Kyrie Irving

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Three Things to Know: After another loss to Warriors, what do Cavaliers do now?

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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) Warriors handle Cavaliers again, do Cavaliers have to make an upgrade at the trade deadline? LeBron James was an MVP-level beast — 32 points on 18 shots, grabbing boards, dishing out assists, blocking four shots and seemingly being everywhere. Cleveland was targeting Stephen Curry on switches, hit 8-of-10 to start the game and shot 52.1 percent for three quarters. It wasn’t enough. The Warriors led by two after three because the Cavaliers defense remains terrible, and Golden State pulled away in the fourth for a 118-108 win to sweep the season series. It was clear from this game that while the Cavaliers may be better built to take on the Warriors than nearly every other NBA team, and maybe better than they were last June, there is still a gap between them and the Warriors.

That leaves the Cavaliers facing hard questions as the trade deadline approaches Feb. 8:

Do they make a bold move for the best player available? Do they go after depth to help against matchups with Golden State? Is there an available player that can actually close the gap with Golden State? If they find a player they want, do the throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

It starts with a big-picture philosophical discussion for the Cavaliers: Do they throw everything into another run at a ring with LeBron, and hope that motivates him to stay next summer? Or, do they make sure they hold on to the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick they got in the Kyrie Irving trade (consider it LeBron insurance)? While the Nets have outperformed expectations and lowered the value of the pick (right now it would go into the lottery the No. 7/8 pick tied with Phoenix), reports are the Cavaliers are holding onto that pick unless a player becomes available who can put them on the Warriors’ level.

DeAndre Jordan is not that guy. He is the best player available and the Clippers and Cavaliers have talked plenty, but Jordan does not change the equation vs. Golden State. Yes, he would give the Cavaliers rim protection and rebounding, but he can’t space the floor at all and defensively the Warriors would be able to pull him away from the basket and expose him. The Cavaliers are still interested (in part because it would make Cleveland better, in part because proposed swap would get them off of Tristan Thompson’s long-term money), but they would only throw in their own first-round pick (currently 24th) as part of the package. Is that enough?

There are other players available who could help the Cavaliers, such as Nikola Mirotic or Evan Fournier (or anyone on the Magic), but none are game changers with the Warriors. Paul George is the only guy who might be and he is not available, the Thunder are riding this season out with him.

Can the Cavaliers afford to do nothing? That would send a bad message to LeBron as he weighs free agency. Expect the Cavaliers to make trades, it just might be re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

2) Clippers win fifth straight beating Chris Paul’s Rockets — then things really get interesting when Rockets go after Clippers in the locker room. The story the Clippers wanted this game to be about is that they beat the Houston Rockets 113-102, and with that fifth straight win moved into a playoff position in the West despite the rash of injuries that hit the team this season. The Pelicans, Clippers, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers all within half-a-game of each other for slots 6-9 in the West — one of them will miss the playoffs — and that sets up a fun race for the second half of the season.

That’s not what anyone is talking about.

Instead, the fact that Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and James Harden used a secret back-tunnel between the locker rooms to try to go into the Clippers locker room and confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin. The guys reportedly stood at the back door of the Clippers locker room, Clippers players dared them to enter, and security stepped in fast. The LAPD was called and nothing actually happened — and it wouldn’t have anyways, these are NBA players there wasn’t going to be a fight. We know that.

Meanwhile, Clint Capela went to the front door of the Clippers locker room, knocked, and had the door shut in his face. (Was he the diversion tactic or just not in on the plans.)

NBA Twitter had a blast with this, including Griffin himself.

3) Earlier in the day, Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry almost got in a fight in the hallway after being ejected. Or they didn’t. After the Rockets/Clippers fun, this almost seems quaint. Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry had a little run in during the third quarter of MLK Day matchup.

Later, they were ejected late in Philadelphia’s 117-111 win over Toronto:

This led to reports of a dust-up in the hallway after the game.

