Kurt Helin

PBT Extra: Cavaliers fired David Blatt for two reasons: Spurs, Warriors

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had won 11 of their last 13 games, were 30-11 on the season (despite Kyrie Irving missing much of the year), and were the clear best team in the East. So why was coach David Blatt fired on Friday?

For two reasons: Golden State and San Antonio.

As evidenced by losses to those teams in the last week, the Cavaliers were clearly not playing on the level of the two elite teams in the West. And make no mistake the Cavaliers are in win-now mode. They want LeBron James to help deliver titles to Northeast Ohio, their window is open, and they want to jump through it.

Whether new coach Tyron Lue can lead the Cavaliers to that promised land — particularly this season. But that is the goal in Cleveland.

LeBron James gets his guy Tyronn Lue; but can Lue get Cavs on same page?

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 7: LeBron James #23 and David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers converse during Game Two of the 2015 NBA Finals on June 7, 2015 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Cavaliers were quick with the spin in the wake of firing coach David Blatt — the Cavaliers are 30-11, had done that despite not having Kyrie Irving much of the season, the night before had waxed a top five NBA team (the Clippers), and the Cavaliers had won 11 of their last 13 games. Cleveland wanted to make this seem like LeBron James had nothing to do with this decision.

Riiiiight. There’s a difference between direct consultation and knowing what the team’s franchise player wants (something everyone around the league knew, it was an open secret LeBron and his camp wanted Lue, if it was a secret at all). ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explains well.

Tyronn Lue now has a three-year deal with the Cavaliers — this isn’t him in the role as an interim. This is Lue’s job — he’s been an up-and-coming coach loved by players league-wide, a guy a number of GMs had their eyes on should they make a coaching change. This has potential as a good hire.

But the hire — and the Cavaliers’ chances to beat the Warriors or the Spurs — comes down to these questions:

Can Lue get the Cavaliers to commit fully to his system and play hard at both ends of the court?

Will LeBron start to lead by example on that front?

Because it was clear LeBron did not do that for Blatt.

There remain a lot of questions in Cleveland.

The perfect example is Kevin Love, something GM David Griffin alluded to his his press conference. Love has been a whipping boy nationally in the wake of the Warriors thrashing of the Cavaliers, and certainly he did not have a great game and made some “interesting” defensive decisions. But he also has not been put in positions to succeed on this team — when was the last time you saw Love get a few touches at the elbow with shooters around him and guys cutting for dribble handoffs? That’s where Love’s decision making has torn defenses apart in the past. Love and Blatt seemed at odds about how the All-Star forward should be used.

Will Love stop deferring so much?

Will the Cavaliers, with all those athletes, start to play faster to take advantage of that and Love’s outlet passes? The Cavs are currently bottom five in the league in pace.

Can Lue tweak the pick-and-roll defense then get the players — particularly bigs — to recognize what is happening faster and put in the multiple efforts needed to defend the P&R, particularly the way the Spurs and Warriors run it.

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. And even if Lue is the guy who can get LeBron, Love, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the Cavaliers to buy in, then the question is can he do it this season? Probably not, which is why they were smart to give Lue a three-year deal.

Blatt can coach, but he was hired before LeBron committed to return to Cleveland — Blatt was recruited to take over a rebuilding team and develop players and a style. He never got that chance, and LeBron never fully bought in to what Blatt preached. Blatt should (and likely will) get another shot in the NBA, likely first as an assistant — remember Steve Kerr wanted Blatt as his lead assistant in Golden State until Cleveland called Blatt. He’ll get a chance show what he can do; he was thrown into the fire with this job.

Blatt never got full buy-in from LeBron, no matter how he spins it now.

Lue needs to prove he can get that buy-in — then we can start asking if that is going to be enough against Golden State and San Antonio. Because make no mistake, this move was made solely with those two teams in mind. Cleveland is in win-now mode, and those are the teams in its path to a title.

Kyrie Irving good with Kyle Lowry passing him to be All-Star starter

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For the second year in a row, Canadian voters made a late push for the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and vaulted him into being an All-Star starter — this time for the game in Toronto, making it especially appropriate and meaningful. Lowry had been 32,000 votes back before the final surge of votes made him a starter.

But if Lowry is in someone has to be out, and this year that was the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving.

Irving, who has played just 15 games this season after returning from knee surgery, is good with being passed, he told Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“He deserves it, man,” Irving said of Lowry. “It was going to be either way — whether I made it or not — it was going to be the same reaction from me. Just, either it would be good to be there in Toronto (or) like I said, he deserves it.”

Should the coaches vote Irving in as a reserve after just 15 games?

“Honestly, me as a principled man, seeing it from a broader perspective, I wouldn’t be mad at all,” Irving said when asked if he was resigned to not making it as a backup. “Personally, I don’t feel like I deserve it just from the amount of games that I’ve played and the body of work.”

Irving has just started to shake off the rust following his injury, and more so just trust his knee. He is averaging 15.8 points, 3.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds a game this season — are those All-Star numbers? Over someone like Isaiah Thomas or John Wall?

If the criteria for being an All-Star is solely play in the first half of the NBA season, then no, Irving should be able to stay home and rest (or go to Mexico for a few days, or whatever he wants to do). But to me, it’s more than that. What has happened in recent seasons matters, as does talent level. Factor those things in and I think Irving should be an All-Star Game reserve.

