Tag: Phoenix Suns

Cleveland Cavaliers v Phoenix Suns

Five Things We Learned in the NBA Tuesday: LeBron is back, the Cavaliers’ defense is not


If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while watching the Avengers 2 trailer….

1) LeBron James is good at basketball but the Cavaliers defense remains an issue. Taking a couple of weeks off was clearly something LeBron James needed — he scored 33 points, 12 in the final quarter. But, more importantly, he looked like his explosive self again. That was most evident when got to the rim and threw it down with authority a couple of times.

It was the old LeBron… but it was also the same old Cavaliers on defense. Meaning they only played it sometimes. And that’s not enough against a good team, so Cleveland has six straight losses now, falling 107-100 to Phoenix. The Suns shot 53 percent and had a ridiculous offensive rating of 119 (points per 100 possessions), their guards carved up the Cavaliers. To be fair, part of this is the Suns were hot and just hit shots — they hit 62.5 percent of their contested shots, with Markieff Morris (35 points) leading the way. But the Cavs defense was once again inconsistent at best against the pick-and-roll and that did them in. Not LeBron returning, nor Timofey Mozgov in the paint, just instantly solves that problem. And make no mistake, that is the biggest issue for a Cavaliers team now below .500.

2) Kevin Love didn’t play in a tight fourth quarter for the Cavaliers, which was about the defense. As mentioned above, Markieff Morris was a handful for the Cavaliers, scoring 35 points on 25 shots. Kevin Love has never been a great defender, so David Blatt moved LeBron to the four trying to go smaller and match up with the Suns. And that worked better, but not great — Morris had 11 fourth quarter points even with LeBron on him. What is of note is this is the second time this season Blatt has benched Love in the fourth quarter because of match ups and defense (the last time was Dec. 26). Mozgov is a better fit next to Love as a center, he can help cover some of Love’s deficiencies, but not all. This could well happen again. And again.

3) Mo Williams can be a force of nature. Minnesota had lost 15 games in a row and it was going to take something spectacular to break that streak. Like Mo Williams going off for 52 points, 37 of them in the second half. Yes, the same Mo Williams that the Cavaliers traded to the Clippers for a first round pick that became Kyrie Irving. He can still play like he’s worth a first round pick now and again. It’s not like the Pacers didn’t defend him fairly well — 59 percent of his shots were contested — but he simply was hitting everything, going 11-of-19 from the midrange and 6-of-11 from three. If he threw it up it just seemed to go in and with that Williams broke Kevin Love’s (and Corey Brewer’s) franchise record for points scored in a game.

4) Jeff Gordon is fast on a tricycle, too. The Daytona 500 is coming up along with the new NASCAR season — you can catch most of it on NBC — and to promote all that Jeff Gordon was racing a tricycle at the Wizards game. Because… marketing.

5) Al Horford is the Atlanta Hawks’ star you think they’re missing. It’s not so much that we didn’t know Al Horford is a legit NBA superstar but we need to be reminded now and again. He and LaMarcus Aldridge remain the two most underappreciated stars in the NBA. Tuesday night Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer showed he’s learned more than a few things from Gregg Popovich and decided to rest Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap for a game against the Sixers. That would be the Sixers on a two-game win streak. But Horford stepped up with his first career triple double of 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Also Spursian was the way the Hawks continued to play the system and move the ball with two key guys out. That is nine wins in a row for the Hawks, and the next time you say “but can they advance in the playoffs without a star?” just remember Horford’s name.

Carmelo Anthony believes he can trump Knicks’ 5-35 record in selling free agents

Carmelo Anthony

If the NBA salary cap lands where projected and the Knicks get the No. 4 pick in the draft and renounce all their free agents, they’d have $25,434,111 in cap room.

That’s plenty to land a max player and another solid piece.

*The NBA’s worst team has a 35.7 percent chance of receiving the No. 4 pick in the lottery, making the fourth selection more likely than No. 1 (25.0 percent chance), No. 2 (21.5) or No. 3 (17.8).

At different times, the Knicks have been linked to many of the top 2015 free agents.

They’ll pursue Marc Gasol – and Pau Gasol even said they have a chancebut they know that’s a longshot. Rajon Rondo has been a long-rumored target, but he’ll likely stay in Dallas. Goran Dragic said he’d consider the Knicks. Reggie Jackson could be a target. Tobias Harris might be interested, and he’d reportedly get a Nike bonus if he plays for New York.

If you really want to get crazy, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade and even LeBron James could opt out and explore free agency this summer. Love’s loyalty to the Cavaliers is unclear (to be fair he hasn’t had an opportunity yet to prove it), and Phil Jackson pursued the forward in a trade last offseason. Why not try again this summer? Wade was once a New York target, and so was LeBron as recently as last year.

