Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Cavaliers’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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Lue moves over 18 inches, enters new world of pressure, Cavs’ expectations


VIDEO: Tyronn Lue addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

The first day of the rest of Tyronn Lue‘s coaching career began unlike any he’d experienced before. Working on other guys’ staffs the past six and a half years bears zero resemblance to the duties and the pressures he’ll face now as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach, replacing David Blatt.

Lue began the day Saturday by officially running his first morning shootaround session. Then he met with the media for the first of what would be three times – in the morning, prior to his debut game against Chicago in the evening at Quicken Loans Arena and one more time for postgame comments.

He also toted along a grasp of the pressure he’s now facing.

Lue has one advantage over a lot of newly hired or promoted head coaches, but it isn’t necessarily flattering. Rampant speculation over the past year or more suggests that the Cavaliers players, foremost among them LeBron James, already relied on and heeded his counsel more than Blatt’s. It’s a perception Lue tried to put to rest right away, along with any notion that he would favor James in his tenure. As reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

He enters the job already with strong ties to James from a friendship that spans 14 years. He has James’ attention already, something that wasn’t always the case with Blatt.

“I talked to ‘Bron. I told him, ‘I got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first. And if I can hold you accountable in front of the team and doing the right things, then everybody else has got to fall in line, fall in place.’”

Lue said he wants to do things better, but not necessarily different than Blatt. He’d like to expand the rotation to 10 players and bring Mo Williams back into it. He talked about playing Williams alongside Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert to give the Cavs three ball handlers at one time and he’d like to re-establish Kevin Love’s presence at the elbow where he was most effective during his years in Minnesota.

Lue became famous last season for calling timeouts from the bench and making substitutions for the Cavs. But he was doing it all with Blatt’s blessing and said he never went behind his coach’s back at any point.

“Blatt knew I had his back 100 percent,” Lue said. “I would never do anything malicious behind his back. So, we talked yesterday and he said, ‘I thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I know you had my back 100 percent.’ ”

James, meanwhile, had a little of his own media spinning or clarifying to do. Given his public friction not just with Blatt but with past coaches, including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and former Cavs coach Mike Brown, James has the image with some observers as a difficult-to-handle NBA superstar. Many who hold that view assume he requested or demanded Blatt’s dismissal. But according to Lloyd’s report:

LeBron James insisted he learned of David Blatt’s firing when everyone else did and didn’t play a role in it. But he agreed with everything general manager David Griffin said Friday in announcing the decision and said now it’s clear what he meant sometimes when he wasn’t always happy after wins this season.

“Like I told you guys before, you get so caught up in the wins and losses and I tell you every day, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s how we play,” James said. “It’s how we prepare ourselves every day. … For something like this to happen, now you understand what I was meaning.”


VIDEO: James addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early | Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return | Bulls earning ‘soft’ label | Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves

No. 1: Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early — It was a hair-on-fire day for news in the NBA Friday, starting with the Josh Smith trade back to Houston and continuing through the pre-emptive weather postponement of NBA games from Saturday’s schedule in Philadelphia and Washington, right on to coach Steve Kerr’s return after a 43-game health absence to Golden State’s bench. But the whopper was Cleveland’s abrupt firing of head coach David Blatt. Not only had Blatt helped the Cavaliers reach the Finals last June, he had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and was in line to coach the East All-Stars in three weeks up in Toronto. Both local and national coverage blanketed the story, with ESPN.com providing the most exhaustive report courtesy of Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Here are notable excerpts:

At the very heart of the matter, this is why the Cavs fired Blatt on Friday, despite a record of 83-40 and a Finals appearance. Blatt viewed himself as a coach with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and 20-plus years on the sideline, a career that made him one of the most experienced coaches in the world.

The Cavs players, especially the veterans, saw him as a rookie.

The issues started before [LeBron] James returned to the franchise in July 2014. The Cavs were all over the place in their coaching search that summer. They offered the job to numerous big names, from John Calipari and Bill Self in the college ranks to Steve Kerr from the broadcast booth. [Cleveland GM David] Griffin also interviewed Alvin Gentry, whom he had worked alongside with the Phoenix Suns, and Tyronn Lue, a rising assistant who learned under Doc Rivers.

