Getty Images

Three things we learned Tuesday: Sometimes good teams have bad nights. At the same time.

1 Comment

Three of the top four teams in our latest NBA power rankings lost on the same night (the only one that didn’t had the night off). Obviously, this is all Donald Trump’s fault. Nonetheless, here is what we learned Tuesday night around the league.

1) What is going on? Clippers blow 18-point lead in Brooklyn, Spurs flat at home against Magic. There must have been something in the water in Brooklyn and San Antonio because it was an ugly night for the two teams that believe they have a shot at knocking off the Warriors in the West this year.

With a 127-122 double-overtime loss to the Nets Tuesday, the Clippers have now lost three straight on the road. Their problems start with their bench — it was a surprising strength for them early on but now has either come apart or regressed to the mean, depending on how you want to view it. The Clippers led by 16 early in the fourth, but it was the bench at the start of the fourth that had no answer for Sean Kilpatrick — 20 points in the fourth (after shooting 3-of-13 through the first three) — and gave up most of the 19-5 Nets run that made it a ballgame. Well, that and the fact the Nets went 6-of-6 from three in the fourth. From there, it was a scramble and Chris Paul alone could not save Los Angeles.

The Clippers were without Blake Griffin who rested for the night, but this is Brooklyn (without Jeremy Lin), losers of seven in a row, it shouldn’t have mattered. Los Angeles has looked slow and tired on the road of late, with dead legs. The Clippers defense has been a little worse during their recent losing streak, but the bigger problem is on offense, where for the last three games they are 15.8 points per 100 off their average. In those three games, the Clippers are shooting 40.9 percent overall, 28 percent from three, and have been outscored by 12.3 per game. Next up on the road trip? The Cleveland Cavaliers. Play like this and it could get ugly.

(As an aside, I think Doc Rivers is right to have lost it on official Kenny Mauer for giving him technical foul, which led to Rivers’ ejection in the first OT. Rivers did cross over half court on the sideline to complain to Lauren Holtkamp about a call, but she was calm and talking to him while Mauer clearly thought he heard something (which Rivers denies), rushed in from across the court and played her protector. It was an overreach in my book. The league won’t see it that way, Rivers will get fined for losing his… cool. But at an emotional point late in a close game Mauer needlessly injected himself into the story.)

As for the Spurs, it was the first game home after a road trip and the Spurs mentally never showed up in a 95-83 loss to Orlando. Starting in the second quarter San Antonio just sagged back on defense and Orlando took advantage — that is the Magic team with the worst offense in the league, but these are NBA players and if you give them room they will hit shots. For example, Serge Ibaka has struggled this season but was 7-of-11 for 18 points on the night. The Spurs struggled to find their footing on offense, but credit Frank Vogel and the Magic defense here — we thought coming into the season they would be good defensively, and this has quietly become a top-10 defensive team. Still, it’s nights off like this that make you kind of wonder just how good the Spurs are and can be.

2) Cavaliers have off night, but give Giannis Antetokounmpo some credit for Bucks win. Cleveland took the day off mentally in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the Cavs were still able to come back and get the win in that one. Milwaukee is not Philly — the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo and some real talent on the roster, coast on them and you will pay. Which is what happened, Cleveland’s bench (once LeBron James and J.R. Smith sat) blew and early lead and the team was listless the rest of the way.

Let’s give credit where it’s due: This may have been the Bucks best game of the season. It all started with Antetokounmpo, who was attacking the basket against a Cavs team that lacks a true rim protector (outside of LeBron) — the Greek Freak was 12-of-15 in the restricted area for the game, finishing with 34 points on 19 shots (plus 12 boards and five steals). The book on Antetokounmpo is clear — make him a jump shooter. The Cavs failed at that. Check out his shot chart.

Giannis shotcart

The Bucks are risk takers under Kidd, which has had mixed results, but the one where he put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands has been a stroke of genius. Jabari Parker added 18 points and Michael Beasley had 17 off the bench for the Bucks.



3) Thing we will learn in next months: Can Grizzlies keep their heads above water?
The Memphis Grizzlies are 11-7 and if the playoffs started today would be the four seed in the West. The question is where they will be in late January. That’s when they should get point guard Mike Conley back from the transverse process fracture in his spine (which sounds worse than it is, this was the injury Cam Newton had).

