LeBron James, Cavaliers end rough March with 122-105 win over 76ers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 34 points, Kyrie Irving dropped 24 and the Cleveland Cavaliers ended a turbulent and troublesome March with an easy 122-105 win over the injury-weakened Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

James made 14 of 22 shots in 30 minutes as the Cavs ended a three-game losing streak and won for just the third time in eight games to end the month 7-10.

It’s been an alarming stretch for the NBA champions, who are running out of time to get tuned up for the postseason. But against the lowly Sixers, Cleveland regained some of its swagger before heading into April when the real fun begins.

Kevin Love added 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Cavs won their ninth straight over the Sixers.

Richaun Holmes and rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 19 apiece for Philadelphia, which only dressed nine players after shutting down Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington for the remainder of the season with knee injuries.

The Cavs have been shaky for some time with defensive issues, injuries and inconsistency leading to questions about whether they can repeat. Following Thursday’s loss in Chicago, the Cavs held a players-only meeting to clear the air.

“Guys talked,” coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “Now we’ve got to move on and play. We’ve done enough talking over the last couple weeks. Now we just gotta settle in, we gotta play.”

They finally did just that, blowing the game open in the second quarter by outscoring the Sixers 38-23. James had two dunks in a span of 15 seconds as Cleveland built a 23-point lead.

Love knocked down a pair of 3-pointers early in the third and the Cavs entertained their crowd with a few alley-oop dunks while opening their lead to 32.

James, who was pulled 90 seconds into the fourth, was in a foul mood following Thursday’s game. He was on the floor Friday at Quicken Loans Arena about two hours before tip-off to get up some shots, something he routinely does for important games.

Given the state of the Cavs, this one was significant.

Cleveland came in trailing Boston by a half-game for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

TIP-INS

76ers: Rookie F Dario Saric went 3 of 12, 1 of 7 on 3s. … Philadelphia decided it was best to sit Okafor (sore right knee) and Covington (swollen right knee) for the last seven games to get them ready for next season. It’s possible Covington will need surgery after an MRI revealed torn meniscus. Those injuries are the latest for the hobbled Sixers, who lost Joel Embiid earlier this month and never got top pick Ben Simmons on the floor after he broke his foot before the season.

Cavaliers: Improved to 15-1 against Atlantic Division teams. … Cleveland was once again short-handed as F Richard Jefferson (left knee tendinitis) and G Kyle Korver (left knee soreness) sat out. Lue didn’t know when either will return. … World B. Free, who played for the Cavs from 1982-86, was honored during a timeout in the first quarter. A fan favorite, Free rarely passed up a shot while averaging 23 points in 275 games for Cleveland. Free broke in with the Sixers in 1975. … Lue said meetings are only effective “if you did something about it. We had a couple of meetings and now we have to do something about it. We can talk all we want but until we perform it means nothing.”

 

2020 PBT Awards: Defensive Player of the Year

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lakers star Anthony Davis
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. Anthony Davis, Lakers

3. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

I think Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to pull off something only done by Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon — win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Much like the Milwaukee offense, the Bucks defense is built around the Greek Freak’s unique skill set where he can contest a three and then fly in and get the defensive rebound. His length and athleticism essentially make him an NFL-style lock-down corner taking away his half of the floor, forcing bad passes and then turning them into transition buckets. Anthony Davis is a very close second, he was phenomenal for the Lakers this season, he would be a deserving winner. It was very difficult to leave off Brook Lopez and Marcus Smart, both of whom are fully deserving of being in the top three.

Dan Feldman

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

3. Anthony Davis, Lakers

The Bucks had an all-time great defense, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez (who’d rank No. 4 on my ballot) worked in tandem to lead it. Ultimately, I valued Antetokounmpo’s ground-covering harassments ahead of Lopez’s stout paint protection.

Though not quite up to his usual standard this season, Rudy Gobert is the NBA’s most consistently impactful regular-season defender. Anthony Davis gets credit for both his own excellent and versatile defense and raising the defensive level of his teammates – most notably getting LeBron James to give more effort.

Keith Smith

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. Anthony Davis, Lakers

3. Joel Embiid, 76ers

Get ready to start seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo a lot on the awards ballot. He’s had a great year as a defender on the best defensive team in basketball. Milwaukee’s defensive rating is more than three points better than second-place Toronto’s. That’s not all Antetokounmpo, but he’s the driving force. The raw counting stats might not jump out at you, until you get to the defensive rebounding. But Antetokounmpo has become great at dominating in help situations and he’s very hard to score on one-on-one. His defense is nearly as dominant as his offense, and that’s saying a lot.

