Photo courtesy Shock Doctor mouthguards

Kevin Love ready to be No. 1 option again

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Chris Bosh warned him, but the extent of it was still a surprise at times — Kevin Love had been an All-Star playing one way, but he was going to have to evolve his game and his mindset to play next to LeBron James in Cleveland.

Love went from being the star at the center of the solar system in Minnesota to becoming one of the planets orbiting LeBron in Cleveland — one of the biggest, brightest planets, but it was a shockingly different role at times. Love eventually was all-in — not all-out — embraced the change and it got him a ring, which is what he wanted most.

This summer, LeBron went Hollywood

The Cavaliers quickly pivoted and, not wanting to rebuild, signed Love to a $120 million extension and made him the face of the franchise. Love is a No. 1 option again.

This time, though, things are going to be different for Love.

Yes, he again will be asked to score more, but he said that biggest thing that is different now is he doesn’t care about his numbers as much as finding ways to get the Cavaliers the win. Also, the game has evolved since he left Minnesota so he must as well.

“Just shooting the ball from the perimeter,” Love told NBC Sports about what will be different from when he was the No. 1 option in Minnesota. “That’s where the game has gone and there are stretch fours and stretch fives now. It’s such a luxury for a big man to be able to step out on the perimeter, it stretches defenses and it helps with the pacing of how you run your offense.”

How he gets his shots will be different, too. Last season 23.4 percent of his shots were spot-up jumpers where another player (usually LeBron) created the opportunity. Now it’s Love who has to create those shots for others and, in the preseason, most of his used possessions have come out of the post or in isolations.

That means the game is going to be a lot more physical for Love — and it already was plenty physical at times, like when Love lost a tooth late last season.

“I got hit in the face last year which led to losing a front tooth, and I had to get a root canal, but had I not been wearing that Shock Doctor mouthguard I would have lost my four front teeth,” Love said, speaking on behalf of Shock Doctor mouthguards. Love took an elbow to the face against the Heat and, while it wasn’t pretty (and he ended up in the league’s concussion protocol), he praised the mouthguard from saving him a lot more pain (and root canals) and a lot more time off the court recovering.

In a pace-and-space league, Love said being physical will be crucial to the Cavaliers making the playoffs this season.

“We’ve got to be (a physical team),” Love told NBC Sports. “We’ve got to be in great shape, I think that’s going to be an advantage for us. I think all of our guys being able to bring the ball up, that’s an advantage for us. We’re going to be able to switch at a number of positions and be very physical, that’s a way we need to play and we have that luxury. And also it’s a pace-and-space league and we’re going to have to be able to knock down shots, that’s the way the game has evolved, and the only way we’re going to do that is if we’re in shape and pushing the ball.”

From the moment Love signed that extension, the question around the league (and NBA Twitter) was “how long until the Cavs trade him and go all in on a rebuild?” Or, alternately, when will he get Blake Griffined?

That may be farther off than some fans realize — this summer started a two-year, $185 million renovation project of the Quicken Loans Arena, and it’s a bad look for the team to get the city and other entities to pitch in money for it then start tanking immediately — but the rumors are not going to stop. Love expects as much.

“From what I’ve gone through the last four years, my name has always come up in trade rumors and constantly come up in talks, whether it has been at the deadline, or throughout the summer, so I just let the chips fall where they may,” Love said. “The general manager, Koby Altman, and the owner Dan Gilbert know that I want to be here, but at the end of the day it’s a business.”

For Love, his summer has been focused on his new role. That means a mental adjustment, but as he turns 30 it also means a different focus on his training and body.

“Some running mechanics and just some biomechanics in general, just the movement of my body,” Love said. “Being 30 years old now It’s something I had to focus on.”

He also gets to focus on winning from the position of being the No. 1 option again. And that’s a place he is comfortable.

Devin Booker calls out Enes Kanter’s defense after Suns beat Knicks

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In a Knicks’ win over the Suns last January, Enes Kanter irritated Devin Booker into pushing him. The Phoenix guard got ejected then had to deal with Kanter’s online trash-talking afterward.

So, this retweet – following the Suns’ win over New York last night – was nearly a year in the making.

Booker:

There are two possible responses here. I’m not sure which is correct.

1. Booker shouldn’t criticize anyone else’s defense before looking in the mirror.

2. Kanter’s defense is so bad, even Booker is mocking it.

James Harden on double-stepback uncalled travel: ‘What do you want me to say? Tell on myself?’ (video)

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James Harden is difficult enough to defend when officiated correctly.

When he can get away with this? There’s nearly no stopping him. That was a big uncalled travel in the Rockets’ win over the Jazz last night.

Harden, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“What do you want me to say? Tell on myself?” Harden said.

Fair.

Unlike that call.

Three Things to Know: Rockets beat Jazz behind Harden’s 47, has Houston turned it around?

