Cavs and Raptors

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Game 1 is Tuesday in Cleveland (5:30 p.m. PS.T.ESPN).

Here are five things to watch in the best-for-7 series:

A three-for-all

Cleveland is the postseason’s best three-point shooting team, and Toronto needs to limit those attempts and makes. Or it will be a short series. The Cavaliers have made 16.8 threes per game, attempted 36.3 per game and have made 46.2% – all playoff-bests – and they set a playoff record for threes in a game (25) and in a four-game series (77) against Atlanta.

The Cavs have so many scorers the defense is scrambling to keep up with shooters at the three-point line. From that distance, J.R. Smith has made 50.8%, Channing Frye 57.1%, Kyrie Irving 53.8%, Kevin Love 44.4% and Iman Shumpert 46.2%.

“We’ve got to choose – pick our poison,” Casey said. “They’re a lethal team right now. They can put a team on the floor one through five that can stretch you out and shoot the three. Our work is cut out for us to take away the three ball.”

The game within the game for the Raptors: limiting Cleveland’s transition threes and keeping Cleveland’s paint touches from turning into open threes.

Casey hopes he doesn’t need to call poison control often in the series.

Toronto’s All-Star backcourt

Lowry and DeRozan were fantastic against the Heat in Game 7. But their playoffs have been marked by offensive struggles – neither are shooting better than 37% from the field in 14 games. The Raptors not only need the kind of scoring they got from Lowry and DeRozan in Game 7 against the Heat (35 and 28 points), they need efficient offense from their two All-Stars.

“Hopefully, they can keep that momentum going on the offensive end and don’t forget about the defensive end,” Casey said.

Cleveland’s offense has been so good, it’s easy to overlook some of its defensive shortcomings in the playoffs. Toronto will try to take advantage and give Cleveland’s backcourt its biggest defensive challenge of the playoffs.

Cleveland’s Big Three

It was expected that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would reincarnate immediately what James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had in Miami. Well, that takes time, but that time is here now. Irving is averaging 24.4 points and 5.5 assists; LeBron 23.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and Love 18.9 points and 12.5 rebounds (a double-double in every playoff game).

It’s the best they’ve played since they got together in Cleveland, and when they are making shots inside or out, it stresses the defense and creates opportunities for Smith, Frye, Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson.

Lue has also found rotations with two of those three or even just one of the three on the court, allowing each to have the offensive spotlight at different times.

LeBron stopper?

Go back to the 2011 Finals when Dallas beat Miami, and the Mavericks limited James. Casey was the defensive mastermind for the Mavs as an assistant for Rick Carlisle. He parlayed that into this Raptors job that offseason.

Casey has another outstanding defensive mind on his bench in assistant Andy Greer, and those two will try to find ways to cut off some of James’ opportunities. With Atlanta last season and now with the Raptors, forward DeMarre Carroll will guard James and he will need help.

“The respect that we have for him and the respect I know I have for him and our staff has for him is unprecedented,” Casey said.

Impressive coaching

At the start of the playoffs, it wasn’t a dig at Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to wonder who he would outcoach in the playoffs with Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy in the first round, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer in the second round and now Casey.

With just 41 regular-season games and eight playoff games on his head-coaching resume, Lue squashed that concern.

His in-game management has been fantastic, finding the right lineups, running effective out-of-bounds plays and calling timeouts at the perfect time.

More than that, he deserves credit for getting the Cavs to trust one another and play a style that is conducive to playoff success.

“When we’re at our best is when the ball’s moving (and) when we’re playing with pace,” Lue said. “The guys finally bought into it and understand if we play that way, it’s fun for everyone to play that way. Also, when we play great offense our defense picks up. It was the team’s focus to play this way. Now we’re here and now they trust it.”

Canelo and Khan

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Who has the best deal here — the stalker or the technician? Neither boxer will be entirely comfortable.

Amir Khan, despite the puffery, cannot run like WBA super welterweight champion, Erislandy Lara. He cannot sweep the ring like a pencil in a compass. Nor is he as sturdy.

Canelo, the tough Mexican with the uncompromising uppercuts and straight rights, risks being remembered as a “limited slugger” with few places to go if the paint from this bout dries unevenly. 

Why has this left-field fight even come about? Business. “Let’s be honest, it’s a business fight, not a real fight,” asserts Barry Hearn, which tempers any serious kind of analysis. Analyse we must though as Canelo-Khan (yes — in that order) promises excitement or at least a mismatch of monumental proportions.

“Khan is brave or plain crazy,” Boxing Monthly’s Terry Dooley vents on behalf of quizzical fans. Possibly both, I would venture or in possession of a dangerous ego unable to discern the difference between good and great.

