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NBA ICYMI: Cleveland Still Can’t Right This Leaky Ship

Down a few key contributors, the supposedly new-look Cavs drop one to the red-hot Blazers. Plus, Big Al turns back the clock for a night, big men come up huge for Denver and Charlotte, and all the other big NBA news from Thursday night.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Thursday’s slate.

The Cheat Sheet

  • If LeBron can refuse to age, why can’t Al Jefferson do so for, like, one night? Nate McMillan called on the 33-year-old to help fill in for the injured Domantas Sabonis—and later for Myles Turner, who left the game early with a high ankle sprain. Al was on the court for 25 minutes total, the most action those knees have seen in two years, and tallied 20 points and 12 rebounds.
  • The Raptors are 51-17 after a 106-99 victory over Indiana—that’s as many wins as they had all of last season, and they pushed their win streak to 10.
  • JaMychal Green stayed loyal to the tank, tipping in Marc Gasol’s potential game-winner just after the buzzer.

Memphis fell short, again (to be exact: again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again) for its 19th straight loss. Green otherwise flourished, contributing a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. Gasol had 21 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, and Tyreke Evans ended with 25 points and nine assists, all while facing one of the worst lineups Fred Hoiberg could’ve imagined in the fourth. And. They. LOST. Disaster Artists, in theaters now.

  • No Kawhi (yet!), no problem: New Orleans fell to San Antonio, 98-93. The win lifted the Spurs from out of playoff positioning to the 8-seed, while the Pelicans and Timberwolves flipped spots, with Minnesota rising to the 5-seed.
  • Ben Simmons secured his eighth triple-double in Philadelphia’s 118-110 win over the Knicks, passing Magic Johnson for the second most as a rookie in league history. That’s one way to recruit LeBron away from the Lakers!
  • A Hoiberg game plan gone horribly wrong: Chicago’s reserves had 63 points on Thursday, while the Bulls starters had just 48. With its 111-110 win, and with the Knicks falling 118-110 to the Sixers, Chicago moved a spot further from the bottom and is now 11th in the East.
  • Marquese Chriss air-balled a dunk, Jared Dudley shoulder-checked Ricky Rubio, and Chriss completed the trash trinity with a Rubio cheap shot:

If you hadn’t guessed: The Suns lost, 116-88. Both Chriss and Dudley were ejected.

  • Big night for big men: Nikola Jokic’s 23-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double led the Nuggets to trump Detroit, 120-113. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard dropped 33 points and 12 boards on his former employers. Charlotte beat Atlanta, 129-117.

The Takeaway

Cleveland’s front office can reshuffle the roster, replace broken veterans with springy underclassmen, and demote an overpaid shooting guard out of the starting lineup. The Cavs’ holes are still leaking.

A hefty portion of that is by default—Kevin Love is still sidelined, as are Tristan Thompson and new Bron flames Larry Nance Jr. and Cedi Osman. Jeff Green (16), Kyle Korver (19), and Jordan Clarkson (14) all put double-digit points in the collection plate; the rest of the roster (not counting LeBron) scrounged up 21 points combined. The contrast between Portland’s pushy, unabating offense and Cleveland’s exposed just how far gone the latter is. At one point in the third quarter, the Cavs’ first, second, and third options were all jumpers LeBron settled for.

The Cavs had all the paint defense of a toddler left alone with a white wall; Portland grabbed 13 offensive boards on its way to a 113-105 victory. The perimeter D was no better, though C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard tend to have that effect. But that’s the problem with allowing the opponent to have all the looks in the world: You need to match it with your own offensive production.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists; Portland finished with its 11th straight win. How accomplishments from most Cleveland games are recounted is the purest example of “LeBron has to do it alone”: His MVP-level stat line comes first, then the opposition’s, as a whole, follows.

Play of the Night

“Not today” —C.J. McCollum: