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The Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-120 on Monday to win their second NBA championship in three seasons and cap a near-perfect run through the playoffs.

The Warriors, who beat Cleveland in the 2015 Finals only to lose to them last year after squandering a 3-1 series lead, went a record-setting 15-1 in the playoffs, their only loss coming in Game Four of the best-of-seven championship.

Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors hoping to win an elusive title and on Monday he not only reached his goal, but was also named the unanimous Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals.
Durant, in his first season with the Warriors, led the way in a 4-1 series win over the Cavaliers to capture his maiden NBA title.

The 28-year-old American averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the best-of-seven Finals, which the Warriors wrapped up in five games.

To win his first NBA title, Durant had to overcome Cavaliers forward LeBron James, whose former Miami Heat team defeated Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Finals.
"He's the only person that I was looking at since 2012," Durant said after the game.

"I knew it was going to be a battle I just tried to challenge him ... you can't stop the guy. But we battled.
"I told him we're tied up now and we're going to try to do this thing again but I'm going to celebrate this one tonight."

Catch up with the highlights of Saturday's NBA games.

Warriors 119, Trail Blazers 113

Stephen Curry scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and the Golden State Warriors rallied from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 119-113 on Saturday night at Moda Center.
Klay Thompson added 24 points for the Warriors, who seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Raptors 87, Bucks 76

DeMar DeRozan shook off his dismal Game Three performance and scored 33 points as Toronto evened their Eastern Conference first-round series with Milwaukee at two wins apiece.

DeRozan missed all eight of his field goal attempts and scored just eight points in Toronto's 27-point Game Three loss but scored 21 points in the first half on Saturday and made 12-of-22 shots.

The series continues Monday in Toronto with Game Six set for Thursday in Milwaukee.

Grizzlies 110, Spurs 108 (overtime)

Marc Gasol's floating jump shot over LaMarcus Aldridge with 0.7 seconds left in overtime gave the Memphis Grizzlies a 110-108 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday at FedExForum to even their first-round Western Conference playoff series 2-2.
Memphis won despite a playoff career-high 43 points for San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard. Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 35 points and had nine rebounds and eight assists. Leonard added eight rebounds, six steals and three assists to his stat line.

Hawks 116, Wizards 98

Paul Millsap had 29 points and 14 rebounds for his second straight double-double and Atlanta led wire-to-wire in beating Washington in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

Millsap was 12 of 20 from the field and had five assists. His only problem was at the line, where he was 5 of 9. The Hawks, who trail in the series 2-1, also got 27 points from Dennis Schroder, 20 of those in the first half, with nine assists.

Warriors' Durant out indefinitely with knee injury

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Published in USA NBA
Friday, 31 March 2017 09:10

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant has suffered a knee sprain and will be out indefinitely, the National Basketball Association said on Wednesday, dealing a blow to the team's bid for a third straight trip to the finals.

Kobe Bryant's 'all-day process'

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Published in USA NBA
Friday, 25 December 2015 15:41

Many years ago, when Kobe Bryant's games were filled with explosive attacking moves and windmill dunks, the work he put into stretching, ice baths, massages and the like between games was "zero," in his estimation.

Now that he is 37, with an injury history in nearly every major joint, plus a staggering 56,000-plus total NBA minutes on his resume, things could hardly be more different.

"The kid has got a lot of miles on him," says Los Angeles Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti, in his 32nd season with the team. "And they're hard miles. They're hard miles. If you've ever been to Maui, the Road to Hana? It's a rough road, man. It's beautiful when you get there, but it's a rough road."

Bryant's days are stuffed with an ever-evolving and carefully curated series of treatments designed to minimize injury and maximize performance, including submerging himself in icy water and lying on tables while an array of experts go to work. There is also physical therapy, which often involves digging at his legs with a $3,500 device resembling a small jackhammer.

The Lakers employ a large staff of physical therapists, trainers and massage therapists, some of whom say their main focus is Bryant. But Bryant consumes so much time and refined expertise, at all hours, that he has long supplemented with outside experts, including a neuromuscular therapist, two chiropractors (one in Orange County, where he lives, and another in Los Angeles), an active-release therapist from Oceanside in San Diego County, several "stretch professionals" and a personal strength-and-conditioning trainer.

If Bryant is to complete his 20th (and final) season (or to dunk again on Christmas, something he has done just twice this season), it's because all of those professionals have done their jobs well, teasing explosive potential from Bryant's aging body.

"There's rooms that he goes to and people are there and things happen," Tim DiFrancesco, the Lakers' head strength and conditioning coach for the past five seasons, says with a laugh. "So much is done behind the scenes that are behind the scenes."

There is no normal game-day routine for Kobe Bryant, and members of the Lakers' training staff who tend to Bryant on a daily basis -- some of whom have done so for his entire career -- say they cannot emphasize that point enough.

There is only, the team's specialists add, how Bryant is feeling that day, which varies.

Both Bryant and the specialists often call this stage "uncharted territory," because no guard has played this long, and it's all but unheard of for an athlete to still play after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, let alone do so at his age. Add it all up, and there's no blueprint to follow.

It would probably be easier for all involved if Bryant, who will play in his record 16th Christmas Day game Friday against the Clippers, merely wished just to remain upright and serviceable, but that isn't the case. "It's tough. He wants to ride out at a high level, not in a nice way, but at a high level," says Dr. Judy Seto, the Lakers' head physical therapist. "It's not enough to just be out there. He needs to play the way he plays. Otherwise, for him, what's the point?"

So every day is, as Bryant often calls it, a "puzzle" for both him and the staff. What must they assemble? Him.

