Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo must be a small minded racist (is there another kind)…

source:  Jodie Meeks, Los Angles Lakers. Meeks epitomized the Lakers on this day — not only was he hot he was aggressive, and that’s what led to his career high 42 points. He was attacking off the dribble, getting into the body of Thunder bigs and getting to the free throw line 14 times. He was 11-of-18 shooting and 6-of-11 from three. He was also the guy guarding Russell Westbrook when he airballed a key three late (although that was more Westbrook than Meek’s defense). Meeks has been one of the few consistent Lakers this season (played in 59 games, scored in double digits in 51 of them) and he took advantage of the next grade in this list.

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder’s perimeter defense. For the second game in a row — against the Suns and now Lakers — the Thunder’s perimeter defense was exposed by guards who can attack or shoot from distance (Gerald Green and Meeks, both of whom topped 40) and by teams that want to play at a fast pace. Part of this was that the Thunder really miss Thabo Sefalosha (out until likely about the start of the playoffs) but part of it is that they are simply not playing good defense right now. Guys are getting blown by on the perimeter, the help is late and if it is there guys are not helping the helper. Miami lost and looked bad, but at least they defended. Against the lowly Lakers there just is no excuse.

source:  Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls. Pretty much every Bulls fan felt like Yannick Noah — the tennis legend and father of Joakim — who erupted mid-interview on ABC to cheer on another big play from his son, the heart of the Bulls and the reason they beat the Heat on Sunday. Noah was at his best when it mattered most scoring 10 points plus he had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks in the fourth quarter in overtime. For the game Noah had 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks.

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. He had his sixth career triple-double — 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting with 10 rebounds and 12 assists. That needs to be acknowledged — as does the fact Russell Westbrook took a terrible three late in the game (Thunder down 3, 45 seconds left, they don’t need a three but they do need Durant to at least touch the rock and he didn’t instead Westbrook airballed a step-back three). The Thunder are 3-5 since Westbrook’s return, make of that what you will. But when Durant has the hot hand he needs to get the rock and initiate plays down the stretch. The MVP candidate has earned that right. (Durant’s “B” is because his team lost.)

source:   Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors. While we are mentioning triple-doubles, here is Lowry with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists leading the Raptors to a win over the Timberwolves. Toronto remains the three seed in the East and with a soft schedule the rest of the way we could see a lot more Raptors in this space in the coming weeks.

source:  James Harden, Houston Rockets. It’s not just the 41 points, it’s that 20 of them came in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Rockets came from 13 points down to beat the Trail Blazers. He didn’t just do it for one night this week — in the wins over Miami, Indiana and Portland for the Rockets Harden averaged 30.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds a game plus hit 45.2 percent of his threes. The Rockets are hot, their offense is carrying them and Harden is a big reason.

Honorable mention: Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, who had 18 assists, 0 turnovers; Anthony Davis had 32 points and 17 boards in the win over Denver; LaMarcus Aldridge had 28 points and 12 boards for the Trail Blazers in a loss; and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins with 28 points and 20 rebounds (10 offensive) in a losing effort).

Report: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.