Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Warriors thrash another top Eastern team

Associated Press
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It was a busy Wednesday night around the Association with 11 games, but we’ve condensed it down to the five things everyone will be talking about today. It wasn’t easy, we left off DeMarcus Cousins scoring 36 and DeMarr DeRozan 34. Here’s what you need to know.

1) Golden State thrashed Chicago, just rolled through two of East’s best.
Golden State is better than everyone in the East.

Which is about as surprising a statement as “Donald Trump likes to be the center of attention.” But the way the Bulls did it was impressive. You can play it down if you want — it is just January. These games are just benchmarks; they are not necessarily predictive of future matchups. Throw any other qualifiers you want on it. The fact of the matter is that two days after steamrolling the East’s best team the Warriors did the same thing to the Chicago Bulls, ultimately winning 125-95. Golden State controlled the tempo, shared the ball (38 assists on the night), and looked like a team that has a shot at the 72-win record (I still don’t think they get there).

If you want some good news Bulls fans, Derrick Rose played his best half of the season scoring 21 in the first 24 minutes and looking sharp. It’s something to keep building on. The problem is despite those numbers the Bulls were down by 15 at the break. That’s what the Warriors do — to everyone. Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 25.

2) Cavaliers bounce back with win, but bigger test comes Thursday. The Cavaliers needed a palate cleanser after the bad taste the Warriors left in their mouth on Monday. Something sweet and easy. The Brooklyn Nets were happy to roll over and provide just that. It wasn’t the Cavs best performance of the season, but they took a little anger out on the Nets. Kevin Love and LeBron James led the way with 17 points each. The best part of the win may be that the starters (save for J.R. Smith) got to rest the fourth, which is important because the Los Angeles Clippers come to town on Thursday, and they are not such a pushover.

3) Hack-a-Shaq — or hack-a-Drummond — turns Pistons’ win over Rockets into farce. With his team nine points at the half, Rockets’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff inserted K.J. McDaniels into the game as a second-half starter with one job — foul Andre Drummond. Six times in the first minute of the game Drummond was fouled off the ball so that the Pistons were in the penalty, and then the hack-a-Dre continued to parade him to the free throw line eight more times (16 shots) in the first three minutes of the second half. It wasn’t basketball, it was a farce. It was gaming the system. It was embarrassing to the sport. And it worked — Drummond was 5-of-16 from the line, he had to be pulled from the game, but because of this the Rockets not only made up their deficit, they took the lead.

It didn’t last because, well, karma. This was the hacking strategy taken to a logical conclusion, the spirit of the rules be damned. If you’re answer is “Drummond should hit his free throws” I would counter asking you to tell me how a guy getting grabbed 50 feet off the ball is basketball. The only good that comes out of this is that the rapid rise of the hacking strategy — ESPN’s Kevin Pelton said 11.8 percent of NBA games this season have seen “hack-a-whoever” — might finally force Adam Silver and the league do change the rules (as international hoops has done for years) and end this bastardization of the game.

4) Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard leave games with injuries. It was a rough day for shot-blocking big men. An already short-handed Heat team saw things get worse when big man Whiteside cut across the lane and just collapsed grabbing his side. He was down in pain for a couple of minutes, was helped back to the locker room, and did not return due to a strained oblique. Due to injury, Wednesday night the Heat were without Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic, Beno Udrih, Chris Andersen, and then Whiteside. So yes, they lost to the Wizards.

Less than a minute into the Pistons/Rockets game, a little pileup left Dwight Howard with a sprained ankle that sidelined him the rest of the night. The Rockets were pounded inside after this and eventually lost the game — but not before embarrassing the sport.

5) Franchise Value vs. Win percentage. Forbes Magazine released its NBA franchise values report on Wednesday, and the Knicks have moved back into the top spot, worth $3 billion. They were followed by the Lakers, Bulls, Celtics, and Clippers.

But how does all that money relate to wins on the court right now? We have a chart for that.

Watch Davis score 38, Lakers move up to No.7 seed with win against Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds to lift the Los Angeles Lakers past Minnesota 123-111 and leapfrog the Timberwolves on Friday night in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

“You’ve got to have that one pivotal force that’s leading the charge, and in our case with this particular team here in the moment it’s AD,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “When he comes out and he’s aggressive and we’re feeding him and he’s not settling and he’s putting pressure on the paint, putting pressure on the rim, we find ourselves having a lot of success.”