He consistently calls keeping his body in order an "all-day process," and if there is a normal game day, or something that's even in the same ballpark, it typically begins long before Bryant even arrives at the arena in the midafternoon, when he meets with a personal trainer to target whatever body part (or parts) ail him at that very moment.

Bryant's toes, feet, Achilles tendons, especially the left one that he ruptured in April 2013, are often stretched. Resistance band exercises for his knees and ankles help improve range of motion, gauged with an arthrodial protractor, helping suggest treatment and measure improvements in flexibility of ligaments and muscles.

Then Bryant travels to the arena, often arriving at some point between two and four hours before tipoff, giving him plenty of time to complete a gauntlet of therapies.

Initially, Bryant might work himself into a lather on the court through his shooting routine, make a quick stop in the weight room, or ice down; his routine varies depending on how he's feeling. But, typically, he first meets with Seto, who joined the Lakers in a consulting role in 1990 and is now in her fifth full-time season. To help improve his range of motion or correct any alignment that might be off, she will focus on his neck, shoulders, knees, ankles or any specific spot that Bryant says needs some work. "I take his feedback and take it from there," she says. The whole session lasts 10 to 15 minutes, as anything longer might fatigue his muscles.

Then, about a half-hour before the game, Bryant will meet with Marko Yrjovuori, the Lakers' sports massage therapist for the past 12 seasons who is more commonly known as "Finn," a nod to his Finnish roots.

Yrjovuori will help stretch Bryant's limbs for about 20 minutes, with about 80 percent of the focus on Bryant's lower body. He'll also use a hand-held percussion device called The Raptor, which can penetrate several layers of muscle with up to 3,600 percussions per minute to help shake Bryant's muscles awake.

Not long before tip, Bryant meets with DiFrancesco. As Bryant listens to Lakers' coaches discuss pregame strategy, he works with DiFrancesco for a five-minute session of hip and glute exercises -- often using a resistance band -- to help "activate" his lower body.

(For road games, DiFrancesco also makes sure that at a predetermined time before the game that Bryant receives bone broth specially made by the chefs at the team hotel.)

Bryant's pregame process might last 40 minutes, a churn from one activity to the next. While his teammates are gabbing in the locker room, he can often be found in a back room, his body being kneaded, stretched, loosened and otherwise prepared in some form or fashion.

The order is crucial.

"You don't want them to do strengthening work if they're out of alignment," Seto says. "You want to get them in alignment first and then activate the muscle and then do a little bit more strengthening before they get on the court." Members of the Lakers' training staff must also work with other Lakers players before the game, but as expected, they say that Bryant is the priority.

The work doesn't stop there. During games, Lakers coach Byron Scott tries -- though he doesn't always succeed -- to stagger Bryant's minutes, so that Bryant plays about 30 -- or around there -- but doesn't spend long stretches on the bench, lest his legs become stiff. And even when he's on the bench, Bryant has tried to stay loose, as well.

For instance, during a Dec. 2 win over the Wizards in Washington, where Bryant scored a season-high 31 points on 10-of-24 shooting in 36 minutes, he ran in place and bounced up and down on the sideline when he wasn't in the game.

Afterward, Bryant jokingly compared himself to the over-the-top exercises Jim Carrey's zany character did before a basketball game in the movie "Cable Guy."

"During a game, I just try to move around as much as possible," Bryant says. "Normally, when you sit on the bench, you try to rest your legs. It's like, f--- that. Rest ain't gonna make no difference -- if I can't move, it's not going to f---ing matter.'"

After games, Bryant's sessions with various Lakers specialists are lighter and shorter, with an emphasis on relaxing his muscles, rather than activating them. And, as he does following practices, Bryant will ice his knees and shoulders. (Seto points out that Bryant is "certainly utilizing the cold tub" a lot more.) He also will drink chocolate milk -- a low-sugar blend of organic cocoa and whole milk from grass-fed cows that's specially prepared by a Whole Foods based in whichever NBA city the team is in.

It might seem like a lot of work for maybe 30 minutes of floor time, but every aspect of Bryant's preparation for and recovery from games has never been more crucial.

"They have a greater effect, a greater consequence, a greater benefit," Seto says. "Maybe because you're so flexible when you're younger, you can spring [and] maybe you don't see that big a benefit in stretching, rest and recovery, icing, all of that. You can get away with eating unhealthy. Now, as you're getting older, it makes a huge difference. That little 2 to 3 percent difference as you're getting older is huge."

For those who work with Bryant daily, the importance of each step is even more magnified as he nears the end of his storied career.

"I know his last game is coming," Seto says. "But it doesn't change what I've been doing with him, because it's been working."

As Yrjovuori explains, "It's an honor to be part of it. His last game, it's going to be sad for everybody. [It's like], 'What am I going to do from now on?'"

Bryant says all of his various specialists have different fortes. For example, one chiropractor might specialize in one area, while the other favors a different approach.

"That's why I have multiple ones, so I can balance out what my body needs," Bryant says. "If it's something for the lower extremity, this guy does it better. If it's something [else], this guy may do it better. It's like putting a puzzle together."

So many of those pieces are put in place before Bryant reaches the arena.

"He's constantly doing things," Vitti says. "Then he comes in and he's getting fine-tuned."

As Seto explains, "Because of the work that he puts in before, on a day-to-day basis, it takes less time to get him ready."

Bryant is responsible for speeding up that process: One aspect that members of the Lakers' training staff each praised was Bryant's knowledge not only of his own body but also of medical minutia in general, which helps him specify what exactly he needs adjusted on a given day.

