#DigSportsDesk - The Lede

Walton Gears Up as New Lakers Coach

LOS ANGELES - (Wire Service Report) - Luke Walton is going from the top of the mountain to the bottom, but he's ready for the challenge that awaits with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 36-year-old Walton officially took over as the Lakers coach after completing his run as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The former Lakers player returns to a franchise that has fallen on hard times since he played on teams with recently retired Kobe Bryant that won two NBA championships.

"There is work to be done," Walton said Tuesday during an introductory news conference at the team's practice facility in El Segundo, Calif. "But that's, to me, exciting. That's why you do this. The timetable? Who knows? It's us coming to work every day. It's us working hard. It's watching improvement in the young guys that's exciting. It's watching us get better as a team. That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

The climb back to respectability is steep. The Lakers finished the 2015-16 season 17-65 after struggling to an only slightly better 21-61 record the previous season.

Walton hopes to use what he learned while serving as an assistant with the Warriors, who won the NBA title a year ago and lost in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers this month. While serving as interim coach while Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery this season, Walton led the Warriors to a 39-4 record before Kerr returned to the bench and the team finished the season with an NBA all-time best 73-9 record during the regular season. The Lakers don't have nearly the level of talent in place that the Warriors have with players such as Steph Curry, but Walton's objective is to create a winning mentality similar to what Golden State has.

"What I can affect is what's going to happen next year and the year after that," Walton said. "We're going to put a stamp on the culture that we want, and it’s going to be joy. Our players are going to like coming into practice every day.

"We're going to play a brand of basketball that the L.A. fans will appreciate. We're going to compete. All these things going forward, with my vision of how we're going to do things, is what I can control."

The Lakers aren't completely devoid of talent. The roster includes D'Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and Julius Randle. And the Lakers have the second pick in this year's draft, which likely will be Duke's Brandon Ingram, and $55 million to spend in free agency now that Bryant has retired after 20 years and five NBA titles. Walton was already trying to sell the Lakers to potential free agents as an attractive destination.

"As far as being a young coach and being able to help rebuild an organization and a team that I love and that I grew up with, it's all exciting to me," Walton said.

Russell is excited about the prospect of playing for Walton, who replaces Byron Scott.

"A lot of us are coming out of college and just really want to be able to experience and play and have fun," Russell said. "He just mentioned having fun and being able to run as much as possible. So I think that's what we need."


Cavaliers Take 2016 NBA Title

OAKLAND -- Kyrie Irving buried a 3-pointer over Stephen Curry to break a tie with 53.0 seconds remaining Sunday night, sending the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA championship, 93-89 over the Golden State Warriors. The dramatic finish capped a three-game sweep for the Cavaliers, the first-ever in NBA Finals history, after they had fallen behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. The three-game losing streak was the Warriors' first in the two-year Steve Kerr coaching era. Cleveland became the first team since the Washington Bullets in 1978 to win a Game 7 on the road.

LeBron James, the unanimous MVP, had a 27-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double and Irving added 26 points as they became just the third and fourth players in NBA history drafted No. 1 overall to win championships for the team that selected them.

The Cleveland defense was as critical in the win as Irving's winning shot. The Warriors missed their final eight shots, including six 3-point attempts, and never scored after Klay Thompson tied the score at 89-all with 4:40 to play. Each team missed six consecutive shots over a stretch of almost four minutes before Irving got Curry on a switch and went one-on-one. Unable to get around his counterpart, Irving settled for a 24-footer that swished through the net for Cleveland's first basket since the 4:51 mark. Golden State had an opportunity to tie, but an offensive possession went nowhere and Curry was forced to try a well-defended 3-pointer that was off the mark.

The Cavaliers rebounded, and after Irving almost lost the ball going to the basket, he was able to find James, who was fouled while attempting a flying dunk. James made the second of two free throws with 10.6 seconds remaining, increasing the Cleveland lead to four.

Curry missed another 3-pointer, his fourth of the game-ending drought, starting a wild Cavaliers celebration on the Golden State court.

The victory made the Cavaliers' Tyronn Lue just the second coach in NBA history to win a championship in his first season. The Warriors' Kerr had accomplished the feat last season. J.R. Smith was a third Cavalier scoring in double figures with 12 points. Cleveland won despite shooting just 40.2 percent from the field and 6-for-25 (24.0 percent) from 3-point range.

Draymond Green had 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Warriors, who were held to 38.6-percent shooting.Two-time regular-season MVP Curry had 17 points, but missed 13 of his 19 shots, and Thompson finished with 14 on 6-for-17 shooting for the Warriors.

The backcourt All-Stars combined for just six 3-pointers in 24 attempts. The Warriors shot just 15-for-41 from beyond the arc in the game. In a series where no previous game was decided by fewer than 10 points, neither team held a double-digit lead.

Up 76-75 entering the period but down 83-80 five minutes into it, the Warriors got a 3-pointer from Curry and two-point hoops from Thompson and Green in a 7-0 burst that put them back on top by four, 87-83, with 5:36 left. But James countered immediately with three free throws and then a 3-pointer, giving Cleveland the upper hand at 89-87 with 4:51 to go.

The Cavaliers trailed by seven at halftime, but the deficit didn't last long once the third period began.

