Our top 5 Italian film sets

Italy is often used as the setting for famous films precisely because it offers the most beautiful backdrop. Here’s our favourite five film locations in Italy and the best films to watch if you fancy escaping to Italy from the comforts of your armchair. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, then these viewing tips will definitely get you in the mood for your next holiday! They will bring to life the magic of Italy far better than any guidebook ever will. So sit back, relax and settle in to enjoy some of our favourite films set in Italy….

Italian Lakes

The Italian Lakes is home to numerous films from the James Bond franchise whose directors are obviously as bewitched by the beauty of the area as holidaymakers are. And who can blame them? The dramatic mountainous backdrop, crystal lake waters and spectacular villas and gardens make for an incredible film set. Most recently, Lake Como featured in Daniel Craig’s first foray into the Bond franchise with scenes filmed at Villa Balbianello on Lake Como for Casino Royale in 2006 whilst Quantum of Solace then featured a car chase around Lake Garda in it’s opening sequence. However, the lesser known lakes also feature heavily too. Remember that amazing opening sequence in GoldenEye when Pierce Brosnan dives off the dam? Well, that’s at the Verzasca Dam at Lake Maggiore. Fancy re-enacting the scene yourself? Then companies now offer bungee jumping on the same site. But don’t worry…. for those not quite that brave, then it’s possible to walk across the dam.

Tuscany

We have lost count of how many times Tuscany has featured in film making over the years. Most recently, it was the location of the villa in ‘Call Me by Your Name’ when audiences were as swept away by the stunning Tuscan villages and rural setting as much as the romantic storyline. However, we fell in love with the region years before that after watching ‘Room with a View’. Who can not be charmed by the glories of Florence as Helena Bonham Carter throws open those wooden hotel shutters?!! The films set in this central belt of Italy over the years are simply too numerous to mention but a couple of others that will certainly make you fall head over heels for the joys of Tuscany include ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’.

Amalfi Coast

Whilst some may assume that ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is set solely in Tuscany, you’ll actually be pleased to hear that it also has scenes set on the Amalfi Coast. Frances Mayes strolls casually through the streets of Positano and along it’s beach and the setting provides a stunning backdrop. But for those looking for more to whet their appetite, ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ is probably a better starting point. What better location could there be for films such as ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ than the Amalfi Coast? With dramatic cliffs dropping into turquoise seas, it’s arguably one of Italy’s most glamorous settings and certainly, an armchair viewing of this film can’t fail but inspire you to explore this wonderful stretch of Italian coastline. However, do remember that the film is set back in the 1950s and it’s important not to become too nostalgic… modern Italy has changed and modern visitors shouldn’t expect it to be just like a film set – they will certainly find more tourists these days – but it’s still incredibly breathtaking.

Puglia

The South of the country and Italy’s heel has seen less action from filmmakers over the years but the 2014 film ‘Walking on Sunshine’ must surely be one of the best portrayals of the stunning scenery and landscape of Puglia. It certainly gives you a great insight into how wonderful it’s beaches and coastline are. It’s a real ‘feel-good’ film with an upbeat 1980s soundtrack. No doubt Italian tourist boards hoped that the film would do for Puglia what Mamma Mia did for the popularity of the Greek Islands. And there is no doubt that the popularity of the region is growing at a tremendous speed as more and more people discover Italy’s best key secret!

Basilicata

The striking scenery of Basilicata in the South of the country served as the backdrop for Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. Perhaps unlike any of the scenery filmgoers had previously seen, this opened up a new part of Italy to many that had perhaps never even heard of this region nestled in the South of the country. Because of it’s architecture, Matera in Basilicata often serves as a biblical backdrop in epic films. Not only was in the backdrop for the crucifixion scene in ‘The Passion of Christ’ but the Jerusalem scenes for the 2016 re-make of Ben Hur were also filmed here. The town is now a World Heritage site and will be Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2019 so there can be no better time to get off your armchairs and pay your own visit to this remarkable Italian destination.

In the meantime, happy armchair viewing of la dolce vita in Italy!

Jo Mackay is Owner of Bookings For You. Bookings For You is a company offering apartment and villa rentals in Italy and France.

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12 essential luxury experiences in Paris

By on Apr 10, 2018 in Attractions, Europe, Featured, France, Going Out, Leisure Travel, Regions, Restaurants, Speciality Travel, Western Europe

Paris’ classic landmarks are undoubtedly worth a visit, but there are a number of unique, luxurious and lesser-known experiences to have here, too. We’ve put together a mix of the traditional and the more uncommon must-dos that Paris has to offer, all with an added splash of luxury, of course.

Eiffel Tower experiences

No matter how many times you’ve been to Paris, you may have never truly experienced the Eiffel Tower for all it has to offer. From exploring its architect’s dwelling to dining in luxury, we urge you to go deeper into this recognizable landmark. (If this is your first time in Paris, there’s no view of the Eiffel Tower that’s better than from the Jardins Trocadéro, particularly after 9 p.m. when the lights come on.)

