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Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs come out flat vs. Nets | George injures leg vs. Pacers | Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses

No. 1: Cavs come out flat in loss to Nets — Some nights in the NBA, it’s just not your night — no matter how good your team may be. At a cursory glance, that might be the storyline as the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers lost on the road to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, 104-95. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com was on hand for the defeat and notes that despite an otherworldly performance from LeBron James, the Cavs showed troubling signs in the loss:

On Thursday evening at Barclays Center, the rebuilding, interim coach-led 20-win Brooklyn Nets defeated a disinterested, lifeless Central Division champion Cleveland Cavaliers squad 104-95.

“Tonight we took a step backwards and we can’t afford to do that late in the season like this,” James said after scoring 30 points on 13-of-16 from the field. He converted his first 11 field goals and was a nightmare to deal with as he got inside the paint whenever he wanted.

He was asked if he took what the defense gave him.

“It’s what I took,” he quickly replied. “They didn’t give me anything. That’s what I took.”

It’s too bad James’ moody, locked-in demeanor didn’t rub off on his teammates. Excluding his performance, the rest of the Cavaliers shot 36.6 percent from the field and was 10-of-38 from the arc. Cleveland was down nine with 2:01 remaining and could not find the basket for the life of them. Before Jordan McRae made a meaningless three-pointer with nine seconds left, the Cavaliers had missed 10 straight shots and mustered all of nine points in the period.

Kevin Love (11) was 5-of-14 and had a dreadful 0-5 outing from long distance while Kyrie Irving (13 points) missed 16 of his 22 shots. For the second time in less than a week, he skipped out on speaking to the media.

Bad shooting nights happen and it’s excused. But what isn’t excusable is lacking a professional approach. Despite head coach Tyronn Lue urging his team to not take the court with a complacent attitude, that’s exactly what occurred.

They came out lackadaisical and entitled. Their passes weren’t zipped, but rather floated and telegraphed. What was supposed to be hard cuts to the basket looked like pre-game walk-through drills. Lue walked away from his postgame presser disgusted with how his team performed.

“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” he said.

“I started my postseason mindset a little early this year, understanding everything we’ve been through this year both on and off the floor,” James said. “I just want these guys to understand how important this moment is. We have a great opportunity to do something special, at least compete for something special.”

There’s a sad truth. In the three games Love has sat out this month, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.3 points. Moreover, opposing point guards seem to have a field day when going up against Irving.

Shane Larkin entered the game averaging six points and four assists, but left the arena with 16 points, seven assists and was 7-of-10 from the floor. It’s a trend that keeps repeating with quick guards against Irving.

“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have,” James said. “And that’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I understand the moment that we have and it’s not a given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

Time is running out.

Flipping the switch seems like a dubious path to victory. There have been too many bad losses. Over time, it’s a pattern, and patterns are hard to break.


VIDEO: LeBron James says the Cavs ‘took a step backwards’ on Thursday

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No. 2: George suffers leg injury vs. Pelicans — Indiana Pacers forward Paul George has made a full comeback in 2015-16 after a gruesome leg injury caused him to miss all but six games in 2014-15. From being named an All-Star Game starter to him getting the Pacers back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, George has looked like the star of old all season long. But Pacers fans are a bit worried after George suffered a leg injury in last night’s home win over the New Orleans Pelicans and George sounds a little concerned, too. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more:

Just when the Indiana Pacers appeared to be fully healthy for their stretch run to a playoff berth, their most significant name hobbled off the floor and popped up on the injury report.

In the third quarter of their 92-84 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, Paul George left the game after his right leg collided with Alonzo Gee. George was moving backward while trying to defend a driving Gee. Upon impact, George said he felt “tightness and soreness” and immediately went to the bench and eventually to the locker room, where he remained. The team announced that George had sustained a lower right leg contusion.

“It was hard to put pressure through it, but I iced it and we’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” George said. “Hopefully it’s not too serious. It’s a day-to-day thing right now.”

After the game, George dressed quickly and stood while talking with reporters. He occasionally moved his legs as he answered a litany of questions, but his expression revealed traces of concern. The reason should be obvious.

“It was where I previously had an injury at,” George said downplaying one of the most horrific moments in his life and the greatest fear of Pacers fans.

This season, George has appeared in all 70 games and expressed the goal of going the full 82-game schedule. On Thursday however, George, who has sat out practices for body preservation, began to reconsider that personal point of pride.

