News and notes from around the NBA:
TRENDING . . .Detroit Pistons’ revamp continues
The NBA’s trade deadline passed Thursday. While the Clippers added Jeff Green and the Lakers stood pat, the Detroit Pistons (27-28) continued their revamp under Coach Stan Van Gundy, who also is the team’s president of basketball operations. To bolster the Pistons’ playoff chances, Van Gundy added forwards Tobias Harris and Donatas Motiejunas and guard Marcus Thornton in deals with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets.
The Pistons gave up center Joel Anthony, forward Ersan Ilyasova and guard Brandon Jennings, leaving All-Star center Andre Drummond and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the only players remaining since Van Gundy joined the franchise in 2014. Drummond will be a restricted free agent this summer, and a top priority for the Pistons, who will have the right to first refusal on his next contract.
While the Washington Wizards, 10th in the East, added forward Markieff Morris with hopes of immediately improving their roster for a postseason run, the Heat, which was tied for fourth before Saturday, was more focused on shedding salary. Miami made four trades over the course of the season, dumping players like guard Mario Chalmers and center Chris Andersen, and successfully lowering their luxury tax bill.
When the season began, the Heat was facing more than $20 million in taxes, in addition to a $93-million roster. Now Miami is a hair below the $84.7-million tax threshold — and actually will receive a cut of the tax paid by teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Clippers. While that’s good news for Miami ownership, the franchise didn’t gain any additional spending power this summer when guard Dwyane Wade, forward Luol Deng and center Hassan Whiteside hit free agency.
With the trade deadline having passed, a number of teams have begun to buy out players, typically veterans who are willing to forgo a small portion of their salary for the freedom to join a playoff-bound team. As long as a player is waived before March, he is postseason eligible.
The Boston Celtics gave freedom to forward David Lee, who reportedly is joining the Dallas Mavericks. The Denver Nuggets cut forward Steve Novak, who has been linked to the Milwaukee Bucks. Other recent waivers include forward/centers Anderson Varejao (Portland), J.J. Hickson (Denver) and Andrea Bargnani (Brooklyn). Varejao was traded Thursday by the Cavaliers to Portland, which then released him.
Damian Lillard responds to snub
The Trail Blazers were projected to fall out of the playoffs after losing veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez. Instead, young guard Damian Lillard has carried his team to a 28-27 record and seventh place in the West. He scored 51 points against the first-place Golden State Warriors on Friday night. The statement from Lillard, perhaps a response to his All-Star snub, was the fifth highest-scoring game in the NBA this season behind Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (56 points), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (53), Chicago’s Jimmy Butler (53) and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker (52).
With roughly two months left in the regular season, the Western Conference playoff race appears to be a battle n among 10 teams. The Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are the top two, followed by the Thunder, Clippers and Memphis. Four teams are fighting for the next three spots — Dallas, Portland, Houston and Utah. The Kings are still in the mix, while Denver and New Orleans are on the outskirts.
East bunched up
The Eastern Conference is led by the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, followed by a long list of teams clustered together. The third-place Boston Celtics were just three games ahead of the seventh- and eighth-seeded Hornets and Bulls before Saturday. Also in the mix: Miami, Atlanta, Indiana, Detroit, Washington and Orlando. The New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks have faded out of contention.
Cleveland at Oklahoma City
When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m. PST. TV: ABC.
Cleveland defeated Oklahoma City in December, 104-100, led by LeBron James’ 33 points and 11 assists. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving sat out that game but has returned to the lineup after knee surgery. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka accounted for 75 points for the Thunder in the December matchup. The Thunder acquired veteran guard Randy Foye at the trade deadline hoping to add firepower.