For a long time, the personal apartment of Gustave Eiffel, located on the third level, wasn’t viewable to the public. Today, you can visit the tiny space, which still has some of the original furnishings from the architect, who used the space as a private retreat and a place to host his distinguished friends. Take note of the sculpture of Thomas Edison, Eiffel’s colleague.

There are also a number of high-calibre restaurants in the Eiffel Tower, including Le Jules Verne on the second level, which serves traditional French cuisine in a modern setting. If you’d like something lighter, order a glass of bubbly at the Champagne Bar.

Premier shopping opportunities

Considered one of the world’s main fashion capitals, it’s no surprise that Paris is home to some of the most amazing shopping you’ll find. Whether or not you’re able to make it to Fashion Week, you’ll love these style-centred offerings.

The Passages des Panorama, a covered walkway and Paris’ original malls that were built in 1799, are today full of charming and intimate antique shops, bookstores, boutiques and cafes. For something different, go to the Théâtre des Variétés, where you can see comedies and concerts.

Paris is also home to numerous designer boutiques, including several flagships. The first-ever Dior boutique can be found on Avenue Montaigne, and there’s a relatively new Louis Vuitton temple located on Place Vendôme. You can also see Chanel’s original home on Rue Cambon.

World-famous landmarks

You’ve roamed the museums and flipped through guidebooks during group tours, but you’ve probably never seen these landmarks in true Parisian style. Whether it’s your first time here or your tenth, these sites are always in vogue…especially the way we suggest you visit them.

If roaming the city by foot doesn’t appeal to you, book a chauffeur for up to nine people to visit the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Montmartre. You’ll get a bit of a history lesson along the way, not to mention skip-the-line entry into the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, which is worth the ticket alone.

As if seeing a number of the world’s finest and most iconic artworks from world-renowned impressionists weren’t enough, the Musée d’Orsay also has an on-premises restaurant where you can enjoy a top notch gourmet lunch.

Alternatively you can enjoy a VIP tour of the Château de Versailles to see the palace as kings used to. This tour includes access to rooms that are usually off-limits to the public, like Louis XVI’s library and the Royal Quarters.

Evening and nighttime entertainment

Paris is not a city for those who want to tuck in and go to sleep soon after dinner. After a day of sightseeing or shopping, it’s time to kick back with a cocktail at one of the city’s many exciting or cultural (or both) nighttime activities.

The Cinéma des Cinéastes began as a cabaret (and was the inspiration for Edouard Manet’s Chez Le Père Lathuille), and in 1973 was turned into the place for independent films and mini film festivals. As a nod to its cabaret roots, there’s a pub here that starts serving food and drinks in the evening. While the theatre plays current movies, it also shows classics from time to time.

The breathtakingly large Belle Époque opera house Palais Garnier requires you to book well in advance if you’d like to see a ballet or opera there, and note that tickets go quickly. For an added adventure, book a behind-the-scenes tour of the building, which was once the setting for The Phantom of the Opera.

You could also opt to see the city from a new vantage point with a scenic sunset cruise along the Seine. If you book with Bateaux Mouches, your date night will include live piano and violin music during dinner. There are numerous tour companies in Paris that will take you along the Seine, and you’re bound to pass monuments like the Grand Palais and Notre-Dame. We recommend finding a tour that utilizes a glass boat for the best views, and going at night when the city is lit up.

Finally, watch a show at the world famous Moulin Rouge from a private balcony while sipping champagne and enjoying macarons. If you’re traveling with a large party, you can reserve a room that holds up to 24 people.

Rest and relaxation

While exciting and interesting, a trip to Paris can also be exhausting. We’ve put together a few ideas if you’re ready for much-deserved R&R.

Ken Club, which you’ll want to consider joining if you move to Paris, has a hammam, or you can take a class any day of the week at Tiger Yoga Club. Book a treatment at Institut Paloma, and then get a new look with a cut and color from David Mallett. Men can visit Bonhomme for head-to-toe barber services and skin treatments.

Whether you are a frequent visitor or you’re looking to move to Paris, you’ll be forever finding new things to do, see, eat, wear and explore. Take advantage of your next trip by indulging in the Parisian way of life at every opportunity.

Tim Swannie is the Director of Home Hunts. Home Hunts is a luxury property buyer’s agent based in France, helping international clients to buy luxury homes throughout France, Monaco, London and New York.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Barcelona in Spring: day trips in Catalonia

The beauty of Barcelona is that it’s a perfect city to visit, no matter the time of year. Spring is a particularly great time to visit the Catalan capital, due to the endless celebrations, events and of course, the warmer weather! However, when the city overwhelms and you want to escape the hustle and bustle of La Rambla or the Sagrada Família, Barcelona boasts plenty of beautiful surrounding areas that make for the perfect day trip.

Sitges

Just a 40-minute train ride from Barcelona Sants station, Sitges is a coastal town characterised by its four kilometres of beach and delightful sea-front promenade. Sheltered by the Garraf Massif mountain range, Sitges boasts a warm climate, beautiful architecture and a grand harbour, not to forget plenty of restaurants and bars that serve tasty Spanish and Catalan dishes as you relax and take in the views of the Mediterranean.

