PBT Mailbag: Should Luka Doncic go No. 1 over Deandre Ayton?

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Welcome to the first ever edition of the PBT Mailbag. This week, we prepare for the 2018 NBA Draft as teams around the league try to scramble for Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, both, or neither.

The draft is one of my favorite dates on the NBA calendar simply because most of the draft board changes via reports and rumors are simply general managers and agents trying to influence via disinformation. It’s really masterful to see, and some of them have gotten so good at it that you can barely even tell that they’re mostly full of crap.

The reality of the situation is that the draft itself is luck influenced by data analysis and risk assessment. What doesn’t become public are the most important things: parents, what their background is, what their support network is, their work ethic, whether they eat nothing but Everlasting Gobstoppers, etc. Talent can float you for you for little bit, and will rise your draft stock, but it takes work and character to go from 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo to MVP-threat Giannis Antetokounmpo. I hope all your teams draft Durants and avoid an Oden on Thursday.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Let’s get to your questions.

Incite

Who gets selected first between Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marvin Bagley and Mo Bamba?

I really like the presumption to this question, which is that the Sacramento Kings are so decidedly dedicated to their insanity that they are all but guaranteed to select Michael Porter Jr. with their No. 2 overall pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are apparently angling to take Doncic with their third overall selection, so that seems to be the answer here. Normally I like to err on the side of disbelief when it comes to big names being reported as favorites in the hours leading up to the draft. However, this is the Kings we are talking about here, and reporting about Porter being their favorite has come from some big-name, big-sourced writers.

Taking Porter with the second overall selection, complete with his injury history and murmurs about his personality, would be such a Kingsy thing to do so I am 100% all in on that definitely happening.

John

Shouldn’t it seem obvious that with the way the NBA is heading that Doncic should he the first pick? A combo guard/wing who can play multiple positions and switch onto multiple guys on defense vs Ayton; a big who can’t stretch the floor and would have trouble finding minutes and a matchup in these last finals?

The NBA has changed a lot in just a few years. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend about the difference between sort of these weird, muscly athletic guys coming out of the college game being sort of outdated already. It wasn’t too long ago that guys like Blake Griffin, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle were boasted as being positionless players. Now we are slowly talking about their limitations.

The 3-pointer is king in the NBA, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The problem with Doncic is translation. There is not some kind of comparative ratio you can use to weigh college players versus professional European players. NBA talent scouts have been looking at guys in domestic college ranks for longer than they have in Europe. Even then, resources put towards Europe versus college scouting has and still is tipped toward the scale of the NCAA.

That’s really where the reticence with Doncic lies, even if DeAndre Ayton seems a little too raw to take a chance on at No. 1. Frankly, the fact that some of the other wing type of guys aren’t higher up the list is a little bit surprising — I guess never count out an NBA team’s propensity to fall in love with a physical freak of nature.

I am not sure Ayton wouldn’t find a role in these past Finals, but certainly given his lack of experience on defense that would be the case in year one. Many of the guys in the top five feel like they will be good enough players over the next three years, a factor that may be pushed further by the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. However, as is often the case, big men are projects coming out of college unless they are can’t-miss guys like Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Sun’s take Ayton with the first pick, they are going to have to wait for him to develop. The hope is that his ceiling will be higher than Doncic’s.

Chris

What does our supreme leader Ernie Grunfield do for DC’s fourth favorite sporting franchise on Thursday night? Does he reach and draft a European superstar? How about a player with more swag than basketball skill? Think he should trade it for a sixth man type who has the season long flu?

Seriously though, is it worth grabbing a center in this day and age? Wall and Gortart’s pick and roll game was unreal when they liked each other.

Confusingly,
Chris from Philly

It feels like the Wizards could really go either way. Their backcourt and wing players are going to cost them a bajillion dollars over the next four years or so, so they could try to bring in a player they’ve had an eye on and try to replicate some of that production with a far cheaper price tag.

Then again, Gortat seemed to be on his way out over the course of this season, and was rumored to be some kind of trade bait, albeit without much value. He certainly doesn’t seem to have a future with the Wizards, and Ian Mahinmi has not really worked out for DC. John Wall does need some extra pick-and-roll help, and they need to get younger across the front line overall.

Washington is the ultimate roulette team when it comes to the draft. They’ll either get a high VORP guy like Otto Porter Jr. or Bradley Beal, or they’ll draft this year’s Jan Vesely with no inbetween.

Let’s be honest, the best thing that could happen to the Wizards during the draft is that LeBron decides to head to the Western Conference. Any selection after that is secondary.

