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No penalty from NBA for Drummond’s elbow? LeBron James not surprised

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The reaction to this one from many in the NBA’s 29 other precincts might be along the lines of puh-leeeze: LeBron James suggested Sunday that he doesn’t get his share of whistles when on the receiving end of physical play.

The bruised and bloodied bodies of fallen opponents strewn behind him might argue to the contrary.

But then, when the NBA has an opportunity to review video of some of the hits the Cleveland star takes – like a high elbow from Detroit center Andre Drummond in Game 3 Friday of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference series – and issues no retroactive flagrant or technical fouls or fines, maybe James has a case.

James wasn’t complaining at the Cavaliers’ shootaround session Sunday in advance of their closeout opportunity in Game 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. But he wasn’t hiding his belief, either, that all physical contact isn’t adjudicated fairly.

Asked about the Drummond blow and the absence of any rebuke, James told reporters: “Initially I was surprised. But then I thought who he did it to and I wasn’t surprised.”

Given the size, speed and power of James’ game, at a muscular 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, the sense among NBA observers long has been that he dishes out punishment without even trying, just from incidental contact that can hurt. The flip side is that, given his strength, he absorbs a lot of contact without getting knocked off course or sent to the floor, resulting in fewer whistles that way as well.

“He’s the Shaq of guards and forwards,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s so strong and so physical when he goes to the basket guys are bouncing off of him. Those are still fouls. But he doesn’t get that call because he’s so big and so strong and so physical.”

Lue, since taking over at midseason as the Cavs head coach, assiduously avoids criticizing the referees or NBA HQ over calls made or not made. It’s a button many coaches push at playoff time, dating back at least to Phil Jackson‘s tweaks while with the Bulls and the Lakers and probably all the way back to Red Auerbach and John Kundla.

Their goal: Plant a seed for the next game. But it can get expensive – witness Stan Van Gundy‘s $25,000 fine after Game 1 for bemoaning what he felt was the refs’ disinterest in calling offensive fouls on James – and it doesn’t suit Lue’s personality.

“It’s their job to clean it up,” said Lue, who proudly notes that he never got a technical foul in 11 years as an NBA point guard. “It’s not my job to complain about the situation at hand.”

James rarely is shy in complaining in the moment about calls he feels should have gone his way. His lightning-rod game and expressive gripes, added to every NBA player’s default position regarding fouls, generates a lot of hoots and hollers from fans in arenas who think James actually gets preferential treatment from the refs.

Some teammates, such as Cavs center Tristan Thompson, are in the middle of the physical play that ramps up in the playoffs and see it differently.

“He gets beat up the most. He gets beat up the most in the league,” Thompson said. “He takes a lot of hits night in and night out, especially in this series, and he keeps pushing and he stays mature.”

James takes the hits but clearly he doesn’t take them lightly. He had a no-nonsense look Sunday morning, suggesting a resolve to limit the Pistons’ shots at him by limiting their playoff run to the minimum of four games.

“I just like to gather my composure, my guys’ composure, going against the opponents’ fans,” James said this close-out opportunity on the road. “I thrive adversity and hostile environments.”

Rockets CEO: ‘No disrespect to Charles’

HOUSTON — Rockets CEO Tad Brown says there was nothing personal in his Twitter fight with Charles Barkley on Thursday night during Game 3 of the playoffs.

At halftime of the TNT telecast, Barkley said, “Ain’t nothing worse than fake hustle. I guarantee you the Rockets are going to lose this game.”

After the Rockets held on to beat the Warriors 97-96, Brown tweeted: “Charles would know, his entire Rockets career was fake hustle.”

In a hallway of Toyota Center Saturday afternoon while both teams practiced, Brown said he did not intend to question Barkley’s credentials as a Hall of Fame player.

“I was a huge fan of his growing up,” Brown said. “I have the greatest respect for him. This has been going on for a long time. Just trying to stand up for my guys. It’s no disrespect to Charles, one of the top 50 players of all time. At some point, just making sure our team knows we’re looking out for them, we’re trying to stand up for them.”

