Suns come back from 26 points down to beat Cavaliers

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PHOENIX — It was a brutal start for the Suns on Friday, against a young and aggressive Cavaliers team that was ready to take it to them from the moment the ball was tipped. But that just made the finish that much sweeter.

Phoenix trailed by as many as 26 points in the first half, only to make it all the way back to a thrilling 107-105 victory, one that was the largest comeback win at home in franchise history.

“I don’t know if we just thought they were going to stop playing or what, but they just kept playing hard,” Cavs head coach Byron Scott said afterward.  “We just never reacted after the first quarter to them trying to get back into the game and being a little bit more aggressive and more physical.”

The Suns opened the game by giving up 10 straight points, then found themselves down 18-2, then trailed by 21 points at the end of the first quarter. Cleveland seemed to be unstoppable early, getting 37 points in that opening period on better than 63 percent shooting. Most of the points seemed to come on slashing drives to the basket, with the speedy backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters carving up the Suns defense.

“It’s hard, those guys are really talented and Irving’s one of the best point guards in the league,” Goran Dragic said afterward. “It’s tough when you’re getting screened two or three times in one possession and you try to fight over the screens, but you get tired. At the same time, they’re really fast so if you’re not cautious they’re going to penetrate and kill you. Our plan on those guys was to blitz them on pick and rolls and then force them to try to make plays.”

Phoenix chipped away at the deficit to get it to a more reasonable 13-point margin by halftime, and then came out with a different mindset in the second half. Michael Beasley struggled through a rough 4-of-14 shooting night, but opened the third period with a couple of nice assits and got loose for a breakaway dunk which cut the lead to single digits.

Shannon Brown was big off the bench for the second straight game, scoring 22 points in 26 minutes. He and Dragic were the ones doing the damage offensively, while Marcin Gortat continued his stellar early-season rim protection with five blocked shots, to add to the seven he had the previous game. Just don’t ask him to explain the reason for his success.

“I don’t know, I’m just blocking,” Gortat said. “I guess I’m invisible and they don’t respect me, so I’m going to disrespect them then.”

Two of those blocks were game-savers, coming with under a minute to play.

Phoenix took its first lead of the game at 87-85, before Waiters went off for 10 consecutive Cavaliers points to keep his team in it while Irving got some much-needed rest. The point guard appeared gassed in the third quarter, but Scott was forced to bring him back earlier than he wanted due to the Suns beginning to take control.

Even after the comeback, however, Phoenix found itself down seven again with just over four minutes left. Considering the effort they had to expend to come back, that might have been it. But they wanted this one, and fought to take it.

The Cavs had a final chance, trailing by two with the ball with 2.9 seconds remaining. Irving got off a contested three-pointer from the top of the arc, but with Dragic closely defending, it rimmed off as time expired.

This was beyond a huge win for Phoenix; despite the early gigantic deficit, the final result got the team back to .500, and perhaps made up for the opportunity that was lost in Orlando earlier this week when the Suns were on the wrong end of the home team’s comeback effort.

Shannon Brown said that the team was told at halftime to keep believing and keep fighting, and clearly, the message was carried to the court.

“We didn’t want to lose, we knew our mistakes we were making, and we just had to correct them,” he said. “Good thing we had enough energy to withstand a couple of runs in that whole second half, fighting our way back.”

Pistons consider shutting down Reggie Jackson for rest of season

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The Pistons have started Reggie Jackson. They’ve brought him off the bench. They’ve sat him entirely.

No role seems right for the point guard as Detroit has lost four straight and seven of eight.

Now, it seems the Pistons might just shut down Jackson, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury. He’s at least doubtful for tonight’s key game against the Heat.

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy, via Fox Sports Detroit:

We’ve been thinking about this, actually for a long time, OK? And he’s been playing at — it’s just hard to put a percentage — but probably at about 80 percent. And as we get into this stretch of games in March where we’re playing a lot, the fatigue is just making it worse.

It wasn’t really fair to him. We were running him out there, putting pressure on him. He’s seeing things he should be able to do, and he just can’t do. He’s not feeling pain, but he just can’t make the plays he wants to make. And we’re trying to put him out there.

We were really struggling, and we just need to have guys who are at full energy and the whole thing. And as much as he wants to, he can’t right now. It’s honestly amazing what he’s done.

To his credit, he fought me on it. He wanted to keep going.

He needs some rest. We don’t know how long it will be. But he needs some rest and to be able to try to get his energy back and see if we can get him at full strength.

He’s been a warrior. He’s tried to fight through it. He’s been frustrated, because he sees openings and things on the court that he just hasn’t been able to get to. I think part of it is a confidence thing.

And I think the thing that we really look forward to, and he looks forward to, is getting a fresh start in the offseason and being able to go through the preparation for a season like he did last year. And not only get right physically, but really get his confidence back to be able to attack and make the plays he’s had.

Jackson hasn’t looked right this season, showing only fleeting moments of quality production. It’s unclear whether that’s his knee, confidence, regression to the mean after a breakout season last year, bad luck or some combination.

But it has the Pistons in dire straights. They’re 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position with tonight’s game against eight-place Miami crucial.

Detroit’s offense and defense have hummed better with Ish Smith, but despite the better chemistry he affords, the talent drop from Jackson is also glaring. It’s not as if the Pistons have soared with Smith. And relying on Beno Udrih for backup minutes is its own risk.

Van Gundy is talking a lot about next season when it comes to Jackson, which seems telling. The coach’s compliments seem designed to soften the blow.

The odds are against Detroit making the playoffs, but they might be higher without Jackson. The fact that that’s even considerable is also telling about Jackson’s season.

Joakim Noah says he’s cleared to play, which will allow suspension to begin

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The NBA suspended Joakim Noah 20 games — effective once he’s “physically able to play.”

Noah underwent knee surgery about a month ago, and though it seemed he’d miss the rest of the season, the Knicks said at the time he’d be reevaluated in 3-4 weeks. That gave the team cover to claim his suspension should begin this season.

So, Noah rushed to practice today, and no matter how unlikely he would’ve been to follow this timeline sans suspension, that will seemingly be enough.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

New York has eight games remaining, which would leave 12 for Noah to serve at the beginning of next season.

Obviously, the more of his suspension Noah serves during this lost season, the better. The Knicks might be a wreck next season too, but at least there’s a chance they’re ready to win (and a chance Noah can contribute). This year is confirmed hopeless.

 

After fun back-to-back wins, Kings deemphasizing veterans

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Break up the Kings.

No, really.

After consecutive thrilling wins — a historic comeback against the Clippers on Sunday and another one-point win over the Grizzlies, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger’s former team, yesterday — the Kings announced a changing of the guard.

Joerger, via CSN California:

This was maybe our last stand for the year, as far as you’re probably not going to see all those veterans play together the rest of the season.

Darren Collison, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson played major roles against Memphis. Expect their minutes to be cut down the stretch.

The Kings have “fallen” to the NBA’s eight-worst record. It’s unlikely, but a late-game surge could “drop” them to the league’s 10th-worst record.

That’s unviable for a team that put itself on the tanking track and loses its first-round pick (to the Bulls) if it falls outside the top 10. Sacramento must protect itself from bad lottery luck.

It might not require going full Suns, but the Kings should and will emphasize developing their young players — who, not at all incidentally, are less equipped to help the team win.

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.