Three Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Stan Van Gundy is frustrated man

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Maybe Thursday was a rough day, but things always could be worse — you could be the guy who tried to snort cocaine during a traffic stop by police. But if, as part of your rough day, you missed what happened around the NBA Thursday, we’ve got you covered. Here is what you need to know:

1) Anthony Davis goes off leading Pelican’s win; Stan Van Gundy almost goes off after game.
Anthony Davis came out Thursday night and played like a guy who was pissed he could lose $23 million — he was not voted an All-Star Game starter. If he does not make one of the three All-NBA teams voted by coaches at the end of the season, he will not qualify for the “Rose Rule” on his max contract extension that kicks in next season, and it will cost him that $23 million. You’d be pissed, too. So Davis took it out on the Pistons, dropping 32 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds, and two blocks on them in a comfortable New Orleans win.

Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy was none too happy with his team’s effort in the loss.

Detroit is currently the six seed in the East, but they are just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs in a deep and crowded conference. Teams that close to falling out can’t be as inconsistent night-to-night as the Pistons have been. Interestingly, in his postgame comments, Brandon Jennings said Detroit misses having a veteran leader in the locker room that keeps guys focused and serious. Feels like he’s right about that.

2) Cavaliers get a quality win; Clippers get more questions. In the wake of getting run out of the building Monday by the Warriors (and losing to the Spurs last week), the Cavaliers’ have faced a lot of questions. What’s been surprising is their offense — which everyone expected to be dominant — was one of them. For a night anyway, the Cavaliers answered the questions on the offensive end Thursday — the team shot 50.6 percent, dished out 29 assists and picked up a 115-102 win over the Clippers. Every Cleveland starter finished in double figures scoring, led by J.R. Smith with 22 points. Kyrie Irving had 21 points, and Kevin Love added 18 points and 16 rebounds.

And when the Clippers did get the lead down to six in the fourth quarter, Cavs coach David Blatt — who before the game criticized the strategy — went to hack-a-Jordan, sending DeAndre Jordan to the free throw line and dragging the game down into the muck. Adam Silver, we’re looking to you to start leading on this issue.

Are the Clippers contenders? It’s a question Ben Bolch of the LA Times and I tackled in the latest PBT Podcast, but they didn’t look like it Thursday. Los Angeles had won 11-of-12 coming in and showed promise, but a tweet by Dan Wokie of the Orange County Register sums up the problem for the Clips against the top nine teams in the league.

The recent struggles remind me of the ones from the first month or so of the season, right Ben?


3) All-Star starters named, and it almost became the Zaza Pachulia show.
The official announcement of the NBA All-Star Game starters for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto were made Friday, and there were no major surprises. Here’s the list:

East: Dwyane Wade, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony

West: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard

Lowry and Leonard made a leap during the final week of voting (passing Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green) to become starters, but both of them are having All-Star level seasons so that’s not news. What would have been news was Dallas big man Pachulia’s push — he picked up nearly 200,000 votes in the final week and came within 14,000 votes of beating out Leonard and getting the start. That has already set some off questioning letting a fan vote pick the starters — relax people, it’s an exhibition. A show for the fans. Give the people what they want — even if what they want is Pachulia.

DeMarcus Cousins has 24 points, 15 rebounds as Kings beat Hawks 91-88

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) works for position against Atlanta Hawks defender Tiago Splitter during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. The Kings won 91-88. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Associated Press
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and 15 rebounds to help the Sacramento Kings beat Atlanta 91-88 Thursday night for their fourth straight win and first against the Hawks in nearly eight years.

Rajon Rondo made a clutch basket in the fourth quarter and had his fifth triple double of the season with 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Kings.

Sacramento had dropped 15 straight games to Atlanta since a 119-107 victory Feb. 20, 2008.

Ben McLemore had 14 points, Omri Casspi had 13 and Willie Cauley-Stein contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Kings. Sacramento outhustle the Hawks on boards and held a 56-42 edge.

Paul Millsap had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta, which had its three-game win streak snapped. Dennis Schroder scored 14 points and both Al Horford and Kent Bazemore had 11.

After Cauley-Stein made two free throws, Schroder connected on a 3-pointer to tie the score at 88 with 28.5 seconds left. Rondo put the Kings back in the lead with a layup along the baseline after taking a handoff from Cousins.

Following a turnover by Horford, Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Kings up 91-88. The Hawks failed to get a shot off to end the game.

The Kings went ahead by 17 points in the third quarter and were up by nine heading into the fourth. But the Hawks tied it at 76 with 13-4 run to open the fourth quarter.

McLemore had a four-point play and Casspi followed with a 3 to highlight 18 consecutive points by the Kings, who took a 67-50 lead with just over 4 minutes left in the third quarter.

TIP INS

Hawks: Reserve forward Mike Scott has made at least one 3-pointer in 10 of the past 11 games. … The Hawks didn’t have a player in double figures until Millsap made a short jumper at the 4:16 mark of the third quarter.

Kings: Sacramento was missing second-leading scorer Rudy Gay, who was out with a heel injury that occurred Wednesday against the Lakers. … Cousins had 13 points and 10 rebounds by halftime in recording his ninth straight double-double and his 24th this season in 34 games. … A rookie, Cauley-Stein had his first double-double Wednesday against the Lakers and added another one against Atlanta.