Smith, who missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half, buried two in succession in an early 8-0 Cleveland flurry that produced a 54-all tie. Then after a Curry 3-pointer helped Golden State re-establish a five-point lead, the Cavaliers ran off 11 straight to go up 65-59, with Irving delivering seven of them on a layup, two free throws and a three-point play.

Cleveland went on to lead by as many as seven later in the period before Green buried a 3-pointer and three free throws after getting fouled on a 3, and Harrison Barnes bombed in a 3 of his own, helping Golden State retake a 76-75 lead by period's end. Thanks mostly to a 22-point flurry by Green, the Warriors held a 49-42 lead at halftime. But a key nine-second sequence late in the second period helped give the Cavaliers life.

After 3-pointers by Green and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa had fueled a 9-2 burst that opened a 47-40 lead, Curry went for the kill with one of his 30-foot building-exploders.

The shot was off the mark, however. And nine second later, Curry was called for his third foul, sending him to the bench for the final 1:09 of the half and fitting him for defensive handcuffs the remainder of the game. The Warriors built the halftime lead despite just 14 combined points on 5-for-17 shooting from Curry and Thompson.

James had 12 points and Irving nine for the Cavaliers. They combined to shoot 9-for-20, but their teammates were just 7-for-22, including 1-for-10 on 3-point FGs.


Hockey Legend Gordie Howe (1928-2016)

DETROIT - Hockey legend Gordie Howe, affectionately known as "Mr. Hockey" and recognized as the greatest NHL player ever, died Friday. He was 88. The Detroit Red Wings made the announcement on Twitter: "Thoughts and prayers to the Howe family as Gordie Howe passes away at the age of 88. #9RIP." Howe played 25 seasons with the Red Wings and helped them win four Stanley Cup championships. He holds NHL records for most games (1,767) and seasons (26). His 801 career goals rank second to Wayne Gretzky's 894.

"Today is a sad day for the Detroit Red Wings and the entire hockey world as together we mourn the loss of one of the greatest hockey players of all-time," Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement. "The Red Wings organization and the National Hockey League would not be what they are today without Gordie Howe. There is no nickname more fitting for him than 'Mr. Hockey.' He embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter. He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable. It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed."

Howe, a native of Floral, Saskatchewan, arrived with the Red Wings in 1946 as an 18-year-old, scoring in his first NHL game. After the Red Wings, Howe went on to play one more season in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers and six in the World Hockey Association. With the WHA's Houston Aeros, Howe played alongside two of his sons, Mark and Marty, who were each beginning their professional careers. Howe, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, totaled 1,850 points over 26 NHL seasons. He retired from hockey when he was 52.
Howe played 1,924 NHL games (regular season and playoffs) and 497 in the WHA.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement:

"All hockey fans grieve the loss of the incomparable Gordie Howe. A remarkable athlete whose mastery of our sport was reflected by the longevity of his career and by his nickname, 'Mr. Hockey,' Gordie's commitment to winning was matched only by his commitment to his teammates, to his friends, to the Red Wings, to the city of Detroit and -- above all -- to his family. His devotion to Colleen through her illness and the fact that he extended his playing days into a fifth decade so he could play with his sons are only two examples of that true priority in his life.

"Gordie's greatness travels far beyond mere statistics; it echoes in the words of veneration spoken by countless players who joined him in the Hockey Hall of Fame and considered him their hero. Gordie's toughness as a competitor on the ice was equaled only by his humor and humility away from it. No sport could have hoped for a greater, more-beloved ambassador.

"On behalf of the generations who were thrilled by his play and those who only know of his legend, and on behalf of all the young people and teammates he inspired, we send heartfelt wishes of condolence, comfort and strength to the Howe family and to all who mourn the passing of this treasured icon of our game."

Recent years had been challenging for Howe, who had memory loss from the early stages of dementia and suffered two strokes in October 2014.

"Gordie Howe was an incredible ambassador for the game of hockey," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He was as fierce and competitive as they come but away from the rink he was truly engaging and personable and always enjoyed his interaction with the fans. Gordie set the standard for this franchise during the Original Six era, winning four Stanley Cups, capturing numerous awards and setting an abundance of league records. We will miss Mr. Hockey, who was the greatest Red Wing of all time. Our deepest sympathies go out to Mark, Marty, Murray, Cathy and the rest of the Howe family during this difficult time."

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood: "We not only lost a sports legend today, but also one of the most iconic, impactful and beloved people our community will ever know. Gordie Howe's imprint on the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the game of hockey was generational and ever-lasting. While he was 'Mr. Hockey' to the sports world, he was that and so much more to Detroiters and Michiganders. He was a true gentleman and an inspiration to so many. His legacy will undoubtedly live on forever. On behalf of Mrs. Ford, her family and the Detroit Lions organization, we offer our deepest sympathies to Marty, Mark, Cathy, Murray; the entire Howe Family; and the Detroit Red Wings organization."

Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz: "The Chicago Blackhawks offer their heartfelt condolences to Gordie's family and the entire Detroit Red Wings organization. There is no greater rivalry in hockey than the one between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks -- and Gordie was a large part of that. The relationship between our family and Gordie is three generations long and we are grateful for what he gave to our organization, the National Hockey League and the sport of hockey. There's a reason why he is called 'Mr. Hockey,' because of what he did for the game, and we stand with the entire sports world, in mourning his loss."