Analytics Art: Lowry still searching for shot in playoffs


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry talks about his role as a leader in Toronto

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Kyle Lowry made his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance in 2016 while solidifying his standing as one of the league’s elite point guards. The Toronto Raptors won 56 games in the improved Eastern Conference due to his exploits, just one victory off the pace set by the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.

Although Toronto suffered first-round playoff exits in 2014 and ‘15, this season seemed to yield new promise. Lowry’s play oozed confidence on a nightly basis and he ended 2015-16 with career highs in points (21.2 per game) steals (2.1) and rebounds (4.7).

All the while, the 30-year-old’s outside shooting touch thrived. Not only did Lowry attempt a career-high 7.1 3-pointers per game, but he made a career-best 38.8 percent of them.

Everything was clicking for Lowry during the regular season, but the postseason has proved much tougher for him. Though he played well in the 2014 playoffs — averaging 21.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists during a seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets — he hasn’t experienced the same individual success since.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Lowry was an absolute eyesore in the playoff setting a season ago. During the course of getting swept by John Wall and the Washington Wizards, he shot a ghastly 31.6 percent from the field and an ugly 21.7 percent from 3-point range. Even worse, Lowry failed to reach double-digit scoring in two of Toronto’s four games.

Toronto has turned its first-round fortunes around so far at least as it has built a 2-1 series edge the Indiana Pacers. But while the Raptors are finally winning playoff games again, Lowry’s shooting efficiency remains elusive.

Through the first three games of the series, Lowry is shooting 31.9 percent overall and 22.7 percent on 3-pointers. He’s averaging 8.0 assists per game, but his persistent shooting woes in the playoffs have to be a concern for coach Dwane Casey.

Lowry is a solid bet to make one of the All-NBA teams this year for his stellar regular season performance. That being said, he needs to re-establish that standing if Toronto is going to have any hope of a deep playoff run.

Crawford is Kia Sixth Man times three


VIDEO: Crawford secures Kia Sixth Man Award

LOS ANGELES — Jamal Crawford won the Kia Sixth Man Award and a fringe benefit: The hunk of bronze was “renamed” the Jamal Crawford Trophy.

Well, for one day, anyway. More like an honorary title, which still belongs to Kia. But here’s what’s permanent: Crawford is the only three-time winner of the Super Substitute award, and therefore is in the conversation for the best reserve in NBA history.

“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Crawford.

Yes, when you think of great sixth men, Crawford is in the loop along with Kevin McHale, Bobby Jones, Vinnie Johnson, Detlef Schrempf, John Havlicek and others who spent all or part of their career as bench players. It’s a tricky role to define, because most of those players were perhaps better than the players they subbed in for during games, especially McHale and Havlicek (whose career ended before there was a Sixth Man Award).

Still, this award defines Crawford, who fits the stereotype: A player who enters the game and puts his stamp on it by scoring, early and often.

“Starting is a cool thing” said Crawford.”But maybe this can inspire a new generation of players to tell them that coming off the bench can be cool, too.”

Crawford won the award with the Hawks in 2010 and then again with the Clippers two years ago. Even more, he’s 36 years old and in his 16th season; anytime a player can grab an award so late in his career is an achievement in itself.

“This is his best year, in my opinion,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “He’s got that bench group playing great, he changed his game, he’s moving without the ball, it’s not just iso-Jamal. Just the award in itself …  the thought of Kevin McHale coming off the bench is crazy. But sixth man in general doesn’t mean you can’t be a starter. It means you’ve accepted a role to help the team and Jamal epitomizes that.”

Crawford averaged roughly 20 points since mid-March and was a critical source of production when the Clippers lost Blake Griffin for 45 games with a combination of injuries and suspension. They managed to go 30-15 and stay in contention in the West without Griffin, partly because Crawford assumed a chunk of the scoring responsibilities. His big moment was a 32-point outing against the Thunder.

