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Cavaliers answer questions in 116-105 Game 1 rout of Raptors

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There were questions about the Cavaliers coming into their second-round playoff series against the Raptors Monday night.

Would the eight days off between games lead to a lot of rust? The Cavaliers went on two separate 10-0 runs in the first quarter and started to pull away to a double-digit lead early that they never surrendered.

Next question.

Would Cleveland find some focus on defense to keep Toronto in check? While they had lapses, in the first quarter the Cavaliers held the Raptors to 18 points, and through the first three quarters the Raptors had an offensive rating of just 96.7 points per 100 possessions, 13 points less than Toronto’s regular season average. Cleveland did a fantastic job of taking those misses and turning them into transition buckets going the other way. Like this.

Next question.

Monday night the Cavaliers had all the answers on their way to a 116-105 Game 1 rout of Raptors (garbage time made it seem closer than it was). Game 2 of the series is Wednesday night in Cleveland.

“I feel like I’ll be a lot better on Wednesday,” said LeBron James, who had 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting, plus pulled down 10 boards. “The eight days we had off, we weren’t able to get game play. So a little bit of rhythm here, a little bit of conditioning, that will come back on Wednesday.

“But as a team we had great energy,”

Things went so smoothly LeBron almost had time for a mid-game beer.

In addition to LeBron’s 35, Kyrie Irving had 24 points and Kevin Love 18.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 39 points on 14-of-29 shooting.

It was a rough night all around for the Raptors, who struggled to get clean shots and buckets, plus let the Cavaliers get into a rhythm offensively.

“Defensively I didn’t think we played with the kind of physicality we needed to in this game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. They were well rested, they moved and were flying around, like a half-step quicker than we were tonight. We’ve got to make adjustments as far as how we want to guard the paint and then get out to the three, and then offensively get cleaner looks.”

All of that was evident early when Cleveland was putting together a couple runs while the Raptors just missed shots. But in the second quarter the Raptors stormed back, they went on a 19-3 run and we had a game again.. or so it seemed. But the Raptors got 3-of-12 shooting from their bench in the first half, 0-of-5 from three, and when the Cavaliers starters came back in they pushed the lead back to 14 at the half, 62-48. The Cavaliers big three accounted 40 of those points.

“When they came back and made that surge in the second quarter, and we kept our composure,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of what he liked best in the game. “We brought the starters back in, was able to get the lead back up to 14 at halftime, built it up to 22 again, then they made another push and we just stayed the course. Our confidence never waivered.”

Cleveland stretched their lead out in the third and the game was never in doubt after that.

Paul George on twins Marcus, Markieff Morris: “They’re different, but they’re the same”

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George has given us the quote of the day.

For some quick context, last season Paul George played with Markieff Morris in Oklahoma City. This season, George’s Clippers team traded for the other Morris twin, Marcus Morris, at the deadline. When asked about them, George admitted to mixing them up — and then had a classic description of twins.

“It was weird at first, ‘cuz I would call [Marcus] ‘Keiff.’ It actually took a good week. It’s crazy. ‘What’s up Marcus? Nice to meet you.’ Then instantly after, ‘Hey Keiff!’ It’s gonna take a second…

“They’re different, but they’re the same.”

Um… yes, they are.

Both Morris twins live in Los Angeles now (and are expected to move in together). Marcus was traded to the Clippers at the deadline, while Markieff was waived and became a free agent, choosing to sign with the Lakers.

George had high praise for both of them.

“Markieff and Marcus, they are great glue guys,” George said. “They just know how to play the game. They fit right in, they bring toughness, hecka [good] locker room guys, both of them just great people. Great dudes.”

They’re the same that way. But different.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.