Giannis Antetokounmpo matches career high with 44 against Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND — Giannis Antetokounmpo played as if he had a point to prove.

The Milwaukee star rebounded from his worst game of the season to match his career high with 44 points and the Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-102 on Friday night despite missing two starters.

Two nights after being held to a season-low 12 points in a loss to Indiana, he was 14 of 19 from the field, made 16 of 21 foul shots, and had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

“You’ve got to put that game in the past,” Antetokounmpo said. “You put it in the past and move forward.”

Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ second leading scorer, was out with a sprained right finger. Malcolm Brogdon, fourth on the team in scoring, didn’t play because of a sore left hamstring.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t surprised Antetokounmpo took over with his team short-handed.

“Obviously, a monster game for Giannis,” he said. “We kind of rode him pretty hard tonight. He was ultra-aggressive. He’s a competitor. He wants to be great.”

Asked what a team can do to slow down Antetokounmpo, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said, “There’s not an answer to that. He’s a terrific player. He’s elevated his game over the years. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”

Not only was Antetokounmpo coming off a subpar game, Wednesday’s 113-97 loss was Milwaukee’s largest margin of the season.

Antetokounmpo made an instant impression after Milwaukee won the opening tip when he dunked on Osman on a set play in the halfcourt offense. He ended the half by finding Pat Connaughton for a 3-pointer.

Antetokounmpo, who had his 20th double-double of the season, admitted he was aware of his numbers.

“At some point in the game, you realize you’re scored a lot, so you look up at the scoreboard, but usually I don’t even look at it,” he said.

The Bucks never trailed and held off a late Cleveland spurt. The Cavaliers cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter on Cedi Osman‘s 3-pointer, but Antetokounmpo had a three-point play and an assist on Brook Lopez‘s basket that beat the shot clock, pushing the lead to 111-99.

Lopez scored 19 points and Eric Bledsoe had 16 for the Bucks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 for Cleveland. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton had five points after scoring in double figures in 18 straight games.

Cleveland played its second game without Tristan Thompson, who could be out for a month with a sprained left foot.

Three Things to Know: 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think

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LOS ANGELES — 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) The 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think. Watch the Wizards play and what is wrong grows more and more obvious. It’s not the defense — although it’s terrible, the Wizards are allowing 114.5 points per 100 possessions this season (26th in the NBA and 6.9 worse than they gave up last season). It’s not their three-point shooting, although the Wizards are hitting just 31 percent from three as a team. It wasn’t even that the Wizards got blown out by the Clippers 136-104 Sunday night.

It’s not the statistics at all.

Watch Washington in person and the team’s lack of chemistry is painfully obvious:

• When Bradley Beal slipped and went to the floor in the second half, it was Clipper Tobias Harris who helped him up because no Wizard teammate came over to. There were two other similar instances I noticed Sunday night where the Clipper player helped a Wizards player off the floor because teammates did not rush over to do so.

• When the Wizards took the court to start the game there was almost no interaction among players — Otto Porter was talking to the referee because that was the only person willing to talk to him.

• Clippers players seemed to be more concerned when Markieff Morris went down with an elbow to the face than the Wizards (Morris left the game with a concussion).

The Wizards are clearly playing for themselves and not each other, not the team.

“That was the first thing Scotty [Brooks, Wizards’ coach] said after the game,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He said, ‘Man, your guys are just, watching them, you just feel the energy and you just feel them. They get along.”

Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal have spoken before about guys playing for themselves and their stats, not sacrificing for the team, and that theme — on the court and in the locker room — carried over into Sunday.

“Just gotta go out there and compete,” John Wall said. “We play like a team that’s 5-1 and people are just going to lay down, we got to play with a sense of urgency that we’re 1-5 now…. “When you play the game of basketball you can’t worry about how many points you got, how many steals you got, how many assists you got, it’s just competing.”

Beyond the chemistry, of all the on-court problems, nothing is going to change until the defense improves.

“Our defense is horrendous…” Austin Rivers said. “You’ve got to have personal pride. You’ve got to get mad when someone scores on you. We’re not the Warriors.”

“Just heart. Just heart and pride,” Wall said of what it will take to fix the defense. “Guard your man one-on-one, that’s really the main key. We gotta do a better job of switching — when we do do that, like we did in the first quarter, I think we played the best we have played for a while.”

The switching trend in the NBA is giving the Wizards problems on both ends.

“On offense when we get (a switch we like), we take a bad shot sometimes and bail those guys out,” Wall said. “When they put us in bad situations, we gamble too much or don’t stay on the play and get a stop… we do a good job of it in practice, but we have to bring the same competitive edge we have competing against each other in practice to playing someone else.”

Washington’s play is ugly and coach Scott Brooks could pay the price with his job if things don’t improve. He certainly is not faultless in all this.

However, the Wizards have changed coaches before. They have changed players around on the periphery then spun it as trying to fix chemistry issues (Marcin Gortat going to the Clippers is the latest along those lines). Everything changes except the core, and yet the same problem exists.

