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Three Things to Know: Celtics thrash Cavaliers, but it’s not a statement game

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LOS ANGELES — 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) Celtics easily handle Cavaliers at home… just don’t read too much into it. A team can have an impressive win in early January. Certainly a confidence-boosting one.

However, there are no statement games in early January. Certainly not against a team stacked with guys who have rings and have been to multiple Finals, who know the roller coaster of the NBA season. In the same way that Cleveland’s opening night win against Boston was no statement, neither was Boston’s easy handling of the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, 102-88.

Give Boston credit — they made plays. Terry Rozier had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting off the bench, and Marcus Smart was draining threes on his way to 15 points. Jayson Tatum added 15. Boston’s defense did well to hold the Cavaliers to less than a point per possession in the game, although that was aided by some poor shooting from the Cavs (8-of-32 from three, due to tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back).

The best part of this game was Celtics fans giving Isaiah Thomas a standing ovation upon his return (he did not play as the Cavaliers try to ease him back into the rotation).

This was a game where Cleveland felt vulnerable. Again. The Cavs looked formidable (and played good defense) when they won 18-of-19 at one point, but outside that stretch they have been 7-12 and played poor defense. It’s why teams — not just Boston, but also Toronto, Washington, Milwaukee — think these Cavaliers could be beaten. The warning is that Cleveland has had these mid-season slumps every year, and has gone on to win the East every year since LeBron returned. Still, the Cavaliers don’t have that same sense of inevitability, of invincibility, that they’ve had in seasons past.

That’s what will make the trade deadline interesting — will Washington or Milwaukee make a big play to get better and put themselves in the conversation? Will Toronto? Or, will Cleveland do something to solidify their spot at the top of the East and give them a better shot against Golden State (or whoever comes out of the West)? The next month or so until the NBA trade deadline is going to have a lot of twists and turns.

2) Steph gonna Steph: Curry drains game-winner. In his first game back from missing time with a sprained ankle, Stephen Curry dropped 10 threes (and 38 points). In his second game back from that sprained ankle, he had 32 points and did this:

Curry was playing at the level of garnering end-of-the-ballot MVP votes before his injury, and he has come back without missing a beat. Golden State was 27th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage in the 11 games Curry was out, not having him there messed with the team’s spacing and style, but with him back the Warriors look like themselves again.

Dallas had won four in a row before this loss and has played fantastically of late… but I still have to ask: Why was Dirk Nowitzki so far back on Curry’s game-winning pick-and-roll? This play was not some never-before-seen bit of wizardry, the Warriors run picks 35 feet from the basket all the time because Curry is such a shooting threat, but once Curry came off the Draymond Green screen Nowitzki was back near the top of the key and Curry got a perfectly clean look moving toward the basket.

Curry’s brilliance overshadowed a game-winner from Spencer Dinwiddie to lift the Nets past the Timberwolves.

3) Wednesday will be known as the Terrance Ferguson game. “It looked like an ocean. Like throwing a pebble in the ocean.”

That’s how rookie Terrance Ferguson — who five days before was down in the G-League so he could get a little run, then got the start Wednesday with Andre Roberson out — described his second half against the Lakers where he had 24 points. Ferguson was 2-of-16 from three all season entering this game, then was 6-of-8 from three in the second half Wednesday. He shot 9-of-11 overall in the half.

Oh, and he had these dunks.

“You’re in Staples Center, world-famous place. You’ve gotta do something amazing,” Ferguson said.

If you don’t remember Ferguson from college coming into the NBA, that’s because despite offers from Kansas, North Carolina, and Arizona (among others), he decided to get paid to play overseas in Australia. That’s not for everyone, but it worked for Ferguson — he played for a year against men, learned how to be a professional, and while he probably slid down the draft board because of it (the Thunder got him at No. 21) it helped prepare him for life in the NBA.

As much fun as Ferguson going off was to watch, his teammates — especially Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook — going wild on the bench during his run was almost as entertaining.

“There’s nothing like that,” Anthony said. “There’s no better feeling than that. Knowing how much hard work those guys put in, knowing how hard it is to get minutes in this league.”

George said he and Anthony may have been more excited than Ferguson at the end of the game. It was PG13 who paid the rookie the best compliment of the night.

“The kid is really good, and he reminds me of myself a lot early on in the league, just a sponge trying to take everything in,” George said. “He’s special. He’s a special weapon and a special talent.”

 

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.

Lowry scores 24 points as Raptors beat Spurs 86-83

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 86-83 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak against the Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Raptors improved to 17-3 at home, the second-best home record in the NBA behind San Antonio’s mark of 19-2.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Patty Mills had 13 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in six road games. The Spurs are 11-15 away from home.

It had been more than two years since Toronto last beat San Antonio. The Raptors won 97-94 at home on Dec. 9, 2015.

San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game because of a sore right thigh. Ginobili returned to Texas after the Spurs won at Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Spurs trailed 70-69 after a 3-pointer by Bryn Forbes at 6:52 of the fourth, but DeRozan and Lowry connected on back-to-back possessions, giving Toronto a 74-69 lead with 5:11 remaining.

After a jump shot by Mills, Toronto reeled off a 6-0 run including baskets by Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan to lead 80-71 with 2:40 left.

Another 3-pointer by Forbes made it 86-83 with six seconds left. DeRozan was fouled but missed both free throws, giving San Antonio a chance to tie, but the Spurs couldn’t get a shot off in time.

After making seven of 23 shots in the first quarter, the Raptors hit 11 of 20 attempts in the second, including a buzzer-beating jumper from DeRozan that gave Toronto a 44-37 lead at halftime.

Toronto led 55-41 on DeRozan’s three-point play at 7:33 of the third but Aldridge did all the scoring in an 8-0 Spurs run that cut the gap to 63-60 heading to the fourth.