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Three Things to Know: Toronto looks dangerous, Cleveland disinterested

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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) Raptors look like team that can go deep in the postseason. The Cavaliers want to be woken up when the playoffs start. No Kyle Lowry. No Serge Ibaka. But the Toronto Raptors had a secret weapon for their nationally televised game Thursday night — Cleveland’s defense.

The Cavaliers don’t care about the regular season — LeBron James called them a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” team during the 82-game marathon — and it shows with a 3-7 record in their last 10 and a defense that is dead last in the NBA during that stretch. This could be the Cavaliers worst game of the season, and the offense was not going to cover up the defense in this one. Isaiah Thomas looked rusty as he missed his first 11 shots, finishing 2-of-15 with four points. Kevin Love was 2-of-8 on the night. J.R. Smith hasn’t made a shot in two games (0-of-12). As a team, the Cavaliers shot 6-of-26 from three (23.1 percent). LeBron James played well and tried yelling at his teammates to snap them out of their funk, but id didn’t work.

This game and the bad habits the Cavaliers are developing are exactly why plenty of people around the league think Cleveland is vulnerable.

It’s not just the Cavaliers are bad — the Raptors are good. Legitimately good. They are top five in offense and defense in the league this season and they unleashed all their strengths on the listless Cavs. The Raptors pounded the Cavaliers inside with their size, and their depth led to Toronto winning the battle of the bench 76-48. The Raptors had a defensive rating for the night of 95.9, and an offensive rating of 129.5. Everything was going so well Fred VanVleet had 22 points.

There are no statement games in January, but for the Raptors this is a good confidence boost.

2) Boston comes from 22 down in London to beat Sixers. The NBA’s annual sojourn to London did not slow down the Celtics’ winning streak, now at seven games.

The Sixers got off to a fast start and led by 22 in the first half, but the Celtics owned the second half and picked up a 114-103 win. The stats tell the story: Philladephia shot 54.7 percent in the first 24 minutes and 36.6 percent in the second 24. Boston cranked up their defense after the half, and that fueled their offense — the Celtics shot 61.9 percent in the second half. Ridiculous. But this was more than just shots falling, Boston’s effort was there in the second half, while the Sixers looked like they just wanted to get to the pub.

Kyrie Irving led the way in the second half and finished with 20 points and seven assists.

3) NBA blows opportunity, will not televise All-Star Game Draft. The NBA All-Star Game itself is a listless affair. All-Star Saturday is a blast, the weekend-long circus around the game is entertaining, but the actual on-the-court product has great players taking turns scoring against non-existent defense. It’s not entertaining, and sport should be that at least. This season the NBA came up with a good way to inject a little fun into the game — have the top vote getters be captains and pick the teams in a draft of every All-Star, playground style. As of today’s vote, Stephen Curry and LeBron James would take turns picking teams.

Except the league is blowing it because they are doing the draft in private. The teams will just be announced, we will not know the draft order or anything else.

Where is the fun in that?

“Yes, it would be more fun if we had that kind of draft…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on NBA TV. “I think there was a sense from the players that it put them in an impossible position, where they’re picking one player over another – in part, not because they necessarily think that player is better than another player, maybe because they have a personal relationship with the player, or they think that player would be a better complement to the players, and that, invariably, if they just did it as a pure draft, guys would say, Oh, I can’t believe such and such was selected before that player.”

Yes, you can. We want to have that “I can’t believe such and such was selected before that player” debate. This is an entire business and league selling entertainment — why put one of the most entertaining parts behind a curtain? We want to see how the sausage is made. One of the reasons we love the NBA is the interpersonal drama, and this would bring plenty of it — would LeBron James pick Kyrie Irving? Would Curry team up Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant again? Who ends up with a chip on their shoulder because they were picked last?

Who wouldn’t watch the All-Star Draft? Will some player have hurt feelings? Maybe, but he’s an All-Star, he’ll get over it.

This was a chance to put some real drama into the All-Star Game, but the NBA went halfway with its idea.

Lakers headed to second straight Summer League title game

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Josh Hart scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 112-109 double-overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday in the semifinals of the NBA Summer League.

Los Angeles advanced to the championship game for a second straight year after winning the 2017 title behind game MVP Kyle Kuzma and league MVP Lonzo Ball.

The Lakers will play Portland, which knocked off Memphis in the other semi-final.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes made the play of the game when he snatched a loose ball and fed Jeff Ayres with a pretty touch pass under the basket with 45 seconds left in the second overtime. Rathan-Mayes followed Ayres’ lay-in with a slashing lay-up to put the Lakers up 110-106 with 22 seconds left.

