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Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Top four in East all face off, Celtics and Wizards get big wins

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What kind of world do we live in where someone would actually pretend to be in Nickleback? Why? So many things make no sense. Fortunately, we have hoops to distract us. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday in the NBA.

1) Wizards beat Raptors in race to avoid fourth seed in the East. Amongst Boston, Washington, and Toronto there is a serious playoff seedings race underway — to avoid being the four seed. The reason is simple, nobody wants to face Cleveland in the second round of the postseason. Teams want to be on the other side of the bracket, have a path to the conference finals and take your shot at the East’s powerhouse there. The four seed means a tough Atlanta team in the first round (most likely) then the Cavs.

A home-and-home this week between Toronto and Washington could play a huge role in who avoids that four seed, and round one went to the Wizards. Washington had just knocked off Golden State the night before (the game where Kevin Durant was injured) and on the second night of a back-to-back built on that against the Kyle Lowry-less Raptors, 105-96. The real hero for the Wizards was just acquired Bojan Bogdanovic, who had a team-high 27 points and was at the heart of a 26-3 run by the second unit that blew the game open.

Also give the Wizards’ small forward Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre credit for quality defense on DeMar DeRozan all night, making him work for his 24 points. The Raptors offense is just far easier to defend without Lowry in part because the threat of the three has dropped off: in the four games without Lowry, the Raptors are taking just 6.5 threes per game and hitting 32 percent of them. That has to change or teams will just pack the paint and go under every pick.

The Wizards and Raptors move to our nation’s capital and face off again Friday.

2) LeBron James puts up triple-double, and Celtics still beat Cavaliers. It felt like a playoff game in Boston Garden. Let’s not confuse a March 1 win against a team out two starters with something that actually can be predictive about the playoffs — regular season matchups are often poor indicators of playoff series — but for Boston this was a confidence booster.

LeBron James was doing his thing —28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but when it came to late game execution is was Boston making the plays. Isaiah Thomas was impressive as always with 31 points on just 20 shots, but he got help with critical late-game plays from Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Avery Bradley was hitting big shots, too.

Of course, it was IT with the dagger in the fourth that sealed the win.

The win puts the Celtics within three games of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East. That dream is not happening for Boston without some serious help from the Cavs, but this win does help keep Boston a step ahead of Toronto and Washington (see above). It’s a quality win, and a reminder the Celtics will be a tough out come the postseason.

3) Nets win! Nets win! Their 16-game losing streak is over. Break up the Brooklyn Nets. Wait, previous management did that years ago, now a new front office is trying to put it all back together despite a bunch of missing pieces.

The Nets had lost 16 in a row before landing in Sacramento to face the Demarcus-less Kings Wednesday night, and it was all Nets from the start — they never trailed in the contest. Brook Lopez had 24 points, Jeremy Lin added 17, and the Nets got enough stops to pick up a road win. That’s Brooklyn’s 10th win of the season.

Buddy Hield had 16 off the bench for the Kings, and Ty Lawson played in spite of the Taco Tuesday disaster and added 15. Also worth noting, rookie Skal Labissiere has shown flashes the last few games, and had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Long way to go with him still, but you can see why he was so highly recruited coming into college.

Report: Spurs re-signing Pau Gasol to three-year contract

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Even after Pau Gasol opted out, there it nearly certain he’d stay with the Spurs.

Now, a deal is done.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m a little surprised San Antonio guaranteed Gasol’s salary next season. By rule, it must be within 5% of what he’ll earn this year.

The Spurs could have major flexibility to chase free agents next summer, making keeping the books clean a priority. Their only constraints with Gasol this year are paying him up to 120% of his prior salary (which comes out to $18.6 million), the hard cap ($125,266,000) and whatever expense ownership would endure. So, if Gasol were willing to play ball, San Antonio could have paid him a sizable salary this year and far less – the room exception or even the minimum – next year.

Instead, Gasol’s compensation will be more balanced between the seasons. We’ll see how much he’ll earn.

Gasol remains an effective scorer, in part because he increased his range beyond the 3-point arc. He rebounds well in his area, and his length and basketball intelligence make him a passable defender given his other skills. His immobility can be a major defensive liability in certain matchups, though.

He’s also 37, an age where players can drop off quickly – another reason a one-year deal would’ve been preferable. At least the partial guarantee in the third year will help San Antonio.

Report: Kyrie Irving asked Cavaliers to trade him, blindsiding LeBron James

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Kyrie Irving said the Cavaliers were in a “peculiar place.”

We didn’t realize quite how peculiar.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Kyrie Irving is ready to end his run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as league sources told ESPN that the guard has asked the team to trade him.

The request came last week and was made to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Irving has expressed that he wants to go play in a situation where he can be a more focal point and no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James, sources said.

James was informed of Irving’s request and was blindsided and disappointed, sources said.

