Irving stands with NBA Commissioner Stern after being selected by the Cavaliers as the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Newark

What the Cavs should do if the lockout ends

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It wasn’t the best year for the Cavaliers. After finishing with the best regular-season record in the NBA for the second consecutive season in 09-10, the Cavaliers had the longest losing streak in NBA history and finished with the league’s second-worst record in 2010-11. In between the two seasons, Decisions were made.

The Cavs’ 2010-11 season was an abomination, but there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to mid-season trade that sent Mo Williams to Los Angeles and forced the Cavs to eat the remainder of Baron Davis’ contract, the Cavs got the Clippers’ 1st-round pick, which turned into the #1 overall pick and Duke guard Kyrie Irving. The Cavs took Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick, who they hope will become a Ben Wallace clone. Here’s what the Cavs can do to bounce back from last season:

1. Find an offensive identity:

The Cavs were bad at everything last season, but their offense was slightly more pathetic than their defense, so we’ll start there. The Cavaliers found out the hard way that Mo Williams is a lot worse at scoring when LeBron James isn’t setting him up with wide-open threes, and Ramon Sessions spent most of his time dribbling the air out of the basketball and recklessly driving to the rim for much of the season. Antawn Jamison got his usual empty stats by firing up long jumpers or twisting shots in the paint whenever he got the opportunity to, but he was neither an efficient scorer or willing passer. The team didn’t pass the ball well, they had no way of getting to the rim, and they were never able to score effectively in transition.

The team got noticeably better offensively when Baron Davis took over — for all the crap Baron takes, he is a true point guard and offensive leader, and he helped the Cavs end the season on a (relatively) high note. (Also, Baron made his threes at a stunningly high clip after being traded last season.) With Davis staying, #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving playing lead guard as well (I think they can co-exist on the court for stretches — Irving is more of a scorer, and Baron is really a passer at heart), and Anderson Varejao coming back to give them a player who can actually finish a pick-and-roll, the Cavs have a chance to build a real, live offense next season. Those help prevent record-long losing streaks.

2. Get Varejao and Thompson working together

Varejao was the Cavaliers’ best player before he got hurt last season. He doesn’t put up big numbers, but he moves relentlessly without the ball, is one of the best defensive power forwards in the league, and actually did a great job when asked to play out of position and guard centers last season. He was also stunningly competent making jumpers and drives from the high post, which may or not continue next season.

For reasons that are, frankly, beyond my comprehension, the Cavaliers chose Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick instead of Lithuanian 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas, who seems very similar to Thompson, except that he is four inches taller, won’t be playing next season, and appears to be better at basketball than Thompson. In any case, the Cavaliers took Thompson and Varejao is one of their few untouchable players, so one hopes that the Cavaliers have some sort of plan in place for how a Thompson/Varejao frontcourt pairing is going to work on both ends of the floor. Both players are power forwards defensively who are capable of playing decent defense at the center position, and both are true centers offensively.

We’ll see if Byron Scott can make this work — if he can, it’ll provide a much-needed boost to a defense that was absolutely pathetic last season. If nothing else, maybe Thompson and Varejao’s blue-collar playstyle can encourage some of their teammates to start taking pride in the way they defend.

3. Be Patient.

It’s not going to happen overnight for the Cavs, even after the two top-5 picks. Cavalier fans are going to have to be patient. More importantly, the management is going to have to be patient. Look at the Sonics/Thunder, who drafted their franchise player, were very bad for a season, drafted another semi-franchise player, were very bad for another season, and then got another top-3 pick to build around. Once the Thunder made a few good trades and signings to stock their roster with quality role players, they instantly became a contender without needing to spend big money or pull off a blockbuster trade.

Likewise, the Bulls patiently built around Derrick Rose by bringing in a defensive wizard, a rotation filled with quality role players, and didn’t make a big-ticket free agency signing until they were sure they were ready to start contending. (And, to be honest, the Boozer signing hasn’t done nearly as much for the Bulls as the team’s defensive schemes or “bench mob” has.)

The Cavs want to get back to respectability, but they shouldn’t mortgage their future in order to chase a possible run at a 7th or 8th seed. They should bide their time, wait for the right draft prospects, no-brainer trades, and low-cost players to come along, and slowly but surely begin their run back to respectability. If the Cavs can stay patient and not try to force anything, they might return to being the Cavaliers and stop being The Team That Lost LeBron sooner than most people think.

Suns’ Marquese Chriss shows off crazy hops to throw down alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Marquese Chriss has ridiculous athleticism, which is why a lot of teams had their eye on him last draft.

He’s still trying to figure out how to make that talent work for him on the court, but on plays like this third quarter alley-oop your jaw drops.

The Suns got the upset win over the Raptors thanks to a monster game from Eric Bledsoe.

Karl-Anthony Towns carries Wolves past Nuggets, 111-108

Minnesota Timberwolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, center, and Tyus Jones (1) celebrate their lead in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Wolves won 111-108. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns had 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and hit the go-ahead shot with 42.5 seconds to play to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 111-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Towns hit 13 of 19 shots and also had four blocks and Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points in Minnesota’s fourth straight home win. Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 points off the bench and the Wolves rallied from nine points down midway through the fourth quarter for the win.