The Knicks play in a market where they can get their foot in the door with the biggest free agents.

But they’re also 5-35, a record that certainly won’t entice anyone credible.

Will New York overcome its on-court struggles in the marketplace? Carmelo Anthony says he’s up for the challenge.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

The problem is Melo is a key reason the Knicks are 5-35.

He’s struggling on the court, at least relative to his usual standards, as he delays knee surgery. Free agents should wonder how much long-term physical damage a 30-year-old Melo is doing now.

There are also the old concerns about Melo’s ability to help his team win given his lack of defense and passing. I think those issues are overblown, especially in recent seasons as Melo has expanded his game and increase his energy level. But, yes, free agents should consider all that, too.

There’s also Melo’s huge contract, which could inhibit the Knicks’ ability to further upgrade the roster. This team is not only one star away from title contention.

And Melo is probably the best thing the Knicks have going other than a draft pick that has yet to arrive.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has regressed. Iman Shumpert is gone. Derek Fisher looks in over his head. Phil Jackson is no immediate savior.

It’s not impossible for bad teams to land expensive free agents. LeBron James went to the Cavaliers last summer. Al Jefferson (Charlotte), Josh Smith (Detroit) and Tyreke Evans (New Orleans) joined bad teams the year before.

The Knicks’ record hurts, but it doesn’t disqualify them. It’ll be interesting to see how Melo factors, though.

I’m convinced a lot of free agents like the idea of playing with Melo, but when push comes to shove, we’ll see whether any actually do it this summer – especially when so much else is going wrong with the Knicks around Melo.

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Atlanta, Golden State keep lock on top spots

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks

How does an Atlanta vs. Golden State NBA Finals sound? It’s not out of the question, the Hawks are for real and with Andrew Bogut back the Warriors may well be the best of the West. Of course, there’s a lot of basketball to play and with the arms race in the West the balance of power could shift again out there.

