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) Cleveland gets entertaining, pressure-relieving win over Minnesota. They can thank LeBron James. This is the only way Cleveland can seem to win games now: Their offense is on fire and covers up the terrible defense, LeBron James plays at an MVP level and makes all the big plays, and he gets just enough help from some role players to get the team over the top.
That recipe came together Wednesday night in the Cavaliers thrilling 140-138 overtime win against the Timberwolves.
Neither team played much defense in this one. Cleveland’s defense has been terrible all season, and after a stretch where the Timberwolves were coming together on that end they have reverted to bad habits, allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, 28th in the NBA (and worse than Cleveland). On Wednesday the Timberwolves had an offensive rating of 129.7, the Cavaliers 130.4.
From the opening tip, LeBron James was engaged — unline many recent games — and the Cavaliers needed all of it. He got some good support and energy from Cedi Osman and Jeff Green off the bench, and J.R. Smith pitched in 20 points on 14 shots, but it took LeBron’s triple-double to get the win —37 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds.
It also took LeBron making all the plays down the stretch. Like a game-saving block on Jimmy Butler with seconds left in overtime.
Then there was LeBron hitting the game-winner over Butler.
This win doesn’t solve Cleveland’s problems — the team still can’t defend, it has some serious structural issues, and LeBron and Dan Gilbert are not now best friends. But the Cavs desperately needed a win, and they got it. It relieves a little pressure on the situation. For now.
2) Don’t look now, but the Pistons have won five in a row since Blake Griffin arrived. When Stan Van Gundy traded for Blake Griffin he was largely ripped by NBA pundits (I panned the move myself). From the start taking on four-and-a-half seasons of Griffin at max salary, especially with his injury history, was something I saw as tying the team’s hands long-term (especially combined with the Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson contracts) and putting a ceiling on how good they were going to be long-term.
But short-term it’s been a boost.
The Pistons are now 5-0 with Griffin after a 115-106 win against Brooklyn, a win that has them in a virtual tie for the final playoff slot in the East. Detroit has a top-8 offense and defense since the trade, and Griffin is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, plus Griffin is assisting on 31.3 percent of teammates buckets when he’s on the court. He’s making plays, developing a real chemistry with Andre Drummond, and the Pistons look like a playoff team.
It’s going to be close the rest of the way between Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, and maybe Indiana (if they stumble a little) for the final playoff spots in the East. When the music stops and the season ends one of those teams is going to be without a chair and will be in Cabo rather than on the court. A few weeks ago that looked like it would be Detroit, but with Griffin they look like they could be in (fivethirtyeight.com says they have a 53 percent chance of making it).
3) Paul George says he is happy in Oklahoma City, but don’t confuse that with him staying or sure. Recent comments from Paul George made it sound like he was going to re-sign with the Thunder this summer, and the Lakers have taken this to mean they are out of the running to land him this summer.
Not so fast, my friend.
George opened the door a little with comments to Sam Amick of the USA Today, saying he’s certainly happy in OKC — but that doesn’t mean he’s staying for sure.
The Thunder are all in on George, they are shooting down trade requests for him (sorry Cavaliers fans). In its mind, Oklahoma City plans to re-sign George this summer. However, George may feel differently. He is going to get through the playoffs with this team, step back and size-up the situation, and make the call. Oklahoma City had an impressive win against the Warriors the other night, but they also seem headed for a tough first-round playoff matchup with Minnesota, followed by meeting those Warriors (who will be a lot more focused in the playoffs). An early exit could change minds. Or not. We can’t say from the outside and months before free agency is a reality, nobody knows what George will decide. Not even George.
But that trip to Los Angeles is not off the table. Never was.