DeShawn Stevenson says LeBron “checked out,” is that news?

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Because somehow a Game 5 of the NBA finals with the series tied 2-2 isn’t enough, there seems to be some manufactured drama going regarding LeBron James. And it isn’t even his fault this time.

First comes this from the Associated Press:

Mavericks guard DeShawn Stevenson is directing some sharp words toward Miami’s LeBron James on the eve of Game 5 in the NBA finals. Stevenson says the Heat forward “checked out” in the final minutes of Game 4 on Tuesday night, when James was held to eight points – the lowest he managed in 90 career playoff games.

In general, when you see a controversial quote where only two words are used and not a sentence or paragraph, you should question the context. PBT’s reporters on the ground said Stevenson’s comments on the whole were not that incendiary. Follow up quotes from ESPN Dallas bear that out:

“Dwyane Wade had it going and sometimes you get like that when a player has it going,” Stevenson said Wednesday afternoon…

“Our defense was good, but at the same time he wasn’t in attack mode,” said Stevenson, who scored 11 in Game 4. “We all know that LeBron can get to the basket and when he has his shot going, it’s pretty tough to keep him from the free throw line.”

Besides, didn’t LeBron James say over and over he didn’t play well in Game 4? That’s right, he did Tuesday night and again Wednesday at media availability after practice.

“Definitely didn’t play great offensively,” James said after Tuesday’s Game 4, in which he scored 8 points. “I got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively, not staying out of rhythm offensively the whole game.”

Some are going to try and say Stevenson’s comments fired up LeBron, who will undoubtedly come out much more aggressive in Game 5. Most media see it that way. But LeBron’s play is what should do that — he had Jason Kidd and Jason Terry on him for long stretches of that game and didn’t demand the ball, didn’t attack the mismatch. You can say he “checked out” or “played like Game 5 against Boston last year” or however you wish to define it. Nobody is really denying it, not even LeBron.

Game 5 already has plenty of drama, and how LeBron comes out will be a big part of that game’s story. But these comments have nothing to do with that.

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.