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Cavaliers lose one star, lock up another, sure don’t break even

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

It’s nice to feel wanted.

Particularly if you’re the Cavaliers, a small-market team that has been shunned by most stars. LeBron James was the shining exception, but even he left again.

LeBron’s second exit didn’t hit as hard. He already made good by leading Cleveland to the city’s first championship in several decades. Experiencing his departure once already also softened the blow, as Cavs fans and personnel seemed more primed and accepting this time. It’s difficult to summon that much outrage twice.

Still, in the aftermath of LeBron signing with the Lakers, the Cavaliers were in a certain state of mind when they found another star who wanted to stay. That’s when they signed Kevin Love to a four-year, $120,402,172 contract extension.

Admittedly, that’s hard to turn down. When a star picks a market like Cleveland, there’s a logic to the team just signing him then figuring out the rest later.

But it’s such a fleeting victory. If 30-year-old Love declines significantly during the next few seasons, as many players do at that age, fans will forget all about him embracing this team. That’s why the Cavs should have resisted indulging in that instant gratification.

Love’s extension could work. Out of LeBron’s shadow, maybe Love shows the all-around excellence he did with the Timberwolves. Maybe he leads the Cavaliers to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, which would be quite the satisfying result the season after LeBron leaves. Maybe, even if Love is overpaid, Cleveland trades him for value like the Clippers did with Blake Griffin.

But it’s such a narrow path to success. After years of aging and injuries, I’m not convinced Love still possesses the athleticism necessary to play like did with in Minnesota. The supporting cast that was holding back LeBron doesn’t seem like a playoff outfit to me. And I don’t like the idea of holding out hope for a sucker/risk-taking team, especially with one potential Love suitor already having traded for Griffin.

Still – despite high enough disaster potential and low enough upside that I wouldn’t have given Love this extension – I get it. It could pay off long-term, and it definitely made the Cavaliers feel better right now.

They sure didn’t find a star small forward who wanted to join them, though. So, they took fliers on Sam Dekker and David Nwaba. The prices were cheap enough. The Clippers paid a portion of Dekker’s salary to trade him to Cleveland, and Nwaba signed for the minimum.

But Dekker and Nwaba are slight downgrades from the previous small forward.

No. 8 pick Collin Sexton might lead the Cavs into a new era. For now, he’s the big youthful exception on a team that’s relatively old for its limbo position.

The Cavaliers are probably at least a couple seasons from finding a direction, and this offseason didn’t help.

Rodney Hood accepting the qualifying offer is a step toward the Cavs squandering an asset. That’s not to say they should have paid him whatever it took to lock him up long term. He might not be worth what he demanded. But this is a negative outcome for Cleveland. Only one player – Spencer Hawes with the 76ers – has ever accepted his qualifying offer then re-signed with the same team the following year. And Hood can now veto any trade, making it more difficult to get value for him before his 2019 unrestricted free agency.

Even if Hood doesn’t want to stay, at least Love did. And in another feel-good story, Channing Frye returned on a minimum contract. The respected veteran seemingly could have had his pick of better teams, and he chose Cleveland.

But likely overpaying Love and attracting a nice guy can’t paper over the biggest development of the offseason.

LeBron is gone.

Offseason grade: F

No Giannis Antetokounmpo, no problem as Bucks win 16th straight

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — No Giannis was no problem for the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out but the Bucks kept on rolling, getting 29 points from Eric Bledsoe and 24 from Khris Middleton in a 127-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans that extended their winning streak to 16 games.

The Bucks (22-3) tied the second-longest winning streak in franchise history and moved closer to the franchise record of 20 set during the team’s 1970-71 championship season.

Antetokounmpo sat out with a right quad tendon injury, missing his first game this season. He has missed time with concerns about overuse injuries in his leg before.

Antetokounmpo did not participate in the team’s shootaround on Wednesday morning and quickly was ruled out.

“I don’t think we know exactly when it happened,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “This morning the soreness was such that he was not able to play tonight. The severity of it, we’re hoping it’s not too serious.

