LeBron, Cavs clinch top seed in East with win over Hawks

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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James scored 34 points in three quarters, Kyrie Irving added 35 and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 109-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

James scored 19 in the third quarter and only sat for four of the first 36 minutes as the Cavs ensured they’ll have home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.

James shot 13 of 16, made all five free throws and added six rebounds and six assists – another dazzling statistical line for the four-time MVP who switched into playoff mode weeks ago.

When James finally sat down late in the third, Irving made sure he didn’t have to come back in by scoring nine points in the first four minutes. Kevin Love added 14 rebounds for Cleveland.

Kent Bazemore scored 23 points and Jeff Teague had 21 for the Hawks, who came in holding the East’s No. 3 seed. Atlanta has lost seven in a row to Cleveland, which swept the Hawks in last year’s conference finals.

James has been saying his body feels as good as it has in years, and that he’s primed to make another run at ending Cleveland’s 52-year pro sports championship drought. In his past 10 games, James is averaging 28.4 points and shooting 63 percent from the field – nearly 52 percent on 3-pointers.

Data curated by PointAfter

With just a two-game lead over Toronto, which held the tiebreaker over Cleveland, there was no margin for error and James made sure there was nothing to worry about until the postseason starts.

The 31-year-old will likely get another well-deserved day’s rest as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is expected to sit most of his regulars in Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Detroit – a possible first-round opponent.

The Hawks, who are 15-5 in their past 20, couldn’t do anything to stop James in the third. He was stellar inside and out, making 7 of 8 shots and imposing his will at both ends.

With Cleveland leading 65-62, James made a 3-pointer, converted a three-point play and dropped two free throws to put Cleveland ahead by seven.

James finally grabbed a seat with 1:46 left in the quarter, but he jumped from it early in the fourth after Irving made a 3-pointer to make it 100-81.

TIP-INS:

Hawks: Bazemore scored Atlanta’s first eight points and had 21 at halftime. … Coach Mike Budenholzer downplayed the importance of playoff seedings. Atlanta was No. 1 in the East a year ago, but that didn’t do them any good against the Cavs. “We just want to be playing well and healthy,” Budenholzer said. “You’re going to have to beat good teams in the East. The depth and quality of the East is better. It’s obviously reflected in everybody’s records. When you play night after night you can feel it and see it.” … Atlanta’s nine-year streak making the playoffs is the longest in the East.

Cavaliers: G Iman Shumpert had his left knee drained over the weekend. Lue said he’s been told that Shumpert, who has been slowed by a variety of ailments the past two seasons, should be fine for the playoffs. Shumpert signed a four-year, $40 million contract last summer. … G Mo Williams made another visit to see Dr. James Andrews about his troublesome left knee. Williams was sent back from last week’s road trip for further medical evaluation. Surgery is possible. … The injuries to Shumpert and Williams prompted the team to recall C Sasha Kaun and G Jordan McRae from Canton after they were sent to the D-League team earlier in the day.

UP NEXT

Hawks: At Washington on Wednesday.

Cavaliers: Host Detroit on Wednesday.

Warriors two-way guard Damion Lee breaks bone in right hand

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Yet another member of the Golden State Warriors is injured, with two-way guard Damion Lee now out because of a broken right hand.

The injury occurred during Golden State’s 122-108 home loss to the Jazz on Monday night. Lee underwent an MRI exam Tuesday morning that revealed a nondisplaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal. The team said he will be reevaluated in two weeks.

“Hopefully just a few weeks,” coach Steve Kerr said before the team flew to Los Angeles, where the Warriors play the Lakers on Wednesday night.

Lee joins a long list of injured players on the depleted Warriors, who are 2-9 following five straight trips to the NBA Finals.

Stephen Curry had surgery on his broken left hand, which he injured Oct. 30, and will need another procedure next month to have pins removed. He said Monday that he expects to be playing again come spring.

The two-time MVP joins Klay Thompson, who is recovering from a July 2 surgery on a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Thompson could miss the entire season.

Kevon Looney, who is dealing with a nerve issue that has kept him out since a brief appearance in the season opener, is going through more extensive workouts but is still not ready to return, while guard Jacob Evans III is still dealing with a strained inner thigh muscle and also will miss Wednesday’s game. Kerr said he is likely still at least a couple of weeks from playing again.

Backup center Omari Spellman was listed as doubtful to face the Lakers because of a sprained left ankle and already sat out Monday’s loss to the Jazz.

