Isaiah Thomas

Thomas plays big in long-awaited Cavs debut

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Thomas plays big in long-awaited Cavs debut

CLEVELAND -- Isaiah Thomas showed flashes of what made him an All-Star in his long-awaited Cleveland debut as the Cavaliers snapped a three-game losing streak with a 127-110 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Thomas scored 17 points and played 19 minutes in his first game in seven months, an impressive return to action for the dynamic point guard. Thomas added three 3-pointers and three assists before leaving with 8:10 left and the Cavs up by 12.

LeBron James scored 24 points, Kevin Love had 19 and Jae Crowder added 15 for the Cavs, who were coming off losses at Golden State, Sacramento and Utah.

Damian Lillard scored 25 for the Blazers after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Jusuf Nurkic added 23 and CJ McCollum had 19 for Portland.

The Cavs were unable to separate from the Blazers until Thomas and Dwyane Wade teamed up in the fourth quarter.

Thomas, who finished 6 of 12 from the field, knocked down a jumper and then fired a pass toward the baseline to a cutting Wade, who made a reverse layup. On Cleveland's next possession, Thomas spotted up in the corner in front of Cleveland's bench and buried a 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 100-91 lead.

A few moments later, James was sent in for Thomas, who first got a hug from his teammate and another from coach Tyronn Lue as the crowd roared (see full recap)

Aldridge, Leonard lead Spurs past Knicks
NEW YORK -- LaMarcus Aldridge scored 29 points, Kawhi Leonard had a season-high 25 and the San Antonio Spurs beat the New York Knicks 100-91 on Tuesday night to give Gregg Popovich sole possession of fifth place on the NBA's coaching wins list.

Manu Ginobili finished with 12 points -- three of them coming on what appeared to be a pass that went into the basket without everyone noticing.

Popovich has 1,176 victories, all with the Spurs. The five-time champion broke a tie with his friend George Karl.

The Spurs beat the Knicks for the second time in six days and won for the fourth time in five games. They beat New York 119-107 on Dec. 28.

Michael Beasley had 18 points for the Knicks, who were playing one of just four home games this month. They play 12 times on the road.

Kristaps Porzingis shot just 5 for 19 and was one of three Knicks to finish with 13 points (see full recap).

Suns pull off late comeback over Hawks
PHOENIX -- Devin Booker sank three free throws to put Phoenix ahead with 12.3 seconds to play, Marquese Chriss blocked Taurean Prince's shot at the rim with 7 seconds to go and the Suns rallied from down 10 in the final 2 minutes to beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-103 on Tuesday night.

Booker scored eight of his 34 points in the final 37 seconds as the Suns finished with a 15-4 run. T.J. Warren scored 31 and Chriss had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks for Phoenix.

Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points for Atlanta. Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder added 20 apiece.

Bazemore made 7 of 8 shots, including 4 of 5 3-pointers, but he fouled Booker on a 3-point attempt with the Hawks clinging to a two-point lead.

Booker made all three to put the Suns on top 102-101. Prince then got free for what looked to be an open layup, but Chriss came from the other side of the court to block the shot.

Booker made two more at the line with 6.5 seconds remaining to make it 104-101. With the Hawks needing a 3-pointer to tie it, Schroder instead drove for the layup to cut it to one, but by then there was just a half-second to play and the Suns handed Atlanta its seventh straight road loss (see full recap).

NBA Notes: Nerlens Noel to have thumb surgery, miss several weeks

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NBA Notes: Nerlens Noel to have thumb surgery, miss several weeks

BOSTON -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says forward Nerlens Noel will have surgery for a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Carlisle made the announcement Wednesday before the Mavericks game with the Boston Celtics.

Noel will undergo the procedure in Cleveland later this week. Carlisle said he is then expected to be out for several weeks, but couldn't offer a specific timetable for his return.

Noel hasn't played since Nov. 22. He's appeared in 18 games with six starts this season, averaging 4.0 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Cavaliers: Thomas plays 4-on-4 as he nears return
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Cavaliers All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas played 4-on-4 on Wednesday, a significant step in his recovery from a hip injury.

Thomas, who has yet to make his debut with Cleveland, scrimmaged along with injured forward Tristan Thompson, rookies Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic, and members of the coaching staff.

With coach Tyronn Lue and members of the team's front office watching intently from behind the basket, Thomas moved freely and didn't appear to have any restrictions during the half-court workout that took place following the team's morning shootaround.

Lue reported that Thomas "looked good" and absorbed some contact. It was the second straight day Thomas scrimmaged.

However, Lue did not provide any update on when Thomas might play in a game. Lue planned to check with the team's medical staff to find out the next step in Thomas' recovery program, which the 28-year-old has described as his "slow grind" (see full story).

Suns: Booker (groin) expected to miss 2-3 weeks
PHOENIX -- Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks because of a groin injury.

The Suns said Wednesday that Booker strained his left adductor late in a 126-113 loss in Toronto on Tuesday night and would have an MRI. Booker froze in place near midcourt, and trainers came out to examine him before two teammates awkwardly carried him off the floor.

