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Lakers top Heat 102-96, take 3-1 lead in NBA Finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James woke up from his gameday nap Tuesday and decided it was time to send his Los Angeles Lakers teammates a message.

He grabbed his phone and told the Lakers they were facing a must-win game.

“I felt that vibe. I felt that pressure,” James said. “I felt like, for me personally, this was one of the biggest games of my career.”

Message delivered.

James and the Lakers are back in control of these NBA Finals, one win away from the franchise’s 17th championship. James finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, Anthony Davis’ 3-pointer with 39.5 seconds left finally settled matters and the Lakers beat the Miami Heat 102-96 in Game 4.

The Lakers lead 3-1 and can win the title when the series resumes Friday.

“Big-time play. Big-time moment,” James said of Davis’ 3-pointer. “Not only for A.D., but for our ballclub and for our franchise.”

Davis finished with 22 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 15 and Danny Green added 10 for the Lakers, who didn’t trail at any point in the final 20-plus minutes. The Lakers are now 56-0 this season when leading going into the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler scored 22 points for Miami, which got 21 from Tyler Herro, 17 from Duncan Robinson and 15 from Bam Adebayo — who returned after missing two games with a neck injury.

“I just loved seeing our guys compete. I love how they respond in between those four lines,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This was a throwback game and there were some moments of truth there at the end, and probably the bottom line is they won those moments of truth.”

He’s right. Whenever Miami had something going, the Lakers snuffed it out.

James’ 3-pointer with 8:18 left in the third put the Lakers up 55-54 and set the tone for the way the rest of the night was going to go; L.A. leading, Miami chasing.

“Like I always say, they’re a really, really, really good team and we’ve got to play damn near perfect to beat them,” Butler said. “We didn’t do that tonight. … We’ll watch this, learn from it, but we can’t lose another one.”

The Lakers were up by seven with 2:27 left in the third after a 3-pointer by Davis; Miami scored the next six to get within one. Herro made a 3 early in the fourth to get Miami within one again; the Heat promptly fouled Markieff Morris on a 3-point try, and he made all three shots.

Butler scored inside to tie the game with 6:27 left; James scored the next five points himself, including a three-point play where he ended up flat on his back after spinning the ball perfectly off the glass for a score on a drive while taking contact.

“You have to credit our guys’ competitive spirit,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “They were flying around and just competing at an extremely high level that end of the floor.”

A bounce here, a bounce there. Those were the differences late, and the Lakers made their own breaks.

Butler had a corner 3 that would have given Miami the lead rim out with 3:05 left; Caldwell-Pope made a corner 3 at the other end seven seconds later and the Lakers were up 93-88. Miami then turned the ball over on a shot-clock violation; Caldwell-Pope scored on a drive for a seven-point lead.

James said the job isn’t done. But he knows the Lakers are on the brink.

“I love what we did tonight,” James said.

TIP-INS

Lakers: Dwight Howard nearly collided with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver while leading the Lakers out of the locker room for pregame warmups. … The Lakers were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers, making them 59 for 166 in the series. Before this year, the Lakers’ record for 3s in a finals were 43 made and 125 attempts — both of which were surpassed this year in the first three games.

Heat: Point guard Goran Dragic (torn left plantar fascia) went through an on-court workout before the game with hopes of being able to play for the first time since the first half of Game 1, but was ruled out again shortly afterward. … Robinson’s first 3-pointer Tuesday was his 50th of the playoffs, meaning he and Jae Crowder are the first duo in Heat history with 50 postseason 3s apiece. They’re the fourth teammates in NBA history to pull off that feat.

3-1 LEADS

This is the 36th time that a team has held a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Of the previous 35, the team with the lead has gone on to win the title 34 times — James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 becoming the exception when they won three straight games to defeat Golden State.

In the 3-1 Finals situation, the series has ended in five games 51.4% of the time (18 instances), in six games 40% of the time (14 instances) and in seven games 8.6% of the time (three instances).

RARE HALF

The Lakers led 49-47 at halftime. It was just the third time in the last 26 NBA Finals games that neither team reached 50 points in the first 24 minutes. Tuesday’s was the 1,140th game played this season and just the 35th occurrence of both teams scoring 49 or less by the break, which works out to 3.1% of the time.

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Coffee talk: Butler, Heat look to even up the NBA Finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Jimmy Butler, perhaps the NBA’s best-known barista, is not adjusting the prices at the coffee shop that he’s been operating out of his hotel room for Miami Heat teammates and staff inside the NBA bubble. Even after a win, everything at Big Face Coffee remains $20.

The plan is working, so Butler sees no reason to change.

The Heat might apply the same approach going forward in these NBA Finals. Butler played 45 minutes and had the ball in his hands on basically every possession of Game 3, when Miami won to get within 2-1 of the Los Angeles Lakers in this series. Game 4 is Tuesday night, and much like Butler’s coffee-sales strategy, the Heat may stick with what works.