Khan has fought some impressive fights — against Andriy Kotelnik, Marcos Maidana and Devon Alexander. He has displayed to the boxing community and wider world his hand speed, hunger, slickness and application. When you watch him engage, it is — in part — a flashback to the Colosseum. But does he possess the requisite giant heart and technique that separate fine fighters from eminent ones? And can he legitimately avoid the Mexican boulder that will undoubtedly roll towards him from the first round on Saturday, 7th May inside Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena?

North Carolina and Villanova Play for Title

 

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If this season has taught anything, it’s that greatness cannot be anointed or projected or wished for.

It must be earned.

After all the talk throughout the year about the lack of a great team, there turned out to be two. Villanova and North Carolina didn’t reach Monday night’s NCAA title game because their rosters are filled with NBA stars-in-the-making or they got lucky or the moon and stars happened to align over Philadelphia and Chapel Hill. They are the last ones playing because they were two very good teams that transformed themselves into fantastic ones, through hard work and a few equally hard knocks.

Whoever wins Monday night will earn not only a spot on the list of champions, but enduring respect and admiration for having achieved a level of excellence no one expected even six weeks ago.

“You’re seeing a season where there weren’t dominant players, there weren’t dominant teams,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said Sunday. “Then you’re seeing a season where two teams just continued to get better and better and better and better.

“Now at the end, that’s what you’re seeing. The teams that continued to improve throughout the year and are playing the best right now.”

The last few years, there has been one team that stood above the rest for the entire season. Kentucky in 2015. And 2014. And 2012, for that matter. Florida in 2013.

That there was no one close this year was evident with a glance at the Top 25, where the No. 1 teams changed more frequently than Kylie Jenner’s hair color.

North Carolina began the year atop the rankings, but any idea that the Tar Heels might be invincible was erased with a loss to Northern Iowa four games in. A span in which they lost four times in nine games — three of those to ranked teams — only raised more questions.

Villanova became the sixth team to hold the No. 1 ranking after a two-month span in which it won 16 of 17 games. But the Wildcats seemed to be more opportunistic than dominant, not even the best team in the Big East. A loss to Xavier only confirmed those suspicions.

“We were a young team. Those were part of the growing pains,” Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds said. “We had to learn, we had to grow up and overcome certain things. We had to learn a lot to get over ourselves and get out of our own way.”

There is something to be said for taking the harder, bumpier road, however. Those Kentucky and Florida teams that were supposed to be so great? Only one, Kentucky in 2012, won the national title.

And no matter how hard John Calipari tried to spin it last year, it’s not what you do during the season that makes you memorable but what you accomplish at the end.

Since that rough patch in February, North Carolina has won 10 in a row. It’s won all five of its NCAA tournament games by 14 points or more. Marcus Paige has been transcendent while Brice Johnson has forced himself into the conversation about potential first-round picks in the NBA draft.

After a surprise loss to Seton Hall in the finale of the Big East tournament, Villanova has ripped through the NCAA tournament. It beat a very good Miami team and then took down overall No. 1 seed Kansas.It played about as close to a perfect game as you can get against Oklahoma, shooting 71.4% from the field and making Buddy Hield irrelevant.

Its 44-point victory was a Final Four record.

“You don’t see that very often in a Final Four game. Probably never seen it in a Final Four game,” Paige said. “They’ve been playing that well basically the entire tournament.” 

Both teams have dominated when it mattered most. Because that is what great teams do. 

Carolina and The Bats?

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We have reached the point where we now are talking about baseball bats in the Odell Beckham-Josh Norman saga.

The battle between the two stars added a strange development Monday afternoon when multiple reports surfaced that indicated Carolina Panthers players held a black baseball bat that several players swung during pregame warmups before Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. According to the reports, Beckham felt threatened by the bat’s presence, which factored into his actions on the field.

In the game, a 38-35 Panthers victory, Beckham frequently sparred with Norman and drew three personal fouls, including a play in which Beckham launched himself with the crown of his helmet to strike Norman’s head. On Monday, he was suspended for one game.

The baseball bat has been around all season. Cornerback Bené Benwikere brought it out a couple of weeks ago during pregame before a 38-0 shutout of the Atlanta Falcons. After that game, several defenders in the locker room spoke about the meaning of the bat.

They said then it was meant to be symbolic of making big plays. It’s a prop. It’s just a motivational tool teams sometimes use. It’s meant to galvanize.

And now that Benwikere suffered a lower-leg fracture and is out for the season, the bat probably carries even more weight in the locker room.

“Coaches and players in every sport use objects as symbols of motivation the bat is a symbol,” Benwikere posted to his official Twitter account @BigPlayBene Monday after the reports surfaced.

If any Panthers players truly threatened Beckham before the game, that’s an offense that should be taken seriously. But until that is proven, this is just an attempt to deflect attention away from a story that has already been talked about too much.

Teams have been using similar ploys for years.

Former Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano buried a football to put a symbolic end to the team’s 0-4 start.

