Cleveland Cavaliers: the struggle continues

The Cleveland Cavaliers continue to struggle as they lost their fourth straight game Saturday night to the Toronto Rapters. The team is now 5-7 this season.
Defense and communication still remain the top two issues on the court for the Cavaliers. They are allowing teams to whatever they please and it looks like they are confused on defense. This happened multiple times in Friday nights loss against the Washington Wizards.
John Wall had multiple plays where he drove the lane in isolation, while three Cavalier defenders just watched and were late to rotate over. This is just an example of poor communication, no urgency and lazy defense. They cannot afford to keep playing like this if they want to reach the playoffs.   
The Cavaliers just seem to be out of sync everywhere, including on the side line.Coach David Blatt seems to be struggling with finding the right starting lineup and  which players to give minutes to. Mike Miller and James Jones are not getting as many minutes as they should. They both are vete

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Stephen Curry Continues to Redefine His Ceiling as an NBA Superstar

We thought we knew how good Stephen Curry could be. It turns out we had no idea.

The Golden State Warriors guard’s growth features a mix of the old and new. He’s added fresh ingredients to his already excellent offensive game while also introducing completely novel ones to his play on the other end.

Curry’s improvements have made him, arguably, the NBA‘s best player so far this season.

Better still, he’s elevating the Warriors’ ceiling as well.

 

The Curry You Know

Curry can score a little bit. You’re probably aware of that.

But we’ve seen him put the ball in the hole in a wider variety of ways than ever this season—a testament to his own offseason work and Steve Kerr’s intelligent offensive schemes. Instead of bringing the ball up the floor and engaging in endless pick-and-rolls (a huge staple for his game last year), Curry is now featured off the ball nearly as often as on it.

That frees him up to attack off screens, on backdoor cuts and in transition.

In addition, we’ve seen more buckets in the paint this season. Through six games, Curry has chalked up a handful of delightfully floaty and flippy finishes, while also getting to the foul line an average of 6.2 times per game, a career-high rate.

On the year, he’s averaging a league-best 27.7 points per game to go along with 7.2 assists. Oh, and the efficiency is still there; Curry’s shooting slash of 49.5/40.8/97.3 falls just a hair short of the elusive 50-40-90 marks that distinguish the game’s truly elite marksmen.

Curry’s a handful on offense, freed up by creative play-calling and flashing fresh facets to boot. But he was already great on that end.

Where Steph has really raised the roof on his career comes, surprisingly, on the other one.

 

Steph Curry and Defense: A Real Thing

The Curry-as-good-defender narrative is new, and it’s a little hard to believe when you think back to the way former coach Mark Jackson always hid his point guard on the opponent’s least threatening backcourt player.

Turns out none of that was necessary.

After Curry held Damian Lillard to just 11 points in a Nov. 2 win, Draymond Green told Diamond Leung of IBABuzz.com:

He’s really been hawking people up there, and it’s good to see that because that’s how people try to do him. When you give people a taste of their own blood, they’re really not expecting it. They don’t know him as a great defender, and he’s gotten so much better. He’s giving people problems.

It’s not clear why anyone is tasting anyone else’s blood, but Green’s point is otherwise well taken.

Curry is hunting steals all over the place, and he leads the league in that category with an average of 3.5 per contest. Steals can be a poor measure of actual defensive worth; they reward gamblers, and gamblers aren’t always the most reliable team defenders.

But we’ve seen Curry handle Lillard, corral Chris Paul and slow down Eric Bledsoe in the young season, and we know those steals have come within Golden State’s overall scheme. Well, except when he sneaks into the backcourt to pilfer inbounds passes like this:

And this:

That’s offense leading to defense leading to offense…in very rapid succession.

Curry has always had active hands, and he still gets a little too grabby on occasion. But otherwise, he’s more than held his own defensively.

 

What’s New

A couple of things have keyed the change in Curry.

First, as we mentioned, Golden State isn’t hiding its best offensive player on defense anymore. It’s hard to quantify, but Curry must be getting a mental boost from knowing his coaches trust him enough to let him compete with the best at his position.

Second, the Warriors’ coaches—particularly lead defensive assistant Ron Adams—are holding Curry to a higher standard. Instead of constantly pumping him up, they’re criticizing him, demanding more.

It doesn’t matter how many points I score,” Curry said of Adams, per Leung. “He seems to find that one or two things that I can do better on the defensive end after every game that kind of knocks you back into reality a little bit. You can always get better.”

The Warriors lead the league in defensive efficiency through their first six games, per NBA.com. and Curry has been a major part of that. Clearly, both he and the Dubs have gotten better.

 

Imperfections Persist

Better isn’t perfect, and Curry has one glaring blemish on his otherwise flawless early season: turnovers.

Curry’s 4.8 giveaways per game lead the NBA, and his 10 cough-ups in Golden State’s messy loss to the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 9 were a major reason the Warriors fell short. It was the second game of a back-to-back set, and the Dubs were without Klay Thompson and David Lee, so a loss was foreseeable.

