Three things we learned Wednesday: Blazers struggles open door for Kings, Nuggets

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1) Portland is a mess, has lost 8-of-9, falls into a virtual tie with Sacramento, Denver. We’re deep enough into the season to say this: Barring a catastrophic injury, there are seven teams in the West that appear playoff bound. The top four that seem obvious — the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, and Clippers — but also the Grizzlies, Jazz, and Thunder are all on pace to win 48 games or more and make the postseason.

Notice the Trail Blazers were not on that list. That’s because the team that came into this season with high hopes of building on their 44-win, second round of the playoffs effort a year ago is a mess. Portland played as bad a half of basketball Wednesday night as we have seen in the league this season, and the team has now lost 8-of-9. There seems to be a real chemistry issue — they don’t help each other on defense (which remains the worst in the NBA), and their ball movement has dried up on offense.

The end result of that was a loss at home Wednesday to the Dallas Mavericks. Portland was getting blown out early in this one — they shot 37.6 percent, had 11 turnovers, and were down by 24 at the half — then came back on the strength of Damian Lillard.

It wasn’t enough. Good defense by former Blazer Wesley Matthews on Lillard on the game’s final play caused the missed shot that gave the Mavericks the win, 96-95. No Lillard heroics this time.

Meanwhile, over in Salt Lake City the DeMarcus Cousins show rolled on — no ejections (or unejections) this time around — as he had 21 points and eight rebounds to lead the Kings to a 94-93 upset win over the Utah Jazz.

The result of all this is that Portland, Sacramento, and Denver are all in a virtual tie for the eighth seed in the West. On paper, the Trail Blazers should pull away from that group and secure the final playoff spot, but they are simply not good enough. Not with that defense. This could be a race that continues on into early April, that goes down to the wire, to see which team gets to be fodder for the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

One other note from that chase: Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade, and owner Vivek Ranadive desperately wants to do so in the team’s first season in its new building in the heart of the city. Which means, if you’re expecting a Cousins trade during the season, you might as well be expecting “Suicide Squad” to win the Best Picture Oscar. Even moving Rudy Gay seems less likely — despite the fact they will get nothing in return when he walks this summer — because he’s their second-best scorer. As long as the Kings can sniff the playoffs, making it is the goal.

2) Russell Westbrook outduels Anthony Davis on an entertaining showdown. The results were what we expected: Oklahoma City beat New Orleans 121-110. But that’s not why we tuned in. We wanted the scoring showdown between Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis. We were not disappointed. Davis had 34 points, but Westbrook had 42 (10 rebounds, 7 assists) as the pair put on a show.

3) Cavaliers pick up the win over Bucks, but they are going to miss J.R. Smith. Not sure why the schedule maker decided the Milwaukee Bucks needed to be involved in all of the league’s home-and-home series (or at least it seems that way), but after an overtime game on Tuesday night, the Cavaliers got an easier win Wednesday at home, 113-102.

It was Cleveland’s first game without J.R. Smith, who will be out indefinitely after needing surgery to repair a broken thumb. Tyronn Lue inserted DeAndre Liggins into the starting lineup — with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, and Tristan Thompson — and that group was +17 in 17 minutes of action. (Kevin Love is out with a bruised knee but is not expected to miss extended time.) The starters shot the ball well (65.2% eFG%), defended will, and owned the offensive glass.

The question is, can they sustain it. Tyronn Lue has leaned heavily on his starting five of Irving, Smith, LeBron, Love, and Thompson — that group has been on the court 300 minutes this season, no other five-man group more than 46 minutes heading into Wednesday night. The Cavaliers are still going to win games — they still have LeBron, Irving, and Love — and they will hold on to the top spot in the East, but it’s going to be an adjustment.

And they’re going to miss Smith in games like Sunday, when the Warriors come to town.

Here are the 10 best crossovers from this past NBA season

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NBA offenses in 2017 may be highly advanced, but there is always room for a good old crossover.

