Lindsey Hunter, Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley, after missing 11 of 13 shots in loss to Dallas: ‘I shot the ball great tonight.’ He was serious.

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PHOENIX — When the Suns signed Michael Beasley as a free agent last summer, they had high hopes that by immersing him in their offense-first system, he’d turn out to be the team’s main scoring threat on a very consistent basis.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way for Beasley in his first season in Phoenix. He was anointed as “the man” by Alvin Gentry and the previous coaching regime before he was able to meet those expectations on the court, and since he found himself essentially out of the rotation for extended stretches after being unable to live up to that moniker, he’s been struggling with consistency, in terms of both minutes and production.

Under new head coach Lindsey Hunter, however, the directive has changed. Instead of solely coaching to win games on a nightly basis, Hunter is tasked with developing the younger players on the roster, and that includes Beasley. He’ll get his minutes and his chances, but he remains the same inconsistent player he’s been to this point in his five-year NBA career.

Friday night, during the Suns’ loss to the Mavericks, Beasley regressed once again. After dominating and pouring in 27 points while leading his team to a comeback win over the Lakers on Wednesday, Beasley managed just four points on 2-of-13 shooting, with a team-high three turnovers in 28 minutes of action.

The problem isn’t Beasley’s overall inconsistency, which seems to be more in the player’s head than anywhere else. No, the problem is the way that Suns management — and to some extent, their interim head coach — is treating Beasley with kid gloves.

“I just think he was just a little off,” Hunter said after Friday’s loss to Dallas. “I don’t know if he was so hyped or so ready that he just got himself off a little bit, but I’m not worried about him. I’ll take what he did tonight, the shots, I’ll take all of it. I’m looking long-term with Mike, and as long as I see progress with Mike, I’m happy.”

There hasn’t been any progress, at least not any visible to the naked eye.

Beasley is still hesitant at times offensively, even after Hunter has given him the greenest light possible. Before the game on Friday, Hunter explained how Beasley has been instructed not to worry about passing, and just to attack and shoot when he gets the ball in a position to score.

And still, 2-of-13 shooting.

“Some days you can come and play and do everything right, and the ball will not go in for some strange reason,” Hunter said. “And other days you can come and feel like it’s not your day and you can’t miss. That’s the way basketball is. It’s a humbling sport. But you stay even keel, and you put the work in. And if you put the work in, more times than not you’ll be alright.”

The Suns brain trust — president of basketball operations Lon Babby and team GM Lance Blanks — are clearly not ready to give up on Beasley just yet, nor should they. Every opportunity should be given to the players brought in by senior management to succeed. But it shouldn’t be done in a vacuum and with blinders on, and that seems to be some of what is going on with Beasley in Phoenix.

Simply put, the amount of positive reinforcement heaped upon Beasley — even after one of his more dismal performances — seems to be borderline delusional.

“I thought I had a good game, the shots just didn’t fall,” Beasley said, after a performance where he missed 11 of his 13 shot attempts, and led the team with three turnovers, two of which came while attempting to inbound the ball on the baseline after the other team had just scored.

When Beasley was asked what the difference was tonight after putting in such a solid game in Wednesday’s win over the Lakers, he refused to even acknowledge that he took a step back.

“I shot the ball great. I shot the ball great tonight,” he said. “I got shots I wanted, the ball just didn’t fall. That’s it.”

Unfortunately, that’s not it.

Beasley was completely serious when he said “he shot the ball great,” which is the true sign that the team is telling him what he wants to hear in hopes that keeping things positive will help him gain some measure of consistency. It hasn’t thus far, so there’s no reason to think that’s the way to continue to go in the future.

When Beasley was subbed out for the final time on Friday midway through the fourth quarter, he was the only player huddled away from the bench with the entire Suns coaching staff. When asked what was said during that brief meeting, Hunter said it was simply a discussion of reassurance.

“I was just encouraging him, telling him ‘Hey, it’s OK.’ It’s part of the process,” Hunter said. ‘Hopefully one day we’ll be playing for a bigger picture than this, and we’ll be able to look back on this and kind of say wow, it was tough then, but this is the fruit of [that effort].”

The way the Suns are treating Beasley is reminiscent of a classic Twilight Zone episode, where the town folk are all scared of a little boy who can wish destructive things on people with his mind. They all placate him by being overly-enthusiastic while reassuring him that whatever he does, no matter how wrong, that it’s “good,” or “a real good thing.”

This is how the Suns approach Beasley’s dismal performances. And like that episode of the Twilight Zone, things are going to end badly in Phoenix if the team doesn’t change its course of action where Beasley is concerned.

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.