“There’s no turning back,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He has to make some things happen for us. He did that in a brilliant way last night, and he’ll likely have to do something very similar to that again. For us to be able to accomplish what we want to accomplish, you can’t just be normal. You have to be extraordinary.”

Butler had 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in Miami’s Game 3 win. Extraordinary, the word Spoelstra used, doesn’t even truly cover it — out of the 8,175 game appearances by players in the NBA Finals, Butler was the first to have a 40-point triple-double in a finals win, and one of only three with one regardless of outcome.

He is the reluctant superstar: Butler swears that he’d rather see his teammates fill the scorebook than do it himself, even though Spoelstra pretty much has made clear that it’s going to be high-usage-of-Butler time the rest of the way, especially if injured starters Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic remain sidelined.

“I think they know what buttons to press to get me to play the way that they want me to play,” Butler said. “But I just want to win.”

Butler and Lakers star LeBron James share some common bonds. Both are the best players on their team. Both have an affinity for hard work and a respect toward those who join them in that commitment. And neither plans to go into games shooting for big numbers; they’d both rather pick their spots and get teammates involved.

That might not be an option for Butler right now, and James was asked Monday if he’s contemplating a similar approach.

“I’ve never predetermined my game,” James said. “Throughout my whole life, I’ve never done that. One thing I’ve always been, I’ve always been prepared. If you’re prepared, then whatever the game, however the course happens, you’re able to make adjustments throughout the game and you’re able to impact the game because you’re prepared and you’ve put in the work. It’s just that simple for me.”

James was his usual self in Game 3: 25 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists. It just wasn’t enough, not with the sort of night Butler was having.

Spoelstra knows what James is like after a defeat, especially a playoff defeat, most especially a finals defeat. It’s no secret that James will be ready on Tuesday, when the Lakers get a second chance to move within one win of their 17th NBA title.

“What we’re trying to get accomplished is the toughest thing you attempt to do as a professional. It’s as hard as hell,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys have seen that. Throughout the playoffs, but in particular in this series, just to grind out and be able to get that win was extremely challenging and tough. You can expect it to be even tougher the next game. That’s what the playoffs are about, taking on big challenges.”

Not lost on the Lakers is this: They still lead the series, and led Game 3 in the fourth quarter — letting a chance for a 3-0 lead slip away.

They’re also 3-0 after losses in this postseason, didn’t drop more than one game against any of their first three playoff opponents, and likely draw some comfort from the fact that James has never not won a series in which his team had a 2-0 series edge.

“We’re able to take a loss and understand why we lost,” James said. “Understand things that we should have done better and things that we can apply to the next game to be better. We’re right back at that moment once again with the opportunity to be better than we were in the game before. Look forward to the opportunity tomorrow night.”

So are the Heat. Coffee, at $20 a cup, awaits them Tuesday morning.

“I don’t do free coffee,” Butler said. “We’re going to do everything the exact same like we’re supposed to do on the basketball floor.”

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Butler’s big night helps Heat cut Lakers’ Finals lead to 2-1

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Biggest moment of his career. Best game of his life.

Jimmy Butler is clearly not ready to go home quite yet. With a triple-double, he joined NBA Finals lore — and the short-handed Miami Heat might have made this title matchup a series after all.

Butler finished with 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, and the Heat beat the Los Angeles Lakers 115-104 on Sunday night to get within 2-1 — doing so with starters Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic still unable to play because of injury.

“I tell Coach all the time, ‘’I’m ready for this,’” Butler said. “The biggest stage, whatever you ask me to do, I can do.”

His coach, Erik Spoelstra, has clearly listened.

“This is what he wanted, this is what we wanted,” Spoelstra said. “It’s really hard to analyze or describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four lines. He’s a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it.”

It was the third 40-point triple-double in finals history. Butler was 14 for 20 from the field and, after the Heat surrendered a double-digit lead early in the fourth, he made sure this one wouldn’t get away.

“He’s one of the best competitors we have in our game,” the Lakers’ LeBron James said. “Love that opportunity. For me, personally, I don’t know how many more opportunities I’m going to have so to be able to go against a fierce competitor like that is something I’ll look back on when I’m done playing. I’ll miss those moments.”

James had 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers, while Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris each had 19 points off the bench. Anthony Davis managed 15 for the Lakers.

Game 4 is Tuesday night. Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk each had 17 points for Miami, which got 13 from Duncan Robinson and 12 from Jae Crowder.

“We had players step up this whole playoffs, and it’s no different now for us,” Crowder said.

Whenever the Heat looked ready to pull away and grab control of Game 3, the Lakers always found a way to find their best gear.

A 13-point Heat lead in the early going? The Lakers had the lead back in less than five minutes.

A 14-point Heat lead after a 10-0 run to start the second half? The Lakers scored the next eight.

A 12-point Heat lead late in the third? It took the Lakers less than five minutes to put together a 20-6 run, taking the lead back at 91-89 with 8:55 left on a layup by Rajon Rondo.

