NBA Season Preview: The Cleveland Cavaliers

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bscott.jpgLast season: 61-21, best record in the NBA, but an early exit in the second round of the playoffs after they ran into a deeper and more defensive-minded Boston team. Unless you’re from Cleveland, in which case LeBron quit. Obviously.

Head Coach: Byron Scott takes over the helm of a rebuilding project, looking to bring an up-tempo offense that really would have been handy with last year’s roster.

Key Departures: LeBron James and… does the rest of it matter? Does anyone care Shaq left? Big Z will be missed on an emotional level, but not on the court.

Key Additions: Ramon Sessions, a $14.5 million trade exception. Not much to write home about.

Best case scenario: Prove that this team was more than just LeBron by being respectable. (There are Clevelanders who have dreams of the playoffs, ignoring the realities of the new East or the needs of this team to rebuild.)

For that to happen: Scott’s system is going to have to get the Cavs role players to be just as efficient while having to take on more of the offense (and getting a lot more attention from defenses). The players on the Cavaliers roster may struggle to create their own shots. That makes the running offense a good option to get some easy buckets

The three-headed guard situation of Mo Williams, Sessions and Daniel Gibson will have to come together. Williams does not fear shooting but now he will be one of the few guys on this team capable of creating his own offense whenever he wants. He is going to have to both shoot and set up guys efficiently. Sessions is going to need to be the pure point guard, and when Gibson is in he is going to have to keep knocking down more than 40 percent of his threes.

JJ Hickson will start at the four and needs to emerge — he shot 80.9 percent in transition last season, so you know he has to like the new system. Hickson is just a better shooter on the move and when he can crash the offensive glass, and that’s what should happen now. Last season during he playoffs LeBron and every sane person at home was wondering why he was not getting more run — now he needs to prove he deserves it.

Antawn Jamison will be 34 by the end of the season but he will likely be the team’s leading scorer, and over the seasons his scoring efficiency has not dropped. However, he shot a little less last year and now he has to step back into the primary role, which will be hard.

The key to this team running — and playing good enough defense to run — may be Anderson Varejao being the energy and spark plug guy night after night. He has to defend the rim. He played that role before, but it is more crucial now.

More likely the Cavaliers will: Struggle as these guys find it hard to be as efficient in their new roles.

If you want to run, that starts on defense. You need the stops and turnovers to really make it work. Scott knows this as coach, but does he have the players to execute it? Last season the Cavaliers were seventh in the leuage in defense, and they had a premier perimeter defender in LeBron and bigger guys guarding the rim.

Jamison will have good nights ad some flubs. Same with Williams. This is a Cavaliers team that could struggle now on the boards — we shall see — but they will need to work hard there on both

Prediction: 32 wins. The Cavaliers will not be last year’s Nets.

But now is not the time to prove that you actually had a good team around LeBron, now is time to rip this thing to the core and start a rebuilding process. There are good young pieces like Hickson to start with. There is a massive trade exemption which likely will not land the Cavaliers a star but more likely will e broken up to take on some ugly mid-sized contracts that will expire. For that the Cavs will want draft picks and young players. Start from the ground up again. Rebuild. This year the wins don’t matter.

Kawhi Leonard’s 34 points rally Spurs past Timberwolves, 122-114 (VIDEO)

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a strong start by the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 122-114 victory Tuesday night.

Leonard’s fourth straight 30-point game helped him become the first San Antonio player to score 950 points in the first half of a season since Tim Duncan in 2003.

Coming off a career-high 38 on Saturday against Phoenix in Mexico City, Leonard was 12 for 17 from the field.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting, spoiling Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau’s 59th birthday.

San Antonio had difficulty with Minnesota’s explosive starting lineup. Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio added 21 points and 14 assists. Zach LaVine scored 18, Gorgui Dieng had 17 and Andrew Wiggins 10.

Minnesota’s 41 points in the second were a season high for any period and the most points in a quarter by a San Antonio opponent this season.

The Spurs were more active in the second half, holding the Timberwolves to 43 points.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: LaVine has 29 points, nine rebounds and three assists in two games since returning from a two-game absence caused by a bruised left hip. . Minnesota is 4-22 when allowing 100-plus points. . The Timberwolves’ last win against San Antonio was April 8, 2014, a 110-91 victory at home. . Minnesota’s previous high for a quarter was 39 points in the first against Orlando on Nov. 9. Its previous high for the second period was 35 in that same game against the Magic. . The Timberwolves are 5-15 on the road.

Spurs: Leonard has scored in double figures in 73 straight games, the seventh-longest active streak in the NBA behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Isaiah Thomas, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins. . Parker collected his 6,500th career assist, joining James as the only two active players with 6,500 assists and 18,000 points. John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton and Oscar Robertson are the only other players to reach those milestones. . San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was assessed his fourth technical foul of the season with 3:41 left in the first quarter for berating Michael Smith over a non-call. After Aldridge appeared to be shoved from behind on an attempted offensive rebound, Popovich walked the sideline screaming and shadowing Smith and had to be restrained near midcourt by Spurs assistant Ettore Messina. . The previous high for free throws attempted by an opponent was 38 by Sacramento on Oct. 27.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

Spurs: Host the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

In salary cap move, Hawks trade Mo Williams to Denver

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 31: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after hitting a three point shot during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena on March 31, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 107-87. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Mo Williams
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Mo Williams decided before the season he was done — he walked away from basketball and left the Cavaliers without a reliable backup point guard. LeBron James is still complaining about not having one.

But just because he wasn’t playing didn’t lead the Cavaliers to shed his salary. That was dead money that could be useful in a trade — such as landing Kyle Korver. The Hawks landed Mo Williams in that deal (along with Mike Dunleavy Jr. and a pick).

