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Three Things to Know: Cavaliers win the only way they can, LeBron dominates

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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) Cleveland gets entertaining, pressure-relieving win over Minnesota. They can thank LeBron James. This is the only way Cleveland can seem to win games now: Their offense is on fire and covers up the terrible defense, LeBron James plays at an MVP level and makes all the big plays, and he gets just enough help from some role players to get the team over the top.

That recipe came together Wednesday night in the Cavaliers thrilling 140-138 overtime win against the Timberwolves.

Neither team played much defense in this one. Cleveland’s defense has been terrible all season, and after a stretch where the Timberwolves were coming together on that end they have reverted to bad habits, allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, 28th in the NBA (and worse than Cleveland). On Wednesday the Timberwolves had an offensive rating of 129.7, the Cavaliers 130.4.

From the opening tip, LeBron James was engaged — unline many recent games — and the Cavaliers needed all of it. He got some good support and energy from Cedi Osman and Jeff Green off the bench, and J.R. Smith pitched in 20 points on 14 shots, but it took LeBron’s triple-double to get the win —37 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds.

It also took LeBron making all the plays down the stretch. Like a game-saving block on Jimmy Butler with seconds left in overtime.

Then there was LeBron hitting the game-winner over Butler.

This win doesn’t solve Cleveland’s problems — the team still can’t defend, it has some serious structural issues, and LeBron and Dan Gilbert are not now best friends. But the Cavs desperately needed a win, and they got it. It relieves a little pressure on the situation. For now.

2) Don’t look now, but the Pistons have won five in a row since Blake Griffin arrived. When Stan Van Gundy traded for Blake Griffin he was largely ripped by NBA pundits (I panned the move myself). From the start taking on four-and-a-half seasons of Griffin at max salary, especially with his injury history, was something I saw as tying the team’s hands long-term (especially combined with the Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson contracts) and putting a ceiling on how good they were going to be long-term.

But short-term it’s been a boost.

The Pistons are now 5-0 with Griffin after a 115-106 win against Brooklyn, a win that has them in a virtual tie for the final playoff slot in the East. Detroit has a top-8 offense and defense since the trade, and Griffin is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, plus Griffin is assisting on 31.3 percent of teammates buckets when he’s on the court. He’s making plays, developing a real chemistry with Andre Drummond, and the Pistons look like a playoff team.

It’s going to be close the rest of the way between Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, and maybe Indiana (if they stumble a little) for the final playoff spots in the East. When the music stops and the season ends one of those teams is going to be without a chair and will be in Cabo rather than on the court. A few weeks ago that looked like it would be Detroit, but with Griffin they look like they could be in (fivethirtyeight.com says they have a 53 percent chance of making it).

3) Paul George says he is happy in Oklahoma City, but don’t confuse that with him staying or sure. Recent comments from Paul George made it sound like he was going to re-sign with the Thunder this summer, and the Lakers have taken this to mean they are out of the running to land him this summer.

Not so fast, my friend.

George opened the door a little with comments to Sam Amick of the USA Today, saying he’s certainly happy in OKC — but that doesn’t mean he’s staying for sure.

The Thunder are all in on George, they are shooting down trade requests for him (sorry Cavaliers fans). In its mind, Oklahoma City plans to re-sign George this summer. However, George may feel differently. He is going to get through the playoffs with this team, step back and size-up the situation, and make the call. Oklahoma City had an impressive win against the Warriors the other night, but they also seem headed for a tough first-round playoff matchup with Minnesota, followed by meeting those Warriors (who will be a lot more focused in the playoffs). An early exit could change minds. Or not. We can’t say from the outside and months before free agency is a reality, nobody knows what George will decide. Not even George.

But that trip to Los Angeles is not off the table. Never was.

Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash headline 2018 Hall of Fame finalists

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LOS ANGELES — It’s a good year for guards.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced the Finalists for the class of 2018, and you could put together one heck of a modern NBA lineup: Steve Nash and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, Ray Allen on the wing with Grant Hill as your small-ball four and Chris Webber at center.

They were five of the 13 North American nominees for the Hall, men and women. Also very deservedly being honored with the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award: longtime and iconic NBA photographer Andy Bernstein, and ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke. There are not two more deserving — or better — people.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will be announced at the Saturday of the Final Four in April.

Here is who voters will be choosing amongst:

RAY ALLEN. Jesus Shuttlesworth should be a lock in his first time on the ballot, he has as pure a jump shot as the league has ever seen. Allen is a two-time NBA Champion (2008 Boston Celtics and 2013 Miami Heat), was named an All-Star 10 times, and (for now at least) is the NBA career leader in three-point field goals made. Before getting to the NBA he was a 1996 First Team All-American at UConn. Just to add to the resume, he has an Olympic gold medal (2000). But when you think of Allen, you’ll think of this shot.