That’s why we are bringing you 10 of the best crossovers from this past season. Some of the usual suspects — like Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook — bless the list.

Take a look at all of the highlight plays above and let us know what you think.

Meanwhile, I expect we will see more players doing be Shammgod next season.

Watch the 10 best dunks from the 2016-17 NBA season

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The 2016 NBA season will be known for the MVP battle between Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Or will it?

It could also be remembered for the Golden State Warriors seeking and achieving their redemption over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017 NBA Finals.

No matter what, there are always great dunks to be seen in the NBA on a nightly basis.

Take a look in the video above. Do you agree with No. 1?

Report: LeBron James ‘hustling’, suggested Josh Jackson for Kyrie Irving

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Is LeBron James staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Who knows?

But The King is reportedly working to try to find trade deals for disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving.

According to ESPN’s Pablo Torre, James has begun hustling for the Cavaliers this offseason, suggesting a trade of Irving for Phoenix Suns rookie Josh Jackson.

Here is what Torre had to say, via Fear the Sword:

“LeBron James is doing some LeBron James offseason work. And my understanding is it’s not just Derrick Rose, it’s not just Eric Bledsoe. LeBron James happens to know a guy named James Jones . . . LeBron James is hustling behind the scenes, is my understanding, asking ‘Is Josh Jackson available for Kyrie Irving?’ And the answer back that I heard is ‘no, he is not.’ But LeBron James is hustling on behalf of the Cleveland Cavaliers, at least for this one year.”

Then again, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has sources that are saying LeBron has not been active:

Irving has a preferred landing destination in New York, but there is apparently not mutual interest between the Cavaliers and Knicks. While before it was rumored that Carmelo Anthony would like to in Cleveland with LeBron, but that trade has yet to happen despite the obvious answer to the question of what to do with each player.

Rumor has it that Anthony only wants to play in Houston, and sort of puts the brakes on getting Irving to New York.

Cleveland seems to have lost a bit of leverage with Irving’s open trade request, so it will be interesting to see what the return for Cleveland is once a trade is finally made and we can compare it to the deals for Chris Paul and Paul George.

Irving reportedly isn’t talking to the Cavaliers at the moment so one would have to assume a deal will be coming within the next few weeks.

Report: Warriors re-signing JaVale McGee to one-year contract

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The Warriors helped rehabilitate JaVale McGee‘s career to the point he wanted more – more money, a starting spot.

But old reputations die hard, and it’s a tough market for free-agent centers.

So, McGee is returning to Golden State.

ESPN:

The Golden State Warriors are re-signing center JaVale McGee to a one-year contract, source told ESPN’s Chris Haynes.

McGee could receive between the minimum ($2,116,955) and Non-Bird Exception ($2,540,346). He’ll cost Golden State between $5,968,023 and $10,511,120.* Here’s guessing he gets the minimum.

*Factoring in the NBA’s reimbursement for one-year minimum contracts and the luxury tax, also assuming the Warriors keep the same roster when the tax is assessed at the end of the regular season

Golden State played to McGee’s strengths by simplifying the game for him. He chased lobs, blocks and rebounds and was asked to do little else. He still made the occasional gaffe, and questions about his basketball intelligence remain, but McGee progressed in his never-ending battle to stifle the laughter.

Not every team could protect McGee like that, so he’s more valuable to the Warriors than others. He’ll take another crack at free agency next summer, but at 30, he might not find eager suitors then, either.

In Golden State, he’ll again join a center rotation that includes Zaza Pachulia and David West and maybe Damian Jones and Jordan Bell. With stars at every other position, the Warriors have taken an equalitarian approach at center.

McGee gives the Warriors 15 players clearly on standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Chris Boucher is on a two-way contract, and Antonius Cleveland might be, too. Even if he’s on a standard contract, Cleveland is unlikely to stick past the preseason. It seems we know the roster Golden State will take into the regular season.

Then again, McGee surprisingly made the regular-season roster on an unguaranteed deal last year. Maybe he’ll have to fend off challengers this year.