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

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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.

WNBA suspends Riquna Williams 10 games for domestic violence

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NEW YORK (AP) The WNBA has suspended Los Angeles Sparks guard Riquna Williams 10 games for a domestic violence incident.

The WNBA handed down the suspension Tuesday. Williams was arrested on April 29 and charged with two felony counts, one involving the assault of an individual with whom she was in a relationship and the other involving a threat to another person with a firearm. Her criminal case is ongoing.

The league conducted its own investigation and consulted with a panel of experts in the field of domestic violence. Among other factors, the WNBA said it took into account the nature and seriousness of the allegations, including the involvement of a gun.

The WNBA also will require Williams to participate in counseling.

Williams’ suspension will begin with Thursday’s game against the Dallas Wings.

Report: Bulls signing Luke Kornet for guaranteed $4.5M over two years

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Just three 7-footers have averaged 3.5 3-pointers per game and made 35% of them each of the last two seasons:

The Bulls will now have most of them.

Markkanen is Chicago’s top young player. Kornet will join him with the Bulls next season.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’m a little surprised Kornet got more than his minimum ($3,383,360 over two years). But it’s worth taking a flier on him.

In addition to his outside shooting, Kornet has shown good timing as a shot-blocker in two seasons with the Knicks. The 24-year-old must get stronger and improve as a rebounder to play major minutes.

But the Bulls won’t have to press him into action. They also have Thaddeus Young, Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Daniel Gafford and Cristiano Felicio as bigs.

Pistons claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks waived Christian Wood late last season to ensure avoiding the luxury tax. The Pelicans claimed him. Wood had played well in limited minutes with the 76ers, Hornets and Bucks and in the NBA’s minor league since going undrafted in 2015.

New Orleans gave him his biggest opportunity yet. In 24 minutes per game over eight games, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds.

But the Pelicans filled their roster for next season and waived Wood.

Detroit will take advantage.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons announced today that the team has claimed forward/center Christian Wood off waivers.

Wood’s $1,645,357 minimum salary is unguaranteed until the regular season. So, Detroit could still waive him before the season. But it seems he’ll at least go to training camp and get a shot at a regular-season roster spot.

The Pelicans also could’ve kept him through the preseason then waived him before the regular season. They seemingly did him a favor of allowing him to get somewhere he has a realistic chance of sticking.

Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond will start in the frontcourt for the Pistons. Markieff Morris and Thon Maker appear to be first in line is backups.

But don’t be surprised if Wood earns playing time. At minimum, the 23-year-old should provide nice depth at both power forward and center.

The Pistons have also now acquired four members of last year’s Bucks – Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Tim Frazier and now Wood.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.