Alfredo

Chris Paul‘s first trip to the conference finals has convinced me the only way to get a ring is to play for a team who has won before, like Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Warriors, even Cavaliers. This means, those teams who have made the playoffs, but not a deep run, are plum out of luck.

What were the fatal flaws behind the Paul-led Pelicans and Clippers that kept them from getting out of the 2nd round vs. Rockets? Of the teams to have reached the conference finals and Finals, but not won a title yet*, which new team do you see winning next? Are the Pelicans, Hornets and Clippers considered dead end franchises, just because they can’t get out of the 2nd round?

First, I really appreciate the fatalism here. It takes a special kind of broken fan to admit that they think their team will probably never win a championship and that the odds are, for whatever cosmic reason, forever stacked towards the teams who are traditional powers. I really jive with that.

I think it’s easy to say that a lot of those Chris Paul teams suffered because of injury. But there is also something to be said about the surrounding players on the bench for a lot of his squads. Do you realize that Bonzi Wells was a contributor for the Hornets the year they got beaten by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round? That was in 2008, many years after Bonzi was a useful player.

The same can be said about those Clippers teams, who had a lot of front line star power but who also rolled out the likes of Glen Davis and an ancient Danny Granger against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the playoffs. Whose idea was that?

I wouldn’t say it’s fair to call any franchise “dead end” because team owners eventually have to die. That’s the real thing we don’t talk about enough when it comes to why the more sordid franchises are annually terrible. The Knicks would be a great destination if James Dolan decided to wear a fedora and do his Guitar Hero: Bruce Willis thing full time.

You can’t fire an owner but you can hope they sell the team. I’m not sure if that means you should root for team valuations to go up or down, but it’s something.

Daniel

Hey Dane, I wanted to know what kind of food is acceptable for a draft viewing party, and does acceptable draft night food vary for fans of different teams? I’ll take my answer off the air.

I’m really torn here because I think it depends on the context of the draft watch party. Is this a bunch of fans of one team who have struggled for years and are hoping for a breakout star to go to them in the top five? Or is this a bunch of NBA dorks getting together to watch the draft because they have nothing better to do on a Thursday night?

The former deserve to eat whatever their hearts desire. If it’s at your friend’s house, I would say you should go with the least messy thing you can find. Don’t try to eat wings at a buddy’s kitchen island. You’ll end up blowing through two rolls of paper towels all by yourself, and that’s nothing compared to when you sit down and rub something out of your eye 35 minutes later completely forgetting that you ate wings but didn’t wash your hands. You’ll start screaming, although if this is a Kings draft meetup everyone will just assume you are inconsolable about Vlade taking Michael Porter Jr.

If this shindig is just for NBA nerds, you should be doing nothing but snacking. Chex Mix, chips and maybe some guacamole. It’s a Thursday night, it’s a casual get-together, and you have to get up early in the morning.

Xander

Is there any chance Portland acquire someone that could be considered as a 3rd star without trading Collins?

No.

PDX HYPE SQUAD

Will the summer blockbuster, “Uncle Drew” be enough to get us all drinking Pepsi again?

I have to admit something: I have always been a Pepsi drinker. To be honest, seeing the Uncle Drew trailer in the theater made me want to stop drinking it. We have truly reached the zenith of capitalism when commercials that are based on a Robin Williams movie from 1993 end up as movies themselves.

Can I just say one more thing about Uncle Drew? How was it that we are in 2018 and we can turn Josh Brolin into a giant pink behemoth and a time-traveling clone, but we haven’t advanced the “make a young guy look old” technology past “Big Momma’s House”? The whole concept of these movies are unbelievable mostly because they look exactly like a guy put on 17 hours of prosthetics just to cross somebody over while Kevin Hart makes quips in the background about taking calcium to cure their broken ankles. I hope it was worth it, Kyrie Irving. I’m setting the “Uncle Drew” over/under on Rotten Tomatoes at 24.5%

Bret O

Out of LBJ, George, and Leonard, who is most likely to end up in a Sixers uni and why?

LeBron James has the most agency out of any of these guys, so it seems like he’s the least likely to head to Philadelphia. More and more rumors come out every day about how he’s heading west, although we don’t know where. Meanwhile, NBA players really do seem to love Russell Westbrook, and whether George ends up in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, I’m not sure that the 76ers are a top destination for him.

That leaves us with Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are refusing to send somewhere in the Western Conference. That fact alone so that gives the most credence that he would be the most likely to end up in Philadelphia out of these three guys. Plus, since Leonard has reportedly said he wants to head to Los Angeles, he’s completely tanked his own trade value. Philly has a few non-essential assets, and could give up something in exchange for a one-year rental on Kawhi as they try to take over the Eastern Conference and convince him to stay on for a championship run.

