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LeBron James, Cavaliers clutch, while Raptors fold

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If Toronto loses this series, this is the game they will look back on with the most regret.

It was every Raptor nightmare about this series come to life — Toronto’s inability to beat LeBron James, the inability of their stars to close games after they had a lead, the inability of the Raptors to win the first game of a series, it all came true in the end Tuesday night, in just about the ugliest way possible. Toronto was in their own heads when it mattered most.

Toronto dominated early, led by double digits in the second half, but shot 5-of-24 in the fourth quarter and missed its last 11 shots in regulation. Then in overtime, they shot 3-of-7. Toronto missed every three they took in the final four minutes of regulation and in overtime. Then, at the end of regulation and overtime, when the Raptors needed a bucket, they turned to bench player Fred VanVleet to take the shot — not Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan.

The Cavaliers, as they have all season, showed poise down the stretch — their passes and shots looked like those of a confident team while the Raptors looked tight — and Cleveland took Game 1 in overtime, 113-112. It was a game where Cleveland never led in regulation but did when the buzzer finally sounded.

The Cavaliers lead the series 1-0 having won one on the road. Game 2 is Thursday night in Toronto.

LeBron James was brilliant as expected, 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds (and Tyronn Lue even got some rest for him during the game). Toronto chose from the outset to single-cover LeBron most of the night, primarily with OG Anunoby — and the rookie did a good job, LeBron needed 30 shots to get his 26 points. Anunoby is strong and LeBron couldn’t just overpower him, settling for more fade-aways than the Cavs would prefer.

However, the point of single-covering LeBron is to stay home on the supporting cast and not let them beat you, and the Raptors failed at that — J.R. Smith had 20 points, Kyle Korver 19, Jeff Green 16 and Tristan Thompson 14.

“Guys stepped up tonight, everybody stepped up,” LeBron said. “We got timely stops. They killed us on the glass, but we stuck with it, made timely shots, it’s a huge win for us.”

Lowry and DeRozan started strong but combined to go 3-of-11 in the second half. The Raptors vaunted bench was outscored by the Cavaliers maligned one 37-35.

“We know the head of the snake is DeMar and Kyle, but those six or seven guys that come off that bench are very productive. We knew we had to take them away and take them out of the game for us to be successful, it’s a good start for us this series.”

The best Raptor for much of the game was Jonas Valanciunas, who punished the Cavaliers for starting small with Kevin Love at center. In the third quarter, Valanciunas had 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting plus five boards, dominating inside. However, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue adjusted and put Tristan Thompson in against JV and in the fourth quarter the Raptors’ center was 1-of-7, including a series of point-blank putback misses.

The night started with such promise for Toronto at home.

Toronto shot 62 percent in the first quarter and was up 33-19 after one. Toronto’s offense is far more diverse than Indiana’s, the Raptors have a variety of shot creators, and that exposed the Cavaliers’ defense that had been a mess all season.

However, the Raptors couldn’t hold on to that and the Cavaliers tightened the game up in the second quarter. That was the theme all night, Toronto’s inability to put LeBron and the Cavaliers away. When the pressure was on, the Cavaliers made plays and the Raptors fumbled their chances.

Looking at the body language of Raptors players leaving the court, it’s fair to wonder if they fumbled away their chance to win this series.

Report: Gary Harris, Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr. not with Nuggets at Disney World

Nuggets players Gary Harris and Torrey Craig
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Nikola Jokic was delayed in joining the Nuggets after testing positive for coronavirus in Serbia.

Gary Harris, Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr. apparently aren’t with Denver, either.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

The Nuggets closed their facility two weeks ago after positive coronavirus tests. At least a week prior to that, a Western Conference playoff team reportedly had four positive coronavirus tests.

Are either of those events related to these absences?

The NBA has shown a disturbing lack of transparency around its restart.

When the season got suspended, Denver looked like a good regular-season team that’d face issues adapting to a playoff style. Now, who knows how the Nuggets will be when the season resumes? There’s so much roster uncertainty.

Harris is Denver’s starting shooting guard, and Craig and Porter have been rotation-level backup forwards. Both Harris (on smaller players) and Craig (on bigger players) have been defensive standouts with lackluster offense. Harris’ shooting struggles have been a major disappointment. For Craig, they’re an accepted limitation. Porter has shown flashes as a superb scorer, but he’s still raw.

Who knows if and when these three will join the Nuggets? Again, the lack of transparency has been frustrating. But Harris, Porter and Craig missing time would be a major setback for Denver.

Rockets star Russell Westbrook says he tested positive for coronavirus

Rockets star Russell Westbrook
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Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute didn’t travel with the Rockets to Orlando for the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Westbrook says he tested positive for coronavirus:

It’s good that Westbrook is feeling well. And, once he had coronavirus, it’s good he tested positive before the team departed. He can quarantine in the comfort of his own home rather than a hotel room. He didn’t risk spreading coronavirus during the flight.

When will he join the Rockets? That’s tough to say. He must clear coronavirus first, and it’s unclear how long he has had it. Then, upon arrival at Disney World, he faces an in-room quarantine. The length of that can vary.

With Harden as the centerpiece, Houston has built its secondary attack around Westbrook’s aggressive style. The Rockets’ unique center-less approach is a direct response to Westbrook’s minus outside shooting. Empowered by spacing later in the season, Westbrook has really thrived.

He’d be a huge loss. Houston could go from a championship-contending wildcard to one-man show – or less.

This revelation also raises questions about Harden and Mbah a Moute, whose late arrivals haven’t been publicly explained.

Report: Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo violates quarantine, must remain in room 10 days

Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo
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Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and 76ers star Joel Embiid expressed doubt about players following the NBA’s protocols in the bubble.

See Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Players first arriving at Disney World is one of the most perilous times in the NBA’s plan. A player leaving his initial quarantine with coronavirus could undermine the whole operation.

The league has no practical choice but to be strict.

James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Luc Mbah a Moute didn’t arrive with the rest of the Rockets in Orlando. This makes four players who are behind in their ability to build chemistry and train with their teammates. At least Caboclo is just four days away from being four days away – major progress for him.

Houston has already clinched a playoff spot. But there’s some danger of slipping to the No. 7 seed and facing the powerful Clippers in the first round. So while they don’t have the most urgency for the seeding games, the Rockets are playing for something in the seeding games.

Lakers star LeBron James: #FreeWOJ!!

Adrian Wojnarowski
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Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley sent out a press release complaining about the NBA’s list of approved social-justice messages for jerseys.

ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski replied to the email, “F— you.” (Wojnarowski did not censor the first word.)

Wojnarowski apologized. ESPN condemned his behavior and, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, suspended him two weeks.

Several NBA players have publicly supported Wojnarowski:

Lakers star LeBron James:

Clippers guard Lou Williams:

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray:

Heat big Bam Adebayo:

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie:

Kings forward Harrison Barnes:

Pacers center Myles Turner:

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver:

Wizards wing Troy Brown Jr.:

Trail Blazers guard Jaylen Adams:

LeBron’s message is particularly notable.

Obviously, he’s the NBA’s biggest star. His words carry weight.

Wojnarowski also has a long history of harshly criticizing LeBron. Here are just a few examples.

But if he can get over The Letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, LeBron can probably get past anything written about him.