Mo Williams, reunited with LeBron, thriving for Cavaliers

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Mo Williams has a future with the Cavaliers. “He’s going to be a huge part of our success,” LeBron James said.

Williams also has a past with Cleveland. He played with the Cavs from 2008-11, and LeBron’s 2010 departure for the Heat devastated him so much, he said he considered retiring.

“I don’t really look in the past,” Williams said.

Nor does he look to the future.

“I just take it one day at a time,” said Williams, who, if he had a desire to discuss his career arc after Cleveland’s loss to the Pistons on Tuesday, did a great job hiding it.

That was the Cavaliers’ second straight loss, dropping them to 8-3 and creating a minor panic for such a hyped team.

But imagine where they’d be without Williams, who has started at point guard for an injured Kyrie Irving. Williams is averaging 15.5 points on 47.7% shooting with 5.3 assists per game. And 8-3 looks great relative to the 1-6 record Cleveland posted without Irving last season.

“Mo’s given us everything we could ask for,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.

What a difference a few years make.

During LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, the Cavs faced frequent questions about their inability to get LeBron a star sidekick. LeBron had just two All-Star teammates in those years: Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 2005 and Williams in 2009.

LeBron didn’t make the playoffs until 2006, so few were sweating his supporting cast when Ilgauskas reached the All-Star game. By the time they traded for Williams in 2008, the Cavaliers had already been to the Finals, where LeBron was overwhelmed by the deep Spurs.

So – with an All-Star appearance to his name – the burden of being LeBron’s top teammate fell to Williams.

That was asking a bit too much of him. Williams is a good jump-shooter, and he passes pretty well, but he’s streaky and has never defended well. He’s no Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, and he never should have been positioned to be.

Williams – the No. 47 pick in the 2003 draft – should be celebrated for carving out such a long career from such humble beginnings. The only other active players who have played so long after being drafted so low or going undrafted are Manu Ginobili, Rasual Butler, Kyle Korver, James Jones, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem.

Instead, Williams has worn a not-good-enough-for-LeBron label as he made stops with the Clippers, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Timberwolves and Hornets.

Williams returned to a comfortable position this summer by signing with Cleveland – right next to LeBron. His true-shooting percentages with LeBron on the court – 59.1 in 2008-09, 60.6 in 2009-10 and 62.5 in 2015-16 – have been higher than any season without LeBron.

Here are Williams’ shooting percentages without LeBron on the floor as a teammate (wine) and with LeBron on the floor as a teammate (gold):

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Williams has assisted LeBron more than anyone has, and nobody has assisted Williams more than LeBron has this season.

They look in sync, just as they did a few years ago:

But it wasn’t long ago Williams was fuming about how LeBron left Cleveland, and that frostiness was just as visible:

That relationship has been repaired, according to Anderson Varejao, who has played for the Cavs since 2004.

“I’m telling you, in the locker or on the court, to me, it feels like it never happened,” Varejao said. “…Dinners together, everything is fine.

“They’re good. They’re good friends.”

How did Williams wind up back in Cleveland to even give himself a chance of reconnecting with LeBron?

In 2013, Williams left the Jazz because they wouldn’t make him a starter. He went to Portland, where he wanted to stay, but he opted out for more money with the Timberwolves in 2014. Minnesota dealt him just before the trade deadline to Charlotte, where he averaged 21.3 and 8.5 assists in his first 11 games. The Hornets essentially gave him the biggest role of his career.

But Williams signed with the Cavs last summer, probably taking less money than he could’ve gotten elsewhere. He’ll almost certainly return to the bench once Irving gets healthy.

Why did Williams give up so much to return to LeBron and Cleveland?

Varejao says he has noticed more maturity from Williams since they were teammates in 2011.

“Now, more than ever, he’s thirsty to win,” Varejao said. “All he wants to do is win.”

Whatever Williams has been through with him, LeBron can certainly help Williams do that.

Luka Doncic had more points, rebounds and assists than Warriors in first quarter

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Luka Doncic keeps doing amazing things.

But he really outdid himself in opening quarter of the Mavericks win over the Warriors last night. The box score after the first quarter:

  • Points: Doncic 22, Warriors 16
  • Rebounds: Doncic 5, Warriors 4
  • Assists: Doncic 5, Warriors 4

Outscoring Golden State? OK. Getting more assists? OK. Doing both? That’s just incredible. Doncic was in total control offensively.

The 6-foot-7 wing out-rebounding the Warriors is especially astounding. Though I suppose if 6-foot Allen Iverson out-rebounded an entire team for a quarter, it’s not that crazy Doncic did, too.

To be fair, this achievement deserves a little context. Warriors who played in the first quarter:

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s sloppy first game shows promise

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…

Sloppy.

A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.

Moments later, when the Celtics trapped Leonard, and he found George for three.

For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.

This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:

“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…

“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”

With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.

One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.

All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.

Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.

The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.

This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.

But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.

2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.

Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court. He sat the entire fourth of a blowout Dallas win.

Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.

Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.

3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:

Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.

We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.

This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.

This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.

There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic

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It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.

Now Caruso has his own mural in Los Angeles.

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This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.

This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.

It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.

Kawhi Leonard just destroyed Boston’s Daniel Theis on dunk

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Daniel Theis‘ play as a rim protector is one of the reasons Boston has a top-10 defense this season. He has anchored the Celtics’ defense in the paint.

Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, and if he wants to go to the rim nobody is stopping him. Theis found out the hard way.

After the game, Leonard was asked about the dunk and he responded in about the most Kawhi way possible.

This was the first game Leonard and Paul George played together and they combined for 42 points, and they both made key play down the stretch of a 107-104 overtime win.