Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: LeBron outduels Durant, Thunder

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It felt like a Throwback Thursday around the NBA — LeBron having to do all the scoring, Durant and Westbrook against the world for the Thunder, Kobe Bryant dunking, Linsanity in Charlotte. Only three games on the docket, but the NBA put on quite a show — unless you are Jason Day’s wife. Here’s what you need to know from around the NBA Friday.

1) In a matchup of stars, LeBron James outduels Kevin Durant, Thunder. Kyrie Irving isn’t back yet, Iman Shumpert was out again, so the Cleveland Cavaliers went with the system that got them to the NBA Finals last season — give the ball to LeBron and let him carry the load. It worked again. LeBron had 33 points (12-of-27 shooting), 11 assists, and nine rebounds on the night. (He wanted the triple-double late and told teammates not to go for a rebound on a late free throw so he could get the board, but Kevin Love grabbed it anyway.) It looked like the Finals Cavs from last season — LeBron scores/creates, Tristan Thompson crashes the boards hard, they slow the game down and defend, and that’s enough many nights. This is not how the Cavs will win a title, but for a Thursday night against the Thunder that formula still works.

Oklahoma City had won six in a row coming in, but this loss highlights the problem they will face deep in the playoffs — Russell Westbrook had 27, Durant 25, Serge Ibaka 23, and then it dropped off the map to single digits. The predicted creative new offense of Billy Donovan has not materialized — it’s a lot of Durant/Westbrook isolation or pick-and-roll, and the best teams can defend that. The Thunder big men don’t pass well, so even their shots have to come from those two. Here was Donovan’s other big mistake: it was a close game entering the fourth (OKC up three) when he rested Durant and Westbrook at the same time — Cleveland went on a 9-0 run. He brought Westbrook then soon after Durant back, but that run grew to 17-2 and a double-digit Cavs lead before the bleeding stopped. Ballgame. The Thunder could not dig out of that hole. The Thunder have so much talent but still feel like a clear third best team in the West, and they have work to do if they are going to threaten the Spurs or Warriors in a seven-game series.

2) LeBron James runs over Jason Day’s wife, sending her to the hospital. Ellie Day and her husband — world second-ranked golfer Jason Day — live in Columbus and had a nice date night going without the kids: Courtside seats to see the Cavaliers and Thunder. But in the fourth quarter the 6’8″, 250-pound LeBron James chased a loose ball into the front row and just ran over Ellie. She had to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher. Fortunately, early reports are that she is doing well with no serious injuries.

3) Kobe Bryant was vintage self, but Rockets still get a comfortable win. If you’re paying to see the Lakers at Staples, do you want to see the team win? If you’re a Laker fan, don’t you want to see the team increase the odds of holding on to their pick this June (it is only top three protected). Still, you want a show. You want to see some turn-back-the-clock Kobe. Well, Lakers fans got that Thursday at Staples, Kobe had 22 points, hit some tough jumpers, and even had his first dunk of the season. But James Harden and the Rockets got the win handily, 107-87.

4) Jeremy Lin goes off for 35 and Hornets beat Raptors in overtime. This game was an example of why you need League Pass — you missed a fun one if you weren’t watching. The Hornets led by double-digits much of the game, but Kyle Lowry sparked a 15-3 run that made it close and then DeMar DeRozan (31 points on the night) hit a jumper with 13 seconds left that sent the game to overtime. The Hornets relied on Lin and Kemba Walker — the pair had 24 of the Hornets’ 33 points in the fourth quarter and OT — and that was enough. Walker had nine in the OT, but the big numbers went to the guy with the spiky hair.

5) The Thunder’s Steven Adams dunked on LeBron. You don’t see this every day. (LeBron will take the win and live with it.)

Report: Mavericks looking for another star at trade deadline. Good luck with that.

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Two things are true. First, the painted-over mural was right, the Dallas Mavericks desperately need a second star to go next to Luka Dončić. Second, they have backed themselves into a corner without the trade assets or cap space to easily make that happen.

It may be a longshot, but the Mavericks are open to trading anyone but Dončić to find that second star at the deadline, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reminds us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Dallas is open to this, of course they are.

The challenges start with, what star is available? The best player maybe on the market right now is John Collins or Bojan Bogdanovic, and while both would help the Mavericks neither is changing the team’s fortunes the way they would hope.

