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Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Cleveland still has LeBron, still is best in East

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Thursday night was the night things seemed to return to their expected order in the NBA, with the best asserting themselves in each conference and the Knicks owner arguing with fans. Here are the big takeaways from Thursday around the Association.

1) LeBron James decides to take over, Cavaliers rise up with him, remind Boston and everyone who is the power in the East. The Cavaliers didn’t look vulnerable Wednesday. And Boston looked like a team one player away from elite.

The showdown for the top seed in the East was close for a quarter, then to start the second it looked like LeBron James said “enough of this s—” and he took over the game for a stretch. Looking every bit the best player on the planet, LeBron scored a dozen points and dished out a couple assists during a 22-4 Cleveland run where the team just owned the court (the LeBron plus the bench unit has been strong for Cleveland all season). That lifted up the entire Cavaliers team — without Tristan Thompson for the first time in about five years, and on the second night of a back-to-back — and they played like the best team in the East. Cleveland cruised from there to a 114-91 win, their fourth win in a row, and the Cavs looked sharp on both ends of the court. They looked like a team that has flipped the switch for the playoffs.

The result, the Warriors are up 4.5 games with four to play on the Spurs, the Warriors win the West. Golden State also became the first team in NBA history to win 65 games or more in three consecutive seasons.

Now, look for both of these teams to rest some players down the stretch. The Warriors will start trying to integrate Kevin Durant back into the lineup this weekend so Kerr will want him out there with Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green for some stretches, but those guys will see a minutes drop if not a complete night off or two down the stretch. If I need to tell you Gregg Popovich is going to rest guys before the playoffs, well, welcome newbie to following the NBA.

3) Russell Westbrook did not get a triple-double. What he did do was take over in the fourth and get the Thunder a win. Coming into Wednesday night, Oklahoma City was 12-24 on the season when Russell Westbrook did not get a triple-double — he’s not just chasing stats, his team needs those stats. In a key game for Western Conference seeding Wednesday night in Memphis, Westbrook did not get a triple-double.

What he did instead was score 14 of his 45 in the fourth quarter, spark a late run and get the Thunder a win that all but ensures they will finish sixth in the West, and the Grizzlies seventh. Westbrook had eight threes on the night, including the dagger.

That looks a lot like what an MVP does. But in the name of the dead fairness doctrine, James Harden had 31 points and 10 assists helping his team beat Denver, and he was impressive as well.

 

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.