“Jamal took fewer shots but scored more points,” said Rivers. “That tells you how he evolved and what kind of impact he had for us.”

Crawford started for much of his career until 2008-09 when Mike Woodson asked him to come off the bench in Crawford’s first of two years with the Hawks, and Crawford found a home. This season he started slowly and was approached by Rivers at Christmas and that meeting lit a fire under Crawford.

With his career winding down, the question is, where does he fit among sixth men? Perhaps the standard was set by Havlicek, the “first” official sixth man who switched roles in mid-career and is in the Hall of Fame. Jones had a solid run with the Sixers and helped Philly win a title, and McHale, like Havlicek, evolved into a sixth man later in his career.

Crawford, if nothing else, will find himself ranked somewhere on the list. Which is fine by him.

“My main purpose is to help my team, and if that’s off the bench, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “That’s who I am.”

Pistons win ‘biggest game’ so far, while Bulls sink further in East

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls were all about clinching playoff spots Saturday night.

For Miami. For Charlotte. Just not for themselves with their 94-90 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons.

Instead of seizing the two-fer opportunity against the Pistons (who were playing the tail end of a back-to-back) and at least keeping pace with the Pacers (who rallied to win in Philadelphia), the Bulls dug their hole at the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket a little deeper. At 38-38, they remain in ninth place, two games behind Indiana and 2.5 behind Detroit.

Chicago has six games left and holds the tiebreaker against the Pacers but lost it, along with the game, against the Pistons. In the four-game series against Chicago, including five overtime periods, Detroit outscored the Bulls 440-439 in 217 minutes but wound up 3-1.

Stan Van Gundy had billed this one, coming in, as the biggest game of the season for his club. So when they closed it out, the Pistons coach didn’t back away from its significance.

“Up to this point,” he said, qualifying it just a bit. “Hopefully there are even bigger ones to come. But for four of our starters – and they all agreed – that’s the most meaningful win of their NBA careers. All of our starters except Reggie [Jackson]. But we’ve got bigger things to do. So we’re not there yet.”

Detroit closed out the playoff-style game by holding Chicago to 7-of-23 shooting in the fourth quarter, while its 11-of-16 work from the foul line was better than their 9-for-18 through three quarters. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Jackson were a perfect 8-for-8 in the final 2:17, with Van Gundy sitting center Andre Drummond for the final 5:22 after he bricked nine of his 10 free throws.

“He was 1-for-10 – he made the decision easy tonight,” Van Gundy said. “In a close game like that, we can’t be playing or hoping for one point at most when they’re playing for two or three. You can’t do that. You’re putting too much pressure on your defense.”

Chicago has been putting too much pressure on its entire game after flopping in that gauntlet last week against the Knicks, the Knicks again and the Magic. Taking even two of those would have them in seventh right now, a game up with the tiebreaker over ninth-place Indiana. Now?

“We are well aware of our situation,” veteran Pau Gasol said. “The math is probably against us at this point.”

With Derrick Rose (left elbow) and Taj Gibson (rib contusion) out, and with the four starters besides Jimmy Butler shooting zero free throws in a combined 112 minutes, the offensive load fell to Butler. He posted the first triple-double of his career – 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists – but he shot 10-of-25, dominated Chicago’s stagnant offense down the stretch and was exhausted before the final horn.

“He put up good numbers. He shot a lot of shots, too,” said Morris, who stayed physical with the Bulls’ scorer until Van Gundy switched Kentavious Caldwell-Pope onto Butler late. “Hopefully that’s what happens. He’s a good player, an All-Star. I love Jimmy, one of my closest guys in the NBA. Great player. He’s just one of those guys, we go back and forth.”

There’s no back or forth for the Bulls now, just falling down and looking up at the Pistons, the Pacers and six other East rivals in the standings.