Additionally, the trendy town is known for its many events including its annual film festival and crazy ‘carnaval’ celebrations, as well as its vivid gay scene. Due to its close proximity to Barcelona, Sitges makes the perfect destination for a day trip or short getaway!

Tarragona & Salou

If more beautiful coastline is on the agenda for your day trip, then look no further than Tarragona. Nestled on the Costa Dorada (Golden Coast), amongst seaside towns such as Cambrils and Calafell, Tarragona boasts kilometre upon kilometre of golden sand, fringed by palm trees and rocky coves. The ‘Mediterranean Balcony’ is the perfect spot to overlook Tarragona’s beaches without getting sand between your toes.

Tarragona - IMBiblio on Flickr

Once an ancient Roman city, Tarragona still maintains plenty of its history. The now Catalan city is famous for its Roman ruins, including the grand amphitheatre (L’Amfiteatre de Tarragona) that sits by Tarragona’s main beach, Platja del Miracle, and the Ferreres Aqueduct, also known as the Pont del Diable. Other historical sights in Tarragona include the Fortí de Sant Jordi, and the Catedral de Tarragona.

Just a few kilometres south of Tarragona is the popular holiday destination town of Salou. Take a stroll along the famous Avenida Jaume I or relax on one of the resorts many beaches as you enjoy the fresh Mediterranean air – you won’t be disappointed! Salou is also home to Spain’s largest amusement park, PortAventura, ideal for the adrenaline junkies amongst us! Both Tarragona and Salou can easily be reached by train from Barcelona Sants.

Montserrat

Located north of Barcelona, Montserrat is an incredibly beautiful mountainous area that makes for an interesting day out from the city. The main sight and attraction on the mountain is the Benedict Abbey of Santa María de Montserrat. This monastery attracts pilgrims from all over the world and is Catalonia’s most important religious retreat. Alongside the monastery and basilica there are a selection of shops and eateries, two museums, and guided tour services.

Montserrat - Djou on Flickr

What’s more, if you’re a fan of walking or hiking, there are many different trails leading you to great vantage points on the mountain, where you can see spectacular views of Barcelona. But don’t worry; if you’re looking for a more relaxing trip, there is something for everyone!

To get to Montserrat, you can easily take the train from Plaça d’Espanya to the bottom of the mountain. Once there, you can either jump on a cable car or take the Funicular train up to the top!

Girona

If you want to explore more of Catalonia, whilst not venturing too far from Barcelona, why not head further north of Catalonia’s capital where you can unwind in the romantic ‘Ciudad de los Cuatro Ríos’ (City of the Four Rivers). Located between the Pyrenean Mountains and the Costa Brava, Girona is a small city bursting with character and charm with plenty of sights to explore, making it the perfect day trip from the Catalan capital.

Girona- Keith Ellwood on Flickr

The Game of Thrones fans amongst us may already recognise Girona, as a few important scenes from the popular series were filmed here. Locations where the show was filmed in include the steps of Sant Marti, Els Banys Àrabs and La Catedral de Santa María.

Girona boasts plenty of picture-perfect spots, including the famous Roman walls and the colourful houses that line the River Onyar. What’s more, getting to Girona from Barcelona is straightforward and stress-free. We would recommend taking the high speed AVE train from Barcelona-Sants station with a journey time of around 40 minutes each way.

So now you’re clued up on Barcelona’s surrounding day trip hotspots, jump on the train and get ready to explore Catalonia!

Sandra Roig is Marketing Director at AB Apartment Barcelona. AB Apartment Barcelona is an apartment rental agency offering over one thousand short and long term apartments across Barcelona.

If you would like to be a guest blogger onA Luxury Travel Blogin order to raise your profile, pleasecontact us.

Top 5 luxury family safari properties in Tanzania

By on Apr 11, 2018 in Accommodation, Adventure Travel, Africa, Camping, Family Travel, Featured, Hotels, Leisure Travel, Regions, Speciality Travel, Tanzania

Many people feel nervous at the thought of going on safari with their kids, and many properties don’t accept children below a certain age. However, taking your family on safari can be an amazing adventure, and it’s all about making sure you choose the right places to stay – ones that can tailor the safari and really help your little ones get the most out of the experience! The following are 5 of Tanzania’s best luxury safari properties for families, located in a range of parks and other areas throughout this magical country.

Chem Chem Safari Lodge

This lodge is located within the Burunge Wildlife Management Area, which consists of 20,000 hectares of private land that sits between the national parks of Tarangire and Lake Manyara. Complete with spa facilities, gym, and pool, Chem Chem has all the luxury you need. The property’s family accommodation consists of one lodge suite with a children’s annexe and two bathrooms. The pace here is wonderfully laidback, and what makes the lodge really special is the array of activities and cultural opportunities available. Children can interact with local Maasai warriors and learn their way of life, as well as building a fire, throwing a spear, and playing football with the local school. Bush walks and tracking are also popular here, as are game drives with picnic lunches in Tarangire and sundowners on the edge of Lake Manyara.

