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.

Paul George on twins Marcus, Markieff Morris: “They’re different, but they’re the same”

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George has given us the quote of the day.

For some quick context, last season Paul George played with Markieff Morris in Oklahoma City. This season, George’s Clippers team traded for the other Morris twin, Marcus Morris, at the deadline. When asked about them, George admitted to mixing them up — and then had a classic description of twins.

“It was weird at first, ‘cuz I would call [Marcus] ‘Keiff.’ It actually took a good week. It’s crazy. ‘What’s up Marcus? Nice to meet you.’ Then instantly after, ‘Hey Keiff!’ It’s gonna take a second…

“They’re different, but they’re the same.”

Um… yes, they are.

Both Morris twins live in Los Angeles now (and are expected to move in together). Marcus was traded to the Clippers at the deadline, while Markieff was waived and became a free agent, choosing to sign with the Lakers.

George had high praise for both of them.

“Markieff and Marcus, they are great glue guys,” George said. “They just know how to play the game. They fit right in, they bring toughness, hecka [good] locker room guys, both of them just great people. Great dudes.”

They’re the same that way. But different.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.