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Three things we learned Wednesday: There is no defense for, or in, Cavaliers recent play

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Wednesday night was a fantastic League Pass night of games — Dion Waiters with his second game-winner for the Heat in a week, James Harden bloodying a guy, the Celtics got an overtime win against the Rockets, another Russell Westbrook triple-double (that’s 23 in 46 games), Portland getting a key win in their playoff hunt, and we’re not going to get to any of that. There were bigger fish in the sea Wednesday. Here are the big takeaways from the night.

1) There is no defense: Cavaliers fall to Kings, dropping sixth in last eight.
The Cavaliers are moving from the “meh, it’s just a midseason slump” to the “do I smell smoke?” phase of their January swoon.

A couple of days after some frank talk from LeBron James about his team needing to step up (and needing some roster help) he went out and posted a triple-double against the Sacramento Kings — 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in 44 minutes. That’s LeBron’s second triple-double in as many nights, the man is leading by example trying to lift up his team.

And the Cavaliers still lost. Sacramento got 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists from DeMarcus Cousins — who also made the play to force overtime, where the Kings got the win.

But that play pointed to one of the key reasons the Cavaliers have lost three in a row and six-of-eight — their defense is not sharp. That’s why they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter (and a five-point one in OT) — they can’t get stops. All season Cleveland’s defense has been outside the top 10, but that was obscured by a great offense (and enough defense when they needed it). However, now that the offense has hit a rough patch (off six points per 100 possessions in the last eight games) the Cavs defense isn’t there to fall back on — in fact, it’s gotten worse. In the last eight games, the Cavs are allowing 110.3 points per 100 possessions, 24th in the NBA at that time.

On that play above, Cleveland tried to trap Darren Collison and left the Kings’ best player in Cousins wide open at the top of the arc, where Collison found him, Tristan Thompson was too slow to recover, and LeBron hesitated to leave Arron Afflalo (who in OT hit a dagger three) to help, so Cousins got all the way to the basket for the key bucket.

The Cavaliers offense will come around, but their defense hasn’t looked like that of a champion consistently all season. They just let Sacramento hang 119 on them, the Pelicans 124 the game before, the Spurs easily and even the Suns in a loss broke into triple digits against the Cavaliers lately. Somehow that has sparked ridiculous Carmelo Anthony trade rumors — because that would really fix the defense *cough* — but James said after the loss the Cavs need to focus on the guys they got.

“We can’t play fantasy basketball. We got who we got and we got to go out and play.”

Midseason swoons and turmoil are not new to this team. Remember they started 19-20 a couple of seasons ago, still made it to the Finals. Last season right about this time David Blatt was fired and Tyronn Lue given the team (the move LeBron wanted), then they went on to win a title. Come June we likely have forgotten this stretch. But only if the Cavaliers fix the defense that right now is not championship level and hasn’t been all season.

Before the game, Cavaliers GM David Griffin threw out an interesting theory to Joe Varden of the Plain Dealer.

“We’re a team that will create an opportunity for ourselves to have to dig out of a hole,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said before the game. “We do it in every single game. It’s just how we are. We’re not good from the front. We’re much better when we’re the hunter.”

It’s hard to be hunters as the champions — every team has you circled on the calendar, every building is sold out, every team is ready to give you their best. LeBron has handled it, it looks like Kyrie Irving has, but as a whole the Cavaliers don’t look like a team that has adjusted to their new reality. In January that has them at 5-7 and stumbling along. The house isn’t on fire yet, but they need to get some water on it fast. And stop counting on someone from the outside to come in and save them — they need to do it with the guys in the room.

2) Not that the Raptors are taking advantage of the Cavs stumbles, Toronto lost its fifth in a row. However, Boston won. Want to talk about teams who are stumbling, the Toronto Raptors offense has decided to take a midseason vacation to Aruba, with Kyle Lowry‘s jumper leading the way, and the Raptors are floundering. In December the Raptors scored 114.6 points per 100 possessions and were battling with Houston and Golden State for the best offense in the NBA. In January they are at 108.6 per 100 and, like the Cavaliers, they don’t have the defense to bail them out. If you want a much more detailed discussion of all things Raptors, check out the latest PBT Podcast with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.

Against the Raptors, Marc Gasol put up a career-high 42 to get Memphis the win.

Because of their stumbles, the Raptors remain three back of the slumping Cavaliers — instead, the Raptors need to look behind them. Boston won on Wednesday behind another huge game from Isaiah Thomas (38 points) and the Celtics are now just half a game back of the Raptors (despite Boston having their own issues of late). Atlanta in the four seed is just one game back of Toronto after beating the Bulls. If the Raptors offense doesn’t return from vacation soon, the road to the Eastern Conference Finals could get a lot tougher for them with more road games.

3) Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler go off on Bulls effort after team blows 10 point lead with three minutes to go, fall to Hawks. The Bulls just had their worst loss of the season, taking their foot off the gas up 10 with three minutes to go, slacking on defense (plus the Hawks just hit some shots), going 2-of-9 in the final three and having role players miss wide-open looks, and just generally looking bad. The Bulls are back to below .500 (23-24). After the game, Wade unloaded on his team and all but said “this is not why I came home,” via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“I don’t know what happened, but you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don’t care enough,” Wade said. “You don’t care enough. It’s got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn’t. So I don’t know. I don’t know happened. I don’t know how you fix it. It just doesn’t mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games.

“It pisses me off, but I can’t be frustrated and I can’t care too much for these guys. They got to care for themselves. We got to do better.”

Jimmy Butler echoed that.