Singita Serengeti House

Perhaps the most luxurious private house in East Africa, Singita’s Serengeti House boasts stunning views from the slopes of Sasakwa Hill and has a media room, tennis court, tented spa, and full gym. As the house is booked exclusively, your experience will be as tailor made as it can get, which is ideal when travelling as a family – and the property also offers a babysitting service… just in case! You don’t have to worry about other guests, which means you can enjoy that blissful sense of freedom and relaxation, and all within a private reserve located just outside the Western Serengeti, getting you away from the crowds and providing access to some great resident wildlife.

Nomad Mkombe’s House

Situated in the far northern tip of the Serengeti National Park, Mkombe’s House is another private house. It can accommodate up to four adults and six kids of any age, and its setting amongst rocky kopjes makes it feel all the more adventurous – and of course there is a pool! Between July and October, the Northern Serengeti sees the vast herds of the Great Migration arriving, so if you are here during those months you have chances to see an epic river crossing, with wildebeest, zebra, and gazelles travelling back and forth over the River Mara. If you want a really authentic and family-orientated experience that guarantees some of the best safari action, this is it.

Beho Beho, Bailey’s Banda

This lodge is found in Southern Tanzania’s Selous, which has an almost tropical atmosphere due to its abundance of water and location on the coastal plateau. The Selous offers a different experience from the famous northern parks due to its climate and offering of boat safaris, so it’s an exceptionally good place to visit if you are looking for a contrast from the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, and so on. Beho Beho is another superb lodge for families! With a private villa and just two en-suite rooms, it offers the perfect hideaway for a small family with older children who simply want to have time to themselves whilst enjoying some of the best guiding in East Africa.

Jabali Private House

The fantastic yet lesser-known Ruaha is actually the largest national park in Tanzania and a favourite among guides, with many of the best safari experts making it their home. If you want to get away from the crowds while staying in a similar environment to the northern parks, this is where to go, and it is renowned for its concentrations of both elephants and big cats. Jabali Private House is a stunning, brand-new property in the Asilia portfolio and an excellent addition to the small number of camps in Ruaha. It has three bedrooms, accepts kids of all ages, and makes a brilliant base from which to explore the thrilling wilderness.

Julian Carter-Manning is a Co-founder and MD at Yellow Zebra Safaris. Yellow Zebra Safaris is an award-winning luxury and adventure travel company specialising in ‘Safari Africa’.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Your complete reading list for Bhutan

In order to really make the most of your holiday, it is worthwhile to do a bit of reading about the country before you go. Bhutan has just four bookshops – three of them in Thimphu – and a limited selection of books in English, so we do recommend you try to buy before you go.

Most of the books you will find on Bhutan are printed in India and can also be found in small quantities in handicraft shops. Most luxury hotels have good libraries for this reason.

Here, we have compiled our reading list, a selection of personal recommendations which form a great introduction to Bhutan, from basic reference and guides, to literary fiction.

Guides

Bhutan by Odyssey

An essential guide to the country, this provides an in-depth introduction to the Himalayan Kingdom’s history, culture and customs. It has detailed information on nearly everything you would need to know, and covers all the key sites, from the major cities to the remotest monasteries.

Birds of Bhutan by Carol and Tim Inskipp and Richard Grimnett

This compact paperback, written for the World Fund for Wildlife, is a comprehensive, illustrated guide to the birds of the kingdom. There are 680 recorded species in Bhutan, including the drongos, rose finches and the famous black-necked cranes, which now number around 250 in the world.

fortress bhutan

Reference

Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Queen of Bhutan

The Queen Mother of Bhutan’s portrait of her country is a captivating blend of personal memoir, history, folklore and travelogue. It provides unique and intimate insights into Bhutanese culture and society, with its vivid glimpses of life in Bhutan’s villages and hamlets, monasteries and palaces. This book, with its specially commissioned illustrations by young Bhutanese artists and photographs from the author’s family album, is essential reading both for those who plan to visit the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon, and for armchair travellers who yearn to experience the magic of Bhutan through their imaginations.

The Raven Crown: The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan by Michael Aris

This is a handsome book about modern Bhutan and the Wangchuk dynasty, which has ruled for the better part of the 20th century. The late author, best known as Aung San Suu Khi’s husband, wrote and lectured extensively on Bhutanese, Tibetan and Himalayan culture and history, and tutored the Bhutanese royal children in the 1960s and 1970s, of which rare photographs are featured in this book.

bhutan buddists

Himalaya by Michael Palin

This book covers the epic journey of Michael Palin, who took on the full length of the Himalaya over a 6-month period. There is a chapter in the book on Bhutan, which puts the only remaining independent kingdom in the Himalaya into context, both geographically and politically. He has interesting encounters with local nomads, and discussions on reincarnation and the pursuit of happiness with two of the king’s cousins. There are also excellent photographs by Basil Pao, who shoots stills for the BBC series.

