Kurt Helin

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James waits during a timeout in the final minute of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Cleveland. The Grizzlies won 106-103. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Associated Press

LeBron James says Cavaliers not ready for playoffs yet. Obviously.

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Right now, with about 20 games left in the season, is when teams headed to the playoffs — particularly elite teams — focus on execution, making sure they have built good habits, defensive rotations and all the little things that determine success in the postseason.

LeBron James said the Cavaliers are not yet ready.

Hard to argue with him after Cleveland dropped a game at home Monday to a Memphis team without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Matt Barnes, Courtney Lee (traded), and other key players. Heck, the Cavaliers didn’t look ready for the regular season Monday. Here is what LeBron and Kevin Love said postgame, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I can sit up here and say that we’re a team that’s ready to start the playoffs tomorrow, but we’re not,” LeBron James said after the Cavs trailed by as many as 14 before losing at the buzzer when Kyrie Irving missed a potential game-tying 3. “We’re still learning. We still have things that happen on the court that just, that shouldn’t happen.”

“We just could have done a better job of respecting the game,” Love said. “A team like that, they were going to come out and swing for the fences, and they did. That was a real bad loss for us. … Turnovers were terrible. That was what I mean, respecting the game.”

The Cavaliers had won three in a row coming in, but it’s hard to write off Monday’s result as a one-off night for the Cavaliers — they have looked like a talented team playing next to each other not with each other all season. LeBron and Kyrie Irving are not on the same page. They look vulnerable. Something Chris Mannix laid out beautifully at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports recently.

The Cavs remain atop the Eastern Conference standings and have the equalizer – James – that no team can account for. But teams can account for everyone else. Strategies are simple: Pick-and-roll Love to death, move the ball patiently against an opportunistic defense, and hope James doesn’t have a Herculean fourth quarter in him.

Irving remains a dynamic scorer, but the disconnect between Irving and James is real, several scouts and coaches told The Vertical, with the on-court chemistry between the two, said one scout who saw Cleveland play recently, “basically nonexistent.” Team sources insist the relationship is solid, that James is simply teaching, trying to raise Irving’s basketball IQ. No one understands Irving’s importance more than James, team sources told The Vertical, which is why no one is working harder than James to get the two All-Stars on the same page.

This has been evident for a while. It’s also something Tyronn Lue was not going to be able to fix taking over mid-season, if at all. Lue can preach sacrifice all he wants (particularly to Irving), but until the players work things out and buy in there is only so much any coach can do. (Where guys like Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson excelled is getting players to buy in, but that’s another discussion.)

The Cavaliers have the home stretch of the regular season to straighten things out, and to be honest even playing as they are now Cleveland is the best team in the East — but not by much. Their margin for error against a team like Toronto — who beat Cleveland two out of three this season — is small. The Cavaliers need to get better to ensure they make the NBA Finals.

Then they can think about the juggernauts out West.

Beast mode DeMarcus Cousins dropped 40 on Pelicans (VIDEO)

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Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had no answer.

DeMarcus Cousins overpowered the Pelicans on his way to 40 points on 16-of-29 shooting, plus he pulled down 16 rebounds. He was in beast mode.

Still the Kings came-from-ahead to lose to a scrappy Pelicans team, 115-112. The Kings turned the ball over 24 times — Cousins had five of those, he was part of the problem — and their defense could best be described as in a Matador style (just wave the cape as they run past). Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison both made a ton of bad decisions. The Kings are wasting what Boogie can bring, and they need changes in the front office, on the bench, and up and down the roster this summer.

Carmelo Anthony wants to be recruiter for Knicks, starting with Rajon Rondo

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony reacts to a referee's call during the second half of the NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in New York. The Nuggets defeated the Knicks 101-96. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Associated Press
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Carmelo Anthony wants to be a guy who drinks coffee. A closer.

The Knicks need to sell free agents this summer if they are going to take the next step forward, and Carmelo Anthony wants to go John Calipari/Nick Saban/Chandler Parsons and be the ultimate recruiter for New York.

Starting with going after Rajon Rondo, he told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

“I think Rondo — just me personally, I don’t want to be tampering — but I’ve heard he said he wouldn’t thrive in a system like this,” Anthony said. “I think he’d be perfect in a system like this….

“It is a misconception about that. Some of the keys of our offense is penetration, getting in the paint,” Anthony said. “Pushing the pace, transition. Creating in the paint for bigs, for yourself, everybody else. I think a point guard would love that. Especially a point guard who can penetrate, create for yourself, create for others. I think it’s a perfect opportunity for him.

“Put me at the head of the (meeting) table,” Anthony said. “And let’s go to work.”

Is Rondo an upgrade over Jose Calderon? Sure. But that’s a low bar and the Knicks need to aim higher.

A point guard who can’t shoot is an offensive liability everywhere, including in the triangle. Rondo is putting up raw numbers this season — 11.9 points and 12 assists a game — but watch the Kings and he’s not great at establishing and offensive flow, teams back off him and dare him to shoot, and his defense has slipped considerably (Sacramento’s defense is two points per 100 possessions better when Rondo is off the court than on it). The Kings have been a better team when Darren Collison plays (both by the eye test and statistics). That said, somebody is going to overpay Rondo this summer, just watch.

While his choice of targets is questionable, the Knicks do need Anthony at the table to try to sell recruits. Any hope they have at an elite player — Kevin Durant isn’t coming, but more like Mike Conley — will in part be based on that person wanting to play in New York with Anthony.?

The bigger question becomes, if/when those pitches fall short, will Anthony be willing to waive his no-trade clause and help the Knicks (and himself) move on to their next phase? Remember his trade kicker is far more valuable to him after July 1 when the cap spikes.

