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Three Things We Learned Monday: Golden State has found some fight, its groove again

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Not happy with the NBA coverage tonight? Then #justaddzebras. As for us, here are the big takeaways from Monday.


1) Stephen Curry is knocking down threes, Warriors showing fight, look like old selves routing Thunder.
This was supposed to be the second “Kevin Durant returns to Oklahoma City” game, except KD is still in street clothes following his knee sprain/bone bruise (he is taking some jumpers now, but no timetable on his return worth trusting yet).

Don’t think for a second that relieved the tension.

That shoving match between Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green, and Semaj Christon led to all four of them getting technical fouls (that’s 15 this season for Westbrook, one more this season and he gets suspended for a game). However, by the time it happened at the end of the first half this game was all but over, and after Curry responded to the incident with a buzzer-beating three to end the half that put the Warriors up 20, it was over.

Golden State found it’s groove again. Yes, that means that Curry and Klay Thompson combined to drain 14 threes, and the Warriors as a team shot 45.3 percent from beyond the arc. However, more than that, it means the Warriors are playing good defense again — the Thunder shot just 8-of-36 (22.2 percent) outside the key in this one. Westbrook was 4-of-16 for 15 points, one of his roughest outings of the season. A lot of fans don’t realize the Warriors have the second best defense in the NBA this season, it had gone missing for a few games but it was back on Monday, and with it so were the Warriors the rest of the league should fear.

2) James Harden looks like an MVP with 39 points, 11 assists, coast-to-coast game winner.
While Westbrook had an off night, the beard was looking every bit the MVP for the Rockets in a tough game with a desperate Denver team trying to make the playoffs. That includes going coast-to-coast for the game winner.

Harden was 13-of-29 from the field on his way to 39 points, plus he dished out 11 assists. The key is that his team won — his MVP claim is both based on great statistics and that he is lifting his team to higher heights than Westbrook with the Thunder. While Westbrook likely will average a triple double for the season, his team is on pace to win 47 games and be the six or seven seed in the West. Harden has the Rockets on pace for 57 wins and they look like a potential contender, a team that could well make the conference finals (that second round Rockets/Spurs matchup that seems to be lining up will be fantastic). Those wins appear to be swaying media voters toward Harden for MVP. So do nights like this one.

3) Celtics may have solidified two seed in East with win over Wizards. There were a few games with playoff implications on Monday — Denver’s loss helps Portland, Indiana’s win while Atlanta lost makes the 5/6 race in the East tighter, the Clippers win while Utah and OKC loss is a boost for L.A. — but the biggest one was Boston beating Washington 110-102.

The Wizards had dreams of catching the Celtics and getting the two seed in the East, but the return of Isaiah Thomas and his 25 points helped Boston to a crucial win.

The win was key because it puts the second-seeded Celtics 2.5 games up on Washington with just a few weeks left to play in the regular season. Combine that with the Celtics having an easier schedule than the Wizards down the stretch, and it’s tough to see how Washington closes that gap. Boston will get the two seed.

The win was also critical for the Celtics’ confidence. This is a potential second-round playoff matchup, and the Wizards had won two-of-three between the teams already this season. Boston not only evened the season series it showed that it is playing well at home, where they have won 11-of-12 — and if the Celtics and Wizards meet in the second round the Celtics will have the home court advantage.

That potential (likely?) series is more than a month away and Boston will be challenged to slow the Wizards backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. However, they did a reasonable job Monday — Wall and Beal combined for 35 points on 10-of-25 shooting — and that should be a confidence boost.

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.