In the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon by Joanna Lumley

Again, a book based on a BBC television series, but with added interest in that Lumley and her cousin follow their grandparents’ footsteps. In 1931 they travelled across the country on a mission to award King Jigme Wangchuk with a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire from King George VI.

They documented their three and a half months through untracked jungles and unchartered plains on a film camera, and Lumley records her thoughts and impressions as she follows their route. She’s a lively writer and again, it’s a well-illustrated volume with photographs from her trip, archive pictures from her grandparents’ album, drawings by Lumley herself, and extracts from her own journal and her grandmother’s diary.

bhutan

Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon by Tom Owen Edmunds

Photographer Owen Edmunds was a relatively early arrival in modern Bhutan, invited by the royal family to photograph the country just as it was opening up to tourism after it had been closed to the west for 300 years. This photographic portrait shows the beauty and way of life of Bhutan, and there are some remarkable photos of parts of the country never before open to foreigners. It is even more worth reading these days, as the pace of change begins to quicken.

Bhutan: Himalayan Mountain Kingdom by Françoise Pommaret

Pommaret has lived in Bhutan on and off for almost 20 years. Fluent in Dzongkha and a Tibetologist, there are few outsiders who know Bhutan as intimately as she. She has a keen eye for everything from trekking and mountaineering, ceremonial scarves and the Dzongkha language, to food and archery. This is a passionate introduction to Bhutanese history and culture and is also a highly practical guide.

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Fiction

The Hero with a Thousand Eyes by Karma Ura

This novella is the story of a royal court official, who was born in the early 20th century, and attending the Bhutanese King. At a significant time when, after 300 years, the country eventually opens its borders to foreigners for the first time, this young courtier documents his observations of his country as it changes. A sensitive and detailed account of daily life and court ritual, this book reflects an age and a set of manners central to the court administration which is now almost completely changed.

Folktales of Bhutan by Kunzang Choden

This is not so much a novel as a collection of thirty-eight retold Bhutanese folktales and legends. Each of the stories recounted here were heard by the author when she was a child living in Bumthang, central Bhutan, and she passes them on in the spirit of the oral tradition. It is also an excellent introduction to Bhutan’s spirituality.

buddha

We hope you find this list useful, and if you have any suggestions to add, feel free to comment below!

James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel. Ampersand Travel create bespoke and luxurious travel experiences to Asia, the British Isles and Southern Africa.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Tyronn Lue says Cleveland Cavaliers will use 10-man playoff rotation

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — When the Cleveland Cavaliers open up the NBA playoffs with Game 1 of their first-round series with the Indiana Pacers on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), the Cavs will play their first game with a completely healthy team since overhauling their roster at the trade deadline.

And with everyone available for the first time, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue vows to go deep into his bench during the postseason.

“You usually go nine,” Lue said, describing a typical playoff rotation. “I think we’ve been nine in the past, but I think it’s going to be important to go 10 for us.”

Lue, who played only eight players more than 15 minutes per game on average in the Cavs’ 2017 postseason run, will open up the playoffs with planned minutes for JR Smith, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Jose Calderon off the bench, and may add either Rodney Hood or Kyle Korver in that bench group.

Lue would not reveal who would start at shooting guard between Hood and Korver — but said that Hood is “ready to go” after an Achilles injury caused him to miss the final two games of the regular season, while Korver was merely “getting better” from the sore right foot that’s bothered him for weeks. The rest of the Cavs’ starters will be made up of LeBron James, Kevin Love, Jeff Green and George Hill.

It would appear, at least to open up the postseason, that Cedi Osman and Tristan Thompson — who played major roles at times this season — are on the outside looking in.

Calderon, 36, proved indispensable this season as the Cavs went 23-9 in his stint as one of seven starting point guards used during what was a topsy-turvy year.

Lue plans to pair him with Clarkson, whom like Nance, has no previous playoff experience.

“I like Clarkson being on the floor with a point guard, so that makes us play 10,” Lue said. “We just want to make sure that we have a point guard on the floor with him, knowing that Cory Joseph picks up full court and tries to disrupt the point guard on the opposing team. So, it’s very important that we try to keep a point guard on the floor with him at all times.”

The Pacers’ starting guards are more of a concern to Lue than Joseph, however. Victor Oladipo, who was an All-Star this season and averaged 25 points on 47.2 percent shooting from 3-point territory as the Pacers went 3-1 against the Cavs this season, is joined by Darren Collison, who led the entire league in 3-point percentage shooting with a 46.8 percent clip for the season.

“He’s hurt us this year,” Lue said of Collison. “He’s been a tough guy for us to cover.”

And defense is the Cavs’ biggest focal point heading into the postseason after ranking 29th in defensive efficiency — allowing 109.5 points per 100 possessions — during the regular season.

“I think the biggest thing for us defensively is we just got to talk really early, loud and continuous — ELC — and we got to call our coverages out early and continuous and we all got to be on the same page,” Lue said.