But giving a game away was a bad look.

Some of this is to be expected. Curry turned the ball over a ton last season, and his loose, hyper-aggressive approach to offense will always come with more mistakes than Kerr or any coach would prefer. There are ways to trim the TO total; cutting down on running one-handed hook passes might be a good start.

In addition, it’s possible Curry and the rest of the Warriors will take better care of the ball once they gain familiarity with their new offense and with one another. Remember, the Dubs are introducing Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa into significant ball-handling roles, and both players have quirky games.

Time and experience should mitigate some of the issue, but a lot of the responsibility still falls on Curry, who is raising his ceiling but still has room to improve.

 

Rising Together

You can’t always count on a player as good as Curry to get better. If he’d returned this year just the same as he was in 2013-14, Golden State would have been perfectly happy.

But Curry’s growth is a microcosm of a Warriors franchise no longer satisfied with “good enough”—even when good enough is pretty close to great. After 51 wins last season, the Dubs decided they could do better, firing Jackson and spending big on Kerr and his top-flight assistants.

The results have been, well…good.

Curry, a player whose ceiling we thought we knew, has blown the roof off of his long-term potential, bringing things like MVP awards, top conference seeds and even a championship chase into play.

By breaking through his ceiling, Curry has also established a new one for the Warriors—one far higher than anybody could have expected. 

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Jeremy Lin Continues His Offseason Video Series by Imagining His Endorsements

Los Angeles Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin has spent his offseason showing off his video-making skills. Now, he’s giving advertisers a chance to see what his video skills can do for them.

Lin daydreams about what it would be like to serve as the face of Dos Equis, Beats by Dre, State Farm and more in this “Lindorsements” video, complete with a nice cameo from Steve Nash.  

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Derrick Rose continues to struggle at World Cup

Rose missed all five of his shots Saturday and is shooting just better than 20 percent

      
 

 

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John Calipari continues to seed NBA rosters

Calipari continues to bring NBA-in-waiting talent to Kentucky at a remarkable rate.

      
 

 

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UNC Basketball: Dean Smith’s Legacy Continues to Live on in Today’s Coaches

Dean Smith’s last game as a college basketball coach was in 1997 when his North Carolina team fell to eventual national champion Arizona in the Final Four.

But even though it’s been more than 17 years since Smith was the coach of record in any contest, his influence on the modern game is so prevalent it’s like he’s been an assistant for most of the top programs in the nation.

From current UNC coach Roy Williams, who has referred to his former boss as “one of the great mentors,” to any number of Division I coaches who learned under him, to even longtime rival Mike Kryzewski at Duke, Smith is regarded with the kind of adoration and adulation that legendary UCLA coach John Wooden received.

And rightfully so.

From 1961 to 1997 Smith collected 879 victories, all with the Tar Heels, winning two national championships (1982 and 1993) and reaching the Final Four 11 times. The time span between his first and last Final Four is an astounding 30 years, during which time the tournament expanded from 23 to 64 teams.

Yet for as much credit as he gets for the wins and titles, what continues to keep Smith relevant and keeps him impacting the game so long after retirement has very little to do with his famous Four Corners offense or anything on the court. Instead, it’s how his relationships with players and coaches away from the gym served as a backbone for how some of today’s best coaches handle their interactions with both superstars and walk-ons.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said as much in a recent blog he posted on his personal website, CoachCal.com:

It may seem crazy to think that something so logical as making it about the kids as innovative, but Dean Smith made it part of the foundation that we coach on today. You’ve heard me say many times that during the season it’s about our team but the minute it’s over it’s about each individual player. Well, I got that straight from Dean Smith. He spoke that way through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and he inspired me to do the same. Dean Smith was the original players-first coach.

Calipari and Smith never faced each other in a game as head coaches, but that didn’t mean Smith didn’t influence the career of one of today’s most successful program leaders. Calipari’s blog talks of learning how Smith never let anything get in the way of his interaction with his players: a laundry list of talent that ranged from Michael Jordan to Jerry Stackhouse to Rasheed Wallace. And this wasn’t just when they were in the program, but after, as Calipari recalls working at a UNC camp one summer when he learned how dedicated Smith was to his players:

If a call came through from one of his players, it did not matter who was in his office, what meeting he was in or what he was doing; she (Smith’s secretary) was to break in on the conversation and put him through to the player – who, by the way, may have played for him 20 years ago and just needed his advice on something.

Smith recently turned 83 years old, and in November he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. It might have been one of his last coherent memories, as the Hall of Fame coach is suffering from dementia, according to the Washington Post’s John Feinstein.

Feinstein wrote back in February that Smith hasn’t had his wits about him for some time, which is something the writer first noticed almost a decade earlier. As heartbreaking as that sounds, though, he ended his piece on Smith with the most fitting of disclaimers, noting that “Dean Smith can no longer remember all the lives he touched. But he should be remembered every single day—on his birthday, today and forever.”

