Cavs rookie can’t believe LeBron’s abilities

Harris on LeBron: ‘This man does some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen’

      
 

 

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Cleveland Cavaliers Need Help That Ray Allen Can’t Provide

Six wins, seven losses and countless questions that are simultaneously premature and unavoidable.

By the numbers, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ first month of new-look exploits has left something to be desired. In times like these, superstars cite the importance of patience, coaches get metaphorical and the rest of us wonder if there’s a way to fix this in short order.

CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger recently refloated one possibility that had emerged this summer.

“Additional help could be on the way, with still-unsigned Ray Allen weighing whether he’ll return to the floor for what would be his 19th season,” Berger wrote. “If he does, the Cavs are the undisputed favorites—and have a gaping hole in their bench unit that is ready-made for Allen to fill.”

Superficially, one can’t help but relish the notion of Allen in a Cavs uniform. It would be a story if nothing else—one more prominent name alongside LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. One more weapon to compensate for sixth man Dion Waiters’ uneven output. Another veteran joining forces with Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

That’s enough oldie-but-goodie star credentials to film another sequel to The Expendables.

The real problem with signing Allen isn’t that it raises the Cavaliers’ average age. Nor is there any risk he’d actually make the team worse. This would be safe move, and it’s hard to argue with that.

But Allen wouldn’t be the solution. Despite his two championships, 10 All-Star selections and 2,973 three-pointers, he isn’t the answer to all those premature and unavoidable questions.

That answer is likely to be found at the defensive end.

Through their first 13 games, the Cavaliers are yielding 105.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com—just the 22nd-best mark in the league. They’re giving up 17.6 field goals per game from within five feet of the basket (ninth-worst league-wide) and allowing opponents to make 64.3 percent of their field-goal attempts from that range (third-worst in the league).

Even if you’re somehow convinced Allen can still turn in first-rate defense, he’s no rim protector.

“We’re not a team that has great shot blocking,” head coach David Blatt conceded to media earlier this month, per Chris Haynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group. “On the other hand, if you look at our schemes, we can protect the rim. It’s jut not necessarily with shot blocking. But that’s an area we have to do a better job.”

Keeping scorers out of the paint will require better team defense. Disrupting those scorers once they get into the paint may require a savvy acquisition on the trade or free-agency market—an acquisition instead of an addition to Allen.

Making a competent defender out of Love is another story altogether.

Big men Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson have been doing their parts. Love, however, has continued to earn his reputation as one of the league’s most porous stoppers at the rim. Among the 50 players who have defended against at least five field-goal attempts per game so far this season, Love ranks 48th in opponent field-goal percentage—allowing a 61.1 percent rate of success.

By comparison, Dirk Nowitzki has only given up 52.3 percent of those interior shots, and he’s by no means a model of rim protection.

“But here’s the thing—this isn’t new,” Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry recently wrote. “Love was among the least effective volume rim protectors in the league last year, too. Like it or not, he is who we thought he was, and any team leaning on Love to help protect the paint will be exposed.”

Given Love’s transcendent shooting ability and top-shelf rebounding, he’s going to get his minutes.

And pointing the finger may not be very productive—especially with broader defensive deficits also taking their tolls.

“Of course you want to have somebody to protect the rim,” Varejao told reporters this month, per Haynes. ”I believe our problem right now is not because we don’t have a shot blocker, it’s because our defense is terrible. We’re doing a bad job on defense. That’s what is killing us.”

A recent 110-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors put Cleveland’s defensive struggles on full display. James and Co. gave up a career-high 36 points to sixth man Lou Williams. Williams and starting point guard Kyle Lowry combined to attempt 27 free throws—a robust indication of the Cavaliers’ desperation to stop penetration.

Love had five fouls in 34 minutes.

Assuming the Cavaliers can channel all that defensive energy into a more rule-friendly effort, perhaps this team can at least begin addressing its shortcomings internally—especially as it grows more familiar with its new pieces and coach. Otherwise, help may be needed.

Just not of the Allen variety. 

Sure, he might help an offense that already ranks ninth league-wide with 105.2 points per 100 possessions. But chances are that production will steadily grow in time either way. Every game is another step toward the kind of chemistry that helps an offense hum.

Allen is a luxury item, perhaps even a redundancy.  