Gary Harris scored 22 points and Nikola Jokic had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. Wilson Chandler and Jamal Murray added 17 points each for Denver, which played without Emmanuel Mudiay because of a sore back.

Kris Dunn had 10 points and nine assists for the Wolves while starting for Ricky Rubio, who missed the game to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

The Wolves were down 100-91 midway through the fourth quarter when Towns and Muhammad keyed a 12-2 run. Muhammad finished the spurt with a layup for a 103-102 lead, Wiggins hit a 3-pointer and Towns knocked down a jumper from the baseline to put the Wolves up for good in a thriller.

The game featured two of the best young big men in the game in Towns and Jokic. Both are considered the new breed of NBA center, able to shoot the ball like a shooting guard, pass it like a point guard and run the break like a small forward.

Denver coach Mike Malone said the Nuggets offense took off when he inserted Jokic into the starting lineup, and the Serbian gave his coach the luxury of being able to weather Mudiay’s absence by running the offense through him. Rookie Jamal Murray saw extended minutes at point guard, running the pick-and-roll with Jokic to perfection.

Towns knows there is a segment of the NBA analytics community that believe Jokic should have won rookie of the year honors last year, and he went right at Jokic every time he had the chance on Sunday night. Towns dunked on Jokic twice and had another blow-by for a dunk in the second quarter that got the crowd on its feet.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver committed 18 turnovers leading to 31 points for Minnesota. … Mudiay stayed home in Denver to get treatment for his back. The hope is that it is a short-term injury.

Timberwolves: Gorgui Dieng was limited to six minutes in the first half after picking up three quick fouls in the first quarter. … Rubio is expected to rejoin the team on Monday.

SHABAZZ SHINES

Muhammad made 9 of 14 shots, including two 3s and hustled on defense as well, giving the Wolves some much-needed production off the bench. Zach LaVine had another quiet night as he works his way back from a hip injury, but Muhammad picked up the scoring slack. He reached double figures for the fourth time in seven games.

 

Eric Bledsoe’s career day leads Suns over Raptors 115-103

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) drives past Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during first-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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TORONTO (AP) — Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 40 points and had 13 assists and the Phoenix Suns handed the Toronto Raptors their third straight loss, 115-103 on Sunday night.

Bledsoe was 11 of 17 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and Devin Booker added 20 points as the Suns won their second straight road game following Saturday’s win at New York. The victory also completed a season sweep of the Raptors for the first time since 2013-14 and improved Phoenix to 11-6 against Eastern Conference teams this season.

DeMar DeRozan had 22 points for Toronto and Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 12 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season. It’s the first time the Raptors have lost three straight since Nov. 6-10, 2015.

Kyle Lowry was ejected with 1:30 left after a flagrant-two foul following contact with the head of Brandon Knight. It capped a night to forget for Lowry, who had 15 points but shot just 5 of 17, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

Toronto led from the 2:13 mark of the second quarter until the Suns tied it at 95 on a banked hook shot from Tyson Chandler with 7:29 to play. After DeMarre Carroll and Bledsoe exchanged baskets, Phoenix went on an 18-6 run the rest of the way to take the game away from the Raptors.

After falling behind on Bledsoe’s 3-pointer just 19 seconds in, the Raptors responded with a 12-0 run, punctuated by a spectacular alley-oop dunk by Lucas Nogueira from Lowry’s pass. The Raptors led 31-28 after 12 minutes.

DeRozan led the way in the second quarter, going 4 of 5 from the floor for 12 points as the Raptors built their lead to seven on a driving layup with 1:51 to play in the half. The Suns countered with a 10-4 run to go into the interval down 60-57.

The Raptors extended their lead to seven in the third but only shot 36.8 percent from the floor and were unable to pull away, settling for an 85-82 edge after 36 minutes.

TIP-INS

Suns: One night after setting the mark, Chandler ended his franchise record and career high of consecutive 15-plus rebound games at seven with nine rebounds on the night. … F Dragan Bender left with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter with a sore right ankle and did not return.

Raptors: F Patrick Patterson (left knee) missed his sixth consecutive game. … The Raptors got double-digit points from all five of their starting players.

HOME AT LAST

Toronto’s prized free-agent signing Jared Sullinger played his first home game for the Raptors on Sunday night. After missing the first 41 games of the season following left foot surgery, the forward made his debut in Friday’s loss in Charlotte before entering the fray Sunday with 3:56 to play in the first. He ultimately played 13 minutes, scoring nine points.

DRAWING LEVEL

With 22 points Sunday, DeRozan tied Chris Bosh for second in franchise history with 265 games with at least 20 points. Vince Carter leads the way with 273 such games.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

With 7:10 left in the third, Marquise Chriss made a spectacular, one-handed alley-oop dunk from T.J. Warren‘s lob pass that was slightly behind him, falling to the floor before rolling over and popping right back up.

 

Magic had one highlight: Aaron Gordon in transition with dunk (VIDEO)

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Golden State didn’t have much trouble with Orlando Sunday, pulling away in the second half as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each had seven threes.

But the Magic did have one highlight: Elfrid Payton found Aaron Gordon in transition and we know the man can finish. Enjoy.