Morning Shootaround (May 20) -- Irked LeBron James takes MVP snub in stride
Plus, San Antonio Spurs' season could hinge on Kawhi Leonard's ankle heading into pivotal Game 3
Irked LeBron takes MVP snub in stride | Warriors’ special traits go beyond stars and style | Leonard’s ankle remains biggest Game 3 question for Spurs | Celtics facing humiliating end to banner season
No. 1: Irked LeBron takes MVP snub in stride — The disrespect is real. LeBron James, not one of the three finalists for KIA MVP? It’s real. And the man who is well on the way to leading his team to The Finals for the seventh straight season let it be known that he doesn’t appreciate the shade and that he, and the rest of the basketball world know that he isn’t fourth (behind finalists James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard) on anyone’s list. Just ask the Boston Celtics, who felt his wrath Friday night in yet another blowout loss for the Cavaliers. Dave McMenamin of ESPN has more:
While James took the high road on camera, he walked out of the arena with a small group of Cleveland beat writers who regularly cover the team and shared his frustration with the awards that have been revealed so far. He first wondered aloud who was the one voter who left him off their All-NBA first team ballot. He then lamented his MVP standing. “Fourth?” James said. “I haven’t been fourth in a long time.”
Indeed, it was the first time since 2008 that James finished outside of the top three in MVP voting, yet it was a season in which he averaged career bests in rebounds, assists and 3-point percentage. The All-NBA teams were announced Thursday. Three finalists for all the other major awards, which will be revealed in an awards show hosted by Drake on June 26, were released about 10 minutes before tipoff Friday. The full results of the media vote — including which media member was the one who had James on the All-NBA second team — won’t be revealed until then.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue also did not know about the finalists being released until his postgame news conference but joked that based on the way James played — helping the Cavs build a 50-point lead at one point — he wouldn’t be surprised if James did.
“Oh, he might have seen it then,” Lue said, eliciting laughter from the media.
Lue complimented James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard — the three players named finalists for MVP — and compared James to his old teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal.
Though James was mostly diplomatic about the results, his teammates were indignant.
“Just another chip on his shoulder, which helps,” JR Smith said. “He got a vote for [All-NBA] second team. Somebody’s trippin’. … He’s driven by a completely different monster. He’s not playing for Russ or James. Like he said, he’s chasing a ghost. Right now, that’s the only thing to compare to him.”
The ghost Smith was referring to is Michael Jordan and his six championships, a pursuit James acknowledged to campers at his basketball camp in California last summer.
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No. 2: Warriors’ special traits go beyond stars and style — Having an embarrassment of human resources (two KIA MVPs, four All-Stars, etc.), some of the best culture in basketball and a recent track record of record-breaking success are all factors that make the Golden State Warriors “special.” But a pregame routine between two-time KIA MVP Stephen Curry and reserve guard Ian Clark highlights the truly special quality that defines these Warriors, so says Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News in advance of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals tonight in San Antonio:
Why was Stephen Curry half-apologizing and half-howling in the not-so-tense final warm-up minutes leading up to Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday?
Because that’s the playful mood he likes, even for the biggest games, right before Curry and his teammates truly lock into the moment, and that means it’s the best mood possible for the Warriors.
It’s the same reason Kevin Durant was shaking his head in mock outrage after Curry accidentally heaved a ball right over Durant’s shoulder on Tuesday and why Ian Clark was giggling as he chased it down into the second row of seats.
It’s Curry and Clark, who have been doing this routine–pitching and passing and hiking and volleying the ball back and forth to each other across the court–for more than a season, always about seven minutes before tip-off of every Warriors game.
And by now their teammates — in the final stages of their own warm-ups–know that if you get in their way, you might end up getting buzzed. Or worse.
On Tuesday, after a few other odd-ball deliveries back and forth (grenade launch, bowling), Curry wound up like a pitcher delivering a 100-mph fastball, but watched it immediately carom off of somebody else’s shot and directly at Durant, who had wandered a bit too close to the hijinks.
“It hit another ball!” Curry told me later, with a laugh, when I asked if he had actually plunked Durant. “It didn’t hit him. It just startled him, that’s all.That wasn’t my fault!”
Then Curry laughed and laughed.