Officially, there’s still no guarantee Cleveland will land Allen—even if his close friendship with James ostensibly gives the organization some inroads. ESPN’s Chris Broussard recently tweeted that “Cavs, Bulls, Wizards, Spurs among the 7 teams interested in Ray Allen,” adding that “Allen’s in Miami, keeping himself in shape.”

Allen himself has made it clear he’s in no hurry to make a decision.

“I’ve just been home, taking my kids to school,” he told reporters in October. “I’m working out, taking care of my body. I’m in great shape. I’ll just watch how the season progresses, and if I do feel the desire to continue to play, then I’ll decide what situation is viable for me.”

Allen’s former coach, Doc Rivers, (now with the Los Angeles Clippers) suggested the icon shooter may be waiting to see how the season shakes out for his respective suitors, comparing his available opportunities as they take further shape.

“Honestly, I think he’s making the right decision,” Rivers told the Sun Sentinel earlier this month. “…That’s why he’s doing it. I think it’s a good reason.”

Maybe Allen’s next decision will involve the Cavaliers, and maybe it will be a good one. But if Cleveland is serious about starting the shopping season off right, it’ll be on lookout for a defensively minded big man who might be had for the right price—a Larry Sanders or Robin Lopez—to tag team with Varejao.

Barring such an addition, Cleveland’s only other hope is harder to quantify. Will leaders step up? Will the youngsters learn? Will Love exorcise his defensive demons?

The Cavaliers’ championship upside depends more on questions like these than on signing Ray Allen.

 

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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Why We Can and Can’t Believe in the Toronto Raptors’ Hot Start

Hot starts can be misleading in the NBA, their existence both aesthetically appealing and totally temporary. In some cases, though, they’re the beginning of something spectacular and sustainable.

Which is it for the scorching Toronto Raptors?

Blistering beginnings have the players up north contending for the NBA’s best record, turning heads and rewriting expectations one win at a time. But while the Raptors are rolling, their dynamite displays are laced with caveats and conditions—none of which is more important or relevant than a classic forewarning.

It’s still early.

And because it’s still early, the Raptors are shouldering the burden of proof, trying to validate their onset performance as a sneak peek by dispelling any notions, however germane, to the contrary.

 

Causes for Belief

The Raptors are doing pretty much everything.

Both sides of the floor are bankrolling their ladder-leaping dawn. The Raptors rank in the top six of both offensive and defensive efficiency, and it’s difficult to bet against a team that can rely on any one aspect of the game to win.

Only three other squads can say the same right now. The Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors all rank in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency. Each of those teams has won at least 78 percent of its games and is recognized as a championship contender.

Memphis is the only other contingent that ranks in the top six of both, and its tied with Toronto for the league’s best record (12-2). The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, were the only team to finish in the top six of both in 2013-14. They won the championship.

This balance is encouraging. More importantly, it seems sustainable for the same reason it exists: The Raptors aren’t overly reliant on one person.

Five players are averaging double figures for the season. The bench, which ranked 20th in efficiency for 2013-14, is deepened by the instant firepower of Lou Williams and now ranks sixth in efficiency, per HoopStats.com.

Last season, there was also an unhealthy reliance on Kyle Lowry, who became a dark-horse MVP candidate out of necessity more than anything else. That dependency still exists, but it’s no longer detrimental. The Raptors have found an identity outside of him.

When Lowry is on the floor, their top-two offense is even better. When he’s off the floor, it’s their defense that is picking up the slack; they’re allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, the equivalent of running an NBA-best defense.

Espousing this next-man-up mentality has allowed the Raptors to win in volume and a variety of ways.

In their victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they turned a 24-6 deficit into 17-point drubbing. Against the Phoenix Suns, they staved off a fourth-quarter surge that almost saw them forfeit a 17-point lead in time to secure another win.

Ahead or behind, it doesn’t matter. The Raptors are playing with depth and resolve. And since falling to the Chicago Bulls in what would have been their first “We’re here to stay” victory of the season, they’ve dispatched projected contenders in the Suns, Cavaliers and Grizzlies. That’s in addition to the staunch Milwaukee Bucks defense they torched for 124 points.

“In sports, we talk a lot about identity: a team must know who they are before they can succeed,” writes the National Post‘s Eric Koreen. ”However, knowing that you can summon any number of identities when the situation calls for them is a weapon, too.”

A weapon the Raptors, like so many title-seeking bands before them, now enjoy.

 

Traces of Doubt

Favorable scheduling has, without question, boosted the Raptors’ early-season standing.

