Cavs Win! Cavs Win! Cavs Win! (It still counts against the Clippers)

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There is something historically appropriate that the Cavaliers ended their losing streak against the Clippers.

Cleveland’s oddly fascinating losing streak ended dramatically at 26 with a 126-119 overtime win at home on Friday night. It seemed a fitting way to go — the Cavs had been giving the effort (mostly) for weeks, but had not been rewarded. Finally, for one night, the breaks and calls went their way.

It took J.J. Hickson getting away with a goaltend on a Baron Davis runner in the final seconds of regulation. It took Hickson getting a block on an attempted dunk by Blake Griffin late in the fourth quarter. (Yes, you read that right.) It took a clutch 3-pointer from Antawn Jamison. It took the return of Mo Williams bringing 17 points and 14 assists off the bench. It took a crazy-loud crowd that wouldn’t give up.

Mostly, it took a young Clippers team that played indifferent defense most of the night. A Clippers team with the same inconsistent end-of-game execution as the Cavs. A Clippers team that may grow into something special in a few years, but right now it is learning hard lessons about life on the road in the NBA.

And they are learning about how dangerous a desperate team can be.

After a lackluster performance a couple nights back that had coach Byron Scott calling out his team, the Cavaliers came out with energy again. They had done that for most games in the last few weeks, but were not rewarded.

Hickson had the play of the night with 3:30 left in regulation, the one that made you realize it was the Cavs’ night and made Quicken Loans Arena the loudest it has been since he who shall not be named played in the building.

Griffin got the ball on the right block and tried to do what he has done to so many, spun fast to the middle to go for the dunk, but he brought the ball back to his right hand and that gave a hustling Hickson a chance to block a Griffin dunk. Yes, block Blake Griffin. THE Blake Griffin. It sparked a fast break that ended with a three from Mo Williams, and with 3:27 left the Cavs were up by six.

Of course, they almost blew it. They are the Cavs, after all.

By 2:15 left, it was tied. A driving layup by Davis, a transition dunk from Griffin, and two free throws after a foul on Ryan Gomes did the trick.

The Cavs kept hitting shots, the Clippers kept getting fouled and to the free-throw line. It was Williams — who missed 13 games in a row before this one — that made the last basket of regulation, a professional 17-foot step-back to tie it. But the shot left Clippers 6.3 seconds left to win it.

Everyone in the building knew Davis would take the shot. He does not pass in these situations, but at least he attacked and didn’t settle for a 25-foot step-back. He drove left and got off a runner that Hickson came from the weakside to swat into the third row. It clearly looked like goaltending, but it was the Cavs’ night and there was no call.

The shot in overtime was a three from Jamison off an inbound play (which came after Hickson got away with an over-the-back, but did we mention it was the Cavs’ night?). A catch-and-shoot drained three-ball from the veteran that sealed the win.

This win ruins the “Toilet Bowl” battle of streaks against the winless-on-the-road Wizards on Sunday, but nobody in Cleveland cares.

The monkey is off their back. Now they can get back to focusing on making sure they have the most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he doesn’t expect rookie Zhaire Smith to play in NBA this season

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Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.

Zhaire Smith?

A few recent 76ers first-round picks missed their entire first professional season due to injury. Smith, the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft could join them.

Smith has missed the entire season so far with a broken foot then allergic reaction. He just returned to practicing with the 76ers, but maybe not in time to play for them this season.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

If the 76ers clinch their playoff seed before the regular season ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith plays for them. But meaningful minutes seem unlikely.

Philadelphia is trying to win now, and a rookie who entered the NBA relatively raw then missed so much time is unlikely to help.

That said, backup wings James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons aren’t exactly reliable options. If everything breaks right for Smith – essentially the opposite of his season to date – maybe, just maybe, he plays for the 76ers this season.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.