second-round defeat to the Cavaliers. The Bulls were hoping they could receive some compensation for letting Thibodeau out of his contract to coach another team, but once that didn’t materialize, they elected to fire him anyway.

Teams with coaching vacancies will be interested in Thibodeau. The New Orleans Pelicans and the Orlando Magic are potential suitors.

The list of candidates to replace Thibodeau is short at the moment, with Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State University leading the field. Alvin Gentry, a Golden State Warriors assistant coach, and Adrian Griffin, a Bulls assistant, are also in the mix.

Cavs One Win Away from Finals

thJ5HI1DY1

  LeBron James hurts everywhere, the King of Pain.

One win from taking the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals, and one step closer to a title he covets more than any other, James leaned against a padded wall on Monday and hardly resembled basketball’s most undeniable force.

”I’m feeling all right,” he said, forcing a smile that showed he wasn’t being entirely truthful. ”I’ve been better, but I’ve been worse. I think I’ve been worse.”

James moved slowly and not with his usual grace one day after his brilliant performance in Game 3 lifted Cleveland to a 114-111 win over the Atlanta Hawks in overtime, moving the Cavs within a victory of their first Finals appearance since 2007.

James wore a sleeve on his right calf, which cramped so severely he asked to be taken out Sunday night before re-considering. Instead, he pushed through the pain and delivered 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists – all after an 0-for-10 shooting start – to help the Cavs take a 3-0 series lead.

He’s battered, not beaten. James isn’t going to let anything stop him. Not now. Not this close to his fifth straight Finals or a championship.

”When you want to win, you’ve got to sacrifice your body feeling good,” he said. ”That’s just what it’s about.”

With a win on Tuesday night, the Cavs can clinch the Eastern Conference title and get some rest before a Finals matchup presumably against Golden State, which leads Houston 3-0 heading into Monday’s Game 4. James has been down this path before, but never one so bumpy.

Cleveland’s season has been strewn with obstacles: extreme expectations, chemistry issues, trades and injuries, including ones in the postseason to forward Kevin Love and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who has missed the past two games with an injured left knee. James has never been on a team that’s had to surmount as much.

Before the season began, James predicted this – molding a new team into a title contender – would be the greatest challenge of his career.

”I felt it would be, and it is,” he said.

The Cavs need one more win over the rising Hawks, who showed resiliency in Game 3 by overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth when they appeared done. One play here, one there and Atlanta wouldn’t be in a 3-0 hole that no team in league history has been able to climb from.

Michael Bennett Speaks on Bucs

_h366_w650_m6_otrue_lfalse (152)

While Michael Bennett may have spent his first four years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he apparently isn’t living with very fond memories of that time. After the Bucs let Bennett walk in free agency, the edge rusher who’s now a part of the Seattle Seahawks didn’t have the kindest of words for the Bucs, according to Clark Mitchell of Chat Sports.

The quotes came from an interview that Bennett did with 750 The Game in Portland (reported by The News Tribune).

“You seem like a guy who couldn’t play for a stiff,” Canzano replied.

“I did that before. It wasn’t fun,” Bennett said of his playing days in Tampa Bay. “His name is Greg Schiano.”

Then came the shots at the Bucs and their fans:

“Yeah, it’s different. In Seattle, the stadium’s always packed. It’s like playing in the Olympics,” he told 750 The Game.

“Bennett also said the Buccaneers believe in building a team through trades over developing young players. In Seattle, it’s just the opposite,” he said. “If Tampa did that, they’d have more success.”

Well, I guess there’s something to be said about leaving the past in the past, but Bennett apparently isn’t interested in doing that.

45 ..The Harden Way…Warriors up 3-1

thCAI2QZRV

James Harden was not happy after a poor performance in Houston’s embarrassing loss to Golden State in Game 3.

Coach Kevin McHale told him the best thing to do was take that frustration out on the other team. 

BOX SCORE: ROCKETS 128, WARRIORS 115

Harden did just that, scoring a playoff career-high 45 points as the Rockets led from start to finish to avoid elimination in the Western Conference finals with a 128-115 victory over the Warriors on Monday night.

“James had a phenomenal game,” McHale said.

The Rockets had a big lead after tying a playoff record with 45 points in the first quarter before Stephen Curry landed on his head in a nasty spill midway through the second and missed about 12 minutes.

Curry said he went through the concussion protocol before returning.

“It was all minor stuff compared to how it looked,” Curry said. “But I’ll get some good rest (Monday night) and be ready to go … since it happened to now, nothing has gotten worse.”

His first field goal after returning came on a 3-pointer that got Golden State within six points with less than 8 1/2 minutes remaining. But Harden, who had 17 points in the fourth quarter, scored the next seven as part of 10 straight by Houston to push the lead to 114-98.

“I always want to take it out on my opponent in a good way,” Harden said. “Just being aggressive, taking shots, getting to the basket, not really forcing anything and allowing the game to come to me.”

Klay Thompson had 24 points and Curry added 23 for Golden State, which moved a win away from its first trip to the NBA Finals since 1975 after routing Houston 115-80 on Saturday night to take a 3-0 lead.

But the Warriors couldn’t put the Rockets away and will try again at home in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Houston bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to the Clippers in the conference semifinals. But they face a much bigger challenge in this series, as no team in NBA history has won a playoff series after trailing 3-0.

Dwight Howard had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and received a flagrant 1 foul early in the third quarter after throwing an elbow at Andrew Bogut’s head. He would be suspended by accumulation of flagrant foul points if the NBA upgrades it to a flagrant 2 after review.

