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Three things we learned on Wednesday: Toronto is good, but not Golden State good

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Things could be worse for you: You could be the person printing the Christmas Day prayer and carol book for a church service in Sri Lanka, the person who substituted the traditional “Hail Mary” prayer with the words to Tupac’s 1997 “Hail Mary” — “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me.” The Raptors may have had a rough night, but not one that bad. Here’s the Wednesday takeaways from around the NBA.

1) Toronto is very good, but was reminded of its place in loss to Warriors. The Warriors turn the ball over too much — they turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions Wednesday night. One in five trips down the court ended in a Warriors turnover. Kevin Durant had six of them himself.

But only Cleveland seems able to make the Warriors pay for it. Toronto certainly couldn’t. Toronto came into Golden State looking for a glimmer of hope that they could climb past that second tier in the NBA they are on — the Raptors had won 8-of-9 and were just a game back of Cleveland in the East. Surely this was a team that could run with one of the NBA’s two big dogs, right?

Golden State was up 42-17 after one quarter, and the Warriors shot 72 percent for that frame. Shot charts don’t look much better than the Warriors first quarter:

Warriors shotchart

The Raptors are scrappy and fought back to make it a five-point game in the second, then Toronto coach Dwyane Casey stuck with big man Jonas Valanciunas too long against the Warriors small lineups at the end of the second and the Warriors went on another run and led by 17 at the half. The Raptors turned all those Warriors turnovers into 26 points, which allowed them to make the game respectable at the end — 122-111 Warriors — and while Toronto made its late push to this game never really felt in doubt. Stephen Curry had 28 in the win.

Too many fans underestimate how good this Raptors team is — they won 56 games last season and went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, this season they are on pace for 58 wins and the two-seed in the East (only Boston, as it starts to come together, looks like a team that would have the potential to keep the Raptors from a return to the ECF). Toronto has the best offense in the NBA this season (yes, better than the Warriors statistically) and the second best net rating (+9.5 points per 100 possessions). This is a very good team. But they are 0-3 against the Cavaliers this season and the Warriors offered the same assessment — the Raptors are on the second tier.

2) Trail Blazers snap six-game losing streak against Kings in battle of teams eyeing eight seed in West.
There is a lot of basketball to go this season, things can change, but the West seems to be shaping up with seven teams as playoff locks barring major injuries — the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder, Jazz, and Grizzlies — then there is a five game drop to anyone else. That could leave the Kings, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers fighting for the final playoff slot in the West (New Orleans can enter this discussion if it strings some wins together, but we need to see that first).

Which is why Portland snapping its six-game losing streak — and Sacramento’s four-game winning streak — on Wednesday night mattered. Portland won comfortably 102-89, which leaves Sacramento and Denver tied for the eight seed at 14-18, with the Blazers just one game back. There were no DeMarcus Cousins/Meyers Leonard fireworks this time around, although Leonard did have an impressive game with 16 points off the bench.

The Blazers strategy clearly was to make life difficult for Cousins and dare any other King to beat them. Without Rudy Gay (he’s missed seven of the last eight) they couldn’t — Kings players not named Cousins shot 38.3 percent overall and 6-of-22 from three. It wasn’t good enough, the Kings offense was entirely too stagnant against a Portland defense that has been the worst in the NBA this season.

Portland got 20 points out of C.J. McCollum, but it was more about balance as six Blazers scored in double figures, and as a team they shot 48 percent from three.

The race for the eight seed in the West could be very interesting the rest of the season, and it could well impact the trades the Blazers and Kings look to make — and don’t look to make — as the trade deadline starts to loom.

3) There was Lopez on Lopez crime. It’s easy to say the shot of the night was Jimmy Butler‘s game winner lifting the Bulls past the Nets. We don’t like to do things the easy way.

My favorite video of the night was from that same game: Brook Lopez putting brother Robin Lopez in a poster.

Wizards’ players-only meeting doesn’t go well

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The concept of a “team meeting” is sort of silly. At what does players discussing the team – something that happens nearly every day – rise to “meeting” status?

But these team meetings happen ever year, usually when a team is struggling. The Cavaliers, Thunder and Lakers have already had confabs labeled a “team meeting” this season. Teams usually emerge saying they’ve found solutions to their problems. Sometimes, it translates onto the court. Usually, there’s not a significant turnaround.

I’ve never seen a public response to the meeting itself like with the Wizards, though.

John Wall, via Cam Ellis of NBC Sports Washington:

“At our team meeting, I think a couple guys took it in a negative way,” Wall said after the team’s win in Detroit. “It hurt our team. Instead of using it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a bit.”

Bradley Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.

“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”

Yeesh.

Nobody seemed to remember exactly when the meeting occurred, which says something. It sounds as if airing grievances actually hurt team chemistry.

The Wizards (26-20) are good, but not as good as hoped/expected. They too often coast against bad teams, and coach Scott Brooks has openly questioned their effort. So, what’s the solution?

Wall, via Buckner:

“Front office got to figure it out.”

If you’re one of Wall’s teammates who clashed at the meeting, and now you’re hearing him bring it up publicly and imply roster moves might be the solution, how would you feel about your future in Washington?