Booker had 19 points against the Raptors after scoring a season-high 46 points Monday night in a victory in Philadelphia.

The 21-year-old Booker is 10th in the NBA in scoring with a 24.3 average. In 25 games, he's also averaging 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He had a career-high 70 last season at Boston.

Coming off a six-game trip, the Suns return to play Thursday night against Washington.

Hornets: Coach Clifford out indefinitely with ‘health issue’
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- Hornets coach Steve Clifford will be away from the team for an undetermined period of time to deal with a "health issue."

The team made the announcement Wednesday in a release.

The 56-year-old Clifford missed Monday night's game against Orlando because he was not feeling well. Associate head coach Stephen Silas filled in for Clifford against the Magic.

Clifford has battled heart problems in the past, but a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the issue was not a heart-related. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team has not released details of Clifford's health issue.

The team said there is no timetable for Clifford's return and that officials would have no further comment.

Silas will continue to coach the team with Clifford out. The Hornets host Golden State Wednesday night.

"I just want to send him my best wishes," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Obviously I have been through some issues, and I don't know what his health issues are, but it's no fun. I'm wishing him well and I hope he gets back on the sideline soon. But more importantly I hope that he's healthy" (see full story).

Nets: Team keeping focus on Thunder in Mexico
MEXICO CITY -- No earthquakes or volcanos are on the back of the mind of the Brooklyn Nets players and coaches ahead of their regular-season game Thursday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Mexico City. At least publicly.

The game will be the 25th in NBA history South of the Border, the most for any country besides the United States and Canada. It also is the first since a 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19 killed over 300 people, most of them in the nation's capital.

"We talked about it and we talked about precautions with the NBA security on what we should do it happens", Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We are affected by it because it was big news in the U.S. and we saw the pain and suffering and sympathize with the victims. It was very moving to see those images, I can't imagine going through something like that".

The quake was the deadliest in Mexico since the one on 1985 on the same date killed thousands and it came less than two weeks after another powerful quake caused 90 deaths in the country's south.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick expressed relief to leave the country after a regular-season game against the Oakland Raiders played in at Azteca stadium.

"I think we're fortunate there was no volcano eruptions or earthquakes, or anything else while we were down there. You have two NFL franchises in an area that I don't know how stable the geological plates that were below us, but nothing happened, so that was good", Belichick said (see full story).

Rival NBA players stick up for Jahlil Okafor

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Rival NBA players stick up for Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor is in such an uncomfortable situation.

The Sixers don't want to buy him out, they won't find much of anything in a trade, they're not playing him enough (or at all) to allow his value to grow, and they seem content to just let this all play out despite their lack of interest in retaining him past this season.

Okafor has been crushed by this city, but he deserves credit for handling the last two years as professionally as any professional athlete could. Not until Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2017 did he publicly gripe and complain about his role. Up until then, he was a good soldier, saying the right things, staying quiet and supporting his teammates. 

Brett Brown appreciates the way Okafor has acted throughout this ordeal. It just doesn't mean he's going to play him.

"Jahlil’s done nothing wrong since he’s been here,” Brown said Wednesday. “He’s handled himself with class and he’s been tremendous as a teammate. You’ve got this sort of slippery slope of Bryan (Colangelo) trying to do the best for the organization in a situation that he inherited and Jahlil wanting to play basketball.” 

Not everyone would have handled this precarious situation the same way. Nerlens Noel didn't. In Phoenix, Eric Bledsoe hasn't. In Pittsburgh, Martavis Bryant hasn't. Granted, all those situations involve different context, but the point is that most players don't stay as quiet as Okafor, especially when they've yet to reach a big payday.

Players around the NBA have taken notice of what the Sixers are doing with Okafor. On Thursday morning, injured Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas stuck up for the beleaguered Sixers center.

A few NBA players, including well-traveled point guard Briante Weber, retweeted Thomas' thoughts.

It's interesting to see players who have nothing to do with the Sixers or with Okafor defending him. Thomas has nothing to gain by tweeting that, and the reason he cares is probably because the NBA, like all sports, is a fraternity and he's watching one of his peers be mishandled. 

Okafor is a flawed player, but this is his NBA life, his future. The less he plays, the less chance he has to earn money. The Sixers declined that $6.3 million option for 2018-19, and at this point, it seems unlikely Okafor is able to find nearly that much in unrestricted free agency.

It's hard to figure out what the Sixers are waiting for. Will they do better than a future second-round pick for Okafor? At this point, does it even matter? What good is he doing you on the bench? What good is he doing the organization as an unhappy camper who'll be the subject of questions on a daily basis?

It seems like Colangelo just doesn't want to make a move that could make the Sixers look foolish down the road. No GM ever wants to be the GM who trades a player for 20 cents on the dollar.

But the damage in this situation is done. Barring an injury to Amir Johnson that allows Okafor to return to the Sixers' rotation to put up some numbers, the market won't be improving for the Sixers. That's just not how leverage works. 

Folks outside of Philly are noticing it, too.