But team owner Dan Gilbert wanted to make a different kind of hire. He didn’t want a retread or an inexperienced coach, which is why he chased the veteran college coaches. It’s why he loved Blatt, who was a legend in Israel, something that appealed to Gilbert.

To complicate matters, the Cavs hired the runner-up for the job, Lue, to be Blatt’s assistant. To keep him away from the Clippers, the Cavs gave him a record four-year, $6.5 million deal — for an assistant. Gilbert would later call the coaching staff the best he had assembled in his time as owner.

Blatt endorsed the Lue move, which many in the league saw as an immediate undercutting of the head coach. Never before could anyone remember the runner-up for a job being hired as the lead assistant, and it was taken as an example of Blatt’s NBA inexperience. Blatt also didn’t understand that he would have to earn players’ respect; it would not be instantly given.

“It was like an 800-pound gorilla as the season moved on,” one person involved with the team said. “You could just see LeBron connecting to [Lue] and turning his back on David.”
That didn’t stay a secret. James’ and other players’ complaints about Blatt’s style got out quickly. During games, Cavs players complained about the coach to opposing players. Once, while on the road, an injured Cavs player used the home team’s therapy pool and complained about Blatt, with his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room.

Those who knew Blatt from Europe, where he was known as a fire-breather with players during games, were stunned at how he had changed. When Blatt was the coach of the Russian national team, he famously once kicked two of his best players off the bench because they were talking over him in a timeout. Now, spectators watched in awe as players barked at Blatt in timeouts. That was just one of many adjustments he made to try to make this unwieldy job work.

Blatt, meanwhile, retrofitted the Cavs’ defensive system with his new players, and that helped launch the team’s midseason turnaround. He melded in the new players effectively. He showed his experience as he found a way to give James space while looking for other ways to make a positive difference. At the same time, his yielding to the players — James especially — only further reinforced that Blatt wasn’t a coach who demanded respect.

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return— While one NBA coach’s relationship with his team was getting blown up Friday, another was reuniting. Steve Kerr, after nearly four months and 43 regular-season games, was back on the Golden State bench for its game against Indiana. Kerr had taken a leave of absence on Oct. 1 to recover and rehab from two back surgeries, and while his physical health demanded and benefited from the layoff, his mental health definitely craved his return to everything Warriors. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News was at Oracle Arena to chronicle Kerr’s first game back:

But on this night, one of the biggest adrenaline-rushes of the game actually came before the game, because Kerr had been gone so long after taking a leave of absence due to complications after back surgery.

And despite the Warriors’ amazing 39-4 run under interim coach Luke Walton–who happily moved aside one seat for Kerr’s re-arrival–the Warriors missed their coach.

More than that, he missed them. And was thankful to return to them.

“I felt great,” Kerr said afterwards. “Really nice reception at the beginning of the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd.

“Wasn’t our best stuff but we got the job done.”

Kerr has been at team practices for several weeks and on the last several road trips, but he’s the Warriors coach, he won a championship with them last season, and a coach needs to coach.

During the game, Kerr sat quietly through the first quarter as the Warriors got out to a big lead–what was he supposed to fret over?

Then, as the Warriors went through a flat period or two, or when Kerr protested a call or two, he got up, yelled a few things, and called a few timeouts.

He was back.
“Honestly, I didn’t think one bit about who we were playing and when,” Kerr said about the Spurs game ahead. “It was strictly about when I felt ready.

“I wanted to come back a couple weeks ago and I sort of had a target date in mind–and we got to the date and it was, ‘I’m not ready.’ I knew I wasn’t ready.

“But the last 10 days or so have been great; I’ve really felt good physically. Felt like I turned a corner. Feel like I’m ready to go, regardless of who was on the schedule.”

