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Three Things to Know: It’s Lillard time. Damian Lillard’s 19 in fourth buries Lakers

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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) It’s Lillard time. Damian Lillard’s 15 straight and 19 in fourth buries Lakers. The Lakers had quietly gone 17-8 in their past 25 games and have done so with a combination of good defense using their athleticism and length to challenge shooters, and playing at the fastest pace in the league and getting better in transition. It had the Lakers up double-digits over Portland at home on Monday night

Then suddenly it was Lillard time, and the Lakers had no answer.

Damian Lillard scored 15 straight points and 19 total in the fourth to spark a comeback and beat Los Angeles 108-103.

Portland is one of the teams fighting to stay off the playoff bubble in the West and this is their seventh-straight win, moving them all the way up to the three seed in the conference (as San Antonio and Minnesota stumble, but Portland is still just three games ahead of the nine-seed Clippers in the crowded West). Fivethirtyeight.com now has Portland with a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs, something that didn’t seem nearly as certain a couple of weeks ago.

Fueling that run is Lillard, who in his last 10 games is averaging 33.5 points and six assists per game, shooting 38 percent from three in that stretch. When Portland has needed him most this season, he has played at a near MVP-discussion level, and that — plus an improved defense this season — makes Portland a tough team in the first round come the playoffs.

2) Too much Bojan Bogdanovic (you read that right) lifts Pacers over Bucks in a key game for Eastern playoff seedings. This sums up Monday night in Indianapolis: In a game featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bojan Bogdanovic was the best player on the court.

On a night where both teams were on a back-to-back and it showed — both Victor Oladipo (14 points on 19 shots with 10 turnovers) and Antetokounmpo (18 points on 16 shots) were off their games — Bogdanovic’s dropped 29 points on 13 shots, hit 5-of-7  from three, and with the game in the balance stole a tip-off ball headed to Eric Bledsoe then drained clutch free throws to secure the Pacers’ win.

With the Pistons crumbling (keep reading down to item three) and the Hornets out of it, the playoff teams in the East are set, but the seedings are not and key games like this between Eastern playoff teams go a long way in determining the order. With the win, the Pacers remain the four seed, just half-a-game back of the Cavaliers for the three seed. Meanwhile, Milwaukee falls to the eight seed — they are tied with Miami record-wise but have lost all three head-to-head meetings so the Heat have the tiebreaker. Starting the playoffs on the road in Toronto would a tough way to go for Milwaukee.

3) Larry Nance Jr. goes off as Thompson-less Cavaliers get a win over crumbling Detroit. Tristan Thompson is out for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle, and with that Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue tweaked his starting lineup: Cedi Osman went to the bench and Larry Nance Jr. got the start at center with Rodney Hood also in the starting lineup.

It worked on Monday night — Nance had 22 points 22 on 9-of-15 shooting plus 15 rebounds, both career-best figures.

Now comes the real test for this Cleveland lineup: the team heads out on a six-game road trip without Thompson where they will face three teams fighting for the playoffs (Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers) plus a Lakers team playing well. Can they hold on to the three seed with a hot Pacers team just half a game back?

Meanwhile, Detroit has fallen apart. The team is 2-8 in its last 10 games, being outscored by 8.7 points per 100 possessions, with the 27th ranked offense and 23rd ranked defense in the league in that stretch. The Pistons have yet to beat a team not on the second night of a back-to-back since the Blake Griffin trade. In those 10 games Griffin is averaging 18.3 points on just 40.2 percent shooting overall and 30.2 percent from three — not exactly team leader numbers.

Report: Cavaliers players played songs like ‘Thuggish Ruggish Bone’ around John Beilein

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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While coaching the Cavaliers, John Beilein called his players “thugs.” He said it was a simple case of mispronouncing the word “slugs” while speaking too quickly.

Of the six Cleveland players who publicly addressed the issue the following day, only Tristan Thompson didn’t offer clear support of his coach. The Cavs kept Beilein.

But with Beilein resigning, a fuller picture is emerging.

Shams Charania, Jason Lloyd and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

a number of the players never really embraced his explanation. In fact, some of them thought it was an insult to their intelligence, one player told The Athletic.

“There was no coming back from that,” he said.

Instead, multiple players began playing songs that included the word “thug” whenever Beilein was within earshot, sources said: Bone Thugz-n-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and Tupac’s “Thugz Mansion” among them. As the team boarded the bus a few days after the incident, one player was intentionally playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug” with Beilein a few feet away. Other players blasted songs with the word “thug” loudly during workouts in the facility. Players did this to make light of a very tough situation, according to one team source.

“The worst part to me was not owning that he said it,” one player told The Athletic.

