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Mar 11, 2018

Sunday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Cavaliers at Lakers, 9:05 ET

Selection Sunday will have its time. We’ll see whether this new format of announcing teams in alphabetical order works out – I’m keeping an open mind since they’re going to treat it like the NBA Draft lottery with the golf whispers as we work down the list.

“Look, Chuck, there’s Gonzaga. This means Georgia did in fact miss the tournament.”

“Well, it’s a good thing since they don’t have a coach!”

Could be good stuff. It has a shot to be better than the thud of seeing that final bracket unveiled to know if you’re in it. Keep an open mind.

Regardless of how it goes down, get the kids to bed early and save the bracket work for halftime of this Sunday night showcase.

Normally, a disjointed Cleveland team getting together to face a Lakers team that isn’t going to make the playoffs wouldn’t be can’t miss-TV other than seeing whether the Cavs can handle business as 2-point favorites, but an overflow of drama adds to the allure. We’ve got reunions everywhere you look, not to mention pandering.




Lakers fans have their chance to show LeBron James in-game love after the Clippers got their shot in a 116-102 win on Friday night, snapping Cleveland’s two-game winning streak.

Isaiah Thomas will get his chance too. It’s not clear whether there are any hard feelings between the two, but Thomas obviously knows that James was notified of the deal that sent him out of town before it was consummated.

After being given up on after a few weeks on on-court action because the Cavs had no choice but to move on from something that clearly wasn’t working, he’s looked much improved coming off the bench for L.A. Thomas proclaimed that he had his powers back after playing his first game in the purple and gold and opened the month with a 29-point outburst, but he’s shot 34 percent since, going 21-for-62 over a four-game span, including 5-for-22 from 3-point range.

It’s likely that Thomas will be aggressive off the bench given the opposition and his improved state of health, but that won’t be a good thing for L.A. if he remains in a slump.

For Larry Nance, Jr. Jordan Clarkson, Jr., it’s a chance to go at former teammates that they’ve learned with and worked against in practice throughout the majority of their pro careers. The times Nance gives James a break in squaring off Julius Randle in this game’s most defining individual matchup will be vital.

James is helping turn Nance into a formidable offensive weapon simply by playing to his strengths. The new Cavs big man is averaging 15.6 points and 11 rebounds in March and has done a nice job staying out of foul trouble since he’s playing center whenever he’s on the floor. That should give Randle and Brook Lopez an advantage in the post since they know Nance has to be cautious.

Randle has unquestionably been the most consistent Lakers performer with Brandon Ingram sidelined. An improved shot selection has him averaging about 20 points and nearly nine rebounds since Jan. 31. Can he take whatever weaknesses Nance he’s exposed against Nance in countless practices to live action and deliver a win? The Lakers are 6-2 since the All-Star break thanks, more than anything else, to his steady development.

Ironically, most Lakers fans would love to see James playing his role next season, which should make for an interesting atmosphere. Seriously, who is Jack Nicholson going to be cheering for come fourth quarter?

James is averaging 30 points, 8.8 rebounds and 9.2 assists in March and is just missing out on a triple-double since the All-Star break. He’s shot a tremendous 58 percent and has only worked one back-to-back, so he’ll be fresh for this one.

Ante Zizic is due for some extended run given the absence of Cedi Osman, which combined with Rodney Hood being sidelined due to a lower back injury, thrusts Jeff Green into the starting lineup and really ties Tyronn Lue’s hands in terms of depth. Kyle Korver figures to get a lot of run as only eight should play significant minutes.

Clarkson scored 21 points in his Staples return in Friday’s 116-102, his largest output since joining the Cavs in early February. He’s averaged over 13 points per game and shot the ball well, providing an upgrade from what Thomas brought to the table since he’s a much better defender.

Clarkson gets to go at Lonzo Ball, who has participated in L.A.’s last six games since returning from a knee issue and has averaged roughly 13 points, six boards, six assists and three steals. The Lakers are 4-2 in those games, but one can argue they would’ve beaten the Nuggets on Friday night if not for Ball’s 1-for-8 3-point shooting.

The total opened at 228.5, in part because the over is 8-2-1 over the Lakers’ last 11 games. Cleveland’s defensive issues are well-documented, but the low-side has actually prevailed in their last three games. Over their last seven, the Cavs have surrendered an average of 111 points per game.

These teams looked different when the Cavs beat L.A. 121-112 on Dec. 14 but surpassed that total (221). Ingram was available and led the Lakers with 26 points, while Randle was coming off the bench and played just over 21 minutes. Kevin Love led Cleveland with 28 points but is still out with a broken hand, though he’s hoping to return sooner than expected. There isn’t much to take from that matchup or the fact that Cleveland has won the last seven meetings between the teams other than the obvious. Cleveland has been good and L.A. has been a doormat.

Things are slowly changing, however, as this 2-point spread would indicate.

Injury report

James Harden is considered doubtful against Dallas as Houston wraps up a stretch of road games in seven of eight. After their 17-game winning streak was snapped in Toronto, it appears that the Rockets are going to give the MVP frontrunner a breather since he’s been playing at a high level despite knee soreness and the Rockets find themselves in a back-to-back situation with San Antonio coming into town on Monday night.

They’ll have a few days off before hosting the Clippers on Thursday before hitting the road to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Blazers. This looks like a well-earned night off for Harden, but does expose the Rockets to an upset since the pressure to keep a winning streak going has dissipated and the Mavs have been playing well. The number opened at Rockets -12.5.

Jaylen Brown has been put in concussion protocol after taking a nasty spill on Thursday, injuring his neck. The Celtics host Indiana, which got back Darren Collison on Friday but brought him off the bench, keeping Cory Joseph in the lineup for now.



Anthony Davis, still nursing a tender ankle, is considered a game-time decision for tonight’s big home date with the surging Jazz. Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com reported that Davis felt a lot better and has been upgraded to questionable. Utah is up 2.5 games on New Orleans in the tightly-packed Western Conference and the Pels stand no chance against Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors without him, so I’d expect him to play. The game was off the board at most places but some early numbers listed the Jazz as a 2.5-point road favorite.

Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder is questionable with an elbow strain as the Hawks host Chicago. With backup Malcolm Delaney sidelined due to an ankle issue, Isaiah Taylor could be in for major minutes despite playing with a tweaked ankle. The Bulls opened as a 3-point underdog, but the line has come down to 2.5 at most shops.


Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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