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Three things we learned Monday: Cavs lose again, we’re reminded LeBron has a lot of miles on him


It was the rare TNT Monday games this week, so there was plenty of quality NBA action, but if you were too busy watching Daffy Duck/Coolio mashups then we’ve got you covered with what you need to know from around the league.

1) Dallas knocks off Cleveland, and LeBron James passes Michael Jordan on a list that makes him look old. If you don’t follow the NBA closely, this loss looks far worse — Dallas entered Monday night’s game against Cleveland 17-30, one of the few teams in the West seemingly out of the playoff hunt midway through the season. But if you follow the league you know Dallas finally has gotten healthy and started to win games — they are 7-3 in their last 10, with a top 10 in the NBA offense and defense in that time.

The Cavaliers will attest to that. Kevin Love was out, Tristan Thompson was limited by foul trouble, and Kyrie Irving and LeBron (who had 23/9/9) couldn’t carry the team on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas got the win 104-97 behind 24 points and 11 rebounds from Harrison Barnes. LeBron still had some highlights.

The Cavaliers will finish January 7-8. It’s a midseason swoon, although it’s hard to get worked up over that because the Cavaliers had a mid-season slump last year, changed coaches, and went on to win a ring. LeBron’s Heat teams hit midseason doldrums, too, yet always made the Finals. What is more concerning about the Cavs ability to bounce back is this, via ESPN:

That’s a lot of miles on the tread. Part of the reason LeBron, at just age 32, passed Jordan has been the annual deep playoff runs — he has been to six straight NBA Finals — plus he didn’t spend a year in college like MJ. But the load is not lightening up. LeBron leads the NBA in minutes played per game this season at 37.5 (he’s 11th in total minutes because he’s had nights off). Those minutes are close to what LeBron and coach Tyronn Lue discussed before the season, and there is no better conditioned athlete in the league than LeBron, but still that’s a lot of wear and tear. At some point it’s going to catch up to him. Maybe not this season, maybe not next, but eventually.

2) Miami has won eight in a row.
It seems ridiculous after their start to the season to discuss Miami’s playoff chances, but here we are — after winning their eighth in a row Monday night the Heat are just 4.5 games out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s unlikely they can leapfrog four teams (New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Charlotte) to get in, but if they keep playing like this it’s possible.

Miami won its eighth in a row, beating lowly Brooklyn 104-96 by making the big plays.

The Heat’s offense is good — they are shooting 42.3 percent from three during this win streak — but it is the defense that has keyed the run: Miami is allowing less than a point per possession during this run. And the help on that end is coming not just from Hassan Whiteside but also from unexpected sources.

Maybe more surprising than Miami’s hot streak is Dion Waiters has become a force controlling the game — he had 19 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in the win Monday.

The Heat are at home against the Hawks and Sixers this week, then head out on the road for four as they try to keep this win streak going. And maybe their playoff chances.

3) Mike Conley scores career-high 38 to get Memphis a win. Mike Conley has become an annual snub for the All-Star Game and competes for the title of “most underappreciated player in the NBA.” There’s not much he can do about the ASG snub again this year, but he did do something about getting noticed dropping a career-high 38 on the Suns in the Grizzlies’ win Monday.

Bonus thing we loved from Monday: Andrew Wiggins unleashed a dunk of the year candidate on Orlando.

Rumor: Injured Jimmy Butler wore his jersey under shirt and jacket on Timberwolves bench

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Jimmy Butler‘s competitive fire burns hot.

How hot?

Butler is chomping at the bit to return from his knee injury. He sat on the Timberwolves’ bench during their loss to the Rockets last night wearing what appeared to be typical attire for a sidelined player. But dig deeper, and…

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This story is too good to check out.

Kevin Love returns to Cavaliers lineup Monday vs. Bucks

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The last time Kevin Love suited up for the Cavaliers, it was still January and Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Jae Crowder were still on the team.

That is about to change tonight — Love will return from a fractured hand and play for the Cavaliers, but on a minutes restriction to start, interim coach Larry Drew confirmed.

Cleveland needs Love back. The Cavaliers went 11-9 without him in this stretch (and 6-7 since the All-Star break) with an offense that has still been top 10 in the NBA but a defense that is holding them back. The Cavaliers’ defense is just not on the same page right now, and the more time the regular rotations guys get to play together, the better they should be before the playoffs start.

As Love rounds into form, the Cavaliers have to figure out their rotations. Does Love start Love next to Larry Nance Jr., or does Nance come off the bench again? Probably the latter, but the Cavaliers will toy with the rotations (and do that more when Tristan Thompson returns).

Former NBA All-Star Steve Francis cited for public intoxication

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What happened to Steve Francis [after his playing days]? I was drinking heavily, is what happened. And that can be just as bad (as drug use). In the span of a few years I lost basketball, I lost my whole identity, and I lost my stepfather, who committed suicide.”
—Steve Francis, writing in the Players’ Tribune earlier this month, about his journey from selling crack to the NBA, and what happened after.

Addiction, once it’s got you, never goes away. The fight to stay sober/clean is a new one every day.

Steve Francis was cited for public intoxication in Burbank, Calif., after an incident at a hotel bar, according to TMZ (since confirmed by other reports).

Francis, 41, was arrested around 11:40 PM after police were called for a disturbance between two men at a hotel in Burbank.

Law enforcement sources tell us when cops arrived, Francis was intoxicated. He was arrested for being drunk in public.

Francis was transported to jail … before being given a citation and released around 7 AM Monday morning.

Francis denied in the Players’ Tribune article rumors he had a drug problem, but he owned up to drinking.

Lakers coach Luke Walton: I thought Pacers’ Paul George trade was ‘lopsided’ in favor of Thunder

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Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said the Pacers “could have done better” than trading Paul George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Gilbert would have company with egg on their face if more people shared their views on the deal when it happened.

Lakers coach Luke Walton – whose team plays Indiana tonight – joined the club with an admission.



Originally, I thought it was kind of a lopsided trade, but I’m man enough to admit that I was wrong. Indiana has, I think they’re probably the surprise team of the season so far. They’re playing unbelievable. They have that three seed. And both of those players they got in the trade, they’re playing some really, really good basketball. So, obviously, a good trade for both teams.

Me too, Luke. Me too.

George is basically who we thought he was. But Oladipo and Sabonis have taken major steps forward. Sabonis’ growth as a second-year player was more predictable. Oladipo’s breakthrough seemed far less likely – and has carried far larger ramifications.

Oladipo was fine in Oklahoma City and Orlando, but he got into the best shape of his life and developed his outside shooting, particularly off the dribble. He has become a true star, putting up big offensive numbers while remaining a plus defender.

All the credit goes to Oladipo for making it happen and Pacers president Kevin Pritchard for ensuring Indiana reaped the rewards. I bet even Pritchard is surprised by Oladipo’s level of play, but Pritchard bet on Oladipo. Pritchard gets credit for the outcome.

People like Walton and myself eat crow.