Even after unseating the potentially playoff-bound Suns and superstar-stuffed Cavaliers, they’ve still played through one of the league’s five easiest schedules, a luxury that ESPN Insider’s Bradford Doolittle (subscription required) unpacks further:

The Raptors capped a seven-game homestand by rolling to a 52-point lead in point differential during a rout of Milwaukee on Friday. They’ve played nine of their first 13 at the Air Canada Centre, winning eight. Among those home wins, Toronto can count the Thunder, 76ers, Magic, Jazz and Bucks among its victims. Overall, based on the quality of the offenses and defenses the Raptors have faced, only the Knicks have enjoyed an easier schedule in the NBA. (Yes, New York fans, you read that right.)

Though the Raptors have taken care of business on the road, winning three of their four away tilts, they’ve only beaten sub-.500 teams. The lone winning faction they’ve faced away from home, the Miami Heat, cut them down.

Some of their quality wins must even come with asterisks. The Washington Wizards didn’t have Bradley Beal, the Oklahoma City Thunder were missing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the star-crammed Cavaliers won’t relinquish double-digit leads forever. How many of those wins are actually wins under normal circumstances?

There’s also the matter of their infirm offensive model. Success by committee is great when it holds for the entire season, but the Raptors do have more than one player performing above their head. 

Can Jonas Valanciunas flirt with double-doubles all season? Will Terrence Ross continue shooting the lights out from deep (42.4 percent)? Does Williams have what it takes to remain in the top 12 of player efficiency rating (23.6) among those who log at least 19 minutes per game? 

Will Williams, Lowry, Ross and Valanciunas all register career-high PERs for the entire year?

Beyond that, the Raptors offense is also thriving amid DeMar DeRozan‘s unimpressive efficiency. Not only is he shooting a career-low 40 percent overall—including a career-worst 15.4 percent from long range—but his offensive potency plummets by 15.1 points per 100 possessions without Lowry on the floor, hence the reason DeRozan averages just 3.8 minutes away from his comrade per game, according to NBA.com (subscription required).

The Raptors rank abnormally low on the assist (28th) and rebounding (26th) rate scales as well.

For all they’ve already done, then, there is still so much for them to work through as the competition becomes fiercer and their standing atop the East is met with more resistance.

 

Believable or Make Believe?

What the Raptors are doing now isn’t sustainable.

But that’s not a bad thing.

Wins over Cleveland, Washington and Oklahoma City won’t come as easily in the future. There are also still plenty of games against the savage Western Conference left to play. The Raptors will fall off their pedestal at some point. And that only means they won’t win 70 games, the rate at which they’re securing victories now.

It doesn’t mean they’re going to fall off the face of contention.

“We found a way down the stretch and that’s the most important thing,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said following his team’s victory over Phoenix, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

That’s what these Raptors are doing, after all: Finding ways to win. It doesn’t matter the opponent or circumstances. They’re collecting wins. Even after adjusting for their light schedule, these Raptors still rank third in margin of victory, behind only the Blazers and Warriors.

Consider too that each of the five teams that won at least 11 of their first 14 games in 2013-14 ended up with 54 or more for the season. Not one of them—the Blazers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder or Indiana Pacers—could be deemed pretenders.

Portland and Indiana are the closest things to cautionary tales. The Blazers are a particularly interesting case study. They began last year as a two-way giant, going 31-9, only to see their defense stumble and their home-court advantage vanish. They still managed to contend for conference supremacy.

In the end, nothing else matters. The Raptors do play in the enfeebled East and they have enjoyed an easy schedule. But while they’re bound to cool off between now and season’s end, their initial run of dominance is shaping up to be more formidable fact than fleeting fiction.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.

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Why can’t the Pelicans play defense?

Anthony Davis is a stud in the NBA. Its next rising star. Everyone sees this.
Everyone sees his soaring blocks and monstrous numbers. His dynamic offensive game that is a mix of speed, size and power with finesse around the rim and an underrated, improving jumper.
This is a dominant player in the making that everyone in the NBA will be worry about for the next decade. That goes for both the offensive end and the defensive end.
Davis’ shot-blocking prowess — he led the league with 2.8 blocks per game last year and has an astounding 3.9 blocks per game this year, entering Saturday’s game — would seem to suggest that defense is not an issue. Throw in offseason acquisition Omer Asik, and the Pelicans appear to have a shot-blocking force on the interior (the long-armed Alexis Ajinca is seeing time now too with Asik out with an injury).
Monday night’s game in Portland showed plenty of cracks in the young roster on the defensive end though. The Pelicans lost a double-digit lead in the …

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No, Kentucky can’t beat the 76ers

It would take a better college team than Kentucky to beat the 76ers.