***

No. 3: Bulls earning ‘soft’ label — As of Friday, there wasn’t a coach in the Central Division who was happy with his team – and maybe not a fan base all that happy with its coach. Tyronn Lue is undefeated for the moment in Cleveland but the Pacers, Bucks and Pistons all have had their issues lately. And then there are the Bulls, where new head coach Fred Hoiberg is frustrated with his team’s poor starts and inconsistent efforts, while many Chicago fans are wondering if management’s designated replacement for Tom Thibodeau is the right guy for the job. Beat writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested after Friday’s loss in Boston that the Bulls are “soft,” a four-letter word equal to any profanity around pro athletes and teams:

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

***

No. 4: Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves — If Charles Barkley felt confounded by the fan balloting for the 2016 All-Star starters, he probably will again find plenty with which to quibble when the conference coaches make their selections for the East and West All-Star reserves. The seven players added to each roster – to be announced Thursday as part of TNT’s doubleheader telecast – presumably represent the next-best players through the first 45-50 games of the season. But of course, there are other factors involved. Some coaches apply arbitrary filters to thin the herd of candidates. Others might indulge shameless biases or personal grudges, or game the voting so one of their guys benefits. A couple of East coaches – Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Boston’s Brad Stevensgave some insight on their criteria to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:

“Probably the biggest criteria is looking at the team’s record,” Casey said, “because you can score 50 a game and have a losing record, and you’re not going to [be an] All-Star. That’s not only for me, but for all coaches.”

Casey was probably exaggerating just a bit, because a 50-point scorer on any team would be a lock, but you get his point. Wins matter. Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he uses team success as an easy tiebreaker among players who otherwise appear to be equals.

“Probably a differentiating factor will be who scares me the most,” Stevens said. “That’s just kind of the way I’d look at it. Obviously, who do you have to prepare for differently? Who makes you tweak what you normally do?”

When Stevens analyzes numbers and figures, he does find some advanced statistics quite helpful.

“I look more at efficiency than anything else,” he said. “I don’t get too caught up in points per game or rebounds per game or those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency and those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency from a points standpoint. You get caught up in rebound percentages. I think that, again, you have to also factor in fourth quarter and crunch-time performance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One of the most popular topics related to David Blatt‘s firing Friday was speculation over the degree to which Cavaliers susperstar LeBron James was involved. Should James be thought of as a “coach killer” after his experiences with Mike Brown and now Blatt? Or does he draw that sort of criticism unfairly? … The Brooklyn Nets might find plenty to like in Blatt as they cope with a real freefall. … The Nets needed a shooting doctor, so they hired a Nurse. … Former Marquette teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder battled in Boston. … Former NBA referees are mentoring their profession’s next generation. … Re-think whatever your definition might be of a “high basketball IQ.” Introducing the smart ball. …

Haywood: Blatt ‘couldn’t help’ team, ‘scared’ of LeBron, lost locker room

VIDEO: Ex-Cavalier Brendan Haywood gives his inside view.

Brendan Haywood played the last of his 13 NBA seasons with David Blatt, LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers, so he knew the dynamics in the room as Blatt made his way as a rookie NBA head coach in 2014-15.

Based on that, and what he learned from Cleveland contacts he had maintained inside and outside the organization, the former center was less surprised the news that Blatt was fired Friday by the Cavaliers than by its timing.

He shared his thoughts on the Cavs’ dramatic move in an interview on Sirius XM’s NBA Today channel.

“From what I was hearing, David Blatt kind of lost the team,” Haywood told hosts Justine Termine and former NBA player Eddie Johnson. “Then there were differences about what guys should be playing and what guys weren’t playing, from a management-coaching standpoint.

“When you throw in those type of things combined with the fact that Tyronn Lue already had a lot of power in the organization, had a lot of traction, and a lot of people that were there already viewed him as the coach, these type of things happen.”

Lue, 38, the Cavs’ associate coach was promoted to Blatt’s position Friday, agreeing to a new multi-year deal. There had been reports last season that Cleveland players heeded Lue’s instructions, confided in him and leaned more on his advice than on Blatt’s.

Haywood, 36, spent most of his career with Washington, won an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011 and was with Charlotte for one season before arriving in Cleveland in July 2014 in a trade that also delivered shooter Mike Miller. He mostly served as an insurance policy, logging 119 minutes in 22 appearances, but was a witness to the team’s business from within.

“It’s unfortunate because David Blatt’s a good guy,” the 7-footer said. “He was in first place. I’ve never seen a coach in first place fired. And on top of that, they’re in first place and their second-best player [Kyrie Irving] didn’t play most of the first part of the season.”

But there were legitimate reasons for the change that Haywood specified in the satellite radio interview. Among his charges: Blatt had a double standard toward James that other Cavaliers players resented.