Sacramento’s Cousins to seek treatment on feet while keeping eyes on Rio


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins with 29 points, 11 boards vs. Suns

DeMarcus Cousins sat out the final six games on the Sacramento Kings’ schedule at this time last season and could be on the verge of a shutdown again.

With playoffs obviously not on the horizon for Cousins or his team, some folks might want to see Cousins gut out what he can over the Kings’ final 10 games and put off some recurring foot and ankle problems until the offseason. But Sacramento’s two-time All-Star center has a deadline for good health that drops before training camp this fall, one that’s worth heeding if he can hit it: Team USA’s play in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

That opportunity for Cousins – he was a member of the 2014 World Cup team, recovering from a strained knee suffered during an early workout with that squad – is important both to the Kings’ big man and his reputation. He got some of his best reviews as a pro for his sacrifice and work with the other NBA stars on Team USA, stepping out of the indulged, allegedly immature franchise guy he’s known as from his work with Sacramento.

So if the 6-foot-11, 270-pound native of Mobile, Ala., and produce of the University of Kentucky were to call it quits on this NBA season for legitimate health reasons, it might be best for him and the Kings in the long run. Sacramento is headed nowhere but home soon enough, with Cousins already missing 11 of its 72 games, mostly from an early Achilles strain and turned ankles.

The Team USA roster won’t be announced until after the NBA playoffs but Cousins is one of 31 finalists from which chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski will select the 12-man squad. His hope would be to seek a unique treatment on his feet in particular, yet recover in time to participate in the Olympics. James Ham, the Kings insider for CSNBayArea.com, was on hand when Cousins addressed his health and summer ambitions Friday:

Cousins is in noticeable pain following games. He walks gingerly on his oversized feet, and it’s not without reason. At 6-11, 270-plus-pounds, Cousins’ lower legs take a beating this season. From an early season Achilles strain to multiple rolled ankles, Cousins has played in 61 games this season with 10 games remaining.

“I’ve been playing with tendinitis in my feet all season,” Cousins told a small gathering of reporters. “That’s why you see me walking up and down funny. Hopefully this procedure goes well and I can start preparing for Team USA.”

Cousins said he is planning to undergo Platelet Rich Therapy (PRP) on his feet and possibly shock-wave treatment as well following the offseason, with the hopes that it will relieve some of his pain.

According to Emory Healthcare, “Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy utilizes platelets from the athlete’s own blood to rebuild a damaged tendon or cartilage. It has been successful in not only relieving the pain, but also in jump-starting the healing process.”

The procedure is not considered surgery and takes less than an hour to perform. The recovery for this type of treatment is roughly 4-6 weeks and Cousins should be ready in plenty of time to compete for a roster spot for the Olympic Games in Rio, which begin on August 5.

Cousins won gold as part of Team USA at the 2014 World Cup and is looking forward to a shot at taking home Olympic gold as well. The 25-year-old center plans to rehab and train in Las Vegas in preparation for training camp.

Bogut likely out, but Kerr won’t sit healthy Warriors vs. Spurs


VIDEO: Clash of the titans, tonight on ABC (8:30 ET)

Good thing Golden State coach Steve Kerrheh, heh … was only joking when he talked about … ho, ho … sitting out all his best players from the Warriors’ highly anticipated … ha, ha … game at San Antonio as the latest entry in the NBA’s series of ABC prime-time Saturday night telecasts (8:30 ET).

Otherwise David Stern might have roared back demanding a 10-day contract from NBA commissioner Adam Silver just to mete out Kerr’s and the Warriors’ punishment.

“If I had any guts at all, I’d sit everybody,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after Friday’s win over the Mavericks. “It’s like our sixth game in nine nights. It’s on national TV. If I was [Gregg Popovich], I’d sit everybody, but I don’t have that kind of courage.

“I’m in my second year. I can’t flip the bird to the league, like Pop does every once in a while. That’s my guy, but I’m not in that class.”

