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Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Could Toronto catch Cleveland for East’s top seed?

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Here’s what you missed on a Sunday around the NBA while thinking, “I should see Spotlight.”

1) Cavaliers rest LeBron James, look sloppy in loss to Wizards. It would be easy to write off Sunday’s Cleveland loss to Washington saying “the Cavs were resting LeBron.” Except the Cavaliers have dropped three of their last four and continue to look lost on defense and still searching for an identity on offense. The Cavaliers still started Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but those two combined for 13-of-31 shooting Sunday. There was more Love in isolation than anyone needs to see. More importantly, the Cavaliers played sloppy defense again (Washington had an offensive rating of 111.9 points per 100 possessions, meaning against the Cavs defense the Wizards looked like the Warriors). Coach Tyronn Lue was so frustrated he hockey line changed out all the starters mid-way through the third and tried to turn the game over to the Cavs’ bench.

After the game, J.R. Smith was the voice of reason, saying the Cavaliers can’t keep playing like this. Not just if they want to beat Golden State or whoever comes out of the West, but if they want to beat Toronto and the other teams in the East (the Raptors beat the Cavs a couple of nights ago.

2) Toronto misses chance to close gap on Cavaliers to one with loss to Pistons. Cleveland is opening the door with this mini-slump for the Toronto Raptors, something Toronto took advantage of earlier in the week to move within two games of the top seed. But Toronto missed an opportunity on Sunday — the Cavaliers lost again, but so did Toronto, falling to Detroit in ugly fashion 114-101. Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey decided to rest Kyle Lowry — which is a smart thing to do — but it seems the rest of the team took a mental vacation as well. Jonas Valanciunas got thoroughly worked by Andre Drummond, particularly on the glass. Corey Joseph didn’t impress with the start. In the second half, DeMar DeRozan was making bad shot choices. It was just a poor game and a blown opportunity to make up ground by Toronto.

3)Damian Lillard goes off for more than 30 again. Lillard’s run of hot play continued as he scored 20 points in the first quarter on his way to 33 for the game as the Trail Blazers beat the beat the Pacers in Indiana 111-102. Lillard led Portland to a 9-2 record in February.

4) Joe Johnson jumps right into Miami’s starting lineup. Joe Johnson went to Miami to get minutes and he was given them right off the bat — he was in the starting lineup Sunday against the Knicks and played 30 minutes, knocking down the first three he took on his way to scoring a dozen points on 10 shots in Miami’s 98-81 win. Johnson (and the entire Heat team) was a bit up-and-down on the day, Johnson was trying to find a comfort level with his new teammates, and to feel his way through the offense. Fortunately for the Heat, they were playing the Knicks so their mistakes were not exploited, at least not consistently. Dwyane Wade dropped 26 points, while Hassan Whiteside finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Miami is the four seed in the East and with Johnson is looking to keep home court advantage in the first round. Johnson is an upgrade for them that should help with that goal.

5) Dallas’ Dwight Powell had the dunk of the day. This is nasty.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.


Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.


Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.