Even otherworldly play from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving not enough against Warriors

17 Comments

CLEVELAND – LeBron James silenced the questions about whether he’s the still the best player the world, nearing a triple-double with 39 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists. Kyrie Irving added 38 dazzling points.

And the Cavaliers still lost.

The Warriors ended a 118-113 Game 3 win on an 11-0 run, spoiling masterful performances by Cleveland’s biggest stars.

“It definitely hurts,” Irving said, his voice quivering. “I’m human.”

Had Golden State – with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and a 15-0 playoff record – finally ground the Cavs into submission? Irving sounded shook.

“I apologize if I’m shivering,” Irving said. “I just got out of the cold tub. So don’t think I’m like getting sensitive on you guys. Just pretty cold.”

So, the Cavs aren’t quite on the verge of tears. But here’s a frigid reality: They’re on the verge of elimination, facing a 3-0 deficit – never before overcome – against arguably the greatest team of all-time.

If LeBron and Irving can play like this and still lose, what hope do the Cavaliers have? What else can they do?

“I gave everything that I had to this game, so I don’t look at it saying I wish I could have did this or I would have did that,” LeBron said. “I left it out on the floor.

“It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career. I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower. So, even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus.”

That’s a different tune from before the series, when LeBron put Golden State in the mix with the Spurs and Celtics as the best teams he has faced. While Irving claimed his demeanor was unrelated to emotion, LeBron is clearly the frustration of playing the Warriors

LeBron slammed the ball after his final turnover practically clinched the game for Golden State. He stewed, barely engaged in the final seconds. As the clock mercifully neared zero, he stormed through hugging teammates on the bench toward the locker room.

Cleveland outscored the Warriors by seven in LeBron’s 45:37 and got outscored by 12 in the other 2:23. Irving played 44:23, making plenty of big shots when the Cavs’ offense might have otherwise stagnated.

All along, Golden State coach Steve Kerr implored his players to keep defending as they were and bet fatigue would set in. After carrying such heavy loads, LeBron and Irving each shot 0-for-3 in the final five minutes.

“When you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, it’s – you hope eventually it’s going to take its toll. I wasn’t sure after awhile. They just were going nuts,” Kerr said. “But I think that we just stayed with it, and our defense finally kicked in.”

Said LeBron: “At times throughout the game I was tired, but that’s just because I was just playing as hard as I could. But I was able to get second and third and fourth winds. I don’t contribute us losing this game because we got tired.”

LeBron keeps saying he’s not tired, but he looked worn down late – which is understandable.

The last teammates to play as many minutes as LeBron and Irving in regulation of a Finals game were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2012 Game 4. The Heat cinched that game when Westbrook committed a boneheaded foul in the final seconds.

Durant has moved on from the Thunder and those problems. After carrying a relatively lesser load than his star counterparts from Cleveland, Durant was fresh late and made all the key plays down the stretch.

Meanwhile, LeBron and Irving are left with the tiring burden of keeping up with a super team. The challenge, always immense, has never seemed greater.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell both make return from injury tonight

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Let’s try something different: How about some good injury news for a change?

Going through the roughest part of their schedule without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture in the West. The good news is Gobert is back starting Friday night.

The Brooklyn Nets took on a lot of salary (hello Timofey Mozgov) to get ahold of and see if they could develop D'Angelo Russell into their point guard of the future. However, he has been out since Nov. 12 and had to get his knee scoped to solve some issues. Now he is back as of Friday against Miami, and the Nets will again be able to get a look at him (as he heads into restricted free agency).

Neither of these returns are turning these teams into playoff teams, but they do help.

Brooklyn is not about the playoffs this season, but their gritty performances this season have picked up enough wins to frustrate Cavaliers fans (the Cavs have their pick in this draft). The Jazz are not completely out of the playoffs, but they are five games back in a deep Western conference and that will be hard to make up without some help. Getting Gobert back at least gives the Jazz a chance, and it’s an opportunity for Gobert and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell to start to develop some chemistry.

Report: Cavaliers interested in George Hill trade with Kings

Getty Images
1 Comment

When the Sacramento Kings made the much-maligned move to sign three veterans this summer to healthy contracts — George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter — there were three reasons for it. Two the Kings were very public about: They wanted mentors for the 10 young players on their roster, and they had to get up to the salary floor anyway.

The third, less discussed reason is those guys might make decent trade chips. Especially as the Kings move toward playing their youth more (as they should).

Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are stumbling through the East right now and have reached out to the Kings about a potential trade for Hill, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

In an effort to bolster their backcourt situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expressing interest in a trade for Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland has emerged as an interested suitor, with the Cavaliers pursuing Hill to potentially slide into a dual-guard role, starting at either backcourt position or playing as a reserve, league sources said.

The Cavaliers are starting Isaiah Thomas at the point, with the assumption that he will find his groove as his conditioning improves and he gets used to playing next to LeBron James, however, they have had issues at the two spot. J.R. Smith starts there now with Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver (both really more threes) behind him, but with Iman Shumpert out due to a foot injury the Cavaliers could use backcourt depth.

George Hill appears to have taken a step back this season, but he is still a solid guard who can shoot the three (45 percent this season) and be a good floor general. He could be a better backup point guard than Derrick Rose. Hill is not a season changer for Cleveland, but he would give them some solid depth and versatility.

The problem is money — Hill signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings. The Kings might be open to a Hill for Tristan Thompson and a second rounder deal (no way Hill earns a first, even a Cavs late one).

Consider it something to watch. The Cavaliers have to get better at the trade deadline, although they have no plans to move the Brooklyn Nets pick. The Kings are open to the idea of a trade. It’s a first step.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

Rob Carr/Getty Images
2 Comments

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.