As it is, the Warriors expect to play without starting center Andrew Bogut, who suffered a jammed toe in Golden State’s victory at Dallas Friday. The Warriors also have been playing without center Festus Ezeli (knee), swingman Andre Iguodala (ankle) and rookie Kevon Looney (hip).

The two Western Conference powerhouses will play each other three times in the next 23 days. And as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle notes:

The teams have clinched their respective divisions and appear to be on a collision course to meet in the Western Conference finals as they wrap up two of the NBA’s top three regular seasons ever.

Neither team has dropped consecutive games. Neither team has lost at home.

“This is the matchup that we’ve all been looking for,” Warriors forward Harrison Barnes said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league and one of the teams that we could possibly see in the playoffs. We’re excited. We haven’t won there in a while, so that’s something that’s on our mind.”

“Home dominance is always a hallmark of a great team, but normally that means 35-6,” Kerr said. “The fact that both teams are undefeated is shocking.”

The Warriors haven’t won a regular-season game in San Antonio since Feb. 14, 1997 — a 32-game skid that ranks behind only the Kings’ 43-game road losing streak to the Lakers from 1975-92. The Warriors did win Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals in the Alamo City after coughing up Game 1 there.

For a sense of how long ago it was that Golden State won in San Antonio, there’s this graphic, showing the teams’ starting lineups that night:

Butler, Mayo and Cousins in NBA’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ matinee


Since it’s Throwback Thursday on social media, we might as well throw it all the way back to that iconic 1966 “spaghetti Western” starring a young Clint Eastwood and directed by Italy’s Sergio Leone that has become a favorite of headline writers and those trading in triplets of all sorts.

In fairly rapid succession Thursday afternoon, the NBA produced news that broke down along the lines of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”

First “the Good:”

This is good news in a macro sense because anytime an All-Star player learns that an injury is less severe than initially feared, fans across the NBA should feel relieved, if not rejoice. It’s good news for the Chicago Bulls at the micro level, though, because any hope that team has of righting itself in time for a serious playoff run in the East bracket requires the services of Jimmy Butler. Here is more detail from Mike McGraw, Bulls beat guy for the suburban Chicago Daily Herald:

Butler, who missed 11 games with a left knee strain, made a successful return last Saturday in a win over Houston, but experienced swelling in the knee after the game. He sat out Monday’s victory over Milwaukee and will not be with the team when the Bulls play tonight at San Antonio. It’s not yet clear whether Butler might play in Friday’s home game against Miami.

Butler has had two MRI exams on his left knee, so structural damage wasn’t the concern when the all-star shooting guard chose to get an opinion from Dr. [James] Andrews. The Bulls have 20 games left to secure a playoff spot. As of Thursday morning, they were in eighth place in the East, a few percentage points ahead of Detroit.

 

Next came “the Bad,” lousy news that even ruthless Lee Van Cleef would Tweet “SMH” over:

The Bucks issues a release quoting general manager John Hammond and stating that Mayo suffered the fracture when he tripped down some stairs at his home. Milwaukee’s backcourt situation already was injury-riddled, with Michael Carter-Williams shut down for hip surgery and Greivis Vasquez sidelined by ankle surgery. Reporter Shams Charnia of Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical fleshed out Mayo’s predicament:

Mayo, 28, sustained the injury this week and surgery is a possibility, sources said.
Mayo … has averaged 7.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 41 games (24 starts).

He is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with Milwaukee in 2013.

 

That left – cue the mournful harmonica music of maestro Ennio Morricone – “the Ugly,” provided not surprisingly by the Sacramento Kings and chief migraine-inducer DeMarcus Cousins:

As if Cousins picking up his 15th technical foul of the season wasn’t disruptive enough in Sacramento’s home loss to Cleveland Thursday, the big man appeared to berate head coach George Karl during a timeout in the fourth quarter. Witnesses said Cousins was upset that Karl hadn’t argued foul calls on his behalf.

James Ham, Kings Insider for CSNBayArea.com, offered some context to Cousin’s one-game rip for conduct detrimental to the team:

[Kings GM] Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings have put their foot down. … Video was captured of Cousins yelling at the 64-year-old Karl during a timeout.