Which means maybe it’s getting to be time for the Wizards to take a fresh look at that core and if it works.

2) Does firing of Tyronn Lue mean Cavaliers realize it’s time to go all-in on the rebuild? Last July, when LeBron James decided to head west, the Cavaliers brain trust decided to pivot to… nobody is sure what exactly. They wanted to walk the very fine line of a rebuild on the fly — compete now while building for the future — and they fell off that tightrope.

This isn’t a team built to win now, not with Kevin Love leading an aging roster constructed to support LeBron — Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver. They are not a group built to create great looks and rack up wins on their own. There’s a reason Vegas set the under/over on wins for the Cavaliers this season at 31.5.

It’s also not a rebuild in Cleveland. How many players on the Cavaliers are younger than 25? Four. Just four — Collin Sexton, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Sam Dekker. Guys we think of as young — Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood — are all 26 and closer to their prime, and they all come with questions.

Sunday Lue paid the price for a 0-6 start and a sense among the front office in Cleveland they needed to go another direction, a coach better suited to a young team (even if the Cavs are not yet htat).

That start, however, was not about Lue. It’s about a team in limbo. The Cavaliers need to pick a path. Rebuilding would make the most sense.

Play Colin Sexton more and live with the at times painful learning process. He’s got real potential, but he’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA and settles for far too many long twos.

More importantly, it’s time to start working to trade the veterans and getting pieces for a rebuild back (picks and prospects). There will a market at the deadline for Kyle Korver — a shooter on a fair contract, $7.6 million this season and with a $3.4 million buyout for next season. George Hill is overpaid this season ($19 million) but he is a solid point guard when healthy and come the deadline there could be teams willing to take the hit this season knowing he has a $1 million buyout next season. J.R. Smith, at $14.7 million this season (with a $3.9 million buyout next season) will be harder to move because, without LeBron, teams are not sure how much he will help them.

Love is the big piece to move, but with his new contract it’s a lot harder. That is probably a next summer move — but it’s one they need to start moving toward.

3) Oklahoma City gets first win of the season. When you’re busting out of a slump, you don’t care where and how it happens. So what if the Phoenix Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back? Who cares if they didn’t have Devin Booker?

What matters is Paul George and Russell Westbrook scored 23 points a piece and the Thunder got their first win of the season, 117-110.

Westbrook was doing Westbrook things all night.

Also, don’t sleep on Nerlens Noel, who had 20 points and 15 boards.

Report: Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr. talking contract extension

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When the Cavaliers made the trade deadline deal with the Lakers last February, they got Larry Nance Jr. (the son of a Cavs legend) and Jordan Clarkson (surrendering Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas and a 2018 1st round draft pick that became Moritz Wagner).

Nance is the one the Cavaliers seem intent on keeping, and they may extend him, reports Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

This seems like a good fit for both sides, if they can find a number that works. The Cavaliers are committed to not bottoming out right now — which is why Kevin Love got a new massive contract — and Nance fits with that.

This is not going to be a max contract, but Nance has made it clear he likes playing in Cleveland and wants to stay. After he came over last season he averaged 8.9 points on 55 percent shooting, 7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. Those numbers could go up with LeBron James no longer in the picture.

It’s official, Cavaliers sign David Nwaba to one-year, $1.5 million contract

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We’ve known this was coming for a while, and it’s a good fit, but on Saturday it finally became official.

David Nwaba is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This is a one-year, $1.5 million contract. This gives Cleveland 13 players on guaranteed contracts, plus restricted free agent Rodney Hood (who will end up playing for the Cavaliers next season, the question is will it be for a new contract or for the qualifying offer of $3.4 million).

Nwaba is a quality pick up for the Cavaliers, he looks to have developed into a solid NBA role player. He’s a wing out of Cal Poly SLO of the Big West who showed promise for the Lakers a couple of seasons ago (spending time in the G-League as well) but got squeezed by the numbers, ended up in Chicago last season where he averaged 7.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game playing 23 minutes a night. Then he got squeezed by the numbers in Chicago as well and became a free agent.

He’s going to have to carve out minutes in Cleveland. J.R. Smith will start at the two, likely with Jordan Clarkson behind him (to play next to rookie point guard Colin Sexton), at the three it will be a mix of Cedi Osman, Kyle Korver, and Sam Dekkar. There are minutes to be had there, and Nwaba is plenty familiar with having to prove himself to get run. Nwaba will find a role.

Watch Jordan Clarkson drop 29 in final Asian Games appearance for Philippines

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Cleveland’s Jordan Clarkson had to work hard to represent the Philippines in the Asian Games — it’s not a tournament the NBA traditionally releases players for, and it took a while to convince the league to let him go.

Once there, Clarkson looked like an NBA player going against inferior talent.

In his final game of the tournament (highlights above) he finished with 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting, plus added six assists, in a 109-55 route of Syria. With that, Clarkson’s Philippines team secured fifth place in the tournament.

Clarkson averaged 26 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game in the tournament.

China won the Asian games, and Zhou Qi averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4 blocks per game.