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

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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.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.