Lue is also urging the Cavs’ less experienced players to make their mark on the defensive end. That includes Hood, who played in his first playoffs last spring for the Utah Jazz and saw his numbers take a significant decline from the regular season.

“The most important thing I think is competing and playing hard,” Lue said. “I think you get deflections, get a steal, get an easy basket. The easiest way to play your first time in the playoffs is just playing hard. I think the fans appreciate that, guys on the floor, taking charges, that’s what gets you motivated. That’s what gets the crowd motivated and it helps you ease into the game better.”

Lue and assistant coach Mike Longabardi, the team’s unofficial defensive coordinator, began preparing defensive schemes for the Pacers series several days before the regular season ended, anticipating such a matchup. With the ability to lock in on one opponent for weeks at a time, Lue becomes far more hands on with his team’s plans during the postseason.

“That’s what we thrive on doing here,” Lue said. “Trying to take away what a team does best and try to make them do something different that they’re not used to doing. So it’s not like we were doing something special or so creative or we got some brand new defense.”

Hill, who broke out in a smile when considering the prospect of entering the playoffs with James on his team after James and the Miami Heat eliminated him from the postseason three straight years when he played for the Pacers, said the Cavs’ star has already spoken to the group about the task at hand.

“LeBron, he says like it is,” Hill shared. “He says, ‘Regular season is over with, we’ve got to continue to get better as a team, take these next couple days to clear your mind, focus on this Pacers team that can put up points and who has beaten us so far a lot this year.’ He said, ‘We’ve got to put our thinking caps on and get ready to play some good postseason basketball.'”

Las Vegas Aces take A’ja Wilson with first pick in WNBA draft

1:18 AM ET

NEW YORK — After spending her life in South Carolina, A’ja Wilson is headed for Las Vegas. The consensus national player of the year was the No. 1 selection by the Aces in Thursday’s WNBA draft held at Nike’s New York headquarters.

“It’s such a great feeling, just an amazing way to cap off my collegiate career,” Wilson said. “My heart was pounding before she announced the pick.”

“I think it’s a great place, and a great atmosphere,” Wilson said of Las Vegas. “I want to become very consistent with my outside jump shot, people are going to play me for the drive. I think my quickness as a ‘big’ is something I can bring.”

Thursday night, Wilson was given a surprise video by her longtime favorite player, Blake Griffin.

“Congratulations on being drafted,” he said to Wilson as she watched on a tablet. “It’s been very fun to watch your college career and to see you go to the next level. I can’t wait to see what you do in the league. You’re going to dominate for a long, long time. Again, congrats and I’ll be watching.”

Wilson averaged 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds with 105 blocked shots as a senior for South Carolina, which lost to UConn in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.

San Antonio had the league’s worst record each of the past three seasons, with single-digit victories each year. Former New York Liberty and Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer has taken over the Aces as coach and general manager, and praised Wilson’s skills as being pro-ready.

A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Wilson led her hometown school to the national championship in 2017.

She is the first Gamecocks player to be picked No. 1 in the WNBA draft, and the first top pick from the SEC since Tennessee’s Candace Parker in 2008.

Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell, who is No. 2 on the all-time NCAA scoring list behind Kelsey Plum, last year’s No. 1 pick, was selected second by Indiana.

The Fever missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004, and will be helped immediately by Mitchell’s scoring ability.

The Chicago Sky had the next two picks. They chose Diamond DeShields, from Cukurova Basketbol Mersin of the KBSL in Turkey, with the third pick.

DeShields played at North Carolina (2013-14) and Tennessee (2015-17) before going pro last year. In her redshirt junior season for the Lady Vols, DeShields averaged 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists.

`I’m excited to see what we can do,” DeShields said.

With the fourth pick, Chicago chose UConn’s Gabby Williams.

“I was running every scenario through my head,” Williams said. “I’m going to try bring some defense and be a play-maker [for the Sky].”

As for what position the 5-foot-11 Williams will play, she admitted she wasn’t any specific position at UConn and so she’s ready for whatever Chicago coach Amber Stocks needs.

“I’m just a basketball player,” she said. “I told her, ‘I’ll be whatever you want me to be.’ ”

The Seattle Storm chose UCLA point guard Jordin Canada with the fifth pick. She’ll get a chance to learn from Sue Bird.

“I love Sue Bird, she’s one of my role models,” Canada said. “I enjoy watching her play and the way she leads her team. She is able to create for others, and that’s something I want to learn from her and continue to grow my game.”

Azura Stevens, who decided to forgo her final year of eligibility at UConn, was taken sixth by Dallas.

She said the decision to leave coach Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies was “really difficult.” But, she said, “Coach supports me and the decision I made, and I’m really happy to have that.”

New York took Kia Nurse 10th, marking the third UConn player to be taken in the opening round.

“I think it’s a place I fit in really well,” Nurse said. “I want to continue to improve my mid-range game as people start to take away my 3-point shot. Defensively, I want to work on being a lock-down defender. It’s harder in the WNBA, where you have to get through ball screens.”

It’s the second time in three seasons that three Huskies were drafted in the first round. UConn players went 1-2-3 in 2016.