Cleveland’s Billy Preston missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 31 points for the Lakers (6-0), while Ayres added 20.

Collin Sexton led the Cavaliers with 27 points, while Jamel Artis and John Holland each scored 17.

Trailing 105-102 in the first overtime after Sexton made a short jumper, Rathan-Mayes buried a 3-pointer to tie the score. Hart made it 106-105 by hitting the second of two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining. Sexton did the same at the other end, splitting two free throws and tying it at 106 with 3.3 seconds left.

The Cavaliers (5-2) erased an early 11-point deficit and tied the score at 95, when Vladimir Brodziansky buried a 3-pointer with 2:00 left in regulation.

After Mykhailiuk made one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 96-95 lead with a little more than a minute left, Hart grabbed a defensive rebound and at the other end dished to Mykhailiuk, who hit a running jumper just above the free throw line to push the lead to 98-95.

But Sexton answered with a 3-pointer to tie the score with 26 seconds left. Hart missed a 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds left, and Sexton missed one from long range at the buzzer.

The Lakers went on an 18-2 run to take a 28-17 lead led by Mykhailiuk, who was 4-for-4 from long-range in the first quarter. Los Angeles shot 50 percent (9 of 18) in the opening period and was 5 for 9 (55 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.

Hart took over in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 first-half points to help the Lakers take a 50-47 lead at halftime.

USA Basketball to host World Cup qualifier vs. Uruguay on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) — USA Basketball’s quest to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup will resume Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, where the Americans will face Uruguay.

That will be the first U.S. game in the second qualifying round for next year’s world championships in China.

Like the first round, the U.S. will continue being coached by Jeff Van Gundy and will have a roster made up primarily of G League players. The Americans went 5-1 in the first round.

The U.S. and Uruguay are among 12 teams from the Americas zone vying for seven World Cup spots. The others are Argentina, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States is a heavy favorite to qualify, then will send NBA players to China for the World Championships (there is a workout for some of those players coming up in Las Vegas in a week).

Second-round qualifying ends in late February. The World Cup begins in August 2019.

Mavericks sign second-round pick Jalen Brunson to first-rounder style contract

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Dallas is excited about the potential of Jalen Brunson.

The point guard who led Villanova to a national championship last April fell to the 33rd pick in the draft last June, high in the second round, and Dallas traded up a spot to get him from Atlanta. The Mavericks were ecstatic, and to the surprise of nobody they have reached terms on a contract with him.

What is a bit of a surprise is the Mavericks gave him a first-rounder style contract — four years with some guaranteed money for the first three of them — reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At Summer League in Las Vegas Brunson showed the qualities that Dallas liked in him — he’s a high IQ player with polish, and he’s a pass-first floor general — but his weaknesses were also exposed. He has to shoot better (23 percent in Summer League) and his defense needs to improve.

Both of those can happen, Summer League is more of a chance for teams to benchmark players than make decisions about them. Brunson reportedly has a great work ethic, he can figure the NBA game out.

Dallas is betting that he will.

Kemba Walker: “As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it”

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Kemba Walker is an All-Star level point guard who is heading into a contract season — he is a free agent in 2019. Walker is also a New York native, born in the Bronx he attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Combine all that with the fact both the Knicks and Nets will have enough cap space for a max (or more than one max) contract next summer, and you’ve got yourself a rumor.

One Walker shot down talking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

“As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. “I’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”

Walker has said many times he wants to stay in Charlotte (providing they pay the market rate and are trying to compete).

That said, this is the NBA, so never say never.

A lot of NBA teams have been poised, waiting to see if new Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak — with the approval of Michael Jordan — decided to go full rebuild and trade Walker this summer. He has not, talking only about keeping this squad together. The Hornets are a solid team with Walker and Nicolas Batum leading the way, one that could make the playoffs in the East if things break right for new coach James Borrego. However, they will not be anywhere near contenders and if things don’t fall their way they may well miss the playoffs next season. Again. The Hornets also are not a bad team, meaning they are not going to get a high pick (without some lottery luck). They are stuck in the NBA’s middle ground, a place most GMs want to avoid.

Trading Walker could jump-start the rebuild in Charlotte, but the Hornets don’t seem to be going that direction. Yet. This summer they signed Tony Parker, Malik Monk looked good in Summer League, and they got Dwight Howard out of the locker room. They say they are a team poised to make a playoff push.

If that push falls apart early in Charlotte, watch and see if their plans change. And what that could mean for Walker. And the Knicks.

However, as of now, Walker wants to remain a Hornet, and they want to keep him. Which crowds New York out of the picture.