Cavaliers not apologetic about sitting big three Saturday vs. Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, fans got to see LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love play (and score 101 points between them in a win).

Saturday night all three of them were out against the Clippers in a nationally televised game.

That rekindled a debate that has flared up all season and took on extra heat just a week before when Steve Kerr rested his four best Warriors players in a nationally televised game on Saturday night. Fans were pissed, you can be sure some suits at ABC/Disney were upset, and the league office called up the Cavaliers to complain.

Sunday, the Cavaliers to a man said that the rest mattered and they made the right call.

“It’s stupid,” coach Tyronn Lue said of the controversy, emphasizing he wasn’t going to play two guys coming off injuries in a back-to-back. “Because Kyrie didn’t come back the game before because of knee soreness, Kevin just had his first game back and he needed two games between these games. But whatever. It’s stupid.”

Elite teams resting key players, particularly on road games, is a growing pattern in the NBA — and with good reason. Studies have shown that players perform much better on the court when rested, and also they are 3.5 times more likely to be injured in the second game of a back-to-back (when muscle fatigue sets in). Coaches like Lue are paid to put their teams in position to win a title, and rest helps that cause.

But it does create problems for an entertainment product when the best players are not performing. Fans pay a lot of money to see LeBron or Curry the one time they come to town. Also, broadcast partners just signed a new deal that backs up the Brinks truck to the NBA, and then they are handed an inferior product to show.

“It sucks,” LeBron admitted Sunday, noting he can see that dilemma. “There are some times guys have to rest, and some guys need rest. It’s a long, strenuous season, and the NBA does the best it can putting the schedule together but you’re going to have back-to-backs, and you’re going to have certain games where certain things fall on certain nights.

“But coach’s job is to figure out a way to get a team to compete for a championship, and not compete for a game. And it sucks at certain times because you only play in certain cities once, or you only play certain teams once on their home floor. Me personally, I want to play in every game, I wanted to play last night but my coach said he felt it was best I didn’t play last night so I didn’t and I’m going to go with my coach.”

As for the concerns of broadcast partners, they make a lot of their value back come the playoffs, when guys are not rested.

“I’ve been part of six straight Finals, and every season the Finals is bigger and bigger and better and better, and more people are tuning in. So I don’t see a problem with people watching,” LeBron said.

While players often take the brunt of the criticisms — as with Karl Malone’s comments over the weekend — they rarely ask out. This is almost always a decision by management (the GM, team trainers, and the coach) and the players are informed they are sitting.

The NBA is going to start a week earlier next year, in hopes of stretching out the schedule and getting players a little more rest and have fewer back-to-backs.

“I can’t stress enough how important rest is, man,” Irving said. “You’ve got guys who have come before us and played 82 games and they have their opinions. We’re just in a different time now, a different way of taking care of your body and understanding what the goal is at the end of the season. It’s in the forefront of our minds — we’re playing for a championship run, a playoff run. We all want to play, I want to be a part of that as much as possible, but when our coaching staff and medical staff rests us I’m not opposed to it. I know fans all across the league want to see us at our best and they got to see a show tonight (against the Lakers). I would have loved go against the Clippers and go against a veteran team like that, but I have to respect the coach’s wishes.”

That said, Irving gets why fans are ticked. Like most around the league he’d like to reduce the games he is rested, but the answers are not easy to come by. That said, it all starts with the schedule — if the NBA wants to promote Saturday games like they are playoff games, then they need to schedule them like they’re playoff games with rest on either side for teams.

“I’m 100 percent with (fans concerns),” Irving said. “Hopefully we can spread (the schedule) out a little bit more and get guys a little bit more rest. When you go from West Coast to East Coast, and this is our sixth game in eight days — I don’t think anyone realized that — and we’re not hear to complain about it, but honestly playing basketball for six games in eight days is a lot.”

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.