At one point Rudy Gay and assistant coach Corliss Williamson tried to intervene, and finally point guard Rajon Rondo stepped in between the two as they both sat in a team huddle on the sidelines.

The Kings are mired in a tough stretch over which the team has gone just 1-7 and watch their playoff hopes fade. Tension has been high as the Kings head towards their 10th straight lottery season. Cousins picked up his 15th technical foul during the game for arguing a call and he was in no mood to talk after the game.

This suspension comes on the heels of Karl informing the media late Wednesday that he will miss Thursday’s practice due to a cancer related procedure.

 

Before we leave this film classic, let’s give it the credit it deserves for Eli Wallach‘s character, Tuco, offering a bit of invaluable basketball advice: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

 

Blogtable: Looking ahead to Thunder-Warriors on Thursday

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Time to move back 3-point line? | More remarkable: Spurs’ run or Curry’s shooting? | Who needs win more in Warriors vs. Thunder?



VIDEORelive the last Thunder vs. Warriors matchup

> It’s a Thunder-Warriors rematch Thursday night (10:30 ET on TNT). Who’s more in need of a victory here, the Warriors to keep their 73-win season hopes alive? Or the Thunder, to show they can actually beat this Warriors squad?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOklahoma City needs this way more than Golden State. The Warriors only have to go 19-4 the rest of the way to break the Bulls’ record for best regular season, and you’ll notice that I didn’t put “only” in quotation marks because 54-5 makes 19-4 seem pretty darn breezy. But the Thunder have gotten 130 points from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in two games against Golden State — and lost. They limited the Warriors to 7-of-26 on 3-point attempts their first meeting — and lost. They held them to 103 points through four quarters, 12 below average, in the second meeting — and lost, giving up 18 in five minutes of OT. OKC needs some positive reinforcement, fast, to carry with it should the teams meet in the postseason.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comYou don’t ever “need” to break a record. And things do have a way of changing once the playoffs begin. But I think the Thunder would like to show themselves that they can close the deal on the Warriors.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Thunder. Golden State can keep its hope for 73 alive even with a loss. It starts to become a mental thing for OKC, though, if the losses in the series pile up. Not that the Thunder should want to see the Dubs in the playoffs either way.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com For so many reasons, the Thunder need this more. Even though they’ve played the Warriors close this season, their confidence mainly is at stake. To be able to crack the mystique of the Warriors, even for one night, might go a long way. As for the Warriors, their remaining schedule, loaded with home games, will still give them a solid chance at 72-plus wins.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com It’s more important to Oklahoma City. The Warriors want 73 wins and that mark would obviously cement their place as one of the best teams in NBA history, but they know who they are, one loss isn’t going to break their stride, and winning a championship is still more important than winning 73 games. With Kevin Durant’s contract situation, this has been a critical season in the Thunder, who need to show their star that they can compete for a championship this year or in the near future. Saturday’s loss at home had to be pretty deflating for OKC, who are clearly on a tier below Golden State and San Antonio. A win over the champs, especially in the building where they’ve won 43 straight regular season games, would be a huge boost of confidence for OKC, and give Durant reason to believe that his team can compete with the champs in a seven-game series.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think the Thunder need the win more, just to prove to themselves that they can finish the job against the team that has overtaken them as the next big thing in the Western Conference and the league. (Remember, just a few years ago, the Thunder were supposed to be the team of this decade). Win or lose, the Warriors still have 73 in their sights.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This outcome is going to directly impact the Warriors’ pursuit of the regular-season record. But it will neither enhance nor diminish OKC’s chances in the playoffs. Whatever happens in the postseason is going to be influenced by injuries and the unique dynamic of a seven-game series. So if the 73-win season means something to the Warriors, then that makes this rematch more important to them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAt this point, the Warriors have nothing left to prove. They might finish with 73 wins, or 70 wins, or whatever — we are certain that they’re one of the greatest teams in NBA history. I know the Thunder have played the Warriors pretty well in two games this season, narrowly losing both, and I think they could use a W against the Warriors for their own good, so they know that they can not just play them close but have what it takes to knock them off.

