Associated Press

Cavaliers sit LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and Heat roll to 120-92 win

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MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James and Kyrie Irving rested, and the Miami Heat took advantage.

Until the final seconds, that was the entire story.

Goran Dragic scored 23 points, Hassan Whiteside had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and the Heat beat the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers 120-92 on Saturday night.

Tyler Johnson added 17 points for the Heat, who won for the 18th time in their last 22 games and made 18 3-pointers.

But tempers flared in the final seconds after the Cavaliers – the injured J.R. Smith, it seemed, in particular – took exception to Rodney McGruder‘s exuberant tip dunk where he made contact with Cleveland’s Channing Frye with about a minute left. Benches emptied as time expired, Dion Waiters and Udonis Haslem did some pointing and shouting toward the Cavaliers, and some from both sides were playing peacemaker.

“Ado about nothing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Added Frye: “It’s not really a story. Tempers flared. It is what it is. It’s over now. They won. Congrats.”

The teams play again in Cleveland on Monday night.

The Cavaliers fell to 0-5 this season when James isn’t in the lineup, and continue to be without two other would-be starters in Kevin Love and Smith – both still recovering from surgeries. Newly signed center Andrew Bogut also wasn’t with the Cavaliers.

Frye scored 21 points and Kyle Korver added 15 for the Cavaliers, who have lost their last 12 games in Miami.

“We forced them to shoot long contested shots,” said Dragic, who had 10 points in the third as Miami built a 101-75 lead. “And we played together on offense.”

The Heat remained 1 1/2 games behind Detroit for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference race. Cleveland’s lead over idle Boston for the No. 1 spot in the East was trimmed to 2 1/2 games.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said this wouldn’t be the last time James sits before the end of the regular season. James is averaging nearly 38 minutes per game, and has played more minutes – by far – than anyone else in the NBA over the last seven seasons, in large part because he keeps leading his teams to the NBA Finals.

He’s been to the last six of those, and the Cavs want to make sure he’s fresh enough come playoff time to have the best possible chance at No. 7.

“He understands the big picture and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Lue said.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: A night after setting an NBA regular-season record with 25 3-pointers, the Cavs went 11 for 27 from beyond the arc. … James, who tackled a Heat fan in celebration after one made a halfcourt shot for $75,000 in 2013, cheered when another made a shot Saturday for 100,000 frequent-flier miles. … Derrick Williams, as expected, was signed for the rest of the season earlier Saturday.

Heat: The 12 straight home wins against Cleveland is Miami’s second-longest active such streak. The Heat have won 15 straight at home over Sacramento. … Luke Babbitt went 3 for 4 from 3-point range, making him 20 for 30 from long range in his last 10 games.

BANTER

Cavs forward Richard Jefferson took some heckling from a fan in stride. Jefferson got asked by a courtside ticketholder why he doesn’t retire, and had a quick response. “You aren’t tired of watching me,” Jefferson said.

INJURIES

Heat forward James Johnson needed four stitches in his right elbow, and Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert chipped two teeth.

 

Luka Doncic says he’ll definitely play for Slovenia in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Luka Doncic
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Slovenia won the last EuroBasket, in 2017.

But in a stacked European region, Slovenia hasn’t even qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic will try to change that.

Donatas Urbonas:

Slovenia got a tough draw, landing in host Lithuania’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Only one team from each OQT will reach the Olympics. Even Poland in the group stage will be no pushover.

But Doncic is obviously a difference-maker. Not only is he one of the world’s best players, he’s also comfortable with international style of play.

Slovenia needs him after Goran Dragic retired from the national team following the 2017 European basketball championship.

Slovenia’s first OQT game is June 24 against Angola. Dallas seems bound for a first-round loss. So, that should work. But if the Mavericks make a surprising run deep in the playoffs, Doncic could always reconsider – though he sounds quite certain now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing with brothers: ‘Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome’

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Lakers
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Giannis Antetokounmpo – on the elite Bucks and nearing his super-max decision – has the NBA by the tail.

Teams are trying to impress the family-oriented superstar. Milwaukee signed his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers added another brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo. (The Knicks drafted Thanasis, but Thanasis’ tenure in New York reportedly left a sour taste in Giannis’ mouth.)

Now, Giannis – who once said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – is singing a slightly different tune

USA Today:

Antetokounmpo:

I think that would be amazing. Obviously, we’d spend more time together, and I’m 100 percent sure my mom would love that. But if we could team up on a team – Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome.

Maybe Antetokounmpo is just paying lip service to the Lakers, because they added Kostas. But at this point, that’s progress for Los Angeles.

Considering Giannis’ agent just said “everything is open,” it seems Giannis could be planting the seeds for leaving Milwaukee. He could definitely stay. But by at least mentioning other possibilities, he’d soften the blow if he chooses to depart.

Giannis’ views on loyalty have always been more complex than people realized. Tastes change. It sounds as if Giannis isn’t quite as averse to Los Angeles as he once was.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between that and actually joining the Lakers. Giannis hasn’t suddenly transformed into a totally different person.

But this quote will keep the candle of hope burning in Los Angeles.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.