Wednesday night NBA grades: How about that Kyrie Irving?

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while you and your friends debated canned vs. bottled beer….

source:  Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. He wasn’t in attack mode, he was in seek-and-destroy mode. With Dion Waiters and basically everyone who can shoot outside 15 feet injured he knows he has to be the man to space the floor and he did just that — 4-of-7 from three and also 3-of-6 from the midrange on the night. Also, there was the key late-game three and a late-game and-1 on Serge Ibaka that propelled the Cavs. He finished with 31 points on 19 shots. Oh, and his crossover is still impressive.

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder late game defense. A lot of arm-chair pundits are going to say “the Thunder are 0-3 with Russell Westbrook back, they are worse with him.” That’s crap. We have years of numbers — or years of watching them if you have an eye for the game — that says they are better when both Kevin Durant and Westbrook are together on the court. It’s just going to take some time to integrate Westbrook again. They will work it out. Chill.

There is nothing really for Thunder fans to worry much about, but if you want how about OKC defense under pressure. Go read John Schuhmann’s fantastic breakdown at NBA.com that shows jump shooting teams give them real trouble. Then look at the Cavalier possessions in the final 4:30 of a game (so we are starting with OKC having a two-point lead at home):

• Jarrett Jack open corner three on Derek Fisher’s late rotation.
• Kyrie Irving left alone at the three point line early in the clock when Thabo Sefalosha fell asleep.
• Spencer Hawes gets the ball at the three point line after setting a pick and popping, nobody gets between him and the basket so he drives in for a lay-up.
• Irving short-arms a jumper but Tristan Thompson out-hustles every Thunder player to get the board, which leads to another set and a Hawes left-handed runner.
• Irving turns the ball over, his pick-and-pop timing with Hawes is understandably still a little raw.
• After struggling to get open for the ball Irving makes like he’s going for handoff from Thompson at top of key, but changes up and cuts to rim, nobody goes with him and nobody rotates quickly, one nice pass later he is driving into Serge Ibaka for an and-1.
• Jack drives left away from pick from at the top of the key, no help rotation comes until he is deep in the lane and can hit floater.
• After that it’s pretty much the foul game.

source:  Jerryd Bayless, Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens decided to start him next to Rajon Rondo and… nobody saw that coming. Bayless had 29-points and shot 5-of-8 from three (an abbheration as he shoots 28.8 percent from there on the season). I’m not really sure that’s sustainable, but give the man credit when it happens. And give him credit for taking the three rather than the long two that he often gravitates toward. Expect to see a lot more of this backcourt in the coming games.

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. This makes 18 straight games he has scored at least 20 points. He took 25 shots to get his 23 in this one, not exactly efficient, but he still was key for the team’s win. If you watched this game and still think all he can do is dunk, well, you should take up watching cricket. He showed a midrange game, a number of post moves, his handles are amazing and he still wisely gets points by being the most athletic guy on the court. Because he is. It’s simple, players should exploit their strengths and Griffin’s biggest strength is that few can match his athleiticism. But if you think that’s all he is watch again. Or, go watch cricket.

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Already? Giannis Antetokounmpo says Joel Embiid tried to recruit him to Sixers

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The Greek Freak (now trademarked) Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a Buck for a while — he has three fully guaranteed years on his contract after this one, taking him until at least the summer of 2021. At that point, Milwaukee almost certainly will be able to offer him the designated player super max contract that will be hard to turn down. The Greek Freak is going to be in Milwaukee for a long time.

That didn’t stop Joel Embiid, who tried to recruit Antetokounmpo to Sixers during All-Star weekend. Via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

Of course, if somewhere down the line Antetokounmpo and Embiid team up some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist will say “they have been planning this since 2018.”

Embiid probably did this tongue in cheek, but he is fearless about this stuff — remember a couple of summers ago he tried to recruit Kevin Durant through social media.

As for Antetokounmpo and the Sixers, nothing to see here, move along.

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.