Associated Press

As NBA playoffs approach, are Cavaliers showing cracks? Serious ones?

10 Comments

CLEVELAND (AP) — The on-court issues have been obvious for weeks. The Cavaliers’ problems now extend to their locker room.

The champions are showing cracks – and weakness.

Instead of celebrating a 135-130 double-overtime win over an Indiana team fighting for a playoff spot on Sunday, the Cavs were in damage control.

LeBron James apologized to Tristan Thompson, who was still fuming after a screaming match during a timeout with his world-famous teammate. Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith both made quick exits before speaking with reporters, and coach Tyronn Lue did everything he could to re-direct pointed fingers at him.

“My fault,” Lue said. “Blame it on me.”

Unless the Cavs get it together in the next few weeks, Lue may have to accept greater culpability. Cleveland’s postseason run could be shorter than anyone expected.

As James iced his ankles and knees after battling Paul George for 52 draining minutes before putting away the Pacers, Thompson was having trouble cooling off. The hard-working power forward briefly spoke with a team media relations member and general manager David Griffin before addressing a small group of reporters while James was speaking to the larger media group surrounding him in his corner locker.

Thompson’s answers were curt, programmed.

“We’re family,” he said. “Move forward.”

Thompson was more animated during the second OT, when he and James screamed at each other after some defensive breakdowns allowed George to get free for a pair of 3-pointers. While Cleveland’s crowd stood and roared during a timeout, Thompson and James squared off and yelled at each other, awkwardly forcing Lue and their teammates to play peacemakers.

Truth be told, the Cavs’ defense has been a major issue all season. They struggle to stop simple pick and rolls; they lack a rim-protecting big man (a role Andrew Bogut was going to fill before breaking his leg); they have been disjointed for months because of injuries; and they’ve lacked focus at both ends of the floor, relying on 3-pointers to overcome defensive deficiencies.

James, who was guarding George, seemed to expect that Thompson was going to switch on screens. He didn’t and George made the Cavs pay, scoring 19 consecutive points during one stretch of the overtime sessions.

The three-time champion expressed remorse from showing up Thompson, saying he could have handled the situation with his younger better. There have been many times when James is speaking with reporters when Thompson will yell goodbye before leaving the locker room. There was none of that love Sunday, with the postgame vibe subdued and strange.

Just last week, James insisted the team’s recent slide – a 7-10 record in March – had not affected camaraderie.

Well, there may be some exposed nerves now.

Another glaring deficiency in Sunday’s win was the Cavs’ inability to execute inbounds plays in crucial situations. Twice, Kevin Love attempted to pass to James and both times George was able to get deflections.

James blamed the poor execution on a lack of practice. The Cavs played 12 road games in March, making it difficult for Lue to schedule workouts while making rest for his players a priority.

“We haven’t practiced anything, especially late-game situations,” James said. “I can’t remember the last time we had a late-game situation.”

There’s certain to be some big ones ahead, maybe as early as Wednesday, when the Cavs visit the Boston Celtics, who have overtaken Cleveland and currently lead the Eastern Conference.

James, who is trying to reach the NBA Finals for the seventh straight time, has seen it all during nearly 14 pro seasons. He’s had disagreements with teammates before, which is why he did all he could to diffuse tension afterward.

“I apologized,” he said. “It’s cool.”

James knows this isn’t the time for a family feud. The Cavs need to be united before setting off what promises to be a much tougher road through the East, where teams like the Celtics, Washington Wizards and even the Chicago Bulls, who went 4-0 against the Cavs this season, don’t fear James and Co.

That’s for the future. Right now, with six games left in the regular season, the Cavs need to worry about themselves.

Reports: Lakers to sign Andrew Bogut to one-year deal

Getty Images
3 Comments

Brook Lopez will start at center for the Lakers. Behind him, they have a couple young players they want to groom, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant.