Anthony Davis has been the backbone of the Lakers’ better-than-expected defense. He’s been a shot-blocking machine and his rim protection numbers are near the top of the league. His rebounding is down a bit, but that’s more a product of his teammates than his play. Joel Embiid has somewhat quietly been a monster defender when he’s played. He’s missed some games, but not enough to take him out of the mix. He narrowly edges Rudy Gobert for the third spot.

Duke’s Cassius Stanley declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Two Duke players, point guard Tre Jones and big man Vernon Carey Jr., are expected to be in the 2020 NBA Draft and be taken in the late first-round or early second. We talked about them on the recent PBT Podcast breaking down some of this draft class.

Now a third Duke player, wing Cassius Stanley, has thrown his name in the mix.

“It was an absolute joy to coach Cassius this season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “I want to congratulate him and his great family on this decision. I’ve seen Cassius grow both as a player and person here at Duke, and I can’t wait to see how his career develops at the next level. Any NBA team will be very fortunate to get such a mature young man who is not only an incredibly-gifted athlete but a leader that wants nothing but the best for himself and his teammates.”

Stanley is projected as a second-round pick, but his incredible athleticism could get a team to use a late first-round pick on him.

Stanley is a 6’6″ wing and it’s his elite athleticism that will get him drafted as a potential 3&D wing. He averaged 12.6 points per game and shot 36 percent from three as a freshman (but on only three attempts a night). His athleticism gives him potential as a defender. The challenge is he relies on that athleticism, something that alone will not set him apart at the NBA level, he is not a shot creator for himself or others, and he struggles to shoot off the dribble. He can finish in transition, but at the next level nearly everyone can do that.

Stanley is a development project, but his athleticism makes him a good gamble for a team with a strong development program.

Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas reported early leader for Bulls’ top job

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What do the Bulls want in a new top executive? Near the top of the list: someone who can build an organization that drafts well and develops that talent. That’s why executives from Miami, Utah, and Toronto were high on the wish list.

Enter Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, who has done exactly those things in Denver. Karnisovas is the early frontrunner, reports Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.

Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas is the leader in the clubhouse…

Sources said [team president Michael Reinsdorf] wants someone who has a presence publicly, especially given the reticent nature of Paxson and Forman the last several years. The Bulls have embraced analytics the last few seasons but having someone who can discern how to apply the numbers against other basketball factors is important to Reinsdorf…

“He wants someone who’ll surround himself with smart people, a great talent evaluator. There’s a need to get better in the player development department, too,” a source told Yahoo Sports.

Karnisovas has worked mostly in the background in Denver, with Tim Connelly being the face of the basketball operations. That would be a big change for Karnisovas, but one he may be ready for.

John Paxson is helping Reinsdorf with the search, but Paxson reportedly will take on whatever role is asked — or step aside completely — to make things smooth for whoever takes over the organization.

While NBA taking big financial hit, rumor is salary cap will not see huge drop

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No NBA games are being played, no fans paying for tickets or buying arena beers, no revenue is coming in. The NBA playoffs will not start on time. If games are ramped up at any point in the next couple of months, it will not be in front of fans, just television only.

Which is to say, the NBA is taking a big financial hit right now. How much is impossible to say, but a billion is not out of the question.

The NBA is set up for the players and owners to split revenue, basically 50-50 (it’s more complicated than that, but it stays close to that range). If Basketball Related Income (BRI) drops around the league, then the salary cap drops and players get less money.

The league’s income is going to suffer, but the salary cap may not that much the NBA players union told agents in a call today, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

What this implies is salary cap smoothing — the league would keep the cap artificially high in the short term, but when revenue spikes back up in the following years that rise will be artificially slowed a little to even things out. The idea is to smooth out the cap number rather than have wild fluctuations.

This is likely part of the negotiations going on between the league and players union over the force majeure clause of the CBA, which allows owners to reduce salaries if games are canceled. If the players give up salary now they don’t want to see future income fall too because the cap cratered for a season or two.

Most likely, the owners and players can work out a cap-smoothing compromise that works for both sides (something they could not do when the new NBA TV deal kicked in and the cap spiked back in 2016). The league’s cap projections were already reduced some by the loss of revenue from China following the Daryl Morey Tweet controversy, the missed games obviously will reduce it further.

How much further appears to be under negotiation.