With just 12 teams in the WNBA, it can be difficult for second- and third-round draft picks to make rosters. But one third-round pick of note Thursday was Princeton forward Leslie Robinson, who was taken No. 34 by New York. She is the niece of former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama. Her father, Craig Robinson, is vice president of player development and G League operations for the Knicks.

Training camps open up on April 29 and the 22nd season of the WNBA begins play on May 18.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Johnny Manziel plays in final Spring League game, has time to mull CFL offer while awaiting NFL spot

AUSTIN, Texas — Quarterback Johnny Manziel played in his second and final game of the Spring League on Thursday night and has a little more than a month before he has to make a decision about his future in football.

Manziel has a standing offer from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a CFL team. If he elects to sign with the Tiger-Cats, he will be making a two-year commitment to playing for the team. CFL training camps begin May 16 for rookies, so Manziel has about a month to sign with the Tiger-Cats or decide to wait for an offer from an NFL team.

“I’m straight back to working out and doing what I did when I came here,” Manziel said of his future after the Spring League. “Everything else will sort itself out. I’m trying to do what I can do to come back to playing football whatever capacity that is.

“We know when deadlines are. We have another month or so to work out and not worry about anything.”

The Spring League is a developmental league with a two-game season that provides opportunities for players, who pay a fee to be there, hoping to showcase their play for a chance to land on an NFL roster.

Being back on the football field has been great, Manziel said: “It’s been beyond my wildest dreams. There was a time there I didn’t know if I would actually do it. … I’m extremely happy just to be healthy, just to get to throw the ball around. I’ve missed this.”

Manziel said he felt better on Thursday night than he did in the first game on Saturday. Manziel was 10-of-16 for 188 yards and an interception, including 8-of-10 for 145 yards in the first half. Manziel added 27 rushing yards on six attempts and two touchdowns.

One of Manziel’s best throws came in the first quarter when he threw a 50-yard pass to Antwan Gooley down the right sideline. On the next play, the quarterback ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Manziel acknowledged that his throwing is still rusty, but he felt he “showed [he] can still throw the ball around.” Manziel emphasized that he can’t control whether an NFL team wants to sign him but that he’s “just happy to be back on the field.”

“I got to do exactly what I want to do and what I’ve been missing for the last two years,” Manziel said.

Lonzo Ball of Los Angeles Lakers says Magic Johnson told him it will be “the biggest summer of his life”

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Entering what Magic Johnson told him will be “the biggest summer” of his life, Lonzo Ball will work on but not alter his shot and he wasn’t too concerned about what he showed LeBron James, Paul George and other potential free agents in his rookie season.

“No, the way I play is to help my team win, I am not really worried about who is not here, I am worried about the guys that are here and I tried to do what I could and help my team out,” Ball said when asked if he felt pressure to show star free agents what he could do this season. “So, whether it be LeBron, Paul George or whoever, if they liked it, they liked it. If they didn’t, they didn’t, I can’t do anything about it now.”

During the Los Angeles Lakers‘ exit interviews Thursday, Ball said Johnson, the team president, and GM Rob Pelinka’s message to him was that this would be the most crucial summer of his life. The 20-year-old must get stronger physically after missing 30 games this season to shoulder and knee injuries. As for his shooting technique, Ball said he would not alter it in any way and that he just planned on working on it through repetition this summer.

Johnson had said earlier in the season that management would see how the 6-foot-6 Ball shot the ball this season and then decide whether the team needed to tinker with his unique shooting form. Ball averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 36 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc.

“Shoot it with confidence for one and just keep putting the work in,” Ball said when asked what Lakers brass told him about how to improve his shooting and if any changes would be made to his technique. “Don’t change your form or nothing. I have been shooting like that my whole life, they said they are fine with it.

“Just make sure I am getting the reps up. Just perfect it pretty much. If you want to be a good shooter, you got to shoot and start making them and that will translate to the game.”

Ball missed the final eight games of the season because of a left knee contusion but said the injury was feeling better. Ball, who also missed 15 games earlier in the season because of a sprained left MCL, finished with 13 double-doubles and two triple-doubles as a rookie.

The Lakers are excited about Ball’s passing, rebounding, defense and ability to push the pace. But Ball had stretches where his shot was hot and then ice cold, and he has to develop more offense off pick-and-rolls, drives and in the midrange game — all things he said he would work on this summer.

The No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft also had to deal with constant attention surrounding his outspoken father LaVar, and even smaller things like getting a haircut that went viral.

Ball said his father was not a distraction this season. LaVar criticized Lakers coach Luke Walton earlier in the season and said that the coach had lost the team during a nine-game losing streak in early January.

But he didn’t make much noise regarding the Lakers after that, as he spent most of his time in Lithuania with Ball’s brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, who were playing professionally there. Lonzo Ball was asked if he asked his father to tone things down.

“Nope,” Ball said. “Never tell him any of that. He pretty much does what he does and I do what I do.”

