J.R. Smith returns to USA Wednesday, who gets him?

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In the next 24 hours, J.R. Smith will be on the long flight from China — where he signed to play during the lockout — back to the United States. He tweeted this the other day.

Ladies and Gentleman I am happy to tell you my return to the United States is offical! I will be home Febreuary 15, 2012! #Hyped!

But what is interesting is what is written in his bio area at the top of his twitter home page:

NYK? LAL? LAC? CHI? ORL? iNDI?

Those are the known teams interested in signing Smith for the rest of the season.

So, when his plane lands, where does he go next?

The Knicks are considered the frontrunner because they can offer him the $2.5 mini mid-level exception plus plenty of minutes as the starting two guard. I’m not sure even Jeremy Lin can distribute the ball enough to keep Carmelo Anthony and Smith thinking they got enough shots, but there certainly is a fit there. And a big stage to be on.

Chris Paul is taking on the job of lead recruiter for the Clippers, and they too can offer him a starting spot (with Chauncey Billups out injured for the season). The Clippers are a better team than the Knicks, but they can’t offer as much money — L.A. can only offer the veteran’s minimum, and it is pro-rated over a longer period of time than the Knicks offer so it’s considerably less money.

The Pacers are a team whose name popped up in an ESPN article as having interest, and with them being listed by him clearly there has been some contact. The Pacers are below the salary cap and can offer more money than any other team. However, Mike Wells of the Indy Star says the Pacers are not as interested anymore.

ESPN mentions interest by the Timberwolves, but they don’t show up on Smith’s twitter list.

The Lakers need outside shooting and could give Smith minutes at the two (and start Kobe Bryant at the three), but they too can only offer the veteran’s minimum. The Bulls would have fewer minutes to offer once Rip Hamilton comes back, but they are a contender so a ring is involved. Orlando needs another shot creator and certainly has the minutes to give out. None of those teams has much money to give, however.

Look for a decision to be made by the end of the week. And most likely Smith will become part of the “Linsanity” in New York. But Smith can be a bit unpredictable, so don’t bet the rent money on 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.