LeBron powers Cavaliers to easy 108-83 win over Wizards

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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James didn’t do anything cryptic or dramatic.

He simply changed positions and the Cavaliers shifted into high gear.

James moved to power forward in Cleveland’s “small” starting lineup and nearly recorded a triple-double in three quarters, Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and the Cavs avenged a recent ugly loss to Washington by throttling the Wizards 108-83 on Friday night.

Cleveland was blown out at Washington on Sunday, when James watched from the bench and the Wizards built a 30-point lead.

But with James energized after not playing since Monday, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue utilized a smaller, speedier lineup that didn’t include Kevin Love and the Cavs snapped Washington’s four-game winning streak.

James finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before resting the entire fourth quarter. More importantly, the Cavs may have found a wrinkle that could help them play against Golden State if the teams meet in the NBA Finals again.

“It was great for us,” said Lue, who rested Love and started Iman Shumpert in James’ usual spot at small forward. “The guys bought into playing that way, that style of basketball. LeBron did a great job just spreading the floor, running and setting picks. And when he gets the rebound and takes it off the glass, it’s tough for teams to get back and get matched.”

Timofey Mozgov scored 14 points, 12 on dunks, for Cleveland, which unveiled a look which Lue plans to use more often in the coming weeks as the Cavs prepare for the playoffs.

“It worked to our favor for sure,” James said of the lineup change, which had him at a position he grew accustomed to in Miami. “Our offense is a lot faster, a little bit more precise with me at the four. I’m going to be setting a lot more transition and half-court pick and rolls. I know I can either get my guy open or if they put two on the ball I’m able to make a play, able to be a quarterback, so it definitely worked really well for us tonight.”

John Wall scored 17 and Markieff Morris 13 for the Wizards, who missed a chance to move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s not a step back,” Wall said as the Wizards dropped to 7-3 since the All-Star break. “It’s just an old-fashioned tail whipping. That’s what they gave us.”

Since their last game, the Cavs had been surrounded by drama.

During a break in Cleveland’s schedule, James raised some eyebrows by making a two-day trip to visit good friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade in South Florida, and the superstar’s two mysterious tweets on Twitter led to speculation the Cavs were having internal issues.

But back on the court, the East’s top team played with purpose and easily took care of a Washington squad they could face in the playoffs.

The Cavs led by 17 at half, pushed their advantage to 21 in the third and led by 30 in the fourth, allowing Lue to keep James off his feet for the last 12 minutes.

With Love out, Lue used the “small ball” look, which he had been toying with trying for weeks. Lue plans to return his regular starting lineup for Saturday’s game against Boston, but he now has another option.

WALL’S ANKLE

Wall rolled left his ankle while making a layup and sat out the fourth. He expects to play Saturday against Indiana.

HALFTIME HONOR

The Cavs honored the 40th anniversary of the 1975-76 “Miracle in Richfield” team featuring Austin Carr and Campy Russell during halftime. Coach Bill Fitch’s squad beat Washington in an unforgettable seven-game playoff series.

TIP-INS

Wizards: F/G Alan Anderson sat out with a sore left ankle. He’s expected to return for Saturday’s game against Indiana. … G Bradley Beal has been coming off the bench the past 10 games and the switch has balanced Washington’s scoring. Beal is still working his way back from stress fracture in his leg. “He gives us a scoring punch,” coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s just an easier situation with his minutes’ restriction. I don’t want to sit him long periods of time. We’re going to continue to do that. He’s getting back to being aggressive, taking it to the basket.”

Cavaliers: Lue wants to get all his starters some rest before the postseason push, but he will not sit anyone for Saturday’s matchup against Boston. The Celtics beat the Cavs 104-103 on their last visit to Cleveland. “We want to play well against a team that’s been playing extremely well as of late,” James said. “So, we look forward to the challenge.” … Love had only missed one other game this season, sitting out Feb. 6 against New Orleans with a bruised thigh.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Host Indiana on Saturday.

Cavaliers: Host Boston on Saturday.

It was never about this year for the Brooklyn Nets

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With news that Kyrie Irving is out for the season due to impending shoulder surgery, it’s worth taking a look at exactly where the Brooklyn Nets stand now.

Irving and Kevin Durant were the big-ticket items for Brooklyn this summer, as they both signed four-year, max deals. Those contracts came with starting salaries of $31.7 million for Irving and $38.2 million for Durant. That’s a combined $69.9 million for a grand total of 20 games (all from Irving).

But it was never about this season for the Nets.

Not when they signed Irving and Durant, and certainly not now.

After Durant tore his Achilles’ during the 2019 NBA Finals, it was assumed he would be out for most if not all of the 2019-20 season. Brooklyn reiterated this when they signed Durant and made it clear they would not rush him back. Durant recently said himself that he would not return this season, even with the Nets pushing for a second straight playoff appearance.

Instead of an immediate impact, Brooklyn banked on a long-term one. Now, they’ll open next season with both Durant and Irving coming off mostly lost years. And they’ll have a lot more questions than answers about the viability of building a title contender around the two stars, given the health concerns.

After this season runs its course, and he misses 62 games, Irving will have missed a whopping 27% of his teams’ regular season contests of the course of his career. Durant will be 32 years old the next time we see him play, and coming off a year without playing in an NBA game. And that’s before factoring in that very few players have returned from the torn Achilles’ at the same level they were at pre-injury.

The Durant portion was part of the plan for Brooklyn. Sean Marks knew what he was signing up for there. The Irving part was unexpected, but given his history, not exactly shocking. Now it’s about what Marks does next to try and set things on a solid path moving forward.

Before this season, Caris LeVert and Taurean Prince both inked contract extensions. This came on the heels of Spender Dinwiddie signing an extension before last season ended. With these three moves, Marks kept three valuable rotation players off the open market.