“Coach Blatt was very hesitant to challenge LeBron James,” Haywood said. “It was one of those situations where, being a rookie coach, and LeBron being bigger than life, it was a little too much for him. I remember we had James Jones [talk] to Coach about how, ‘Hey, you can’t just skip over when LeBron James makes a mistake in the film room.’ Because we all see it.

“And we’re like, ‘Hey, you didn’t say anything about that. You’re going to correct when Matthew Dellavedova‘s not in the right spot. You’re going to say something when Tristan Thompson‘s not in the right spot. Well, we see a fast break and LeBron didn’t get back on defense or there’s a rotation and he’s supposed to be there, and you just keep rolling the film and the whole room is quiet.’ We see that as players. That’s when … as a player, you start to lose respect for a coach.

“Slowly but surely, that respect started chipping away where he would kind of be scared to correct LeBron in film sessions. When he would call every foul for LeBron in practice. Those type of things add up. Guys are like, ‘C’mon man, are you scared of him?’ ”

Blatt did not meet with reporters Friday, instead releasing a statement through his agents. It read in part: “I’d like to thank [owner] Dan Gilbert and [general manager] David Griffin for giving me this opportunity and am honored to have worked with an amazing group of players from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love through our entire roster.”

The flashpoints that marked Blatt’s first season in Cleveland – his attempt to call a timeout that the Cavaliers didn’t have left late in a playoff game against Chicago, drawing up a crunch-time play against the Bulls that James vetoed because it didn’t put the ball in his hands, assorted incidents of bad body language by the Cavs superstar relative to his coach – were largely missing this season.

But according to Haywood, they weren’t replaced by the positives needed from the head coach of an NBA championship contender. That’s why he considered Cleveland management’s move Friday to be fair.

“I remember last year telling somebody on the team, ‘I love David Blatt. But if we’re in a close game, he can’t help us,’ ” Haywood said on Sirius XM. “That’s not a shot at Blatt. But … David Blatt can’t come to a huddle and draw up a play that would get us a good shot. David Blatt doesn’t understand sometimes substitution patterns.

“The mistake he made against the Bulls when he didn’t have the ball in LeBron’s hands at the end of the game… There were obvious mistakes he was making, and you start to see it as a player, where ‘We’re going to have to win this on our own, because he can’t do for us what Gregg Popovich can do for the Spurs. He can’t take advantage of a mismatch the way Steve Kerr did in the NBA Finals – Steve Kerr made it so it was hard for us to play James Jones. They attacked him every time he was in the game.”

Actually, every coach in the NBA would attack James Jones with whomever he was guarding, but Haywood was on a roll.

“Blatt didn’t feel the game like that, and those mistakes can get you beat. When the goal is championship or bust and you don’t think that coach can get you to a championship or help you win a championship, then that’s what has to be done.

“I honestly think they’re a better team. I have no ill will toward David, I hope he gets another job. But as a guy who was there last year, I think Tyronn Lue will do a better job.”

Blatt fired, Lue promoted, James blamed?


VIDEO: Cavaliers fire David Blatt midway through second season

Cleveland head coach David Blatt – midway through his second season, seven months since taking the Cavaliers to the Finals and weeks away from likely coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars – has been fired.

And LeBron James is going to have to answer for it.

That’s just the nature of James’ superstar status and clout within the Cleveland franchise. There’s a hierarchy in the organization that includes owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin, who will be front and center in explaining the decision to dump Blatt at this point in another winning season. James and fellow Cavs stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will field the questions, too.

But in the long term, James will be the one most charged with demonstrating whether this was the right move at the right time.

The news of Blatt’s termination was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Blatt, 56, exits with an 83-40 record and a 14-6 mark in last spring’s playoffs. Even with the Cavaliers’ elimination in six games from the 2015 Finals, the injury absences of both Love and Irving (after Game 1) made it unrealistic to expect Blatt, James or anyone else to beat the Golden State Warriors.

Blatt had been successful enough in Israel and Europe to become the first international coach hired directly as an NBA head coach. But he was hired before James made his free-agent decision in July 2014 to return to Cleveland after four seasons in Miami. Blatt, ostensibly, had been hired to build a team around promising young players such as Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and others.