source:  1. Hawks (29-8, Last Week No. 1). They have won eight in a row and last week that included wins over the Clippers, Grizzlies and Wizards. In their last five games they have outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100. On the season they are fifth in the league in defense, sixth in offense. Tell me again why can’t this team come out of the East?
source:  2. Warriors (29-5, LW 2). They have won six in a row and now they have Andrew Bogut back in the rotation to strengthen their defense. More scary than that, the Warriors are really starting to find their groove on offense — they have the best offense in the NBA over the last 10 games.
source:  3. Trail Blazers (30-8. Last Week No. 4). Coach Terry Stotts said after they beat the Clippers Sunday that he sends quotes to his players almost every day from famous people and that the last few have been about process — to take things day-to-day. That as well as they are playing now they need to be better by May. To a man believe they are legit title contenders now.
source:  4. Bulls (26-12, LW 3). That Derrick Rose had to sit out a game with a sore knee is a concern, even if Pau Gasol did carry them to a win. Also of concern is Mike Dunleavy’s slow recovery from a sprained ankle. Fun showdown with Atlanta on Saturday night, too bad it’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Bulls.
source:  5. Spurs (23-15, LW 8). Even with all the injuries — they are still without Kawhi Leonard — and juggled lineups the Spurs have won four of five and are 23-15 this season. It still feels to me like they will string together a run soon.
source:  6. Rockets (26-11, LW 9). James Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate putting up 27-6-6 a game (and before you say something about his defense, he starts on the second best defensive team in the league, it’s improved). When he gets more help on offense this team is scary.
source:  7. Clippers (25-13, LW 7). Sunday seemed to sum up the Clippers — they should have been able to beat the Heat but a combination of a lack of both bench play and consistent defense from their bigs did them in. If the regular season is about building good habits for the playoffs then the Clippers are behind a lot of other top six teams in the West.
source:  8. Mavericks (26-12, LW 5). Lakers coach Byron Scott on the late Roy Tarpley, who passed away last week at age 50: “The thing that stood out about Roy is he was an unbelievable athlete and a great basketball player. Hell of a rebounder. He gave us fits, he was a tough cover for everybody. Obviously we’re all saddened that he passed away.”
source:  9. Grizzlies (26-11, LW 6).
In their last 10 games the Grizzlies they are allowing 104.2 points per 100 possessions, 21st in the league and about seven more per 100 than they did in the first month of the season. I like the pickup of Jeff Green, he gives them more athleticism on the wing, but this team has to start to defend again (it did better Sunday vs. Phoenix).
source:  10. Raptors (25-11, LW 10). They snapped their four-game losing streak against the Celtics over the weekend, which is nice but this team still misses DeMar DeRozan. Interesting tests this week against the improving Pistons and the red-hot Hawks.
source:  11. Suns (22-18, LW 13). The pick up of Brandan Wright was a great fit — he’s athletic, can run the floor as well as the pick-and-roll with all those guards, and he gives them another shot blocker. Just don’t think he’s a stretch four. This is an upgrade behind Alex Len. If the Thunder want the eighth playoff spot they need to catch Phoenix, this team is not going to just roll over.
source:  12. Wizards (25-12, LW 12). Quality win over the Bulls reminds us that the Wizards, when healthy, can look like a team that can do damage in the playoffs. Then on Sunday they got just thumped by the Hawks and looked like a team well back of the best in the East. Is this team still maybe a second round playoff team at best?
source:  13. Thunder (18-19, LW 11). They lost both games on the road last week and are 7-12 away from home this season, which isn’t ideal with 6 of their 7 seven on the road (and their one home game is Golden State). They are 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and with Phoenix picking up some wins and Russell Westbrook slumping the “could OKC miss the playoffs?” questions are out there.
source:  14. Pelicans (18-18, LW 14). I love that the fans are voting Anthony Davis in as an All-Star Game starter, he’s more than earned that with his play this season. I just wish the rest of his team were more consistent, they really can beat or lose to anyone on any given night.
source:  15. Bucks (20-19, LW 15). Are we trying to punish England? This week the Bucks — playing fantastic defense of late — will take on the offensively anemic Knicks in London. That could get ugly. At least the fine people of Europe can get an up close look at how Giannis Antetokounmpo has developed.
source:  16. Cavaliers (19-19 LW 16). They have lost five in a row and are now 1-8 on the season without LeBron James. This team relies on him like the Cavs of old used to. That didn’t work then and will not now, this team needs defense and an identity. All the trades — getting J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and particularly Timofey Mozgov — brought upgrades to the roster, but it doesn’t solve the bigger problems.
source:  17. Heat (16-21, LW 17). They may have found something in Hassan Whiteside, who fits in their system well because of his hustle and energy — he outplayed DeAndre Jordan Sunday. The Heat split the first two games of the rough West Coast road swing they are in the middle of.
source:  18. Pistons (13-24, LW 21). . The Pistons in the playoffs? Don’t laugh. They are just three games back of the Nets and Heat (tied for the 7/8 seeds) and Detroit is 8-2 in their last 10. They could make up this ground, which would be a huge story.
source:  19. Nuggets (17-20, LW 23). As their backcourt goes so goes Denver and recently Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo have played well, so the Nuggets have won four in a row. Trading Timofey Mozgov has opened up minutes for Jusuf Nurkic and he has been a player to watch.
source:  20. Hornets (15-24, LW 25). They have won five in a row and now are just two games out of the playoffs in the East, which is pretty amazing considering their start. It also speaks to just where the bottom half of the East is at.
source:  21. Pacers (15-24, LW 20). Another team just two games out of the playoffs and with hope to climb in thanks to their defense. Still that loss to Philly felt like a setback. If they want to make it in they need to beat other teams trying to climb that ladder like Detroit and Charlotte, both of whom are on the docket this week.
source:  22. Kings (16-21, LW 22). They beat the Thunder and Cavaliers last week, but lost to the Nuggets in between. DeMarcus Cousins should make the All-Star team in the West, but the conference is so overloaded that some very deserving players will be on the outside looking in.
source:  23. Jazz (13-25, LW 19). I loved Trevor Booker’s shot of the year. More than that, I loved that Enes Kanter returned from injury and Quin Snyder left Rudy Gobert in the starting lineup.
source:  24. Nets (16-21, LW 18). They have lost five in a row and it’s not like they were playing a murder’s row — it’s just that the Nets are playing poorly. That gives the Hornets, Pacers and Pistons real hope they could make the postseason.
source:  25. Lakers (12-26, LW 26). There’s a lot of speculation around the Lakers that there is something more wrong with Kobe Bryant than just needing rest (he has missed 3-of-4 and 6-of-11), but Byron Scott denies it. What can’t be denied is Nick young’s slump, he is shooting 25 percent in his last five games and 17.2 percent from three. They need his points.
source:  26. Magic (13-27, LW 24). They have lost six in a row and their offense has gone AWOL, which is bad news with the Bulls, Rockets, Grizzlies and Thunder coming up this week.
source:  27. Celtics (12-23, LW 27). The Celtics fire sale gives them a lot of picks. This next draft they have theirs (which is going to be quite high), the Clippers first, and three second rounders (and two of those are high second round). Celtics fans will be watching a lot of college ball for a while.
source:  28. 76ers (7-29, LW 28). They have won two in a row and three of four, and they are doing it playing solid defense. The offense is still a work in project, but with the game on the line last week Michael Carter-Williams made plays.