“We were almost fighting back the entire game,” Morris said.

The last punch went to Miami, Butler simply unwilling to let his team go down 3-0. The only other time Miami was down 2-0 in a finals was 2006, when Dwyane Wade took over and led the Heat all the way back to the franchise’s first title.

This time, it was Butler — another Marquette guy, like Wade — in that role, at least for Sunday night.

“We know how Jimmy is in these moments, and the world has seen what Jimmy Butler is capable of,” Herro said.

Miami’s starters outscored the Lakers’ starting five 89-51, and the Heat held the Lakers to a 14-for-42 night from 3-point land.

James, who won two titles with the Heat, wasn’t in the least bit surprised that Miami showed up to fight.

“I know how resilient that bunch is and how resilient that coaching staff is and their franchise,” James said. “Also, I don’t feel like we’re concerned. We’re not concerned. We know we can play a lot better. We have another opportunity to take a commanding lead on Tuesday.”

It didn’t take Butler and the Heat long to forget Sunday and start looking to Game 4 as well.

It’s going to be a tough game, Game 4,” Herro said. “But we’ll be ready.”

TIP-INS

Lakers: Rondo hit a wild layup midway through the third, cutting from the right wing across the lane, flicking the ball up with his left hand and watching it kiss off the gray bar atop the backboard before bouncing through. … The Lakers had 10 turnovers in the first quarter, matching the NBA high for any team in any first quarter this season.

Heat: Butler had 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and two steals by halftime. The only other player to do all that in a first half this season was Karl-Anthony Towns for Minnesota against Charlotte on Oct. 25. … Nick Aquilino, the son of Heat neuromuscular therapist Vinny Aquilino, performed the anthem — a recording from a Heat game with fans in Miami.

JAMES’ ASSISTS

James had eight assists Sunday and now has 843, which is 222 more than anyone else this season; Denver’s Nikola Jokic is second with 621. That will be the biggest margin between first and second in the NBA since 2004-05, when Steve Nash (1,031) had 363 more than Stephon Marbury (668).

BUTLER’S TRIPLE-DOUBLE

Butler became the 21st player to have a triple-double in the NBA Finals — and four of the 21 were part of Sunday’s game. James has a finals-best 10 triple-doubles, Rondo has one and so does Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd.

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AP Interview: NBPA director Michele Roberts, on bubble life

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Michele Roberts planned on being in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World for a few days. Three weeks, at the most.

She never left.

The executive director of the National Basketball Players Association will be in the bubble from start to finish, meaning she’ll be there when either the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the conclusion of the NBA Finals that resume Friday night. Her reason for staying: Her realization of how much work that could be done on matters relating to social justice and the fight against racial inequality, along with the chance to connect with so many players individually on such a regular basis.

“I wouldn’t trade having done this for the world,” Roberts said in an interview with The Associated Press. “You have a chance to interact at a level that I, through the last 6 1/2 years, have never had. We’ve had our meetings, around each other for a day and a half or two days, but this was different. It’s been worth every second of it. Hard, but worth every second.”

Players have raved about her presence, how much it meant to them. And outside of the Lakers and Heat, she’s been at Disney longer than any player.

It took weeks of intense talks just to come up with the health and safety rules for the bubble, not to mention the format. There were negotiations to get “Black Lives Matter” painted on the courts and for the league to make the unprecedented allowance for social expressions to be sewn onto the backs of jerseys. And there was the very delicate three-day period in late August when players, led by the Milwaukee Bucks, considered abandoning the season because of ongoing issues related to police brutality toward Black people in this country.

“The struggle has predated my life. Sadly, it’ll probably postdate my life,” Roberts said. “What I think the platform has done, is given players an opportunity to contribute to the struggle, to help to move the needle that is so stubbornly wanting to be moved at a pace much less rapid than we’d like. I think they’ve done that.”

Roberts, 64, began practicing law 40 years ago. Her direct style appeals to players.

“She performs well in any environment, and it seems like the uglier the environment, the higher she performs,” said Miami guard Andre Iguodala, who also serves as a NBPA officer. “And especially when it gets tense and it gets pressure time. That’s when she shines brightest. We’ve had some tough days even before we got to the bubble and it really wasn’t looking good, and she was a voice of reason.”

Roberts touched on many topics in the interview with AP, including:

WHAT HAPPENS NOW

Once the season ends, or at least shortly afterward, the NBPA and the NBA — meaning Roberts and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, primarily — will start trying to figure out what the finances for next season will look like. The NBA will miss its revenue target this season by hundreds of millions of dollars — not just because of the pandemic, but because of the effect of the now-frosty relationship the league has with some Chinese business partners including some television outlets.

Players already are feeling some effects, such has having 25% of their checks going into escrow in recent months. The salary cap, which was forecast to rise to around $115 million next season, is now expected to remain around this season’s $109 million total — or perhaps less.