If Toronto decides to become sellers things get interesting. However, as of the latest reports, they are on the fence and telling teams they are waiting to decide what they will do at the deadline (sell, stand pat, or become buyers). Fred VanVleet could be available, and would essentially be a Jalen Brunson replacement, certainly a step up from where the Mavericks are currently. However, the Clippers and others could drive up the asking price, plus the Mavericks would have to step up and pay him this summer, VanVleet is expected to opt out of his $22.8 million contract. O.G. Anunoby would be a great fit next to Dončić, but he is not a star, he is more of a high-level role player.

Pascal Siakam could be that second star next to Dončić, a 6’8″ wing who can finish at the rim, shoot 3s, and would be a great secondary shot creator. It’s a good fit. Siakam is not an elite defender — Dallas would want some 3&D guys added to the roster — but he would be the kind of addition Dallas needs.

Dallas can offer its three first-round picks starting in 2024, but is some combination of those picks and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith going to entice the Raptors? They will look for a massive package for Siakam and likely see better offers than Dallas can construct.

It may not be easy to pull off, and likely will wait until the offseason (at the earliest), but know the Mavericks are serious about a second star.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.

Report: Bucks have been given permission to talk to Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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Jae Crowder may be the most likely player to be traded at the deadline. The Suns need a shake-up (and to get Devin Booker back), and they are sitting on a $10.2 million player that is not helping them on the court and has yet to bring back any trade value they want.

We may have movement on that front, based on reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In a new development, the Suns have given permission to the Bucks to meet with Crowder and they met over the weekend, league sources tell The Athletic. The Bucks are believed to be the only team that has received permission to visit one-on-one with Crowder, those sources have also indicated…

Both the Suns and Bucks have engaged in serious trade talks for months, with current proposals surrounding Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and second-round draft compensation to Phoenix for Crowder, according to sources. The Bucks and Suns have searched for a third team to provide Phoenix with a forward – so what outcome will emerge between now and next Thursday?

Those talks between the Bucks and Crowder likely focused on his role on the team this season (backup four) and possibly re-signing him after this season (he will be a free agent).

Crowder has sat out the season after asking for a trade but is still a Sun because Phoenix head of basketball operations James Jones had a very specific ask in the trade — a forward with a similar skill set to Crowder. It’s tough to trade like-for-like in the league, so nothing has happened. It’s also why that offer from the Bucks doesn’t seem the fit the Suns want. Nwora is a forward but a fringe rotation player, Hill can help with some backup point guard minutes, but nothing really moves the needle for Phoenix. The problem is the Suns have waited so long to get a trade done that Crowder’s value has gone down — by the time he is traded, works his way back into game shape, then steps on the court for his new team he’ll be lucky to play 30 games in the regular season. Teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental.

The report states the Heat also are interested, which is not a shock they want a P.J. Tucker-like player at the four and Crowder fits the bill, but putting together a trade that works for both sides is difficult (unless the Suns suddenly fell in love with Duncan Robinson, which would be a bigger trade). The Hawks come up, but there is a growing sense around the league that the new Landry Fields-led front office is less inclined to trade John Collins, and they may ride with him at the four.

It’s likely Crowder gets traded somewhere at the deadline and the Bucks maybe make the most sense, but this deal could have been done long ago if the sides wanted to.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

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The WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are about to get better.

Two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker announced she plans to sign with the Aces when free agency opens on Feb. 1

The WNBA champions just got better — a starting frontcourt of Parker and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (with Kelsey Plum in the backcourt) could make Las Vegas the best defensive team in the league. While Parker may not be the scorer she once was, she can serve as a fulcrum for the offense, get the ball to the other players on the deeply talented Aces, and make them a serious threat to repeat.

Still, a cloud hangs over the Aces organization after what Dearica Hamby alleged after she was traded to the Sparks. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by the Aces front office surrounding her pregnancy and contract. Those are serious allegations, and the WNBPA is looking into the matter.

On the court (if the investigation results don’t weigh them down), the Aces have to be title favorites now. However, when WNBA free agency comes on Wednesday that could shift, depending on what Breanna Stewart chooses to do (along with other key free agents). There has been speculation Stewart could head to New York to team up with Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu on a Liberty team that would instantly be the biggest threat to the Aces (if not the outright favorite).

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting WNBA free agency.