Smith had an arena named after him while he was still coaching, but his legacy will live on far beyond the on-campus Dean E. Smith Center that UNC packs for every home game. He’ll be remembered in every situation where a basketball coach takes the time to think about his players before worrying about the scoreboard or the stat sheet.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Danny Ainge continues to downplay upcoming draft, what’s his plan?

I don’t know if Danny Ainge is playing a game of poker with the other GM’s across the NBA. Ainge seems to always have an angle, and his love of the upcoming draft is in the friend zone. He’s not overly warm about the upcoming draft, and honestly I don’t want the Celtics to bank on drafting players as the only way to improve. Ainge has a star on his team that he needs to maximize while he’s in his prime. Rondo isn’t getting any younger, so this summer is the best time to build towards the bigger picture. It’s unclear this early if Ainge has any specific star in mind that he plans to go after this summer. We know some rumors, like Kevin Love’s name being out there. We do know that Ainge built the Celtics roster to capitalize on the opportunities that he worked so hard for this past summer. Ainge has continued to call this draft over hyped, and as I said, is he gambling with other GM’s? With his act of disregard for the draft keep his phone ringing o…

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Kobe Bryant Continues Critique of LA Lakers Brass, Despite His Selfish Move

Kobe Bryant has publicly voiced his demand that Los Angeles Lakers management forgo a rebuilding process and enter the 2014-15 NBA season with a championship-quality team. He told reporters this much in a press conference where he announced he would not return for the remainder of the campaign. Then there were the rumors of Kobe not being interested in having coach Mike D’Antoni back next season. Kobe’s “encouragement” of Jim Buss continued in an interview with ESPN’s Darren Rovell (via Dave McMenamin): “But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.” In theory, Kobe comes off as a fierce competitor, willing to do whatever it takes to win that elusive sixth NBA Championship—even publicly putting pressure on a front office like rarely seen from a player who just signed a new contract. While Kobe is pointing fingers at Lakers management…

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Michigan Continues to Shoot the Lights Out vs. Texas, Cruises into Sweet 16

All coaches like to eliminate hope. Hope is for the gamblers. Hope is for the brackets. Coaches like preparation and controlling situations.

Until you see Michigan and John Beilein in your bracket. Then it’s time to go buy a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Texas became the latest victim of the hardest offense to guard in college basketball on Saturday afternoon, losing to Michigan 79-65, and entering the offseason with sore necks as the Horns helplessly watched 14 threes go through the net.

Hopeless in Milwaukee.

Beilein appears to have his team playing its best (and most confident) basketball again in March, one year after the run to the national championship game. And there may not be a darn thing anyone can do about it. 

See, there are those who live and die by the three. (The Duke Blue Devils, please raise your hands.) Then there’s the Wolverines, living and thriving on jumpers on their way through another bracket.

Beilein’s two-guard offense has always been hard to guard. He did, after all, win his 700th game on Saturday.

Last year was a real chore for opposing defenses when Beilein had Trey Burke, the National Player of the Year, running off endless ball screens and setting the table for talented scorers around him.

This year it might be even harder, as Beilein has five shooters—at least three on the court at all times—knocking down better than 39 percent of their threes. The worst shooter statistically in Michigan’s rotation, Glenn Robinson III, knocked down two of three treys. 

When Robinson is on as well, don’t just hope. Pray. 

It’s a wonder where Michigan is now. This is a team that many were ready to write off in mid-December when Mitch McGary, the breakout star of last March, decided to sit out the rest of the season because of a back injury. At that time, Michigan was 6-4 with one of those losses coming to Charlotte. 

The Wolverines responded by winning the Big Ten and becoming a more efficient offense than last year’s team that led the nation in efficiency. 

But McGary did leave one hole. Jordan Morgan has done a more than respectable job filling in, but the Wolverines do not have great size. 

Texas posed a real threat on Saturday. Conventional wisdom said the Horns should have been able to exploit the Wolverines in the paint. Texas starts two legitimate post players, one of them a mountain of a man in 285-pound Cameron Ridley. 

The Horns were able to dominate the offensive glass—rebounding 21 of their misses—but that hardly mattered with Michigan shooting 50 percent from distance. 

Poor Rick Barnes spent his afternoon grasping for some kind of defense—mixing in multiple zone looks—to try to take away those outside looks. But Beilein always had an answer to get his guys their shots. He always does.

Because you can game-plan to try to keep a team out of the paint, you can game-plan for one shooter. But it’s incredibly difficult to game-plan for a team that is more than content with taking jump shots all afternoon.

Now, Michigan is headed for the Sweet 16 and two more good shooting nights away from a second straight Final Four.

Next up could be Tennessee, another team with great size inside and the potential to control the paint.

If the Vols are able to beat Mercer on Sunday, someone alert Cuonzo Martin to bring his lucky rabbit’s foot to Indianapolis.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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76ers streak continues, lose hearbreaker to Knicks

The 76ers lost for the 23rd-consecutive game, quickly approaching the NBA record of 26.

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