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.
1) Isaiah Thomas ejected for Andrew Wiggins caps off ugly night for Cleveland, while Timberwolves keep on streaking. Make no mistake, Minnesota earned this win. Over the past 10 games, Minnesota has outscored opponents by a best-in-the-league 11 points per 100 possessions — more importantly, the bad defense that had marred their season has been fifth best in the NBA during that stretch. Jimmy Butler is leading and the Timberwolves are not just going to break a playoff drought that stretches back to 2004, they are going to be dangerous in the postseason.
On the other side of that coin, Cleveland has been a hot mess of late. Monday night, Minnesota routed Cleveland 127-99, highlighting just how far off their game the Cavaliers are right now.
Fortunately for Cleveland, the sporting world Monday was focused on Georgia vs. Alabama, and if they saw any highlight from the Cavs/Timberwolves it was Isaiah Thomas getting ejected for clotheslining Andrew Wiggins (it wasn’t intentional, but it was basically a karate chop to the neck and that warrants an ejection every time).
Cleveland was a mess all around Monday — LeBron James had a season-low 10 points (the fewest points he’s had in a game since 2007) and sat for good midway through the third quarter. This one felt over early: Minnesota raced out to a 20-4 lead to open the game, and in the first quarter the Cavaliers shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent), while the Timberwolves knocked down 59.1 percent of their looks. The blowout continued, with the Cavaliers going down by 41 at one point.
LeBron, coach Tyronn Lue, and others have shrugged off the Cavaliers struggles this season (there was the impressive 18-of-19 win streak and not much else) but it gets harder and harder to do that. There’s a reason other teams in the East think the Cavaliers are vulnerable. The offense was off on Monday night, but those nights happen — games where Thomas, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith combined to go 0-of-18 in the first quarter are not the norm. Cleveland’s offense is fine. However, the Cavaliers defense is 26th in the NBA over its last 10 games allowing 111.9 points per 100 possessions and that is not a fluke — they allow 109 points per 100 for the season (29th in the NBA). Teams shoot a high percentage at the rim, the Cavaliers don’t run teams off the three-point line, and the Cavaliers allow the second-most transition opportunities in the NBA (16.4 percent of opponent possessions start in transition, and teams score a very good 124 points per 100 on those). (Stats courtesy Cleaning The Glass.)
This feels like the annual mid-season malaise that has struck the Cavaliers the past few years, that they will turn it around and start to play better eventually (the Cavs next two games are at Toronto and Indiana, two teams playing well right now). However, the underlying issues with the Cavaliers are legit. I’m still not convinced any team in the East (as currently constructed) can beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series, but it seems plausible. Which is a big change from where things have been in the East in recent years.
2) Kyle Lowry goes down hard and appears to injure back, DeMar DeRozan leads Raptors to win anyway. DeMar DeRozan has gotten all the highlights and a lot of acclaim this season, but Kyle Lowry has been more than impressive in his own right leading a changed Raptors offense.
But he took an ugly spill Monday night and had to be carried off the court by teammates.
We don’t yet know the severity of the injury.
With Lowry gone DeRozan stepped up and carried the team in the fourth quarter, with 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and the game went to overtime in Brooklyn. In the extra period, DeRozan had 5 of the Raptors 7 points, and Toronto got the 114-113 win on the road. The Raptors get a rare national television game next, Thursday night against the Cavaliers (Toronto gets screwed on nationally televised games because their Canadian fan base doesn’t count in U.S. television ratings, so take this chance to watch them).
3) Steve Kerr speaks for a lot of us on LaVar Ball. To be honest, we’ve run a lot more LaVar Ball stories than I prefer the last few days. The reason is simple: You care. I may have a distaste for a father of a player — one currently on the other side of the globe — ripping his son’s coach, the simple fact is that story has generated more traffic than any other for us in recent days (and I’d bet ESPN, which put the mic in front of LaVar, had a similar impact — plus it helped feed the network’s talking head cycle for a day). If you don’t want to see more LaVar, stop reading what he says. Make him irrelevant — which is how the Lakers feel about his opinions.
You want to read more game-related stuff? Click on that. Read that. The simple fact at every NBA (and sports) site is trade rumors/roster speculation/GM talk drives far, far, far more traffic than game breakdowns.
Steve Kerr — the Warriors’ coach who has defended his good friend Luke Walton — got into all of that in a rant that sums up how I feel pretty well.
Here are Kerr’s full comments, hat tip to NBC Sports Bay Area:
“This is the world we live in now. I was thinking about ESPN. They laid off, I don’t know, 100 people. How many people did they lay off over the last year? More? Well over 100. Many of whom were really talented journalists covering the NBA. This is not an ESPN judgment, it’s a societal thing more than anything.
“Where we’re going is were going away from covering the game and getting close to sensationalized news. It’s not even news really, it’s just complete nonsense. But if you package that irrational nonsense with glitter and ribbon, people are going to watch. I’ve talked to people in the media this year. I say ‘Why do you guys have to cover that guy?’ They say they don’t want to, nobody wants to, but our bosses tell us we have to because of the ratings, because of the readership. Somewhere, I guess this is in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing at all of us. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than he’s become like the Kardashian of the NBA, and I guess that sells and that’s what’s true in politics, in entertainment and now in sports. It doesn’t matter if there is any substance involved with an issue. It’s just, can we make it really interesting, for no apparent reason. There’s nothing interesting about that story.
“Do you know how many parents of my players are sitting at home going ‘Why isn’t he playing my kid?’ And yet, we’re sticking a microphone in his face because it apparently gets ratings. I don’t know how cares, but people care. They must care, or ESPN wouldn’t be spending whatever they’re spending to send reporters to Lithuania when they are laying off people who are writing really substantial (stories), people like Ethan Strauss and Marc Stein are getting laid off. Again, this is not a condemnation of ESPN. It’ not. It’s a societal issue. It’s been going on for many, many years. And it’s invading the sports world now.”