"Over the years, he's paid attention to what people would say to him," Vitti says. "So he knows what iliotibial band syndrome is. He knows what the quadratus lumborum is. He knows what the erector spinae is. He'll come in and say, 'I need this released.' A lot of guys, they don't want to know all that ... but he wants to know. 'What are you doing? What is that?' He's always been that way. You've got to give him credit for that."

Another element that Vitti praised is Bryant recently adopting Fusionetics, a sports science-infused injury prevention and recovery enhancement/performance improvement program founded by physical therapist Dr. Mike Clark that is used by several professional teams.

"I think in the last year, Kobe has finally bought into this Fusionetics thing, and his training has become much better, in my opinion," Vitti says.

"He's always spent a lot of time on his body. But, just like anything else, especially at this level, it's not enough to do a lot. It's not enough to work hard. You've got to work smart. And he is really working smart right now."

"I'm behind him 100 percent with the way he's training now and I haven't always felt that way, because when you don't train right, you actually train yourself into default position, which makes it harder for us to get you out of it."

Vitti added, "Breaking through the wall, working harder, harder, harder -- not anymore. If you keep training into fatigue, then you're going to train yourself into that position. That's what we're trying to get you out of."

Bryant calls Fusionetics "extremely helpful."

That Bryant is working with outside trainers or experts is not unusual by any stretch.

"He's always gone outside the loop, not 100 percent, but he's always had his own guy, partially because he's on his own time schedule," Vitti says. "If he wants to go work out at 2 in the morning, I can't have Tim [doing that]. He's got 14 other guys to be responsible for. So Kobe needs somebody who's willing to do that. As a result, not all these guys last. He burns through them."

Yrjovuori smiled and says, "For us, it's impossible with our schedules already, but for the people that he uses, it's a hell of a challenge.

Yrjovuori then shook his head and laughed.

"I've had my share of late-night phone calls," he says. "I've done my share of drives down to Orange County."

DiFrancesco says Bryant's workload "is already more than most could handle," but now he goes through these tedious processes just about every day.

"It's tough, but I love the game, though," Bryant says. "It doesn't matter what you have to go through. When you're willing to go through a very tedious process for something, meaning that's when you know you really, really love it. I don't mind it."

His approach is a stark turnaround from his early NBA days, Bryant says: "I come in the gym and windmill [dunk] like nothing. Now I've got to stretch to touch the backboard. I [could] literally come in here and wake up, get out of bed and do [360-degree dunks]. How crazy is that?"

As Seto explains, "Before, he could give it his all and he'd recover the next day, no big deal. And then do it again, no big deal. Because he could recover. Now, it's let's see how you're doing tomorrow, because we're not sure how you're going to recover. Then we're going to have to wait until the next day happens."

As time has passed, Bryant has changed, because he's had no other choice if he wanted to continue his career.

"He was so talented and so driven throughout his career that maybe not everything had to work right in his body," Vitti says. "But now that he can't do it anymore, in order to even play at the level that he's playing, he has to do everything right, and he realizes that. And somehow he's found his way."

For much of this season, it didn't look like Bryant would find his way at all.

Following a mid-November win against the Detroit Pistons in which he logged 36 minutes, Bryant stood at his locker and declared, "I can barely stand up. My feet and legs are killing me." He later added, "I'm not looking forward to the walk to the car."

Before that game -- and certainly after -- Bryant complained about his legs, and it was clear that they couldn't provide the lift on his jump shot, which led to many of his shots hitting nothing but air, including several throughout various games.

"As you get older, you get stiffer," Vitti says. "The single greatest thing that stops people from exercising as they age is lack of flexibility. So you can see him stiffening up. You can see he doesn't have the same speed. He doesn't have the same lift on his jump shot. It's harder for that ball to get to the basket when you're using your upper extremity instead of your lower extremity to launch." Though determined to play in every game of his final season, Bryant's body clearly wasn't cooperating. In his first 17 games, he shot 29.6 percent from the field on 17.9 field-goal attempts per game.

That trend turned Dec. 7 in Toronto, where Bryant posted his first game of 50 percent shooting (8 of 16) of the season. Over the next seven games, Bryant's minutes and shots went down, and his percentage shot up to 48.2. Bryant pointed to a Dec. 11 game against San Antonio when he felt like he turned the corner, because his legs felt fresh when he expected them to be weary toward the end of an eight-game road trip.


All along, Bryant has preached that he just needed to find his rhythm after being sidelined for nearly nine months following a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder (among the injuries that have kept him on the shelf for the better part of the past three seasons).

"I think it's a combination of everything," he explains. "It's not like [I'm] doing something in the moment in time. But I think it's over a period and being consistent -- being consistent with the stretching, being consistent with the hydration, nutrition and with the ice baths and the therapy and things like that. I think a combination of all those things over a period of time will get your body in a very solid place, which is where I'm at right now, and hopefully I can stay there."

And just as Bryant comes to grips with how he must maintain his body and what it can do at this point, he has also had to accept everything that is physically slipping away, even though he remains mentally sharp.

"That's 100 percent correct," he says. "Stuff that you're used to doing -- 'I'm just going to go by this guy' -- it's like, 'Wait a minute. Nah, I can't do that. F--- it, I'm just going to back 'em down.'

"That's true, though. Your mind can see certain things going on, when in the past, it was just one step and get there. Now, you can't. You've got to figure out a new way to get to the same spot."

On days when he doesn't play a game, Bryant says he focuses on stretching, and he will hop on the treadmill and run for about five or six minutes between 8 mph to 11 mph "just to keep my legs going" and the blood flowing.

