REUTERS/Mike Segar

Report: Anthony Bennett likely would’ve fallen out of lottery if Cavaliers didn’t draft him No. 1

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Sometimes, teams pilloried for drafting a bust were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of the Trail Blazers or SuperSonics were always going to wind up using a top-two pick on Greg Oden, no matter whether Portland picked him or Kevin Durant No. 1 in 2007. Darko Milicic was the consensus No. 2 pick in 2004 before the Pistons even landed that selection in the lottery. Derrick Williams surged to pre-draft ratings that nearly perfectly matched his No. 2 selection by the Timberwolves in 2011.

And then there are the Cavaliers in 2013.

Cleveland took Anthony Bennett No. 1 – a shocker to everyone, but apparently especially the teams drafting next.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on The Woj Pod:

That draft night, it was funny, if you go back and look at – I guess if you went back and looked at Twitter, I’m pretty confident – I’m almost sure of this – there’s a tweet from me around, I want to say, 7 o’clock that night saying, hey, Anthony Bennett has a real chance to drop tonight.

And I was right except for, I was going through teams like two, three. I had gone as far as, I want to say, 14 or 15, who were saying to me, “He’s not really on our board. We’re not taking him. If he got to us, I still like guys better than him.” I spent the afternoon going through really every – I don’t know if I talked to all 15, but I had a very strong feeling from most of them, that if he got to them, they were passing on him.

And I was still not believing that Cleveland was going to take him one. They were talking about it, and I kept believing it was a smokescreen. I kept believing they really didn’t mean it.

And so I was right that he was going to drop, except for the fact he went one.

That’s the thing. If he didn’t go one that year, it wasn’t like he was going to go two or three or four. He probably – and I really believe this. This is not revisionist everyone later saying, “Oh, s— no. I wouldn’t have taken this guy.” It wasn’t that. It was that night leading into it that I really believe he would’ve dropped out of the lottery.

There are no Wojnarowski tweets up about Bennett’s stock before the draft, but he tweeted about Cleveland’s plan:

Obviously, that was wrong. Reading teams’ intentions before the draft is hard. Executives mislead, if not outright lie, frequently when given anonymity.

Maybe other lottery teams were as down on Bennett as they said before the draft. But if any teams were hiding their pro-Bennett stance behind a smokescreen of disliking him, they sure weren’t going to admit it after he turned into a bust. They’d just keep that part of the story private.

To some degree, the Cavs were just stuck in an unfortunate spot – holding the No. 1 pick in a draft thin on talent at the top. The rest of the lottery – in order: Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Shabazz Muhammad – has combined for only one All-Star appearance. And Oladipo didn’t get it until his fifth season and third team. Oladipo could make more All-Star games, and maybe McCollum, Porter and/or Adams sneak in. But this wasn’t a great lottery.

The best players in the draft – No. 15 pick Giannis Antetokounmpo and No. 27 pick Rudy Gobert – just weren’t discussed for the top pick. Criticizing the Cavaliers for passing on those two requires extreme hindsight bias.

But there were far better realistic choices than Bennett, who – judging by league-wide consensus – was an even bigger reach than previously realized.

Three Things to Know: Raptors stave off creeping doubt

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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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) The Raptors got a much-needed win over the Celtics. Toronto had lost five of eight, including two straight – to the Celtics and Cavaliers, its chief competition in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors had been the East’s best team throughout the season. A “reset” offense and a deep bench seemingly had them poised for playoff success. But this late skid instilled plenty of doubt in a team that has disappointed annually in the postseason.

A 96-78 win over Boston ought to calm panic in Toronto.

This wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Raptors played with more purpose. They defended more aggressively, kept the ball moving and relied on balanced contributions. Kyle Lowry made a positive impact the day after his dud against Cleveland, which followed him going to San Antonio to watch Villanova win the national championship. The reserves came up big.

These weren’t necessarily the Celtics that Toronto would face in the postseason. Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin were out. Boston used 11 players through three quarters.

But that only increased the impetus for the Raptors to win.

They didn’t prove anything last night. This team can’t do that until the playoffs, anyway. But at least Toronto stopped the bleeding (of a boo-boo that probably looked worse than it actually was).

2) The Mavericks out-tanked the Magic. Dallas’ 105-100 loss to Orlando might wind up last night’s most significant game on the NBA’s long-term landscape. The defeat dropped the Mavericks (24-55) ahead of the Magic (24-54) in the tight tank race.

Dallas pulled out all the stops. Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki – who all started the previous game – sat last night. Two-way player Johnathan Motley started and played 41 minutes. Aaron Harrison started and played 42 minutes. Kyle Collinsworth and Dorian Finney-Smith each played 35 minutes. Another two-way player, Jalen Jones, played 27 minutes. It’s as if the Mavericks were trying to overwhelm their already-overmatched players.

