Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (May 6) -- LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers have found their championship groove

Plus, Parker-less Spurs secure crucial Game 3 win over the Rockets and LeBron talks about his legacy

No. 1: Cavs have flipped the switch — Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers may have had concerns heading into the postseason. Even though the defending champs had games throughout the season where they showed flashes of their title form, the most consistent thing about the Cavs this season was their inconsistency, particularly on the defensive end. But with last night’s win in Toronto, the Cavs are now 7-0 in the postseason, and as our own John Schuhmann writes, these Cavs have found their championship groove:

The defending NBA champions went 28-25 after their Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors. There were a couple of games – wins at Washington and Boston – that they clearly got up for, but quality wins were followed by confounding losses and consistency fell victim to bad defense.

There was no clear flipping of the switch in the first round of the playoffs. The Cavs swept the Indiana Pacers, but won the four games by a total of just 16 points, unable to put together more than 28 or 30 minutes of good basketball on any given night. They ranked 13th defensively in the first round, having played a team that ranked 15th offensively in the regular season.

Games 1 and 2 of the conference semifinals were the champs’ best two games of the playoffs and established that they will be going to the conference finals for a third straight season. They would not be losing four out of five to this opponent.

But Game 3 was still a test of the Cavs ability to keep their foot on the gas pedal. And though they trailed at halftime and led by only two at the end of the third quarter, they passed the test, beating the Toronto Raptors 115-94 on Friday to take a 3-0 series lead.

The Cavs didn’t get the Raptors’ best shot. Kyle Lowry was out with a sprained ankle and Toronto shot a brutal 2-for-18 from 3-point range, with 17 of the 18 attempts being uncontested. The term “make-or-miss league” was used often after the game and the bottom line is that the Cavs shot much better than their opponent. When they got sloppy, Toronto was unable to take advantage, scoring just one point off three straight Cleveland live-ball turnovers in the middle of the second quarter.

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No. 2: Spurs lose Parker, keep rolling in Houston — The San Antonio lost Game 1 of their series against the Houston Rockets, and then lost point guard Tony Parker, and as the series headed back to Houston, the Rockets seemed to be primed to launch. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching the Spurs, it’s to give them the benefit of the doubt. And with rookie Dejounte Murray starting at point guard, the Spurs thumped the Rockets in Houston, regaining home court advantage. As Sekou Smith writes, the Rockets blew a great chance:

All season long James Harden and the Rockets have done their best to challenge the conventional wisdom that, as good as they are, they are simply not in the same class of championship-caliber team as the Golden State Warriors and Spurs.

Yet with a chance to prove it, they fell flat in a Game 3 slugfest the Spurs won 103-92, without future Hall of Fame point guard Tony Parker, who is done for the series after surgery to repair a torn quad earlier in the day.

The Spurs snatched home court advantage back in this series by winning their second straight game and leaving the Rockets, beaten to the punch basically all night, to wonder what might have been had they could scrap their way to what could have been their most critical win all season.

And they are not nearly as effective when they can’t get out in transition and take advantages of mismatches and cross matches that favor them. They lit up the scoreboard with 22 made 3-pointers in Game 1 of this series. They made a combined 23 in Games 2 and 3 and dropped to 1-5 on the season when held to 98 points or less.

“Well, they are doing a better job of getting back,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of what changed for his team in transition. “They did have 21 turnovers but we just didn’t convert them. We did get after it … but you know it becomes a slugfest. And you know they made big shots, we didn’t.”

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No. 3: What more can James prove? — During LeBron’s postgame press conference last night, he was asked about his legacy, and his answer took him down an interesting rhetorical avenue. As Joe Vardon writes for, what else, James wondered, is left?

“What else do I have to prove,” James told Friday, after the Cavs had just ripped the Raptors’ souls out of their chests in Game 3, 115-94. James scored 35 points in the game, 13 in the fourth quarter.