 

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Warriors set record while Spurs, Cavaliers stumble

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 07:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors smiles after making a three-point basket against the Orlando Magic at ORACLE Arena on March 7, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Here’s what you missed Monday while you were binge-watching House of Cards (Frank Underwood is as great a character as there is on television right now):

1) It’s not pretty, but Warriors set a new record for consecutive home wins.
Golden State has won 45 consecutive games at Oracle Arena, passing the Jordan-era Bulls for the most consecutive wins at home ever. It’s another milestone for a team trying to build a legacy. There are two ways you can look at this game from the Warriors’ perspective. One is that their shots started falling again (16-of-35 from three), they got back to playing fast, and, more importantly, they got back to having fun on the court — everything that was missing in the loss to the Lakers.

I subscribe to the second theory: This is how the Warriors have played the last few weeks. They were sloppy (they turned the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions), their defense wasn’t sharp, they played to the level of their opponent, and got bailed out by Stephen Curry and his ridiculous shooting skills. This has been the trend lately, the Warriors are not playing as well as they had earlier this season, it’s just being masked by Curry. Which happens over the course of a season — team’s stumble and when you have the world’s best player he gets you wins when other teams would suffer a loss. But with the playoffs 20 games away, the Warriors need to start to turn around this ship.

Still, it’s a historic win for the Warriors in front of their raucous fans. And Curry became the first player ever with 300 threes in a season — something he did with vintage Curry flare.

2) Cavaliers struggle against shorthanded Grizzlies and lose because of Tony Allen offensive explosion. No. Mike Conley. No Marc Gasol. No Zach Randolph. No Courtney Lee. No Matt Barnes. No Chris Andersen. No Brandan Wright. The Memphis Grizzlies are the walking definition of banged up, the problem was the Cavaliers came out and played like they expected Memphis just to roll over. The Grizzlies still grit and grind, plus they had the secret weapon that is Tony Allen — he was 11-of-17 shooting for 26 points. Allen’s only offensive move is a straight-line drive to the rim, but that worked as he got deep into the paint for 13 of his shots (and he went 2-of-4 on his rhythm jumpers). Mario Chalmers also was slicing and dicing the Cavaliers defense, while the Cavs offense was a lot of talented guys playing next to one another, not with one another.

The Cavaliers do not bring it every night, their level of focus tends to be tied to the level of their opponent. That can happen this time of the season, but if the focus is on personal brands and tweets, they will not get past it. And the Cavs need to get past it as they start to gear up for a playoff run.

3) LeBron James passed John Havlicek on all-time scoring list. LeBron James had 28 points in the loss, and he is at the point in his career where he is going to set milestones all the time, such as passing Celtics’ legend John Havlicek for 13th on the all-time scoring list. Congrats to LeBron.

4) Spurs followed Warriors’ lead from Sunday, have terrible shooting night and lose. It’s probably best Gregg Popovich didn’t have to watch this. He is away from the team for personal reasons and he missed a rough shooting night from San Antonio — they scored a season-low 32-points in first half, shot 27.1 percent and were 1-of-14 from three before halftime. It got a little better in the second half, but the Spurs shot 34 percent on the night and down the stretch didn’t have an answer for Monta Ellis, who finished with a game-high 26 points (Paul George had 23). This was a quality win for the Pacers, who earned it with their play at both ends. The Spurs had won eight in a row and had been dominating teams coming in, so we’ll chalk this up to a one-off performance. We’ll see how they bounce back against Minnesota on Tuesday night.

5) Tweet of the night, Rockets’ rookie ragging on Dwight Howard. This is about the most Dwight Howard photo ever, and Rockets rookie Sam Dekker called him out for it (but you can’t let a rookie do you like that, Dwight).

Warriors pass Bulls for most consecutive home wins as Stephen Curry hits 300th three

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What a difference 24 hours makes.

A day after their worst performance of the season, the Warriors were back to draining threes — 16-of-35, 45.7 percent — led by Stephen Curry scoring 41 while setting a new milestone beyond the arc. More than that the Warriors were back to playing fast, moving the ball, and playing their spirited brand of basketball.

And winning. Golden State rushed out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end to beat Orlando 119-113 Monday at Oracle Arena.

This was the 45th consecutive home win for the Warriors, setting the record for consecutive wins by passing the 1996 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls — the team the Warriors are on pace to beat for greatest single-season record in NBA history (those Bulls were 72-10, the Warriors are 56-6). Once again the raucous crowd in Oakland (one of the league’s loudest arenas) was in full voice as they wanted to see history made. The last time those fans saw the Warriors lose at home was Jan. 27, 2015, to the Chicago Bulls in a game that went to overtime.

It’s just another milestone in a seeming season of them for the Warriors. Just like Stephen Curry knocking down his 300th three-pointer of the season Monday night — and doing it in vintage Curry fashion.

That also is a single-season record for most threes, although ever three Curry hits now sets a new record. The old record was 286, which Curry set last season.

This record-setting win from the Warriors was far from a pretty thing. The Warriors turned the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions, and the Warriors defense wasn’t consistent. They have played to the level of their opponents lately. It allowed a scrappy Magic team to hang around and make a run in the fourth quarter, making sure Curry was not going to get to rest during the final frame. Orlando had a balanced attack — Aaron Gordon, Brandon Jennings, and Evan Fournier all scored 20 points.

But it wasn’t enough to overcome the Warriors, who keep winning thanks to the best backcourt in the NBA. Curry had 41, Klay Thompson added 27, and the two had 11 more threes made than on Sunday. That was enough for Monday night.

And it was enough for a milestone record for the Warriors. Now they have other milestones in mind — 73 wins, then most importantly another title.