“We have to talk about money and what we’re going to do about this reduced revenue situation,” Roberts said. “It can be easily resolved if everyone agrees.”

Her goal, for now, is to simply find a way to get into next season. Start there, and the rest could be easier to figure out.

“If there’s an effort to do more than that, then it’s going to be more complicated,” Roberts said. “Then we’re back to full-blown CBA negotiations. And that’s not something that’s going to be resolved in a couple of weeks or a couple of months.”

BLACK COACHES

Doc Rivers coming to an agreement with the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday means there are five Black coaches in the 30-team NBA; he joins Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Detroit’s Dwane Casey, Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce and Cleveland’s J.B. Bickerstaff.

There are five current vacancies, and Black candidates like Tyronn Lue and Sam Cassell — both, most recently, were assistants for Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers — are often mentioned as candidates.

But Roberts said the union clearly would like to see improvement, not just on sidelines but in front offices.

“Before we even restarted one of the agenda items in our conversations with the league related to the questionable diversity of both the league’s front offices and the team’s front offices to include coaches, general managers, team presidents,” Roberts said. “And one of the things we all agreed we needed to do was to try to figure out a way to improve those numbers. We agreed that there was room for improvement, and now we are where we are. Not only have we not improved, but the numbers have gotten worse.”

HER FUTURE

Make no mistake: When her second four-year term as executive director is up in 2022, Roberts is retiring.

The union announced that it was beginning a search for her replacement back in March, less than a week before the league had to shut down because of the pandemic. The search was halted a couple months later.

“I’m not going to leave until I think that we’ve returned to some semblance of stability,” Roberts said.

She doesn’t think that will disrupt her plans, however.

“This PA has to have a succession plan,” Roberts said. “Every company does, we need to have one and we need to get about the business of getting somebody in place. … We’re going to get somebody in place and it’s going to be someone fantastic.”

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LeBron and the Heat, together again at the NBA Finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James wants to beat the Miami Heat. The Miami Heat want to beat LeBron James.

These shouldn’t be surprising notions to anyone, not with a title at stake.

Those looking for more acrimony than that, well, they may be disappointed.

The NBA Finals start Wednesday night and the James vs. Miami story line is shaping up as little more than a meeting of the mutual admiration society, albeit with a championship at stake. James is looking to bring the Los Angeles Lakers back to basketball’s mountaintop for the first time since 2010 and the Heat are looking to cap a surprising season with their fourth crown.

“I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship,” James said on the eve of Game 1 of his 10th finals, where he’ll be seeking ring No. 4.

James was asked any number of different ways Tuesday about his time in Miami, his thoughts on coach Erik Spoelstra, his opinion of Heat President Pat Riley. He never took the bait, speaking only with fondness for the four years he spent in Miami and the two titles the Heat won during that stay.

“Being a part of that culture allowed me to grow, allowed me to see what it takes to not only compete for a championship but also to win a championship,” James said. “So, it definitely put me in a position where I knew what it took. I saw what it took. But also, I fit that culture as well because of how hard I worked. It was a perfect match for those four years.”

James left Miami and the finals have been an almost-annual stop since; this is his fifth appearance in the title round in the six seasons that followed his Heat tenure. It’s the first time Miami has been back since he left. During that time, the Heat did some rebuilding a couple of times and used 60 different players in those six seasons. Miami also endured the departure, return and then retirement of Dwyane Wade and the premature end of Chris Bosh’s career for health reasons.

Spoelstra is designing a game plan with hopes of keeping James in some sort of check, of course. That doesn’t mean he didn’t speak with reverence when asked about the Lakers’ best player.

“I just think it is a true testament to his greatness to be able to sustain this type of success year in, year out,” Spoelstra said. “Different uniforms, new players and new teams going after him. It’s a real testament to that commitment. He’s seen everything. At this point in his career, it’s just about winning. And his ability to do what he does at his age is incredibly uncommon. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to be able to maintain that.”

The feeling is mutual.

James, on Spoelstra: “I’m not going to sit up here and act like I don’t know what Spo is all about, because he’s damned good, if not great.”

James, on Riley: “This league is not the same without Riles. He’s a great guy, great motivator, someone that just knows what it takes to win.”

No shade thrown there.

Both teams haven’t endured much trouble in the bubble: The Heat and Lakers have each gone 12-3 in the playoffs. The Heat are the first No. 5 seed to make the finals and weren’t exactly surprised to see that James is the one standing between them and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“It’s been like this for a very long time. If you want to win, you’re going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team,” said Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who’ll be going to his first finals in his first Miami season. “At the end of the day, that’s what it normally comes down to. … You’re going to get the same test over and over again until you pass, and that test is LeBron James.”

Lakers star Anthony Davis is in the finals for the first time, so he’ll likely be dealing with a bit of nerves on Wednesday night. Butler acknowledged he’d be doing the same as well.

The Lakers are comfortably favored. Davis isn’t expecting it to be easy.

