Barnes to start opener for Warriors. Will Bogut?

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Barnes to start opener for Warriors. Will Bogut?

OAKLAND -- It wasnt a big deal to Warriors head coach MarkJackson, but that doesnt mean it wasnt a big deal to Harrison Barnes.Jackson had said all along in preseason that not only did henot know who was going to start at small forward this season for the Warriorsbut that it didnt really matter who did.Either Barnes, a rookie, or Brandon Rush was going to start,according to Jackson, and the guy who didnt was going to play plenty anyway.Well, two days before the Warriors open their 2012-13 regular season againstthe Suns in Phoenix, Jackson said Barnes would start.Harrison Barnes will be my starting small forward, Jacksonsaid after Mondays practice. Its well-deserved. I could have gone eitherway. Brandon Rush had a very good preseason. I just think its a better rolefor Rush coming off the bench either coming in for (shooting guard) Klay(Thompson) or Harrison.And I think Harrison earned it. He played very well, and Ithought his last game was his best performance. With that group, well be ableto utilize some of his strengths athletic ability, slashing ability. Hes aguy that has shown I can trust him defensively. He competes. Its a greataccomplishment for him, but were not done individually orcollectively.Barnes, 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, averaged 10.4 points, on 49percent shooting, and 3.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game in eight preseasongames. He started the last six preseason games, including last Tuesday: a107-92 victory over the Suns at Oracle. In that game he had 16 points (on5-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range) and sevenrebounds in 24 minutes.It means a lot, said Barnes, whom the Warriors selected outof North Carolina with the No. 7 pick in the June draft. Obviously, to play inthe NBA and start as a rookie thats a huge accomplishment. But my mindsetisnt going to change just to go out and provide all the little things that Ican to help the team win.With Barnes now named the starting small forward, fourGolden State starters are known: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes and DavidLee. The only remaining question is whether Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli willstart at center.RELATED: Bogut goes through entire Warriors practice
Bogut hasnt played since he fractured his left ankle whileplaying for the Milwaukee Bucks in January. But in his first full-contact, five-on-fivepractice with the Warriors on Monday, Bogut ran with the starting unit. Bogutwas cleared for all basketball-related activities a week ago. The original planhad Bogut playing a preseason game or two before the opener.But Bogut missed all eight preseason games, and its unknownwhether hell play in the first regular-season game. He went contact, he went through all the drills, Jacksonsaid of Bogut. Live offensively and defensively. He showed what type of aweapon hes going to be for us.If Bogut isnt ready to start by Wednesday, Ezeli will getthe start. Andris Biedrins, who missed a good chunk of the preseason with agroin injury, participated in all of practice on Monday.

LeBron doesn't care about long Finals odds: 'I only play blackjack in Vegas'

LeBron doesn't care about long Finals odds: 'I only play blackjack in Vegas'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- There's a four-headed, shot-making, scoreboard-breaking monster out West awaiting LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

The Warriors are stomach-churning scary.

James, though, can't run or hide. With eight NBA Finals appearances under his belt, he is ready to face a team he's called "a beast." After all, he has slayed behemoths before.

Pushing off any talk about the Warriors until after Sunday's practice, James was asked to assess the task at hand: beating Golden State's All-Star-studded lineup of Kevin DurantStephen CurryKlay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Is this the biggest challenge of his career?

"It's probably up there," he said. "I mean, it's up there."

And then, almost as if he was trying to remind himself that he's got three championship rings and is frightful in his own right, James recalled other fearsome postseason opponents - San Antonio and Boston.

"I've played against four Hall of Famers as well, too, with Manu (Ginobili), Kawhi (Leonard), Tony (Parker) and Timmy D (Tim Duncan) on the same team," said James, occasionally sniffling as he continues to fight a cold. "And if you add Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) in there, that's five Hall of Famers. So, it's going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me, they're going to challenge our ballclub.

"This is a high-powered team."

James also took on a Celtics team loaded with big-name talents.

"I've played against Ray (Allen), KG (Kevin Garnett), Paul (Pierce), (Rajon) Rondo and Doc (Rivers). So, it's going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise."

Cleveland-Golden State 3.0 is the matchup fans worldwide expected and wanted, and James believes they're in for quite a show.

Both the Cavaliers and Warriors have upgraded their rosters from a year ago, when they went seven games in an epic series that spawned the first comeback from a 3-1 deficit in Finals history and resulted in Cleveland winning its first pro sports championship since 1964.

That Warriors team James conquered in 2016 won 73 games during the regular season and was being mentioned as one of the best to ever take the floor.

Hard to believe, but this version - with Durant - might be even better.

Golden State has been putting on a basketball clinic over the past two months, winning 27 of 28 games since March 11 and becoming the first squad to start the postseason 12-0.

Durant, who previously faced James in the 2012 Finals with Golden State, has taken a great team and elevated it to a nearly unstoppable level.

