Five Things We Learned in NBA Thursday: The Cavaliers we expected have arrived

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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 Twitter explode because of llamas on the loose in Phoenix

1) The Cavaliers we expected may be late to the party but they have arrived. They have won 18 of 20. LeBron James is playing like the best player on the planet again. Their starting five are playing lock-down defense as a group (despite J.R. Smith and Kevin Love being in the group). There have been a lot of reasons for a while now to say that the Cavaliers we expected have finally arrived, but Thursday night they announced their presence with authority during a 110-99 win over the Golden State Warriors. A win where they ran away and hid from the team that has been considered the best in the game this season. Signs of what the Cavs were doing right? LeBron hit 8-of-11 contested shot attempts. The Cavs defense held the Warriors to 24-of-43 shooting in the paint. The lists can go on and on. Early in the season we wondered how long it would take Cleveland to morph into the Cavaliers, well it took a trade (particularly for Timofey Mozgov) and LeBron to get some rest, but that team has arrived.

2) Stephen Curry has serious handles. He’s got the purest shot in the game, but this man’s handles are ridiculous as well.

3) Phoenix will not go quietly into that good night. Recently the Suns had lost five in a row. The Thunder had won seven in a row. The Suns were 2.5 games back of the eight-seed Thunder and looked like, after trading Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline, they would just pack it in for the season. Nope. Behind great nights from Eric Bledsoe (28 points and he was one assist shy of a triple-double) and Markeif Morris (29 points) the Suns beat the Thunder in overtime. That leaves them 1.5 games back of the Thunder. This team is not going to give up; they will push the Thunder all season long. They will not catch OKC, but they will not go quietly.

4) Eric Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook put on a show. You can decide for yourself which one is the white llama and which is the black, but like the llamas nobody could seem to catch up with Bledsoe (28 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists) and Westbrook (39 points on 38 shots, 14 rebounds, 11 assists).

5) RIP Earl Lloyd. On Oct. 31, 1950, Earl Lloyd walked onto an NBA court as a member of the Washington Capitols and had six points and 10 rebounds in what was an eight-point loss to the Rochester Royals. In doing so, Lloyd broke the color barrier and became the first black player in the NBA. The Hall of Famer passed away Thursday at age 86.

Report: 76ers didn’t offer Jimmy Butler five-year max contract once free agency opened

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The 76ers offered Jimmy Butler a five-year max contract, according to Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports. However, Adrian Wojnarowski reported Philadelphia wasn’t offering Butler a five- or even four-year max deal.

What explains the discrepancy?

Maybe timing.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But on June 30, there was no five-year maximum offer for Butler, multiple sources say.

That doesn’t explicitly say the 76ers offered Butler a five-year max earlier, but it intentionally leaves the possibility wide open. After all, when Philadelphia traded for Butler in the final year of his contract, everyone knew he expected a max contract. He said so himself. After early tension, the 76ers still expressed desire to re-sign Butler. As free agency neared, they kept sending those signals.

What changed?

Maybe Philadelphia had second thoughts about paying Butler so much. There are reasonable concerns. But it’d be odd if the 76ers went so far down the road toward re-signing Butler only to reverse course at the last moment because of internal evaluations. That assessment could have been made earlier.

Al Horford unexpectedly became available, and Philadelphia used Butler’s vacated cap space to sign him. With Butler and the capped-out Heat wanting him in Miami, the 76ers also leveraged another good playerJosh Richardson – in a sign-and-trade. Perhaps, once realizing it was an option, Philadelphia just preferred Horford and Richardson to Butler (and retaining J.J. Redick‘s Bird Rights). That’d be simple enough.

Whatever happened, I bet it’s the crux of the secret story Butler recently alluded to.

Nets to wear ‘Bed-Stuy’ jerseys (video)

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Nets forward Kevin Durant said, “The cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Brooklyn is cool.

So, the Nets are getting more overt about connecting to the image of their borough. After wearing Notorious B.I.G.-inspired uniforms with Coogi-sweater-style trim, Brooklyn is slapping “Bed-Stuy” – the neighborhood brought to mass popularity by Biggie, Jay-Z and others – onto its jerseys.
Nets:

I can’t decide whether these jerseys are actually cool or trying too hard to be cool.

Also, the Nets apparently aren’t daunted by a Coogi lawsuit.

First non-white player in modern professional basketball, Wat Misaka dies at 95

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SALT LAKE CITY — Wataru “Wat” Misaka, the first non-white player to play in the league that was the predecessor to the NBA, has died. He was 95.

Misaka played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947-48 season in the Basketball Association of America. He was the league’s first player of of Japanese descent.

A 2008 documentary called “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story” told the story of what Misaka went through as a trailblazing athlete.

Misaka attended a 2013 Utah Jazz game to watch Jeremy Lin play.

The University of Utah athletic department said in a news release Thursday that Misaka died Wednesday in Salt Lake City. He grew up in Ogden, Utah.

Mikasa was the point guard on the Utah team that won the NCAA Tournament in 1944 and the NIT in 1947.

Reggie Miller reports Zion Williamson to return in mid-December

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If you missed this because Reggie Miller’s color commentary makes you reach for the mute button, nobody would blame you. It’s something we all feel the need to do.

However, doing it Thursday night during the Pelicans’ win over the Suns would have caused you to miss Miller doing some actual reporting on the return of Zion Williamson, saying sources tell him the rookie is on track to return in “mid-December.”

If your first reaction is “I trust Reggie Miller’s reporting as much as the Weekly World News” you would generally be correct.

But in this case we may want to listen. First, Miller does talk to GMs, coaches, and front office types. Second, what he says fits the already established timeline for Williamson’s return from knee surgery, which was “around or before Christmas.” This is not breaking news so much as a confirmation of what we already know.

Williamson certainly makes the Pelicans more dynamic, more athletic, plus much more entertaining and watchable. The sooner we get him back on the court, the better for all of us.