The headband was back. So was the dominance.
A couple months after ditching his trademark headwear in an apparent show of team unity, LeBron James brought it back. If he was sending a message that he means business, it was a success. James totaled 33 points and 8 rebounds in the Cavs’ Game 2 win over the Bulls, tying the series as they head back to Chicago.
The final score was 106-91, and even that is misleadingly close. The Cavs controlled things from the opening tip. Chicago never led once, and Cleveland led by double digits for all but the first six minutes.
After Monday’s disastrous decision to start Mike Miller in place of the injured Kevin Love, Cavs coach David Blatt opted for a bigger lineup with Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt next to James and Timofey Mozgov. The change paid off big-time: Thompson’s 12 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, were crucial in preventing the Bulls from making a run and ever seriously getting back in the game.
In Game 1, the Bulls were hitting every open jumper and all Cavs players except Kyrie Irving were missing them. The trend reversed Wednesday: James Jones shot 5-for-9 from three-point range and the Cavs even got quality minutes out of backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova.
James was locked in after much was made on Monday of Jimmy Butler shutting him down in Game 1. This is the LeBron that showed up Wednesday:
The Bulls have to be happy to get a split of the first two games on the road, but with J.R. Smith set to return in Game 3 (on Friday at the United Center), the Cavs will have another shooting weapon that the Bulls’ increasingly tired defense will have to account for.
The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.
Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.
The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.
For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.
“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”
Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.
The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.
The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).
This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.
Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.
Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.
The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.
Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.
However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.
Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:
“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”
The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”
It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.
Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.
The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.
The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.
Whenever that may be.
In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”
Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.
Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.
It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”
Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.
It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.
Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.