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Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving’

‘Reaction Jackson’ gets costly T

VIDEO: Pistons reflect on Game 1 loss.

CLEVELAND – Much has been made of Reggie Jackson‘s status as the lone Detroit Pistons starter with actual NBA postseason experience, an indication of how young and raw that group is.

So who was it acting like the newbie in Game 1 Sunday, costing his team a point at an inopportune time in its opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers? That’s right, Reaction Jackson.

It’s not as if Jackson, who turned 26 Saturday, is the Pistons’ resident old head (guard Steve Blake, at 36, is the oldest player on the roster). In fact, he’s one of the most obviously irrepressible, high-revving players in the league. But he messed up when he overreacted to a non-call with 3:24 left to play, his team trailing 96-92 and the pull-up jumper he’d just taken from 13 feet bouncing off.

Jackson felt he had gotten fouled and let it be known vociferously to referee Derrick Stafford, walking up fast on close on the veteran NBA official for an easy-to-give technical foul. Kyrie Irving hit the free throw, then one more on the ensuing possession.

So when Jackson drove for a layup and got a call his time for an and-1 play, Detroit still trailed 98-95. And it would get worse before it got better, the Cavaliers’ pumping their lead to nine in the final minute.

Van Gundy had been outspoken about the refs in his TV interview after the first quarter, alleging that LeBron James was getting away with offensive fouls. But the Detroit coach didn’t go there afterward, instead mentioning Jackson’s ill-advised exchange.

“I understand you’re frustrated, you think you got fouled, whatever,” Van Gundy said. “Doesn’t matter. First of all, we can’t give [points] away even in the first quarter. We don’t have the margin for error against this team to give those. But certainly not at that point in the game. I mean, one point’s huge. … He knows that. I’m sure if you ask him, he’ll tell you the same thing.”

Uh, we did. And he didn’t.

“Nah,” Jackson said, when asked if he regretted his technical. “I wish I got the call. I wish [the ref] had seen me get slapped on the arm.”

Van Gundy’s logic seemed preferable, though.

“So because ‘I’m mad at the referee, the way I’ll show my anger is give the Cavaliers a point,’ ” Van Gundy said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Playoff expectations for Cavaliers: Score style points or just win?

VIDEO: Kevin Love on getting ready for playoffs.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – More than any of the other 15 teams in the first round of the NBA’s postseason tournament, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be watched closely not just for whether they win or lose each game but for how they happen to do it.

Style points – more specifically, judgments of how LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving mesh their games and share the load – likely will be assessed, loaded with all sorts of portent for the presumed rounds to come.

At a certain level, it’s understandable. Cleveland’s “Big 3” has ebbed and flowed in its performances over two seasons together, leaving unanswered questions about whether one basketball or one system is enough to serve James’, Love’s and Irving’s individual talents. Also, the blueprint turned black-and-blueprint last spring when both Love (shoulder injury in Game 4 of the opening round) and Irving (knee in Game 1 of the Finals) got hurt, leaving the plan to go largely untested.

So with the alleged inherent mismatch of their No. 1 vs. No. 8 clash with underdog Detroit and status as the East’s favorites overall, the Cavaliers might find themselves getting poked and prodded, their pulses taken on the fly, to gauge their fitness to turn a six-game Finals loss into something more glittery this time.

Most teams start the playoffs just hoping to count to 16 (victories). People may expect the Cavaliers to unlock some secret formula, gel into a super-team and chase down their potential while they’re stalking the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“That’s on us to keep it [simple],” Love said after practice Saturday at the Cleveland Clinics facility. “I know that, as a human being, you want to get out ahead of yourself and know what’s next. But for us, we can’t do that. When we have that ‘win or die,’ ‘win or go home’ mentality and take it game by game, we’re so much better. I know in a lot of ways that’s a cliché, but that’s how we’re looking at it and I don’t think any of these guys will tell you different.”

And if Love gets neglected over in the corner waiting for some catch-and-shoot 3-pointers or if James takes over primary ball handling duties from Irving for a night?

