Warriors coach Jackson defends playing small, David Lee

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It wasn’t coach Mark Jackson’s plan to play a lot of small ball at Golden State — he wanted Andrew Bogut to be the guy in the middle. But with Bogut out for much of the young season, Jackson has gone small, playing David Lee and Carl Landry as the Warriors front line a lot.

And that has run into the issue that David Lee is struggling this season — he is scoring 6 fewer points per game and is shooting 8.2 percent worse than last season. Through seven games he has a career low PER (13.4, below the league average). And he’s never been a defensive stopper.

Matt Steinmetz of CSNBayArea.com asked Jackson the big question following a surrendered lead and loss to Denver the night before: Is David Lee hurting the team defensively?

”I wouldn’t think that he’s hurting us defensively at all. Has he played his best basketball? No. He’s played well in spurts. There have been nights when he’s been very good. He’s got to rebound better. We need him to rebound better. There’s no question about that.

“And I’m going to put pressure on him to be that go-to guy, finishing out possessions by rebounding the basketball. I would definitely say he’s not playing his best basketball. But I’m not concerned. Because I know how hard he works, he’s not pointing the finger at anybody else and he will respond.”

Actually, Lee is grabbing about the same percentage of rebounds now as he did last season.

The Warriors defense is actually about the middle of the pack in the league overall, but they are going to struggle on the boards with a Landry/Lee front line if they have to play a team like Denver with JaVale McGee.

Jackson also defended his decisions to play small, but it’s his best move — Golden State has had some good success with the Landry/Lee front line when it is paired with Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson (via 82games.com). Shooters, shot creators and guys that hustle along the front line can have success in the league.

If that and some small lineups can keep the Warriors hanging around .500 their playoff dream stays alive. But in a deep West they can’t dig a hole.

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.

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.