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Three Things to Know: Cavaliers, Thunder both lose again, face serious questions

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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.

1) Cavaliers, Thunder continue to stumble the out of the gate, both face deadlines to get it right. 
The only reason we are not talking more about how the Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling early and look like LeBron James’ 2010-11 Miami Heat — “you take a turn on offense, then I’ll take a turn,”  guys playing next to each other but not with each other — is the Cleveland Cavaliers have stolen the spotlight with their terrible defense and ugly start.

It happened again Thursday night, but this time on the big TNT national games. The Thunder struggled late and lost to the Nuggets, but it was overshadowed by another Cavaliers loss.

Cleveland’s trend this year has been to show up and play much better against any team they perceive as a threat — notice they have wins against Boston, Washington, and twice against Milwaukee — but not against lesser squads. Houston is the kind of game the Cavaliers show up for, and they did, battling back from 18 down in the first half to make it a game late. But three things led the Rockets to a win. First was James Harden dropping a triple-double of 35 points (on 21 shots), 13 assists, and 11 rebounds.

The other two keys were free throws and offensive rebounds. The Rockets attacked the Cavaliers defense all night and got to the line 36 times (led by Harden’s 14), and that was 22 times more than the jump-shooting Cavs. The other key was offensive rebounds, the Rockets got the ball and a second chance or putback on 41.5 percent of their missed shots, and that’s too many opportunities for a good offense. Clint Capela had 6 offensive boards on the night, plus 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Even when they care right now, it’s a matter of Cleveland’s offense trying to cover up for a bad defense — the Rockets jacked up 46 threes and had an offensive rating of 119.6 (points per 100 possessions) in this game, which raised Cleveland’s league-worst defensive rating to 113 for the season. LeBron is right, the Cavs need Isaiah Thomas back, but he’s not getting them stops. The Cavs have to figure the defensive end out, because right now they look very vulnerable.

Oklahoma City built a quick 11-point lead in Denver on the back of Carmelo Anthony’s 10 first-quarter points, but the Nuggets took control of the game with a 12-1 run in the fourth quarter against the Thunder bench and held on for the win. When the pressure was on in the fourth, the Thunder shot 38 percent as a team to Denver’s 53 percent. Russell Westbrook was 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter, while Paul George got just one shot in the frame. Westbrook was 6-of-22 on the night, he struggled, but when it mattered he was taking difficult shots like it was last season, and George was nonexistent in the offense.

The Thunder make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league and run the most isolation. At the end of games, that makes them predictable. As noted by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, OKC now has just three assisted field goals in the final five minutes of a game within five points all season. Meanwhile their defense struggles in the clutch as well.

OKC’s challenge is this is a one-year shot with this roster. Paul George could leave as a free agent next summer, but even if he stays and Anthony opts in (as expected) it would leave the small-market Thunder with a massive tax bill (they are already paying more than $25 million this season, next season they would be a repeater). We’re talking a tax bill that would make the Knicks or Lakers freak out. OKC owner Clay Bennett says they will pay it and is all in, but nobody around the league believes he will pay the ridiculous amount that woudl be due. This is a one-year shot in OKC, and they have to figure things out sooner rather than later.

2) Rookie De'Aaron Fox drains game-winner, lifts Kings past Sixers. The Kings are not good, but go into their arena and not take them seriously and teams will pay the price. Sacramento’s young core plays hard. Philadelphia should have learned that lesson having watched Oklahoma City earlier in the week, but they did not and history repeated itself.

Philly had the lead in the fourth, but the Kings kept it close thanks to 11 fourth-quarter points from rookie forward Justin Jackson. Then Sacramento closed the game on a 7-0 run, capped off by this pull-up jumper by Fox.

One other note, the Kings defended the final shot by the Sixers well, Ben Simmons may need to take that one on the drive in the future, but his kick-out would normally get a bucket.

3) The NBA’s kind of town, Chicago is — for the 2020 All-Star Game. On Friday it will become official when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce it, but we already know it’s happening:

The 2020 NBA All-Star Game is coming to Chicago.