Brooklyn also has Jarret Allen and Dzanan Musa on rookie-scale deals and a few other young players under team control for next season as well. All total, the Nets have 13 total players under team control approaching this offseason.

Brooklyn is already right up against the luxury tax to start next season, and that’s before re-signing key free agent Joe Harris. Harris is in his fourth year with the Nets, and has found a home in Brooklyn. He’s improved each year since Marks plucked him off the scrap heap, but he’s probably not giving the Nets any sort of hometown discounts this time around.

In a year where the free agent class is fairly barren, Harris will have suitors. He’s the top shooter on the market and the handful of teams with meaningful cap space are in the market to add shooting. Brooklyn has full Bird rights for Harris, but signing him to a market value contract will push them deep into the luxury tax.

Even the ownership groups with the deepest of pockets have limits on how much tax they’re willing to pay. This is one spot where having DeAndre Jordan on the books for over $10 million is a complicating factor. Jordan is close with both Durant and Irving, but he’s clearly behind Allen in the center rotation, and rookie big Nicolas Claxton has shown a lot of promise as well.

The Nets also have to consider whether or not they want to bring back Wilson Chandler, who has been a rotation player since returning from a 25-game suspension. And Brooklyn has team options for Garrett Temple and Theo Pinson to deal with as well.

Given the makeup of the roster, it’s unlikely the Nets will be in the market to add impact newcomers this summer. Their best bet is probably re-signing Harris and maybe adding a veteran or two on minimum deals. That probably puts Brooklyn somewhere between $10 and $15 million in the tax.

Even with concerns over a mounting tax bill, you have to factor in that the Nets are essentially adding Durant and Irving all over again this summer. The 20 games, complete with 8-12 record, are largely forgettable for Irving. And, of course, Durant won’t have even suited up in a Nets jersey by the time 2020-21 tips off.

If the two stars are able to be stars again, Brooklyn is deep and versatile. Kenny Atkinson will have his work cut out for him finding enough minutes for everyone, especially on the wing. But that’s something Marks can alleviate in the offseason. If he believes the Nets have a hole at the four (it looks like a weak spot), Marks can trade a wing to bring in a power forward.

But Marks will need to be careful. Trade away too much of that depth, and Brooklyn won’t be protected if Durant and/or Irving goes down again. That was fine this year. Adding the two stars was never about this year for the Nets. But it is very much about next year and beyond.

Trae Young drops career-high 50 points in Hawks win

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Trae Young suffered from no All-Star break hangover. The second-year guard went for a career-high 50 points, as the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Miami Heat 129-124. Young shot 12-of-25 from the floor, including 8-of-15 from behind the arc. One of those shots was this bomb from the logo:

Fittingly, Young got his 50th point at the free throw line since he was 18-of-19 at the charity stripe on the night. This was Atlanta’s first 50-point game since Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 2001.

Young got some help from his baby Hawks teammates in the win too. De’Andre Hunter scored 17 points and knocked down a big three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. Fellow rookie Cam Reddish went for 16 off the bench, including picking Goran Dragic’s pocket for a breakaway dunk that put Atlanta up for good with 31 seconds to play.

Report: Klay Thompson ruled out for entire 2019-20 season

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Marc Stein reports that the Golden State Warriors have ruled Klay Thompson out for the remainder of the 2019-20 season:

Thompson tore his left ACL during the 2019 NBA Finals. It was always unlikely that he would return during the 2019-20 season, and it’s all but official now.

Thompson’s absence, combined with Stephen Curry breaking his left hand in the Warriors’ fourth game, has led to Golden State’s tumble in the standings. The Warriors come out of the All-Star break with the NBA’s worst record at 12-43. Stephen Curry’s return to play seems to be nearing, but that won’t be enough to lift Golden State into playoff contention. Currently, the defending Western Conference champions are 16.5 games out of a postseason spot.

After sending D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the trade deadline, the rest of this season is about Steve Kerr seeing what he has in Andrew Wiggins alongside Curry and Draymond Green. Golden State will also continue to develop the younger players on their roster with plenty of minutes.

Next year, the Warriors will open with a retooled roster around Curry, Thompson, Green, Wiggins and whatever talent general manager Bob Myers is able to add over the summer. Myers has a $17 million trade exception and a high lottery pick to work with. Considering that the core of Curry, Thompson and Green had played an additional 105 games over five consecutive Finals runs, a season of rest is probably welcomed, even if unplanned. They should come back rested, re-loaded and ready to go for 2020-21.

Kings’ Marvin Bagley III out at least three more weeks with foot sprain

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Marvin Bagley III, the Kings’ No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft, has played just 13 games this season due to injury. That may be all he does this season.

Bagley has aggravated his foot sprain and is going to miss at least another three weeks. That’s another 11 games. Minimum.

James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area has the details.

From the official Kings’ press release:

He recently incorporated stationary shooting and partial-weight bearing conditioning activities into his regimen, in addition to ongoing strength work. 

Stationary shooting drills and working out in a pool does not sound like a guy who will be back in three weeks. Considering the Kings’ place in the standings, it’s fair to question if he will — or should — return to the court this season at all.

Bagley was the player GM Vlade Divac took instead of Luka Doncicsomething that has reportedly ticked off owner Vivek Ranadive. As it should. If, as rumored, the Kings took Bagley because they already had De'Aaron Fox and didn’t want another ball-dominant player, well, it could go down as a “Portland didn’t take Michael Jordan because they had Clyde Drexler” level of draft miss. The Kings’ drafting and player development has been an organizational issue for years, and the team is about to miss the playoffs for the 14th straight season because of it.

Bagley showed promise as a rookie in the Kings’ uptempo system but hasn’t been able to stay healthy and on the court this time around. Hopefully, he can next season.