Associated Press

Cavaliers hold lengthy, clear-the-air meeting after slow start

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James dressed up as Pennywise, the devilishly demented clown from the movie “It” for his annual Halloween party.

The makeup made him unrecognizable. He was menacing, frightening.

Lately, James and his Cavaliers teammates haven’t scared anyone on the floor.

With four losses in their past five games, defensive issues, injuries and new players still trying to figure things out, the Cavs had a lengthy meeting on Tuesday before they practiced. It was a chance to clear the air and perhaps reset a season for a team that hasn’t come close to playing up to its potential.

“The slow start that we’ve had prompted us to just all get on the same page and kind of figure out what we need to do,” center Kevin Love said. “I feel like we can get in better shape, that’s going to help us on the defensive end. Communication, energy and just getting the new guys adjusted. So time will tell how it’s going to play out, but we have a lot of really good positive energy from today, so, it was a great practice.”

After a night of connecting in costume, the Cavs, who host Indiana on Wednesday, didn’t hide their problems during their pre-practice discussion that coach Tyronn Lue described as a “long talk.”

“Off the court we’ve got great chemistry, great bond,” Lue said. “On the court we just gotta be better. Like, talking, communicating, enjoying the game together. Having fun. Right now guys are not having fun.”

There isn’t much to smile about.

Following losses to Orlando, Brooklyn, New Orleans and New York in the past 10 days, the Cavs are ranked near the bottom of the NBA in defense and are giving up nearly 14 3-pointers per game. They’re coming off losses by a combined 41 points in their past two games, prompting Lue to say that James, who missed much of the preseason with an ankle injury, and others need to get in better shape.

Cleveland’s transition defense has been brutal, and Lue said some of that may be due to conditioning. He pushed the Cavs hard at both ends during Tuesday’s workout and noticed a change.

“Watching us today, damn,” Lue said. “It’s a big difference. I’m screaming play with pace, and move the ball, move bodies, we got to get in better shape to do that.”

James sprained his left ankle during Cleveland’s second practice in training camp and only played in one exhibition. Although he hasn’t shown any major decline in his game, the 32-year-old is not having the impact Lue needs James to have on the defensive end.

It’s hard to ask him for more, but Lue has no choice.

“Missing the whole training camp and getting hurt the second day of practice really set him back as far as being able to fly around and push the pace offensively and defensively fly around,” Lue said. “He’s trying to work himself back in shape, but the games are coming so fast and it’s hard to really do that. The best way to do that is by him playing more minutes and getting in game shape and we just got to go from there.”

Lue knew this would take time. With Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green and Jae Crowder among the new players on Cleveland’s roster this season, there were bound to be growing pains. Lue just didn’t expect them to hurt this much.

However, Lue has confidence the group is beginning to gel.

“They’ve been in winning situations,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure it out. Today’s start of film and practice, I think guys are getting a clear understanding of what they need to do.”

As the Cavs work out the kinks, they were able to relax at James’ party, which has become a social media must-see-event.

Love shaved off his beard and endured a long makeup session to dress up as WWE wrestler Sting. Kyle Korver was the Johnny Depp version of Willy Wonka, and Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, went as pop lip-synching sensations Milli Vanilli.

“I think it was good for us,” Love said. “I think it definitely lightened the mood and it was definitely a get-to-know-you moment with a lot of guys. We all get along, have fun, but I think in some odd way it will definitely help us.”

At this point, it can’t hurt the Cavs.

 

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.