The Warriors are using Durant in every imaginable way on offense, and James isn't surprised to see his good friend and Olympic teammate more mobile than he was with the Thunder.

"You adapt to the culture," he said. "You adapt to the style and that's the same thing that happened to me when I went to Miami. I started to slash more and move more without the ball, shoot more standstill 3s and figure out ways I could be more productive than just having the ball in isolation. So, it's the right thing to do. He's one of the most dangerous guys we have in the world already. So it makes it even more dangerous when you equip that talent, that skill with those guys."

On the brink of becoming the first player since the early 1960s to play in seven straight Finals, James finds himself in a similar - and somewhat surprising - situation.

The Cavaliers are being given little chance to defend their title against the vaunted Warriors, who have been winning by an average of 16.3 points per game in the playoffs.

For the sixth time, James enters the Finals as an underdog, hardly a role he's accustomed to before June. The only time he won a championship as a Finals favorite was with Miami in 2013, when the Heat upended the Spurs for their second straight title.

James isn't worried about point spreads or any odds.

"I only play blackjack in Vegas anyway, so it doesn't matter," he said.

What does matter is that the 32-year-old is having one of his finest postseasons, and the Cavs are gelling the way they did at this time last year.

Maybe James has nothing to fear.

"I feel good about our chances," he said. "Very good."

Cavs' Love on NBA Finals vs Warriors: 'I don't feel like we're underdogs'

Cavs' Love on NBA Finals vs Warriors: 'I don't feel like we're underdogs'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Vegas is betting against them and the bookies are hardly alone.

Let's be honest, not many are giving the Cleveland Cavaliers much of a chance in the NBA Finals. They may be defending champions and they may have LeBron James, but against Golden State, they are definite underdogs.

Just don't try to tell them that.

"The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title," Cavs forward Kevin Love said following Saturday's practice. "We're trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel. We will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It's tough for me to say that is the case. I don't feel like we're underdogs.

"We match up well with them and I think they'd say the same about us."

Maybe, but as the teams gear up for Thursday night's series opener in Oakland, comments made by Warriors forward Draymond Green in October are reverberating around Cleveland.

Still stinging after the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals against Cleveland, the vociferous Green, who was suspended from Game 5, said if given the chance again, he plans to "destroy and annihilate" the Cavs.

Love complimented Green's competitiveness and aimed a verbal volley at Northern California.

"He's a guy who said he wanted us," Love said, "and he has us - starting next Thursday."

Act III in this trilogy is overloaded with story lines, with the biggest being whether James and Co. have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors, who added superstar Kevin Durant to a team that won 73 games a year ago before its Finals flameout.

Golden State has glowed in this postseason, becoming the first team to start 12-0 while winning by an average of 16.3 points per game - the highest margin league history. It's no wonder then that the wise guys have installed the Warriors as heavy favorites to beat the Cavs for the second time in three years and wrestle back the Larry O'Brien Trophy that slipped through their hands last June.

James referred to the Warriors as only "that juggernaut" and "a beast" following Thursday's Game 5 in at Boston, a night in which he passed Michael Jordan as the career postseason scoring leader.

James elected not to talk about the Warriors following the game, choosing instead to celebrate a third straight conference title in Cleveland and his seventh consecutive Finals trip. James didn't speak to reporters on Saturday either, leaving Love to serve as the team's unofficial spokesman as the sports world inched closer to a matchup that seemed destined from the moment last season's Finals ended.

Love was asked if the Cavs wanted the Warriors.

"Want the Warriors?" he said. "They've been right at the top, best team in the league for three years straight now. They've been super-impressive. It's kind of in our minds that that's who we were going to see. They played great basketball this year. Obviously adding an MVP to a team that already has a two-time MVP makes them even more impressive. It's tough to say that we didn't expect it; we knew they'd be right there."

After the team returned from Boston in the wee hours Friday morning, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue didn't go to bed and immediately began working on a game plan to stifle Golden State's powerful, multi-faceted offense.

Lue knows the Cavs are facing a difficult task, one made tougher with the addition of the versatile Durant, who can score down low, from the perimeter and free-throw line.

The Warriors are using Durant the way he envisioned, but Lue has noticed changes in the All-Star.

"He's moving around a lot more," he said. "Just watching him move without the basketball, getting easy baskets off of cuts and splits and when he passes the ball he's also relocating now. He's doing a lot more movement, which makes it even tougher to guard after being one of the tougher scorers I've ever seen."

Lue said didn't deliver any inspiring speech to his players before practice.

Words don't mean much now - not his, not Green's - and neither do underdog labels.

"We're not going to use that as motivation," Lue said. "We're in the NBA Finals. That's enough motivation alone. Not worry about what it says in Vegas or what people are saying about underdogs. We're not using that as an excuse. We've got to come out and play. Our goals were set at the beginning of the season, and that's to win a championship. So, that's what we're focused on."

And remember, the Cavs have overcome long odds before.