LeBron James added 18 points and 10 rebounds and D'Angelo Russell had 12 points and 10 assists against his former team as the Lakers (39-38) won for the fifth time in six games to move into seventh place. They’re even with New Orleans, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

“We’ve made some huge climbs, but we’re not finished,” said Davis, who had 38 points Wednesday in tthe win at Chicago. “We’re hungry to not only make the playoffs but make some noise.”

The Lakers improved to 9-4 since losing at home to the Wolves on March 3.

“We jumped on AD’s back, and he brought us home,” James said.

Mike Conley had 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven assists before fouling out, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points for the Timberwolves (39-39), who tumbled into ninth place. They entered the evening one game behind Golden State and the cut to avoid the play-in tournament, with the Warriors tipping off later at home against San Antonio.

Davis scored 12 straight points for the Lakers over a 3:52 span late in the fourth quarter to seal the steely comeback from a deficit that hit 13 points shortly after halftime. He made five baskets in a row with Wolves center Rudy Gobert on the bench, dominating on the glass, in the post and at the rim.

“He’s playing at a super high level right now,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

The Lakers took charge earlier with a 24-2 spurt over a 6:49 stretch of the third quarter with their defense on lockdown mode. Conley’s turn to rest on the bench during that run was ill-timed. Davis rolled his left ankle around the start of the Lakers surge, a breath-holding sequence that only seemed to energize the visitors.

“We started to turn the ball over, and the ball started to stick much more,” Gobert said. “We kind of lost our flow offensively, and it really affected our defense.”

The Wolves, whose bench was shortened without center Naz Reid and his broken wrist, went 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the third quarter and were outscored 35-18 in a discouraging stretch for a fired-up crowd that included local sports superstars Justin Jefferson and Kirill Kaprizov in floor seats.

Watch Jalen Brunson score 48, Knicks top Cavs in possible playoff preview

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CLEVELAND (AP) — With All-Star Julius Randle back in New York, the Knicks needed someone to step up.

Jalen Brunson did that, and more.

New York’s point guard scored a career-high 48 points and the Knicks moved closer to a playoff berth while waiting for Randle to get healthy, outrunning the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-116 on Friday night.

“There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s so mentally tough. He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going.”

Brunson credited his Knicks’ teammates and coaches for his big night, which included seven 3-pointers and nine assists. He finished 18 of 32 from the floor.

“They had confidence in me and the ball just went through the hole,” said Brunson, who scored 44 in a loss to Milwaukee on Jan. 9. “I just kept shooting with confidence and that’s just how it went.”

The Knicks reduced their magic number to one in their first game without Randle, who sprained his left ankle Wednesday and will miss the rest of the regular season. New York hopes he’ll be back for the postseason and a potential first-round matchup against the Cavs.

New York won the season series 3-1 and denied Cleveland a chance to lock up home-court advantage in the first round.

“This loss hurts,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led Cleveland with 42 points. “We need to feel it and be ready to use it when the time comes. Obviously, we control our destiny and we’ll probably see these guys in two weeks.

“There is a lot of film to go through. But if we let this affect us, we have no chance in the playoffs.”

Leading by three, the Knicks outscored the Cavs 14-2 to open the fourth and get some breathing room in a game played at a frenetic pace. The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter and 151 in the first half.

The Cavs got within 123-116 before Brunson put the Cavs away with a layup following a timeout and then a 3-pointer. He missed a floater in the final seconds that would have given him 50 points.

Did he want 50?

“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “I was going to hold the ball out, but they doubled and I guess that means keep playing. No disrespect to them. They played to the buzzer. I have the most respect in the world for that coaching staff. You got to keep playing.”

Brunson, who averages 23.6 points, scored 33 in a wild first half without much defense.

The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter, tying the third most in the first 12 minutes of a game in NBA history. The record of 91 is shared by Utah and Denver (1982), and Miami and Washington (2021).

Also, Cleveland’s 47 points in the first quarter were the most in the franchise’s 53-year history.

The Cavs were without two of their top defenders, center Jarrett Allen (groin) and Isaac Okoro (knee).

The Knicks had a moment of drama.

During a timeout in the third quarter, New York starters RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin got into a shouting match and had to be separated.

