Phil Jackson muddies the water on his future. Again.

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If you want to know whether or not Phil Jackson is going to come back and coach the Lakers next year, asking Phil Jackson may be the worst way to find out.

Jackson rarely says anything that doesn’t have a secondary intent and meaning. The truth is murky and covered up. Take these comments on his future to Dan Patrick on DP’s national radio show.

Would he return to the Lakers if they make the Finals?

“Good chance of it.”

What if they don’t make the Finals?

“I’d have to think long and hard about it because I think we only have five guys coming back off this roster.  There is kind of a real swing effect on this team with players.  We have one guard coming back that’s signed.  That’s (Sasha) Vujacic. (Jordan) Farmar, (Derek) Fisher, (Kobe) Bryant and Shannon Brown are all free agents and up for move or resigning.”

First, getting rid of all the guards on the Lakers roster not named Kobe would a good thing going forward. The Lakers perimeter play — spotty defense, inability to hit the three, poor post entry passes, not setting up the offense well — is one of the team’s big weaknesses. Wholesale changes would not mean disaster.

But back to our “listening to Phil 101” class:

From where I sit, those quotes have little to do with whether or not Phil Jackson returns next year and everything to do with motivating his team. The Lakers players — particularly the key ones like Kobe and Pau Gasol — like playing for Jackson. The threat of him leaving is designed to light a fire under them, to help bring some focus, to get the squad listening to him again.

It’s also the sexy thing to talk about regarding his return, but frankly his health and the Buss family’s willingness not to cut his pay are bigger factors. Those are the ones he usually brings up first, until it gets close to the playoffs. Then suddenly the emphasis switches. Because he’s Phil Jackson.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.