Now the Hawks have moved Williams on to Denver in a salary cap move for both teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Hawks worked out Gary Neal recently and saw the veteran as a shooter who could help them fill the hole left by Kover.

This is simply a salary cap trade. It’s not changing anyone’s rotation.

Mavericks edge Bulls 99-98 for 3rd straight win (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) Wesley Matthews made a go-ahead 3-pointer from the wing with 12 seconds left, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Chicago Bulls 99-98 on Tuesday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Six players scored in double figures for the Mavericks, including all five starters. Harrison Barnes had 20 points, Seth Curry added 18 and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Dallas trailed 98-96 after Jimmy Butler made a long jumper over Matthews with 23 seconds left, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle decided against a timeout and Deron Williams drove into the lane before kicking out to Matthews for the 3.

Chicago had one last chance, but Dwyane Wade missed a potential game-winning jumper from the corner on his 35th birthday as time expired.

Butler finished with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who had won two in a row. Robin Lopez scored 21, and Wade had 17 on 8-for-21 shooting.

Wade’s fadeaway jumper gave the Bulls a 94-90 lead with about 3 1/2 minutes left, but they were unable to close out Dallas. Chicago has dropped four in a row against the Mavericks, including a 107-82 loss in their first meeting of the season.

Chicago played without forward Taj Gibson, sidelined by left ankle soreness. Paul Zipser, a second-round pick in last year’s draft, started in Gibson’s spot and finished with five points and three rebounds in his 13th game of the season.

Gibson, averaging 12 points and 7.3 rebounds, could return Friday night at Atlanta. He had played in every game this season.

Dallas put together a 15-4 run spanning halftime to open a 64-51 lead on Barnes’ turnaround jumper with 8:38 left in the third. But Chicago kept chipping away at the deficit, and Lopez’s three-point play off a pass from Butler trimmed the Mavericks’ lead to 76-74 heading into the fourth.

Williams had 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds for Dallas, and reserve J.J. Barea scored 12 points. Matthews went 3 for 5 from 3-point range and finished with 11 points.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: C Andrew Bogut missed his third straight game with a right hamstring strain.

Bulls: Butler received his Olympic championship ring during a pregame ceremony. He helped the U.S. win gold in Rio de Janeiro last summer. … F Doug McDermott, who scored a career-high 31 points in Chicago’s 108-104 victory at Memphis on Sunday night, finished with seven points on 3-for-10 shooting.

UP NEXT

Mavericks: Visit Miami on Thursday night. The Mavericks have lost nine of their last 10 regular-season games against the Heat.

Bulls: Visit Atlanta on Friday night. The Bulls have dropped five in a row against the Hawks, including a 115-107 defeat at Atlanta on Nov. 9.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Goran Dragic scores 21 as Heat stun Rockets, 109-103

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MIAMI (AP) The way the Miami Heat saw it, this was a reward.

Goran Dragic had 21 points and eight assists, Wayne Ellington scored 18 off the bench and the Heat – saddled with one of the worst records in the NBA – overcame another triple-double from James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 109-103 on Tuesday night.

Dion Waiters scored 17, Tyler Johnson had 16 and James Johnson added 15 for the Heat, who trailed by a point midway through the fourth quarter before putting the game away with a 20-5 run.

“I’m glad to see our guys get rewarded finally for all the work, but that doesn’t guarantee anything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We talk about it all the time. You keep on putting in deposits, to the team, to the work, continue to work to get better … trust that process.”

Harden had 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Rockets (32-12), his 13th triple-double of the season. He shot 12 for 30 from the field and got his triple-double with an assist to Montrezl Harrell with 12.6 seconds left, an uncontested dunk with the Heat simply waiting for the clock to run out.

Harrell had 13 points for the Rockets, who got 12 from Patrick Beverley.

“They played hard and they beat us,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There’s not much else to say.”

Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 15 rebounds for Miami in a game that had 19 lead changes and 15 ties.

Dragic found Ellington for a corner 3 with 1:41 left to give Miami an 11-point lead – the largest either team had to that point. The Rockets turned it over on their next possession, James Johnson got a runout dunk and the Heat (12-30) soon finished off the win.

“We got open shots. We just missed them,” Harden said. “We gave ourselves a chance, especially in that third quarter. Fourth quarter we didn’t play as well as we need to.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Clint Capela returned after missing 15 games with a small left fibula fracture and started at center. He was scoreless in nine minutes. … The Rockets were without Ryan Anderson (flu), and Eric Gordon – bothered by a sore ankle – shot 3 for 17. … Harden’s triple-double was only the seventh posted by an opposing player in a game (including playoffs) at Miami – and the second in three weeks, after Russell Westbrook did it on Dec. 27.

Heat: It was Miami’s first home game since Jan. 1. … Okaro White was signed to a 10-day contract Tuesday, but did not play. … Floyd Mayweather was courtside, as he’s been for several Miami games this season. … Miami held the Rockets to a 9-for-39 night from 3-point range. … Miami’s bench outscored Houston’s 51-32.

TECHS FOR EVERYONE

Spoelstra received a technical early in the third quarter, upset after Rodney McGruder got hit with his fourth foul in 13 minutes. D’Antoni drew a technical with 5:40 left, and Beverley got one with 1:12 left.

HARDEN IN MIAMI

Shooting has never been easy for Harden in Miami.

He was 3 for 18 in two games at AmericanAirlines Arena in the NCAA tournament for Arizona State in 2009. He’s a 38 percent shooter in 11 games at Miami as a pro, 30 percent from 3-point range – and his teams are 3-8 in those games.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Milwaukee on Wednesday, part of a four-game, five-night swing.

Heat: Host Dallas on Thursday in the second game of a four-game homestand.