Isaiah Thomas

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’


It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Kevin Love returns to Cavaliers lineup Monday vs. Bucks

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The last time Kevin Love suited up for the Cavaliers, it was still January and Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Jae Crowder were still on the team.

That is about to change tonight — Love will return from a fractured hand and play for the Cavaliers, but on a minutes restriction to start, interim coach Larry Drew confirmed.

Cleveland needs Love back. The Cavaliers went 11-9 without him in this stretch (and 6-7 since the All-Star break) with an offense that has still been top 10 in the NBA but a defense that is holding them back. The Cavaliers’ defense is just not on the same page right now, and the more time the regular rotations guys get to play together, the better they should be before the playoffs start.

As Love rounds into form, the Cavaliers have to figure out their rotations. Does Love start Love next to Larry Nance Jr., or does Nance come off the bench again? Probably the latter, but the Cavaliers will toy with the rotations (and do that more when Tristan Thompson returns).

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue taking leave of absence

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue left Cleveland’s win over the Bulls yesterday due to illness. He has also missed time in other games, shootarounds and practice due to the illness.

Apparently, he reached a breaking point.

Cavaliers release:

From Tyronn Lue:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.

While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards.

I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

From Koby Altman:

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues.”

Hopefully, Lue gets through these issues and returns to the bench. My thoughts are with him.

This has been a trying season for Lue and the Cavs. Rumors have swirled about his job security, as Cleveland (40-29) has stumbled to third in the Eastern Conference. He was part of a shouting match with LeBron James on the bench (though an assistant coach might be have been LeBron’s target). Lue has had public disputes with Isaiah Thomas and J.R. Smith. And many took Kyrie Irving‘s praise of Celtics coach Brad Stevens as a shot at Lue.

All that stress does Lue’s health no favors.

Him stepping away is evidently for the best. A competitor like him wouldn’t have done so unless that was absolutely clear.

But this also leaves the Cavaliers in a tough place. They’re already trying to change so much on the fly after a busy trade-deadline day upended the roster. Adjusting to a new coach – associate head coach Larry Drew – only adds to the chaos.

Drew has previous head-coaching experience, with the Bucks and Hawks. So, that should help.

But Cleveland needs major work defensively and developing cohesion before the playoffs. The goal is beating the Warriors, but even winning the East looks dicey, especially given the Raptors’ emergence.

Lue’s health comes first, and hopefully time off helps him. Unfortunately, this situation also exacerbates other issues in Cleveland.

Stating the obvious, Isaiah Thomas says: “I’m no sixth man”


Isaiah Thomas was a legitimate MVP candidate last season for the Boston Celtics. He’s gone from the 60th overall pick seven years ago to a starting point guard in the NBA. When healthy, Thomas is a real weapon. He’s not a bench player.

But as NBA players like to do — and as Thomas takes slights against him very seriously — it appears there’s some question surrounding whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers guard is a starter. At least, Thomas seems to think so. This likely comes from the fact that since being traded to the Lakers, Thomas has played in 14 games but started in just one.

LA is trying to develop their young talent, which shifted after the mega-deal that sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers. Thomas is due a new contract this summer, and he doesn’t appear to be part of the future in LA.

So, coach Luke Walton is bringing him off the bench. That, and his play has remained erratic. Thomas has evened out a little bit, but he’s still shooting just 39.5 percent from the field over the last 10 games. Not exactly MVP-caliber stuff.

Given Thomas’ history and his status with the Lakers, there’s some obvious friction. Thomas doesn’t want to be labeled a bench player, not when he’s trying to get some team to back up the Brinks truck for a big, new deal.

In an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Thomas stated something that most of us already know but he felt needed to be said again: he’s not a sixth man.

Via USA Today:

“I’m not no sixth man,” he declared in an interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. “And I won’t be a sixth man (in the future). I just want everybody to know that, like clear as can be. I’m a two-time All-Star and a starter who has done things that a lot of people in this league haven’t done (when) given that opportunity.

“But I got traded into a situation I can’t control. There’s nothing bad against (Lakers coach) Luke Walton. There’s nothing bad against the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve given me, and then (we’ll) end the season off strong.”

For his part, Walton full acknowledged the strategy the Lakers are taking with Thomas.

“Could he start?” Walton said of Thomas. “One hundred percent. Does he deserve to start? Yeah, with what he’s done in his career. Absolutely. (But) we’re in a unique situation here. We have a young team. … I kind of just challenged (Thomas), that even though he fully wants to start, I said, ‘Look, you’ve been out a long time, (and) to me there’s only, however much, two months left in the season at the time – find the joy. Go find the (joy).