“I hope not,” Howard said when asked about that possibility. “But there’s nothing I can do about it at this point. It’s never my intention to hurt anybody on the floor. My reaction was to try to get him off me, but I can’t react that way.”

The Warriors made 20 3-pointers and Houston had 17 to set an NBA record for most 3-pointers combined in a playoff game.

Warriors Nip Rockets 99-98

thCAK5EL9U

James Harden had Game 2 on his fingertips — and then he didn’t.

Now the Golden State Warriors have the Western Conference finals in their grasp.

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 99, ROCKETS 98

Stephen Curry scored 33 points before Harden lost the ball in the closing seconds to end a spectacular duel between the NBA MVP and runner-up, and the Warriors held off the Houston Rockets 99-98 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

“Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat. These two guys are the two best basketball players in the world,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said.

Harden rallied the Rockets from 17 points down in the second quarter and had a chance to finish off the comeback in the fourth. Instead, Klay Thompson harassed him and Curry came over to trap Harden, who lost the ball as time expired.

Harden fell to the floor and put his hands over his head as the Warriors celebrated on the court, the sellout crowd of 19,596 roared, and golden-yellow confetti fell from the rafters.

“Kicking chairs,” Harden said. “It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to give the game away like that.”

Harden had 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and Dwight Howard overcame a sprained left knee that slowed him down to finish with 19 points and 17 rebounds for a Rockets team headed home in a major hole.

Game 3 is Saturday in Houston.

Kobe to Play One Last Season

5fc1566c6023e34eff5d865bfed8c2_h366_w650_m6_lfalse

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Kobe Bryant has indicated the 2015-16 season will be the star’s last with the team.

“He has indicated to me that this is it,” Kupchak said Thursday on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and former league MVP, is scheduled to make $25 million in his final contract season and 20th year with the Lakers.

There has been speculation that Bryant could play beyond next season and the guard — who will turn 37 when next season begins — hasn’t ruled out that possibility.

“I think first and foremost, he’s on the last year of a deal,” Kupchak said. “There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don’t think there will be.”

Bryant’s last three seasons have ended early because of injury. He played only 35 games last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists.

“A year from now, if there’s something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then,” Kupchak said of Bryant potentially playing beyond next season. “I talk to him from time to time … and he is recovering. He’s running. He’s getting movement and strength in the shoulder. We expect a full recovery, but yeah, he’s much closer to the end than to the beginning.”

Kupchak was asked about the impact Bryant’s future plans could have on potential free agents joining the team while Bryant is still playing.

“I think it is clear,” Kupchak said. “He’s on the last year of his deal. There have been no discussions (about playing beyond next season). He hasn’t indicated that he wants to continue to play.

“But if there is a player out there like that, that won’t come here for that reason, then we don’t want them. Every great player is demanding and focused and if you don’t want to play for a guy like him that’s driven to do nothing but win championships and work hard, then you shouldn’t be here. You should go someplace else.”

Kupchak said Bryant is still involved in recruiting free agents.

“He’s more than willing (to call a player) every time I asked him,” Kupchak said.

The Lakers, who had the fourth-worst record (21-61) this season, have the No. 2 selection in the 2015 NBA Draft on June 25.

Kupchak knows he will need to improve the roster beyond the high first-round pick.

“We’re going to have to get lucky during the offseason with free agency,” Kupchak said. “Kobe is going to have to come back and be very healthy.”

JR Smith Lights it Up

f8dead807f2fc9e473191793555723_h366_w650_m6_lfalse

J.R. Smith knocked down a tough 3-pointer, then another. Turning toward the fans, their heckling transformed to groans, he blew off his right index finger and motioned toward his side, like he was holstering his pistol.

Yep, Smith was that hot.

BOX SCORE: CAVALIERS 97, HAWKS 89

While LeBron James led Cleveland with 31 points, it was Smith who ignited the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. He made eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points in a 97-89 victory over the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“When he gets hot,” Cleveland coach David Blatt marveled, “he gets smoking hot.”

Intent on bringing Cleveland its first NBA title, James sealed the victory with a soaring dunk in the final minute.

For the Hawks, it was the second straight series in which they’ve lost the opening game at home. Cleveland will look to take command of the series in Game 2 Friday night.

Making matters worse for Atlanta, DeMarre Carroll went down with a knee injury driving to the basket with 4:59 remaining. He was helped to the locker room, not putting any weight on his left leg, and will undergo an MRI on Thursday to determine the seriousness.

Besides being the main defender on James, Carroll had been the Hawks’ leading scorer in the playoffs. He was averaging more than 17 points coming into Atlanta’s first conference final.

“DeMarre is a complete player,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He has a big impact at both ends of the court.”

Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 27 points. But Atlanta didn’t produce its usual balanced scoring, as two starters — Kyle Korver and Carroll — failed to reach double figures.

With Smith doing most of the damage, Cleveland outscored the Hawks 22-4 over the final 5 minutes of the third quarter and the first 2 minutes of the fourth. During that span, he made five 3-pointers and another jumper from just inside the arc, as well as throwing up a lob that Tristan Thompson dunked.

Smith has been a huge addition for the Cavaliers since he was acquired in January as part of a three-team trade with New York and Oklahoma City. A player once known for his selfishness, he had learned to work with within the confines of a team led by James.

When the Cavaliers really needed Smith in Game 1, he seemed to make every shot.