If they didn’t sing the lyrics as:

  • “It’s the Sluggish Ruggish Bone”
  • “So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin’ / Remember this face, save me a place, in slug’s mansion”
  • “Baby, ‘cause I’m a slug”

…they did it wrong.

For what it’s worth, Beilein did own that he said “thugs.” He just claimed he meant to say “slugs.”

Want to question which word he intended to use? Suspicious about what in his mind led “thugs” to come out even if he meant to say “slugs”? That’s totally fair.

But either “slugs” or “thugs” was entirely plausible in that context. Nobody outside Beilein can know what he was thinking.

Cavaliers players just didn’t want to give benefit of the doubt to a coach they already loathed. I wouldn’t be surprised if some within the organization showed faux outrage about thugs-slugs just because they wanted Beilein gone.

The NBA has levels of pettiness Beilein never experienced in college. It can be jarring, and Beilein seemingly never got comfortable at this level. Put another way:

Slug passion got you tremblin’ like Death on the Row

Rumor: The Cavaliers might try to flip Andre Drummond in trade at draft, or in July

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When J.B. Bickerstaff takes over as the new coach in Cleveland today, he will inherit a big, slow frontcourt of Kevin Love and Andre Drummond that will make a combined $60 million next season.

Will he still have that frontcourt when training camp opens next fall?

We know the Cavaliers tried to trade Love at the deadline but the remaining three years, $91 million on his contract after this season made that difficult. Instead, Cleveland surprised the league when it added Drummond at the trade deadline.

Now comes a rumor from Greg Swartz at Bleacher Report where an anonymous former GM says he thinks once Drummond picks up the $28.8 million option on his contract — something expected around the league — the Cavs will try to trade him, too.

“I don’t think [Drummond and the Cavs] will last long,” one former NBA general manager said. “I could see them trading him to a team this summer if he agrees to pick up his option. They could also do a sign-and-trade if he agrees to a new long-term deal. I don’t think he’ll be in Cleveland for long.”

For the record, the Cavaliers deny that is the case. GM Koby Altman said as much.

“Absolutely, we consider him a potential long-term play,” Altman said. “Obviously, he has a player option that if he picks up, we think we’re in good shape in terms of our cap space. There’s no better money spent than on Andre Drummond if he picks up his option.”

There could be interest in Drummond as an expiring contract next season because teams are trying to clear up cap space for a deep summer of 2021 free agent class (particularly if Giannis Antetokounmpo does not sign the $254 million supermax contract the Bucks will offer this summer). There may be teams interested in the 26-year-old Drummond longer term — he is averaging 17.7 points and 15.8 rebounds a game as a traditional big — just not at anywhere near his current salary.

Expect a lot of Cavaliers trade rumors around the draft and into July as they try to add talent. Don’t be surprised if Drummond is in some of those rumors; the Cavaliers should explore everything.

Also, don’t be surprised if Love and Drummond are the starting 4/5 for the Cavaliers when the season tips off next October.

 

Counter-report: John Beilein will receive some of remaining salary from Cavaliers

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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Initial reporting suggested John Beilein will walk away from the rest of his contract with the Cavaliers.

But apparently he’ll get a payout.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Beilein and the Cavaliers negotiated a financial settlement that will pay him a portion of the remaining money on his 2019-20 contract, league sources said. He left the University of Michigan and signed a five-year contract with Cleveland that included a team option for the final season, a deal that paid him more than $4 million a season, league sources said.

That doesn’t sound like a substantial settlement (relatively).

But Beilein had some leverage. Because he did so poorly, it seemed the Cavs might just fire him at the end of the season. While it appears to be his choice to walk away now, everyone seemed ready to move on soon enough.

There could have been more of a fired-or-quit standoff. But Beilein was so done, he left a lot of money on the table. That’s still the story, even if he’ll walk away with some.

Kevin Durant not close to return, but his jumper still looks wet

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Kevin Durant will not play an NBA game this season.

His jumper, however, looks to be in midseason form. Following All-Star Weekend, a video surfaced on Instagram of Durant working out at UCLA, and his shot remains a thing of beauty. His pull-up works, too.

There’s some debate around the league about just how good 31-year-old Durant will be when he returns.

When he left he was the best player on the planet, an unstoppable scorer who could defend LeBron James in the clutch of a game, KD was a two-time defending Finals MVP at the peak of his game. Suffering a torn Achilles means he’s not going to have the same level of explosiveness, but when you’re pushing 7-foot tall (in shoes), have a high release over your head, can hit from anywhere, and have a deadly fade away, does it matter if you lose half-a-step?

With Kyrie Irving possibly done for the season in Brooklyn, these videos provide a little hope to Nets fans. Get this roster healthy next season and they can hang with anyone in the East.