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Three Things We Learned Thursday: Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?

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If you spent Thursday worried that Sharknado is real, we understand. Here is what you missed around the NBA as you prepped for that looming disaster.

1) Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: There is no stopping the TNT Bulls — Thursday night made 20 straight home wins for Chicago when the game is broadcast on TNT. Nikola Mirotic is lighting it up of late, and he dropped 28. The Bulls needed the win, they remain a game back of the Pacers and Heat for the final playoff slots in the East, however, the Bulls have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. They should get in, and this win helps.

That said, the Bulls are not the big story out of that game. Rather, it’s the stumbling Cavaliers — they have lost three straight, and will finish March 6-10 with the worst defense in the NBA during that month. They have fallen behind Boston as the top seed in the East and simply look nothing like a contender. After this loss, LeBron James said “we’re just in a bad spot right now.”

Is it time to worry if you’re a Cleveland fan?

There are plenty of reasons to shoot that idea down: The Cavs remain the most talented roster in the East, and getting to the playoffs healthy is what matters most because if they do they are still the favorites. This is the same core roster that won the NBA title last year, they are just a little bored, but they can flip the switch (see LeBron’s first half against the Bulls for example). Also, getting the No. 1 seed is not that big a deal — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, but four of those years his team did it out of the two seed.

Still, there is real reason for concern. The Cavaliers defense has been flat-out a disaster since the All-Star break. It feels like that switch might be harder to flip in the postseason. Part of it is effort, but if the team is not building good habits now what will they fall back on in the playoffs. Some nights the offense can still cover up the bad defense, but Thursday night Kevin Love fouled out with eight points on 10 shots, and Kyrie Irving going cold if he got chased off the arc (2-of-13 on twos). Those guys can’t be off and have this team win when they defend like matadors waiving their cape at the bull going by.

It still comes back to this for me: Which team in the East can beat a healthy Cavaliers team four times in seven games? I still don’t see one. But if they are still defending poorly by the start of the second round, that may change.

2) LeBron James passed Shaq for seventh on the All-Time NBA scoring list. Shaquille O’Neal just got a statue put up outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, he’s been riding high, maybe he needed to get knocked down a peg.

While LeBron was trying to will his team to play better against the Bulls, he passed former teammate Shaq and moved into seventh on the all-time NBA scoring list.

Next up on that list for LeBron is Dirk Nowitzki, although he remains a moving target.

3) Houston Rockets set record for most made three pointers in a season. When you think about how they’ve played this year, it seemed inevitable. With this vintage James Harden jab step then step-back three, the Houston Rockets hit their 1,078 three-pointers on the season, passing the record set last year by the Warriors.

It’s an impressive feat, but considering the direction of the NBA it likely lasts about as long as the Warriors’ record did. Here’s a look back at the best threes from the Rockets this season.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.