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Three Things to Know: Cavaliers, Celtics just keep on winning

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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 win streak up to 10, while Celtics knock off Sixers. This is the NBA: We get excited about teams that are better than we expected (Pistons) or worse (Thunder) but in the end, things tend to play to form. Going into the season we thought that Cleveland and Boston would be the top two teams in the East, and as we head into December that looks to be the case (with all due respect to upstart Detroit, still technically second in the standings, but come the playoffs they will not hang with the other two).

On top are the Boston Celtics, who handled another upstart team in the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday. Kyrie Irving had 36 points on 21 shots, and as a team shot 41.4 percent from three. Al Horford had another strong night with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, plus had eight rebounds and five assists — Irving is the guy Boston fans are pushing for MVP (he’s on the second tier in that chase right now at best, sorry) but Horford may be the most valuable to this team. His ability to pop out off a pick opens up the Celtic offense and gives Irving and the other Celtics room to operate.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers pushed their win streak to 10 games, handling the struggling Hawks 121-114. Kevin Love had 25 points and 16 rebounds, LeBron James had 24 points, 12 assists, six boards, and a few highlight plays of his own. The key for this streak — and for the Cavaliers return to prominence — is they are playing defense again, allowing 101.9 points per 100 possessions during the streak (sixth best in the NBA in that time). It was their last in the league defense that held them back early, but Cleveland has turned that around.

It’s going to be Boston and Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. Just as expected. And now the season is following form.

2) Nicola Jokic’s ankle injury doesn’t seem to be that bad…*knocking on wood*. For the second day in a row, the league has dodged a bullet on a serious ankle injury to a young star. Wednesday it was the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, who is day-to-day with an ankle sprain.

Thursday night it was Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who went down when he stepped on Jerian Grant‘s foot, and it looked bad.

Fortunately, this appears to be just a sprain — X-rays were negative — and nothing more.

Jokic may miss a little time, he is day-to-day also, but it doesn’t appear to be as serious as first feared. Which is good for us fans.

3) With Jokic out, Will Barton drained game-winner to lift Nuggets past Bulls. A thrilling end to the game in Denver, where Kris Dunn made a difficult driving layup that put the Nuggets up, then Will Barton came to the other end and just drove right through a scattered Bulls defense. Robin Lopez helped at the rim, but Barton made the difficult shot for the win.

Denver will need more plays like that until Jokic returns.

Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis still not talking off court

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The Bulls are 5-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury suffered when Bobby Portis punched him in the face during a preseason practice. Mirotic and Portis are both excelling individually, and Chicago has outscored opponents by a whopping 34.3 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court.

Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com:

When asked if the two former combatants have spoken yet, Mirotic said, “We did on the floor. We’ve always spoken because we need to have good communication.” As for whether they’ve talked off the floor, however, Mirotic was succinct in his response: “No.”

I guess Mirotic hasn’t completely moved on, though he said he did. But that’s fine. How could someone get past a teammate punching him in the face?

Importantly, this is becoming just a regular NBA problem. The extent of that practice punch was practically unprecedented. But plenty of players have loathed teammates while making it work on the court. That happens more than people realize.

Mirotic and Portis can make this their status quo – at least the on-court cooperation. I’m not convinced Chicago will keep winning like this.

Watch Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ short film (video)

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in a letter called “Dear Basketball,” which was made into a short film.

Now, on the day the Lakers retire his Nos. 8 and 24, you can watch it. It’s quite beautiful:

Double number retirement fitting for Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant’s career truly occurred in two acts.

He was Shaquille O’Neal’s super sidekick for three championships. Then, Kobe led the Lakers to another two titles himself after Shaq departed.

He was an athletic, high-flying slam-dunk-contest champion. Then, he became known for his cerebral play and footwork.

He faced trial for rape in Colorado (the case was ultimately dismissed, and he settled civilly), blame for Shaq getting traded and criticism for being too selfish when the Lakers struggled in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure. Then, Kobe – still beloved by his fans – again became a socially acceptable marketing force.

His 2007 trade request serves as the more accurate intermission point, but his 2006 jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24 works well enough. He had a Hall of Fame career in No. 8 then a borderline Hall of Fame career in No. 24. Think Tracy Mcgrady’s career followed by Bernard King’s – but it was just Kobe followed by Kobe and with far more postseason success.

Here are the win-share leaders with a single franchise during Kobe’s career:

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So much about Kobe is excessive – his accolades, his shot selection, his reputation as clutch. He had an all-time great career, but the myth outpaces reality.

Yet, Kobe becoming the first player with two numbers retired by the same team – which the Lakers will do at halftime tonight – feels incredibly appropriate. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Kobe had time to succeed then succeed again in an extravagant way only he could manage.

He was dedicated and disciplined, flashy and fastidious, No. 8 and No. 24

Warriors will watch Kobe Bryant’s numbers get retired, Lakers might not

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The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 at halftime of their game against Warriors tonight.

The road team won’t miss it. The home team might.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Lakers coach Luke Walton, via Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation:

“I hadn’t thought much about [watching the ceremony],” Walton said Sunday. “We’re still deciding how we’ll approach halftime.

“Our first priority is still the job that we have. I’m sure there’s going to be some halftime adjustments we need to make against the Warriors. We’re toying with a couple different ideas to let guys at least see part of it.”

Kerr seems like a pretty cool guy, someone who understands what truly matters. This will be a historic moment, and that can take priority over watching video for one night in a long season.

But he also has the luxury of coaching an all-time great team. Even with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston injured, the Warriors are favored.

Walton has a young team that needs every break it can get. But he too should embrace the significance of the ceremony. His franchise is.

After reportedly initially being scheduled for pregame, the ceremony will occur at halftime. The NBA implemented a hard 15-minute limit on halftimes this season. Any team not ready will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty. So, lengthy speeches tonight could hinder the current team on the court. And that’s well worth the cost of doing business.

In the same regard, current Lakers watching Kobe’s ceremony would gain pride in being a Laker. There’s real value in that, probably more than in going over adjustments for a December game during a season very likely to end outside the playoffs regardless.