NBA Courtside: Cleveland Cavaliers change the narrative

Narratives can change awfully quickly.

Only a week ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were probably the NBA’s biggest group of misfit disappointments. The best player in the world and his teammates couldn’t get along, couldn’t play a lick of defence and didn’t look close to an outfit capable of making yet another run deep into the playoffs.

They also had a young general manager being carved for allegedly being in way above his head and a lot of regrets about the Kyrie Irving to Boston trade that brought Isaiah Thomas to town.

Yes, things looked bleak. Then GM Koby Altman and his staff decided to set fire to it all and completely recalibrate the Cavs, dealing away seven players, nearly half of the roster.

The Cavs got younger, more dynamic and sounder defensively. Yes, they might have helped out the Lakers a bit too much (Jordan Clarkson is overpaid and now Los Angeles can afford to bring in LeBron James or two other all-star free agents in the summer), but the old group was melting down in spectacular fashion and this, on paper at least, moves the Cavs back to the top of the heap in the East.

Prior to Tuesday’s game at Oklahoma City, James certainly appeared to be enjoying his new lot in life. If all of the smiles after so many months of scowls and waves of disgust didn’t give that away, how about his consecutive high-assist games? James handed out at least 15 helpers both before and after his new teammates arrived, becoming just the fourth player to notch consecutive 15-assist triple-doubles since 1983. The Cavs scored 48 points off of James assists against Atlanta, the most any James team has managed in a game in his career.

J.R. Smith, horrendous all season, finally has shown some signs of life, Kyle Korver is nailing everything, George Hill (who has been amongst the leaders all season in shooting accuracy), Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson give them a bunch of other gunners and rookie Cedi Osman has been praised for bringing some enthusiasm to the mix and got his third straight start on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Hill gives them above average at the initial point of attack for the first time in ages, fellow newcomer Larry Nance Jr. can cover a lot of ground and Tristan Thompson doesn’t have to try to do everything himself on defence. James being engaged again certainly helps.

THE SIXERS SENSE

Have we seen a more bizarre situation than the one surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers and 2017 No. 1 overall selection Markelle Fultz?

The 19-year-old point guard played in four games before being shut down by the team due to a mystery shoulder ailment that was messing with his shot, with sporadic medical updates following and little concrete info coming out of any of them. On Dec. 9, the team said his shoulder soreness was gone, indicating, if one uses logic, that a return might not be too far off.

Two months later, Sixers boss Bryan Colangelo told Philadelphia reporters, in rather confounding fashion: “There’s always a chance that he’s going to be out there soon, and there’s a chance that he’s not going to play this year.”

Well, OK then.

Phillyvoice.com did an excellent expose on the mystery this week, revealing that everyone seems to have an opinion about what went wrong and how to fix it and that Fultz’s work with his trainer, a close family friend, might have resulted in the shooting issues that resulted.

Or it might have just been the injury.

Maybe one day we will all find out.

CLASS OF 2004 STILL THRIVING

Was cool to see Emeka Okafor back in the NBA and starting a game for the first time since 2013 this week. The No. 2 pick behind Dwight Howard way back in 2004 missed three full seasons due to injury and toiled in the development league before resurfacing with New Orleans. The longevity of that draft crop has been solid: Howard, Okafor, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Devin Harris, Luol Deng (theoretically), Al Jefferson, Jameer Nelson, J.R. Smith, Tony Allen and second-rounder Trevor Ariza are still going. It’s impressive to see so many players from one class still producing nearly 15 years into their careers. Just don’t remind the Raptors or their fans about Rafael Araujo and Pape Sow.

AROUND THE RIM

Speaking of the Raptors, only James has scored more than the 1,225 points Paul Pierce scored against Toronto in his career (and that doesn’t even count all of the playoff daggers). Nobody’s played more minutes against Canada’s NBA outfit. Pierce was honoured by the Celtics last week.

THEY THE NORTH

A quick look at the top Canadians:

Andrew Wiggins, Wolves: Became sixth-youngest player to 6,000 career points.

Jamal Murray, Nuggets: Scoring has cooled, but Nuggets still winning games.

Cory Joseph, Pacers: Has been quiet in a temporary starting role.

Kelly Olynyk, Heat: Being rested until after all-star break after shoulder injury.

Trey Lyles, Nuggets: First shooting slump of the season (from outside).

Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies: Grizzlies a mess, but Brooks has been steady.

Tristan Thompson, Cavs: Finding his game as Cavs finally start to heat up.

Dwight Powell, Mavericks: At least 18 points in three straight games.

Khem Birch, Magic: Still getting lots of rebounds and 20+ minutes a game.

BIG NUMBERS

794 – Games between 30-point outings by Kyle Korver, eclipsing the previous record of 646 by Rory Sparrow.

3 – Straight games with at least 30 points scored by Jimmy Butler, remarkably a first for a guy who once scored 40 in a half against Toronto.

25 – Charges drawn by Kyle Lowry (before Tuesday), ahead of DeMarcus Cousins (24), Ersan Ilyasova (20) and Kemba Walker (19).

2.4 – Blocks per game by New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, which led the NBA, before he tore his ACL and was lost for the season.

FIVE UP

Five surging squads (before Tuesday’s games)

1 Utah Jazz – Forget a rebuild, Utah has won 10 straight with the offence leading the way.

2 Houston Rockets – How about 120.7 points scored per 100 possessions over the past four games? That’s video game-like.

3 Toronto Raptors – The bench has been so good the starters get the final quarter off most nights. The passing has been something to see.

4 Golden State Warriors – Even when they are drifting in third gear most teams can’t hang with the Warriors.

5– L.A. Lakers – What? These guys stunk all year, now they are scoring at will?

FIVE DOWN

1 New York Knicks – The Kristaps Porzingis injury seems to have taken the wind completely out of the sails of this group.

2 Memphis Grizzlies – Consensus seems to be lost organization will regret not dealing Tyreke Evans or Marc Gasol for future help.

3 Brooklyn Nets – The Jahlil Okafor experiment isn’t going so well, but the nightly defensive collapses are on everyone.

4 Phoenix Suns – We’ve seen horrible defensive teams before, but this one is pushing the envelope on just how awful a professional group can play

5– Detroit Pistons – So much for the afterglow of the Blake Griffin trade. This franchise pivots back and forth between up and down every two weeks or so.

WARRIORS LET PLAYERS RUN THE HUDDLE

The Golden State Warriors remain the heavy favourites to repeat as NBA champions.

That’s what happens when you have two of the four or five best players in the league on the same side, along with many other excellent players, a strong coaching staff and one of the best home-court advantages in the sport.

The team has won 77% of its games, with Monday’s 129-83 beat-down of Phoenix being the latest easy triumph.

That game was such a rout that head coach Steve Kerr let players Andre Iguodala, David West and Draymond Green take over running huddles at certain points. Green sat out due to a finger injury, but was heavily involved in the coaching process.

Golden State became the first team with two wins by at least 40 points in consecutive seasons.

The Warriors had coasted a bit recently, losing 3-of-4 before rallying to win three in a row and Kerr said the players needed to “take ownership” of things.

Kerr said he told Phoenix interim head coach Jay Triano that the move wasn’t a sign of disrespect but rather, “It had to do with me reaching my team. I have not reached them for the last month,” Kerr said, via ESPN.

“They’re tired of my voice. I’m tired of my voice. It’s been a long haul these last few years and I wasn’t reaching them, and we just figured it was probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different.”

But the move wasn’t well-received in all corners.

Veteran Jared Dudley said it showed a lack of respect for the Suns, before adding that maybe the Suns don’t deserve respect because of how badly they have been playing recently.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies