Associated Press

Magic come from 21 down to upset Cavaliers; LeBron reiterates he will not be traded

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — After another embarrassing defeat and two days before the trade deadline, LeBron James let it be known he’s not going anywhere, at least for now.

“I’m here for this season right now to try and figure out a way we can still compete,” James said after his Cleveland Cavaliers blew a 21-point lead in a 116-98 loss to the Orlando Magic. “I owe it to my teammates to finish this season out no matter how it ends up. I would never waive my no-trade clause.”

The Cavaliers fell apart in the second half and lost for the 14th time in 21 games. They have given up an average of 122.4 points in their last five losses.

“I couldn’t give up on my teammates like that. I just couldn’t do it,” James said after scoring 25 points. “We put too much into the game every single day.

“This is no time to be ashamed about our season,” he added. “We’ve got quite a few games left. If we’re still serious about the season, then we’ve got to play some good ball at some point.”

Jonathon Simmons scored 22 of his career-high 34 points in the third quarter for the Magic, who broke a nine-game home-court losing streak against Cleveland.

The Cavaliers scored 43 points in the first quarter, but then went almost 6 1/2 minutes without scoring in the fourth. They played the second half without coach Tyronn Lue, who went to the locker room in the second quarter with what the team said was an illness.

The Magic made their first 10 shots of the second half and won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 8-10.

James did not have a rebound or an assist in a foul-plagued second half.

“I gave my teammates some opportunities to knock `em down, but they just didn’t go. You can’t get assists when they don’t go down, but that doesn’t stop me from finding my guys on the floor,” he said. “At this point it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. We’ve got to go out and play well as a collective group, everyone hitting at the right time on all cylinders, and right now we’re not doing that.”

Simmons made seven of eight shots in his 22-point quarter, finishing the period with a 3-point buzzer shot in a game in which he almost did not play because of a sprained right ankle.

“To be honest, adrenaline was just going and I didn’t even realize what was going on,” Simmons said. “I was just trying to play hard and trying not to have another setback.”

J.R. Smith made three 3-pointers in the first four minutes to help the Cavaliers (30-22) take a 15-4 lead, and they led by 21 points late in the first half.

Jeff Green dunked to put the Cavaliers up 61-40 with 4:50 left in the half, but they went scoreless for almost four minutes while the Magic (17-36) sliced nine points off the lead.

James opened the second half with a couple of 3-pointers to regain a 16-point lead for Cleveland, but Simmons scored 12 points during the Magic’s 19-2 run that gave them their first lead of the game at 78-77 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

James was called for his fourth foul just 17 seconds later and sat for more than seven minutes.

When he re-entered the game with 10:10 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Magic ran off 14 straight points to lead 108-92.

Dwyane Wade banked in a 3-pointer for Cleveland’s only points in the first 7:25 of the fourth quarter.

 

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.

Raptors, Pascal Siakam reportedly agree to four-year, $129.9 million max contract extension

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Pascal Siakam is going to be the face of the Toronto Raptors going forward.

This was expected. Toronto was never going to let its young star slip away; the only questions were when it a contract extension got done and the price.

The answers came Saturday, with the Raptors and Siakam’s agents reaching terms on what will be a four-year, $129.9 million max extension for the reigning Most Improved Player. Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN broke the news.

There are no player or team options, this is a straight four years.

Last season, his third in the league, Siakam made a huge leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, took on a larger role as a shot creator, played impressive wing defense, and was a key part of the Raptors winning the first title in franchise history. He is at the heart of their future and a guy the Raptors wanted to keep through whatever rebuilding/retooling process comes in the next few years.

The Raptors could have played it out, and let Siakam go to restricted free agency next summer. However, in what will be a down free agent market, some team would have tried to poach the young wing — a real position of need around the league — with a max offer. The Raptors would have matched, but all that drama might have created bad blood. Maybe the Raptors overpaid a little, but they get to keep their guy and have him happy.

Siakam is the third player to get a max extension to their rookie contract this summer. Both Ben Simmons (Philadelphia) and Jamal Murray (Denver) signed five-year, $170 million max extensions. Siakam decided to take one year fewer, but also hits free agency again a little earlier.

Chinese state media says Adam Silver will face retribution for ‘defaming’ China

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Adam Silver has worked to portray the NBA as a progressive league that favored free speech. However, when push came to shove in a conflict with China over a Tweet from Rockets GM Daryl Morey supporting protesters in Hong Kong, Silver’s first statement seemed to protect the status quo and the cash the world’s largest nation generates for the NBA.

That backfired, and Silver came out with a stronger second statement that backed Morey’s right to free speech. Since then, the league has worked to emphasize that position.

In an interview at a TIME Magazine event this week, Silver added to that sentiment saying China asked for Morey to be fired and the league said no. “We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business. We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

The Chinese government denied this, and now Chinese State media is saying there will be retribution for Silver. From the South China Morning Post:

Chinese state media has warned that NBA commissioner Adam Silver will face “retribution” for defaming China in the latest twist to a dispute that began with a basketball team executive tweeting his support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong…

“Silver has spared no effort to portray himself as a fighter for free speech and used freedom of speech as an excuse to cover for Morey, who voiced his support for the violent actors in Hong Kong,” it said. “This has crossed the bottom line of the Chinese people.”

Silver’s handling of the controversy had proved his “double standards”, the broadcaster said, adding that he had “defamed” China on the international stage.

“To please some American politicians, Silver has fabricated lies out of nothing and has sought to paint China as unforgiving,” it said.

Silver didn’t fabricate this. We’re all smart enough to know how this went down: Chinese officials would never outright say “you need to fire Morey” but they could strongly imply it with words and actions. Silver’s phrasing on this — that it was “made clear that we were being asked to fire him” — suggests precisely this scenario. It’s how people with power ask for something unethical or illegal, whether we’re talking mob bosses or politicians, the ask is strongly implied but not direct, allowing denial later.

China wanted its pound of flesh, maybe to fire Morey but at least a public rebuke and fine/suspension. They got none of it. Now they can use Silver’s comment — clearly aimed at the domestic market to bolster the NBA’s image in the US — to cause a little more pain. China has shown it can hit the NBA’s bottom line, it flexed its muscle, but how far does either side really want it to progress?

As we have been saying all along, this issue is not going away anytime soon. It may fade from the spotlight, but the NBA/China relationship is a story that will be a cloud over this entire season.