“Seriously, what else would I have,” James said. “I’ve won championships, I won my first one and I’ve won for my teammates, I came home and won. There isn’t anything I have left to prove.”

James knows he has answered every question, met every challenge to define his legacy as one of the NBA’s very best. But if it sounds like James is on his way out of basketball, he isn’t. Not even close. Nor is he playing like it.

Through seven playoff games — all wins — James has scored 240 points. That’s the most since Kobe Bryant scored 240 through the first seven in 2008.

James is averaging 34.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.3 assists for the playoffs and is shooting .566. Heading into Friday’s game, he was already enjoying one of the finest starts to a postseason of anyone in history, and maintained that pace in Game 3.

“This is also my oldest start to a postseason, too,” he said.

The conversation grew out of an observation he made about teammate J.R. Smith, who has essentially changed his game this postseason to be a defender first. Smith took five shots and made three Friday (all 3-pointers), while the guy he guarded, Demar DeRozan, scored 37. But this was a discussion about more than a single game.

“It’s all about winning for him now,” James said. “That’s all he cares about. He’s won a championship, he’s made some money and now he can take care of his family. All that’s left for him is winning.”

From there James was asked how liberating it can be for a player to only have to worry about winning? When money and points and playing time and any number of other things that can bother a professional athlete melt away?

“If you’re not in a place where you can win, where you might not have the opportunity, then that might not be what it’s about for you,” James said. “For me, I’ve always won. Ever since I started playing this game, my first year in youth (basketball), we went 6-0 and won the championship. And then we won it again.”

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No. 4: The NBA behind the screens — In the NBA, the shots your offense creates are often only as good as the screens that are set to free your players. In this piece from USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt, he catches up with some of the NBA’s greatest screen-setters, who do a lot of the dirty work to spring their teammates.

The play starts with Washington Wizard’s Marcin Gortat setting a screen on teammate John Wall’s defender, giving Wall enough open space for a drive to the basket where he has options as the defense breaks down.

Wall can shoot, he can pass to an open teammate at the three-point line, or he can throw the basketball to Gortat, who has options, too: he can take a point-blank shot or make a pass to an open shooter.

All those options were made possible because of Gortat’s screen, one of the most common, important and unheralded basketball acts in the NBA.

“We believe setting screens leads to winning plays,” Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd said during the first-round of the NBA playoffs. “It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but we take pride in setting screens.”

A screen, as defined by the NBA Rulebook, is “the legal action of a player who, without causing undue contact, delays or prevents an opponent from reaching a desired position.”

Without quibbling here regarding what constitutes a legal screen – the screener is supposed to be stationary and cannot move laterally or toward an opponent being screened – Gortat is one of the best in the league.

The NBA tracks “screen assists,” which is a screen that directly leads to a made field goal, and Gortat led all players during the regular season with 6.2 screen assists per game and leads all players in the playoffs with 9.8 screen assists per game, according to

“The way the game is being played with so many great shooters all over the floor, you need that big who can get screens, is comfortable setting screens and enjoys setting screens, knowing there’s a chance you’re not going to get the ball but your team is going to get a great shot,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “(Gortat) does that. He gets John and our guards open looks. He gets our shooters open out of our screens away from the ball.”

Gortat is one of the most prolific screeners in the NBA, setting 22.5 on-ball screens per game during the regular season, according to STATS SportVU Data.

“I became a better screener by watching guys like Kendrick Perkins, Dennis Rodman,” Gortat said. “I spoke with a lot of coaches who taught me how to set screens. It’s just not about me setting a good screen, but the guy who handles the ball has to score to make me look good. A lot of people make me look good, too.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kelly Oubre’s wild side was critical for the Wizards in Game 3 … Utah’s Rodney Hood has found a way to stay grounded during the NBA season … After Kristaps Porzingis skipped his postseason meeting with the Knicks, several other teams checked on his availability … Why Suns fans should embrace the Draft Lottery … Damian Lillard won the Magic Johnson Award for cooperating with the media.