      
 

 

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Kobe ‘can’t just sit back and watch crime happen’

Kobe Bryant seems to describe himself as a superhero for shooting so much.

      
 

 

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Jeremy Lin Can’t Find the Words to Explain Lakers’ Terrible Play

If Jeremy Lin can’t summon the words, there’s not much to say.

There’s no explaining the Los Angeles Lakers‘ game plan, which boils down to spray ‘n’ pray with Kobe Bryant and aggressive ball-watching on defense.

Lin looked on as Bryant chucked up 34 shots in a 136-115 blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. The Lakers guard tried to parse out the loss to reporters after the game, but even he didn’t possess the poetry of language to properly explain the drubbing.

Lakers beat writer Shahan Ahmed (h/t BroBible’s Kyle Koster) uploaded a Vine of Lin’s attempt at encapsulating Los Angeles’ impressive awfulness. He just couldn’t do it.

“I don’t…it’s…you know,” Lin said. “Uh…I don’t know, man.”

Lin may still be there right now, double-clutching pronouns in an empty locker room.

He can’t say, “We’re terrible at defense, Kobe doesn’t trust us, and our offensive strategy is inefficiency personified.”

Lin can’t say that. It’s not in him.

Bryant, of course, had plenty to say about the Warriors jamming 74 points down his team’s throat in the first half.

“They came out and knocked down shots and put us in a hole pretty quick,” Bryant said, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “… I’d rather get guys involved early. That’s always the intent. But when you go down 10-12 points in the hole, man, I’ve got to try to keep us in the ballgame at some point.”

Bryant finished the game with 44 points. Lin finished with zero points, two rebounds and another affirmation that this year is going to be the longest year of his career.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture filigree.

 

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Why you can’t worry about Kevin Love’s future in Cleveland

(When you cover Cleveland sports with multiple writers, there’s bound to be some parallel thinking and redundancy. Andrew had his take on Kevin Love and I wrote this one independently.)
On Monday, Scott wrote up a the rumor that Sam Smith put in a post at Bulls.com. Now, I’m not out here to accuse anyone of making anything up, because there’s really not much incentive for Sam Smith to do such. I’m also not all that interested in dissecting his use of the word “indications” to try and figure out if he actually heard anyone say that Kevin Love is considering opting out and heading to the West Coast. In the end, if you start trying to trace the source of this rumor or even attack the reporter who put it in his “NBA NEWS AND NOTES” section, you’re missing the point. The point is that nobody knows what Kevin Love is going to do at the end of this season, including Kevin Love himself.

Nobody knows what Kevin Love is going to do at the end of this season, including Kevin Love himself.

Look no f

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Ricky Rubio Can’t Believe His Teammate Said Timberwolves Will ‘Forget This Win’

Whether they win or lose, teams tend to move on from games pretty quickly so they can focus on their next opponent. However, “forgetting” about a game isn’t the easiest thing for a player to do, especially in the aftermath of victory.

The Minnesota Timberwolves pulled out a 98-91 road win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. Rookie Andrew Wiggins had his best NBA performance to date with 17 points, and Ricky Rubio notched a double-double (14 points, 12 assists).

It was a good win for a young team, so it’s OK for the players to remember this game and relish in the moment.

However, Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic said in his postgame press conference that he will “forget this win.” Rubio was visibly taken aback.

Rubio explained what he was thinking when he heard Pekovic say that.

Sure, try to forget about the losses. Just remember what it took to win and how it felt to earn a victory. Those memories can help lead to success down the road.

[cjzero, Twitter; h/t Star-Tribune]

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Brandon Knight Can’t Decide Whether to Pass or Shoot, Epic Blooper Ensues

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight is off to a solid start this season, but on Tuesday night, he committed a blooper he’ll definitely want back.

While jogging down the court on offense versus the Indiana Pacers, Knight made a nifty step-back cut to the left and elevated to shoot. For some reason, he decided to pass at the last second, but it was far too late. The ball went out of bounds, while Knight and his dignity hit the floor.

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