“Miami is a special team,” Davis said. “They’re a team who a lot of people thought they shouldn’t be here, but they’re a team who fights. They’re a team who’s tough. They make big-time plays, got big-time players on their team, guys who are in their first year, second years who are playing huge for them right now with a lot of confidence.”

Get past the James vs. Heat notions, and the series has more to offer.

Davis will butt heads with Miami’s rising star Bam Adebayo. There will be times when veteran point guards — Rajon Rondo for the Lakers, Goran Dragic for the Heat — match up as well. Miami has the young shooters in Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson; the Lakers have veterans like JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard ready to work down low.

Add it all up, and Heat captain Udonis Haslem said “it’s going to be a hell of a matchup.”

“I know the narrative that people will try to preach,” Haslem, the only player on all six of Miami’s finals teams, told The Associated Press. “But I want my guys to understand that it’s not about LeBron … it’s about the Heat vs. the Lakers. LeBron played here. This has nothing to do with that. None of these guys were here when that happened. It’s the Miami Heat vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s it.”

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Doc Rivers out as Clippers’ coach, after seven seasons

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Doc Rivers would easily be considered the best coach in Los Angeles Clippers history. Most wins. Most playoff appearances. Top winning percentage.

And now he’s out.

Rivers announced in a statement posted to Twitter on Monday that he is not returning as coach. The move comes about two weeks after the Clippers wasted a 3-1 series lead and lost to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.

“Doc has been a terrific coach for the Clippers, an incredible ambassador, and a pillar of strength during tumultuous times,” Clippers Chairman Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “He won a heck of a lot of games and laid a foundation for this franchise.”

The Clippers said Rivers and Ballmer came to the decision jointly.

Rivers spent seven seasons with the Clippers, making the playoffs in six of them — major success for a once-woebegone franchise. This season’s team, with the summer 2019 additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, was expected to compete for a championship.

But losing three closeout opportunities to the Nuggets cost the Clippers a chance to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the West finals, and likely played a role in Rivers not remaining as coach.

“When I took this job, my goals were to make this a winning basketball program, a free agent destination, and bring a championship to this organization,” Rivers wrote in the statement. “While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won’t be able to see them all through.”

Rivers went 356-208 over seven seasons with the Clippers, taking them to the West second round three times. But the franchise has never made the conference finals, and going 0-3 in chance to get there this year was a devastating blow.

Expectations were high, and on the night the season ended, Rivers took responsibility.

“We didn’t meet them. That’s the bottom line,” Rivers said on Sept. 15 after the Game 7 loss. “I’m the coach and I’ll take any blame for it. But we didn’t meet our expectations, clearly.”

This was the third time Rivers saw one of his teams waste a 3-1 series lead. It also happened with eighth-seeded Orlando against top-seeded Detroit in 2003, and with the Clippers against Houston in 2015.

The Clippers went 49-23 in the regular season, the fourth-best record in franchise history. Rivers has been the coach in five of the Clippers’ six best regular seasons.

Rivers thanked fans for their support.

“Though it was a disappointing end to our season, you are right there and I know what this team is capable of accomplishing with your support,” Rivers said. “Thank you to all the players, coaches, and staff for helping us get here. Most importantly, thank you to the fans. We went through a lot, and I am grateful for my time here.”

The Clippers’ job becomes the sixth current vacancy in the NBA, along with Houston, Indiana, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. New York, Brooklyn and Chicago have already filled vacancies in their offseasons.

Rivers’ departure means the league also is down to four Black coaches currently with jobs: Lloyd Pierce in Atlanta, J.B. Bickerstaff in Cleveland, Monty Williams in Phoenix and Dwane Casey in Detroit. Rivers is the third Black coach to either step down or be fired this offseason, joining Nate McMillan in Indiana and Alvin Gentry in New Orleans.

Sam Cassell and Tyronn Lue were both assistants on this Clippers team under Rivers. Lue already has won an NBA title in Cleveland, and Rivers has long said that Cassell is ready to become a head coach. It’s possible they could be among the candidates to take over.

“I am immeasurably grateful to Doc for his commitment and contributions to the Clippers and the city of Los Angeles,” Ballmer said. “I am also extremely confident in our front office and our players. We will find the right coach to lead us forward and help us reach our ultimate goals. We will begin the search and interview process immediately.”

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Back to the Finals: Heat oust Celtics, move to title series

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — It was exactly one year ago Sunday when Jimmy Butler walked into the Miami Heat practice gym, took a seat on a makeshift stage and said he wanted to be part of the team’s next title run.

He’ll have that chance.

The Heat are going to the NBA Finals — surprising many, perhaps, but not themselves. Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Butler scored 22 points and the Heat won the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth time by topping the Boston Celtics 125-113 on Sunday night.

“A great series. It was so competitive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I mean, in many ways, this was a seven-game series, just how competitive it was. Extremely well-coached and well-put together and we are just honored to be a part of that type of series in the conference finals, and then we get an opportunity for the next stage. Our guys will look forward to it. We’re going to try to enjoy it for a night.”