I do wonder, with all that’s gone on with IT, what team will be willing to take him on at a salary he feels he deserves while also giving him the role he wants? Thomas seemed happy in Boston, but that took some time to work out. We remember his stints with Phoenix and Sacramento, and the interpersonal aspect of free agency might come in to play just as much as the dollar-by-dollar negotiation.

Thomas isn’t a sixth man-type of player, although his hip injury has severely limited him both in ability and his rhythm when it comes to playing in the NBA. His defense is enough of a liability that for now, unless he’s playing at a high level offensively he’s not worth signing to a big contract or playing considerable minutes. Thomas’ box plus-minus has dipped significantly year-over-year, and his DBPM with LA is -4.3.

IT is right in that he isn’t a sixth man guy. He’s not good enough when he’s playing badly to warrant that kind of accolade, and when he’s playing well he’s one of the best scoring guards in the league.

Three Things to Know: Shorthanded Wizards find way to beat even more shorthanded Celtics

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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) Shorthanded Wizards find way in double overtime to beat shorthanded Celtics in thriller. Every coach in the NBA preaches the “next man up” mentality to dealing with injuries. But Wednesday night in Boston, the next man up for the Celtics might have had to be some guy coach Brad Stevens pulled out of the first row — the Celtics were without four out of five starters. There was a whole lot of star power not playing — no John Wall, no Kyrie Irving, no Al Horford — but we were still entertained, this was a thriller.

One the road, the Wizards started out with a flat effort, especially defensively, and the Celtics got a big first quarter from Marcus Morris, then Greg Monroe was scoring off the bench, and midway through the second quarter the Celtics were up 20. Marcus’ brother Markieff Morris wanted in on the action, scored 11 in the second quarter to started the Wizards comeback, then in the second half it was like Bradley Beal said “I’m the only All-Star in this game” and just took over, and pretty soon we had a ballgame again.

Boston had the lead by three with 5.5 seconds left, and Washington’s Otto Porter was driving the lane for a layup, Marcus Morris started to contest then realized he should let Porter have a two, but ended up in a no-man’s land and had forgotten about veteran sharpshooter Jodie Meeks in the corner, so we are headed to overtime.

Boston could have won it in the first OT — down two with 8.4 seconds left rookie Jayson Tatum drove the lane, hit the free layup and drew the foul. But you have to hit the free throw to get the and-1 point, and Tatum missed forcing a second overtime.

Tatum had a three at the buzzer in the second overtime but that did not fall either, and the Wizards escaped with a 125-124 win.

The Celtics are pretty much locked into the two seed in the East, they just need to get healthy and the loss doesn’t hurt them in the standings. For the fifth-seeded Wizards in a jumbled middle of the East, this win helps them hold on to their spot and stay within striking distance of the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (Washington is just one game back).

2) Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas, Julius Randle get into it on the bench during game, but afterward it’s all good. On the court, Isaiah Thomas and Julius Randle have developed a little chemistry — Thomas as the playmaking guard, Randle as the bull using his physicality and athleticism to get what he wants inside.

But the two got into it on the bench during Wednesday night’s game against the Warriors. Brook Lopez and Lonzo Ball had to step in and be the voices of reason.

Randle was heated, Thomas looked like he just wanted to explain himself, and by the end of the game it was all good, they were joking and talking Randle put it this way:

“It’s great, honestly. We expect a lot out of each other. It was just communicating. We expect a lot out of each other, we want to win, we expect to win these games and we expect each other to play at a certain level. It’s just us being teammates. There’s nobody I’d rather go to war with than I.T., so it’s nothing personal. We’re just trying to get the best out of each other to try and win the game.”

Nothing to see here, move along. Oh, also the Warriors won the game 117-106 behind 26 from Kevin Durant.

3) Bucks, Heat both lose to tanking teams on Wednesday night. In theory, we don’t know that the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are going to be stuck where they are and finish the season as the seven and eight seeds in the East — both teams are within a game (Bucks) or 1.5 games (Heat) of moving up in the standings.

In practice at this point in the season, if you’re losing to tanking teams it’s a bad sign. And you’re going to finish at the bottom of the seedings (although neither is in danger of falling out of the playoffs).

The Heat fell to the Sacramento — who have been losing but scrappy of late — when Kings rookie De'Aaron Fox nailed another buzzer beater to force overtime.

Buddy Hield had 4 of his 24 points in overtime to help secure the Sacramento win.

The entire Milwaukee squad looked like they had a Disney World hangover — usually teams do this in Miami/New York/Los Angeles, but to each his own — and came out flat from the start against Orlando. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to form with 38 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, but the rest of the team just looked disinterested. Meanwhile, the Magic cared. Jonathon Simmons had a career-high 35 points and drained 7-of-12 from beyond the arc, D.J. Augustin outplayed Eric Bledsoe on his way to 32 points, and Nikola Vucevic dominated inside for stretches and pitched in 22 points.