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Isaiah Thomas making progress, could join Cavs earlier than expected

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Day by day, dribble by dribble , Isaiah Thomas looks a little more like an All-Star point guard – like himself.

And just maybe like one who can rescue the reeling Cavaliers.

Thomas has been increasing the intensity of his workouts and is making strong progress in his recovery from a serious hip injury that ended his 2016 season in Boston and delayed his debut with Cleveland.

As Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and a member of Cleveland’s medical staff kept an eye on him from an adjacent floor at Cleveland Clinic Courts, Thomas broke a healthy sweat during a workout Monday under the guidance of assistant coach Phil Handy, who fired him passes and praise. Thomas worked on his 3-pointer , man-to-man defense, conditioning, ball handling and free throws as he nears a return that may be coming sooner than imagined.

Although the team has not disclosed any change from its original timetable estimate of the end of December or early January, it’s apparent that Thomas is getting closer.

At 4-6, and lacking a second scorer to complement LeBron James, the Cavs might be tempted to rush Thomas along. But Lue said it’s imperative for the team to stick with its plan so as not to harm the 28-year-old.

“We have to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Lue said Monday as the Cavs regrouped following an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Hawks. “We have to worry about him as a player and a person. If he’s not right, not healthy, we don’t want to rush him back to set him back even more.”

Thomas isn’t keeping his status any kind of secret. In the first few weeks of his rehab, he kept a lower profile as he worked out in the team’s facility away from reporters and cameras. Lately, he’s been front and center, giving everyone a glimpse of the strides he’s made in coming back from a torn labrum.

Lue credited Cleveland’s training staff with a slow, steady approach in bringing along Thomas, who came to the Cavs in the blockbuster trade last summer that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics.

Irving and the Celtics have won nine straight and lead the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Cleveland has remained patient, although it’s clear that Thomas can’t wait to get back onto the floor in meaningful games.

“I just wanna HOOP!!!!!” he tweeted Sunday night.

The Cavs need him. Without Irving, the Eastern Conference champions lack a proven scorer to take some pressure off James. Thomas won’t help Cleveland’s suspect defense. In fact, it might be a little worse with him on the court, but its offense would go to another level with Thomas.

He can drive. He can shoot. He can get to the line.

“We still have a 30-point scorer, All-Star point guard that’s coming soon,” James said recently. “So that’s exciting.”

Once he returns, Thomas is expected to move into the starting lineup, with Derrick Rose coming off the bench and running the Cavs’ second unit. It’s been dreadful starts by the Cavs’ first five that have been at the heart of their early struggles. Thomas could fix that, but until he’s ready, the Cavs have to come out with more energy and a greater sense of urgency.

Thomas should also help Cleveland’s woeful 3-point shooting. The Cavs enter Tuesday night’s game against Milwaukee 25th in the league in 3-point accuracy (33 percent) and tied for 16th in 3-pointers made per game. Thomas made a Celtics record 245 3-pointers last season and knocked down at least one in 57 straight games.

Against the Hawks, the Cavs started 3 of 25 from behind the arc and finished 10 of 36 – thanks mostly to Kyle Korver heating up during a fourth-quarter comeback.

“We have guys that can shoot the ball,” said Kevin Love, who was taken to the hospital Sunday after falling ill. “I don’t know what it says on pace, but last year we really pushed the ball with `Bron and Ky and really opened up the floor. But we’re just not shooting the ball well from 3, and that has to change.”

There need to be other changes, and Lue said it’s time for his team to begin making them.

“Just have to keep attacking it,” he said. “Have to keep showing film and continue to keep talking about it. I think guys are embarrassed and we should be embarrassed of how we’re getting beat. Teams that we’re playing, having guys out, key guys out and still not being able to win. We all have to continue to keep searching and continue to keep fighting and continue to play hard.”

And at some point, they might get some help.

 

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.

J.J. Redick apologizes for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people – he was tongue-tied. But he didn’t actually apologize, and that bothered many.

Now, he’s getting that part right.

Redick:

Maybe Redick really did just stumble over his words. Based on the inflection, it certainly sounds possible.

Maybe he thought he was being funny then got caught.

He’d respond now the same way now either way. Maybe it’s just unfortunate he’s caught up in this. Maybe he’s using plausible deniability to get away with something.

I don’t know, but it’s good he apologized. People can apologize for accidents, and it usually helps make everyone feel better and move on.