It also opened the door to speculation that Blatt never was the coach that James wanted, or trusted in his quest to bring an NBA championship to the market near and dear to the Akron (Ohio) native.

Tyronn Lue, the Cavs’ associate head coach, reportedly will take over immediately and be on the sidelines for Cleveland’s next game, a clash with the Chicago Bulls at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET on ABC).

Blatt had been named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for October/November after guiding the Cavs to a 13-4 start. Cleveland recently had gone 5-1 on a 12-day road trip, pushing its record to 28-10.

But a home blowout loss to Golden State Monday, 132-98, revealed a startling lack of preparation and focus by the Cavs. It exposed further difficulties in blending Love’s complete game with James’ and Irving’s talents. And it had James afterward saying, “We do understand we’ve got to get better. … We’ve got a long way to go.”

There was, naturally, no early confirmation of how much input James or any other players had in the decision. However, there certainly was speculation:

Numbers like Thompson over Mozgov when Cavaliers play big

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ longest winning streak of the season – eight games from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12 – coincided with a lineup change, Tristan Thompson replacing Timofey Mozgov at center.

The winning streak came to an end in San Antonio last Thursday and Thompson went back the bench for the last three games. Matchups had something to do with it. The Cavs’ last three games have been against big centers (Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut and Brook Lopez), and Cavs coach David Blatt acknowledged that size is the reason Mozgov has started those three games.

So Thompson could be back in the starting lineup again soon. It probably won’t happen on Thursday, when the Cavs host DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers (8 p.m. ET, TNT), but the Cavs’ numbers suggest that Thompson is the better choice.

The Cavs have played almost 1,000 minutes with LeBron James and Kevin Love at the forward positions, and about an equal number with Mozgov and Thompson at center. And Cleveland has been much better, especially offensively with Thompson at the five.

20160121_cle_ljkl_4wd

Those minutes account for 71 percent of James’ total minutes. He’s also played 78 minutes with Thompson at the four and either Mozgov or Anderson Varejao at the five. He’s played only 8.1 minutes per game of small ball this season.

Interestingly, the Cavs’ numbers have been similar whether James is playing with one big or two.

20160121_james_3-4

Thompson has been the center for most (192) of those one-big minutes, but the Cavs are a minus-26 with a James/Thompson frontline (in part because they’ve used it for more defensive than offensive possessions). They’ve been better (plus-63 in 86 minutes) with a James/Love frontline and three guards/wings, a configuration they could go to more often now that they have their full complement of guards available.

Lineups didn’t matter when the Cavs got smoked by the Warriors on Monday, but Blatt will continue to have interesting choices from game to game and minute to minute.

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The polls are officially closed, and now it’s just a matter of time before we find out if Kobe Bryant will go out on top.

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game starters will be announced tonight, live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET. In this his final NBA season, Bryant has led the NBA in All-Star voting since initial totals were announced, with 1,533,432 overall votes in the latest returns. Bryant has maintained a consistent lead over last year’s leading vote-getter and MVP, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, and has already surpassed Curry’s league-leading total of 1,513,324 votes from last season.

NBA All-Star 2016Curry (1,206,467) was second overall in the most recent voting returns, and was joined in the potential Western Conference starting five by his Warriors teammate Draymond Green (499,947), who was clinging to a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) in the last update. The Warriors, of course, have put together a historic first half of the season, with a 39-4 record through today, while Leonard’s Spurs are right behind them at 36-6.

Another contest worth watching is in the Eastern Conference backcourt. While Miami’s Dwyane Wade (736,732) seems to have a starting spot secured, in the most recent updates his probable backcourt mate was Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who had 399,757 votes. Just behind Irving was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, with 367,472 votes. Last season Lowry overcame a similar deficit in the final days to vault into the starting line-up. With the 2016 All-Star game in Toronto, it will be interesting to see if Raptors fans across Canada were able to marshall sufficient support for Lowry as the clock ticked down.

In the Eastern Conference frontcourt, while LeBron James and Paul George appear to have starting sports secured, the third position may still be up in the air. In the most recent voting returns, New York’s Carmelo Anthony (368,336) passed Detroit’s Andre Drummond (361,307) and was holding a slim lead for the final starting nod.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of “NBA Tipoff presented by Autotrader” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Clippers at the Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET) and the Spurs at the Suns (10:30 p.m. ET).

NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. Along with the NBA All-Star Game, the Air Canada Centre will also host the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 13. Other events at NBA All-Star 2016 include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Cavaliers at season’s halfway point?

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: Thoughts on Cavs? | Biggest surprise at season’s halfway mark? |
Rookie you enjoy watching most (and why)?



VIDEORelive the Warriors-Cavs matchup

> They lead the East, but in a five-day span they lost a close one to the Spurs on the road, then got blown out by the Warriors at home. What do you make of these Cleveland Cavaliers halfway through the season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Something’s amiss in the Land. It’s a combination of things, I think, but at the base the issue is how to be the defensive-based team that blew through the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring and dismantled a 60-win Atlanta team in the conference finals while integrating the offense-first Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love into the mix. The Cavs played championship-level defense in the postseason, but couldn’t score enough, as evidenced by the load LeBron James had to carry in The Finals. They’re going to be very good offensively once Irving is back at full speed, but can he and Love defend their positions well enough to beat elite teams? Not putting Monday’s beatdown by the Warriors all on those two, but clearly, Cleveland had no concept as a team of how to stop Golden State. Who does Irving guard? Stephen Curry? Nope. Klay Thompson? Maybe David Blatt puts him on Andrew Bogut, and I’m not kidding. But it’s going to be a question against the best teams, and those are the teams the Cavs have struggled to beat this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The Cavaliers are good enough and not good enough. They’re good enough to get past any rough patches, good enough to essentially control the East and good enough to get back to the Finals without too much angst or sweat. But they’re not good enough to beat Golden State or San Antonio in seven games, not yet, not as currently constituted. J.R. Smith is too erratic on and off the court to be relied upon to the degree Cleveland does, they need more outside shooting as it is and they’re almost starting over in cracking the LeBron JamesKyrie IrvingKevin Love code. They have lots on their plates for the final three months.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They’re fine. Not perfect. Not the team to beat. But the Cavaliers are still the favorite in the East and, if you want the real perspective, in much better shape than a year ago as doubt flew in every direction and coach David Blatt was supposedly on the hot seat. You know, before they got to The Finals and then to a Game 6 without two of their best players for most or all of the series.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI think the Cavs are fortunate to play in the East, and that all they need to do is win the conference, which last I checked doesn’t go through Oakland or San Antonio. Unless my math is wrong, that puts them in The Finals, right? Look, past history has proven that whatever happens in the regular season (losses to certain teams) often carries little weight in the post-season. Cleveland is fine, in the big picture. There’s a lot of basketball left to find a groove and seek answers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com They’ve improved defensively and rank in the top 10 on that end of the floor, which is where they need to be. But yeah, that top-10 defense obviously didn’t hold up against the league’s best offense (Golden State), and their offense struggled against the league’s best defense (San Antonio). The Cavs could probably win the East in their sleep, but the Warriors and Spurs are playing like two of the best teams of all-time. The Cavs could wait to flip the switch in the postseason, but now would be a good time to play with some urgency, not let bad teams hang around through three quarters, and see if they can’t match the Spurs’ and Warriors’ point differential for a few weeks.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They strike me as a team that is well aware that they are ill-equipped to handle either the Spurs or Warriors in a seven-game series right now. That narrative about a healthy Cavaliers team surely being able to finish what they started in The Finals against the Warriors seems a bit hollow to me now. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would have made a huge difference, but I don’t know that they would have been the difference between winning and losing. And the Spurs and Warriors have taken it up a few notches since last season while the Cavaliers clearly have not. I think it’s a good thing, actually, because now the Cavaliers can assess exactly what they are and make whatever adjustments, tweaks and or trades necessary.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Let’s acknowledge that they’ve been without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert for most of this season. But let’s also not dismiss the impression that they entered this year behaving as if they were de facto champs – as if convinced they would have won the NBA Finals if not for their injuries. If so, then they are learning is that it’s going to require more than talent and depth and potential. Instead of seeing them express the arrogance and indiscipline that led to their blowout loss to the real champions, maybe we’ll see the Cavs approach the second half of the year with humility – which is their only hope.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not sure what to make of them. Sure, they’re 28-11 and own the best record in the Eastern Conference. But LeBron’s wavering 3-point shooting numbers are at least mildly troubling to me, and while I know one game out of 82 can be viewed as an aberration, getting blown out at home by the Warriors is not ideal. I know the Cavs went all-in financially on this group of players, but I think they could still use an athletic 2/3 type who can hit 3-pointers and play defense. Things aren’t perfect right now, and the good news is that right now, they don’t have to be perfect. The question is whether things will get right by the time the playoffs roll around.

