Remember how bad the Cavaliers were just a few months ago? No NBA champion was worse

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The Cavaliers have been historically bad in the years preceding their run to the NBA Finals.

But even this season – once they had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – they got off to to a tumultuous start.

David Blatt ripped the team after an opening loss to the Knicks. As Cleveland continued to struggle, LeBron blamed others. He blamed himself. Blatt criticized LeBron. Outsiders criticized Blatt. The Cavs hit rock bottom. Questions emerged about Blatt’s job security.

It appeared unlikely Cleveland, which sunk to 19-20, could get on track quickly enough to do serious damage this season.

As late as Jan. 23, when they were 23-20, the Cavaliers had a worse record than any NBA champion through so many games.

Here’s how Cleveland’s win total (wine) compares with the worst record by an NBA champion through each game (gold):

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Here are the NBA champions with the worst record through each game:

Through games Team Record
82 1978 Washington Bullets 44-38
81 1978 Washington Bullets 43-38
80 1978 Washington Bullets 43-37
79 1978 Washington Bullets 42-37
78 1978 Washington Bullets 41-37
77 1978 Washington Bullets 41-36
76 1978 Washington Bullets 41-35
75 1978 Washington Bullets 40-35
74 1978 Washington Bullets 40-34
73 1978 Washington Bullets 40-33
72 1978 Washington Bullets 39-33
71 1978 Washington Bullets 38-33
70 1978 Washington Bullets 37-33
69 1978 Washington Bullets 36-33
68 1978 Washington Bullets 36-32
67 1978 Washington Bullets 36-31
66 1978 Washington Bullets 36-30
65 1978 Washington Bullets 35-30
64 1978 Washington Bullets 35-29
63 1978 Washington Bullets 34-29
62 1978 Washington Bullets 33-29
61 1978 Washington Bullets 32-29
60 1978 Washington Bullets 31-29
59 1978 Washington Bullets 31-28
58 1978 Washington Bullets 30-28
57 1978 Washington Bullets 29-28
56 1978 Washington Bullets 29-27
55 1978 Washington Bullets 28-27
54 1978 Washington Bullets 28-26
53 1978 Washington Bullets 27-26
52 1978 Washington Bullets 27-25
51 1978 Washington Bullets 27-24
50 1978 Washington Bullets 26-24
49 1955 Syracuse Nationals 26-23
49 1978 Washington Bullets 26-23
48 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-23
47 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-22
46 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-21
45 1978 Washington Bullets 25-20
45 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-20
44 1978 Washington Bullets 24-20
43 1955 Syracuse Nationals 24-19
43 1948 Baltimore Bullets 24-19
43 1978 Washington Bullets 24-19
42 1955 Syracuse Nationals 23-19
42 1948 Baltimore Bullets 23-19
41 1948 Baltimore Bullets 23-18
41 1955 Syracuse Nationals 23-18
40 1948 Baltimore Bullets 22-18
39 1948 Baltimore Bullets 21-18
38 1955 Syracuse Nationals 21-17
38 1948 Baltimore Bullets 21-17
37 1955 Syracuse Nationals 20-17
36 1955 Syracuse Nationals 19-17
35 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 19-16
35 1955 Syracuse Nationals 19-16
34 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 18-16
33 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 18-15
33 1955 Syracuse Nationals 18-15
33 1948 Baltimore Bullets 18-15
32 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 17-15
31 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 16-15
30 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 16-14
30 1948 Baltimore Bullets 16-14
29 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 15-14
28 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 15-13
28 1948 Baltimore Bullets 15-13
27 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-13
26 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-12
25 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-11
25 2006 Miami Heat 14-11
25 1955 Syracuse Nationals 14-11
24 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 13-11
23 2006 Miami Heat 13-10
23 1951 Rochester Royals 13-10
23 1990 Detroit Pistons 13-10
23 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 13-10
22 2006 Miami Heat 12-10
22 1951 Rochester Royals 12-10
21 2006 Miami Heat 11-10
20 2006 Miami Heat 10-10
19 2006 Miami Heat 10-9
18 1999 San Antonio Spurs 10-8
18 1951 Rochester Royals 10-8
18 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 10-8
18 2006 Miami Heat 10-8