He also says he hits the weights three or four times a week. The sweat-filled sessions feature plenty of resistance band training, weight jackets and the like. DiFrancesco has described past workouts as lasting between 20 to 40 minutes, being "extremely quiet and focused" and including "traditional strength-building exercises: deadlift variation, squat variation, lunge variation, upper-body press variation, row variation, chin-ups."

In terms of massages and more physical therapy, Bryant says he works plenty on off days with Seto, along with a couple of his other physical therapists. Sessions can last about 30 minutes and might begin around 10 a.m., usually focus on joints from the hips to his right shoulder and more, with the goal being to maximize mobility and stretch brittle ligaments.

Then comes ice, perhaps the most regular recovery activity. He'll ice his shoulders, knees, toes, with each part requiring a different amount of time, perhaps around 15 minutes.

Everything is geared toward making sure his body holds up enough so that he can take the court again for the next game, but there's only so much that can be done.

"I have concerns," Vitti says. "I'm not concerned about his Achilles tendon that he tore, and I'm not concerned about his rotator cuff that he tore, but he has another Achilles tendon and he has two patella tendons. And you've got another rotator cuff.

Then Vitti offered an analogy:

A young player is traveling down a road and accidentally falls into a hole, but the player recovers. As the player matures, he learns which roads have holes and how to get around them carefully -- or if it's best to take a different road altogether.

"I think that's what he's trying to figure out," Vitti says, "How can I get to the same place but in a different way?"

How does one do that?

"We don't really know," Vitti says. "It's uncharted territory."

The end of the road is near, and there is a distant question of how Bryant's body will hold up many years down the line, given all that he has put it through in the past 20.

"Almost all NBA players are on some kind of workers' compensation later on in life," Vitti says. "Basically, they wear out the articulating cartilage in their knees. That's what we end up calling osteoarthritis. Almost all these guys, hip and knee issues, later on in life. He has some [cartilage] issues from playing. And that may come back and haunt him down the road, we'll see."

Has Bryant looked that far ahead? He has.

"Yeah, I've given it plenty of thought," Bryant says. "I tend to feel pretty comfortable that my body is going to feel OK because of how I feel now, and I'm still putting so much stress on it. I feel pretty comfortable with that. I've had some really serious injuries, but they haven't been -- knock on wood -- back-related. The back is always something that scares the s--- out of me. So, fortunately I haven't had that. Other injuries have been injuries that I've been able to repair."

While he has been searching for a healthy, sustainable balance, Bryant has also been taking what he calls "baby steps" to see what he's capable of, even during games.

"You're so used to pushing on the gas pedal, and it's there and it's been limitless," says Seto. "Now, it's not limitless. During a game, it's hard to know -- from game to game, back-to-back, on the road -- where the 'E' is that day. It's tough to know."

Every day is now a search to see what Bryant can offer on that particular day without overdoing it.

"He's trying to keep things in reserve, but we don't know how much you have in your tank," Seto says. "It's like, 'How do you know how much you have in reserve?' He's trying to find it."

As Bryant explains, "It's impossible to gauge, because you don't know what's left. You don't know where that needle goes to the point where now the engine jumps out the car. So you've got to take baby steps, incrementally."

Bryant then points to the Dec. 17 loss against the Houston Rockets.

"If you watch the Houston game, there was the first drive, where I went by Trevor [Ariza] and laid it up," he says. "That was the first drive I took all season where I really exploded to the rim. I laid it up and I went, 'That felt good.' That was a baby step.

"I got back in the huddle. I said, 'I felt good. Maybe I can dunk one.'

"Then when I had the opportunity again, I tried it."

And so he did, throwing down a thunderous one-handed dunk that brought the Staples Center crowd to its collective feet.

"It's like a step-by-step [process]," Bryant says.

"It's crazy to have to think about it.

"Back in the day ..."

Then his voice trails off, and he smiles.

Leandro Barbosa, the Warriors' giving teammate

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Published in USA NBA
Friday, 25 December 2015 15:14

At a glance, Leandro Barbosa doesn't quite fit the Golden State Warriors' mold. The roster is long on defense and high-level passing. Barbosa is a smaller scorer who specializes in head-down drives. Coach Steve Kerr badly wanted him here, though, as did all the other current Warriors officials who claim a Phoenix Suns past. What was it about this guy?

To be sure, Barbosa's play exceeded expectations last season. He's not purely a locker room muse. At the same time, he's an incredible locker room muse. In getting "LB," as teammates call him, you're getting one of the more idiosyncratic, popular teammates in the sport. Kerr has referred to the Brazilian vet's "beautiful human spirit," an uncommon phrase in the cynicized, dog-eat-dog sports world. It's difficult to quantify "beautiful human spirit," let alone explain it, but after spending time with LB, the phrase makes sense.

Barbosa comes off as a peculiar mix of effervescence and soulful sincerity. He loves to laugh, but he takes his job as teammate seriously. He's often thinking about others, how to help them be the best version of themselves. It's something he learned in his early days as a Steve Nash understudy. Nash encouraged Barbosa to channel his score-first id, as opposed to trying out a Nash impersonation. Nash's backup didn't have to be an ersatz Nash. He just needed to be a great Barbosa.

With that lesson in mind, Barbosa tries to get teammates into their comfort zones. It's a job that sometimes means inventing an argument out of absolutely nothing.

"Like for today, I saw Draymond [Green] was kind of upset," Barbosa begins. "And I just got on him, start talking to him, try to get him smiling, you know? Try to bring himself back to what he is, the talker, the guy that always get mad, our leader on the court."