“We don’t necessarily have time to hold our heads on who’s getting the balls, who’s not getting the ball,” Irving said. “It’s really just about winning and doing whatever it takes. And everyone has to understand that. It’s going to be different roles every single night. Teams are going to be making adjustments. So we just have to adjust accordingly, make decisions and continue to play our game. That’s it.”

As far as Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is concerned, there’s only one thing he wants to see from his team besides victories in the best-of-seven series with the Pistons.

“With this team, I think you have to be physical,” Lue said. “Reggie Jackson is a big point guard, he attacks a lot. [Center Andre] Drummond‘s very physical, the best offensive rebounder in the league.[Marcus] Morris and Tobias [Harris] at the 3-4 positions, they’re very physical. The biggest thing for me is, I want our team to come out and be physical on both ends.”

Analytics Art: Stars who most lost their 3-point touch in 2015-16


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving mostly struggled from deep in 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry brought new meaning to the term “3-point sharpshooter” throughout 2015-16. The Golden State Warriors point guard obliterated the NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a season (286) that he set a season ago by draining an astonishing 402 treys.

But while Curry drained threes with Pop-A-Shot-like mastery, other league stars regressed in terms of efficiency from downtown.

PointAfter, a sports data visualization site that’s part of the Graphiq network, examined NBA players who attempted at least 80 3-pointers in each of the last two seasons to determine who slumped most season-over-season. While the players we highlighted aren’t the absolute bottom of the barrel by drop in 3-point percentage, they’re some of the league’s elite. That’s what makes their prolonged regression from deep so befuddling.

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 35.4 percent

2015-16 3P%: 30.9 percent

Percent Difference: -4.5 percent

To his credit, LeBron James really locked in from beyond the arc after the All-Star Game.

After shooting an ugly 27.7 percent from distance prior to NBA All-Star 2016, James drained a highly respectable 37.9 percent of his triples thereafter. Unfortunately for “The King”, that 25-game shooting surge wasn’t enough to prevent an overall down year from 3-point territory.

James isn’t known for his 3-point shooting, but a dip down to 30.9 percent on the season wasn’t ideal. He’s now been on a steady decline since topping out at 40.6 percent for the Miami Heat in 2012-13.

4. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

2014-15 3-point percentage: 37.8 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 31.2 percent

Percent Difference: -6.6 percent

Although Jimmy Butler sunk a higher percentage of his 3-pointers than James, he also saw his efficiency from downtown regress after his breakout campaign of 2014-15. Last year, “Jimmy Buckets” made his first All-Star team and won Kia Most Improved Player.

The Chicago Bulls’ top scorer actually managed to average slightly more points per game this season, but his roller coaster of inconsistency continued from beyond the arc.

Butler has continually followed up a stellar outside shooting season with a poor one. That might be nitpicking, because he’s a tremendous scorer and an elite defender. Still, Bulls fans would surely enjoy some consistency from Butler on his 3-pointers.

3. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

2014-15 3-point percentage: 41.8 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 33.2 percent

Percent Difference: -8.6 percent

In his first season after signing a four-year, $45 million contract, Danny Green didn’t exactly live up to expectations. Touted as one of the league’s premier “three-and-D” free-agent wing players last summer, Green’s excellence from 3-point range disappeared.

After making at least 41 percent of his 3-point attempts for four consecutive seasons, the Green shot just 33.2 percent on 3-pointers this season. It was the lowest mark since his rookie year, when he played 20 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Green’s defensive prowess at least keeps him a playable part of San Antonio’s rotation, but his 3-point cold snap has to be of some concern. The 28-year-old made just 25.8 percent of his 3-pointers in March and wasn’t much better in April (28.6 percent).

In short, he’s been a shell of himself as a shooter this season.

2. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks

2014-15 3-point percentage: 49.2 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 39.9 percent

Percent Difference: -9.3 percent

Last season, Kyle Korver flirted with what would have been the league’s first ever 50-50-90 season (he shot 48.7 percent overall, 49.2 percent from 3-point range and 89.8 percent from the free throw line). He made the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the first time in his career (as an injury replacement) and continued to establish his standing as one of the league’s truly elite catch-and-shoot snipers.