Kerr, who took over coaching the Warriors in 2014-15 and immediately won an NBA championship, has never had this short a bench with so few healthy bodies to mix and match rotations.

“We’ll just see how it plays out,” Kerr said. “We’ll figure out who’s ready to go and we’ll go from there. It’s challenging. It’s been kind of the theme so far. It’s not exactly ideal but it’s the reality. You don’t spend a whole lot of time lamenting anything. You just keep going.”

Bulls big man Cristiano Felicio out 4-8 weeks with broken wrist

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This is not going to impact the Bulls’ rotations — Cristiano Felicio has yet to touch the court for the Bulls this season — but it’s a setback for a player trying to prove he belongs in the NBA.

Felicio fractured his wrist during the Bulls practice Monday and will be out at least a month, reports K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Cristiano Felicio, who has yet to land on the active roster this season, broke his right wrist after falling in Monday’s practice, according to coach Jim Boylen. The Bulls’ coach said Felicio will miss four to eight weeks with the injury.

“We had the X-ray. It did not show up on the X-ray. Then we had the CT scan and it showed up on the CT scan,” Boylen said. “We’re going to do an MRI (Wednesday) just to let them give us a little more certainty on maybe how much separation there is in there and how much time it will be.”

The Bulls gambled on Felicio a couple of years ago and signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract. That roll of the dice has come up snake eyes so far, with Felicio playing a limited role the first two seasons — and this season no role at all.

It is expected the Bulls will try to use Felicio’s salary in any trade packages they put together closer to the deadline, this injury would not impact that.

Asked about getting stabbed in back, Chris Paul says trade from Rockets

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Chris Paul has gotten traded three times in his career.

New Orleans sent him to the Clippers – but only after David Stern nixed a deal with the Lakers – in 2011. In 2017, Paul engineered a trade to the Rockets by opting in. Then, in an unprecedented star swap, Houston dealt Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook last summer.

Paul recently discussed trades with comedian Kevin Hart.

Hart:

Why is it always such a crazy time when it comes to these trades and whether they’re happening. You’ve been part of some big conversations. Is it at a point where it’s just business, or is it becoming personal?

Paul:

Every situation is different. But the team is going to do whatever they want to do. They’ll tell you one thing and do a smooth nother thing.

Hart:

That’s the business side.

Paul:

Exactly.

Hart:

Do you feel like there’s been times where, “Damn, that’s a little eye-opening. I got stabbed in the back”?

Paul:

Absolutely. This last situation was one of them. The GM there in Houston, he don’t owe me nothing. You know what I mean? He may tell me one thing but do another thing. But you just understand that that’s what it is.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is an easy target right now. Many people around the NBA resent him tweeting support for Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms) and costing the league significant revenue in China.

But, in this case, Morey brought it upon himself. He said in June he wouldn’t trade Paul then did so, anyway.

Maybe that was to protect Paul’s feelings if he stayed in Houston. In that case, Morey could tell Paul he believed in him all along. There’d be no way to know Morey was fibbing. Now that Paul is gone, Paul being upset is someone else’s problem. It’s a common tactic by executives.

Paul reportedly requested a trade from the Rockets, but he denied it. I don’t necessarily believe Paul. There was plenty of evidence of tension between him and Harden. It’d be pretty conniving to request a trade then throw Morey under the bus for making the trade.

But Paul’s denial of a trade request is on the record. So is Morey’s declaration that he wouldn’t trade Paul.

Morey must own that.

Report: Rockets have lost about $7M in China revenue this season, $20M overall

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters, who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms, has cost the NBA and its players a lot of money in China.

Probably no team has been harder hit than Houston.

Early estimates pegged the Rockets’ potential lost revenue at $25 million. It apparently hasn’t been quite that bad yet, but it’s already close. And the effects are trickling down to Houston star James Harden.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

League sources say the franchise has lost more than $7 million in revenue this season from cancelled Chinese sponsorship agreements and nearly $20 million overall when terminated multiyear deals are calculated.

For their superstar James Harden, the losses could be considerable if no resolution is reached. A source says Harden’s endorsement agreement with Shanghai’s SPD Bank Credit Card is imperiled.

This is why NBA teams are preparing for a lower-than-projected salary cap. It’s also why the union is planning to better educate its players on global issues.

The money involved is significant.