“Certainly,” George said. “Hopefully as days go on, by the time we get to Brooklyn it’s well enough to play on.”

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No. 3: Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses — The Chicago Bulls opened this week with a 35-33 record, in possession of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and had a somewhat realistic chance of bettering their playoff cause. After back-to-back losses to the New York Knicks (Wednesday in Chicago and Thursday in New York), the Bulls wake up this morning 36-35 (they beat the Kings before those Knicks games) and at No. 9 in the East. It’s a continuation of a recent slide for Chicago and veteran power forward Taj Gibson is tired of it. He sounded off after last night’s game about the Bulls’ losses and more, writes Nick Friedell of ESPN.com:

Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson said Thursday, after the Bulls were swept by the New York Knicks in a home-and-home series, that he is “embarrassed” by his team’s inconsistent performance.

“Hell yeah, I’m embarrassed,” Gibson said after the Bulls’ 106-94 defeat. “I take pride in wearing this jersey. I love wearing the Bulls jersey. Especially what we’ve been through, I take pride in playing for Chicago. When I wear that jersey, I try to go out there and play my heart out. And it’s frustrating when we come up short, and we look at ourselves, we’re losing to … I don’t want to criticize any[body], [but] trash teams. Everybody’s in the NBA for a reason, but we’re playing against teams that are not playing for anything, and we’re just laying down. It feels like now we’re a target. It feels like teams are not taking us serious.

“Teams are more eager to play us. [In years prior,] it was vice versa. They knew we were coming in to punch people in the face and keep playing. It’s just, it’s hard, man. It really eats me up inside. It’s really hard to sleep at night knowing it’s coming down to the wire, and our effort isn’t there. It’s really frustrating.”

“Tonight, I’ve never been so frustrated and mad before,” Gibson said. “It was disappointing, man, just real disappointing. I’m just tired of having these same talks with [the media] every night. About how we got to do better. … [Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg‘s] right. We got to look ourselves [in the mirror]. I look at myself in the mirror every night, and I try to do different things every night. Still got how many more games left? We’ve got 11 more games left. It’s really do or die, and it’s really frustrating. We got to want it. We got to want it. Sometimes I feel we want it, sometimes I don’t know if we’re kidding ourselves or not.”

Hoiberg used a common refrain after the game, when he said his players need to look at themselves in the mirror and see what they can do to be better. The issue for the Bull — not just on Thursday but throughout the season — is that when times get tough, they usually fold. When asked why the mentality has changed, Gibson, who has spent his entire seven-year career with the Bulls, pointed to the new system in place under Hoiberg, the first-year coach he has defended throughout the season.

“It’s a new system, a totally new system,” Gibson said. “And we got a bunch of young guys, new guys, and it’s just completely different personnel. But like he said, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror, everybody has to be accountable. Like Jimmy [Butler] said before, nobody cares if you’re hurt, nobody’s going to care about anything. The only thing people are going to worry about is if you’re on that court and you’re doing your job. So we just got to do our job.”

Butler acknowledged the frustration in the Bulls’ locker room.

“We have to be able to flip the switch,” Butler said. “I think we want to find ourselves in the playoffs. Yeah, it’s frustrating. Most definitely. The majority of us haven’t been in this position since we’ve been in the league. We’ve always been at the top of the Eastern Conference. Right now, it’s a fight. But when it’s a fight, I think everybody has to man up. We have to stay in this thing together.”

“At times, I think we lose track of what we’re playing for,” Gibson said. “We’re not just playing for ourselves — we’re playing for the city of Chicago, and we’re playing to wear that ‘Bulls’ across our chest. And it’s frustrating because over the last couple years, we’ve just been one of those teams … we took pride in everything we did. And we can’t kid ourselves. We just got to do better. We got, what, 11 more games left? And I’m still going to be positive because all we ever talk about is negative, negativity in our press conference. ‘We need to do this, we’re soft, we’re this,’ and at the end of the day everybody is a man, and everybody has to do better, including myself.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Orleans Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis will reportedly be out 3-4 months after knee surgery … The San Antonio Spurs are going to rest Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw in tonight’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies … Madame Tussauds unveiled a life-sized wax figure of reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry yesterday (you can watch the unveiling here) … Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard needs shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of 2015-16 … Great read on the Charlotte Hornets’ surge of late in the East … 

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