Associated Press

Three things we learned Wednesday: There is no defense for, or in, Cavaliers recent play

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Wednesday night was a fantastic League Pass night of games — Dion Waiters with his second game-winner for the Heat in a week, James Harden bloodying a guy, the Celtics got an overtime win against the Rockets, another Russell Westbrook triple-double (that’s 23 in 46 games), Portland getting a key win in their playoff hunt, and we’re not going to get to any of that. There were bigger fish in the sea Wednesday. Here are the big takeaways from the night.

1) There is no defense: Cavaliers fall to Kings, dropping sixth in last eight.
The Cavaliers are moving from the “meh, it’s just a midseason slump” to the “do I smell smoke?” phase of their January swoon.

A couple of days after some frank talk from LeBron James about his team needing to step up (and needing some roster help) he went out and posted a triple-double against the Sacramento Kings — 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in 44 minutes. That’s LeBron’s second triple-double in as many nights, the man is leading by example trying to lift up his team.

And the Cavaliers still lost. Sacramento got 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists from DeMarcus Cousins — who also made the play to force overtime, where the Kings got the win.

But that play pointed to one of the key reasons the Cavaliers have lost three in a row and six-of-eight — their defense is not sharp. That’s why they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter (and a five-point one in OT) — they can’t get stops. All season Cleveland’s defense has been outside the top 10, but that was obscured by a great offense (and enough defense when they needed it). However, now that the offense has hit a rough patch (off six points per 100 possessions in the last eight games) the Cavs defense isn’t there to fall back on — in fact, it’s gotten worse. In the last eight games, the Cavs are allowing 110.3 points per 100 possessions, 24th in the NBA at that time.

On that play above, Cleveland tried to trap Darren Collison and left the Kings’ best player in Cousins wide open at the top of the arc, where Collison found him, Tristan Thompson was too slow to recover, and LeBron hesitated to leave Arron Afflalo (who in OT hit a dagger three) to help, so Cousins got all the way to the basket for the key bucket.

The Cavaliers offense will come around, but their defense hasn’t looked like that of a champion consistently all season. They just let Sacramento hang 119 on them, the Pelicans 124 the game before, the Spurs easily and even the Suns in a loss broke into triple digits against the Cavaliers lately. Somehow that has sparked ridiculous Carmelo Anthony trade rumors — because that would really fix the defense *cough* — but James said after the loss the Cavs need to focus on the guys they got.

“We can’t play fantasy basketball. We got who we got and we got to go out and play.”

Midseason swoons and turmoil are not new to this team. Remember they started 19-20 a couple of seasons ago, still made it to the Finals. Last season right about this time David Blatt was fired and Tyronn Lue given the team (the move LeBron wanted), then they went on to win a title. Come June we likely have forgotten this stretch. But only if the Cavaliers fix the defense that right now is not championship level and hasn’t been all season.

Before the game, Cavaliers GM David Griffin threw out an interesting theory to Joe Varden of the Plain Dealer.

“We’re a team that will create an opportunity for ourselves to have to dig out of a hole,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said before the game. “We do it in every single game. It’s just how we are. We’re not good from the front. We’re much better when we’re the hunter.”

It’s hard to be hunters as the champions — every team has you circled on the calendar, every building is sold out, every team is ready to give you their best. LeBron has handled it, it looks like Kyrie Irving has, but as a whole the Cavaliers don’t look like a team that has adjusted to their new reality. In January that has them at 5-7 and stumbling along. The house isn’t on fire yet, but they need to get some water on it fast. And stop counting on someone from the outside to come in and save them — they need to do it with the guys in the room.

2) Not that the Raptors are taking advantage of the Cavs stumbles, Toronto lost its fifth in a row. However, Boston won. Want to talk about teams who are stumbling, the Toronto Raptors offense has decided to take a midseason vacation to Aruba, with Kyle Lowry‘s jumper leading the way, and the Raptors are floundering. In December the Raptors scored 114.6 points per 100 possessions and were battling with Houston and Golden State for the best offense in the NBA. In January they are at 108.6 per 100 and, like the Cavaliers, they don’t have the defense to bail them out. If you want a much more detailed discussion of all things Raptors, check out the latest PBT Podcast with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.

Against the Raptors, Marc Gasol put up a career-high 42 to get Memphis the win.

Because of their stumbles, the Raptors remain three back of the slumping Cavaliers — instead, the Raptors need to look behind them. Boston won on Wednesday behind another huge game from Isaiah Thomas (38 points) and the Celtics are now just half a game back of the Raptors (despite Boston having their own issues of late). Atlanta in the four seed is just one game back of Toronto after beating the Bulls. If the Raptors offense doesn’t return from vacation soon, the road to the Eastern Conference Finals could get a lot tougher for them with more road games.

3) Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler go off on Bulls effort after team blows 10 point lead with three minutes to go, fall to Hawks. The Bulls just had their worst loss of the season, taking their foot off the gas up 10 with three minutes to go, slacking on defense (plus the Hawks just hit some shots), going 2-of-9 in the final three and having role players miss wide-open looks, and just generally looking bad. The Bulls are back to below .500 (23-24). After the game, Wade unloaded on his team and all but said “this is not why I came home,” via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“I don’t know what happened, but you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don’t care enough,” Wade said. “You don’t care enough. It’s got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn’t. So I don’t know. I don’t know happened. I don’t know how you fix it. It just doesn’t mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games.

“It pisses me off, but I can’t be frustrated and I can’t care too much for these guys. They got to care for themselves. We got to do better.”

Jimmy Butler echoed that.

“I heard what D-(Wade) was over there saying, yeah,” Butler said. “Mother——- just got to care if we win or lose. At the end of the day, do whatever it takes to help the team win. You play your role to the tee. Be a star in your role, man. That’s how you win in this league, man. You have to embrace what this team, what this organization needs for you to do on either end of the floor. On top of everything else, just play every possession like it’s your last. We don’t play hard all the time. It’s very disappointing whenever we don’t play hard.”

Leadership to change that is going to have to come from Wade and Butler because Fred Hoiberg is not going to go on a Thibodeau-style rant.

Bonus note: The hottest team in the East? How about the Sixers.

The Sixers are 4.5 games out of a playoff spot in the East. There would be four teams to climb over, which is a lot, but the Sixers just won two games in a row without Joel Embiid. Cue Kevin Garnett:

Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan lead Raptors past Mavericks, 94-86

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DALLAS (AP) — DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka scored 18 points apiece, and the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth after their fifth straight victory, 94-86 over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

The Raptors, who came back from 15-point deficits to win each of their last two games, made it a little easier on themselves Saturday. Toronto scored the game’s first seven points and never trailed in dealing the Mavericks’ playoff hopes a damaging blow.

Harrison Barnes scored 23 points for Dallas, which missed 18 of its first 22 3-pointers and finished just 7 of 28 from behind the arc.

Patrick Patterson added 14 points for Toronto, including a perfect 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.

The Mavericks fell four games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

Toronto led by as many as 16 points in the first half and by 15 early in the fourth quarter before a 10-0 Dallas run made things more interesting.

Dorian Finney-Smith‘s free throws with 7:57 to go brought the Mavs within 79-74, the closest they had been since 7-2 early in the game. But Ibaka made consecutive jumpers to restore a nine-point lead, and Dallas got no closer than six after that.

The Raptors had their biggest lead at 42-26 in the first half. Barnes scored Dallas’ last 11 points of the half to help cut into the lead, but Toronto led 54-44 at the break.

J.J. Barea‘s long 3 at the third-quarter buzzer again brought Dallas within 10 at 74-64.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey said he was hopeful that guard Kyle Lowry would return from wrist surgery before the end of the regular season. “I know he’s doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of work to keep his body in shape,” Casey said. “Just let him rehab, let him do his thing and trust our medical people.” Lowry has missed the last 16 games. . Toronto was also without starting forward DeMarre Carroll due to a sore lower back. P.J. Tucker started in his place.

Mavericks: Seth Curry with 11 points and Yogi Ferrell with 10 were the only other Mavs in double figures. . Nerlens Noel started his second game in a row at center for the Mavericks, who have gone to a big lineup. They’ve moved Dirk Nowitzki to power forward, Barnes to small forward and Curry to point guard.

STREAK IN JEOPARDY

The Mavericks took their 41st loss of the season. Their next loss will end the NBA’s second-longest streak of .500 or better seasons – currently at 16 seasons. Their last sub-.500 season was 1999-00, when they finished 40-42 and Mark Cuban became owner of the team in January 2000.

San Antonio has the longest streak of .500 or better seasons with 20, including this season.

ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT

Cuban couldn’t resist giving his opinion on Barea’s ejection from the Mavericks’ victory over the Clippers on Thursday night. Barea was called for a flagrant 2 foul for pushing Blake Griffin, a player with a 10-inch height advantage over Barea.

“I just feel bad for Blake,” Cuban said. “It’s hard to come back from a knockout like that. We sent flowers to his family, condolences. I can only guess that he’s going to be drinking through a straw for a long, long time.”

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.