17 1999 San Antonio Spurs 9-8
17 1951 Rochester Royals 9-8
17 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 9-8
16 1999 San Antonio Spurs 8-8
16 1951 Rochester Royals 8-8
15 1999 San Antonio Spurs 7-8
15 1951 Rochester Royals 7-8
14 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-8
13 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-7
13 1951 Rochester Royals 6-7
12 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-6
12 1991 Chicago Bulls 6-6
12 1978 Washington Bullets 6-6
12 1951 Rochester Royals 6-6
11 1978 Washington Bullets 5-6
11 1951 Rochester Royals 5-6
11 1999 San Antonio Spurs 5-6
11 1991 Chicago Bulls 5-6
10 1951 Rochester Royals 4-6
10 1978 Washington Bullets 4-6
9 1951 Rochester Royals 3-6
8 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 3-5
8 1978 Washington Bullets 3-5
8 1951 Rochester Royals 3-5
7 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 3-4
7 1978 Washington Bullets 3-4
7 1955 Syracuse Nationals 3-4
7 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 3-4
7 1951 Rochester Royals 3-4
7 1949 Minneapolis Lakers 3-4
7 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 3-4
6 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 2-4
6 1978 Washington Bullets 2-4
6 1955 Syracuse Nationals 2-4
5 1991 Chicago Bulls 2-3
5 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 2-3
5 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 2-3
5 1978 Washington Bullets 2-3
5 1958 St. Louis Hawks 2-3
5 2006 Miami Heat 2-3
5 1999 San Antonio Spurs 2-3
5 1966 Boston Celtics 2-3
5 1959 Boston Celtics 2-3
5 1955 Syracuse Nationals 2-3
5 1952 Minneapolis Lakers 2-3
4 1991 Chicago Bulls 1-3
4 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
4 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
4 1978 Washington Bullets 1-3
4 1958 St. Louis Hawks 1-3
3 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-3
2 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-2
2 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 0-2
2 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 0-2
2 1958 St. Louis Hawks 0-2
2 1955 Syracuse Nationals 0-2
2 1954 Minneapolis Lakers 0-2
1 2004 Detroit Pistons 0-1
1 1998 Chicago Bulls 0-1
1 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-1
1 1987 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1986 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1984 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1975 Golden State Warriors 0-1
1 1959 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1958 St. Louis Hawks 0-1
1 1956 Philadelphia Warriors 0-1
1 1955 Syracuse Nationals 0-1
1 1954 Minneapolis Lakers 0-1
1 1948 Baltimore Bullets 0-1

The Cavaliers transformed themselves by trading for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

Whether or not they win the title, it’s already been a heck of a turnaround.

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.

 

Celtics beat Pacers 104-96 to take 3-0 series lead

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

The Celtics can close out the Eastern Conference series Sunday in Indianapolis.

Irving also had 10 assists and five rebounds.

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent Indiana from losing its sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and playoff.

Indiana desperately needed a win to avoid facing its second sweep in three years, but Boston started fast and closed it with a 10-4 spurt late in the fourth quarter.

And once again, Boston’s defense turned the game by allowing just 12 points in the third quarter.

It’s been that kind of series for Indiana, which erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead. Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

But Boston charged back with eight straight points to retake the lead, closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to make it 80-73 and pulled away late.

The Celtics took control quickly by going 8 of 10 on 3s in the first quarter to build a 37-22 lead.

Evans finally got the Pacers righted with 12 second-quarter points including bookend 3s to start and finish the 17-3 spurt that allowed Indiana to tie it at 52. The Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take the lead.

 

Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

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Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.