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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) Rockets beat Jazz behind James Harden’s 47, is Houston turning it around? It was a “battle” of the two most disappointing teams in the Western Conference — just about every pundit (myself included) projected the Rockets and Jazz to finish second and third in the West in some order. They came into the night 10th and 13th in the West — both out of the playoffs if they started today.

And both needed a win — in the tight Western Conference any game between playoff contenders counts double (and there seems to be a game or three like this every night now).

Houston got the win, 102-97, because MVP James Harden showed up and took over: 47 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.

That’s the second time in four days Harden has been in vintage form, he dropped 50 on the Lakers and frustrated them just days before. Harden is the master and showing the ball and drawing fouls, and he has the best step-back in the game — although this one was more than a gather and step. Harden got away with one.

The Rockets have now won four in a row, are over .500 at 15-14 for the first time since Nov. 23rd. They are just half a game back of the final playoff slot in the West.

Have the Rockets turned it around?

Depends on how you define “turned it around.”

The Rockets offense has been elite and their defense average — which is a big step up, they are still fifth worst in the league on the season — in these four games. Harden has taken over two of them. That recipe, if it continues, should get Houston into the playoffs in the West. In that sense, they have turned it around, they are performing at the level of a playoff team, which is a step up.

But just making the playoffs was never the goal in Houston — this was a team that was ahead of Golden State at halftime of games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season and within a step of reaching the Finals (and winning a ring). This season they wanted to take that next step.

The Rockets aren’t at that level yet, and this roster — as currently constructed — cannot get there. Houston was a top-10 defense last season and this roster has not shown it can get near, let alone sustain, that level. Houston’s defensive switching isn’t as smooth as a season ago, and teams are attacking it differently (not just trying to post up Harden or Chris Paul). Houston doesn’t have the personnel on this roster to adapt and thrive against the way the NBA is adjusting, they are thin at the wings, and come the playoffs they are farther away from Golden State, not closer.

Which is why everyone expected them to go harder for a Trevor Ariza trade, not only do they miss him the Rockets need wing help and he’s the best one available. They didn’t. And here we are:

Houston is playing a lot better, but not at the level they had hoped. If you want to call that turning it around, go ahead.

2) Milestones night in Bay Area: Stephen Curry reaches 15,000 points, Kevin Durant passes Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list. For Stephen Curry, it appropriately happened on a deep pull-up three — he passed the 15,000 point mark in his career.

Curry is the fifth Warrior to score 15K all in a Warriors’ uniform, and the other names are all legends and Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and Chris Mullin. Chamberlain scored the most as a Warrior at 17,783, a number Curry likely passes next season.

With all the attention paid to Curry — still the golden child for Bay Area fans — nobody seemed to notice Kevin Durant passed Hall of Famer Larry Bird for 33rd on the all-time scoring list during the same game. (Durant is 38th if you count ABA scoring in the mix, just for the record.) KD is going to finish way up that list by the time his career ends.

By the way, the Warriors cruised past the Grizzlies 110-93 in the kind of easy win Golden State hasn’t seen enough of this season.

3) Taj Gibson doesn’t need two shoes to play good defense. Credit Tom Thibodeau for coming up with a new way to play defense.

Taj Gibson had the ball in his hands and had gone at the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica in the post, eventually scoring but losing his shoe. Gibson picked up his shoe and ran back down the court with it in his hands, but Sacramento pushed the ball back up the floor and decided to have Bjelica attack the one shoe/one sock Gibson.

Gibson was up to the challenge and got a little help from Karl-Anthony Towns.

Pretty sure that’s coming up in a Kings’ film session.

Report: Suns to waive Austin Rivers, who becomes unrestricted free agent

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The Phoenix Suns need a ball handling guard to go next to Devin Booker, so when they picked up Austin Rivers as part of the Trevor Ariza trade with Washington it made some sense. Rivers is a below replacement level NBA player (who has been serviceable the past couple of seasons), but that’s an upgrade over what the Suns had.

Except Rivers didn’t want to be part of the rebuild in Phoenix. In an unusual and unexpected move, the Suns have agreed to waive him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It’s an odd move on a few levels. Why didn’t Rivers want to stay in a place the ball would be in his hands more, giving himself a chance to build up his value before free agency next summer? Why didn’t the Suns first try to shop him around and offer to take on another team’s bad/dead contract if they got a pick or other asset? (Rivers can’t be packaged with another player in a trade but he can be moved straight up.)

Finally, how much demand is there among good teams for Rivers, even on a minimum contract?

Rivers, the son of Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, is in his seventh NBA season. Rivers is averaging 7.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting this season.

It’s an odd move. Without Rivers Suns will keep leaning on rookie De'Anthony Melton as a potential future backcourt mate with Booker and hope he develops into something.