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AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Report: Tyronn Lue to attend Cavaliers-Pelicans game as observer

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence due to health concerns. He reportedly planned to return this week, but it doesn’t appear he’ll resume full duties.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Good to see Lue progressing. It’s a little disconcerting he’s not fully back yet, but at least he appears to be heading in the right direction.

Cleveland has gone 5-1 with Larry Drew as acting head coach, but it’d help to have stability as the playoffs approach. The Cavs’ roster turnover on trade-deadline day already provided enough of a challenge.

Of course, having LeBron James helps. As he said, no matter how shaky things look in the regular season, he can do a lot once he gets into the postseason.

Kevin Durant ejected for fifth time, tied for most in season since Rasheed Wallace

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When Kevin Durant got ejected in December, he said, “I got to shut up and take it.” When he got ejected in January, he apologized for acting like a “diva” and “jerk.”

But he has barely, if at all, changed his approach with referees since either incident.

Durant got ejected from the Warriors’ loss to the Bucks last night. It was his fifth ejection of the season, tying Larry Sanders (2013 Bucks) for the most since Rasheed Wallace got ejected seven times each in 2000 and 2001.

Here’s the single-season ejection leaderboard since 1993 (as far back as Fox Sports’ records go)

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Durant’s latest ejection came to close the first half. Others came later in decided games, including one in December for getting into it with DeMarcus Cousins.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic then:

Durant:

Every time I got ejected, I make sure it’s late in the game. I’m not messing up like that in the first or second quarter. I make sure it’s late in the game if I want to do something, but I’ve got to be more focused than that, I’ve got to be more poised. I can’t let anybody take me off my game. I’ve been in the league too long.

Is it troubling Durant, so eager to play after injury sidelined him, got ejected earlier last night? He insists this issue won’t linger into the playoffs.

Slater:

I tend to believe him. He was so locked in during last year’s playoffs. He knows how to shift gears.

But he also didn’t spend last regular season developing the habit of lashing out whenever he dislikes calls. And it’s easier to dial in when he was chasing his first championship.

So, becoming more cordial with referees in the postseason might not be as easy as he expects.

Raptors’ reserves rolling, and they don’t plan to let playoffs stop them

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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DETROIT – Fred VanVleet remembers sitting on the end of the Raptors bench with teammates like Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam last season. None held a permanent rotation spot, and they discussed what they would do better if they got an opportunity.

“If you’re made of anything, nobody likes sitting on the bench,” VanVleet said. “So, we’re all kind of pissed off.”

They’ve gotten a chance to channel that frustration into production, and they’ve sure capitalized. Those four and C.J. Miles, who signed with Toronto last summer, lead the NBA’s best bench and comprise one of the league’s top lineups.

“The question has been whether we’re going to keep them in, that group, during the playoffs,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said without even being asked about the postseason, a time most teams shrink their rotation. “And why not? Until they prove us wrong and prove that they can’t perform in the playoffs, that’s our plan.”

Toronto is outscoring opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions with mostly reserves in, one of the best marks in the last couple decades. Here are the top benches by net rating since 1997, as far back as NBA.com data goes (with offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating):

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Many productive benches ground overwhelmed opponents into submission with tough defense. The Raptors’ reserves excel offensively and defensively. Their 110.8 points per 100 possessions ranks third among benches since 1997 (behind only the 2012 Spurs and 2018 Rockets).

Other benches are propped up by staggered stars who carry backups. Not in Toronto. The all-reserve lineup of Wright, VanVleet, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl is outscoring opponents by 22.2 points per 100 possessions. Of 43 five-man units to play 200 minutes this season, only the Timberwolves’ Tyus Jones/Jimmy Butler/Andrew Wiggins/Taj Gibson/Karl-Anthony Towns lineup has fared better (+23.4).

Here are the top lineups with at least 200 minutes (with offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating):

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Casey said he has seen opponents juggle their rotations to play more starters against his bench. Yet, the reserves have held up. That’s a big reason he has so much faith in the group for the playoffs.

But Casey didn’t have much choice to entrust these recently deep reserves with bigger roles initially.

The Raptors lost DeMarre Carroll (traded to Nets), P.J. Tucker (signed with Rockets), Patrick Patterson (signed with Thunder) and Cory Joseph (traded to Pacers) last offseason. Shedding that depth was necessary to re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and remain under the luxury-tax line.

Of course, Toronto knew it had developing players who might have been ready for larger roles. But the way everything has come together has been incredible.

These players mesh so well. They space the floor and pass willingly. Wright, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl all have the length and mobility to swarm defensively, allowing the pesky, but undersized, VanVleet to aggressively pressure the ball.

They’ve formed an identity without commonality, the outliers adapting to the group.

They like to talk about how they’re young players trying to prove themselves. Wright is 25, Siakam 24, VanVleet 24, Poeltl 22. But Miles is 30 years old and in his 13th season

“The exuberance they have and the way they play the game, it keeps me in it,” Miles said.

They bring how they’ve all been overlooked. Wright and Siakam were drafted in the 20s. Miles was a second-rounder. VanVleet went undrafted. But Poeltl was a top-10 pick.

“I feed a lot off my teammates’ energy, also,” Poeltl said. “I’m the type of guy that, if we all get fired up, I get dragged along with that. And then, at that point, I also bring a lot of energy to the table. That drags my teammates with me.”

Another trait contagious among the group: unselfishness.

Some emanates from Wright and VanVleet. Both essentially point guards, they were competing for a spot on the depth chart a year ago. Now, VanVleet is in a contract year, and Wright will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason. Both admitted some trepidation about playing together.

“It would be easy for me to be selfish going into my contract year,” VanVleet said. “It would be easy for Delon to try to make his mark going forward.”