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-31, LW 29). Andrew Wiggins is going to be the Rookie of the Year. The only other guy really in the conversation is Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls — he’s playing key rotation minutes for one of the East’s best teams — but I have a hard time seeing voters giving it to the experienced European.
source:  30. Knicks (5-35, LW 30). They head to London for a game this week against the Bucks. Go ahead and insert your “why should we subject the English to this torture” joke here. That said, this is good for Derek Fisher and his team because it’s not many games with extra practices. This team could use that.

Five Things we learned in NBA Sunday: Cleveland will not stop digging the hole deeper

Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, LeBron James

Pay  attention and every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons. Here’s what you missed while thinking clearly you have a lot of movies to see before the Oscars….

1) LeBron being out isn’t Cleveland’s biggest problem. Maybe we didn’t actually learn this tonight, we had a pretty good idea already, but getting just thrashed 103-84 by Sacramento really drove the point home. This feels like the old Cavaliers — they need LeBron James to carry them because the rest of this team isn’t near good enough. That shouldn’t be the case, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love this team should be respectable. But they have lost five in a row and after Sunday players admitted they didn’t really play hard enough (while the Kings players did and owned the game because of it). Cavs coach David Blatt is going to take the heat and maybe the fall for this play, and clearly he is not reaching this roster, but also those players haven’t really given him a chance. A coach should be able to count on hustle, on effort from professional players — this isn’t some “rah rah” college kids, these guys should be able to motivate themselves. They are not. And ultimately it has to fall to LeBron to both hold them accountable and lead by example, the latter of which he was not doing consistently before his shut it down for a couple of weeks.

2) Damian Lillard owns fourth quarters against the Lakers. For the second time this season a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers team hung around with the Trail Blazers for a little more than three quarters. And then Damian Lillard said “screw this” and just took over — he had 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the final frame, leading Portland past the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-94 win. Oh, and he did this to the rim and Jordan Hill.

And earlier in the game he did this.

3) Hassan Whiteside cannot be stopped by mere mortals. Well, at least for a day. Sunday afternoon Hassan Whiteside looked more like DeAndre Jordan than DeAndre Jordan did (or, more accurately, he looked like the DeAndre Jordan the Clippers wish they had consistently this year). Whiteside came off the bench for Miami and was the second best big man in the game, putting up 23 points (on 10-of-13 shooting), 16 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. (The real problem for the Clippers is the best big man on the court in this game was Miami’s Chris Bosh, who had 34 and hit everything, contested or not.) Whiteside, who was in the D-League earlier this season, has scored in double digits in the last four games for Miami and has brought a real energy off the bench, something the Heat needed. He keyed a quality road win for them.

4) The Atlanta Hawks remain the best team in the East. We can debate if the Hawks can hang with the best of the West for seven games (they’ve beaten Memphis, Portland and the Clippers recently). Honestly, I don’t think they can if they get to the Finals — but make no mistake they can get to the Finals. They went up against a solid Washington team Sunday and just destroyed them — eight Atlanta players scored in double figures, the ball movement and player movement left the Wizards defenders lost, and the Hawks forced turnovers on 21 percent of the Wizards’ possessions (19 total). Maybe come the playoffs, when teams can really focus on the Hawks offense, they can slow the team down. Maybe. We thought that might happen to the Spurs in the playoffs last season and….

5) Marc Gasol is the best double overtime player in the league. Apparently. This was not a great night overall for the Spaniard, he was outplayed by Alex Len for most of the game. Then in the second overtime he poured in seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and the Grizzlies pulled away from the Suns for a 122-110 win. Despite the high score this was actually one of the better defensive games from Memphis in a while, which is the end of the court where they need to turn things around. Oh, and if you want some fancy shooting from Gasol, we can show you this:

Suns’ Alex Len converts Jordan logo dunk against Spurs (VIDEO)

Alex Len

Suns big man Alex Len is finally healthy, and since being inserted into the starting lineup 14 games ago, Phoenix has started to put things together, winning 10 of its last 12 games before dropping a close one in San Antonio on Friday.

Len is a legitimate seven-footer, but looked more like an athletic wing on this play, driving the lane and throwing down an emphatic one-handed slam.

At first glance, Len reminded me of Jordan Brand’s iconic Jumpman logo, the way he extended his arm with the ball, and spacing his legs as he threw this one down.