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Three Things We Learned Thursday: Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?


If you spent Thursday worried that Sharknado is real, we understand. Here is what you missed around the NBA as you prepped for that looming disaster.

1) Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: There is no stopping the TNT Bulls — Thursday night made 20 straight home wins for Chicago when the game is broadcast on TNT. Nikola Mirotic is lighting it up of late, and he dropped 28. The Bulls needed the win, they remain a game back of the Pacers and Heat for the final playoff slots in the East, however, the Bulls have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. They should get in, and this win helps.

That said, the Bulls are not the big story out of that game. Rather, it’s the stumbling Cavaliers — they have lost three straight, and will finish March 6-10 with the worst defense in the NBA during that month. They have fallen behind Boston as the top seed in the East and simply look nothing like a contender. After this loss, LeBron James said “we’re just in a bad spot right now.”

Is it time to worry if you’re a Cleveland fan?

There are plenty of reasons to shoot that idea down: The Cavs remain the most talented roster in the East, and getting to the playoffs healthy is what matters most because if they do they are still the favorites. This is the same core roster that won the NBA title last year, they are just a little bored, but they can flip the switch (see LeBron’s first half against the Bulls for example). Also, getting the No. 1 seed is not that big a deal — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, but four of those years his team did it out of the two seed.

Still, there is real reason for concern. The Cavaliers defense has been flat-out a disaster since the All-Star break. It feels like that switch might be harder to flip in the postseason. Part of it is effort, but if the team is not building good habits now what will they fall back on in the playoffs. Some nights the offense can still cover up the bad defense, but Thursday night Kevin Love fouled out with eight points on 10 shots, and Kyrie Irving going cold if he got chased off the arc (2-of-13 on twos). Those guys can’t be off and have this team win when they defend like matadors waiving their cape at the bull going by.

It still comes back to this for me: Which team in the East can beat a healthy Cavaliers team four times in seven games? I still don’t see one. But if they are still defending poorly by the start of the second round, that may change.

2) LeBron James passed Shaq for seventh on the All-Time NBA scoring list. Shaquille O’Neal just got a statue put up outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, he’s been riding high, maybe he needed to get knocked down a peg.

While LeBron was trying to will his team to play better against the Bulls, he passed former teammate Shaq and moved into seventh on the all-time NBA scoring list.

Next up on that list for LeBron is Dirk Nowitzki, although he remains a moving target.

3) Houston Rockets set record for most made three pointers in a season. When you think about how they’ve played this year, it seemed inevitable. With this vintage James Harden jab step then step-back three, the Houston Rockets hit their 1,078 three-pointers on the season, passing the record set last year by the Warriors.

It’s an impressive feat, but considering the direction of the NBA it likely lasts about as long as the Warriors’ record did. Here’s a look back at the best threes from the Rockets this season.

Referees misattribute comment to Dwane Casey, incorrectly eject Raptors coach (VIDEO)

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Things sort of fell apart at the end of Sunday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It all started with about a minute left in the game when Serge Ibaka tackled Steven Adams.

No, really.

As Paul George finished the second of two free throws, Ibaka and Adams began to battle for the possible rebound. Adams gave Ibaka the slip off the lane line, and as a recovery move Ibaka tackled his former teammate on the baseline.

Via Twitter:

Then, with 30 seconds left and a chance to tie, DeMar DeRozan drove the lane and missed a shot near the rim while being defended by Corey Brewer.

DeRozan felt he was fouled, and quickly let the officials know about it. The Raptors star could be seen going after ref Marc Davis. Shortly thereafter, DeRozan was given a technical foul.

Via Twitter:

But it didn’t stop there.

A few seconds later, as the game wound down, DeRozan went after the referees again. He was given a second technical, and ejected along with teammate Serge Ibaka.

Then came Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

With fans in the Air Canada Centre chanting at referees, and with tensions high, the officiating crew mistakenly attributed a comment made by a fan or someone else on the Toronto bench to Casey. They decided to eject Casey with just eight seconds left, despite the coach not being the person who actually spoke to the referees.

Kyle Lowry couldn’t believe it, and even Brewer had a good laugh about that one.

The NBA is going to have some explaining to do on that one. Officiating is still under fire in the NBA, with New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry being the most recent coach to go off about the grey shirts.

I’m going to set a few alarms for when they release the L2M report Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the Thunder beat the Raptors, 132-125.

Oh, and the referees had to leave the floor in Toronto with a security detail.

Alvin Gentry on refs after controversial James Harden foul: “You can’t guess on plays”

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Alvin Gentry was heated after the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, all thanks to a late foul on James Harden. Oh boy.

Gentry was given a technical foul after speaking with officials with 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter in a tight matchup between the two Western Conference playoff teams. The Pelicans coach was heated about a foul called on Jrue Holiday after Harden swung through the defender’s area to get free throws on a 3-point attempt.

That didn’t sit right with Gentry, who went after referee David Guthrie. After complaining for some time, Gentry got a handle on himself and went back to his seat on the bench. That’s when he was called for a technical foul.

Here’s the play in question, and Gentry’s response after the game:

Gentry does have a general point, and sounds like just about any non-Houston fan you overhear at games or in bars regarding Harden’s wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man style. Nevermind his driving — which consistently gets players to legitimately hack away at his arms — the question on the play in New Orleans is whether the defender has a right to that space, and whether Holiday made a move.

Pelicans broadcaster David Wesley pointed out that if a defender is in his own defensive space and not moving, it shouldn’t be a foul if the offensive player jams his way into the defender’s arms. That’s part of why the idea of verticality works for modern NBA big men defending the rim.

Offensive players are getting more astute at drawing contact, then finding a way to immediately get fouled after the contact. It’s something that will need to be addressed by the NBA in coming seasons, as there are quite a few instances of contact specifically being drawn by an offender by moving into the defender’s space and drawing contact with their arms.

However, on the play in question, if you rewind it enough times you can barely see Holiday’s arm and elbow flex reactively before Harden moves the ball up. Thus, in the purview of instant replay, it was probably a foul.

Here it is in super slo-mo:

Gentry is likely to get a nice big fine as others have this season for criticizing officials. It seems that even after the All-Star Break meeting to sort out some issues between the NBPA and NBRA not everyone is happy.

Expect a bigger overhaul and more announcements regarding NBA refereeing in the offseason.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sits out second half Saturday with illness

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CHICAGO (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue remained in the locker room to start the second half of their game against the Chicago Bulls because of an illness.

Lue was on the sideline as the Cavaliers used a strong second quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead. He did not come out for the start of the third Saturday night, and he did not return to the game.

Lue has missed one other game this season due to illness. He is expected back on Monday when the Cavs host the struggling Bucks.

The Cavaliers went on to get the win over the Bulls Saturday, 114-109.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

Associated Press
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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