The Heat won the series 4-2 — and now, waiting on that next stage to decide the NBA title, are LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is Wednesday night.

Tyler Herro scored 19 points, Duncan Robinson and Andre Iguodala each had 15 and Goran Dragic added 13 for the Heat.

“We deserve to be here,” Dragic said.

Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum had 24 and a career-high 11 assists, and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each scored 20 points for Boston — which fell in the East finals for the third time in the last four seasons.

“Miami deserves a lot of credit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re super physical, super tough, very, very savvy. I think they’re the best team in the East and deserve to be representing the East in the way that they have played.”

Miami was down by six early in the fourth before regaining control. A 6-0 burst — Herro had the last five of those points, needing only 31 seconds to do so — tied it at 96. Boston took the lead twice more, with Adebayo answering both times, first with a dunk, then a go-ahead three-point play with 6:16 left.

He smacked the floor in celebration.

It’s like they knew what was coming. They never trailed again. Herro had a pair of baskets in a 9-0 burst that put the Heat up by 10, Adebayo found Butler for a layup and a 116-102 lead everyone on the Heat bench was on their feet.

“This means everything,” Herro said.

And before long, all the Celtics could do was offer their congratulations.

“Regrets, I don’t have any,” Walker said. “I don’t have any, man. I thought we fought hard. A lot of credit to Miami. Those guys are really good.”

The Heat are the only NBA franchise with six Finals appearances in the last 15 years. They’re seeking their fourth title, and this chance didn’t come easily.

The Heat had a 5-for-5 stretch from 3-point range in the first quarter, but otherwise struggled again from beyond the arc in the first half. They were 6 for 14 from deep in the first 24 minutes, Boston was 11 for 23 before the break and the Heat took a 62-60 lead into halftime.

And the margin remained two going into the fourth.

Iguodala’s fourth 3-pointer — in as many attempts — with 4:20 left in the third put the Heat up eight, before Brown had five points in a 10-2 Boston spurt to tie it. Dragic had a go-ahead layup on Miami’s final shot of the quarter and it was 88-86 Heat with 12 minutes remaining.

The Celtics scored 10 of the first 12 points of the fourth, going up 96-90. From there, all Miami.

The Heat scored 35 of the game’s final 52 points. The game was theirs. So was the silver trophy that conference champions get.

“Four more,” Adebayo said. “That’s what matters.”

TIP-INS

Celtics: Tatum took 15 shots in the first half, the first time in his 270-game career that he’s done that. He had taken 14 on four other occasions. … Tatum’s top four assist-total games of his career have come in the bubble.

Heat: The Heat are now guaranteed no less than $4,399,686 for their playoff share, and that number would rise to $5,791,041 if they win the title. … Udonis Haslem is the only player to be on all six Heat teams that have made the finals.

WALKER VS. HEAT

Walker has been to the playoffs three times, and his team has been eliminated by Miami in all three of those appearances — with three different nicknames. Charlotte was still the Bobcats when the Heat swept them in the 2014 first round, the Heat rallied to beat Charlotte’s then-rebranded Hornets in seven games in the 2016 first round, and now this win over the Celtics.

CROSS-SPORT SUPPORT

The Celtics and Heat were getting some support from afar before Game 6. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was pleased to hear video of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick signing off from his postgame news conference Sunday by saying “good luck to Brad and the Celtics tonight. We’ll be pulling for them.” And at the Miami Marlins’ regular season finale, outfielder Lewis Brinson had a Butler jersey (in the popular Heat ‘Vice’ theme) underneath his game jersey.

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Davis, Lakers beat Nuggets to take 3-1 lead in West finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers are a victory away from returning to the NBA Finals — and only another comeback from 3-1 down by the Denver Nuggets can stop them.

Anthony Davis scored 34 points, LeBron James had 26 and the Lakers beat the Nuggets 114-108 on Thursday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

“We played great down the stretch, we played great overall,” Davis said. “Still some things that we can fix if we want to put this thing away.”

Davis got the Lakers off to a fast start with his scoring and James helped them finish it with his defense, forcing Jamal Murray into some late misses after the guard had kept the Nuggets in it with an array of high-difficulty baskets.

“I knew it was winning time and Jamal had it going,” James said.

James added nine rebounds and eight assists, and the Lakers had 12 offensive rebounds for a whopping 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.

“This is the Western Conference finals, Game 4. If you can’t help us on the defensive end, maybe you shouldn’t be on the floor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have to be able to lock in, finish with a rebound. We had too many empty possessions tonight.”

Game 5 is Saturday night, when the Lakers can reach the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade. Davis said he expects to be fine for it after rolling his ankle in the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets will be facing elimination for the seventh time in the bubble. They were down 3-1 against Utah in the first round and climbed out of the same hole against the Los Angeles Clippers in the West semifinals.

