VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 18
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Cavs’ performance vs. Warriors raises many questions — By halftime last night, the much-anticipated showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers was effectively over. The Warriors built a 70-44 lead at Quicken Loans Arena and, really, had the game in hand much sooner than that (say by the middle of the second quarter). Afterward, the Cavs found themselves with a five-game losing streak to the defending champs and an 0-2 mark against them this season. Our Steve Aschburner was on hand and has more on just what Cleveland has to do in the wake of such a disastrous loss:
It was the Cavaliers, the presumptive class of the Eastern Conference, soiling themselves. At home. In a statement game. To a degree heretofore unseen.
Here was a one-game argument for 1-through-16, conference-less playoff seeding, in hopes that the Warriors and the Spurs could meet in the Finals and spare us four out of seven like this.
As a franchise, Cleveland had endured worse home losses before — but never with LeBron James. This one bottomed out in the biggest deficit of his career (43 points) and ended with the most lopsided losing margin (34). He wound up with a personal-worst of minus-34 — accomplished in a mere three quarters, because the Cavs’ subs actually outscored the Warriors’ subs in the backupalooza, meaningless fourth.
“They came in and gave us a good ol’ fashioned a-kicking,” James said. “They got a little bit of whatever they wanted.”
The Warriors have been the better team five consecutive times now, dating back to Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Finals and including both the Christmas meeting in Oakland and this one. That’s not nothing — even if the Cavaliers want to shrug off its significance and minimize any possible carryover should they face Golden State again in June, there’s no guarantee the Warriors will play along. Just because this drubbing doesn’t become some psychological hurdle to the Cavs doesn’t mean it won’t provide a psychological edge to the Warriors.
Golden State rolled out of Cleveland late Monday knowing that it put on a devastating performance, on demand, two nights after its clunker at Detroit. Cleveland knows that, on a big stage with its full cast healthy and accounted for, it froze and forgot its lines. The satisfaction from the Cavs’ recently completed 12-day, six-game trip — they went 5-1 — already is vapor, and in a lot of ways, they’re almost starting over.
“We do understand we’ve got to get better,” James said. “We’re 0-3 against the top teams in the West. … We’ve got a long way to go.
“We’ve got to get back to the basics. When you play against teams like this … you’ve got to have just a laser-sharp mentality. Both physical and mental. You can’t have lulls because they make you pay.”
“There’s nothing to say,” James said, when asked if he had aired out his teammates for the stink bomb outing. “It’s easy to say something when it’s bad. For me, I like to get on us when we’re doing well, to try to keep us focused. I’m not a kick-a-man-when-you’re-down type of guy.”
While James and the Cavs weren’t inclined to overreact, they had no assurance Golden State wouldn’t bookmark Monday’s game as a confidence booster for June. Remember how Doc Rivers hid money in the ceiling at Staples Center several years ago, confident that his Celtics team would get back to L.A. for the Finals?
The Warriors could have stashed their goggles somewhere in their locker room at the Q and nary a soul could have blamed them.
No. 2: Pacers’ George waiting to commit to Olympic team — This season has been a bounce-back one for Indiana Pacers star Paul George as he ranks among the NBA’s scoring leaders and has a solid grip on a frontcourt starting spot in the 2016 All-Star Game next month. Yesterday, he received another accolade as he was named as one of the 30 finalists for the 2016 Olympic team. But as Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star reports, George is holding off on committing to the squad … for now:
George will wait until the end of the season to make a decision on whether to play.
“I’m still happy to have a chance. It’s definitely a dream to be a part of that group but we’ll see,” George said. “It’s been a long year for me already so we’ll see when it gets down to being there. I’ll listen to my body and listen to the trainers to see what’s the best move.”
This season, George has returned to All-Star status after missing nearly the entire 2014-15 season while recovering from a broken leg. (In August 2014, George infamously fractured his right leg during a Team USA scrimmage.) While George has started all 41 games and averaged 35.6 minutes a night, he has experienced fatigue and recently felt tightness in the hamstring area behind his surgically repaired knee.