“I heard what D-(Wade) was over there saying, yeah,” Butler said. “Mother——- just got to care if we win or lose. At the end of the day, do whatever it takes to help the team win. You play your role to the tee. Be a star in your role, man. That’s how you win in this league, man. You have to embrace what this team, what this organization needs for you to do on either end of the floor. On top of everything else, just play every possession like it’s your last. We don’t play hard all the time. It’s very disappointing whenever we don’t play hard.”

Leadership to change that is going to have to come from Wade and Butler because Fred Hoiberg is not going to go on a Thibodeau-style rant.

Bonus note: The hottest team in the East? How about the Sixers.

The Sixers are 4.5 games out of a playoff spot in the East. There would be four teams to climb over, which is a lot, but the Sixers just won two games in a row without Joel Embiid. Cue Kevin Garnett:

Bucks’ rookie Malcolm Brogdon put Nerlens Noel in a poster (VIDEO)

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If the voting took place today, Malcolm Brogdon might come in second in the Rookie of the Year voting (him or Jamal Murray in Denver, the other would be third). The Bucks’ rookie is seeing his role grow.

And he plays fearlessly. Case in point, a throwdown dunk over the Sixers’ Nerlens Noel Wednesday night.

Philly went on to get the 114-109 win behind 20 points from Gerald Henderson.

 

Dwayne Wade: “It just doesn’t mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games”

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Dwyane Wade hit a midrange pull-up jumper to give Chicago a 10 point lead over Atlanta with 3:02 left in the game. The Bulls had this one in the bag.

Then Chicago fell apart. They shot 2-of-9 the rest of the way while the Hawks got hot, went on a 19-2 run, drained threes, and ended up winning the game 119-114.

After the game, Wade unloaded on his team speaking to the media, via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“I don’t know what happened, but you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don’t care enough,” Wade said. “You don’t care enough. It’s got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn’t. So I don’t know. I don’t know happened. I don’t know how you fix it. It just doesn’t mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games.

“It pisses me off, but I can’t be frustrated and I can’t care too much for these guys. They got to care for themselves. We got to do better.”

Jimmy Butler echoed that.

“I heard what D-(Wade) was over there saying, yeah,” Butler said. “Mother——- just got to care if we win or lose. At the end of the day, do whatever it takes to help the team win. You play your role to the tee. Be a star in your role, man.

“That’s how you win in this league, man. You have to embrace what this team, what this organization needs for you to do on either end of the floor. On top of everything else, just play every possession like it’s your last. We don’t play hard all the time. It’s very disappointing whenever we don’t play hard.”

Wade had 33 points on the second night of a back-to-back — that’s a gift to the team from a player with a lot of miles on him. The Bulls squandered it. You can understand why he was frustrated. Down the stretch, the Atlanta defense focused on Wade and Butler, and the Bulls dutifully moved the ball and got open threes for Paul Zipser and Nikola Mirotic, both of whom missed. After the game, Wade said he and Butler need to be the guys taking the big shots.

The Bulls have gone 4-6 in their last 10 and are 23-24 on the season, which has them clinging to the eight seed. This is not what Wade thought he was signing up for on his return to his hometown. He pictured himself, Butler, and Rajon Rondo leading a core and improving young players into becoming something dangerous. Instead, they don’t have the floor spacing on offense to create great looks, and they are inconsistent defensively. Consistency of any kind has been missing from the Bulls all season.

Maybe this kind of loss is the kick the team needs. More effort and a few more threes falling would help. However, from my vantage point, the problems with the Bulls start with the front office and the roster construction. Wade and Butler and just trying to salvage the situation.

PBT Podcast: Toronto Raptors talk with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun

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The Toronto Raptors are the second best team in the East. They are led by gold medalists and All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the team is on pace for 51 wins and have to be the favorite to reach the conference finals against the Cavaliers.

The Raptors also have lost four in a row heading into Wednesday night, and their offense has fallen off a cliff. It stirs memories of 2015, when a good Raptors team slumped into the playoffs and lost to the Wizards.

Which are the real Raptors? Is there a step they need to take to threaten the Cavaliers? We discuss all that and more with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. We throw in a little “what is LeBron complaining about?” talk, too.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Knicks tried to pitch Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love trade, Cavaliers shot it down

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Of course they did, the only question is did David Griffin laugh so Steve Mills could hear him before hanging up the phone?

As discussed before, the Knicks trying to trade Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love never made any sense from Cleveland’s perspective — why would they want to swap out 28-year-old and at his peak Love for the 33-year-old and declining, ball-stopping, worse defender in Anthony? LeBron James and Anthony are friends, but LeBron isn’t stupid — he wants to win another ring and Love gets him much closer than Anthony right now, and for the coming years.

But the Knicks tried, according to a report from Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN.

The Knicks have tried — unsuccessfully — to engage the Cavaliers in Carmelo Anthony-for-Kevin Love trade talks in advance of the league’s Feb. 23 trade deadline, ESPN.com has learned.

League sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Knicks have approached the Cavaliers to gauge their interest in swapping All-Star forwards but were told that Cleveland is not interested in such an exchange.

Why would they be?

Certainly, LeBron wants the Cavaliers to add another playmaker, and Anthony can create shots for himself and get a team buckets. However, right now Love is the better fit, plus Love is five years younger and a few million less expensive (remember, the Cavs already have the highest payroll in the NBA). Love is no great defender, but he’s far ahead of Anthony right now. Love has made the not-so-easy adjustment of playing next to LeBron and is having his best season — you think Anthony will blend in smoothly working off the ball and being expected to move it quickly rather than pound the rock and survey the defense?

I guess the Knicks had to try, just like they will call Doc Rivers and ask about Blake Griffin. But no team is going to trade an All-Star, borderline All-NBA player in their prime for Carmelo Anthony at 33.