Start trying to picture Kyrie Irving in a wine and gold Cleveland uniform.
The Cleveland Cavaliers got some good karma (maybe from owner Dan Gilbert’s son Nick) and won the NBA Draft Lottery — not with their own pick, but with the one they got from the Clippers this past season, the one with a 2.8 percent chance of being the top pick. They traded Mo Williams and took on the contract of Baron Davis and got the pick as part of that deal.
(The Clippers liked Williams and didn’t like the draft so they made the move that was the right one, save they should have protected the pick if top 3. Not doing that really costs them now. Irving with Blake Griffin would have been dynamic.)
The Timberwolves will draft second and likely take Derrick Williams out of Arizona, which gives them another forward and makes you wonder what the future of Michael Beasley in Minnesota will be. The Utah Jazz will draft third and that’s where this draft gets murky.
The Cavs’ Byron Scott has had his best success as a coach with a strong point guard — Jason Kidd and Chris Paul — and he wants to run, which makes the selection of Irving almost a certainty. Irving is not the explosive athlete that John Wall or Derrick Rose are, but he plays a smart, balanced all-around game that has been compared to the Blazers’ Brandon Roy. That will work just fine in Cleveland, where they also have the No. 4 pick.
Here is the draft order:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (from L.A. Clippers)
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
3. Utah Jazz
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Toronto Raptors,
6. Washington Wizards
7. Sacramento Kings
8. Detroit Pistons
9. Charlotte Bobcats
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Golden State Warriors
12. Utah Jazz
13. Phoenix Suns
14. Houston Rockets
15. Indiana Pacers
16. Philadelphia 76ers
17. New York Knicks
18. Washington Wizards (from Atlanta)
19. Charlotte Bobcats (from New Orleans via Portland)
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Memphis via Utah)
21. Portland Trailblazers
22. Denver Nuggets
23. Houston Rockets (from Orlando via Phoenix)
24. Oklahoma City Thunder
25. Boston Celtics
26. Dallas Mavericks
27. New Jersey Nets (from Los Angeles Lakers)
28. Chicago Bulls (from Miami via Toronto)
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Chicago Bulls
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.
Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.
Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.
The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.
The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.
A key moment occurred late in the second period.
With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.
Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.
The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.
There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.
Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.
Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:
“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”
Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.
“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”
If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.
Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.
If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.
But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.
Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:
“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”
I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.
But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.
It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.
Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.
It turns out, he was a perfect fit.
Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.
Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.
Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.
This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.