But they couldn’t come back in this game, getting within one point in the opening minute of the fourth quarter but constantly turned back from there by a key stop or rebound by the Lakers.

“We just had so many breakdowns throughout the game,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be better.”

The Lakers have 16 championships, one behind Boston for the most in NBA history, but they haven’t played for one since winning their most recent title in 2010.

The Lakers started Dwight Howard at center and he had 12 points and 11 rebounds, helping put Nikola Jokic into foul trouble.

Murray had 32 points and eight assists, but Jokic finished with just 16 points and seven rebounds.

Davis scored 27 points in Game 3 but the 6-foot-10 forward acknowledged that his two-rebound performance was “unacceptable.” He came out much more aggressively Thursday after the Lakers played from behind much of the last game.

With an array of short jumpers, Davis made his first six shots before anyone else on the Lakers made a basket. Then Howard scored on consecutive follow shots before James followed with his first two field goals.

Murray kept the Lakers from getting too far away with a 7-for-8 start. He followed his acrobatic layup around James with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the half with a pair of free throws that cut it to four, before the Lakers took a 60-55 edge to the locker room.

The Nuggets shot 59% in the first half but the Lakers had an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points.

The Lakers seemed to be taking control when Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined for a flurry that pushed the lead to 11 with under 4 minutes remaining in the third, but Michael Porter Jr. hit two 3-pointers late in the period that cut it to 87-84 going to the fourth.

TIP-INS

Lakers: Howard hadn’t started in any of his 10 postseason appearances and didn’t play much at all in the last round, when the Lakers went small to match up against the Houston Rockets. He made two starts in the regular season. … Caldwell-Pope scored 13 points and Rondo had 11.

Nuggets: Jerami Grant scored 17 points and Porter had 13.

THOUGHTS FOR TAYLOR

James had the words “We want justice” written next to Breonna Taylor’s name on his sneaker. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the news a day earlier that a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for the Black woman’s shooting death hit the players hard.

“It’s heartbreaking, and you know, there’s really no silver lining to it. It’s a reminder of, it’s not just — it’s hard for Breonna Taylor, her family, and everybody that was invested in this,” Vogel said.

“But it’s just a reminder of all the other acquittals when unarmed black men are being killed, and it’s just something that’s hit us hard. Just a reminder that, you know, how important it is for all of us to vote and to be educated on all the potential police reform bills that are out there, and just play our part and do everything we can to help affect change.”

MILLSAP’S VOTING LOCATION

The Nuggets announced a partnership between forward Paul Millsap and DeKalb County to make the CORE4 training facility in Chamblee, Georgia as a general election voting center. Millsap, wearing “Vote” on his jersey during the restart, is the founder of the facility that will be open for early voting from Oct. 12-30.

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Murray, Nuggets hang on in Game 3, cut Lakers’ lead to 2-1

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — They had just lost a playoff heartbreaker, and two nights later the Denver Nuggets quickly went from in control to in trouble.

Escaping trouble is what these Nuggets do best.

“Everybody always has us packing our bags and leaving, but we’re not ready to go,” coach Michael Malone said. “For some reason we love this bubble.”

They’ll get at least two more games in it.

Jamal Murray had 28 points, 12 assists and two late 3-pointers to halt a Lakers charge, helping the Nuggets to a 114-106 victory Tuesday night that cut Los Angeles’ lead to 2-1 in the Western Conference finals.

The Nuggets lost almost all of a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter but held on, avoiding a 3-0 hole that would have been daunting even for this never-out-of-it team.

“We feel that we should be up 2-1 right now, to be honest,” Murray said. “So we’re just going to move on to Game 4.”

Denver has set a record by erasing two 3-1 deficits in this postseason, but no NBA team has ever come back from 3-0.

Jerami Grant added a playoff career-high 26 points and Nikola Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets, who will try to even the series on Thursday.

LeBron James had 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — his 26th playoff triple-double — for the Lakers, who remain two wins from their first NBA Finals appearance in a decade. Anthony Davis, who made the winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2, scored 27 points.

The Nuggets led by 20 with 10 1/2 minutes left and soon after were hanging on after the Lakers charged back with a 19-2 run, turning to a zone defense and forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets.

“We played some pretty good ball in the fourth quarter, but those first 36 minutes, that hurt us obviously,” James said.

With Denver’s lead down to four, Murray made a 3-pointer with 2:16 remaining. He then found Paul Millsap under the basket for a score before hitting a long 3 to push the lead back to 111-99 with 53 seconds to play.

Coach Frank Vogel acknowledged the Lakers were fortunate to win Game 2, in which they committed 24 turnovers, and would have to be better Tuesday.

Instead, it was the Nuggets who raised their game and played from ahead, ending a streak of six straight games where they trailed at halftime.

“Maybe they can beat us by 20, 30, they can beat us by a last shot, but we just cannot quit,” Jokic said. “Effort needs to be there.”

The Lakers built leads of 15 or more in the second quarter of the first two games. This time it was the Nuggets who started to run away in that period, even with Jokic on the bench resting for their big run that started it.