JASON KIDD. Another lock to get in first ballot. Kidd one of the greatest point guards of his generation, he’s got an impressive resume as an NBA champion (2011 Dallas Mavericks), five-time All-NBA First Team, four-times All-Defensive First Team, a 10-time NBA All-Star, and the 1995 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year. At the University of California, Kidd was named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus First-Team All American in 1994.

GRANT HILL. If all you remember is the post-2000, post-injury Grant Hill, you missed out. He was the 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year (with Kidd), five-times All-NBA, a seven-time NBA All-Star, and in college at Duke was a member of two NCAA national championship teams (1991, 1992). Hill also has a gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, and he’s been very active in philanthropic efforts off the court.

STEVE NASH. Born in South Africa and raised in Canada, Nash is a two-time NBA MVP who helped revolutionize the NBA with the seven-seconds or less Suns. He’s an eight-time NBA All-Star, and three-time All-NBA First Team member. Hie is third in all-time assists and holds the NBA record for highest career free throw percentage (.904).

MAURICE CHEEKS. A lock-down defender for most of his 15-year career, Cheeks is an NBA champion (the 1983  Philadelphia 76ers) and a four-time NBA All-Star. Cheeks is still involved in the game and is currently an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

CHRIS WEBBER. Nominated again, we’ll see if he gets in this time, considering his college and NBA impact he should be. Webber is a five-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year. In college at Michigan he was a key member of the “Fab Five,” that revolutionized the college game.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL. Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of 11 coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is remembered as the coach at Maryland for many years as well as the inventor of the “Midnight Madness” concept.

HUGH EVANS. He was an NBA referee for 28 seasons, officiating nearly 2,000 regular season games, 170 NBA Playoff games, 35 NBA Finals games and four NBA All-Star games. In the summer he used to ref at Rucker Park in New York.

RUDY TOMJANOVICH. Tomjanovich coached the Houston Rockets to NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 and is one of three coaches to win an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. He led USA Basketball to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

From the women’s committee:

KIM MULKEY. Mulkey has led the Baylor Bear to two NCAA National Championships (2005, 2012) and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.

KATIE SMITH. The WNBA Finals MVP (2008) and a two-time WNBA Champion with the Detroit Shock (2006, 2008), she also has three Olympic gold medals. Smith played for the Ohio State University (1992-1996) and was the first female Buckeye athlete to have her number retired.

TINA THOMPSON. Thompson is a four-time WNBA Champion with the Houston Comets (1997- 2000) and a nine-time WNBA All-Star. She is one of the greatest WNBA players in the league’s history.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY. Long before women’s college basketball became an NCAA sport in 1982, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall.

 

Joel Embiid having fun, will compete in three events All-Star Weekend

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LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is going to enjoy his weekend in Los Angeles. And his first All-Star Game.

Embiid played 9 minutes for the World in its dominating Rising Stars Challenge win (which is more than most people expected him to play). He’s scheduled to take part in the All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge, then is a starter on Team Steph in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Like he always is, Embiid is just trying to enjoy himself.

“When I have fun, that means I’m dominating on the court, kicking someone’s ass, and I need that,” Embiid said Friday afternoon in Los Angeles. “Every time I have fun that’s what I do. One thing that I told myself when I came back (from injuries), just go out there and have fun because that’s another way for me to dominate the game. If I’m frustrated, usually it doesn’t go well. It can go both ways, but usually, it doesn’t go well.

“Social media, on the court, it’s all about having fun.”

When he returns to Philly, he’s got to focus on the fun of making sure the Sixers make the playoffs. But for a weekend, he’s soaking up the sun and fun in Los Angeles.

LeBron James responds to Laura Ingraham: #wewillnotshutupanddribble

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A month before the latest school shooting and mass killing in a Florida high school, Kevin Durant and LeBron James recorded a video for the Uninterrupted where they vented that president Donald Trump does not care about most people not does he try to unite them. That video dropped just after the school shooting, where the president took heat for his comments on the situation.

Taking a lazy intellectual path designed to fire up her base, Fox News host Laura Ingraham took the “stick to sports” argument to an  offensive level, saying LeBron and KD should “shut up and dribble.”

Jaylen Brown of the Celtics had already done an excellent job taking down Ingraham’s misguided attack, Durant had responded as well and called the comments ignorant and racist.

Now LeBron has responded on Instagram.

#wewillnotshutupanddribble

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron and Durant are citizens with the right to speak out, and they should.

Hopefully, this can be the end of this “controversy,” only because Ingraham isn’t worth it.

Team USA turned Rising Stars into dunking exhibition (VIDEO)

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Nobody tunes into the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Friday night to see a tight defensive shell and quick rotations to help the helper. We want the game’s great young players to entertain us with their skills.

Team USA may have gotten blown out in the game, but they put on a show — they were dunking everything. As you can see above.

The best dunk of the game? Had to be Donovan Mitchell‘s self alley-oop. Which a good sign heading into Saturday’s dunk contest.