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

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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:

San Antonio Spurs retire Tony Parker’s number

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Tim Duncan went up first. Then Manu Ginobili.

Monday night it was Tony Parker’s turn — all of the Spurs’ big three have now had their jerseys retired.

This is obviously well deserved.

The No. 28 pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, Parker went on to win four NBA titles, was named Finals MVP with one of those, plus was a six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA player. He was part of core that turned the Spurs into a dynasty.

Everyone was on hand for the ceremony, with coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan, and Ginobili all speaking before Parker, and all of them talking about their bond.

It was an emotional and touching night.

The next stop for Duncan, Parker and Ginobili? The Hall of Fame.

 

Kings’ point guard De’Aaron Fox out at least 3-4 weeks with ankle sprain

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The Sacramento Kings — everyone’s League Pass favorites — have been snake bitten this season. First it was Marvin Bagley III, who broke his right thumb in the season opener.

Now point guard De'Aaron Fox will be out at least 3-4 weeks (that’s when he’ll be re-evaluated) after suffering a grade three ankle sprain in practice Monday. From the official Sacramento press release:

An MRI conducted this afternoon on Kings guard De’Aaron Fox confirmed that he sustained a left ankle sprain at the end of practice on Monday. He will be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks and his status will be updated as appropriate.

After a breakout season a year ago, this season Fox had come back to earth a little in new coach Luke Walton’s system — his turnovers were up and his efficiency had slipped, a 52.8 true shooting percentage that is close to the league average, for example — but he was still putting up 18.2 points and dishing out 7 assists a game. He has been the focal point of the Kings’ offense.

This is a blow to the Kings and their development. Sacramento had won 3-of-4 and seemed to be finding more of a groove.

Sacramento does have depth at the point guard spot, however. It signed Cory Joseph over the summer to a three-year, $37 million contract, plus it picked up a team option on Yogi Ferrell. They have some depth at the spot.

However, those players do not have Fox’s explosiveness. The Kings just will not be the same until he returns.

Greece coach Rick Pitino plans to enter 2020 Olympic qualifying without Giannis Antetokounmpo

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) Greece coach Rick Pitino is planning on trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics without Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Pitino officially took over as coach of the Greek national basketball team on Monday. He said he would leave a roster place open for Antetokounmpo in qualifying games but is not sure if he will be able to rely on his best player.

Greece will try to reach the Tokyo Olympics by winning a qualifying tournament. But the dates could clash with the NBA schedule, probably ruling out Antetokounmpo.

“It is a possibility he will not be playing with us in the qualifying round if he goes far (in the playoffs). I understood that coming into this situation, and that’s why it’s such a high mountain to climb,” Pitino said. “But Giannis is something, it’s a bridge we have to cross later on. But we are going to leave a roster spot even if he has to take my place.”

Pitino said he hoped to meet Antetokounmpo and his brother, Milwaukee teammate Thanasis Antetokounmpo, in March when the Bucks travel to Miami.

The 67-year-old Pitino is a veteran of the college game and the NBA, coaching the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks as well as Kentucky and Louisville. He has returned to Greece after coaching Athens club Panathinaikos last season and remains popular.

Pitino said he also felt that attachment.

“(Coaching Greece) is the crown jewel for me as a basketball coach,” Pitino said. “This is one of the greatest honors I’ve had as a coach. I consider this so special because it’s a mountain that is so worth climbing.

“And for the next eight months. I’m not American. I’m not Italian. I’m Greek. And that’s the way I’m going to carry myself. You won’t see anybody who will bleed every possession like I will bleed to try and win a game.”

LeBron James rips AAU workload: ‘AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid’

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Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.