Rajon Rondo invites Ray Allen to 2008 Celtics reunion

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The 2008 Celtics are finally doing something that isn’t petty.

Rajon Rondo was planning a reunion vacation for that championship team while specifically not inviting Ray Allen. Allen ruffled feathers by leaving Boston for the Heat, and many Celtics held a grudge.

But Paul Pierce eventually said it’s time to move on, and now Rondo is also ready.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Rondo said Allen has an open invitation to join his former teammates this summer.

“Everybody [on the team] is invited,” he said.

This is how it should be. Allen was a free agent, free to sign with Miami or wherever he wanted. Not that it should matter here, but the Celtics tried to trade him before he left. And Pierce and Kevin Garnett also left Boston, Pierce talking Garnett into waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to the Nets.

It’s not clear how Garnett, another leader in the charge against Allen, feels about welcoming him. But, presumably, he’ll take a cue from Rondo. Garnett probably won’t be the one calling Allen with the trip details, though.

The big question now: Who gives Scot Pollard the itinerary?

Status woe: Cavaliers not planning lineup changes amid slump

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue isn’t changing his starting lineup or rotations despite Cleveland’s current troubling state.

A day after the Cavs gave up 148 points – tying a franchise record that stood since 1972 – in an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma City, Lue said he’s not making any major moves to snap his team from its mid-season doldrums (and as they head into a tough stretch of the schedule).

The Cavs have lost 10 of 14 and have been blown out three times in the past week.

Lue decided not to show his players video on Sunday as the team practiced in advance of Tuesday’s game in San Antonio. Lue explained his reasoning for not making any changes as the Cavs are the same team that won 13 straight and 18 of 19 earlier this season.

Cavs forward Kyle Korver said the only way to fix things is “to look yourself in the mirror and say how can I help the team? It’s really simple but it really is true.”

 

Three Things to Know: Tony Parker out as starter, Dejounte Murray in for Spurs

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Tony Parker loses starting job to Dejounte Murray, Spurs lose anyway to Pacers. Since getting back into the lineup after off-season quad surgery, future Hall of Famer Tony Parker has started all 21 games he has played in. He has started all but 13 games in a 17-year NBA career and hasn’t come off the bench for a game since 2010.

Until Sunday. Dejounte Murray got the call and that is how it’s going to be for a while in San Antonio. Parker told Tom Osborn of the Express-News he’s good with it because Popovich wants it.

“Pop told me,” Parker said. “He told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘No problem.’ Just like Manu (Ginobili), just like Pau (Gasol), you know that day is going to come. If Pop sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best…I will support Pop’s decision, and I will try to help DJ as best as I can and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu and Patty (Mills).”

Especially with Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay both out injured, the second unit could use some more shot creation, which Parker can provide. More importantly, Parker has said he isn’t right yet this season after surgery, and he had lost a step the last couple of seasons when he was healthy. Still, we will see how long this change sticks, every time the Spurs go away from Parker, they return. Before this game, the four regular Spurs starters this season — Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Paul Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge — plus Parker were outscoring teams by 29 points per 100 possessions. With Murray those four are -3.1 per 100 (Stats via Cleaning the Glass, which removes garbage time). (I need to add here that due to injuries, none of these lineups has played even 200 minutes together yet this season).

There is a statistical reason for the move, however — the Spurs have won this season despite having no Kawhi Leonard to speak of because of their second best defense in the NBA, and with Murray on the court this season San Antonio has been 11 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

Sunday, Popovich and the Spurs got the up-and-down, roller coaster game we have come to expect from Murray — he does a lot of good things, and he makes some plays like a young player. The defense was stingy, as expected, but the offense generated just 88.4 points per 100 possessions, and the Spurs lost to the Pacers 94-86. The starting five were -4 in their 15+ minutes.

Victor Oladipo had 19 points and led a balanced Pacers attack in the win.

2) Kyrie Irving returns, drops 40, but Celtics lose to lowly Magic anyway, their third straight defeat. If the Celtics were going to have a stinker of a game, Sunday was the time to do it because everyone in New England was focused on the Patriots and nobody was going to notice what they did.

After missing one game, Kyrie Irving returned with a vengeance Sunday scoring 40 points on 23 shots and hitting 5-of-7 from three. None of that mattered after the game, where the Celtics struggled at home and lost to the Orlando Magic, the formerly last-place team in the East, 103-95 (Orlando moved ahead of Atlanta with the win).

The struggle in those three games has been on the offensive end (the defense, best in the NBA for the season, has still been good). The Celtics are approaching the trade deadline looking for more shooting if they can find the right deal (what team isn’t?), and for a few games it has looked like they needed it because Jaylen Brown can’t make this between-the-legs move on every possession.

@fchwpo goes through his legs to get to the bucket!

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Boston is still two-games up in the East on Toronto, but they head now out of a four-game road trip in the West. We’ll see if the offense finds itself against the Lakers (who have played better the past couple of weeks and are no easy win).

3) Lakers’ fan drains $100K halfcourt shot. This was the shot of the day — and was worth $100,000 to a bounty hunter and Lakers’ fan.

Mayhem in LA as he uses the window for $100K!

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