The U.S. will take a 12-man roster to the Olympics. Kobe Bryant removed his name from consideration Saturday. That will allow a more qualified player to go, but USA Basketball will have tough decisions, potentially leaving some players unhappy about not going to Rio.
The grind of the season has led to George — who is a strong candidate to make the final roster — to being non-committal, a change from his previous stance that playing in the Olympics is a “personal goal.” Last July, George told reporters: “I’ve had a dream of lifting that gold medal. That’s definitely motivation.”
“I won’t let injury (stop me),” George said, “injury is a part of the game. The last thing I’ll do is let that keep me from making the dream happen. No hard feelings towards none of the situation.”
However, six months later, the realties of a long NBA season has influenced George’s new outlook.
“I definitely would want to be there regardless but it’s just about with this year and how everything’s been going and how my body’s been feeling,” George said. “I don’t know if it’s smart to keep playing, so we’ll see. I’ll just listen to my body after this year.”
No. 3: Time for Bulls to deal Gasol? — When the Chicago Bulls received word that center Joakim Noah will miss 4-6 months to recover from a dislocated shoulder, it seemed to signal the end of Noah’s time in the Windy City. He is a free agent this summer and is expected to get a bigger deal outside of Chicago than he would from the Bulls. So if he’s likely gone from the team, should the Bulls think about trading Pau Gasol? ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell floats the idea and backs up why it might make sense for Chicago to do it sooner rather than later:
The trade market for a 35-year-old big man is never going to be very big, but Gasol is a highly skilled offensive player who comes with the cache of two NBA championship rings and years of big-game experience in both the NBA playoffs and international competitions while leading Spain. He is a proud player who wants to win another ring or two before his time in the league is complete. As much as many Bulls fans hope their team — which is now 9-2 on the season without Noah — still has a chance to win without the emotional curly-haired big man, the reality is that the Bulls probably weren’t good enough even when Noah was healthy.
With that in mind, the Bulls have two options when it comes to Gasol’s short-term future. Either Bulls GM Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson can decide to keep Gasol on the roster and try to squeeze out a potential series win in the playoffs, or they can act swiftly and try to get something of value for a player who can still deliver on the offensive end.
What complicates the situation is that Gasol has a player option after this season which would allow him to opt out of his contract. The Bulls have known for a long time that he was probably going to opt out of the deal and evaluate his options, especially with the enormous television money filtering into the league in the coming years. So the Bulls must decide whether a couple extra postseason wins for a team that isn’t likely going to reach its ultimate goal is worth risking getting something in return.
Part of the decision of any deal is what the Bulls may get back in return. But the argument could be made that even if there was a deal for a couple of second-round picks and an expiring contract, it still puts them in a better situation than if Gasol were to walk at the end of the season and they were to get nothing in return. What good is winning a series in the playoffs if a team knows internally that it isn’t good enough to win a title in the same season? Even if a deal brought back only a couple lowly draft picks, those are still assets that the Bulls could use in another potential move down the line.
“You have to understand it’s part of this league and part of this business,” Gasol said of handling trade rumors. “It’s not the most comfortable nor the most pleasant situation to be in. But you just got to every day go and do your job and do it the best way you can. Carry yourself as a professional and control what you can control. When there’s continuous rumors — and I’ve been there — it’s hard. Every time it seems like there’s something up or … It’s not pleasant but you have to understand that it is what it is and you just do what you can do to be who you are and be the player that you are. And if something happens then so be it, you move on. It’s unfortunate, but it happens quite a bit in this league.”
The other upside of moving Gasol for Forman and Paxson would be that it would allow rookie Bobby Portis even more of an opportunity to showcase his skills. After a promising stretch late last month in the rotation, Portis has cooled to the tune of just three minutes in Monday’s win, and just 33 combined minutes over the past five games. With Noah out, Portis was supposed to get an even bigger chance, but that hasn’t been the case as of yet.
