Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Cleveland has work to do before June

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Monday night saw one of the games that NBA fans had circled on their calendar as must see — Golden State returning to the champagne-soaked locker room in Cleveland. But that ended up being about the least interesting or entertaining game of the day. Here’s what you need to know from a Martin Luther King Jr. Monday around the NBA.

1) Golden State thrashed Cleveland, shows Cavaliers where the bar is set. The Cavs have work to do.
Games in January do not tell us who would win a seven-game series between those two teams in June. Games in the middle of the season are simply benchmarks. Tests if you will. They show a team where they stand, what needs to be worked on for the next six months to be ready for the games that matter.

The Cavaliers have a lot of work to do. Beating up on the East does not have them ready for the true contenders out of the West.

Last week, Cleveland played the San Antonio Spurs close, but down the stretch of that game the Cavaliers struggled with their execution while the Spurs did what they always do. Monday night, the Golden State Warriors returned to Quicken Loans Arena and gave the Cavaliers a beat down. A spanking. A thrashing. Golden State took Cleveland to the woodshed. I could go on, but the point has been made. Golden State started the game on a 12-2 run, led by 30 in the second quarter, 40 in the third, and coasted to a 132-98 statement win. Stephen Curry led the way with 35 points. Cleveland sees where the bar is set, and they have to get a lot better to clear it. LeBron’s goal is to bring a title to Northeast Ohio and right now there is no evidence to support the idea that his team could beat the Spurs or especially the Warriors in a seven-game series.

Here are three quick takeaways from the game of the night.

• Cleveland’s defense, particularly it’s pick-and-roll defense, needs to get a lot better. No doubt the Warriors were hitting their shots on Monday evening — they shot 51.8 percent on contested shots as a team, Curry was 6-of-9 on contested looks, according to NBA.com — but they were getting the shots they wanted. Cleveland couldn’t slow the pick-and-roll at all — they even blitzed it with three guys at one point. Whatever big man from Cleveland was pulled into the pick-and-roll, they got abused — Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, and especially Kevin Love. This sequence may best sum up just how Love’s defensive night went.

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Love only got five shots in the game as well. If these teams meet in the Finals again, it’s fair to wonder how many minutes David Blatt can afford to play Love a night.

• The Cavaliers need a lot more out of Kyrie Irving.
Hopefully, this game ends the “if Irving and Love had been healthy it would have been a different Finals” discussion. That talk was always moot anyway. Irving was 3-of-11 overall on the night and 0-of-3 in the paint — he wasn’t breaking down the Warriors defense, and when he got in the lane he didn’t finish. I’m not sure that the Cavaliers can count on more out of Love come the NBA Finals (he will get exposed on defense by whichever team comes out of the West), but they have to get more out of Irving to compete with the elite.

• Stephen Curry sure looked like the best player in the world.
Curry isn’t as good a defender as LeBron James, he can’t do everything LeBron can do on the court, and no doubt LeBron is more gifted. But for my money, the question is simply “Who impacts the game the most?” Right now, that’s Curry.

The Cavaliers need to find someone to slow Curry or, at least, make him work for his points, and that man is not Matthew Dellavedova. Cleveland had no answer for Draymond Green, either. If the Cavs don’t tighten up their defense and find answers for Green and Curry, the 2016 Finals may not last six games.

2) The Knicks need ‘Melo three, double overtime to beat Sixers in a game that was more entertaining than it should have been. For a while it looked like New York would be coasting to another win, up 18 in the third. But you can say this about the Sixers: However flawed, they play hard. The Knicks, on the other hand, with their comfortable lead reverted to the sloppy, lazy version of themselves that gets in trouble. The result was the Sixers stormed back, and New York needed a Carmelo three just to get to overtime.

It looked like the Knicks would win with just five extra minutes of work, but Robert Covington had other ideas, called bank on a three (not really) and forced a second OT. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a sore foot (suffered in the fourth quarter, but not serious), the Knicks battled, got some strong play from Langston Galloway and Arron Afflalo when they needed it, and got the win. Barely. It was dramatic and entertaining, if not a game where the tape should be sent to the Hall of Fame. For the Knicks, it’s a win they need if they still harbor playoff dreams.

3) Kemba Walker goes off for 52 in Hornets’ double overtime win. It’s dangerous to attack the rim against Utah when Rudy Gobert is patrolling the paint, and that’s why only eight of Kemba Walker’s 34 shots came within eight feet of the rim Monday (and he only hit three of those). But his jumper was falling, and that is how he scored 52 and led the Hornets to a double-overtime win at home against Utah.

4) Even the Simpsons got in a dig at the Sixers this week. Sunday night in a new Simpsons episode from season 2,496 (or whatever they are up to), the Harvard-trained Simpsons writers got a dig at the struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers. Well played… except for the fact the Sixers have been better of late. They are 4-8 since bringing Ish Smith in to give them a respectable point guard, and Monday they even pushed the Knicks to double overtime before falling. Still, this is pretty funny.

5) J.J. Redick scores 40, drains nine threes to lead Clippers past Houston in overtime. The Clippers were up 15 with a little more than four minutes to go in this one, but the Rockets stormed back to force an extra five minutes of basketball. That was just more time for Redick to show off. The hot shooting guard had a career-high 40 points and hit nine threes on the night, including a couple in overtime that the Clippers needed to seal the win. As a team, the Clippers drained 22 threes, a team record and just one off the NBA record.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.

LeBron tells Adam Silver he wants to own expansion team in Vegas

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The odds are good that Las Vegas will get an NBA expansion team. Eventually.

But when it happens, LeBron James wants to be in the Vegas ownership group — and he made that pitch directly to Adam Silver after the Lakers exhibition game in Sin City against the Suns on Wednesday.

“I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players,” James said, via the Associated Press. “So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

Silver is in the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting an exhibition game between the Bucks and Hawks this week. But LeBron doesn’t need to worry about Silver seeing this request. He probably already has.

The widely held belief around the league is that the NBA owners will not entertain expansion until a new CBA and a new television/streaming rights deal are locked in (driving up the franchise prices), things that will take a couple of years. Expansion talk may come after that, and maybe there will be two new NBA teams by the end of the decade.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion last June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

If and when expansion happens, Las Vegas, along with Seattle, are the clear frontrunners to land teams. Most importantly, both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board.

LeBron would be the face of an ownership group. While LeBron himself is a billionaire, Silver had called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” And that’s not including all the other start-up costs that come with a team.

But if the NBA is coming to Las Vegas, don’t be shocked if LeBron is involved.