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.