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.