Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed around the Association while you were off yelling at a mall Santa.
1) LeBron James had a first — he got ejected. Kevin Love and Cavaliers keep winning anyway. We thought we had seen everything from LeBron James during a Hall of Fame career, but we hadn’t seen this. LeBron drove the lane late in the third quarter against Miami, drove into the body of James Johnson then used the space created for a little running jumper that missed — LeBron wanted the call and didn’t get it (I’ve seen that call go either way, but LeBron initiated the contact). LeBron went over to complain to referee Kane Fitzgerald and must have said the magic word (not “please”) because the ejection was swift.
LeBron haters loved it. For example, Enes Kanter.
It also didn’t matter. Look at the score in Kanter’s Tweet — Cleveland was up 23 late in the third when this happened, Miami wasn’t coming back. The game was all but over. For the first time this season the Cavs won on the second night of a back-to-back, and Kevin Love was the reason — 22 first-quarter points on his way to 38 for the game, plus nine boards.
The Cavaliers have won eight in a row, and what has mattered during this streak is they have allowed just 100.4 points per 100 possessions — fifth best in the NBA in that stretch. What got the Cavaliers off to a slow start was lackadaisical defense, but they are starting to focus on that end, and with it they again look like an elite team. And that is with Isaiah Thomas expected back next month.
2) Blake Griffin has sprained MCL, likely out 6-8 weeks. The Clippers have some hard questions coming. Considering how ugly the injury looked when it happened, the fact that Blake Griffin “only” has a sprained MCL and will not need surgery has to be seen as good news. The Clippers have won three straight (after losing nine in a row) and with Griffin out, Patrick Beverley gone for the season, Milos Teodosic out until after Christmas, and Danilo Gallinari still sidelined, the question becomes can the Clippers keep their head above water and in the playoff mix until Griffin’s return is 6-8 weeks? As of now, the Clippers are only a game out of the last playoff spot in the West, but can they stay within striking distance without their best player and primary shot creator?
The bigger question is if not, do they try to trade DeAndre Jordan? What about Gallinari and other players who could have value? Is it time for a rebuild? When Chris Paul pushed his way to Houston, Los Angeles didn’t turn toward a rebuild — they re-signed Griffin to a max deal, got Gallinari, and in that trade landed Beverley and some depth with Lou Williams and Sam Dekker. The Clippers were going to stay a potential playoff team and rebuild on the fly.
However, they did it with a lot of players who have injury histories, and health was always a big question mark. Now we have the answer. Other teams are already calling about Jordan — as a high-priced rental (he is making $22.6 million this season, with a player option for $24.1 million next season) the market is small, and teams are not going to offer a lot in return, but they are calling. The Cavaliers are rumored (a deal centered around Tristan Thompson and a pick), with teams such as Milwaukee and, in a long shot, Washington coming up in rumors. Others are testing the waters as well.
In this situation a lot of teams would typically reach out to Jordan’s people through back channels to see if they can get him to opt in, or if they have a good shot at re-signing him (teams don’t just want the All-NBA center as a rental), but there is a complicating factor, as Bobby Marks of ESPN points out.
Lawrence Frank, the guy with the hammer in the Clippers’ front office, has said he wants Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” That’s nice. It’s what you say. But if Frank and the Clippers think it’s likely they lose Jordan as a free agent next summer, they need to make a trade. They need to get something back. And that could be the first domino in a Clippers’ rebuild… if Steve Ballmer is willing to go there. Remember he is trying to get approval for a new arena for the Clippers in Inglewood (right across the street from the Lakers’ old home at the Fabulous Forum) and that task gets a little harder with a rebuilding team that doesn’t feel like a huge draw. There are a lot of moving parts in Clippers trade talks.
3) Watch Devin Booker go off for 33 to lead Suns past Bulls. Maybe the biggest news out of Chicago Tuesday was that Nikola Mirotic attended the game, sat on the bench, and is back around the team after missing time with a broken face and concussion. He’s not speaking to Bobby Portis yet (the guy who gave him those injuries), but he is practicing with the Bulls again.
But that was not the most entertaining part Wednesday.
Devin Booker put up 33 points and drain five threes to lead the lowly Suns past the lowlier Bulls, and it just fun to watch this guy shoot and play.