Asked if his father was ever a distraction, Ball added: “Nope. First year was all me and it is done now and on to the next one.”

It is a massive summer for Ball and the Lakers. Johnson and Pelinka plan to pursue two max free agents this summer with James and George the biggest targets if they opt to consider the Lakers. Lakers management has positioned the franchise to be able to potentially clear as much as $70 million in cap space if restricted free agent Julius Randle does not return and the Lakers find a solution, probably the stretch provision, to the $37 million owed to Luol Deng, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

The Lakers not only will try to sell free agents on playing in L.A. but also on their young core of Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart that helped them finish 35-47 — a nine-game improvement from the season before despite a rash of injuries.

Kuzma, who averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds as a rookie, said that no matter who the Lakers get in free agency this summer, Ball knows he has to be “bring it” next season.

“I think he’s going to attack his mentality,” Kuzma said when asked how his best friend on the team will go into the offseason. “There’s one thing he needs to do — for us to be great, no matter who comes here, everything is going to fall on his head no matter if it’s a superstar that comes or not. That’s just the reality we live in.

“For him and us, we all know he has to bring it next year and he will for sure.”

Rick Porcello’s start giving Red Sox something to shout about – Boston Red Sox Blog

BOSTON — It was a rare display of emotion from an unemotional man.

On his 99th and final pitch, on a damp and chilly Thursday night, Rick Porcello rocked back and uncorked a changeup. And after Aaron Hicks swung through it, ending the top of the seventh inning and leaving two New York Yankees teammates on base, Porcello let out a shout as he walked away from the mound.

Excuse him. Porcello had been waiting a long time for this, and we aren’t referring to the 45-minute rain delay between the fifth and sixth innings.

The Boston Red Sox right-hander won the American League Cy Young Award in 2016, lost both his sinker and his mojo last year and tried everything this past winter to get it back. He re-read “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” the tome of late longtime sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. He chatted up Derek Lowe at a Red Sox offseason event in January and invited the former sinkerballer and Fort Myers, Florida, resident to come observe him in spring training and offer feedback. Porcello even rigged up a string in those spring bullpen sessions to better identify where his pitches were entering the strike zone.

Three starts into the season, it all seems to have worked. He gave up four runs over 12⅔ innings in back-to-back wins against the Tampa Bay Rays, and then, on Thursday night, carried a no-hitter through six innings against the vaunted Yankees. Aaron Judge broke it up with a leadoff double in the seventh, but Porcello gave up only two hits and struck out six in seven walk-free innings of a 6-3 Red Sox victory in the rubber game of the first series of the season against their rivals from New York.

So, if Porcello felt like shouting as he left the game, well, let’s just say he was entitled.

“It feels good,” said Porcello, who has a 1.83 ERA through three starts. “Most importantly, I’m contributing to the team in a positive way. That’s the biggest thing. I’m three starts in, we’re 12 games in, a lot of baseball to be played, but definitely want to continue to build off this start.”

And make no mistake, the Red Sox are counting on it.

The Sox are off to a 10-2 start, matching the 1904, 1918 and 1952 teams for the best 12-game start in franchise history. They also got positive news Thursday when ace lefty David Price played catch in the outfield and felt no ill effects after leaving his start after a four-run first inning Wednesday night with numbness in his left hand.

Price is scheduled to start Tuesday night in Anaheim, California, giving him an extra day of rest and a chance to pitch in warmer weather than Boston’s persistent 40-degree chill.

“I knew [Thursday] morning whenever I woke up, I knew it [Wednesday] night before I went to sleep. There was never any thought in my mind that [an elbow injury from] last year reoccurred or anything like that,” Price said. “My hand was just literally numb, and I couldn’t feel it.”

Price said he has dealt with cold hands and feet since childhood, and “whenever it’s cold outside, it intensifies that.” But regardless of how much he downplayed it, the Red Sox have to be concerned that Price couldn’t feel his hand in an early-season start against the Yankees. And since their World Series hopes are pinned largely to a starting rotation that is headlined by aces Chris Sale and Price, the notion of Porcello getting his 2016 groove back and leaving behind his 2017 struggles could be a difference-maker.

“I just feel like me,” Porcello said. “I feel like I can go out there and attack guys and go at them with whatever I’ve got. That’s it.”

That wasn’t the case last year. Porcello’s success or failure is largely predicated on his ability to command his sinker below the strike zone. But Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who served as the Houston Astros‘ bench coach last season, recalled hearing Carlos Beltran talk about Porcello’s velocity and movement remaining consistent but his changeup being less effective than in the past.

It was encouraging, then, with Judge and Giancarlo Stanton on base and two out in the seventh inning, to see Porcello turn to the changeup to get a strikeout of Hicks.

“Sometimes you’ve got a man on second, man on third, and you’ve got to call that pitch and you don’t know what to call,” catcher Sandy Leon said. “But now you can call that pitch because he’s going to execute.”

Asked about his changeup against the Yankees, Porcello said it “felt real good.” But then, Porcello added, “everything felt real good.”

Going forward, that has to make the Red Sox feel good.