Tuesday NBA grades: LeBron reminds Cleveland what they’re missing

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking it’s crazy that “Lost” is 10 years old

source:  LeBron James, Miami Heat. Nobody likes it when their ex-girlfriend walks into the party looking smoking hot. LeBron pretty much did that to the Cavaliers on Tuesday night — he had 25 points in the first quarter on 10-of-11 shooting (4-of-4 from three) on his way to 43 for the night. He slowed a little on offense in the second half but when it mattered in the fourth he did have a couple blocked shots. Maybe after this the Cavaliers will remember how to spell his name.

source:  Cleveland Cavaliers. They deserve a shoutout here — no Kyrie Irving, no Luol Deng and yet they pushed the Heat to the very end. Jarrett Jack had 22 points, every time I watch the Cavaliers I wish they’d play Anderson Varejao more.

source:  Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks. A career high 34 points but what really mattered was he picked up 15 of those in the fourth quarter and overtime to help spark the Hawks to another much needed win (they are now 4.5 games up on the Knicks, 5 games in the loss column, with 15 to play). Can’t leave Paul Millsap completely out of the Hawks conversation — 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for a triple double. (Toronto could have used that win, too. Chicago is now just half a game back for the three seed, Brooklyn is 2.5 back for the division crown.

source:   DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. When the Kings needed him late he was there — 19 of his 24 points came in the fourth quarter or overtime to help get the Kings a win at home over the Wizards. Cousins also had 14 rebounds. The joke is that the Kings have the “only three” (rather than the big three, because these guys have no help) and the other two guys came up big like Cousins — Rudy Gay had 24 points and hit and seemed to own the overtime; Isaiah Thomas had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists on the night serving as his usual spark plug. (If you’re asking how the smallest guy on the court got 11 rebounds, ask the Wizards front line.)

source:   Randy Wittman, coach, Washington Wizards. Wittman is a coach who gets incensed when someone in the media questions his moves, but he should answer about how his team executed at the end against the Kings — Washington blew this as much as Sacramento forced overtime and won. Can’t blame Wittman for John Wall missing two key free throws or a few o. We can question why his team didn’t push to go for a two-for-one late. We can question why he left John Wall in the game to pick up his sixth foul in overtime, killing the comeback chances. With this loss the Wizards fall to the six seed in the East for now, which could mean the Bulls in the first round. The Wizards need to avoid that, they need to climb the standings. They need wins. Which will be rough with Portland next on the schedule, a back-to-back the next night against the Lakers, then on the road in Denver (always a tough spot to play). Washington needs to get wins fast.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.