After the game Simmons and Lowry both basically denied it.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Go watch the Clippers and Rockets, that’s far more entertaining.

Report: Cavaliers willing to trade Tristan Thompson in “right deal”

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The Cavaliers are not good right now — they have lost 3-of-7, have the second-worst defense in the NBA, LeBron James is yelling at the team on the sidelines and asking them to do some soul searching.

Do the Cavaliers need to make a trade to shake this team up and give them a chance against the Warriors? Would DeAndre Jordan be enough?

If Cleveland finds a deal it likes, it would move center Tristan Thompson — who has fallen back in the rotation, Kevin Love starts at center — reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Multiple NBA teams have cited Tristan Thompson as an asset Cleveland is willing to move in the right deal, such as one for the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.

What I’ve heard is right now the Clippers would want Thompson and the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick for this season in the deal (the Cavaliers have the rights to that pick via the Kyrie Irving trade with Boston), but the Cavaliers are not throwing that pick in. Would the Clippers do it for Thompson and the Cavaliers first-round pick (in the mid-20s)?

Cleveland would throw that Nets pick in the mix if Paul George were available out of Oklahoma City, but he is not. The Thunder are going to ride this season out with the guys they have. Same with DeMarcus Cousins down in New Orleans. Barring something unforeseen in the next month, the best guy on the market will be DJ. And while Jordan would be a significant defensive upgrade in the paint, he’s not putting Cleveland near the Warriors right now.

It’s something to watch, but this has been a very tight trade market so far, according to sources. Combine that with Thompson’s old-school game — he is physical, he can rebound, he can roll or make cuts to the rim, but he can’t score outside of 10 feet — and there simply may not be a deal worth throwing Thompson in for the Cavs. That said, it’s on the table.

 

LeBron James on Cavaliers’ slide: “We all have to be held accountable”

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Call it their annual mid-season malaise. Try to spin it that they won 18-of-19 at one point (against a soft part of the schedule, but still). Say that they just don’t care about the regular season but will flip the switch when it matters.

Whatever you want to say about the Cleveland Cavaliers, they have not looked like a contender this season. Yes, they are 26-15 overall, but just 3-7 in their last 10. They have the second-worst defense in the NBA (the worst over the past 10 games) and that came to a head Thursday night when they looked disinterested in a blowout loss to the Raptors.

LeBron James tried to exhort teammates on the sideline during the game, and afterward told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports the Cavaliers’ players need to look in the mirror.

“We all have to be held accountable,” James said later at his locker. “How hard we play. How much effort we play with. I’m trying to hold everyone accountable.”

“I don’t play with my words,” James said late Thursday. “We can’t play around on the court.”

The Cavaliers have been building bad habits this season, particularly defensively, and after the game coach Tyronn Lue said the team needed to be playing without personal agendas. He wouldn’t elaborate, but this has not looked like a group putting team first.

The Cavaliers may look vulnerable, but they have LeBron and that makes them the team to beat in the Eastern Conference — he has been to the Finals seven years in a row for a reason. His ability to lift up his game and those around him is unquestioned now. This core group has been to the Finals the last three years (with the notable change of Kyrie Irving going out and Isaiah Thomas coming in) and knows what it takes.

Still, it’s hard to watch the Cavaliers play of the last couple of weeks and think “contender.” They need to do some soul searching and find their better selves sooner rather than later and start to build good habits, because as it looks now the Cavs will get these Raptors in the second round, and Toronto is legit.

LeBron goes off on Cavaliers during loss to Raptors, which Kyrie Irving digs

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The Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, 133-99. It was a drubbing, and a particularly embarrassing result for LeBron James against one of the challengers to his throne in the Eastern Conference.

LeBron played well enough, but his team could not stop the likes of Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam from dominating off the bench.

At one point things got so bad that LeBron took over the team huddle during a break, gesticulating wildly and presumably playing the part of coach.