Orlando didn’t idly watch Dallas tank. The Magic rested Nikola Vucevic. Three starters – Aaron Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Bismack Biyombo – sat the entire fourth quarter. Jamel Artis played 32 minutes.

But Gordon (20 points in 26 minutes) did too much in his limited playing time and got the Magic the unneeded win.

3) The Spurs fell to the Lakers, but at least remain in playoff position. Last night’s games otherwise featured chalk between a team in the playoff race and a team not – 76ers over Pistons, Heat over Hawks, Pelicans over Grizzlies. But San Antonio fell to Los Angeles, 122-112, in overtime.

The Lakers, without their own draft picks this year, are still feisty. They’ve got nothing to tank for. Kyle Kuzma scored 30 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points on nine shots) and Channing Frye (19 points on nine shots) were remarkably efficient.

The Spurs still haven’t clinched a playoff berth, so a loss to an eliminated team is a real letdown.

The Western Conference playoff-race standings now:

4. Utah Jazz (45-33)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)

5. San Antonio Spurs (45-34)

7. Minnesota Timberwolves  (44-34)

7. New Orleans Pelicans (44-34)

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9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)

10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)

Tonight will feature a couple big games – Clippers at Jazz and Timberwolves at Nuggets.

Magic Johnson chats with LeBron James’ agent and manager during Lakers-Cavaliers game (photo)

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Magic Johnson knows everyone is infatuated with LeBron James-Lakers rumors. Johnson knows the NBA has put him under tight scrutiny for tampering.

So, the Lakers president flaunted his opportunity to talk to talk to LeBron’s agent (Rich Paul) and manager (Maverick Carter) during the Lakers’ win over the Cavaliers yesterday in Los Angeles.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Paul also represents Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which gives Johnson leeway to talk to the agent (and might not be purely coincidental). Johnson’s excuse for talking to Carter isn’t as clear, but executives and business managers can speak without tampering.

There are plenty of times and places for Johnson to get messages to and from LeBron before free agency officially begins July 1. Courtside during a Lakers game needn’t be one.

But Johnson wants to keep the buzz going, show off his connections and maybe rub it into the league that he can’t be stopped. He accomplished all that yesterday.

Three Things to Know: Young Lakers figuring it out

Associated Press
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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) While we were busy trying to tune LaVar Ball out, young Lakers have developed into a quality team on the rise. Heading into this season, reasonable Lakers fans (there are a few) had goals for their team of mid-30s in wins, improvement and growth as the season wore on, and building the kind of foundation that will attract free agents because they see they can win there down the line.

Since Jan. 8, the Lakers are 18-9, with the ninth best offense and 11th best defense in the NBA, and they have outscored teams by 3.1 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. Los Angeles is on pace for about 38 wins, Brandon Ingram has emerged as a reliable scorer, Kyle Kuzma surprised everyone with a strong rookie season, Julius Randle is a beast, and Lonzo Ball has found his shot (39.7 percent from three in his last 20 games) and brings the intangibles needed to push this team to new heights.

Through all the distractions and drama, the Lakers are right on schedule.

It all came together Sunday night as the Lakers ran past the Cavaliers 127-113, a game where Isaiah Thomas got a little revenge on his old team with 20 points and nine assists. A couple of things were clear sitting at this game. First, the Lakers thrive playing up-tempo, something that left the Cavaliers defense scrambling. It’s not just Lonzo Ball (although he is a catalyst), the Lakers play at the fastest pace in the league for the season and guys like Kuzma, Randle, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope thrive in it. Cleveland was cross-matching and lost in transition defense, the Lakers were moving the ball, attacking the rim and all of that led to good looks.

“We knew if we got out in transition on this team, we could have some success,” Randle said. “So that’s what we tried to do.”

The other thing evident on Sunday: Julius Randle is going to get PAID this summer. Sources say are multiple teams have set their targets the restricted free agent big man (Dallas is near the front of that list), and his play is forcing the Lakers to reconsider their plans. Los Angeles has hoarded cap space to go after two max salaries this summer, but to do so meant letting Randle walk (or he would have to resign for far less than he’s worth). That two max guys strategy has risks, starting with can the Lakers land two guys worth that money? But Randle’s play has raised the question, should Los Angeles go after one max player and then use that money to re-sign Randle?

Sunday night Randle showed exactly why other teams are getting in line to make offers in July.

Randle has limitations to his game (no jumper, for one) but Luke Walton has done an excellent job at putting him in spots to play to his strengths — playing downhill attacking the basket, being physical, and getting rebounds. With teams switching everything on picks, it creates mismatches for a physically strong player to attack one-on-one. Randle just powered through Jeff Green multiple times Sunday night, and the small-ball Cavaliers had no other answer, so Randle racked up a career-best 36 points.

“Everybody’s had a hard time with him of late,” LeBron James said of Randle.

That’s true of the entire Lakers team.

