Lakers snap six-game losing streak with blowout win over Cavaliers

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Mike D’Antoni has a long way to go before his stint as Lakers head coach will be viewed as anything close to a success. But he picked his motivational spot wisely, calling Sunday’s game against the Cavaliers essentially a must-win, and a starting point for L.A. to begin to get its miserable season back on track and pointed in the right direction.

For a single night, against a substandard opponent, the Lakers responded to the challenge. They came out focused and aggressive from the very start, and used a 37-point first quarter as a launching pad for an easy 113-93 victory, the team’s first since Dec. 28 to snap a six-game losing streak.

D’Antoni’s message to his team after Friday night’s loss to the Thunder was simple.

“I told the team, the biggest thing is our season starts Sunday,” he said. “We’ve got to make a run. We’ve got one shot at it, and everybody needs to get ready mentally and physically.”

The team was as focused mentally as we’ve seen in weeks, but physically wasn’t all the way there just yet. Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game, still not medically cleared to return after suffering a concussion a week ago against Denver.

Dwight Howard was back, however, after missing the last three games with a shoulder injury. His presence was felt immediately, as he piled up 10 points and five rebounds in just over eight minutes of action in the first quarter, against a Cavaliers team missing the injured Anderson Varejao and having no one else on its roster remotely capable of slowing him. He ended up finishing with a dominant 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Kobe Bryant had 12 of his 23 points in the opening frame to go along with five assists, and he and Howard combined to go 8-of-11 from the field in that first quarter, while the Lakers defensively held their opponent to just over 36 percent shooting.

L.A. finished the night shooting 58 percent as a team, including hitting 13 of its 25 attempts from three-point distance, while holding Cleveland to just over 41 percent.

The thing that was most impressive about the Lakers performance on this night wasn’t necessarily the win over a far less-talented opponent. It was the way they came out from the opening tip and took care of business with an efficiency and effectiveness we’ve seen only in flashes that was the difference. The offense was executed with purpose, the ball moved fluidly to find the open man, and all five players on the floor were active and engaged defensively.

It doesn’t seem so impossible on a night like this one when it all comes together.

The Lakers lead didn’t dip below double digits the entire second half, and reached as many as 30 late in the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers had relented and the final period turned into nothing more than extended garbage time.

No one in L.A. is going to mistake this Cleveland team, now with a record of just 9-30 on the season, with one of the league’s elite. Their only threat to score in bunches comes from Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, and the latter is more of a volume shooter than an efficient scorer at this early stage of his career.

But D’Antoni was right when he said that the turnaround has to start sometime, and to the Lakers credit, at least for a single night, they finally stepped up and responded to the challenge.

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.