But several obstacles got in the way of Korver between last season and this one. He underwent right ankle surgery in May to repair ligament damage that occurred when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Matthew Dellavedova rolled into his foot in the Eastern Conference finals. After that, Korver had a second surgery to remove loose bodies from his shooting elbow.

Getting back to his old self after that shouldn’t have been deemed feasible, but a 9.3-percent drop-off is still rather alarming for a shooter as talented as Korver.

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 41.5 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 32.1 percent

Percent Difference: -9.4

For as much as Korver struggled relative to his masterful 2014-15 season, Kyrie Irving was worse. Not only did his percentage drop more than Korver’s, but Irving also made just 32.1 percent of his 3-pointers — ranking him No. 131 among qualified players, behind lesser shooters like Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker, Philadelphia’s Ish Smith and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio.

Since Irving entered the league, 3-point shooting has been one of his primary offensive weapons. That wasn’t the case this season.

Despite the shooting woes of Irving and James, Cleveland still managed to rank tied for No. 7 in 3-point percentage (36.2 percent). If he and James can catch fire in the postseason, the Cavs’ road back to the NBA Finals will be much easier.

This article was originally published on PointAfter (https://basketball-players.pointafter.com/stories/12614/nba-stars-who-lost-outside-shooting-touch), a partner of NBA.com.

 

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Blogtable: State of Cavs as playoffs near?

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: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?



VIDEOKevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win

> The Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the West and appear to be better than they were last year. The Cavs are the No. 1 seed in the East. Are they better than they were last year?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes, if only because Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving appear to be fully healthy going into the playoffs. And Tyronn Lue made the right call starting Tristan Thompson at center, giving the Cavs a chance to put their most athletic and dangerous lineup on the floor together in the playoffs — which would feature Iman Shumpert (if healthy) at the three and LeBron at the four (if LeBron will do it). Will be interesting to see how Lue splits minutes at the point — Cleveland’s best defensive lineups feature Matthew Dellevadova rather than Irving. I think all the soap opera stuff that follows the Cavs during the regular season dissipates once the playoffs begin. They have a much easier path to The Finals compared with Golden State.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Cavaliers are better for several reasons, chiefly (knock on wood) because they’re healthier than the crew that played five of six Finals games without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love was lost in the first round against Boston, Irving was already gimpy before he went out in Game 1 against Golden State, and LeBron James was left to shoulder the load while steering along the likes of Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova on training wheels. That was valuable experience for those role players, and both Irving and Love are relatively OK and eager to create some postseason highlights of their own. Channing Frye was a nice “get” at the trade deadline as a stretch big. Having Tyronn Lue as head coach removes some tension from the sideline that apparently existed last year under David Blatt. Finally, James can hear the clock ticking – he’s been to five straight Finals, but is 2-3 in them and would love to check off the “Championship for The ‘Land” box sooner rather than later. That’s a good urgency for the Cavaliers right now.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Physically, yes. Kyrie Irving is recovered. So is Kevin Love. LeBron is LeBron. Mentally, well, that’s a whole different story. Rarely has there been a 57-win team where you have to wonder if their heads and hearts are really in it together. They have the best roster in the East. Now they just have to act like it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. At least not yet. The Cavs can get there — one impressive stretch in the playoffs and the bandwagon will fill pretty quick — but the team capable of winning a championship a year ago has just as much or more to prove in 2016. The mood in the locker room sans coach David Blatt might be better, but that doesn’t mean the team that got to a Game 6 of The Finals despite being so shorthanded is better. And the mood might not be better. I’ll wait for the next foggy LeBron James tweet to let you know for sure.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comCleveland looks pretty much the same, with marginal improvements in defense and court awareness but still dragging an annoying habit of inconsistency with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the two non-LeBron players who matter most. Bottom line, though: Whether the Cavs are better or worse than they were last season after 82 games is meaningless. What matters is whether the 2016 postseason is better than the 2015 postseason.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Technically, yes. History tells us how important it is to rank in the top 10 defensively, and the Cavs rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency after ranking 20th last season. But they weren’t a very consistent defensive team, regressed on that end under Tyronn Lue, and aren’t at their best defensively when both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the floor. Though they’re healthier this season, they’re not any more likely to win a championship.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Cavaliers were not the No. 1 seed in the East last year, so by that standard alone they are a better team right now than they were this time last year. They are certainly going into the postseason healthy and with the working knowledge of how to manage this process as a group. LeBron James is sharpening his game at just the right time and having both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in a good groove bodes well for the Cavaliers making another deep playoff trip. All that said, I’m not sure they have any better shot at capturing the Larry O’Brien Trophy this time around. There are two Western Conference powers a clear cut above them in my eyes.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m not so sure the Warriors are better. They won more games this year, they’re more sure of themselves than ever and their integrity is second to none. But are they as strong defensively as last year? It’s something to watch for in the playoffs. The Cavs were playing at a higher level last year, no doubt. By Game 3 of the NBA Finals, however, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were gone. If they stay healthy this time, will their upside be higher? Undoubtedly so: They begin the playoffs with a bigger advantage in the East than the Warriors have in the West. And if the Cavs reach The Finals with LeBron, Irving and Love playing at a high level, who’s to say they can’t win?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t know. Or at least, I haven’t seen enough of this Cavs team under Tyronn Lue to come to a conclusion. Think of the way the Cavs played last year during the postseason, particularly The Finals — LeBron basically walking the ball up, using the shot clock, trying to create something. This was partly due to injuries, sure, but also because that seemed to be the Cavs’ default on the offensive end. Of late the Cavs seem to be playing with more energy and verve. Which Cavs team will we see in the postseason? that could make all the difference.