Thibodeau downplayed the conflict.

“The cameras are everywhere and it probably happens more than people realize,” Thibodeau said. “It was the heat of the moment. Sometimes, there is a difference of opinion, but those guys are fine with each other. These things happen.”

Later, in the locker, Toppin had his arm around a smiling Barrett.

“This is my brother,” Toppin said. “We’re good.”

NBA, players union agree on new seven-year CBA

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Labor peace will continue in the NBA through the rest of this decade.

The sides had to push back the deadline twice — then miss the latest deadline by a couple of hours — to get it done, but the NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association have come to terms on a new seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the NBA (at 3 a.m. Eastern).

While votes of both the owners and players need to ratify the new deal, it is expected to pass quickly and without controversy. The NBA continues to grow rapidly (particularly internationally), and is in the midst of negotiating a new national television and streaming deal expected to more than double television revenue flowing into the league (money split between the owners and players). Ultimately, nobody wanted to risk killing the golden goose with a labor stoppage.

Here are some of the reported key points of the new CBA:

• There will be a new mid-season tournament, mostly played before Christmas. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for this, looking to add interest and put more meaning into regular season games.

• Players must take the floor in at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards, such as MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and All-NBA. The idea is to motivate players (and teams) to get their best players in more games and limit load management. This rule will not kick in until next season (at the earliest) but if in place this season it would keep Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and others off an All-NBA team.

• The one-and-done rule remains as the NBA is not changing its minimum age requirement to be drafted (one year after a player’s class graduates high school).

• Players will no longer face discipline from the league for marijuana use. It had already been taken out of the league’s drug testing program.

• There are changes to the luxury tax, particularly for the highest-spending teams, something detailed first by ESPN. It will involve adding a second tax apron — 17.5 million over the tax line — and teams above it will no longer have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. This rule is targeted at the highest-spending teams (the Clippers and Warriors this season, the Nets were on that track before blowing up the roster.

• However, teams in the middle and on the bottom of payroll spending will have expanded opportunities (to spend more) in free agency, or to generate larger trade exceptions for other deals.

• Veteran contract extensions will be able to start at 140% of the last year of the existing contract, up from 120% in the current CBA. That will allow more teams to offer larger extensions and keep key players.

• Teams will gain a third two-way contact slot.

 

 

Kevin Durant drops 30, Suns win fourth straight beating shorthanded Nuggets

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns are starting to string together some wins now that Kevin Durant is healthy.

Even so, they’re far from a well-oiled machine.

Durant scored 30 points, Devin Booker added 27 and the Suns won their fourth straight game by beating the short-handed Denver Nuggets 100-93 on Friday night.

The Suns improved to 5-0 with Durant in the lineup despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead. Phoenix traded for the 13-time All-Star in a deadline deal back in February.

“I like how we played in the first half, but it was a bad second half for us,” Durant said. “We just let our foot off the gas a little and they were playing extremely hard. … We’ve just got to do a better job of sticking with it.”

The Nuggets rested a big chunk of their starting lineup, including reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, guards Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forward Michael Porter Jr. But they still showed fight after trailing 60-40 at halftime.

“I am immensely proud,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You are down 27 points on the road, second half, second night in a row. Every reason just to roll over and play dead and get ready for Sunday at home. Guys just wouldn’t do it.”

The Suns pushed their advantage to 27 midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets pulled to 84-74 heading into the fourth quarter. Denver cut it to 97-93 in the final minute, but Josh Okogie nailed a corner 3 to seal it for the Suns. Okogie had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Chris Paul had 13 assists.

Aaron Gordon had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Nuggets. Bruce Brown scored 16 points and Reggie Jackson had 13. The overmatched but feisty Nuggets got 22 points from the bench.

“It was our energy and our effort,” backup guard Peyton Watson said. “We know we were missing guys but that doesn’t change the culture here. We always want to play hard, get stops.”

Durant shot 11 of 15 from the field in a dominant performance two days after a rough shooting night in his home debut against Minnesota. The 34-year-old star has battled knee and ankle injuries over the past few months, but appears to be getting healthy as the Suns continue to cling to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Suns scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter on Friday, but managed to hang on for the victory.

“We’re trying to find that rhythm and trying to get wins at the same time,” Booker said.