LeBron James

Irving, LeBron pace Cavs to 107-91 win over Thunder

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CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving scored 29 points, LeBron James had 25 and 14 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers played one of their better all-around games in weeks, beating Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-91 on Sunday.

The Cavs have won two straight after the NBA champions lost six of eight amid internal turmoil sparked by James criticizing the team’s roster following a recent loss.

But while not forgotten, the chaos has calmed down a bit and a quality win sure helps.

Westbrook finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 24th triple-double, but only made 7 of 26 shots for the Thunder, who had won three straight.

Cleveland All-Star forward Kevin Love didn’t play in the second half because of back spasms. Love has been dealing with back issues since he came to Cleveland and he missed a game earlier this month with spasms.

James became the first player in Cavaliers history to score 20,000 points for the franchise. He came in needing six points to hit the plateau and reached it with a layup early in the second quarter.

Oklahoma City played its first game without reserve center Enes Kanter. He broke his right forearm punching a chair Thursday in a win over Dallas, had surgery Friday and will be out at least a month.

Leading by 13 at halftime, the Cavs let the Thunder get back within eight before Irving put on a show with several drives to the basket.

Showing off his magnificent dribbling skills to open space and tie up defenders, Irving scored three layups in a span of 58 seconds to put Cleveland back up by 17.

Oklahoma City made a run with Westbrook on the bench in the fourth, getting within 82-75 but Irving scored a pair of layups and later drained a 30-foot 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 98-82 lead.

Wearing a Michael Jackson-inspired red leather “Thriller” jacket, Westbrook walked into the arena about two hours before tip-off with Jackson’s “Don’t Stop `Til You Get Enough” playing from the speakers near the security entrance.

It was fitting musical accompaniment for Westbrook, who joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists through the first 40-plus games. Robertson averaged a triple-double for the entire 1961-62 season.

Westbrook, though, struggled with his shot as the Cavs did all they could to slow him down.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Westbrook’s 24 triple-doubles are the most in a season since Wilt Chamberlain had 31 in 1967-68. … It was Oklahoma City’s 11th road game of 12 in January. … Coach Billy Donovan said it’s a misconception that Westbrook is selfish. “He understands he’s part of a team and he’s always wanted to be part of a team,” Donovan said. “He’s one of the league leaders in assists. He generates a lot offense for other guys. He gets in there and helps rebound in the frontcourt. He’s found that balance.” … Donovan played against Irving’s father, Drederick, in college when he was at Providence and the elder Irving was at Boston University. “We beat him in the NIT,” Donovan said. “I think. That was 30 years ago.”

Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson had 19 points and 12 rebounds. … James has scored nearly twice as many points as Cleveland’s No. 2 career scorer Zydrunas Ilgauskas (10,616). James scored 7,919 points during his four seasons with Miami. … Cleveland is 29-6 in its last 35 home games against Western Conference teams. … Cleveland made eight 3-pointers after dropping at least 13 in five straight games.

UP NEXT

Thunder: At San Antonio on Tuesday.

Cavaliers: At Dallas on Monday, the first of three back-to-backs before the All-Star break.

Report: Cavaliers holding firm at $80 million offer, communicating little with Tristan Thompson

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Tristan Thompson reportedly rejected a five-year, $80 million contract offer from the Cavaliers.

He reportedly wants a max deal, $94,343,125 over five years.

Cleveland’s response?

Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, via Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors:

all I know is Rich Paul is asking for five years and $94MM and the Cavaliers are $14MM short of that figure. That’s Randy Moss-type separation. There’s limited to zero communication because of that tremendous gap.

Thompson might accept less than the max, or the Cavaliers might increase their offer. But what’s the incentive for either side to budge now?

The deadline for Thompson to accept his qualifying offer his Oct. 1. Communication should heat up closer to then.

I think Thompson is worth less than $80 million to most teams, even with the salary cap skyrocketing. But he has leverage on Cleveland.

Even if the Cavaliers believe LeBron James, who shares an agent with Thompson, won’t leave over this, they project to be over the cap for the foreseeable future whether or not they keep Thompson. They won’t get a similarly valuable player with the mid-level exception. So, the biggest drawback to keeping Thompson would be the real-dollar cost to Dan Gilbert. From a team-building standpoint, they’re better off maxing him out than watching him take the qualifying offer – a real possibility, according to Paul.

On the other hand, an $80 million offer already strikes me as one reliant on that leverage. Thompson could have brought back an offer sheet for Cleveland to match, but he hasn’t.

There are good reasons for both the Cavs to increase their offer and Thompson to settle for what’s currently on the table. That’ll lead to interesting negotiations – eventually.

Report: Cavaliers don’t fear LeBron James leaving Cleveland over Tristan Thompson

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After LeBron James said Tristan Thompson should spend the rest of his career with the Cavaliers, there was talk LeBron would wait to re-sign until Cleveland locked up Thompson. LeBron and Thompson share an agent, Rich Paul, who once said LeBron considers the agency and its clients to be family.