Andrew T.

Does Kawhi have a no-trade clause? Can he veto any trade? If he does, and refuses to play for the Spurs, do they have to pay him? Is Kawhi worth multiple first round picks?

Kawhi does not have a no-trade clause, and he does not have the ability to veto any trade. If he refuses to play, they do have to pay him although they can just go ahead and fine him right back. We have never seen a player do that for a significant amount of time that would warrant a real intervention from the league or the players union, and I don’t see that happening here.

As it stands today, Leonard is not worth multiple first-round picks. Heck, he’s not even worth one. He has completely killed his trade value, and even under regular circumstances it’s hard to tell what he would garner on a trade market that he hadn’t killed with his own hand. First round picks have sort of varied in their worth over the last decade. First, they started off as easily moved trade pieces. Then they exploded in value, sometimes becoming more important than actual good players. It seems like they’re sort of on the downslope again, although on a very shallow fall.

Doug L.

Does the concept of “hometown discount” exist anymore? Did it ever? There’s examples like Dirk & Durant taking less than they could have gotten, but I don’t remember ever seeing a guy like Evan Turner or Harrison Barnes taking less than what they feel they’re worth. Why does that always seem to come up when discussing someone like Marcus Smart‘s free agency when it almost never happens? Or even other stars like Kyrie, LeBron, Klay, or CP3?

You also have to remember the context for Evan Turner and Harrison Barnes at the time. Barnes was the guy on a team that hasn’t performed up to his potential. Giving him that kind of money was really questionable, especially within the context of how much Klay Thompson had evolved over the course of his contract.

The same can be said for Evan Turner, who was invaluable in the Eastern Conference during his time in Philadelphia and Boston, but who wasn’t necessarily an integral piece of the fabric for either. That doesn’t excuse the Portland Trail Blazers for handing him $17 million a year, but it’s not like anyone was thinking Turner would even need to take a hometown discount.

I think it does exist, but it’s nothing we need to worry about just yet. If multiple MVP-type guys start taking massive cuts just to group together on the same team, then the NBA has a problem.

Adam F.

What should be our new NBA position labels be? Currently 1=PG 2=SG 3=SF 4=PF 5=C. Why can’t we divide it into Play Maker (1) / Wings (2,3) / Bigs (4,5) In fact we could further divide it to quickly accommodate everyone’s unique contributions?

0.5 / Small Wing / Aaron Brooks, non-Boston Isiah Thomas Types, short defensive liabilities who max out as 6th man spark plugs off the bench.

1.0 / Play Maker / The fulcrum of their teams’ offense regardless of traditional size (Giannis, LeBron, Kyrie. Curry, Harden, Durant)

(You could further Classify this like 1.1 = Curry, 1.2 = Harden, 1.3 = Durant/LeBron, 1.4 = Giannis)

1.5 / Unicorn Big / Anthony Davis types. Play Makers who need someone else to initiate the offense but often finish it.

1.75 / Combo Wing / Eric Gordon types who can take over backup Play Maker duties for short stretches while the real play maker rests. Potential to become a 1.1 or 1.2

2.0 / Shooting Wing / Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson types who primarily stretch the floor with their shooting but are big enough to defend traditional guards

2.25 / 3 & 0 Wing / Tim Hardaway Jr, Andrew Wiggins types known for their offense with no accompanying defense

2.5 / 3 & D Wing / Avery Bradley, Robert Covington types known more for their defense but can still stretch the floor on offense

2.75 / 0 & D Wing / Andre Roberson, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest types known for their defense with no accompanying offense

3.0 / Big Wing / Jayson Tatum, Otto Porter types who fill in all current small forward duties, more perimeter oriented. Potential to become a 1.3

3.5 / Power Wing / Name your small ball 4 (Justise Winslow, Jae Crowder types), basically Big Wings who can’t stretch the floor.

4.0 / Power Big / Traditional Power Forward types who score buckets inside, grab rebounds. What they lack is they can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense (Karl Malone, Carlos Boozer types)

4.15 / Combo Big / Karl Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis types who protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. What they lack is girth of a 4.5 of 5.0 and the consistency of a 1.4 or 1.5. Potential to become a 1.4 or 1.5

4.5 / Dive Big / Rudy Gobert, Clint Capella types who protect the paint, dive the lane and are quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. What they lack is the ability to stretch the floor.

4.75 / Shooting Big / Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson types can stretch the floor. What they lack is they can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense.