Those youngsters just got bumped a notch down the ladder — Andrew Bogut is about to become a Laker. Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the news, and other reports have confirmed it.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton coached Bogut at Golden State, and that connection helped get him to Los Angeles when Boston, Minnesota, and Cleveland were also trying to land his services. Bogut gets the system Walton wants to run and wants to be part of this new Lakers team.

The question with Bogut is always health. He can be a solid defensive big in the paint and is a good passer, but last season he broke his tibia in his first game with the Cavaliers, the latest in a long line of health concerns. Bogut’s doctors have cleared him to play.

The Lakers also add a solid veteran presence to help mentor those young bigs (although if Bogut is taking minutes from them it seems counterproductive). Bogut can show Zubac and Bryant the art of setting the best illegal screens in the league (he’s a master, Lonzo Ball will love him). We’ll see how many minutes Bogut gets when it matters.

This one-year deal gives the Lakers another potential trade chip and does not mess with their cap space next summer, when they want to clear out room and go after two max free agents (which will mean dumping the contract of Luol Deng, likely with Julius Randle or someone as a sweetener, to get the space). For Bogut, stay healthy and play well and he might come back on a minimum contract to a stacked Lakers team next season.

Report: Grizzlies to sign Ivan Rabb, adds to already crowded roster

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Memphis Grizzlies have 15 guaranteed contracts on the roster already — and that’s not counting a deal for JaMychal Green and the non-guaranteed deal for Mario Chalmers.

Which makes this signing interesting, via Marc Spears of ESPN.

The Grizzlies and second-round pick Ivan Rabb are close to agreeing terms on a three-year contract, a source told The Undefeated.

Two years of that are rumored to be guaranteed. If so, that leads to questions about who gets cut from the roster and paid anyway? Or, are the Grizzlies setting themselves up for a trade during camp? Also, Mario Chalmers is going to have to show enough skill for another team to grab him.

Rabb is a 6’10” guy with potential but a lot of development to do. He may be more of a four than a small ball five, but he needs time on the court to find out and show off his game. He didn’t get a lot of that time to show what he can do in Summer League due to a sprained ankle. He should get run in Grizzlies camp, where there are going to be some interesting roster battles.

Report: Andrew Wiggins to sign $148M max extension before camp opens

Getty Images
4 Comments

Old-school owner Glen Taylor wanted to talk with Andrew Wiggins face-to-face before maxing out the Timberwolves young wing, likely to say something along the lines of “you’re going to earn this, right?”

However, the deal was always on the table. Wiggins was always going to sign it.

That should happen in the next week, reports Darren Wolfson.

Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.7 percent from three, plus played solid defense, but he’s got a big new challenge this season — mesh with Jimmy Butler. Wiggins and Butler both play on the wing and have similar games — except Butler is pretty much better at everything. Thibodeau doesn’t want to have Wiggins just sitting on the weak side as a floor spacer most of the time, he’s got to get him involved. Problem is Karl-Anthony Towns is a flat-out stud who has to get a lot of touches, and while we’re at it Jeff Teague is better with the ball in his hands as well.

Can Wiggins improve his efficiency with fewer touches? Can he make the needed sacrifices to win and still find a way to assert himself (a question for a lot of the Timberwolves this season)? Wiggins has gotten his big payday, this season we start to see if he can take the next steps to being truly an elite player.

Watch Stephen Curry drill a penalty kick at Chelsea’s stadium

Getty Images
1 Comment

Chelsea is off to an expected strong start to the English Premier League season, racking up 10 points (3-1-1) in five contests, with a solid +3 goal differential. (That has them just one spot ahead of my beloved Newcastle, which is an unexpected fourth with nine points through five… I’m good with calling it a season right now and taking these standings).

If Chelsea is looking for a striker — and they might want one after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal over the weekendStephen Curry seems to have a decent right foot. He swung by Stamford Bridge and took a penalty kick (that the goalie probably could have stopped but…)

If Curry could strike from distance on the pitch like he does on the court, then we might have something.