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Three Things to Know: LeBron’s first ejection, ever, doesn’t slow Love, Cavs

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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.

 

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.

 

Report: Nemanja Bjelica agrees to three-year contract with Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica wanted some stability. That got pulled out from under him when  Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves rescinded his qualifying offer. He quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million offer, with Philadelphia, but then came to regret it because he wanted more security than that single season. Bjelica was considering Europe.

Then the Sacramento Kings stepped in. Friday night, the two sides reached a deal.

The Kings have signed both players who backed out of verbal agreements with teams this summer, Bjelica with the Sixers and Yogi Ferrell with the Mavericks.

Bjelica is a floor-spacing big man who should fit in well with the Kings’ frontcourt rotation that includes Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Willie Caulie-Stein, and others. Bjelica provides shooting — he hit 41.5 percent from three last season (where he took nearly half his shots). Bjelica has a solid all-around game that a lot of teams could have used. Including Minnesota and Philly.

Suns acquire Richaun Holmes from 76ers, Darrrell Arthur from Nets

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have acquired power forward Richaun Holmes from Philadelphia and forward Darrell Arthur from Brooklyn.

The Suns sent cash considerations to the 76ers on Friday for Holmes, and got Arthur from the Nets for forward Jared Dudley and a protected 2021 second-round pick.

Philadelphia made the Holmes deal to help clear salary cap space to sign 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden to a $7 million, four-year contract. Holmes averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in four seasons with the 76ers.

The Suns are expected to buy out Arthur’s $7.4 million contract to clear enough salary cap space for Holmes.

Arthur has played nine NBA seasons, the last five with Denver before being dealt to the Nets on July 13. He has appeared in 503 games with Denver and the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Dudley, an 11-year NBA veteran, spent the last two seasons with the Suns in his second stint with the team.

 

Celtics’ Smart ‘ecstatic’ to have summer in limbo over

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BOSTON (AP) — There was a moment during the past month in which Marcus Smart wasn’t sure where he’d be playing basketball this upcoming season.

A day after signing a four-year deal to remain in the only NBA jersey he’s ever played in, Smart said he’s focused on doing what he can to help the Celtics win their 18th championship.

“I’m ecstatic. This is a blessing,” Smart said Friday.

After being in limbo since the start of free agency, Smart cemented his pact with the Celtics on Thursday. A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press that Smart will be paid $52 million over the next four years. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.

Boston brings back a 6-foot-4 defensive cornerstone who has developed a reputation for toughness and doing the little things that help the Celtics win. Smart is also the longest-tenured player on the roster.

The confidence that general manager Danny Ainge is showing in his abilities is not lost on Smart, who acknowledged he knew he was entering a tough free agent market this summer.

“To be honest, I didn’t know where I was gonna end up. I was just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It is a business, so things aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called negotiations. You guys come together and you finally agree on something. We both agreed. Boston loves me and I love Boston. Boston wants me here and I want to be here. I am here. So we made it work.”

Barring any late changes, Smart’s return also means Boston will be bringing back the core of the team that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals while battling numerous injuries and being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward the entire postseason.

Smart was a huge part of the run, stepping in to a starter’s role after returning from thumb surgery late in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game as Boston pushed LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals.

Now, James is in the West with the Lakers, and given the emergence of youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Smart said he doesn’t see any reason why the Celtics shouldn’t be a favorite to come out of the East.

“We demonstrated the talent and ability we had to do that last year with a few missing pieces. With those missing pieces back in action, I think it really makes it hard for teams,” Smart said. “I think we have a real shot.”

The signing also will allow Smart to shift his attention back to his mother, 63-year-old Camellia Smart, who continues to undergo treatment for the bone marrow cancer she was diagnosed with in April.

“When you kind of go through adversity and something like this hits you and your family, it kind of puts everything in perspective and everything else kind of becomes a blur to you and really not that important,” he said.

He has been with her in Texas since the season ended and said she’s stable and doing well.

“She’s hanging in there,” Smart said. “This is a hard time. But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for my family. So, with the signing, it kind of brings a little joy to a situation and lightens up the situation that was a little darkened for me. … As of right now, she’s doing great.”

As far as basketball is concerned, he’ll continue trying to improve.

“I’m just gonna be working on all aspects of my game. The uniqueness about me is I don’t do one thing perfectly or great. I do a little bit of everything. That’s what makes me so unique. I’m just trying to master a little bit of everything. … If I could just get better a little bit each year, then I did my job.”