Kurt Helin

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Cavaliers rout Thunder in Oklahoma City. Is this a statement game?

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Oklahoma City and Cleveland are measured by the same bar right now: Do they have a chance to beat the Golden State Warriors?

Cleveland looked a lot closer to that level routing the Thunder 115-92 on Sunday in a nationally televised game. It left Oklahoma City — a top four NBA team — with a lot of questions.

On the other side, this felt like a statement game for the Cavaliers — even if we can say there is a lot left yet to prove. The Cavaliers played well and moved the ball as a unit, going at the matchups they wanted early, such as switching Kevin Durant onto Kevin Love then going right at DK. It was smart. The Cavs looked better than they did against the Warriors a few weeks back on both ends of the court.  The Cavs took control in the second quarter thanks to their bench, dominated the third quarter, and cruised to the 23-point win, 1115-92.

The third quarter was the difference in this game, when the Thunder shot 35 percent and were slow getting back in transition. The Thunder’s offensive frustration bled over to the defensive end, where they were sloppy, and soon the game got out of hand. You could see it in the 50-50 balls, which always seemed to end up in the Cavaliers’ hands.

The Cavaliers did that largely without Kyrie Irving, who had the stomach flu and struggled through the first half and was out the second half.

LeBron James had 25 points, 11 assists, and, seven rebounds; while Kevin Love added 29 points and 11 boards. Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 14 rebounds. Cleveland shot 51 percent from the floor, which is why they pulled away. Oklahoma City struggled defensively against them.

With no Irving, a different “big three” of LeBron, Thompson, and Love combined for 68 points and were a +20 when paired for the game — that small ball lineup thrashed the Thunder.

No game in February (or before the playoffs start, period), means that much. Still, this is a boost for a Cleveland team projected to make the Finals, but one experts wonder about vs. Golden State.

 

 

This year’s dunk contest was so good Vince Carter even watched it. On DVR.

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Vince Carter doesn’t watch the dunk contest anymore.

The winner of the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest and a man who threw down some of the game’s most memorable dunks, he isn’t a fan of where the contest has evolved. But the Grizzlies’ forward admitted he watched the Zach LaVine vs. Aaron Gordon showdown from Toronto.  Well, later on DVR. James Herbert of CBSSports.com asked him, and why he might not have been watching live.

“My weekend was on a tennis court being a dad,” Carter said after practice at the ACC on Saturday. “My child, she’s into sports and she’s pretty busy, so it was one of those things: come here or disappoint her?”

As a dad, I get that one. But he did watch it later.

“I knew what Gordon had to offer,” Carter said. “Guys were talking about, ‘This is a good one,’ and blah, blah, blah. People are saying, ‘Should it be a tie?’ I was just like, let me check it out. Half the time I don’t watch it.”

When Carter tuned in, he saw an array of dunks that had never been done in an NBA dunk contest before. That was what he gave the world in 2000, too. When asked to place LaVine and Gordon’s aerial exploits in historical perspective, he declined, but he was clearly impressed.

“It was entertaining,” Carter said. “I was like, OK. There’s been a couple where my daughter, who was young at the time, she’s like, ‘Daddy, this is not good.’ But that’s what the fans want, they want to see entertainment. The ooh, ahh, that’s what you want. And it was great.”

Some people are not fans of the props dunks, but I thought Gordon used the Orlando mascot perfectly. This wasn’t leaping into a Kia ad, these were special dunks. This was one of the best dunk contests ever, maybe the best since Carter won his.

He even seems to recognize that.

 

Report: Pistons ask league for more time to evaluate Donatas Motiejunas’ back before trade is official

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It was one of the rolls of the dice that Stan Van Gundy made at the deadline, a three-team trade that netted Detroit Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton, sent a first round pick to Houston (top eight protected), and a second round pick and Joel Anthony ended up in Philadelphia (they plan to waive Anthony).

But the deal was never made official by the league — all the players have yet to pass their physicals. And now the Pistons want more time to evaluate Motiejunas’ health, reports Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.

If the Pistons pull the plug, the entire trade comes apart, as noted by The Vertical at Yahoo Sports’ Bobby Marks.

