Associated Press

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


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.


LaMarcus Aldridge drops career-high 45 points, Spurs beat Jazz in OT

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell‘s 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs’ 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah’s 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Aldridge averaged 32.2 points and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak, including two double-doubles.

Aldridge scored 28 points in the first half on 12-for-16 shooting, including a 3-pointer.

Utah missed its first six shots and was 4 for 14 as San Antonio grabbed a 19-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Mitchell settled the Jazz, scoring six points to cut the Spurs lead to 29-21 heading into the second quarter.

Mitchell was 14-for-35 shooting while falling six points shy of his season-high.

Derrick Favors added 22 points for Utah and Ricky Rubio had 20.

Ginobili finished with 18 points for the Spurs.


Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury


In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.

He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.

Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.

Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.

Pacers use late surge to beat Clippers, close in on playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles’ fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games.

They certainly had a chance to turn things around.

After the Clippers rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 88-87 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, the teams traded the lead 10 times before Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to leave it tied at 100 with 2:17 to play.

Bogdanovic broke the tie with a 12-footer and the Pacers followed that with seven straight points before Williams made a layup with 12 seconds left to end the run.

The Clippers were making shots early but couldn’t pull away from Indiana.

They led 28-27 after one and allowed Indiana to use a 9-2 spurt midway through the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit and take a 40-39 lead.

The Pacers scored the final five points of the half to break a 53-all tie and broke it open early in the third when Oladipo made his first three shots of the game, including two 3-pointers to make it 66-55.

Indiana then poured it on. Thaddeus Young‘s layup with 9:02 left in the third made it a 12-point game. Milos Teodosic‘s basket briefly halted the run, but the Pacers scored the next nine points to make it 75-57 with 6:19 to go.

Los Angeles closed the third quarter on a 12-5 run to get to 82-76.


LeBron James throws touchdown pass like Cleveland fans hope Sam Darnold can

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Cleveland fans can only hope Sam Darnold is as good a passer as LeBron James.

And that his receivers are better than Jose Calderon. Or at least taller.

LeBron James grabbed a rebound and threw a perfect touchdown pass to a leaked out Jose Calderon as the Cavaliers went on to beat the Phoenix Suns Friday night.

🙌🏽 @kingjames 🎯 @jmcalderon8 🙌🏽

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By the way, LeBron made a nice dish to the returned Larry Nance Jr., too.