LeBron’s return to Cleveland Tuesday sparks more crazy “return in 2014” speculation

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If you don’t think some Cavaliers fans are a little bit over the top about the slim possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland in 2014, you didn’t see the shirt of the guy who ran on the court in the fourth quarter Wednesday night of the Heat’s dramatic win in Cleveland. The fool disrupted the game before he was hauled off in handcuffs, all while wearing a T-shirt saying:

“LeBron 2014 Come Back.”

After the game LeBron told reporters the guy said he missed him and asked him to come back.

Let’s put aside the fact that running on the court mid-game may not be the best way to convince a player your idea is a good one, this guy is a tip of a Cleveland iceberg. There is a real sense there — and in some other circles around the NBA — that this could happen.

LeBron didn’t quell that speculation Wednesday at shootaround when he refused to discuss it altogether. Here’s the quote, via Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“My only focus now is to win another championship, I can’t worry about speculation or rumors,” James said recently when the subject was raised. “What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship.”

If you know anything about how over-zealous fans think, you know that not talking about it means you are tacitly confirming everything they are thinking.

Does a game like Wednesday then give the Cleveland fans more hope? In their minds you bet it does. Sure, LeBron got booed a little, but he saw that the Cavs have a good core of hard working players, right? He realizes he can win here, right?

No. Not to throw cold water on the shooter on the grassy knoll theory, but no. The reality is the Miami Heat remain far and away the leaders in the 2014 LeBron sweepstakes. Everyone else is grasping at straws.

It’s not hard to draw up the LeBron returns to Cleveland scenarios. Even regular Miami Heat beat writers like our friend Ira Winderman writing for NBC will help you connect the dots — LeBron can opt out in 2014, the Cavaliers have 2014 cap space, LeBron said he would consider coming back one day, his new agent/manager is based in Cleveland and LeBron spoke highly of Kyrie Irving at All-Star weekend.

All that can’t be a coincidence, right? It’s not like every coach and player in the NBA speaks highly of Kyrie Irving… oh, wait, yes they do. It’s not like LeBron’s new agent is both from Cleveland and has another client there (Tristan Thompson), so he would likely locate there anyway. It’s not like a bunch of teams have 2014 cap space, including the Lakers. It’s not like… oh, you get the idea.

LeBron is almost certainly going to opt out in 2014 — he will want the security of a longer five-year deal (and he can get more money, if he so chooses). Money is not a big factor — Lebron is a max player, he can get that or take less if he chooses, and he can get it anywhere (plus he makes far more off the court in endorsements anyway).

What he will do is make a decision based on his legacy and winning titles (which go hand-in-hand). The win streak they are on will be part of that Heat legacy.

So would jumping ship to another team, leaving another fan base angry, really help him with that legacy? While you can make a case it will be hard with the salary cap for Miami to surround LeBron with the same talent he has enjoyed so far. Of course, those same rules apply to other teams as well. Plus, convincing guys to come to South Beach for less money and to win rings is not all that hard.

Most importantly, do you really think LeBron is leaving his buddy Dwyane Wade, especially if they win another title or two here in the next couple years? With LeBron’s newfound maturity may be a sense of loyalty. To his friends, to the organization that got him rings.

But we are jumping the gun here. LeBron has to decide what to do by June 30, 2014, what to do. He doesn’t fully know what he will do then (things can change). Although next season he’s going to have to address this in a more concrete way than “I’m not going to talk about it.” Otherwise the distraction will be too big.

Bigger than crazy guys running on the court. But that’s where we are now.

Everything big and small goes right for DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors debut

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LOS ANGELES — It was the little things.

Not that DeMarcus Cousins’ overall line — he fouled out with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and he was +21, all in 15 minutes — was bad at all. In fact, it was pretty damn good. In his first game in nearly a year, Cousins looked like a slightly rusty version of himself. All the trademarks were there, from hitting threes to complaining about calls.

Cousins made the Warriors better from the moment he stepped on the court, and while the big things were obvious it was the little things should worry any challenger to the crown. For example:

• Cousins’ ability to not just score but to be a playmaker out of the midpost adds a new dimension to the Warriors offense.

• Cousins provides versatility to sets the Warriors already run regularly. For example, in the third quarter, he was the guy making the entry pass on the double-screen play the Warriors like, with Draymond Green in the post and Klay Thompson curing off the screens. Cousins set a hard screen that freed Thompson up for a clean look.

• He gives them another three-point shooter, one that creates matchup problems for defenses. The Clippers chose to chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over picks and play on top of them, but that means the big has to drop back and protect against backcuts and drives. Do that with Cousins off the ball and he’s wide open for threes.

“I want to know what the scouting report is on me,” Cousins joked about how open he was from deep.

• Cousins is strong on the offensive glass and that’s going to lead to more kick-out threes for Golden State’s shooters.

• Cousins also gives the Warriors some defense. He’s a big body in the paint who knows how to get in the way. At one point on back-to-back plays Cousins drew a charge on Tobias Harris, then on the next trip down stripped Harris when he drove.

“Like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said of how he felt on the night. “It’s been a long journey… this was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out on the floor again and playing the game that I love.”

Cousins was part of the Warriors picking up their seventh straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94. Curry led the way with 28 points.

Everything went Cousins’ way — he even got a standing ovation from the bench when he fouled out.

“Hopefully that’s the last time we give him a standing ovation when he fouls out, but it was great to see him out there,” Durant said.

“Probably all the fakest love I’ve received in my life,” Cousins joked.

The NBA world shook when Cousins signed with the Warriors last July. Everyone knew it was going to take him a long time to get healthy and right, but Golden State was a team that could be patient and wait for him, not rush him back, and when he did play it would be another weapon to punish switches or just use in their existing sets.

“I thought, good for him. It’s a good spot for him,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said of his reaction when he read about the Cousins signing. “And then I thought, wow, that’s not right.”

Cousins started the game with Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, which meant nobody could really double him.

“This is a first, like in my entire basketball career,” Cousins said of the lack of doubles thrown at him. “I definitely can get used to this.”

Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior was a thunderous dunk, one created because his man had to focus on Durant (and Danilo Gallinari was late with the rotation).

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked.

Cousins said he was nervous before the game but his girlfriend sent him a picture of himself in the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair the day after his surgery. That helped put the journey in perspective.

“It’s been a year since his injury, he’s gone through a long rehab process…” Kerr said before the game. “This is not the end of the story, this is sort of the middle of the story and it’s a milestone but there is a long way to go.”

Cousins is going to get better at things big and small as that journey continues.

Which should scare the rest of the NBA.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.