How did Barbosa accomplish this?

Leandro Barbosa

"We were talking about burgers. He said have you ever tried this place burger? I say yes I did, but this place I went last night is much better."

"All the people in Brazil, no matter if you do have money or don't, everybody's happy. I was the same way. My family, always happy. We were happy to be alive because the neighborhood was really bad."

 

In this sequence, Green told Barbosa about a burger joint in San Francisco, talking it up as fantastic. Barbosa transparently lied about having eaten that burger, and insisted that a burger spot in Walnut Creek, California, was superior. An annoyed Green got Barbosa to admit he'd never been to the San Francisco joint, but then Barbosa shifted to another lie about having had that food delivered. Now Green was beside himself, and yet, amused at Barbosa's ridiculousness in this situation.

At this point, Barbosa said to Green, "Now you back. That's Draymond I want to see. That's the guy I want to see. This locker room right here is really quiet without you talking, man. We don't need to see that."

Green, when asked about the situation, laughed and remarked of Barbosa's ploy, "Those moments are priceless."

Some of the comedy Barbosa brings wouldn't work without something beyond his control: A thick Brazilian accent. "My accent, it is my accent," Barbosa says. "I don't try to have this accent. Sometimes I think in Portuguese, sometimes I try to correct into English and it doesn't really work. It's part of the deal. It makes funny."

"It makes funny," is just the kind of malapropism that tickles his teammates.

"Every time I text or Gchat with the guys, I never write it down correctly. It always comes up one word that is not right and that make laugh," Barbosa laments. He interrupts himself, yelling to Jason Thompson across the court, "You're going to make that shot, JT!"

A lesser man might despise monolingual coworkers for mocking his imperfect mastery of a second language. Barbosa just goes with the flow, accepting that, though he'll never be in on this joke, a joke that provides ins. For instance, it allows Barbosa to be bluntly honest in a way other players can't. His barbs are cushioned, wrapped in an endearingly off-kilter version of English.

When Festus Ezeli got dunked on in the preseason by Lakers rookie Larry Nance Jr., it wasn't something Ezeli wanted to relive. After the game, the center looked at his phone, sighed and whipped it over his shoulder, smacking into the locker. The next day, Barbosa went straight for the sore subject, yelling "Eee-zeee-leeee!" in his slow cadence, pantomiming the vicious jam. In film session, Barbosa demanded to see the dunk replayed. Festus could only laugh at the razzing. Touchy subject defused.

Barbosa's too contagiously happy for his insults to read as insulting. He traces his sanguine spirit back to his home culture.

"All the people in Brazil, no matter if you do have money or don't, everybody's happy," he says. "I was the same way. My family, always happy. We were happy to be alive because the neighborhood was really bad."

Young Barbosa struggled to get by on the streets of Sao Paulo.

"When I'm talking about people don't have money, they really don't have money," he says. "I used to sleep on the ground. Not on the wood. I'm talking about on the dirt."

The neighborhood was dangerous. Barbosa's siblings would go hungry for stretches just to feed him, the youngest.

With that perspective, NBA life isn't half bad. There are worse jobs than scoring off the bench and giving the reigning MVP advice. At the end of the home win against Milwaukee, Barbosa, accessing his extensive backlog of Nash observations, told Stephen Curry to start his pick and rolls higher. LB saw it as a way to attack Greg Monroe, who'd returned early from a knee injury.

"They were doubling Steph on the pick and rolls," Barbosa recalls. "I tell Steph, call the angle, call the angle really high. They can't guard you, you're faster than them. The big guy won't be able to stick with you. [Monroe] wasn't in the position to move because he was hurt."

Down the stretch, Curry burned Monroe for an easy layup and an assist.

Barbosa will advise All-Stars like Curry and Klay Thompson (when mired in the rare shooting slump), but his current project is Marreese Speights, who's struggled this season. Barbosa has offered to do extra conditioning with Speights to get him back in better form.

"Mo was a different player than he is this year," Barbosa says. "And I told him you just got to keep working, lose some weight. I will work with you on the side. Every single practice we go, run up and back, and you'll be OK. When it comes the time, you will score."

Barbosa professes a deep belief in the corrective ways of time. It's key to his positive messaging: Keep doing this, and it will all work out. When Thompson fell into a shooting slump, Barbosa insisted he keep shooting, regardless of the result. The important thing was that Thompson keep at it with the same frequency as he did before the slump. The rest would take care of itself.

In Barbosa's world view, time is your friend, a force that eventually, gently returns you to the familiar. It's one of the reasons he loves "Gladiator," a movie he saw countless times back when he was learning English through subtitles. He's especially drawn to the final scene where a friend of Russell Crowe's fallen Maximus says, "I will see you again ... but not yet ... not yet."

It reminds Barbosa of his mother, seven years deceased from pneumonia, whom he plans on seeing one day.

"I will see her again," he says. "I know she's watching for me. I'm sure she's happy about everything that is going on in my life right now. But I will see her again and I believe that."

In the meantime, Golden State's top teammate has more to accomplish, more people to help on this wild, temporal journey through basketball.

"My goal in real life is still going on. I still have to complete some things," Barbosa says. "But when it comes the time I will see her. But not yet. Not yet."

Leading Canterbury Ram Jeremy Kench has retired from elite basketball, confessing his heart is no longer in the sport.

The experienced point guard has called it quits after 12 years in the National Basketball League (NBL) and 194 games.

Kench, 31, a Middleton Grange product, played most of those for his hometown Rams, racking up 138 appearances.

