Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: LeBron has Cavaliers taking care of business

Associated Press
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What you missed on a Sunday around the NBA while you were busy trying to get your pet tiger out of traffic lanes….

LOS ANGELES — 1) Cavaliers focus on their “business trip,” take care of Clippers with ease. Before tip off Sunday at Staples Center, Doc Rivers was talking about the early start time (12:30 p.m. on the day of the time change, so everyone felt groggy) and if that would impact the game and said he “hoped Los Angeles had done its job.” The L.A. nightlife has softened up many a team for the home team over the years.

LeBron James made sure that didn’t happen. He sat down with teammates and told them this was a business trip (as Chris Haynes reported) — go ahead and enjoy the couple days in L.A. but remember why you’re here.

“Guys understood what this trip was about,” James said postgame. “This is a business trip, and they get an opportunity to be in a great city but at the end of the day, we knew what the main thing was and that was to continue the momentum that we’ve been on. We came out and took care of business.”

The Cavaliers did just that — they looked like a contender in “manhandling” (Doc Rivers’ word) the Clippers from the middle of the first quarter on. Cleveland was sharp on defensive rotations and pressuring the ball, on offense LeBron and Kyrie Irving drove the lane and did a good job kicking the ball out to open shooters when the defense collapsed, the Cavaliers made the extra pass, and they knocked down their shots — 18 three-pointers for the Cavs on 48 percent shooting from three. Cleveland coasted to a 114-90 win, looking every bit the best team in the East and a title contender gearing up for the playoffs.

2) Clippers need to have Blake Griffin for the playoffs. The other thing that was clear at Staples Center Sunday afternoon? Against elite teams, the Clippers miss Blake Griffin. Their up-tempo, share-the-ball, spread pick-and-roll style with Chris Paul dominating the show can beat a lot of teams without Griffin, but go up against an elite team and the dynamic changes. The Clippers’ loss Sunday was evident in the forward matchups: LeBron James and Kevin Love vs. Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green. The Laker combo combined for 3-of-15 shooting.

“It gets real tough (playing without Griffin),” Paul said. “They have three, four guys out there that no shot clock can bail you out (of). Just having Blake to be able to throw the ball into the post, when the shot clock is low, or just that pick-and-roll, just having that pick-and-pop option. Just all the attention that he brings opens it up for all of is. So it has been tough without him, but we have to keep fighting until he gets back.”

There still is no timetable for his return, Doc Rivers said. While his broken hand is doing better, the quad tendon injury that sidelined Griffin for a few games before he punched a Clipper team employee (breaking that hand) still lingers and is the bigger issue now, Rivers said. They are being cautious, but remember Griffin has a four-game suspension to serve for that punch once he is medically cleared.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up triple double against Nets, continues run of strong play. If you are not watching the Nets and point-forward Giannis Antetokounmpo now, you are missing out. The Bucks have become a lot of fun again. The Greek Freak put up a triple-double of 28 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds on Brooklyn Sunday, his fourth triple-double of the season. And the Bucks won again, they remain hot.

4) Knicks Jose Calderon drains game winner to beat Lakers. All the hype was about the last meeting of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. Or Kobe telling Knicks fans they should trust the brilliant mind of Phil Jackson. But with the game on the line, it was the mano-a-mano battle of Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas. Well, it became that after about the ugliest inbounds/last second play in NBA history. But Calderon pulled up and nailed the three, and New York gets another win.

5) DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl remain at odds in Sacramento. There is a lot of frustration in Sacramento right now — owner Vivek Ranadive all but demanded a playoff team so that the Kings’ playoff drought didn’t reach double digits in years, plus the team would have momentum going into their new building next year. Instead, they are a mess with a lot of infighting — after Sunday’s loss DeMarcus Cousins said his one-game suspension was not the organization coming down on him but it was Karl. Even though the suspension came from GM Vlade Divac.

Ranadive can be frustrated, but he needs to look in the mirror. He got rid of Mike Malone just as Malone was genuinely building a culture of winning, plus he had bonded with Cousins in a way no other coach had (look at the culture Malone has built in Denver — Emmanuel Mudiay dropped 30 on Sunday and Denver won again). Ranadive fired him and eventually brought in Karl because he wanted a team that would run, even though the roster is not built for that in the least. The result is a frustrated superstar who doesn’t like the coach, plus a lot of losses. Vlade Divac may not be ready for the day-to-day intricacies of being a GM, but the man also is trying to navigate a minefield of the owners’ making. This summer the Kings need to choose Karl or Cousins, then actually build a roster to play that style and stick with it for a few years. We’ll see if that happens.