5.0 / B2B Big / Jonas Valanciunas or Al Jefferson types who can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. They play with their back to the basket and are ground bound

God bless the man who sees people complaining about too much math being used in the NBA and comes up with this.

I think we are missing some key positions left out here. I don’t know how you want to number them, but I think it goes like this:

2.375 / Wings who can sort of dribble but that’s it: Your Evan Turners, your Jeff Greens, your Playoff JR Smiths. What do these guys bring to your team? I don’t know, but a 55-year-old pro scout in your favorite organization loves their HEART.

2.6175 / Every wing player on the current iteration of the Sacramento Kings: No role, and all of them could end up playing as a backup shooting guard or as a small ball four in a couple of years. The only guarantee is it won’t be for the Kings.

3.29 / Young wings on your favorite team that could put it together if they just knew how to play basketball: You know the type. Your Travis Outlaws, your Jordan Clarksons. These guys show flashes of brilliance, athleticism, and top flight basketball IQ for literally minutes at a time. Then it’s right back to the tank, followed by several passes directly at the guy holding nachos courtside. Will they ever figure it out? Maybe your GM should roll the dice and give them another $10 million a year to find out. I bet they will.

4.99 / Bigs who are athletic and who can rebound but don’t have any appreciable NBA-ready skill: JJ Hickson or Thomas Robinson type of guys who don’t seem to know exactly what it is they’re doing but, boy, do they do a lot of it. They’ll get rebounds, mostly over guys exactly like them and stretch fours who would have been backup small forwards a decade ago. Local fans always overestimate how much they should be paid by at least 60%.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

NBA adds Maurice Podoloff Trophy for team with best record

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — There’s now another trophy for NBA teams to chase.

The league announced Tuesday that the team with the best regular season record will now receive The Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named for the first commissioner of the NBA.

And that name strongly suggests that another trophy tweak is coming – since until last season, the league’s MVP trophy was named for Podoloff. Denver’s Nikola Jokic received the Podoloff Trophy when he won his first MVP award in 2021; when he won MVP again last season, he also received a crystal ball amid a leaguewide redesign of many trophies.

The new Podoloff Trophy has a crystal ball cut into 82 panels – a nod to the 82-game regular season – and sits atop a pedestal that combines the structures of the Eastern Conference posts and Western Conference rings.

The league also unveiled several more redesigned trophies Tuesday. The Joe Dumars Trophy for sportsmanship, The Red Auerbach Trophy for coach of the year, The Twyman-Stokes Trophy for the league’s best teammate and the NBA Executive of the Year Trophy all have new looks. Each features an embedment inside a 15-inch crystal net structure.

“Winning the first NBA Sportsmanship Award and being the trophy’s namesake are among the greatest honors of my career,” said Dumars, who is now an NBA Executive Vice President and the league’s head of basketball operations. “The reimagined trophies represent the enduring legacy of past recipients and are a fitting way to honor those who will continue to raise the standard of excellence in our game.”

Last season, the league changed the look of the NBA’s championship trophy, The Larry O’Brien, with the golden ball atop it now tilting in a different direction than the previous version and with a rounded base instead of the square one that the trophy had for decades.

It also made design changes for many other awards, including the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy along with the Eastern Conference and Western Conference championship trophies – naming them for Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson, respectively. The league also added two new prizes last season, the Larry Bird Trophy for East finals MVP and the Magic Johnson Trophy for West finals MVP.

All the trophies handed out at All-Star weekend, including the Kobe Bryant MVP award, were also redesigned last season. The league also began issuing divisional championship trophies, naming them for Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton (Atlantic Division), Wayne Embry (Central), Earl Lloyd (Southeast), Willis Reed (Southwest), Sam Jones (Northwest) and Chuck Cooper (Pacific).

Three things to know: Can someone explain the Miami Heat?

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Can someone explain the Miami Heat?

Friday night, Jimmy Butler returned to the Heat lineup and was a force down the stretch, Bam Adebayo played like an All-NBA big man and the Heat picked up a don’t-forget-about-us win over the best team in basketball, the Boston Celtics.

Two nights later, with Butler still in the lineup, the Heat fell to a Grizzlies team without Ja Morant or three other starters. The listless loss felt like a low point in the season.

Until Tuesday. That’s when Jimmy Butler got a scheduled rest day and the Heat fell apart in the second half and lost 116-96 to a struggling Pistons team without Cade Cunningham. The Heat defense, one of their strengths on the season, was a mess on Tuesday as they could not contain the ball. More importantly, as has happened too often this season, the Heat simply got outworked.