Here’s the concern: The Grizzlies are 19.3 points per 100 possessions better when Mike Conley is on the court. Pair Conley and Marc Gasol on the court together the Grizzlies are a raw +81 this season, without them they are -88. Throw in the fact that Chandler Parsons (bone bruise), Brandon Wright (ankle) and James Ennis (calf strain) have missed games due to injury lately, and the depth of a thin Memphis side will be tested.

When (if?) the Grizzlies get healthy somewhere just before the All-Star break, will they still be in striking distance of the playoffs in the West, or will this team fade so far it can’t quite climb back? Will some bench players step up? I love the culture in Memphis, I love what David Fizdale has done as coach, but what comes next is a tough ask.

What team does Kyrie Irving start next season with? Betting odds favor Cleveland

Leave a comment

Kyrie Irving may want out of Cleveland, but the Cavaliers are not obligated to trade him. They are starting to explore their options, but they would be wise to be patient and wait for good deal, one that gets them quality players in return who can help now and help build for the future.

With that in mind, check out the betting odds from online gaming site Bovada on where Irving will start next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers 1/1
New York Knicks 3/1
Phoenix Suns 5/1
Boston Celtics 7/1
Denver Nuggets 9/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 12/1
San Antonio Spurs 14/1
Miami Heat 20/1
Milwaukee Bucks 25/1
Atlanta Hawks 33/1

No way I would put money on the Celtics, like Danny Ainge wants to help the Cavaliers stay strong. The Knicks number includes people thinking there would be a Carmelo Anthony for Irving swap, but that is highly unlikely. The Suns will not put Josh Jackson in a deal, which ends that talk without a three-way deal. I could go on, but you get the point.

Bottom line is that so long as the Cavaliers keep their asking price sky high, it will be difficult for any deal to happen. Which is why the Cavs are still the smart bet.

Reports: Minnesota explores Kyrie Irving trade, but is Andrew Wiggins part of it?

Leave a comment

The Cleveland Cavaliers are “starting to engage in trade talks” for Kyrie Irving, whether LeBron James wants him back or not.

The problem is finding a deal. Cleveland wants a massive haul in return — a young stud talent, a player who can start and help them now, and picks. They’re not likely to get all of that, but as talks start the Cavaliers are wisely going in asking for everything but the Iron Throne and see if anyone relents.

Irving listed the Minnesota Timberwolves as a preferred destination, and the Wolves are serious about exploring that, something well-connected AP reporter Jon Krawczynski said on 1500AM ESPN Twin Cities Wednesday.

Minnesota could make this work with a trade of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and maybe a pick, but the Cavaliers likely don’t want that deal as is, so it requires a third team to take on Dieng or another salary. It would be complex. If it came to be, it would send Wiggins back to the team that drafted him, then traded him for Kevin Love in the wake of LeBron James choosing to return to Cleveland.

The big question is, do the Timberwolves want to put Wiggins in the deal? Should they? That is more than a Tom Thibodeau question, that is a talk with the owner Glen Taylor decision.

Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.6 percent from three, and has become an offensive force who can get buckets and puts defenders in posters. He likely will get a max contract extension and deserves it. However, he hasn’t been as efficient a scorer as hoped yet, his passing skills and rebounding need work, and he is not the defender he was projected to be out of college (ESPN’s defensive plus/minus is a flawed stat, but it still had Wiggins only ahead of Doug McDermott and Shabazz Muhammad as small forwards, and that’s bad company to keep).

Wiggins also is just 22 years old and entering his fourth NBA season. He should improve, as he has each year in the NBA (though mostly focused on the offensive end).

It’s a tough question Thibodeau and the Timberwolves need to ask: Is Wiggin’s ceiling better than Irving’s? Do they want to max out Wiggins with an extension, or leave that to another team? Wiggins hasn’t been a great defender, but he has potential still, and we know Irving is weak on that end. We also don’t know if Irving would fit better with Karl-Anthony Towns than Wiggins. What we do know is Irving is an elite scorer and also a very popular player who will pack the building home and road. We also know Wiggins has missed just one game in three seasons, while Irving has an injury history.