Cavs use Sunday as day of rest for LeBron, inciting usual grumbles


“Take rest,” Ovid said. “A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” But of course, the ancient Roman poet from the B.C. era hadn’t forked over several pieces of gold to watch the farmer tend to his crops, so what did he care if the guy worked that day or not.

Things are a little different in the NBA, where resting an otherwise healthy player – the way Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue did with superstar LeBron James on Sunday afternoon in Washington – is a touchier subject for multiple reasons.

There’s the competitive aspect, in terms of a team voluntarily not using its full roster in taking on that day’s opponent. There’s the fairness angle, since in this example James is a player who usually plays and wreaks havoc on most foes; sitting him down against Washington but not against Detroit, Orlando, Chicago or Charlotte does a favor for the Wizards while cutting no similar slack to the teams bunched around them in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Then there’s the entertainment factor or, in this case, the caveat emptor factor. Sports franchises market their offerings according to schedules; the more formidable and famous the opponents, generally, the more sought-after tickets to those games become. These days, teams often price their tickets accordingly, charging more for the glamour opponents that feature gawk-worthy stars or suggest the most hotly contested games.

Injury or illness is one thing; sometimes theater-goers get stuck seeing the understudy on Broadway when the star isn’t able to appear. But rest is different, with choice and strategizing typically involved.

When San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich decided to rest four players in November 2012, having them sit out a TNT network game in Miami that fell at the end of a six-game Spurs trip, the NBA reacted swiftly. San Antonio was fined $250,000 by former commissioner David Stern, who called Popovich’s decision “a disservice to the league and our fans.”

Tensions have eased since then, as more coaches have followed Popovich’s lead – OK, not generally for huge TV games in the season’s first month – and even the league HQ has backed off. Commissioner Adam Silver has made schedule-relief a priority in his first two years on the job. Still, it seems a protocol could be provided or suggested, since not all games, opponents and occasions are equal.

When Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green were held out of that 2012 Heat game, Stern – in announcing the penalty – noted that it was San Antonio’s lone Miami visit that season. While James sat Sunday, he at least had played in D.C. on Jan. 6, scoring 34 points in a Cavs victory. He will face the Wizards again Friday in Cleveland. At least some Washington fans got to see James up close and personal.

The whole home vs. road dynamic seems to have a role here too. Some fans at the Verizon Center might have welcomed James’ “DNP-Rest” because it upped the Wizards’ chances of winning. Others, though, surely wanted to see the four-time MVP perform, preferring basketball artistry and Monday-morning highlights chatter to any potential edge in the group effort.

Wouldn’t it be more fair, for instance, if NBA stars got their rest by sitting out home games? At least then, the fans in the building – while inconvenienced that night – presumably would reap the benefit of the rest, getting a fresher James, Kevin Durant or whomever for a deep playoff run. Home crowds have 41 chances each season to see its teams’ stars. Road crowds get just one or two.

This likely can’t be legislated away, not entirely. Coaches rest players when they need it, we’re told, not just according to the schedule. Road trips tend to be more draining than home stands, so that needs to be accounted for.

Maybe the Board of Governors – not disinterested parties, considering how much each team touts the dates when James, Durant, Steph Curry or Kobe Bryant visits – could mandate that voluntary rest be taken at home only. Or split evenly between home and road. Or maybe the bookkeeping would drive everyone batty.

But it still seemed odd to have James, in the same week he played against the Pistons, the Hornets and the Raptors, sitting idle in warm-ups Sunday, grooming his fingernails or watching Kiss-Cam on the scoreboard same as them. The Wizards didn’t seem to mind, opening up their fat lead and controlling the action on their way to a 113-99 win, but some of their fans surely did.