2) Kyrie Irving misses second half with knee soreness, Pacers beat Celtics, move ahead of Cavaliers to three seed. The biggest news to come out of Sunday was this: Kyrie Irving did not play the second half against Indiana due to general knee soreness, and it sounds like he is going to get some rest down the stretch. Irving has had concerns about his knee since breaking his kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, and now he needs to get it some rest. We’ll see if he plays Wednesday for Boston vs. Washington, but the Celtics need him at full power for the playoffs — Boston’s already pedestrian offense is 7.6 points per 100 possessions worse when Irving sits this season.

Without Irving, the Celtics shot 38.9 percent in the second half and could not hold off Victor Oladipo (27 points) and the Pacers Sunday, falling 99-97. Combine that with the Raptors rolling the Knicks, and the Celtics are now 3.5 games back of Toronto and not likely to make up that ground for the top seed in the East heading into the playoffs.

However, if getting the top seed to avoid Cleveland in the second round is the goal, the Raptors may be in trouble. With Indiana’s win and the Cavaliers getting swept in Los Angeles over the weekend, the Pacers are now the three seed in the East and Cleveland has fallen to fourth. We’ll see if that lasts, the Pacers have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the NBA, but the idea of the Cavaliers as the four seed is not out of the question.

3) Out West, Anthony Davis returns to starting lineup, posts a triple-double with 10 blocks, and it’s not enough vs. Jazz. Also, the Timberwolves beat the Warriors. Out West, things got a little tighter on Sunday. If that’s even possible.

It was good news for the Pelicans that Anthony Davis only missed one game with a sprained ankle, and he returned with a vengeance scoring 25 points and blocking 10 shots.

But that wasn’t enough — Utah’s defense held New Orleans down and Ricky Rubio had 30 points on the way to a 116-99 win. That win kept the Jazz in a virtual three-way tie with the Clippers and Nuggets for the final playoff slot in the West. All three of those teams are just 3.5 games back of Portland in the three seed.

The other big game in the West was Minnesota getting 31 from Karl-Anthony Towns and beating the shorthanded Warriors 109-103. That moved Minnesota up to the five seed, in a virtual tie with New Orleans for fourth.

Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler lead Timberwolves rally past Lakers, 119-111

Associated Press
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves were flat, facing a double-digit deficit for long stretches of the game.

This is why they traded for Jimmy Butler and signed Taj Gibson, for fourth-quarter lifts like these.

Gibson scored a season-high 28 points and Butler added 24, providing the Timberwolves with the production and energy for a 119-111 comeback victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Butler and Gibson, the former Chicago teammates, muscled their way to the basket with a fierce determination down the stretch. Butler drove along the baseline and flicked a short pass to Gibson in the lane, where he dropped in a layup and converted a three-point play for a 110-104 lead with 3:59 left.

“What he and Jimmy have brought to the team has really changed things for us,” said Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who had them both with the Bulls. “Those guys, they weren’t going to let us lose.”

Jeff Teague pitched in 20 points and Jamal Crawford added 15 for the Timberwolves, who rallied from a deficit as large as 15 points in the second quarter and 12 points late in the third to raise their home record to 24-7 on an emotional evening that started with a tribute to former coach and executive Flip Saunders.

Except the Lakers had the mojo for much of the first three quarters. Julius Randle had 23 points and nine rebounds, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram each scored 17 points.

“I know how good we can be when we decide to play hard,” Butler said. “But we think that we’re so good on paper that we can just go through the motions.”

Ivica Zubac, who went 8 for 8 from the floor for a season-high 19 points, threw down a dunk for a 99-98 lead for the Lakers, but that was essentially their last momentum-creating play of the game.

“They’ve got some big-time closers on that team, starting with Jimmy Butler,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He kind of set the tone in the fourth with the way he played.”

Butler blocked shots by Randle and Isaiah Thomas on consecutive possessions in the closing minutes, putting his stamp on yet another winning performance.

“I think that’s what separates him as a superstar,” Crawford said. “Most guys, they do it on one end, but those types of plays, they’re immeasurable.”

This was a win the Wolves badly needed before the All-Star break, after their 13-game home winning streak ended in humbling fashion on Tuesday against Houston. They moved within percentage points of San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference at 36-25. The Spurs are 35-24.

The Lakers shot so sharply to start the game, going 17 for 27 from the floor in the first quarter, that the Wolves produced separate spurts of 23-8 and 21-6 in the first half yet still trailed 65-62 at halftime.

Randle had 10 points in the third quarter as the Lakers again pushed ahead. He drove and scored on Karl-Anthony Towns for an 86-76 lead, and a frustrated Towns was called for an offensive foul on Brook Lopez to erase a spin-move layup on the next possession.

But Crawford got the Wolves and the crowd going early in the fourth quarter, sandwiching a 31-foot swish by Tyus Jones with a pair of 3-pointers of his own. The second one came off a slick crossover dribble that deked Corey Brewer at the top of the key and brought the Wolves within 95-94.