Three Things to Know: So, about that new-look Cavaliers juggernaut…

Associated Press

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) Spurs defeat of Cavaliers a reminder the team has a lot of questions still, then LeBron James lashes out at officials.
The change was so sudden and so jarring it jolted us all — after a month of watching Cleveland play dispirited, unimpressive basketball, the post-trade deadline Cavaliers looked like a different team (which they pretty much were). Guys helped each other and switched on defense. LeBron James was energized again. Cleveland looked like the best team in the East again for a couple of games.

People lept to conclusions — “the Cavs are back in the Finals for sure” — when we didn’t really know how good this Cleveland team was yet. The new players were younger and more athletic, they brought energy, but also had question marks. What would happen when teams got a little film and started to attack them at weak points?

Those Cavaliers have lost two of three, falling to the Spurs on Sunday in a nationally televised game where they looked like a bunch of new players trying to figure each other out on offense. Don’t blame LeBron, he had 33 points on 25 shots, plus 13 rebounds and 9 assists. And he was making plays like this.

LeBron didn’t get much help. J.R. Smith played like he did during the Knicks Sunday day games, going 0-of-6 from the floor and just being disengaged. George Hill was so bad Jordan Clarkson took most of his second-half minutes. Cedi Osman looked like a rookie. The Jeff Green at the five experiment was a mess. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The Cavaliers were out of sync on offense. You can argue this was just an off-shooting night for the Cleveland — they shot 41.8 percent overall and just 23.5 percent from three — but it was more than just missing good looks. The games against the Wizards and Spurs (both losses) have been a reminder that this new roster still has a long way to go and not a lot of time to develop the kind of chemistry they need.

As for Sunday’s game itself, the Spurs went on a 16-0 run starting late in the third and carrying into the fourth to take a double-digit lead, and that was the ballgame. The Spurs never let the Cavs back in it meaningfully and won 110-94

San Antonio was physical with the Cavs, and after the game LeBron decided to take on a $25,000 fine (you know it’s coming) to lobby future officials.

We’ll see if it works, but the officials are not LeBron’s biggest concern right now.

2) James Harden drops 41, Rockets win streak up to 12. Houston is the hottest, best team in the NBA right now. Sunday, the beard dropped 41 points to lead the Rockets to their 12th straight win, beating a Denver team that has been playing well of late.

Here’s the question I keep getting asked about the Rockets: Can they beat the Warriors in a playoff series? I’m not sold. Houston has the best chance of any team, it may be the only team with a chance against a healthy Golden State, but a lot of questions remain. What happens when teams drill down on matchups in the playoffs, dragging Harden or Ryan Anderson into every pick-and-roll (they have been better defenders this season, but the playoffs are a different animal)? Harden and Chris Paul have had their postseason foibles, are both ready to step into this bigger stage? Houston can score with Golden State, but even with P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute are they going to be able to get enough stops on Durant and Curry? Golden State’s versatility is part of what makes them great, they can find a weakness and exploit it like no other, I’m not convinced the Rockets can match that in a playoff series.

But it’s going to be fun to watch.

3) RIP agent Dan Fegan. This is tragic news. Longtime NBA power broker agent Dan Fegan died in a car crash Sunday at the age of 56. According to the police, Fegan was driving in Aspen, Colo., and as he tried to merge onto the highway he was hit by a bus. His son and another passenger had to be airlifted to a Denver hospital, where both are in serious condition.

Fegan had a long list of top NBA players as clients for many years (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard and many others) because he was a fierce negotiator on their behalf. He frustrated front offices at times, but he was also respected for his passion and dedication. And he will be missed by many. There was an outpouring of grief and sadness around the league, and on social media.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it


It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.




Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.