In 2004, then Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio placed a tree trunk in the locker room with an ax nearby. Players were asked to take hacks to symbolize them to “Keep chopping wood.” Punter Chris Hanson even suffered a gash when he misjudged the ax and cut his leg.

Teams do this all the time.

Let’s just move on.

 

Huskies Host #13 Utah

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The Pac-12 is full of high-scoring offenses, but Utah is trying to ride its stout defense to the conference championship game.

Points may be at a premium Saturday when the 13th-ranked Utes visit Washington and the league’s best scoring defense.

Utah (7-1, 4-1) bounced back nicely from its first setback, winning 27-12 last Saturday against Oregon State after losing 42-24 at Southern California a week earlier. The Utes found themselves at No. 12 in the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday and control their destiny to play in the league’s title game in Santa Clara on Dec. 5. They own a one-game edge over UCLA in the Pac-12 South and host the Bruins in their second-to-last game Nov. 21.

“It was very positive to be able to put the previous week behind us and just move forward,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. ” … Washington is the one team we haven’t beaten yet since we joined the Pac-12. That’s a challenge for our guys right there to step up.”

Whittingham’s group has limited conference foes to 23.2 points per game, a number made more impressive by the fact that eight Pac-12 teams are averaging 29.0 or better. The Utes have been particularly effective against the run, holding opponents to 3.5 yards per carry.

Offensively, though, Utah has been unsteady at times. The unit scored 14 in the first quarter against the Beavers but was shut out in the second and third.

“Started out really fast offensively. We had almost 200 yards in the first quarter and two touchdowns and then we hit a lull for a long time. We fired it back up again after a few quarters so we have to figure that out,” Whittingham said. “We can’t be as inconsistent offensively as we have been. Even though we did a lot of nice things, we need to be more consistent.”

Improvement this week could be difficult to come by against the Huskies (4-4, 2-3), who are allowing 20.4 points per game in Pac-12 play. Arizona had averaged 41.8 points in its first eight contests before losing 49-3 at Washington last Saturday.

The blowout may have been cathartic in a sense for the Huskies, whose three conference losses were each by six points or fewer.

“I’ve been saying we’re going to get good if we can persist,” coach Chris Petersen said. “If we can continue to stick to this process which is really, really difficult to do when all the results aren’t coming right away.”

Petersen will be game planning to slow down Utah star Devontae Booker, who ranks eighth among FBS running backs with 156.0 yards from scrimmage per game. He has accounted for 43.2 percent of his team’s scrimmage yards and his 232 touches lead the nation.

Despite those numbers, Booker isn’t necessarily gaining much attention nationally.

“I’ve always been pretty much underrated my whole career playing football. It’s nothing new,” he said. “Even if I did have all the limelight and everything, I’d still approach it the same way as I am now.”

Whittingham was pleased with quarterback Travis Wilson‘s improved play against Oregon State. After being intercepted four times by the Trojans, Wilson was 14 of 17 for 198 yards and a TD, also rushing 14 times for 56 yards as Utah played its fourth turnover-free game of the year.

“This game I just focused on holding on to the football but wanted to take some shots down the field. I was glad we were able to land a couple near the end of the game,” Wilson said. “I had a lot to prove after the performance in the USC game. I just wanted to give it my all today and leave it out on the field.”

Washington freshman Jake Browning was 16 of 24 for 263 yards and a season-high four TDs against Arizona after missing the previous week’s loss at Stanford with a shoulder injury.

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Beaver’s In Trouble on Campus?

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Oregon State is facing a lawsuit from a woman who alleges that former football coach Mike Riley allowed a sexually violent culture that she claims contributed to her rape.

The woman is seeking $7.5 million in damages from OSU in a Title IX lawsuit. The Oregonian’s report did not identify her because she claims to be the victim of a sexual assault.

The woman is seeking $7.5 million in damages from OSU in a Title IX lawsuit. The Oregonian’s report did not identify her because she claims to be the victim of a sexual assault. Oregon State is facing a lawsuit from a woman who alleges that former football coach Mike Riley allowed a sexually violent culture that she claims contributed to her rape.

 

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Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins Passes

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Former Philadelphia 76ers center Darryl Dawkins, whose flair on and off the court made him a star, died Thursday at age 58, according to multiple reports.

Dawkins, who went by many nicknames but is probably best known as Chocolate Thunder, played 15 seasons in the NBA, his first seven with the 76ers after going straight from high school to the league as the No. 5 overall pick in the draft.

The flamboyant center had a penchant for naming his vicious dunks, some of which were Rim Wrecker, Dunk You Very Much and Spine Chiller Supreme. In 1979, Dawkins shattered backboards in two separate games.

Dawkins helped the 76ers to the 1982 NBA Finals, which they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. He was dealt to the New Jersey Nets before the following season, when the 76ers swept the Lakers in a rematch.

Dawkins went on to play for the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons, whom he retired with after the 1988-89 season.