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Damian Lillard, Tobias Harris among the NBA Summer League standouts

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LAS VEGAS — The NBA Summer League unfortunately came to a close on Sunday night, ending a week and a half of wonderful basketball being played on the UNLV campus. Okay, so not all of the basketball was necessarily wonderful … but there were some players that helped themselves out quite a bit while spending time in Sin City.

There were a lot of options, of course, considering 24 teams took part in the annual extravaganza — with some ridiculous rosters listing up to 19 players — but the following players seemed to accomplish the most while playing in Vegas.

  • Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – Not a lot of basketball fans knew what the Portland was picking when the Trail Blazers went with the Weber State point guard early in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft. Well, if Summer League wasn’t an aberration, the Blazers selected themselves a solid-to-spectacular player. Lillard was named a Summer League Co-MVP (along with Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies) on his way to averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and at least two awe-inspiring plays in each of the four games he played. The most memorable is going to be his dunk on Keith Benson, but the pinpoint passing — exhibited here on a connection with fellow rookie Will Barton — wasn’t bad either.
  • Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies – Selby earned a vote for the NBA’s All-Rookie team this year, but the majority of the media agreed quite strongly that it wasn’t well-deserved. The former Jayhawk earned all of his Co-MVP honors over the past ten days in Vegas, though, en route to averages of 24.2 points, 2.4 steals and a ridiculous 64.3 shooting percentage from beyond the 3-point arc (and trust us, that isn’t a small sample size as he was chucking at will). It’s tough to tell if Selby’s Summer League performance will translate to the regular season where he’ll be back to being a role player rather than the go-to guy, but it was fun while it lasted in lovely Las Vegas.
  • Adam Morrison, Los Angeles Clippers – There was a time when Morrison was regularly chided for being overrated after being the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. Now that he’s become a basketball vagabond, however, Morrison’s become something between a sympathetic figure and a cult hero … and, judging from the MVP chants heard in the Cox Pavilion on Sunday afternoon, we’re leaning toward the latter. Whether or not he makes an NBA roster again is still up in the air, but the 20 points and five rebounds he averaged this week were a nice reminder of how great he is at putting the ball in the bucket.
  • Malcolm Thomas, Chicago Bulls – Thomas played alongside Kawhi Leonard at San Diego State, but while Leonard made waves with the San Antonio Spurs, Thomas was relegated to a couple of NBA call-ups while playing for the NBA Development League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders this past season. After watching him this week, though, there’s little doubt he’s talented enough to make more money than the D-League has to offer next season seeing as he averaged 11.4 points and 12.4 rebounds (oh, and this didn’t hurt either).
  • Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks – Depending on what one thinks about Bismack Biyombo’s birth certificate, Harris was either the youngest or second-youngest player in the NBA last season. The former Tennessee Volunteer played like anything but a youngin’ in Las Vegas, however, as he averaged 21.5 points and eight rebounds over five games. Whether or not he earned himself more minutes after an inconsistent rookie year is still up for debate, but it was clear he was better than almost everyone on the floor at Thomas & Mack Center.

Plenty of other players stood out in lovely Las Vegas, of course, but those listed above stood head and shoulders above the rest. Now only time will tell where they stack up among Summer League legends like Nate Robinson, Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Randolph.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.