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Three Things to Know: What is wrong with the Cavaliers?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Or, what you missed yesterday while bingeing the new season of Stranger Things. For a second time.

1) What is wrong with the Cavaliers? It’s a combination of three things.
It’s early. The NBA tends to follow form over the marathon of the season and especially in playoff series. Which is to say LeBron James is right when he said, “It’s a long season. It’s way too (early to judge]).”

That said, the Cavaliers have lost games to the Magic, Nets, Pelicans, and Knicks in four of their last five games — coach Tyronn Lue called the last one to New York “unacceptable. In those five games the Cavaliers have the second-worst defense in the NBA and have been outscored by 11.2 points per 100 possessions, The Cavs are now 3-4 on the season, and after opening night they had a very soft schedule. All of this gets viewed through the lens of LeBron making his decision on where to play next season.

What’s wrong? Here are three things I see.

• They are in a malaise on defense. Defense in the NBA starts with effort, and the Cavaliers have given almost none of it. This shows up mostly on defensive rotations, if a team can move the ball the Cavaliers fail to rotate and spot-up shooters are getting great looks. But it’s more than that, it’s guys slowly jogging back in transition defense (the not-so-speedy Knicks abused them here), or not helping in isolation situations. Part of this is personnel — if you play Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Love heavy minutes it will take a toll on your defense. Tyronn Lue said conditioning — the oldest team in the NBA, plus going to the Finals three straight seasons — has played a role. Okay, but the effort is not there, and that without that nothing happens.

• The offense hasn’t been good enough to cover the D up. In recent years when the Cavaliers have decided to take a vacation from playing defense, their offense was good enough to cover it and still get the team wins. Not this time. In their last five games the Cavaliers offense has been pretty much average (18th in the NBA). They haven’t shot the ball terribly well, or gotten enough easy buckets in transition. LeBron James has been brilliant, but the rest of the Cavs? This graphic from NBA Math sums it up well (using data from before the Knicks game).

• The Cavs are still trying to integrate a lot of new faces. This is the most hopeful thing for Cavaliers fans — this team should improve as the season goes along. They are integrating Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade into the rotation, plus still getting Kevin Love used to being in the starting five. There were bound to be kinks, and some are being worked out (J.R. Smith now starting for Wade). Plus, they will get Isaiah Thomas back in January, boosting their depth and shooting. This team is going to get better and should be who we expected when it matters come the end of the season and playoffs. But now, they are off to a rough start.

2) Victor Oladipo drains stepback three to lift Pacers over Spurs. The Spurs are another power team in a little slump, they have lost two in a row on their road trip.

The latest came Sunday at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, on a Victor Oladipo step-back three over LaMarcus Aldridge — then watch Oladipo yell “This is my city” after the make.

3) Bradley Beal, Draymond Green dodge suspensions. I find it easier to predict the strike zone in Game 5 of the World Series (that thing was all over the place for both teams) than I do the NBA’s suspension vs. fine structure. I watched the fight below and thought suspensions were coming for Beal and Green.

Nope, Beal was fined $50,000 and Green $25,000. Our Dane Carbaugh estimated those salaries works out to 5.7 minutes of gameplay for Beal and 3.75 minutes for Green.

Kelly Oubre Jr. picked up a $15,000 fine for jumping into the fray.

The real punishments came down on the Wizards’ Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix, who will be suspended for a game apiece for leaving the bench during a fight. So just to be clear: Start a fight on the court, lose 4-6 minutes of salary, leave the bench during the fight get suspended for a game. That totally seems fair.

Russell Westbrook hits game-winning 3-pointer to beat Kings (VIDEO)

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Welp, looks like Russell Westbrook is re-energized after All-Star Weekend.

As the first night of games after the break got underway on Thursday night, it was Westbrook who gave us a jolt as he helped the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Sacramento Kings on the road.

With just a second to go, Sacramento’s Justin Jackson had tied the game up at 107-107. This came after Vince Carter pulled up confidently from nearly 30 feet out, missing badly. Sacramento missed another follow, and then Jackson put home the final try.

Via Twitter:

That left the Thunder to advance the ball with just one second left.

Oklahoma City ran a simple play with Westbrook running near-to-far across the arc from the inbounder, eventually settling at the top of the 3-point line.

He let it fly, and that allowed OKC to come away with a win, 110-107.