Morning shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: Cavs ‘still team to beat’ in NBA | Report: Kobe turned down Euroleague offer | Westbrook saves OKC against shorthanded Clippers | Report: Terry interviews for UAB opening

No. 1: Irving says Cavs still ‘team to beat’ in NBA — The Cleveland Cavaliers have already matched last season’s win total (53) with seven games to play. They seem to have a solid grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are also, however, 2-2 in their last four games and have looked a bit shaky at times since the All-Star break. Cavs star guard Kyrie Irving isn’t hearing any of that doubt, though, and had some strong words to say about his team’s place in the NBA hierarchy after last night’s win against the Brooklyn Nets, writes Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“We’re still to the team to beat honestly, regardless of what anybody else says,” he said after the 107-87 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. “‘[Pundits talking about] what we need and what we don’t need and what we need to get better at. . . . ‘ Us internally, we know we have to improve on a lot of things but we’ve just got to handle business as professionals and continue to get better.”

Clarification was needed. I asked him if he’s saying the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference or in the entire league. He didn’t backtrack.

“I feel like we’re the team to beat,” he replied. “Honestly, it’s open season until we get into the playoffs. I’ve got a lot more confidence than I think that anyone realizes in our team and what’s going on in our locker room.”

Their latest victory put them at 53 wins for the season, the total they accumulated last season. When LeBron James was informed of Irving’s comments, he didn’t completely join in on the “we’re the team to beat” narrative.

“I think we’re all confident in our ability when we’re playing at a high level,” James said. “We want to continue to use these games to get better. When the postseason starts, hopefully we can lock in, which I believe we can and make a run at it.”

A team with James, Irving and Kevin Love will always be a force to be reckoned with. At times the team has played down to the level of its competition and lost games it shouldn’t have. But the Cavs also have had some impressive road wins over some of top teams this league has to offer.

Cleveland has the third-best record in the association. So why aren’t the Cavaliers getting the respect they feel they deserve?

“It seems like that because everybody is watching Golden State. That’s why,” big man Tristan Thompson told cleveland.com. And that could be true. The Warriors are on pace to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins, and Stephen Curry is rapidly becoming the face of the league.

