LeBron powers Cavaliers to easy 108-83 win over Wizards

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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James didn’t do anything cryptic or dramatic.

He simply changed positions and the Cavaliers shifted into high gear.

James moved to power forward in Cleveland’s “small” starting lineup and nearly recorded a triple-double in three quarters, Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and the Cavs avenged a recent ugly loss to Washington by throttling the Wizards 108-83 on Friday night.

Cleveland was blown out at Washington on Sunday, when James watched from the bench and the Wizards built a 30-point lead.

But with James energized after not playing since Monday, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue utilized a smaller, speedier lineup that didn’t include Kevin Love and the Cavs snapped Washington’s four-game winning streak.

James finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before resting the entire fourth quarter. More importantly, the Cavs may have found a wrinkle that could help them play against Golden State if the teams meet in the NBA Finals again.

“It was great for us,” said Lue, who rested Love and started Iman Shumpert in James’ usual spot at small forward. “The guys bought into playing that way, that style of basketball. LeBron did a great job just spreading the floor, running and setting picks. And when he gets the rebound and takes it off the glass, it’s tough for teams to get back and get matched.”

Timofey Mozgov scored 14 points, 12 on dunks, for Cleveland, which unveiled a look which Lue plans to use more often in the coming weeks as the Cavs prepare for the playoffs.

“It worked to our favor for sure,” James said of the lineup change, which had him at a position he grew accustomed to in Miami. “Our offense is a lot faster, a little bit more precise with me at the four. I’m going to be setting a lot more transition and half-court pick and rolls. I know I can either get my guy open or if they put two on the ball I’m able to make a play, able to be a quarterback, so it definitely worked really well for us tonight.”

John Wall scored 17 and Markieff Morris 13 for the Wizards, who missed a chance to move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s not a step back,” Wall said as the Wizards dropped to 7-3 since the All-Star break. “It’s just an old-fashioned tail whipping. That’s what they gave us.”

Since their last game, the Cavs had been surrounded by drama.

During a break in Cleveland’s schedule, James raised some eyebrows by making a two-day trip to visit good friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade in South Florida, and the superstar’s two mysterious tweets on Twitter led to speculation the Cavs were having internal issues.

But back on the court, the East’s top team played with purpose and easily took care of a Washington squad they could face in the playoffs.

The Cavs led by 17 at half, pushed their advantage to 21 in the third and led by 30 in the fourth, allowing Lue to keep James off his feet for the last 12 minutes.

With Love out, Lue used the “small ball” look, which he had been toying with trying for weeks. Lue plans to return his regular starting lineup for Saturday’s game against Boston, but he now has another option.

WALL’S ANKLE

Wall rolled left his ankle while making a layup and sat out the fourth. He expects to play Saturday against Indiana.

HALFTIME HONOR

The Cavs honored the 40th anniversary of the 1975-76 “Miracle in Richfield” team featuring Austin Carr and Campy Russell during halftime. Coach Bill Fitch’s squad beat Washington in an unforgettable seven-game playoff series.

TIP-INS

Wizards: F/G Alan Anderson sat out with a sore left ankle. He’s expected to return for Saturday’s game against Indiana. … G Bradley Beal has been coming off the bench the past 10 games and the switch has balanced Washington’s scoring. Beal is still working his way back from stress fracture in his leg. “He gives us a scoring punch,” coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s just an easier situation with his minutes’ restriction. I don’t want to sit him long periods of time. We’re going to continue to do that. He’s getting back to being aggressive, taking it to the basket.”

Cavaliers: Lue wants to get all his starters some rest before the postseason push, but he will not sit anyone for Saturday’s matchup against Boston. The Celtics beat the Cavs 104-103 on their last visit to Cleveland. “We want to play well against a team that’s been playing extremely well as of late,” James said. “So, we look forward to the challenge.” … Love had only missed one other game this season, sitting out Feb. 6 against New Orleans with a bruised thigh.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Host Indiana on Saturday.

Cavaliers: Host Boston on Saturday.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.