Three Things to Know: Kevin Love, Cavaliers get knocked around by Heat

Associated Press
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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) Kevin Love, Cavaliers get knocked around by Heat. Less than two minutes into Tuesday night’s game in Miami, Kevin Love slid over to try to draw a charge as Heat center Jordan Mickey went through him to try to finish at the rim. Because he got there late, Love was called for the blocking foul, but that was the least of Love’s problems.

On the play, Love took an inadvertent elbow to the face that left him with a loose tooth and bloody mouth, which sent him to the locker room. While he came back out and played in the second quarter, concussion symptoms from the blow had him out for the entire second half.

Without an effective Love for most of the game, the Cavaliers just looked flat. Defensively they were disinterested (like most nights), Jeff Green was off (2-of-10 shooting), George Hill wasn’t making an impact, Rodney Hood couldn’t fill Love’s shoes, and LeBron James was reminded Dwyane Wade is the greatest shot blocking guard the NBA has ever seen.

Twice.

The loss was a reminder that the Cavaliers still stink on defense, and that unless LeBron is playing at an MVP level and lifting up their offense they struggle. Tuesday night the Cavaliers looked like a flawed team heading into the playoffs.

Tuesday’s defeat leaves the Cavaliers tied in the loss column with the Sixers for the third seed in the East (a race Toronto and Boston care about as both would like to avoid the Cavaliers for as long as possible). Wednesday night Cleveland faces a Charlotte team that has won four straight (all against tanking teams, but Kemba Walker has played well), while the Sixers tip-off against the Knicks. The Cavaliers have a tougher schedule the rest of the way, and the two teams play on April 6 in what could be a crucial matchup.

2) Damian Lillard drops 41 then bolts to be with wife for the birth of his child. The Trail Blazers tightened their grip on the third seed in the West Tuesday night beating the New Orleans Pelicans.

They did it because Damian Lillard went off before he took off. Lillard dropped 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting — in the fourth quarter. New Orleans put a quality defender on him in Jrue Holiday for most of that, but it didn’t matter, it was Lillard time and he was taking over. He finished the night with 41 points.

After the game, Lillard bolted from the team to get to his girlfriend for the birth of their son — which he said will be named Damian Jr. Lillard will not be in uniform when the Blazers take on the Grizzlies Wednesday night in a back-to-back.

Also after the game, the Blazers announced that Maurice Harkless will miss some time because he has to get his left knee scoped due to recurring pain. From the press release:

Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless will undergo an arthroscopy Wednesday in Portland to remove a loose body in his left knee, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

The timetable for his return will be determined after the surgery. Harkless gives the Blazers a solid 20 minutes a night off the bench.

3) LaMarcus Aldridge leaves Spurs’ game with a knee contusion, to have MRI. Spurs fall without him. Hopefully, this is nothing, just a bruised knee. The Spurs have more than paid their price in injured stars this season, maybe the basketball gods could give them a break.

All-Star center LaMarcus Aldridge left Tuesday night’s Spurs game in the second quarter with a bruised knee, and without him the Spurs could generate no offense and fell to a Wizards team without John Wall (or getting a big night out of Bradley Beal, it was the Washington bench that most impacted the game).

Aldridge will have an MRI Wednesday and then we will see how long he will be out. The Spurs can’t afford him to be out long, without him they struggle mightily to create good looks on offense.

The Spurs are currently tied for the 5/6 seed in the West with the Pelicans, and the Jazz are just half-a-game back and tied with those two in the loss column, however, the Spurs have the toughest schedule of the three the rest of the way. That includes Oklahoma City Thursday and the red-hot Rockets over the weekend. We’ll see if Aldridge will be available for those contests.

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

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

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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.