The scene was wild, and could only be enhanced if we had the audio from the outburst:

Of course, this moment spawned a flurry of activity on social media, not all of it coming from fans and media types.

The incident was posted to Instagram, and apparently found its way to former Cavaliers and current Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.

Irving was caught by several folks on Twitter having “Liked” the video of LeBron going off on his former squad.

Of course, Jared Weiss was quick to point out that this might not be a case of Kyrie vs. LeBron after all.

Via Celtics Wire:

After posting this photo, a league source told Celtics Wire that this is most likely Kyrie enjoying his guy Phil Handy get the work from LeBron.

Handy is the Cavs assistant coach who probably had the closest relationship with Irving. He was an instrumental part of Irving’s renowned pre-game workout and Irving even credited Handy with giving a rousing speech that motivated the Cavs to win Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Who is beefing with who is one of the hardest things to keep track of during the NBA season. We might need to start a running tally over here.

Meanwhile, what does this loss mean for the Cavaliers? That might be hard to judge. Cleveland is 7-8, 13-3, and 11-6 over their past three Januaries and in that time they’ve won one championship. They’re above .500, which is better than they can say for one of those seasons.

This team looks worse at times than you think they can, but they’ve also had multiple 14+ point losses spread out all over the past four seasons.

It’s reasonable to think this Cavaliers team looks worse than they have in years past, and less stable. But it’s also true that they always look bad at times, and they always make it to the final moments of the NBA playoffs come spring.

Until we’re out of winter, it’s probably best to pump the brakes on the Cavs and enjoy the beef.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry take leads for All-Star captains in fan vote

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Giannis Antetokounmpo (East) and Kevin Durant (West) led their conferences in the initial All-Star voting returns, putting the Bucks and Warriors forwards in line to serve as captains in the new format.

Now, the presumptive favorites – LeBron James and Stephen Curry – have taken the lead.

The full leaderboard:

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (CLE) 1,622,838

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 1,480,954

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 784,287

4. Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 640,928

5. Kevin Love (CLE) 458,157

6. Al Horford (BOS) 229,906

7. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 213,499

8. Enes Kanter (NYK) 159,010

9. Andre Drummond (DET) 139,226

10. Dwight Howard (CHA) 111,768

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 1,370,643

2. DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 537,168

3. Ben Simmons (PHI) 397,942

4. Victor Oladipo (IND) 385,448

5. Dwyane Wade (CLE) 353,273

6. John Wall (WAS) 328,215

7. Isaiah Thomas (CLE) 252,552

8. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 176,590

9. Bradley Beal (WAS) 151,765

10. Jaylen Brown (BOS) 103,622

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. Kevin Durant (GSW) 1,326,059

2. Anthony Davis (NOP) 664,687

3. Draymond Green (GSW) 616,730

4. DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 587,835

5. Paul George (OKC) 547,582

6. Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 446,133

7. Carmelo Anthony (OKC) 378,718

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 325,903

9. Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 320,884

10. LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS) 315,918

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 1,369,658

2. James Harden (HOU) 978,540

3. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 791,332

4. Klay Thompson (GSW) 686,825

5. Manu Ginobili (SAS) 657,827

6. Chris Paul (HOU) 331,522

7. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 294,197

8. Damian Lillard (POR) 266,519

9. Jimmy Butler (MIN) 173,245

10. Devin Booker (PHO) 162,970

Antetokounmpo could still overtake LeBron, and Kyrie Irving is also in striking distance of the East captaincy. Curry and Durant are running neck-and-neck in the West.

The rest of the fan voting doesn’t mean much anymore. It’ll serve as just 50% of the formula for selecting All-Star starters, the player (25%) and media (25%) vote also factoring. Each conference’s top two guards and top three frontcourt players in fan voting are likely All-Stars regardless, favored to be picked by reserve-selecting coaches if all else fails. With captains picking teams, I’m not even sure players designated “starters” will actually start. I don’t think people generally care whether someone starts or comes off the bench in the exhibition game, anyway.