“We’ll take it day by day and we’re always going to err on the side of caution.”

The rest of the Bucks stepped up.

“I think we took a little more ownership of what’s going on out there,” Middleton said. “When Giannis is out there, he draws such a huge crowd that we play through him a lot. Without him tonight, we know we have to do a little bit more.

“It was a great test; they play with a fast pace just like us. I think we did a great job.”

Veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova, starting in place of Antetokounmpo, had a season-high 18 points and nine rebounds. George Hill contributed 13 points off the bench.

Bledsoe drove aggressively and scored 11 points in the third quarter to answer a Pelicans rally, and he finished making a season-high five 3-pointers and going 10 for 13 from the field while adding six assists.

“I try to get in the paint as much as possible,” Bledsoe said. “If I don’t have a shot, I kick it out to my teammates and trust them to make the right play.”

New Orleans (6-19) lost its 10th straight game despite a season-high 31 points from J.J. Redick. Brandon Ingram had 25 points and 10 rebounds and point guard Jrue Holiday added 21 points.

A frustrated Redick spoke up in the locker room at halftime, when New Orleans trailed by 23 points.

“It’s not like this is the first time we’ve had a talk at halftime,” Redick said. “I would say emotionally sometimes you reach a tipping point. That’s the timing of that.”

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said his team needs to communicate better.

“It’s the quietest group I’ve ever been around, even on the plane and in the meal room,” Gentry said. “But we do have to get them talking on the court and have them communicate on the court.

“When we do, we’re pretty solid. I thought we did a good job in the second half of communicating. But when you’re trying to come back from 25 to-28-point deficits, the least little thing is going to have a glaring effect.”

The Bucks hit six of their first eight attempts from 3-point range, including 3 of 3 by Bledsoe, to take a 28-12 lead.

Milwaukee led by 23 points in the opening quarter before New Orleans closed the period on an 8-0 spurt to pull within 35-20.

The Bucks used a 17-0 run to grab a 56-28 lead in the second quarter before settling for a 69-46 halftime margin. Middleton and Bledsoe each had 13 points and Ilyasova and Hill added 11 apiece.

The Pelicans outscored the Bucks 40-36 in the third quarter.

New Orleans pulled within 120-108 with 2:51 remaining but Middleton hit a pair of jumpers to put the Bucks safely ahead.

 

Watch James Harden score 55, including 10 threes, to beat Cleveland

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CLEVELAND (AP) — James Harden scored 55 points – 20 in the fourth quarter – and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavaliers, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden matched Kyrie Irving‘s arena record for points in a game, and his fourth with 50 or more this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

Cleveland was still up 108-107 when Harden, who came in leading the NBA in scoring at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.‘s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run – all without Love, who was on the bench with a head laceration – over a 4:43 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.

 

Grizzlies’ Ja Morant absolutely destroyed Aron Baynes with dunk (VIDEO)

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We may have a new Dunk of the Year.

Memphis rookie Ja Morant is an athletic freak, one confident enough in his skills to go right at a big switched onto him. Say Phoenix’s Aron Baynes. On a critical fourth-quarter possession.

RIP Aron Baynes.

Memphis won the game 115-108.

Victor Oladipo not near return to Pacers rotation

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“But he’s still a ways away.”

Those are not the words Pacers fans want to hear about Victor Oladipo. Their team is playing well — 15-9 with a top-10 defense — but they are not a real postseason threat without their best player, who is recovering from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Before the season, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said he was “hopeful” Oladipo would be back in December or January.

It looks like it’s going to be the back end of that timeline. At best. From J. Michael of the Indy Star, speaking to coach Nate McMillan.

Oladipo will have to be eased back in when he does return, he’s not going too hit the ground running at 40 minutes a night.

The Pacers look like a lock playoff team in the East even without Oladipo, they can afford to bring him along slowly. The hope would be to have the All-Star up to speed and integrated into the offense when the playoffs do start. If that happens, the Pacers become that team that the elite squads want to avoid early.