Yet, they make it work. When VanVleet initiates the offense, Wright cuts. When Wright initiates the offense, VanVleet spots up.

“It was really our first stint of having a role on a team,” Wright said. “So, I don’t think there’s no time to be selfish when you’re just getting your opportunity.”

Of course, that attitude can’t last forever. The Raptors’ reserves are tasting success and hungering for more.

“People are asking why we’re so good. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” VanVleet said. “We’ve got good players.

“We know most of us, if not all of us, can start on other teams. And that’s something that we hold to our heart.”

VanVleet probably won’t overtake Lowry or DeMar DeRozan to start in Toronto’s backcourt. But as a restricted free agent this summer, he’ll have the first opportunity to seek a starting job elsewhere. Toronto faces a potential luxury-tax bill next season and might decide not pay VanVleet, especially with Wright there.

For now, the Raptor reserves are just gearing up for the playoffs and enjoying each other’s company.

“The camaraderie we have as a unit is unbelievable,” Miles said. “It’s non-stop laughter, not-stop joking.”

The newcomer, Miles saw that brewing when he arrived over the summer. He recognized a group of young players who bonded over their lack of playing time and thought back to his first few seasons, when he was in the same boat. He told his emerging younger bench-mates he wanted to be part of what they were doing, not an outsider.

Now, they’re dominating.

“It’s really special when you think about it,” Miles said.

Rare Air: LeBron James on cusp of passing Michael Jordan’s scoring mark

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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CLEVELAND (AP) — A generation of kids wanted to be like Michael Jordan. They bought his red-and-black Nikes and sported his No. 23 Bulls jersey. They mimicked Jordan’s spin move and fadeaway jumper and even wagged their tongues the way he did on a flight to the rim.

While millions worshipped Jordan, only a handful entered his rarefied air.

LeBron James lives there.

Without a father in his life, James viewed Jordan as a role model and on Friday night the indomitable Cleveland Cavaliers star, playing at an MVP level in his 15th NBA season, likely will surpass a record held by a player he once admired “like a god.”

On Wednesday night in Charlotte, James equaled Jordan’s NBA mark by scoring in double digits in 866 consecutive games, an extraordinary streak of consistency and durability that may not end until James wants it to. No one else seemingly can stop him.

Once he scores 10 points against New Orleans, probably at some point in the first half Friday night, James will surpass Jordan’s record and add another check mark to his side in the greatest-player-of-all-time debate.

To put the streak in context, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is third at 787 games, followed by Karl Malone at 575. Among current players, James Harden is second to James with 257 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

James typically avoids talking about his accomplishments, saying that’s what he’ll do once he retires. But the double-digit scoring streak, which dates back to Jan. 5, 2007, and an eight-point game against Milwaukee in his fifth season, has turned him somewhat reflective.

“I’ve stayed available, obviously,” James said following a 41-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist performance in a win over the Hornets. “I haven’t played every game but for the most part I’ve played over 70 percent of my games throughout that journey. … It’s just another feat for me to be appreciative and humbled by what I’ve been able to do. And just knowing where I come from, I look at it and say, `Wow, I can’t believe I’m in this position,’ knowing where I come from.”

As a child being raised by a single mom, James found father figures in the coaches who helped him refine his game. There were others in Akron, Ohio, who protected the basketball prodigy and made sure he didn’t stray from a path toward greatness.

Then there was Jordan, whose blend of passion, skill and artistry made an indelible impression on a young James.

“I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish,” James said last year after breaking Jordan’s playoff scoring record. “When you’re watching Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t think I could be Mike.”

And yet James has surpassed expectations and more than lived up to the “Chosen One” label, a tag he got in high school and had tattooed across his shoulders before turning pro.

One of the few coaches who worked with Jordan and James, Cavaliers assistant Larry Drew was asked to compare the two hardwood heroes.

“Oh man, that’s a tough one,” said Drew, filling in while Cleveland coach while Tyronn Lue is on medical leave. “Certainly Michael was as good of a finesse player as there was. You just never seen anything like LeBron with his size, his speed, his power. He’s something different. But the one thing that both guys do have in common, they’re really driven to win and to be the best.”

Watching James catch and overtake Jordan has been thrilling to his teammates, who are continually awed by a player who shows little signs of wear. James told The Associated Press earlier this week that he would vote for himself as MVP this season, and there’s not a player on Cleveland’s roster who would oppose his case.

James has excelled during perhaps the most challenging season of his career as the Cavs have been ravaged by injuries and overhauled with three major trades at the deadline.

J.R. Smith is savoring the chance to witness greatness.

“It’s pretty dope,” the forward said. “It seems like every game it’s something. When you’re up there with Mike, it’s a different level. You can actually sit there and tell your grandkids hopefully one day that you were part of that. … It’s kind of overwhelming at times.”

Jordan, the Hornets’ majority owner, didn’t attend Wednesday’s game, which ended with the hoop-savvy Charlotte crowd standing to salute and serenade James with chants of “M-V-P!”

It was a moment to set aside loyalty and honor a once-in-a-generation player.

“Everywhere we go he gets a standing ovation,” Smith said. “It’s like watching Michael Jackson on tour.”

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Rod Thorn to enter Basketball Hall of Fame

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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Rod Thorn drafted Michael Jordan with the Bulls, built the Nets teams that reached back-to-back NBA Finals, ran the 76ers and served for years in the league office. He also played eight seasons in the NBA and even served as interim coach of Chicago.

Now, he’s getting a major honor.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Thorn is well-liked around the league and has worked in it for decades. That’s a sure ticket to the Basketball Hall of Fame as at least a contributor.