Suns nab Dwayne Jones for depth at center

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Robin Lopez has been quite good for the Phoenix Suns this year, and his health is, in many ways, key to their late-season success. Without Lopez in the lineup, the Suns are a sub-par defensive team forced to rely on Jarron Collins, as Alvin Gentry is now committed to playing Amar’e Stoudemire at his natural position (power forward) as much as possible. Collins is — and this is no exaggeration — far and away the worst starting center in the league, and the only alternative would be to give more minutes to Channing Frye.

Frye’s already playing pretty significant minutes on most nights, and the problem with giving him more playing time is that doing so is, by extension, giving the Suns opponents more layup attempts and rebounds. According to Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside, the latter (at least) is about to be remedied: the Suns have signed rebounding machine Dwayne Jones of the Austin Toros to help fill out their center rotation.

Jones isn’t likely to jump head-first into significant playing time, but I’m optimistic that if given a chance to play, he’ll produce. He’s the best rebounder the D-League has to offer, and his biggest weakness (a complete lack of offensive moves) happens to be well-remedied by Steve Nash’s passing and the Suns’ pace. Jones is an athlete perfectly suited for an up-and-down game, and if given the chance, he’ll rebound and finish well even against NBA competition.

It’s not entirely certain he’ll actually get that chance, though. Phoenix picked Jones out of all the fish in the sea, but it’s possible that the Suns’ sole motivation in signing him was to fill out the roster and provide a back-up plan should Lopez’s injury be worse than anticipated. Despite the fact that Jones could make a legitimate difference on a team that has a place (and minutes) for Jarron Collins, he could very well be filed away as Plan Z and practice fodder.

There’s no use in judging the Suns or Jones either way until we see the team’s plans unfold, but part of me can’t help but worry that Jones’ long-awaited call-up may not be as fruitful as it could have been.   

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

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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.