Minnesota would be exchanging risks. With Irving, Towns and Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves move into “challenge the Warriors now” mode for the next two years, while all those guys are under contract. Is that where Minnesota wants to be, going at the Warriors hard while they are fully loaded? The risk would be one or both of Butler and Irving could walk in two seasons, leaving the team to rebuild (sort of) around KAT. If the Timberwolves keep Wiggins, and he takes steps forward — particularly defensively — they are built for the longer haul, but that has risks as well (for example, will those players develop, and will Butler stay?).

I’m not sure Minnesota puts Wiggins on the block. If they did, it’s another thing entirely to think a deal gets done. Which is to say, all of this is a longshot.

Just know the Timberwolves are serious about exploring it.

Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas will not need hip surgery, according to Danny Ainge

Leave a comment

With Boston watching the foundation crumble in Cleveland, the Celtics need to keep their own house in order — and healthy — to have a shot to dethrone LeBron James and reach the NBA Finals.

One step along that road, having a healthy Isaiah Thomas. Back in May, Thomas visited a specialist about his right hip injury, which he first suffered in March then aggravated in the playoffs, ending his playoffs early. Surgery was on the table as an option.

It’s off now, Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach.

Hip surgery has been ruled out for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said….

“Isaiah is making good progress,” Ainge said. “He’s out on the court; he’s shooting. He’s full-speed ahead on the stationary bike and working in the swimming pool. He’s progressing nicely.”

This is good news for Boston, Thomas should be ready to start the season. This is also good news for Thomas, who is heading into a contract year.

Thomas had a career year last season, averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game, while shooting 37.9 percent from three. Thomas made his first All-NBA team last season (second team), as well as being an All-Star for the second time.

Thomas’ name has popped up in trade rumors for Kyrie Irving, but that deal incredibly unlikely. First off, the Celtics would have to send Thomas, Jae Crowder, and a young player such as Jaylen Brown (or Jason Tatum) to the Cavaliers in a trade, and that price is too steep. More importantly, why would Ainge and the Celtics want to help the Cavaliers stay elite? Fans will speculate online, but no way Ainge would send out a lot of quality to help the Cavs.

Derrick Rose wanted to play where the games mattered, found Cleveland

2 Comments

Derrick Rose was the point guard standing when the music stopped this summer. It seemed to catch him off guard.

There had been rumblings for a while that he didn’t understand how teams valued him — or didn’t — in a modern NBA, but this summer made it clear. Rose and his agent B.J. Armstrong tried, but the market dried up. The San Antonio Spurs decided to re-sign Patty Mills. The LA Clippers decided to stick with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. The Milwaukee Bucks flirted and then passed. The Sacramento Kings signed George Hill. The Minnesota Timberwolves (and Rose’s old coach Tom Thibodeau) went and got Jeff Teague. Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr. The Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball. The Pelicans re-signed Jrue Holiday then picked up Rajon Rondo.

Rose looked left out in the cold. He ultimately agreed to play for Cleveland and with LeBron James… and then the Kyrie Irving trade request story broke.

Rose is about to get what he wanted — games that matter on a team that matters, so he can re-establish his value, Armstrong told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“A one-year deal on a bad team to try and put up numbers — we did not want to entertain that way of thinking,” agent B.J. Armstrong, a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, told ESPN on Tuesday. “Getting up every day to go to the gym to just try and put up numbers — that’s not who he is. He didn’t want to chase anything this summer other than, ‘Hey, let’s get around a group of guys who are like-minded, who are pursuing winning and be a part of that.'”

Rose is going to get a chance to prove he can still play meaningful quality minutes on a team hunting a title next season. Rose could well be the starting point guard (depending on who the Cavaliers get back in an Irving trade).

Rose put up solid numbers last season with the Knicks — 18 points and 4.4 assists per game — and on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard. He can still get to the rim. However, he also still can’t space the floor as a shooter (21.7 percent from three last season), he’s not an efficient scorer, and most importantly he’s still a defensive liability (the Knicks were 5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively last season when Rose was on the court).

How Rose looks in Cleveland will be interesting, but he is going to get his chance to prove himself on a big stage in the bright lights. Play well and you never know what the next summer will hold, although expect that to be a tighter market for everyone except the elite players (LeBron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and the other clear max guys). Rose could find next summer rough, too, but play well and it gets a little easier.