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No. 3: Leonard’s ankle remains biggest Game 3 question for Spurs — With championship DNA overflowing and the feeling that a few days off had to help their cause, the San Antonio Spurs still face one daunting question heading into their Game 3 showdown with the Warriors tonight: can Kawhi Leonard’s ankle hold up? We’ll know more today, after the Spurs provide an update on his status. Listed as questionable on the eve of the game, our Fran Blinebury sets the scene surrounding the biggest question facing the Spurs:
His official status remains questionable for a spot on the court at the opening tip. But there is nothing at all uncertain about Kawhi Leonard’s mindset for Saturday’s Game 3 (9 ET, ESPN) of the Western Conference finals.
“If I feel good, I’m going to play,” he told the assembled media at the Spurs’ practice facility on Friday. “It’s getting better. I’m just day-to-day. Just got to keep waiting day-to-day.”
Leonard had to leave the opening game of the series early in the third quarter with a badly sprained left ankle and did not play at all in Game 2.
The Spurs’ All-Star forward has not been on the court only to shoot since the injury. He has not run hard, simply watched his teammates practice and undergone constant treatment by the medical and training staff.
Leonard said a pregame evaluation on Saturday will determine if he is able to move around freely and properly.
“Just seeing if I can run and at least be myself on the court,” Leonard said. “Don’t want to hobble around or shoot off balance shots. Just want to be able to push with both legs. Just that, really.”
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No. 4: Proud Celtics facing humiliating end to banner season — Those 17 championship banners can’t save them. The litany of Hall of Famers and all of that celebrated championship tradition isn’t going to keep LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers off of them. The Boston Celtics, down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, are facing a humiliating end to what has no doubt been a banner season (surprise No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, conference finals appearance ahead of schedule and winner of the Draft lottery, etc.). Chad Finn of the Boston Globe explains what it looks like from inside the Beantown bubble:
For record-keeping purposes, the final score was 130-86, Cavs. But the score that really stung, the score that emphasized the difference between the defending champions and everyone else in the Eastern Conference, was the one mocking the bewildered fans from the Garden scoreboard as the teams headed to the locker room in decidedly different mental states at halftime.
Cavaliers 72. Celtics 31.
The 41-point margin was the largest halftime lead in NBA playoff history. To put it into context — to realize just how utterly and completely over the game was even with 24 minutes left to play — consider this: The Celtics could have outscored the Cavs 71-31 in the second half, and they would have lost by a point.
And you thought the Celtics’ start in Game 1, when they trailed by a mere 61-39 at the break, was ugly. Little did we know that Game 2 would be worse. There was reasonable hope — or so it seemed around 8:29 p.m. Friday night — that the Celtics would bounce back from the opening loss. For whatever flaws and inconsistencies they have had in this mostly rewarding season, the Celtics are generally a resilient lot.
The optimistic thought was that perhaps LeBron James might not be so ruthlessly efficient, that Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson wouldn’t combine for 50-plus points again, that perhaps the Cavs would revert to the worst of themselves and remind us if only for a quarter or two that they have gone through some genuinely rough stretches during the regular season.
Nope. Forget hope. Humiliation shoved all pretenses of hope aside. Instead the only mystery remaining at halftime was who would score their first basket of the game first, Al Horford or Isaiah Thomas. Or would they wait until Sunday in Cleveland? They were a combined 0 for 10 from the field in the first half, with their only points coming on a pair of Thomas free throws.
(For the record, Horford was the first to make a field goal, hitting a 3 at the 9:56 mark of the third quarter. Thomas didn’t play in the second half due to what the team said was a hip injury. Coach Brad Stevens described him as “despondent.” In case you needed more good news.)
Stevens did try to make adjustments before Game 2. Garbage Time Hall of Famer Gerald Green started in place of rigid Amir Johnson, and he did bury both of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter. But even that was attached to a negative.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s become painfully obvious to anyone paying attention that the Eastern Conference has become a case of the Cavs and the Cav-Nots (or really about there being no one out there to serve as a true foil for LeBron James and whatever team he’s leading) … Superstitious Spurs fans are pulling out all of their tricks to change their team’s karma for Game 3 tonight at AT&T Center … Kobe Bryant might be retired from the NBA, but he’s still bailing folks out of trouble at crunch time … With all of the Draft chatter about Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, don’t forget about Kansas swingman Josh Jackson, whose stock is reportedly rising with NBA decision makers … The Sacramento Kings aren’t afraid to look overseas for help in their rebuilding process … Knicks boss Phil Jackson is weighing his (Kentucky) options for the team’s immediate future.