Irving has admitted playing with LeBron has sometimes been rocky. It paid off with a championship in 2016, and I’m sure Irving found the tradeoff worthwhile then.

But the Warriors are so dominant with Kevin Durant. Even a team with LeBron, Irving and Kevin Love is a major underdog. If Irving would prefer to lead a team, it’s much easier to reject a supporting role when it’s so unlikely to culminate in a championship. (It’s also easier with a title already under his belt.)

This shouldn’t quiet the alarms of LeBron leaving next summer. Just because Irving doesn’t want to play with him doesn’t mean LeBron wants to play without Irving. This could push LeBron further out the door.

I also wouldn’t read too much into this signaling LeBron’s intent to stay in Cleveland. Though it’s possible Irving has a read on LeBron’s plan, a trade is the only sure-fire way to escape LeBron – and do it without playing another year with him.

I wouldn’t  tell Irving what would make him happiest. Cleveland is not a premier market, and playing in LeBron’s shadow isn’t always ideal for another star.

But I’m leery of Irving’s ability to lead a successful team. The Cavs stunk before LeBron returned and have stunk when he sits and Irving plays. Irving’s shortcomings – defense, distributing – become more pronounced as his team’s best player.

Maybe Irving is up for the challenge. He clearly wants it.

Then again, Cleveland doesn’t have to grant him the ability to try. He’s locked up for two more years. He can request, but not force, a trade.

This is a difficult time for the Cavaliers, who need visionary leadership. Their general manager has his hands full.

Oh, right.

NBA: Cleveland won’t get 2020 or 2021 All-Star game unless arena renovation begins by Sept. 15

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Cavaliers CEO Len Komoroski said Cleveland had been promised an NBA All-Star game if it upgraded its basketball arena.

The city committed taxpayer money to arena upgrades.

So, the Cavaliers are hosting an All-Star game?

Not so fast.

A group has opposed the city spending taxpayer money on arena so the billionaire who profits off the arena doesn’t have to pay for upgrades himself. That money could better serve a wider section of Clevelanders, and the group has tied up the plan in court.

Now, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum wrote in a letter that Cleveland might not get an All-Star game.

Kevin Cleps of Crain’s Cleveland Business:

The letter was included in a 276-page summary that was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday, July 20.

In the letter to Gilbert, Tatum confirms that the NBA has received the sports commission’s bid packet to host the All-Star Game in Cleveland, and says the league will be awarding the 2020 and ’21 events in the near future.

But, he adds, the league “will not be able to consider Cleveland as the host city for NBA All-Star 2020 or 2021 unless construction of The Q’s ‘Transformation’ project begins on or before September 15, 2017.”

Tatum says that the NBA has “already delayed the awarding” of those showcase events to “accommodate Cleveland, and unfortunately we cannot ask the other NBA cities that have held these dates open to wait any longer.”

The NBA is dangling a carrot in front of Cleveland, urging the local government to spend taxpayer money on the billion-dollar business’ arena. It might work. It often does. But Cleveland will be fine without an All-Star game, the economic effects of which are often exaggerated.

As Sept. 15 nears, it appears increasingly likely other cities will get the next couple All-Star games to be assigned. Still, there’s a chance the Cavaliers prevail in court in time.

J.J. Redick: Clippers lost joy

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J.J. Redick and the Clippers seemed done with each other before free agency even began.

Redick – who signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the 76ers – gave Uninterrupted a behind-the-scenes look into his free agency. In the above video, he revealed plenty about his situation in L.A.:

It’s s—y to say this, but I think I’ve had a loss of joy. I look at our team and how we play, and it’s just there’s no joy in it. That bothers me.

On June 29th at about 10 p.m., I got a call from Lawrence Frank from the Clippers. I jokingly call it my breakup call. He just told me they weren’t going to offer me a contract. I wasn’t going to be back.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Blame Chris Paul for not relenting enough in his grating perfectionism and being petty. Blame Blake Griffin for being aloof about weight of his actions. Blame Paul and Griffin for waiting too long to get serious about bonding. Blame Doc Rivers for bringing in Austin Rivers and inviting accusations of nepotism. Blame Doc Rivers for too long setting a tone of whining.

Blame a tough Western Conference and injury for keeping a team with championship aspirations from never advancing past the second round. Blame familiarity, which bred contempt over several years with the same core.

Whomever or whatever you blame, the outcome seems tough to dispute: The Clippers looked joyless by the end of their run. Redick saying it only confirms the perception.

I’m curious whether he’ll find more joy in Philadelphia. A new situation will be refreshing, and the 76ers – young and talented – are hungry. Expectations are low after years of tanking, so even modest gains will be celebrated. But they’re also worse than the Clippers were, and losing more often will be an adjustment.

To get a better idea where Redick is coming from as he begins in Philadelphia, I recommend watching the video in full. It’s quite illuminating.