Blogtable: Biggest surprise at season’s halfway point is _____?

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: Thoughts on Cavs? | Biggest surprise at season’s halfway mark? |
Rookie you enjoy watching most (and why)?



VIDEOWhich team is the best at this point in the season?

> Biggest surprise to you at the halfway mark of this season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The rapid improvement of the East versus the West. You don’t hear much talk from the media about re-seeding the playoffs because of the dreadful East any more, do you? Not to sprain my wrist patting myself on the back, but some of us argued — and continued to argue –that there’s no magic potion or league-mandated jerry rigging that’s going to make the East better. If you hire good coaches (Brad Stevens, Steve Clifford, Stan Van Gundy), draft the right players (John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Andre Drummond, Kristaps Porzingis), make smart trades (Goran Dragic, Nicola Vucevic, Marcin Gortat) and sign the right free agents for the right amount of money (Pau Gasol, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap), it’s amazing how quickly you can make your team better. I am surprised, though, that Houston and Phoenix and New Orleans have fallen off so quickly this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In the team category, I’m most surprised by Dallas. No way did I expect the Mavericks to be in the middle of things out West. I underestimated the contributions they’d get from Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia and Dwight Powell, didn’t fully account for the value in shedding Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis and took for granted Rick Carlisle‘s coaching. As for individual surprises, C.J. McCollum has been something of a revelation. Sure, he’s getting more opportunity – he already has played more minutes than in his first two seasons combined – but he still had to be capable of responding to it. The slender shooting guard hasn’t just scored more, he has spruced up his mid-range game and doubled his assist percentage. He’s a big Most Improved candidate in my view.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Mavericks. I was like everyone else. I thought it was going to be tough several months. Through no fault of their own, but still. I thought losing DeAndre Jordan with little chance to find a replacement center, while also relying on Wesley Matthews coming off a serious injury and 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, was a near-certain invitation to the lottery. Instead, Dallas is tracking to the playoffs and 2015-16 is becoming another affirmation of the skill of coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs knew it all along, signing him to an extension before this latest proving ground, and a lot of people around the league knew it, but the success should be the ultimate sign of Carlisle and the atmosphere around the entire organization.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Pelicans. I thought by adding a decent coach and getting healthy and benefitting from one of the top-10 players in basketball would place them in the middle of the pack in the West (which isn’t that good this year). But they’re an awful team with major questions and, to be honest, Davis hasn’t improved a lick nor shown that he can transform a team (which is what superstars do).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Kristaps Porzingis. The rookie was supposed to be a couple of years away from really contributing, but he’s helped the Knicks on both ends of the floor. He’s obviously big and skilled, but he’s also got a fantastic attitude, seems very comfortable living in a new country and in the league’s biggest market, and he even has Carmelo Anthony trying to play distributor every once in a while.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest surprise for me is just how big a gap there is between the top teams in the league (Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and, perhaps, the Clippers on a good day) and the rest of the field. Like most people, I didn’t see the record start coming from the Warriors. And the fact that the Spurs are hot on the trail is truly an amazing feat, given just how all-time great the Warriors have been. Even with the significant improvement from top to bottom in the Eastern Conference, there is still a wide space between the true contenders and everyone else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors and Spurs are separating themselves fundamentally from the rest of the league. There is a long way to go, and things can change dramatically, but right now no other team is in the same league as Golden State and San Antonio.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Washington Wizards. For a team that pushed the Atlanta Hawks so hard in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, they definitely seem to have regressed. Now, I know they’ve had injuries, and they’re trying to play more small ball, but they just can’t seem to turn the corner and escape this neighborhood of being a perpetual .500 team.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

***

No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

***

No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.