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Around The League

Shootaround (June 4): LeBron James, Kevin Durant resume rare MVP battle tonight

Plus Tristan Thompson expects big Game 2, Udonis Haslem on super teams, and more

NBA.com Staff

Jun 4, 2017 9:32 AM ET

 

NBA TV gets you ready for Game 2 of The Finals tonight.

No. 1: James and Durant resume battle of former MVPs -- Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals went to the Golden State Warriors, who won decisively over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in part thanks to a huge game from Kevin Durant. Tonight they meet again for Game 2 (ABC, 8 ET), with LeBron James looking to lead the Cavs to a revenge win. As our own Shaun Powell writes, it's a battle of former MVPs that's making for some memorable moments:

Plenty of All-Stars and even MVPs have competed for titles but few have actually squared up. Not since 1983 when Moses Malone went goggles-to-goggles with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have MVP winners been exclusively assigned to each other in the Finals (In 1991, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan battled at times. Durant and LeBron did meet in 2012 but Durant hadn’t won the award yet). It creates high level play and intense scrutiny, with reputations and pride on the line, which is certainly the case with Durant v. LeBron.

What happens when two stars, who are nearly impossible to guard one-on-one, find themselves one-on-one against each other? What gives when a 27.2 career scorer (Durant) meets a 27.1 (LeBron)? And how much energy is saved for the other basket when such player must generate scoring chances?

That last question looms bigger in the case of LeBron, given his all-around importance to the Cavs. He not only must score himself, but create for teammates. In Game 1, this was clearly an issue; other than Kyrie Irving, the Cavs had little power, forcing LeBron to burn the candle furiously on both ends. It was an advantage that the Warriors happily exploited and could force the Cavs to rethink things and give LeBron something on defense that he never asked for before: help.

It’s rare when a high-volume scorer must also guard the other team’s best player. Usually, a substitution is made, such as with the Warriors, where Steph Curry checks the lesser of the opposing team’s guards, leaving Klay Thompson for the big scorer. In Oklahoma City, Andre Roberson does the dirty work instead of Russell Westbrook, and elsewhere, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas and others find someone else to do the heavy lifting defensively.

In this case, there’s no hiding. LeBron and Durant have each other, for much of the game, for better or for worse.

“When those two are guarding each other, they’re two of the best in the world, they’re going to pose problems for each other,” said Ron Adams, the Warriors’ assistant coach and defensive strategist. “I think anything LeBron does will be tough for Kevin and vice versa. It runs both ways on that matchup.”

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No. 2: Cavs look to get Thompson going in Game 2 -- One way the Cavs hope to make Game 2 a little closer is by being more physical than they were in Game 2. As ESPN's Dave McMenamin writes, by getting more physical in Game 2, they hope to get Tristan Thompson playing at his best:

"I'm all physicality," Thompson said. "I'm not a jump-shooter. I'm not a ball handler. I'm a guy that plays hard, is physical and brings all energy. So that's what it's about. It's the Finals."

In Thursday's opener, Thompson finished well below his playoff average of 8.9 boards per game. As a team, the Cavs were only able to corral 15 offensive rebounds off their 56 missed shots.

"There were opportunities, but they did a good job boxing me out," Thompson said. "They did a good of sending, whether it was Zaza [Pachulia] or [Javale] McGee, with another guard, sending two guys to box me out. That's their game plan, to keep me off the glass and limit us to one shot. The bigs are wrestling down there, and I'm going to keep wrestling down there and get me some offensive rebounds."

Thompson added that even if he cannot secure rebounds in Game 2, he has to focus on at least getting in position to potentially tip the loose ball out to a teammate so he can get the rebound and retain the possession. Without Thompson hoarding extra possessions and the Warriors' defense holding Cleveland to just 34.9 percent shooting with 20 turnovers, the Cavs failed to crack the 100-point mark for the first time all postseason.

Thompson said he will continue to crash the glass before worrying about retreating back on defense, even though Golden State outscored Cleveland 27-9 in fastbreak situations in Game 1.

"I feel that part of our offense is me getting offensive rebounds and creating second opportunities for them," Thompson said. "I'm not going to stop doing that. That's what I bring to the table. But if I hit the glass and don't get it, I have to make sure that I sprint back."

Simply put, Thompson is putting himself on the line for Game 2.

"Tomorrow I got to be better, play better and just be extra active," he said. "You come out and play well in Game 2, everybody will forget about Game 1. So, that's how I look at it."

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No. 3: Haslem says no super team necessary -- Miami's Udonis Haslem won several titles playing with the Heat's super trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And although the two teams left standing now are basically built in that same super team mode, Haslem told reporters yesterday he doesn't think it's necessary to have a super team to win a title:

So, has what the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors accomplished this season by breezing through the playoffs to a third consecutive Finals showdown cemented Haslem’s mind that the only way to contend for a title any more is to bring a collection of superstars together?

“Nah, I don’t think so,” the 14-year veteran and Heat captain answered Saturday when the question was posed to him at the Mountain Dew NBA 3X tournament at Bayfront Park.

“You don’t have to have a super team. The problem is the majority of the league doesn’t play hard. You’ve got to 20 percent of the NBA that does play hard. You take a super talented team that actually plays hard and that’s what you get. We’ve got a lot of talented teams in this league that don't play hard. So when you take a super talented team that actually plays hard and plays the game the right way you get a team like Golden State.

“They’ll be other talented teams. The question is will they play hard like Golden State? Will they play together like Golden State? That’s what separates them from other talented teams. It’s the way they approach the game.”

Players and coaches for the Heat, which barely missed the playoffs this season after a 30-11 finish to the second half of the season, have repeatedly said since the season ended they truly believe they would have been able to make a deep postseason run.

Cleveland lost only one game – to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals – during its run to the Finals. Golden State swept Portland, Utah and San Antonio on its way to the Finals.

The Heat, which don’t have an All-Star on the roster and will have roughly $38 million in salary cap space to spend this summer, appear intent on keeping its core together this summer and resigning its own free agents, led by Dion Waiters and James Johnson.

Will that be enough to push Cleveland or Golden State?

“You got to have a good team,” said Heat forward Justise Winslow, who missed all but 18 games last season and is still a month away from fully recovering from shoulder surgery. “I don’t know about a super team. I don’t know how you define it. I don’t know what players have to average or what kind of star they have to be. You’ve just got to have a great team regardless. It could be 2005 it could be 2010, you have to have a great team to get to the Finals.

“We’ve just got to figure out how we can get to that level whether that’s with the guys we have or bring in new guys. We got to figure out how we’re going to get to the level of those two teams. It’s obvious they’re far ahead of everybody. We just got to attack it and try to get better.”

Golden State’s 22-point blowout of Cleveland in Game 1 of the Finals Thursday night hasn’t shaken Haslem’s confidence in the Cavaliers’ chances.

“I still think Cleveland has a chance,” he said.

“I’m not surprised by the way Game 1 played out. You go and make adjustments. You go onto the next one. I’m sure [Cavs coach] Tyronn Lue and the rest of those guys understand that they can’t turn the ball over the way that they did. They have to be a little more active on defense. I don’t think they had any steals. Transition defense was bad. So, it’s not like you’re sitting there thinking ‘Wow. We played a great game and we still lost. What do we do next?’ There’s like three glaring things that I think they can look at that can improve their chances of winning Game 2.”

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