Bulls find way to lose despite being up by 5 with 35 seconds left

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CHICAGO (AP) Ben Simmons scored 32 points, making two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to complete Philadelphia’s rally from five points down in the final minute, and the 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls 116-115 on Thursday night.

Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Simmons added 11 assists and seven rebounds as Philadelphia won its sixth straight and snapped a four-game road losing streak.

Bobby Portis had a career-high 38 points and Zach LaVine added 23 for the Bulls, who were 18 for 34 on 3-pointers.

Chicago had a 115-114 lead and the ball with 8 seconds to go before Embiid deflected an inbounds pass to create a turnover. Simmons came up with the ball near half court and was fouled by Denzel Valentine. He made both free throws.

Portis had a chance for a game winner, but his short attempt – with Embiid defending – just missed.

The 76ers raced to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter before Portis got hot and Chicago started making 3s.

Philadelphia’s lead was down to 33-29 at the end of the quarter and the Bulls busted out for 40 points in the second to take a 69-67 halftime lead. Chicago was 9 of 12 on 3-pointers in the quarter, including 4 for 5 by Portis.

The 76ers were up by five early in the fourth before Portis scored six straight points – on a 3-pointer and a three-point play – to put the Bulls on top 101-100. A few minutes later, Portis dunked over Embiid to stretch the lead to 111-106 with just over four minutes to play.

LaVine hit a 3-pointer to make it 115-110 with 1:02 left.

TIP INS

76ers: C Embiid has nine straight double-doubles . Simmons has six triple-doubles this season, which ties him with Wilt Chamberlain (three times) and Billy Cunningham for most in a season in team history.

Bulls: To look at some younger players during the final 25 games, C Robin Lopez and G/F Justin Holiday were removed from the starting lineup. Both were inactive on Thursday as Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba (21 points) started; Also, Cameron Payne – who played in his first game on Thursday – will replace Jerian Grant as the backup point guard.

“It really is hard,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s hard for Robin, it’s hard for Justin and it’s hard for Jerian, who’s probably making as big a sacrifice as anybody.”

UP NEXT

76ers: Host Orlando on Saturday.

Bulls: Visit Minnesota Saturday night.

Kelly Oubre gets caught untying Rodney Hood’s shoes (VIDEO)

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The NBA seems to have a secret obsession with tying and untying shoes mid-game. J.R. Smith once got a warning for doing as much, finally earning himself a $50,000 fine after doing it multiple times. Likewise, other players like Rajon Rondo and Danny Green have pulled down the shorts of opponents while the clock was rolling.

Perhaps that emboldened Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre on Thursday night as his team took on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio.

During the game, game operations crew at The Q ran a video on the big board that appeared to show Oubre untying the shoes of Cavaliers guard Rodney Hood.

Via Twitter:

These guys have so much to think about during a game I’m honestly impressed that they have the time to remember to do petty stuff like this.

I suppose it worked?

Oubre had 17 points off the bench, adding five rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Hood had just eight points in 27 minutes on the floor.

The Wizards beat the Cavaliers on the road, 110-103.

Report: Warriors will spend trip to D.C. with kids, not Trump

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Donald Trump decided to disinvite the Golden State Warriors to the White House despite team winning the 2017 NBA Championship. Many members of the Warriors have been critical of Trump during his short tenure in Washington D.C., which the former mail order steak salesman has not taken lightly.

With no invitation to the White House on hand, and considerable doubts that the team would go even if the opportunity resurfaced, the Warriors have decided to take a private tour around the nation’s capital instead.

According to a report from ESPN, the team will take a trip with just players, coaches, and some kids to a discreet location as part of a tour.

Via ESPN:

Head coach Steve Kerr left it up to the players to determine how they wanted to spend their time, and the players selected a venue in which local kids would join them. It will be closed off to the media, sources said.

The players wanted the outing to be a personal, intimate experience.

“It’s their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it’s up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans,” Kerr told ESPN. “I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they’re doing.”

Golden State will be in D.C. to play the Washington Wizards on February 28. They will reportedly take their trip — sure to be fun for the kids — the day before.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder if an NBA team will ever visit the White House while Trump lives there. People from LeBron James to Gregg Popovich have spoken out about their disagreements with him, and the Warriors were pretty vocal about not attending a ceremony with Trump.