He enjoyed a successful career and represented the Tall Blacks, with his highlights including the 2010 world championships in Turkey, where he started against Spain and was marking future NBA player Ricky Rubio.

INJURY

In this year's NBL, Kench endured a frustrating time after aggravating an old injury to his right knee in the second game of the season.

He was restricted to 22 minutes per game, averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 assists, which were down on previous campaigns.

Kench said his knee problem had been annoying, but wasn't the sole factor for his retirement.

"I definitely knew it was time to give up. I wasn't going back for another season ...

"I don't think my heart was in it anymore, is the best way to put it. I've moved on to another stage of life and basketball doesn't really fit in with that anymore."

Kench, a constable with the New Zealand Police, said time pressures meant he was unable to commit to the Rams' programme in the way he wanted.

He was thankful the Rams had been resurrected by the Harrison family after the 2011 earthquake, which meant he and other Canterbury basketballers had an NBL team to play for.

"I never thought I'd have another opportunity to play in the NBL again when I came back to Christchurch and we didn't have a team."

REGRET

Kench said his only regret was not having won an NBL championship, losing to Auckland in the 2012 final with the Wellington Saints.

Rams director Andrew Harrison said Kench had been a vital figure in their foray back into the NBL over the past two seasons.

Canterbury have four players on their books for next season, re-signing co-captains Ethan Rusbatch and Marques Whippy, as well as centre Gareth Dawson.

Kench's retirement has been softened slightly by the signing of combo guard, Marcus Alipate, who will play as a local player through his Tongan parentage.

Alipate, 23 graduated from the University of St Thomas in Minnesota this year.

He has strong sporting genes, with father, Tuineau, playing 24 games with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets in the NFL between 1994-95.

The Rams will be without back-up point guard Marty Davison, who is focusing on refereeing and work commitments. Young guard Joe Cook-Green will be sidelined after suffering an Achilles injury at the national secondary schools tournament.

Teenage star Sam Timmins won't be back either as he links up with the University of Washington next month.

The Rams expect to announce their squad and American imports in mid-January.

Canterbury tip off their campaign on March 11 against the Nelson Giants at Christchurch's Cowles Stadium. Seven teams will contest next year's NBL, following the defection of the Manawatu Jets. Each side will play 18 regular season games.

The Rams will head to Brisbane in early February for pre-season, with five games against Queensland Basketball League opposition. They will also compete in the NBL's pre-season blitz over February 27-28 in Porirua.

James scores 25 points, Cavaliers roll past Magic 111-76

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Published in USA NBA
Saturday, 12 December 2015 15:49

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- The Cleveland Cavaliers returned one of their key players on Friday night.

It turned out they didn't need much from him.

LeBron James had 25 points and eight assists and the Cavaliers rolled past the Orlando Magic 111-76 on Friday night.

BOX SCORE: CAVALIERS 111, MAGIC 76

Timofey Mozgov added 17 points as Cleveland claimed its 12th straight win over the Orlando.

The game marked the season debut of Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert, who had been out since injuring his right wrist before training camp. He played 25 minutes and made 5 of 7 shots while scoring 14 points.

"It was great to see him back to himself, catching lobs, blocking shots, being aggressive," James said of Shumpert. "We needed that from him. I know he's very excited about the way he played tonight. He should be."

James limped off the court in the first quarter after taking a shot to his quadriceps. But he was able to return after a short rest.

"It's the second time it's happened this year and it's not a great feeling," James said. "I know I'm going to feel it tonight and tomorrow, but it's mind over matter at this point, and I was happy I was able to sit in the game in the second half."

Cleveland never trailed in the game, breaking it open with a spurt late the second quarter. The Cavs started the third quarter with a 20-4 run and led by as many as 40 in the second half.

Shumpert, who played with an outline of "90" shaved into the back of his head in honor of his birth year, said he was comfortable all night.

"It felt great. It was all worth it, the extra work, the extra running, all the trash talk from my teammates to get me ready," Shumpert said. "I feel good. I could have played some more."

Nik Vucevic led the Magic with 14 points.

Orlando has lost three of its last four since posting a season-best five-game win streak that put it over .500 for the first time this season.

After being relatively quiet for most of the first half, James caught fire just before halftime, scoring 12 points during a 14-1 Cavaliers' run that put Cleveland up by 20.

Eight of James' points during the run came after the Magic inserted rookie Mario Hezonja into the game for the first time.

James quickly exploited the matchup, completing a three-point play after being fouled by Hezonja on a fast break. A few possessions later, he posted up the rookie and slid under him for another basket.

The Magic entered the night averaging 101 points per game, but struggled offensively throughout.

Starters Tobias Harris and Channing Frye were each held scoreless, going a combined 0 for 8 from the field.

"We didn't hit a lot of shots," Magic guard Victor Oladipo said. "They played well. It is what it is. We got to move on now."

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: James' eight assists led to 19 points. ... Cleveland outscored the Magic 31-17 in the second quarter and 30-15 in the third. ... The Cavaliers were plus-18 points with James on the floor in the first half.

Magic: The loss was Orlando's largest margin of defeat this season. The previous was a 117-103 loss at Cleveland Nov. 23. ... The Magic held a moment of silence before tip-off for Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes, who died at age 87 on Thursday.

INJURY UPDATE

Cavaliers coach David Blatt said point guard Kyrie Irving is getting close to a return from the broken left kneecap he sustained in last season's NBA Finals, but he couldn't yet say exactly when he would make his season debut. Blatt said he won't rush either Irving or Shumpert into playing a lot of minutes initially.

