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Three Things to Know: Isaiah Thomas ejection caps another ugly Cavaliers loss

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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) Isaiah Thomas ejected for Andrew Wiggins caps off ugly night for Cleveland, while Timberwolves keep on streaking. Make no mistake, Minnesota earned this win. Over the past 10 games, Minnesota has outscored opponents by a best-in-the-league 11 points per 100 possessions — more importantly, the bad defense that had marred their season has been fifth best in the NBA during that stretch. Jimmy Butler is leading and the Timberwolves are not just going to break a playoff drought that stretches back to 2004, they are going to be dangerous in the postseason.

On the other side of that coin, Cleveland has been a hot mess of late. Monday night, Minnesota routed Cleveland 127-99, highlighting just how far off their game the Cavaliers are right now.

Fortunately for Cleveland, the sporting world Monday was focused on Georgia vs. Alabama, and if they saw any highlight from the Cavs/Timberwolves it was Isaiah Thomas getting ejected for clotheslining Andrew Wiggins (it wasn’t intentional, but it was basically a karate chop to the neck and that warrants an ejection every time).

Cleveland was a mess all around Monday — LeBron James had a season-low 10 points (the fewest points he’s had in a game since 2007) and sat for good midway through the third quarter. This one felt over early: Minnesota raced out to a 20-4 lead to open the game, and in the first quarter the Cavaliers shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent), while the Timberwolves knocked down 59.1 percent of their looks. The blowout continued, with the Cavaliers going down by 41 at one point.

LeBron, coach Tyronn Lue, and others have shrugged off the Cavaliers struggles this season (there was the impressive 18-of-19 win streak and not much else) but it gets harder and harder to do that. There’s a reason other teams in the East think the Cavaliers are vulnerable. The offense was off on Monday night, but those nights happen — games where Thomas, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith combined to go 0-of-18 in the first quarter are not the norm. Cleveland’s offense is fine. However, the Cavaliers defense is 26th in the NBA over its last 10 games allowing 111.9 points per 100 possessions and that is not a fluke — they allow 109 points per 100 for the season (29th in the NBA). Teams shoot a high percentage at the rim, the Cavaliers don’t run teams off the three-point line, and the Cavaliers allow the second-most transition opportunities in the NBA (16.4 percent of opponent possessions start in transition, and teams score a very good 124 points per 100 on those). (Stats courtesy Cleaning The Glass.)

This feels like the annual mid-season malaise that has struck the Cavaliers the past few years, that they will turn it around and start to play better eventually (the Cavs next two games are at Toronto and Indiana, two teams playing well right now). However, the underlying issues with the Cavaliers are legit. I’m still not convinced any team in the East (as currently constructed) can beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series, but it seems plausible. Which is a big change from where things have been in the East in recent years.

2) Kyle Lowry goes down hard and appears to injure back, DeMar DeRozan leads Raptors to win anyway. DeMar DeRozan has gotten all the highlights and a lot of acclaim this season, but Kyle Lowry has been more than impressive in his own right leading a changed Raptors offense.

But he took an ugly spill Monday night and had to be carried off the court by teammates.

We don’t yet know the severity of the injury.

With Lowry gone DeRozan stepped up and carried the team in the fourth quarter, with 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and the game went to overtime in Brooklyn. In the extra period, DeRozan had 5 of the Raptors 7 points, and Toronto got the 114-113 win on the road. The Raptors get a rare national television game next, Thursday night against the Cavaliers (Toronto gets screwed on nationally televised games because their Canadian fan base doesn’t count in U.S. television ratings, so take this chance to watch them).

3) Steve Kerr speaks for a lot of us on LaVar Ball. To be honest, we’ve run a lot more LaVar Ball stories than I prefer the last few days. The reason is simple: You care. I may have a distaste for a father of a player — one currently on the other side of the globe — ripping his son’s coach, the simple fact is that story has generated more traffic than any other for us in recent days (and I’d bet ESPN, which put the mic in front of LaVar, had a similar impact — plus it helped feed the network’s talking head cycle for a day). If you don’t want to see more LaVar, stop reading what he says. Make him irrelevant — which is how the Lakers feel about his opinions.

You want to read more game-related stuff? Click on that. Read that. The simple fact at every NBA (and sports) site is trade rumors/roster speculation/GM talk drives far, far, far more traffic than game breakdowns.

Steve Kerr — the Warriors’ coach who has defended his good friend Luke Walton — got into all of that in a rant that sums up how I feel pretty well.

Here are Kerr’s full comments, hat tip to NBC Sports Bay Area:

“This is the world we live in now. I was thinking about ESPN. They laid off, I don’t know, 100 people. How many people did they lay off over the last year? More? Well over 100. Many of whom were really talented journalists covering the NBA. This is not an ESPN judgment, it’s a societal thing more than anything.

“Where we’re going is were going away from covering the game and getting close to sensationalized news. It’s not even news really, it’s just complete nonsense. But if you package that irrational nonsense with glitter and ribbon, people are going to watch. I’ve talked to people in the media this year. I say ‘Why do you guys have to cover that guy?’ They say they don’t want to, nobody wants to, but our bosses tell us we have to because of the ratings, because of the readership. Somewhere, I guess this is in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing at all of us. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than he’s become like the Kardashian of the NBA, and I guess that sells and that’s what’s true in politics, in entertainment and now in sports. It doesn’t matter if there is any substance involved with an issue. It’s just, can we make it really interesting, for no apparent reason. There’s nothing interesting about that story.

“Do you know how many parents of my players are sitting at home going ‘Why isn’t he playing my kid?’ And yet, we’re sticking a microphone in his face because it apparently gets ratings. I don’t know how cares, but people care. They must care, or ESPN wouldn’t be spending whatever they’re spending to send reporters to Lithuania when they are laying off people who are writing really substantial (stories), people like Ethan Strauss and Marc Stein are getting laid off. Again, this is not a condemnation of ESPN. It’ not. It’s a societal issue. It’s been going on for many, many years. And it’s invading the sports world now.”

Kevin Durant: Liking anti-Russell Westbrook Instagram comment was ‘total accident’

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.

Here we go again?

Royce Young of ESPN:

I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.

But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.

Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.

But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.

NBA apparently reviewing whether Russell Westbrook should be suspended for Thunder-Jazz Game 5

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The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.

Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.

The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.

Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?

Andy Larsen of KSL.com:

A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.

The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.

The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.

But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adamswhose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.

Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.

Russell Westbrook on matchup with Ricky Rubio: ‘Let’s get past that. We’re done with that’

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
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After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”

Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.

Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.

How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?

Westbrook:

It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.

How convenient.

Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?

Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.

But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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