“We’ve had a damn good season to this point and we’re going to continue that,” James said.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving has some strong words after Thursday’s win

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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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Blogtable: State of Cavs as playoffs approach?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the recent LeBron James social media issues

> The Cavaliers were 30-11 when they fired David Blatt and they’re 20-9 since. What exactly has changed under new coach Tyronn Lue? And who you taking in the Eastern Conference bracket, the Cavs or the field?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’m not sure a lot has changed, though the Cavs occasionally flash some of the devastating potential they have when all their oars are pulling the boat in the same direction. I still think their ultimate success or failure this season will depend on whether Lue can convince LeBron to play at the four full-time, which allows Cleveland to get Iman Shumpert on the floor and is, IMHO, the Cavs’ best potential defensive lineup (and I say that knowing NBA.com/Stats ranks the Matthew Dellavedova/J.R. Smith/James/Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson quintet as their best defensive group). I still take the Cavs over the field in the east — unless you can guarantee me seven healthy games from Chris Bosh in Miami. That would be appointment-viewing Eastern Conference finals TV.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat’s changed is the Cavaliers can’t blame the coach anymore. They played that card when they fired David Blatt, shifting the onus from that moment forward onto the locker room, their three stars and LeBron James specifically. This is a sloppy, edgy, needlessly dramatic push they’re making to get back to The Finals — some of it due to their chemistry and flaws, some of it the result of being relatively ignored in a Warriors-and-Spurs season, some of it inevitable whenever James is involved. But the Cavaliers are going to get there, facing whoever’s still standing from the West. No other East team is beating them four out of seven, regardless of the level of hand-wringing or angst around Cleveland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Nothing, except their defense has gotten worse and their head coach is not as condescending. The Cavs remain the overwrought drama queens of the NBA and, yes, I’m taking them against the East field.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m still taking the Cavs, only with more pressure to succeed than before. (Which is saying something considering the expectations that had been in place.) They’re saying the mood in the locker room is much better, and that matters. Maybe it will matter more in the playoffs because it hasn’t translated to the regular-season standings. David Blatt produced results — a competitive showing in The Finals last June while severely shorthanded, the best record in the East this season at the time of the firing. If the Cavaliers go backward in the playoffs that’s a new set of pressure on the new coach.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed under Tyronn Lue is LeBron James’ goofy tweets. Otherwise, this team is the same-old, same-old, capable of looking super and stinky in the same week, and even that means nothing right now. It’s all about the playoffs for the Cans and I still give them an advantage in the East over everyone because they still have LeBron.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’ve been almost as good as the Warriors offensively since the coaching change, but their defense has regressed. When two of your three “stars” are defensive liabilities, it’s tough to be a consistent and elite team on that end of the floor. The challenge for Lue will be finding the right combinations to complement LeBron James, especially in The Finals, where the Cavs are going for the second straight year. As improved as the top half of the Eastern Conference has been and as much I look forward to the East playoffs this year, I can’t take the field.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They’ve certainly looked like a different offensive team under Lue. Kevin Love has looked more comfortable and they’ve been able to incorporate Channing Frye into the mix with relative ease. Their defensive slippage has been a bit alarming, especially for a team that prided itself on being proficient in that part of the game. But I didn’t expect some major spike from the 30-11 wave they rode under Blatt. Bottom line, these Cavaliers know just like we all do that their season will not be measured on wins and losses between November and April. The true measure of this team comes from mid-April until late June. It’s that simple. And yes, Cleveland gets the nod over the field.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Lue was promoted with orders to make changes to a winning team. Clearly those changes have been backfiring, especially on defense. Even so, I’m still picking the Cavs to reach The Finals in spite of themselves. What is most clear, based on the recent backslide, is that these players had little right to be blaming Blatt for anything. It’s still too early to make final pronouncements, but right now it looks very much like Blatt was the grownup in this relationship.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, they don’t look all that different to me, other than perhaps playing with a little more pace. We aren’t entirely privileged to knowing how things were in that locker room before Blatt was deposed, but my guess is the biggest change post-Blatt is in the locker room dynamic and around the organization. And sure, the field may be closer to the Cavs than they were a year ago, but I’ll still take the Cavs.

Cavaliers put rest before No. 1 seed


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will prioritize rest over the No.1 seed

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The maintenance plan in San Antonio is a staple of Gregg Popovich‘s program, no matter where the Spurs are in the standings this time of year.

But in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are just a game ahead of the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference playoff chase? Apparently so. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue made that clear to reporters today as he discussed the way he will approach the final days of the regular season in preparation for, what he anticipates to be a second consecutive deep playoff run for his team.