Motiejunas has been out since December with back issues and may not return this season. He missed the end of last season with a bad back as well. That’s troubling when talking about a big man, but it is balanced out by the fact Motiejunas is just 25 and could well bounce back.

Healthy Motiejunas is a great fit for Detroit, he can play inside — he’s a legit seven-footer — who is shooting 41.2 percent from three this season. He can be the backup behind Andre Drummond at the five and play some stretch four if needed. Van Gundy has coveted him for a while.

But if he can’t get on the court and stay healthy, none of that matters. And the Pistons clearly have concerns.

Will Dwight Howard return to Houston Rockets next summer?

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You can spin how hard they were looking to make a move depending on your motives, but the Houston Rockets were undoubtedly open to moving Dwight Howard at the trade deadline. It didn’t happen. Because Daryl Morey wanted a first-round pick (not late in the round) and a good player back. And because no team was going to give that up for Howard because he can be a free agent this summer (the only reasons to land him now was to put a team over the top into contention, or because they want to offer him a fifth year in free agency, no teams fit those categories).

This summer, Dwight Howard will opt out of his contract and become a free agent.

Then what? He might come back to the Rockets, suggests Jonathan Feigen at the Houston Chronicle.

“Dwight’s a great player,” Morey said after the deadline on Thursday. “He wants to be in Houston. We want him to be in Houston. I was disappointed some things got out rumor-wise, but all those things were myself doing diligence. That’s part of my job…”

In keeping with their usual free-agent strategies, the Rockets plan is to chase the summer’s top free agent, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, using the chance to play with two top-echelon players as the heart of the pitch they hope to make.

James Harden, Durant’s former Thunder teammate, would be one of those stars. Depending on what it would cost to keep him, the Rockets still believe Howard could be the other.

The odds of Houston landing Durant in free agency are long. Not impossible, but long. KD wants to win now, he’s on a very good team in Oklahoma City and is, at least, thinking about a jump to Golden State. Durant loved playing with Harden, but in a win-now scenario is Durant better off in Houston then with those other two options?

But the fact the Rockets might keep Howard is worth noting.

The market for Howard this summer will be interesting. He wants a max contract, which for him after 10 years in the league will start around $30 million a season. That’s a lot of scratch, more than some teams are willing to pay. But what worries teams more than the money is the years — Howard is 30 now, has battled back and shoulder issues, and would be 35 at the end of his next contract. The Rockets can offer him five years, but would they? Every other team can offer four years, but a number of teams don’t want to go that far with him.

It will come down to value. Does another team value Howard and what he can bring to the court — he still is strong defensively and can score near the basket, plus steps up in the playoffs — more than the Rockets? Howard and Harden have not meshed well, would the Rockets be willing to move on because of that? Or can that be fixed.

Daryl Morey has worked hard to try to get superstars to Houston. He’s going to think hard about letting one walk away in Howard, even if this is not the same Howard of a few years back.

Report: Anderson Varejao likely to sign with Warriors Sunday

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This could lead to an awkward reunion in June.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded fan favorite and long-time Cav Anderson Varejao in a three-team deal at the deadline to bring in sharp shooting big Channing Frye. It was clearly a move that looks ahead to Golden State in the Finals and matching up with them. Portland got Varejao and instantly bought him out and waived him. Once he clears waivers Sunday, Varejao is a free agent who can sign anywhere (except back in Cleveland, under NBA rules).

How about Golden State?

They are the clear frontrunners, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Golden State Warriors have emerged as the heavy favorite to sign soon-to-be free agent Anderson Varejao, according to league sources. League sources told ESPN.com that Varejao is leaning strongly toward joining the Warriors after he clears waivers Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m….

The Warriors would have to release a player to create an open roster spot but have a need for an addtional contributor on the front line with Festus Ezeli recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and Andrew Bogut nursing an Achilles injury.

The Warriors would have minutes for Varejao to play, at least at first with the other starting big men sidelined for now. That role likely will shrink to nearly nothing come the playoffs, but he could be used in spot duty in certain matchups.

The other draw in Golden State is fellow Brazilian Leandro Barbosa.

If and when Golden State signs Varejao it sets up an awkward reunion in the NBA Finals (assuming both teams make it through, as expected).