Three Things to Know: Isaiah Thomas ejection caps another ugly Cavaliers loss

Associated Press
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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.

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.”

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”