Three things we learned Tuesday: Toronto still doesn’t have answer for LeBron, Irving


Here’s what you missed around the NBA on Tuesday night while feeding the tigers just freely roaming around your house

1) New season, same problem: Toronto still doesn’t have an answer for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving. We’ve seen this movie before: The Toronto Raptors went into Cleveland and did a lot of things right for the first 43 minutes Tuesday night. The Raptors were attacking early in the clock, pushing the tempo, and taking advantage of an unsteady Cavaliers transition defense. Toronto was moving the ball to get wide-open threes (which they hit). The Raptors got 29 points and nine assists from Kyle Lowry, and following a 20-7 fourth quarter run the Raptors had a seven-point lead in the fourth.

But then there were those final five minutes — Toronto simply has no answer for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Irving had 10 of his 24 points in the fourth and sparked a 17-5 run late that gave the Cavaliers the win. LeBron was just himself all game and finished with 28 points on 15 shots, plus had 14 assists and nine rebounds on the night.

There are other things we could talk about — that DeMar DeRozan struggled some against a good defense, with 26 points on 27 shots; or that Kevin Love is playing very well on both ends and had three blocks — but we all know how this movie ends. The Raptors, like every other team in the East, does not have the tools to beat these Cavaliers. Cleveland didn’t bring its best game, but they still had the two best players on the floor when they wanted to be, and that is too much for Toronto.

2) D’Angelo Russell broke out against Brooklyn and the Lakers looked even better. The Lakers have gotten off to a 7-5, “hey, maybe they can make the playoffs” kind of start despite the fact D’Angelo Russell hadn’t really broken out. He’d played well enough, but then he’d have games like the seven-points-on-10-shots night like he did against the Timberwolves Sunday. Los Angeles was getting wins because Julius Randle is a playmaking four and beast all of a sudden, because Lou Williams became efficient, and because Nick Young was suddenly crushing it on defense and being mature on offense. Russell hadn’t broken out yet.

He did Tuesday — 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting, 7-of-13 from three, plus eight rebounds and four assists. Granted he did all that against a weak Nets team playing without the injured Jeremy Lin, but who cares — the Lakers will take it.

The other big story out of this game for the Lakers: Julius Randle put up his first triple-double of the season with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists. It’s difficult to overstate how well Randle is playing to start the season, he has a PER of 19.6 and looks like an All-Star level player. No player has made a bigger leap in their game, has filled more holes, than Randle.

3) An update on where the new CBA stands. Another report that the NBA’s owners and players’ union are nearing and agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement came out Tuesday. Both sides have an opt-out of the old deal that has to be exercised by Dec. 17, and before that date you can bet the new agreement will be in place.

What will that deal look like, and how will it differ from the last CBA? Nothing is written in stone, but here is a list of what we know — or, at least, what we think we know — about the new CBA.

• The approximately 50/50 split of revenue (it ranges between 49-51 percent depending on if the league meets revenue goals) will stay in place unchanged. If you want to know why the two sides are getting a labor deal done early and bringing peace to the league this is the key reason — they figured out the money. Because it’s always about the money. The fact is with the massive new national television contract both the owners and players are making more money than ever, and nobody wanted to mess with that.

• The college one-and-done rule will not change. It’s not that anyone actually likes the rule, but the players want the age limit gone while the owners want it bumped up to 20 (two years after high school). To get their way means a trade-off and the reality of these negotiations is neither side is willing to give up enough on other issues to get what they want here.

• There will be two-way contracts allowing a free flow between the D-League and NBA for some players, which will expand overall rosters to 18. Teams will only be able to carry 15 on the NBA roster (and three of them need to be inactive for a game), but the other three will be in the D-League and can be called up at any point. This is more like an NHL system, and it’s a smart idea.

• The preseason will be shortened, likely allowing the NBA to start the season a little earlier (probably a week), making it possible to have fewer back-to-backs and to build more rest into the schedule.

• The NBA will create a fund to help with medical expenses and more for retired players who need it, particularly older ones that have been out of the league for some time.

• The rookie scale for salaries will increase (right now every team wants guys on rookie deals because they are such a bargain, that will remain to a degree but be less of a steal).

• There will be some changes to cap holds that will make it harder to do what Kawhi Leonard and Andre Drummond did with their rookie deals, delaying signing an obvious max extension to allow the team to use that cap space to put a better team around them. The cap hold increases also could make it difficult for the Warriors to keep Andre Iguodala and other role players around Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

• The league will have a more detailed policy on domestic violence, which will include a more structured disciplinary schedule. The goal of the policy will be to get players help, but the punishments — suspensions — will be known and feel less random. Good on the NBA for getting out in front of this (hey Rodger Goodell, this is how it’s done).

• The salaries for D-League players — which currently have a max of $26,000 — will jump to the $50,000 to $75,000 range. This matters because it puts D-League salaries in the ballpark of what undrafted players would earn in their first season in Europe, making it more likely some of them stay here and chase their NBA dream and grow their game rather than get a paycheck. Eventually, some (many?) of those players will head overseas, but they will stay here longer, and that’s good for the D-League.

J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.

Attacking Jamal Murray sparks Nuggets, who hold off Lakers for Game 3 win

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Down 0-2 to a LeBron James team, the Denver Nuggets’ backs were against the wall.

The Los Angeles Lakers learned — like the Jazz and Clippers before them — that the Nuggets have a couple more gears when their season is threatened.

Jamal Murray attacked from the opening tip, set the tone for Denver, then when the Lakers made it interesting late, stuck the dagger in the Los Angeles.

“I didn’t have any doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is we won six straight elimination games…

“For some reason, this team loves the bubble.”

Denver pulled away from the Lakers in the second quarter and held on at the end to take a 114-106 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers still lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.

Murray was the best player on the floor in Game 3, scoring 28 points, dishing 12 assists, grabbing eight rebounds, and forcing the Lakers’ defense to adjust to him.

“When you look at these three series we’ve played so far, he’s starting to get the respect from the other teams, and they’re game-planning, they’re blitzing him, they’re double-teaming.”

Both Denver and the Lakers came out attacking the paint early: The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points, and they scored 34 of them in the paint (60.7%)

In the second quarter, however, the Lakers started settling for jumpers while the Nuggets kept attacking. Denver went on a 15-2 run to start the quarter — with Nikola Jokic on the bench — and Denver went on to dominate the next two quarters, leading by as many as 20.

The Nuggets got a big night from Jerami Grant, who had career playoff hight 26 points. Jokic added 22 plus 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Lakers could not get jump shots to fall. Los Angeles was 6-of-26 from three (23.1%), and worse, they scored 12 points on 24 spot-up shot attempts (stat via Synergy Sports).

LeBron James did his part — a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists — and Anthony Davis added 27, but the Lakers defensive energy, and with that transition buckets, were not there.

Until the fourth quarter.

The Lakers got much more physical and aggressive defensively, and the Lakers went on a 19-2 run, which included six straight Nuggets turnovers at one point. The Lakers went to a zone defense that flummoxed Denver.

Eventually, Murray and Jokic righted the ship. Denver stretched the lead back out and got the win. After the game, the Lakers to a man said they needed to bring that fourth-quarter energy all game on Thursday.

One thing talked about after the game was Murray’s elbow to LeBron.

“I don’t think it was blatant. I don’t know his mindset, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” LeBron said postgame.

The other thing talked about postgame — now we have a series.