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Three Things to Know: Cavaliers keep adding questions, Raptors answer theirs

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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 adds more questions after loss to Portland, Toronto keeps answering its questions. Do I have questions about how Toronto transfers what it has done this season (especially on offense) to the postseason? Yes.

However, I have far more questions about Cleveland and Boston than I do the Toronto.

Which is why Toronto is the Eastern Conference favorite right now (well, not in the mind of bookmakers, but in the minds of a growing number of NBA observers). It looked like it again Thursday, when the Raptors beat the Pacers on the road in Indiana, while a couple of hours later the Cavaliers fell on the road to the Trail Blazers.

The Cavaliers had their moments in Portland — the highlight of which was a Dunk of the Year candidate from LeBron James on Jusuf Nurkic. Ouch.

However, the Cavaliers have lost 3-of-4 and 5-of-8, and they are clearly getting frustrated — see LeBron and coach Tyronn Lue in an argument on the bench as the team fell further behind.

That argument doesn’t mean much long term, those two are just letting off some steam. It’s what is causing the frustration that is the bigger issue — Cleveland lacks any defensive cohesion. No doubt the Cavaliers are banged up — they should get Kevin Love back next week, and others such as Tristan Thompson will follow — but since the roster shakeup at the trade deadline this team tries on defense but the players are not all on the same page. Building that takes time — a training camp, a season of playing together — and the Cavaliers simply don’t have that much time left.

Meanwhile, Toronto goes into Indiana against a Pacers team that has been hot and wins (Myles Turner suffered a high ankle sprain in this one for Indy, a concern because the pick-and-pop big had been playing well of late). That’s 10 in a row for Toronto — and they didn’t play their best game. Kyle Lowry was rather “meh” with 3-of-10 shooting, and it wasn’t a great night for Serge Ibaka.

Didn’t matter. Under pressure from a good team — the current three seed in the East — the Raptors defended well, kept the ball moving on offense, got a big night from DeMar DeRozan (24 points on 15 shots with a couple of threes) and Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks. Dwane Casey is making the adjustments needed every night to get the win.

I get the hesitation, having watched Lowry and DeRozan struggle in the postseason before, but this season feels different in Toronto. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers just keep adding more questions to the mix.

2) West playoff update: Blazers, Jazz, Nuggets, Spurs all win, while Pelicans and Clippers lose. There were some critical head-to-head matchups in the West last night that could have major playoff implications down the line. The Rockets were attacking and playing downhill, Doc Rivers was pissed at the officiating, and Houston beat the L.A. Clippers 101-96 at home. LaMarcus Aldridge was too much for the Pelicans to deal with and San Antonio beat New Orleans 98-93 — do not count the Spurs out. (You would think people would learn that lesson by now.) As noted above, Portland beat Cleveland. The Jazz had little trouble with Phoenix, but that one guy feisty at the end as Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley cheap shoted Ricky Rubio and were ejected. Finally, Denver got a triple-double from Nikola Jokic as the Nuggets beat the fading Pistons 120-113.

What does all that mean for the standings? Portland looks like a playoff lock right now, 4.5 games up on the nine seed with 14 to play. OKC (idle Thursday) remains the four seed, but Minnesota climbs up to fifth while New Orleans slides to sixth. Utah and San Antonio are tied for the 7-8 seeds, the final two playoff spots, while the Clippers and Nuggets are in a virtual tie for the 9-10 spots, just one game back of the Jazz and Spurs.

Just 2.5 games separate OKC in fourth and the Clippers/Nuggets just out of the playoffs. Anything could happen still in that mix. Although with Utah having won eight in a row and having the easiest schedule remaining of any team in this chase, I like their odds of staying in.

3) RIP Tom Benson. No New Orleans Pelicans fan — or NFL Saints fan, for that matter — would consider Tom Benson an ideal owner. There were plenty of warts.

However, there would be no NBA team in New Orleans right now without him.

Benson passed away Thursday from the flu at the age of 90. He had been hospitalized for a month as the flu evolved into pneumonia.

His biggest NBA legacy is that there is still a team in New Orleans. If you recall, back in 2011, George Shinn (you might remember him as the guy who almost completely poisoned the Charlotte market for the NBA) walked away from the then New Orleans Hornets and sold the team to the league. There was a line of potential new owners ready to move the franchise to another city. Benson, who had owned the NFL’s Saints since 1985, stepped up and took control of the team. He eventually had it renamed the Pelicans, something local and more meaningful to the region (and allowing the Hornet name to go back to Charlotte, where it has local significance).

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Benson’s wife Gayle now has control of both sports franchises and the rest of his business empire (car dealerships and a bank, mostly). That line of succession is disputed by family members cut out right now, but so far the courts have sided with Gayle. What this means long term for the Pelicans is unclear, but don’t expect major changes short term.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in, series goes 2-2 (VIDEO)

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.

Report: Ime Udoka, Ettore Messina, David Fizdale to interview for Hornets job

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The Charlotte Hornets have a new GM in Mitch Kupchak. Upon taking the helm, Kupchak made short work of firing head coach Steve Clifford.

Now, the Hornets need a new coach and they have quite a few names to choose from.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets will be interviewing current San Antonio Spurs assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina along with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

Via Twitter:

All three have extensive coaching experience under their belts. Udoka played in the NBA for seven seasons and has been an assistant coach in San Antonio since 2012.

Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion as a coach, and a two-time winner of the Euroleague Coach of the Year award. He’s coached abroad and in the U.S. since 1989, and he’s been with the Spurs since 2014.

Fizdale coached the Grizzlies for two seasons. Before that he was a longtime assistant coach with the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra.

Hornets star Kemba Walker said that who the team chose as GM would influence his decision to re-sign after 2018-19. Walker loved Clifford, so who Charlotte picks as coach could carry significant weight with Walker as well.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders. In fact, I would argue most of it is not.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts vs. the roster he has to coach?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did. The question for Blazers management is, if not Stotts then who is next? Who are they getting that’s better?

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.