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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.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.