The Cleveland Cavaliers received great news this morning regarding the condition of Isaiah Thomas. The diagnosis of the All-Star point guard’s hip after weeks of monitoring found he could be back in the fold as soon as January.
Until then, however, there will be somebody else holding down the fort until that day comes. Luckily for the Cavaliers, that man has enlivened LeBron James and the team itself looking ahead to the upcoming season.
“I’m excited more than anybody about Derrick [Rose],” James said of the former MVP, who spent last year with the New York Knicks. The kid has a lot to prove.
“I know from competing against him for so many years, especially in Miami when he was with Chicago, knowing the competitor that he has been over the years. Been a fan of him for a long time. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be a teammate of his.”
The endorsement from “The King” himself has instilled more confidence into Rose, who already has plenty of self-belief.
“It’s an honor,” Rose said. “I’m blessed to be in this situation, very fortunate that they even considered taking me. With this opportunity, I’mma take it and run with it. I think I’ve been preparing myself for this opportunity for a long time.”
Stepping into starting role for a team that has reached the past three NBA Finals and has championship DNA from whatever was going on at Madison Square Garden is a heck of a transition. To Rose, there are a lot of misconceptions about him.
On the floor, he really wasn’t put in a position to succeed by being a part of such a tumultuous organization. And even despite that, he still made the best of the situation he was in. James saw that and knows what he’s capable of.
“I think he had a hell of a season last year and people don’t really see because of the chaos that was going on in New York,” LeBron said. “Played 64 games, averaged 18 points, four and four. I’m excited to have him here because I want people to know that D Rose can still play at a high level.”
Rose believes his ability to distribute and find the open man is much better than what’s perceived by some in the basketball world. He’s more than ready to display those skills when the season kicks off.
“That gets overlooked,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I think I’m a great passer and my IQ of the game is high. It’s a lot of things that happened last year that overshadowed my play.”
When Rose was asked about how people view him from the outside, he isn’t surprised about the negative outlook. But, like many other new Cavaliers, he’s plenty motivated to prove himself.
“That’s every year,” he said. “It’s not my job to really get into it. I take bits and pieces of material that I think fuel me into the offseason that I’ll work on, but my job is not to listen to what everybody says. I’m the player. I know how good I am.
“I’m 28. People act like I’m 38 years old. My job is not to brag or boast about it. It’s to let them see me on the court and they judge and make their opinions after that.”
Those detractors may have to change their minds on Rose considering the talent surrounding him. Not since the early 2010’s has he even come close to having a supporting cast like the one in Cleveland.
It’ll be the healthiest locker room he’s been a part of since his career started, as well as one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the entire league. Riding alongside somebody like LeBron can do a little good, too.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why I chose to come here. For one, I’ll be happy playing basketball again. I’m back in a winning environment. The franchise and everybody that’s here has one common goal and that’s to win a championship.”
“That’s something I’ve been wanting my entire career, the opportunity to play for a championship, so I have a huge opportunity in front of me and I’m not shying away from it.”
If you don’t believe Rose, you’ve already heard LeBron rave over him. In his introductory press conference, Thomas had nothing but good things to say. So what about Kevin Love’s thoughts?
“He looks great,” Love said. “Seeing everybody and talking to everybody, figuring out where their minds were at in Santa Barbara—He’s hungry.
“He’s continued to be vocal about wanting to win, and I think he’s going to speak that into existence. He’s very, very heady. He knows what he’s capable of when he’s healthy, and he’s healthy now.”
Rose’s relationship with Love goes back to high school, where the two faced off on a number of occasions. There’s a bond between their families and they’ve been close for a while.
“He’s a competitor,” Rose said of the All-Star power forward. “That’s something I can always respect and always get respect from him. Whenever we’ve seen each other, it’s been nothing but love. We played on one world championship team, Team USA.
“His IQ of the game is high. The way he outlets the ball with me being on the break, that’s what guards dream for, a big like him.”
Staying on the subject of how Rose will fit into the Cavaliers’ scheme—it’s going to be as a facilitator. He’s a player that thrives in the paint by attacking the basket. In turn, it should force the defense’s hand and allow for those on the perimeter to capitalize.
Head coach Tyronn Lue is looking forward to seeing Rose being himself again, which will make Cleveland a force to be reckoned with once everything clicks.
“He’s 28 years old,” Lue said. “I know he’s been around for a long time and he’s achieved a lot of things in his short career being so young, but we really value what he can bring to this team.
“Coming to our team in the spacing that we have and the shooters that we have, I think it’ll be great for him. Give him a new start. He’s ready to go and he’s very excited.”
Itching to get on the court, Rose understands the challenge ahead of him with his new team. But sometimes that’s exactly what somebody needs to take their game to the next level.
“Every year, I kind of put pressure on myself to perform that way,” Rose said. “I feel like myself, as an athlete, if you go out there with no pressure you play lackadaisical and that’s not me.
“I want to be very precise with everything I’m doing on the floor and I want to produce. Coming to a team like this, of course, it’s going to be kind of easy to go out there and play my game. But my job is to go out there, push guys and just vice-versa. I want them to push me.”
When it’s all said and done, Rose made the choice to join Cleveland to start fresh. It’s something that’s lifted a weight off his shoulders and should allow him to perform to the best of his abilities in front of a much wider audience.
“I’m in a different stage of my career and life period,” Rose said. “All of that’s in the past. I’ll let that go with my injuries. All of that’s in the past. This is a new start, this is a new me and hopefully, people get that.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.