"Ultimately those guys are going to be playing because those guys were starters for us," Blatt said. "But right off the bat? That's hard to say. You can't really know how they're going to respond to game conditions."

TALKING 3's

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich grabbed some attention this week when he compared the 3-pointer to a circus shot that he would probably never fully embrace. Magic coach Scott Skiles said it might be impossible not to embrace it.

"It's almost like pointless to discuss it because it's there, and if you don't use it you're foolish," Skiles said.

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: Visit the Celtics on Tuesday.

Magic: Visit the Nets on Monday.

The Boston Celtics continue to be underappreciated

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Published in USA NBA
Saturday, 12 December 2015 15:26

ll have to admit, that I love to watch the Boston Celtics play basketball.

The Celtics do not pass the eye-test when they enter the gym, but they can play some basketball. Let’s see — you have Isaiah Thomas, who can barely ride rollercoasters at Six Flags, Jared Sullinger, who looks as if he could star for the New England Patriots, and then you have head coach Brad Stevens, who resembles a chemistry professor. The team of unusual characteristics are one of the best in the NBA.

With the Celtics, you get great passing, solid defense, glass-cleaning rebounding, great offense and an unknown element of excitement. Seeing Boston play basketball in unselfish fashion is a thing of beauty, but many have failed to take notice. In an era where NBA players are me-first players, the Celtics are assembled with players who have one common goal, and that is to win.

It may not be Ric Flair-like, but Boston also possess a profound confidence for a young team. In a recent postgame interview with Jay King of MassLive, Sullinger had this to say in regards to an upcoming matchup with the streaking Golden State Warriors:

“They are in the same league as us,” Sullinger said. “They get paid on the first and 15th just like us.”

The underappreciated Celtics team are slowly becoming one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. As of today, they are the seventh-best team, but they are just one game out of the Atlantic Division lead (trailing the Toronto Raptors) and the possible three spot in the East. Not bad for a team that doesn’t have a “star” on their roster. Boston may not have an All-Star on their team, but they do have a team capable of beating you in many ways. Most teams do not have the luxury to go nine or ten deep, but Stevens has that luxury with this team.

Smart and Sullinger are the leaders of the Celtics while rocking frosted blonde fauxhawks. Incredible.

We’ve seen teams this season such as the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks underachieve. The criticism of both teams has been pretty non-existent despite the high expectations many pegged onto them prior to the beginning of the season. It’s still early in the season for the tide to change, but where is the accountability?

We’ve witnessed the Bulls build one of the most talented rosters in the league. They have failed to reach expectations all while being perceived as one of the best teams in the East for the past few seasons. Former head coach Tom Thibodeau was ousted in the offseason, and in came the offensive-minded Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls have the roster capable of turning it on, but it hasn’t happened yet. A team with four All-Stars (Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol) are too inconsistent on a nightly basis.

The Bucks were regarded as a team on the brink of making some noise in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee had a promising regular season last year going 41-41, good enough for the sixth seed in the playoffs. After being a tough out against the Bulls in the first round, many figured that success would translate into the next year. Fast forward to this season, the Bucks are now 9-14, disappointing for a team with a roster brimming with talent. Adding Greg Monroe and a healthy Jabari Parker to a team that has Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Michael Carter-Williams it was almost a given that they would be a top-four team in the East, but at rate they are going, it’s highly unlikely.

For teams such as the Bucks and Bulls, the criticism feels subdued. Maybe it’s too early in the season to raise concern. In comparing the two Central Division squads with Boston, though the C’s may have the worst roster out of the group, they have the best record between them.

The truth is that big name free agents will likely skip over Boston, and that’s perfectly fine. Stevens and Ainge are on track to prove that they don’t need a big name to be successful. No team right now in the NBA has done as much as the Celtics have with so much little star power around them. Expert analysts question them on a nightly basis, and they often come up with many reasons why they aren’t great. All while shaking off the criticism they are continuing to fly under the radar and improving game by game. It seems unfair that the Celtics are fighting this uphill battle to prove that they belong amongs the top-tier teams in the league.

They will never be confused with the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, or the Golden State Warriors as a championship caliber team. By lacking a true go-to-guy and being dealt with untimely injuries (Marcus Smart right now, Jared Sullinger last season) the Celtics still have some work to do to reach that level. With the stable of draft picks Danny Ainge has in his arsenal, it won’t be long for them to join the ranks of the elite. Respect is earned, and not given, and at this rate, the Boston Celtics will start to be appreciated sooner rather than later.

Westbrook, Durant lead Thunder over Jazz 94-90

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Published in USA NBA
Saturday, 12 December 2015 15:21

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Russell Westbrook made the big plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder most of the night. At the end, that's when Kevin Durant took over.

Durant scored 21 points Friday, including the last 11 for the Thunder in a 94-90 win over the Utah Jazz.

Oklahoma City matched a season high with its fourth straight win.

BOX SCORE: THUNDER 94, JAZZ 90

Durant hit a tiebreaking 3 with 1:06 left, then made two free throws with two seconds left to seal it. No one else scored for the Thunder in the final six minutes.

"I didn't feel like I was in a little slump, I just felt like if I hit one shot, I'm hot," Durant said.

"And I was able to make one, it was a crazy, off-balanced shot. But once I saw it go through the rim I was like, `OK, let's go, it is time to get it going,'" he said.

Durant also got eight rebounds.

"I don't know how you can argue with our defense tonight," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "The shots (Durant) hit down the stretch were remarkable. He's hitting fadeaways off one foot."