Typically around 20 games into the season, you have a sense of a team and what it can be. Not the Heat. They are 11-14 and sit 11th in the East, outside even the play-in. They tease with flashes that remind you they came within a made Butler 3 of going to the Finals a season ago, but on more nights they come nowhere near that potential.

Offensively, this team is bottom 10 in the league, and it showed against Detroit. The only true shot creators on the roster are Butler and Tyler Herro — if one of them isn’t on the floor Miami barely scores a point per possession. Against Detroit, if it wasn’t a Herro/Adebayo action, the play seemed to go nowhere.

Last season, when the team was shorthanded for a night, the reserves stepped up the energy — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin stepped up and made plays. This season, when the stars are out that same energy is not there.

Injuries are part of the issue — Kyle Lowry is their iron man, having played in every game (a sentence I never thought I would type). Herro has missed eight games, Butler 10, and reserves such as Duncan Robinson and Vincent have spent time on the shelf. Victor Oladipo made his debut on Tuesday. Eric Spoelstra constantly has to juggle his rotation, nothing feels settled.

But this team isn’t playing every night with the fire we have come to expect from the Heat. Last season (and traditionally every year), even when the stars had to sit the Heat were a tough out because of the intensity and execution with which they played. Not this season. That Heat culture has not shown through the same way.

It’s also too early to write this team off (and they could make a move at the deadline to boost the rotation). Despite the slow start they are just 2.5 games back of the Hawks and the No. 4 seed, there is time to make a run, but games like the loss to the Pistons Tuesday make one wonder if this version of the Heat has that in them.

2) Donovan Mitchell drops 43, outshines LeBron in Cleveland

There’s a little extra shine on the game any time LeBron James returns to Cleveland. The spotlight is a little brighter.

Donovan Mitchell stole that spotlight on Tuesday.

Mitchell dropped a season-high 43 points and continued to look like one of the best moves of the offseason, sparking the Cavaliers to a 116-102 win over the Lakers.

The big concern from Los Angeles’ end was Anthony Davis left the game in the first quarter due to “flu-like symptoms” and did not return. His status for the team against the Raptors Wednesday night is unknown.

Jarrett Allen returned from injury for the Cavaliers and with Davis out he ate, scoring 24. But it was the Mitchell show in the second half, when he scored 29.

3) Progress toward new CBA reportedly slowed down

It’s long been the conventional wisdom that the owners and players are both making too much money to risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs — they would find common ground on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Things were going too well for them to risk any labor trouble (and how that would play publicly).

But that may underestimate billionaires’ greed — an internal fight among owners might screw it up.

New CBA talks have reportedly slowed largely because some owners are pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” — a hard cap by any other name. Marc Stein was among the first to report on this months ago and added yesterday in his newsletter things have gotten serious enough that the sides may need to extend the Dec. 15 opt-out date for the CBA to give them more time to negotiate.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell:

• Some owners want to rein in the spending of other newer, richer owners. Since the punitive luxury tax isn’t doing the job, those owners want a hard cap (possibly to replace, or at least alter, the current tax system).

• There are a minority of owners are willing to shrug off the tax. For example, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are poised to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, plus $144.7 million in luxury tax, for a rough total of $336.6 million in salary and tax. The Warriors are likely closer to $360 million this season in salary and tax, and the Nets will be in the same ballpark. For comparison, the Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll, (20 NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less).

• There is zero chance the players union will approve a CBA with anything resembling a hard cap. The owners know this.

• The owners’ squabbles are part of a larger fight going on across the sporting world, not just domestically but internationally. To use soccer as an example during the World Cup, the oil-rich country of Qatar owns French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain FC and has paid for a front line of Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe. They crush domestic competition most seasons because they can outspend them. The Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund has bought Newcastle United in the English Premier League and their spending — not just on players but staff and facilities — has turned Newcastle into a Champions League looking team in a year. And the list goes on and on in soccer.

• Earlier this year, the NBA approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the arms of these oil-rich countries, or other nations — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team. That has not happened yet, but the door is open.

• As wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — jump into the NBA, some of the older owners feel squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That older group is pushing back to rein in those new owners who (they feel) disrupt the system with their spending.

• This dispute among the owners has suddenly put the dreaded idea of a lockout back on the table. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. This is not a player thing, this is all Adam Silver and the owners, and they need to get their house in order, not risk the league’s standing over their internal issues.

TOP HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: Kenny shoves Shaq into the Christmas Tree. That is never not funny.

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron’s return as Cavaliers top Lakers

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CLEVELAND — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.