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.

French point guard Theo Maledon declares for NBA draft

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French point guard Theo Maledon has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot-five Maledon is declaring as an Early Entry candidate from the international ranks. International players who do not turn 22 in the calendar year of the draft can declare as Early Entry players.

At 18 years old, Maledon was a part-time starter for ASVEL Basket in France in the French Pro A League. ASVEL Basket is owned in part by former NBA player Tony Park, who also serves as the club’s president. Maleon started in 23 of the 46 games he played for ASVEL Basket this season.

In 46 games with ASVEL, Maledon averaged 7.3 points per game. He shot 42.1% from the floor, including 33.3% on three-pointers. He also averaged 2.7 assists per game. In mid-January, against former NBA player Shane Larkin and Turkish club Anadolu Efes, Maledon started and dished out 10 assists, while scoring five points and grabbing six rebounds.

In part due to his size for the point guard position, and his excellent play on the youth level, ESPN has Maledon ranked 15th in their top-100 prospects. He’s widely expected to be in the mix to be a lottery pick.

Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. The deadline to withdraw as an Early Entry candidate is Monday, June 15. The 2020 NBA Draft is currently scheduled to be held on Thursday, June 25.

Report: Pacers GM Chad Buchanan turns down interview with Bulls

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Indiana Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan has reportedly declined an opportunity to interview for a front office job with the Chicago Bulls.

Buchanan joined the Pacers in 2017 as their general manager under President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. Prior to moving to Indiana, Buchanan was the assistant general manager with the Charlotte Hornets.

In turning down the Bulls opportunity, Buchanan cited how well he and his family have been treated in Indiana. Buchanan had previously worked with Pritchard when both were members of the Portland Trail Blazers front office.

Chicago is replacing John Paxson and Gar Forman at the top of their front office structure. Paxson and Forman have led the Bulls basketball operations together since 2009. Chicago’s search will now reportedly focus on Arturas Karnisovas of the Denver Nuggets, Adam Simon of the Miami Heat and Bobby Webster of the Toronto Raptors.

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

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It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”