But LeBron already re-signed, and Thompson continues to wait for a max offer.

Crisis averted?

The Cavs apparently didn’t think there was one to begin with.

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

I’m told that, privately, the Cavaliers are convinced that LeBron cannot afford to break Cleveland’s hearts a second time and leave and therefore does not have the leverage that everybody supposes he has.

If this is what the Cavaliers believe, I think they’re right. The way LeBron framed his return to Cleveland – professing his commitment to Northeast Ohio – it’d look awful for him to leave.

But I don’t know they’re right, and neither can they. Nobody can read LeBron’s mind. If he has told them he’s OK with their handling of Thompson, that’s a strong indicator. It still doesn’t mean they know his true feelings, though.

Remember, LeBron left the Heat, at least in part, because he was dissatisfied with their spending. Dan Gilbert has paid plenty this offseason, but we don’t know LeBron’s exact standards.

LeBron has repeatedly and publicly said he wants Cleveland to re-sign Thompson. He has dialed down his rhetoric from when he pushed for Thompson to be a Cav for life, but the message is clear. LeBron believes the Cavaliers should get this done.

And if they don’t? Yes, it’s too late for LeBron to leave this summer. But he’ll probably be a free agent next year and the year after. I doubt LeBron would bolt just because Thompson takes the qualifying offer, but it’s one decision that could eventually contribute to his departure.

Again, I think LeBron will stay with the Cavaliers for precisely the same reasons they reportedly believe he’ll stay. But do they really want to find out whether they’re correct?

The downside of pushing his limits is extreme.

LeBron James: Championship not a requirement of a great team

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LeBron James played for a 66-win team. Didn’t win a title.

LeBron and his teammates proved it wasn’t a fluke the next season, winning 61 games. Didn’t win a title.

LeBron joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a team many feared would destroy the NBA’s competitive balance. Didn’t win a title.

LeBron formed yet another super team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Didn’t win a title.

But – at least in LeBron’s eyes – that doesn’t mean those teams necessarily fell short of greatness.

LeBron, via Bleacher Report:

If you don’t know the history of the game, man, you’ll forget how many great teams didn’t win championships. And that doesn’t mean they wasn’t great, though.

LeBron was referring to the 2000 Western Conference finals. The eventual-NBA-champion Lakers beat the Trail Blazers in seven games. Portland – with a starting lineup of Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith, Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis – won 59 games and crushed the Jazz and Timberwolves before running into the Lakers.

I agree with LeBron’s premise. A team can be great without winning a title. Sometimes, a team just catches the wrong breaks, like playing in a season where there are multiple great teams.

Those Trail Blazers were borderline great, with both past and future success to support their consistency. They just ran into Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Nothing Portland could do about that.

But a title is an important consideration – the most important – when determining a team’s greatness. Personally, I think the 1999-00 Trail Blazers fall just short, but either argument is reasonable.

And for what it’s worth, I think all of LeBron’s title-less teams fall short of greatness for similar reasons, though last year’s Cavaliers played great between their midseason trades for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith and the postseason injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Erik Spoelstra: Heat’s starting lineup needs time before it’ll succeed

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Who has the NBA’s best starting lineup?

The Warriors (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut)?

The Cavaliers (Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov)?

The Spurs (Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan)?

The Clippers (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan)?

Take your pick between those four or other contenders like the Thunder, Rockets or Bulls.

But there’s one team that belongs in the discussion despite two oddities:

  • All five projected starters played for the team last season, but its projected starting lineup didn’t log a single minute together.
  • The team missed the playoffs.

Yup, the Heat with Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside.

Bosh was sidelined for the rest of the season with blood clots just after Miami traded for Dragic. So, the lineup’s debut was postponed to this season.

On paper, the Heat have it all – offense and defense inside and out. They’re balanced, and nobody is playing out of position.

But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra cautions against expecting instant gratification.

Spoelstra, via Zach Lowe of Grantland:

“It’s not the kind of lineup where you can just throw it out there, and you know it will work,” Spoelstra says. “It’s going to take practice.”

The biggest question with the Heat’s top lineup is health, especially Wade. He’s 33 and has a history of knee problems. There are also questions about Whiteside’s ability to perform over a full season, Bosh’s rust and Deng’s longevity.

But those are all individual concerns.

Like I said, there’s a lot to like about this unit as a whole. The one area for caution is probably Dragic and Wade sharing ball-handling duties. Though they play different positions – Dragic point guard and Wade shooting guard – both are used to being the lead guard. That could take more time to sort out.

Mostly, though, I think Spoelstra is just trying to lower expectations. The less people think of a team, the more opportunity the coach has to impress (and the less blame he’ll take if the team falters).