Cleveland’s healing process begins with a green light

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In the five stages of grief, the last is acceptance.

Let’s back up.

The folks in Cleveland are a long way from that. It’s going to take a few seasons and likely a new star for Cleveland to move past this summer, “The Decision,” and everything that came with it. They’ll be booing LeBron well into the mid-decade and talk about it for even longer. But the franchise has to move on at some point, and that process started against the defending Eastern Conference Champions, who Cleveland had seen some four months earlier walking off with their team in a death grip.

Not tonight, Boston.

Maybe it was the Celtics playing a letdown game on a back to back. Maybe it was a Cavs team against the wall. Maybe it was just one of those nights. But whatever the reason, Cleveland fans got to feel good about themselves for a night, and their now-ragtag-bad-news-Cavs squad. Leading the way? Their own indie-level hype-machine J.J. Hickson, beasting with 21 points and 6 rebounds including several crucial plays down the stretch. The rest of their team wasn’t efficient (Ramon Sessions 6-15, Daniel Gibson 4-14), but they were good enough to get the job done. And late in the game, they pushed, scratched, and clawed their way to a win over the Celtics.

You know, like they didn’t do last time.

Maybe this only serves to remind them of how thoroughly the King let them down before he departed for kingdoms far away. But for one night, the Cavs fans had to feel good about the effort on the floor and the result. Want to know how much the Basketball Gods smiled on Cleveland this evening? Ray Allen didn’t hit a 3-pointer. Not one.

The Cavs had a 102.2 efficiency rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which isn’t amazing, but the Miami Heat would have taken it in a heartbeat last night. What’s more, if ever there was a nexus of hoodoo voodoo heart and focus meeting advanced metrics, this game was it. The Cavaliers played their hearts out against an exhausted Boston team, and in doing so, they won the four factors that are discussed in advanced metrics, or at least drew the C’s to a draw. The Celtics shot 47% from the field to the Cavs 44%, but the Cavs outside shooting made their effective field goal percentage (eFG%) 48.1%, only slightly behind Boston’s 49.3%. Boston’s free throw to field goal percentage was only1.2% higher than the Cavs. The Cavaliers won the offensive rebounding battle and turnover fight, which meant it would just come down to who made plays down the stretch.

The rested, fired up, chemically combustive underdog did, and they walk out with a win.

This win won’t mean much in the scheme of things. Many of these players will be gone by the time March hits our faces with glimpses of sunshine. But for a night, the team held together, made their shots, and beat their demons on their home floor, a day after those same demons beat the traitor who’s mark they still bear. It’s the stuff of legend, but really only to the people of Cleveland. Which is appropriate, because they were the only ones who could understand how difficult this entire process has been and will be.

But don’t count on them getting past that anger stage any time soon.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.