"He's a great player. There's no way I'm going to criticize the way we played defense down the stretch. We were tuned in," he said. "He made a shot. He made a couple shots. I don't know what to say about that. ... A great player. A Hall of Fame player. That's what he does."

Westbrook had 18 points in the first half and finished with 24. He had seven rebounds and seven assists.

Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 19 points and eight rebounds. Utah used a 16-4 run to tie it at 87, but didn't take the lead.

The Thunder began the game with a 9-0 run. Durant had an alley-oop from Westbrook and a transition dunk.

Westbrook scored 11 straight Thunder points in the first quarter and Oklahoma City led 27-15 after the opening period.

Alec Burks and Derrick Favors helped the Jazz get within eight points by halftime. The Thunder quickly increased their lead to 14 in the third quarter.

"I think we are sharing the basketball and playing offensively very unselfishly," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I think we are getting better defensively."

"I don't think on either end of the floor we are exactly where we want to be, but I think we are moving in a positive direction from that standpoint," he said.

TIP-INS

Thunder: The Thunder are 12-5 with Durant in the lineup this season. ... Former Jazz center Enes Kanter was booed throughout the game. He finished with 11 points and six rebounds off the bench. ... Oklahoma City held the Jazz to 8 for 28 shooting from 3-point range.

Jazz: Joe Ingles has seen his minutes decrease the last two games. He played 11 seconds Friday. ... The Jazz have yet to win three consecutive games this season. ... Utah's 15 first-quarter points matched a season low. ... Trevor Booker missed a free throw with the game tied at 87 that would have given the Jazz their first lead.

STUCK IN THE MUD

Jazz guard Rodney Hood remains stuck in his slump. He failed to score double figures for the fourth time in five games with nine points on 4 for 12 shooting. He failed to reach double figures in just three of his first 15 games played. "It's like early in the year we talked about Gordon not making shots like he is now," Snyder said. "He's in his second year and in a different role from last year. He doesn't need to put pressure on himself. We believe in him. We've seen him shoot the ball and have big nights. It's a matter of time before that happens."

UP NEXT

The Thunder host the Jazz on Sunday.

How many All-Stars do the Warriors deserve?

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Published in USA NBA
Saturday, 12 December 2015 15:16

BOSTON — Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said "four might be hard to get."

"For me, it’s taking care of business on the court, and all that stuff will handle itself and play out," forward Andre Iguodala said.

"We have a lot of guys capable of being that," forward Draymond Green said.

The question: How many All-Stars do the Warriors deserve?

Two? Three? Four?

All-Star voting for this season’s game Feb. 14 in Toronto opened on Thursday, and with the Warriors off to a record-setting 23-0 record — most consecutive wins to open the season in NBA history — how many players from Golden State will be on the Western Conference All-Star roster?

Guard and last season’s MVP Steph Curry is in. Green’s overall contribution and offensive and defensive versatility should get him a spot. Guard Klay Thompson, a 2015 All-Star, has increased his scoring in the past 11 games with better three-point shooting and could be close to 20 points per game by the end of fan and coach voting.

It gets trickier when it comes to a fourth Warrior on the All-Star team. Last season, the Atlanta Hawks were 42-10 at the All-Star break and had four All-Stars.

Something could go horribly wrong for Golden State in the next two months. But barring that, the Warriors likely will have 40-plus wins at the All-Star break.

Last season’s Hawks were rewarded by coaches and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver with four All-Stars in part because of the unselfish way they played. This season’s Warriors — the 2014-15 champions — are unselfish, excellent on offense and defense and entertaining. It’s everything you want from a basketball team.

On Sirius/XM NBA Radio on Thursday, Silver, who can select players to replace injured All-Stars, called the Warriors' style "real team basketball" and said a generation of fans will be influenced by Golden State. Silver could end up making the call on a fourth Warrior.

Is it appropriate for Golden State to have four All-Stars?

"Absolutely I think it is," said Green, who has never been an All-Star. "The East is tougher this year now. Last year, the West was a little tougher than the East. ... However, I don’t see why we wouldn’t have that."

If the Warriors get a fourth All-Star, who will it be? Forward Harrison Barnes is a possibility.

Iguodala is the more intriguing consideration. Coming off the bench for the Warriors, he averages 7.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Those are not traditional All-Star statistics, but Iguodala’s game must be viewed through a different lens.

It’s rare — but not unheard of — for a reserve to make the All-Star team. John Havlicek and Kevin McHale made All-Star teams multiple times while not starting for the Celtics. Dan Majerle made the All-Star as a Phoenix Suns reserve. Dallas’ Chris Gatling (1997) and Milwaukee’s Ricky Pierce (1991) also did it.

Playing close to starter’s minutes at 27.5 per game, Iguodala’s traditional stats take a backseat to his advanced statistics, which offer a more analytical look at a player’s contribution.

When Iguodala is on the floor, the Warriors score 118.8 points and allow 96.4 per 100 possessions for a net rating of plus-22.3, which is highest in the league. The NBA’s most efficient two-man, three-man and four-man lineups include Iguodala, according to NBA.com stats.

"With all the advanced stuff now and different ways of looking at the game, you have to look at impact on the game," Green said. "Someone can average 20 points, and their impact can be poor. When you look at his impact on the game, I don’t see why not."

Green is an advocate for Iguodala’s All-Star selection, and Iguodala will be an interesting case study. He was phenomenal in last year’s playoffs and was named Finals MVP. He has carried that play over into this season, and when the Warriors need something from Iguodala — no matter how important or small — he does it.

"It’s tough to get a bench guy in the All-Star Game, but he does so much for the success of our team," Walton said. "He’s played at an All-Star level."

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