Coach Fred Hoiberg remains steadfast in his belief that Portis will get plenty of minutes without Noah, but a move to shed Gasol would allow Portis the space that he needs. As Hoiberg noted, Portis has struggled at least in part because of the fact that his talent has placed him on opponents’ scouting reports now.
“I think with Bobby, the big thing is teams know him now,” Hoiberg said. “They know he’s a guy that can score — before he was an unknown a little bit just based on seeing him in college if anybody watched him there. So I think that’s a lot of it, is teams understand who he is. Bobby’s going to keep working, I know that. He’s got really good days ahead.”
The Bulls can’t risk having another situation in which a player walks away for basically nothing as was the case with Omer Asik and Kyle Korver during the summer of 2012. Those two moves were more salary-cap related than this one would be, but they all center around the future instead of getting too caught up in the present. The Bulls are a good team that can win more games this season if they stay relatively healthy, but they aren’t a legitimate title contender.
No matter what they were to get back for Gasol, it would be better than watching him wave goodbye after a playoff exit and being left empty-handed once again.
No. 4: Opportunities dwindling for Pelicans — From the veterans to the youngsters, no one on the New Orleans Pelicans’ roster is happy with how this season is playing out. Yet entering yesterday’s road game with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Pelicans found themselves just 4 1/2 games out of No. 8 in the Western Conference. By the end of the day, though, the Pelicans both lost to the Grizzlies but luckily failed to lose any more ground (thanks to No. 8-seeded Utah losing in Charlotte). Justin Verrier of ESPN.com reports that to coach Alvin Gentry, the time to make a playoff push is frittering away bit by bit for New Orleans:
“This is a really, really crucial time for us,” Gentry said pregame. “We got off to such a bad start because of injuries and things like that. We have a chance because no one ran away and left. Obviously Golden State, San Antonio and teams like the Clippers and Oklahoma City [are] in the top echelon in the West. Everybody else is just kind of in that group where, if you can win five or six games in a row, you can get right back in the playoff race.
“And that’s going to be important for us, because of what we have coming up. It becomes something that’s very, very essential to our season: continuing in a situation where we feel like we still have an opportunity to make the playoffs.”
But while the Pelicans have looked like a different team this month, they couldn’t outrun two of their biggest issues to date: injuries and turnovers.
Tyreke Evans was a late scratch after experiencing soreness in his troublesome right knee during warm-ups, forcing a struggling Norris Cole (7.56 PER) into the starting lineup. Anthony Davis also played through what appeared to be an aggravation of the back contusion that kept him out of two games and a hard fall on his wrist.
And after limiting their giveaways to seven and eight in the past two games, the Pelicans, who average 13.3 on the season, turned it over 15 times against the Grizzlies, including six in the first quarter (three by Norris Cole).
“We had too many turnovers, and you can’t expect to win with all of the turnovers that we had, unforced turnovers,” said Anthony Davis, who finished with 21 points (6-for-12) and eight rebounds. “So, we played hard, but we need to come out with some wins.”
While the Jazz also lost, keeping the Pelicans’ postseason gap at four and a half games with seven straight home games on the horizon, needing wins is the bottom-line situation the team finds itself in for the remainder of the season.
“It’s tough winning games on the road in the NBA,” Gentry said. “I thought we allowed ourselves an opportunity, and that’s all you want to do. And if you get that opportunity you gotta try to capitalize on it. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t get it because of a bad bounce.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland Trail Blazers star and aspiring rapper Damian Lillard dropped his first music video yesterday … A look into just how rough of a night it was for LeBron James … Here’s the reason behind why the Milwaukee Bucks sat star Giannis Antetokounmpo for a game last April … How one key decision shaped Hassan Whiteside‘s path to the NBA … A look at the Portland Trail Blazers’ somewhat odd rebuilding path …