It was nearly 30 years ago in 1988 when the All-Star Game last came to Chicago — that was the year Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins had one of the (if not THE) greatest All-Star Dunk contest ever. Then in Sunday’s showcase game, Jordan dropped 40 points, led the East to the win, and was named MVP.

The NBA took in a lot of applications for the 2020 and 2021 All-Star Games, from Indiana through the Golden State  (who will be in a new building by then). The 2021 location has yet to be decided. By the way, the 2018 All-Star Game will be in Los Angeles, then in 2019 the game heads to Charlotte.

Adam Silver jokingly thanks Magic Johnson for paying for All-Star Legends Brunch

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The NBA held its annual All-Star Legends Brunch last weekend. Jerry West, James Worthy, Bill Walton and Magic Johnson were honored.

And NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a great line while addressing the event.

Silver, via Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

“Magic, thank you for paying for the brunch today.”

So, that’s why Johnson got fined for $50,000 for tampering for innocuous comments about Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald reveals he’s living with incurable heart disease

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The National Basketball Players Association and NBA set up health screenings for former players.

Nate “Tiny” Archibald, who starred for the Kansas City Kings and Boston Celtics, took advantage. Unfortunately, he learned a difficult outcome.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

IT WAS DECEMBER 2016 when Archibald learned of his diagnosis, during a free screening at the New York offices of the NBPA. And now, more than a year later, he’s still reeling from the news.

“What I have is really rare,” he says. “There’s no pills, nothing they have found that works. I’m being tested all the time, just hoping, you know?

“My [heart] could go any minute. But I’m not ready for that. I want to be around for a long time.”

The medical community has had little success solving the riddle of amyloidosis. For those who suffer from it, aside from participating in clinical trials, or the possibility of a heart transplant, which at Archibald’s age may not be viable, there isn’t much that can be done.

We celebrated Archibald’s 69th birthday last fall with this highlight video. If you’re not familiar with the 6-foot-1 guard’s exciting game, get acquainted:

Hopefully, Archibald gets his wish and sticks around a long time.

Jeremy Lin: I believe J.J. Redick

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained then apologized for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people, claiming he was tongue-tied.

Nets guard Jeremy Lin:

Lin’s Asian-American heritage helps make him very popular with the same people most offended by Redick. Lin vouching for Redick will likely go a long way in diffusing tension.

Hornets dropping GM Rich Cho, will reportedly pursue Mitch Kupchak

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Update: Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team will not extend the contract of General Manager Rich Cho. The Hornets will begin a search for a new general manager immediately.

“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” said Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

 

Last spring, the Hornets exercised their option on general manager Rich Cho for this season. It wasn’t exactly a strong vote of confidence without a contract extension.

Now, it’s becoming even more clear he’s a lame duck.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Cho has had plenty of hits and misses as general manager, including a year with the Trail Blazers. But the misses have added up in Charlotte. The Hornets’ next general manager will inherit:

Kemba Walker helps, but he can’t do it alone. This bloated payroll leaves little flexibility for roster upgrades – necessary to lift Charlotte into strong playoff contention. Walker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and affording him could be tricky.

This is not a good job (relative to the other 29 NBA general manager jobs, of course).

Hornets owner Michael Jordan certainly plays into that. In one of the biggest gaffes of the Cho era, Charlotte rejected the Celtics’ offer of four first-round picks for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, just to pick Frank Kaminsky. (Boston wanted Justise Winslow.) Was that Cho’s call or Jordan’s?

Cho takes the fall, though. That’s how this works.

Jordan’s ownership also means he gets to pick the replacement. It’s surely not a coincidence he’s leaning toward Mitch Kupchak (who played at North Carolina) and Buzz Peterson (who played with Jordan at North Carolina).

Kupchak fizzled late, but his overall tenure with the Lakers was a success. Has the game passed him by, or did recency bias unfairly paint him unfavorably? We might get to find out.