“We definitely want the No. 1 seed if we can get it, but I think we have to rest our guys also,” Lue said, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported after the team’s shootaround Monday morning. “I think health going into the playoffs is more important than the seeding. If we’re fortunate enough to get the No. 1 seed, it will be great for us. But if not, then we just got to play through it.

“I think all championship teams have to win on the road anyway. So, [the No. 1 seed is] important to us, but also being healthy going into the playoffs is more important.”

The Raptors own the tiebreaker of the Cavaliers, having won the season series 2-1.

The Golden State Warriors, locked in a race for the top spot in the Western Conference standings against the Spurs, might face a similar dilemma, depending on how things transpire in the coming days.

The Warriors have a three-game lead over the Spurs with two games remaining against Popovich’s crew. They are chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record 72-win regular season mark as well as trying to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Warriors are also 32-0 at home this season with nine of their remaining 13 games at Oracle Arena. They need to go 11-2 to break the Bulls’ record.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr addressed the topic before his team lost to the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday night, saying that he is already finding ways to keep his team fresh by resting his guys during games and adjusting his practice schedule and routine to make sure his team remains fresh for a defense of their title.

Lue played on championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, so he surely understands the need to rest his stars — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — in an effort to keep them fresh for a long postseason run.

But if it costs the Cavaliers the No. 1 seed, it will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.

Morning shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs deny lack of composure in loss | Bogut blasts his ‘dirty’ label | Bosh surprises Heat, sits on bench vs. Nuggets | Anthony: Knicks ‘gotta do something’ this summer

No. 1: Cavs deny lack of composure in loss to Jazz — The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Salt Lake City on a roll, having won three straight on the road as they closed out a four-game West coast road swing. With news that the Jazz would be without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) on Monday, the Cavs were seen as even bigger favorites to win. Yet Cleveland couldn’t contain Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors as Utah won 94-85 in a chippy game at times. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com says although things got physical in Salt Lake City last night, the Cavs do not feel they lost their composure at any point:

A quick glance at the Cavs’ 94-85 loss to the Utah Jazz, and it would seem some composure issues surfaced.

To wit:

  • The Cavs were whistled for three technical fouls, including two on Channing Frye. The third was on, you guessed it, J.R. Smith.
  • Frye headbutted and took a quasi-swing at Utah’s Trey Lyles with 3:57 left in the game and the Cavs trailing by 11. Lyles probably deserved it – he elbowed Frye in the groin and, like Frye, was also tossed from the game.
  • Frye refused to address reporters afterwards.
  • LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were bickering at each other during a timeout with 10:07 left in the third quarter. Some defensive miscues allowed the Jazz to go up by nine, and Irving missed a 3-pointer. He was 3-of-12 shooting at that point.
  • The James-Irving session carried on for several seconds, and both sides had their say.
  • Irving, who shot 7-of-23 for the game, went back onto the court here for about 30 minutes of extra shooting.

When it was all over, as in, the game, the Cavs’ three-game winning streak, this four-game trip out West, and Irving’s apparent therapy session, there were mostly shrugs from the Cavs.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” said James, who led the Cavs with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “I’ve always said we’ve still got room to improve, and this is another example of it. I don’t think it’s a step backwards.”

Of Frye’s aggression toward Lyles, James said “I loved it.” This was perhaps more interesting because Lyles, a rookie, is represented by agent Rich Paul, James’ agent. James typically doesn’t speak ill of the family.

“It’s nothing personal against Trey, it’s the game and (Frye) being able to stick up for himself,” James said. “But I love that side.”

Last season, Irving scored 34 points but registered zero assists in Cleveland’s game at Utah. That kind of box score infuriated James. On Monday, Irving tallied three assists.

“We want him to be aggressive, for sure,” James said. “We want him to read and react, and however he’s feeling, we want him to be aggressive and take his shot when he has it. I know he had a lot of great looks tonight. I know he doesn’t like his performance and he’ll be better.”

Irving said the dust-up with James was really a defensive “miscommunication between me and Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov).”

“That’s it,” Irving said. “Me and ‘Bron were talking about it.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ loss in Utah

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Morning shootaround – March 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.

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No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”

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No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”

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No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story


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