Denver began with a 7-0 spurt, the last five from Michael Porter Jr., to open a nine-point lead. After a dunk by James, Murray made a 3-pointer and Monte Morris scored the next five to make it a 15-2 start to the period and give the Nuggets a 44-29 advantage.

It would grow to 18 and could have been worse if not for Davis, who scored nine straight Lakers points. Markieff Morris’ 3-pointer trimmed it to 63-53 at halftime.

The Lakers got the first five points of the third to cut the lead in half, but Denver regained control and led 93-75 after three.

Murray finished with eight rebounds.

TIP-INS

Lakers: The Lakers had a six-game winning streak snapped and fell to 10-3 in these playoffs. … Dwight Howard started the second half at center, replacing JaVale McGee.

Nuggets: Denver’s last halftime lead had been a 59-57 edge over the Clippers in Game 3 of the West semifinals. … Malone wished his parents a happy anniversary during his interview after the third quarter. His father, Brendan, was a longtime NBA assistant coach who also coached the Toronto Raptors in 1995-96, their inaugural season.

THE AIR UP THERE

The Lakers came into the game 4-0 in the playoffs as the designated road team. Vogel said nothing really changes in the Walt Disney World bubble except the benches the teams are sitting on, but he joked about the big difference that would have awaited his team in a normal situation.

“You know, I did make sure our guys did whatever they needed to do to adjust to the altitude of playing in Denver tonight because Game 3, you’ve always got to account for that altitude,” he said. “Maybe we don’t have to account for it tonight in Orlando.”

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Davis hits 3 at buzzer, Lakers edge Nuggets for 2-0 lead

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Anthony Davis has never been this deep in the playoffs, never had the chance to take such an important shot.

It’s nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers, though.

So when Davis’ 3-pointer swished through the net as time expired to give the Lakers a 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, coach Frank Vogel thought of a Laker who had done it before.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “To me, AD coming off, just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it’s a Mamba shot.”


The Lakers were wearing their Black Mamba jerseys. They were co-designed by Bryant, their Hall of Fame guard who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash. Davis said wearing the jerseys that mean so much to the team made his winner feel even better.

“In the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special,” he said.

Davis finished with 31 points. He scored Los Angeles’ last 10 points and had 22 in the second half to help the Lakers avoid becoming the latest victim of a Denver comeback.

“Special moment for a special player. Happy to be a part of it,” said LeBron James, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nuggets had trailed by as much as 16, but Nikola Jokic scored 11 straight Denver points down the stretch, including a basket that made it 103-102 with 20 seconds to play.

Alex Caruso then missed a 3-pointer and Jamal Murray blocked Danny Green’s shot out of bounds with 2.1 seconds to play. Rajon Rondo inbounded under the basket and found Davis curling toward the sideline, and the All-Star forward swished it to put the Lakers halfway to the NBA Finals.

Jokic said there was miscommunication on the final play, when it appeared center Mason Plumlee let Davis drift free believing there was going to be a switch. Jokic raced out to him, but too late.

“Great players make great shots and he did it, so he’s a really good player,” Jokic said.

Jokic had 30 points and nine assists, and Murray scored 25 points.

Game 3 is Tuesday night.

James carried the Lakers early, with 20 points in the first half. But they went more in the second half to Davis, who had 37 in an easy Game 1 victory.

This one was much tighter and appeared it would be another huge rally by the Nuggets, who were down 16, 19 and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers, when they erased a 3-1 deficit.

Party time by the bench.
They had climbed all the way out this hole when Murray scored for an 87-86 lead with 7:26 to play. But Green and Rondo hit 3-pointers and, after a basket by PJ Dozier, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made another 3 to make it 95-89.

It was 100-92 after another 3 by Davis before Jokic answered with nine straight, tipping in a miss by Murray to give Denver a 101-100 edge with 31 seconds to play. Davis put the Lakers back on top with a basket in the lane, but Jokic backed him down on the other end to put the Nuggets back on top with 20 seconds remaining.

James started 5 of 6 while the rest of the Lakers missed their first 12 shots before Green’s layup 7 1/2 minutes in gave them a 14-12 lead.

The lead was five midway through the second quarter before the Lakers had an 11-0 run that featured a steal and dunk and a 3-pointer by Alex Caruso that pushed it to 52-36 with about 4 minutes remaining in the half. Denver trimmed it to 60-50 at the break.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is 8-8 in this postseason. … Michael Porter Jr. had 15 points. … Dozier was 1 for 5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Lakers: Los Angeles missed nine of its first 10 shots. … Green and Caldwell-Pope both scored 11 points.

BUZZER BEATERS

The Lakers said Davis was just the seventh Laker to make a buzzer-beater in the playoffs, a list that includes Bryant. Also on the list: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Metta World Peace.

THROUGH THIRTY

This was the 30th postseason game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The Lakers lead 23-7 and have won all six series.