LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.

 

LeBron James no-look pass freezes entire Lakers’ team (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James was putting on a passing clinic against the Lakers.

The best highlight was the one above, where a LeBron fakes a pass to Kyle Korver at the arc and as two Lakers race out to challenge Korver LeBron delivers the pass to a wide-open rolling Ante Zizic.

The next possession down, in transition LeBron threw a brilliant one-handed skip pass to George Hill in the corner, Hill just missed the shot. That doesn’t diminish a pass only a couple of guys in the league could see and make.

Then there was LeBron with the nutmeg on Lonzo Ball.

Three questions the Cleveland Cavaliers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 51-31, won the Eastern Conference out of the second seed, lost to Warriors in NBA Finals.

I know what you did last summer: It was a busy summer of roster changes, something you don’t usually see from a team that has been to three straight Finals. Kyrie Irving didn’t want to be the guy left behind if LeBron James bolts the team next summer, so he pushed for a trade. New GM Koby Altman struck a deal that sent Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn first-round pick in the upcoming draft. In the past week, the Cavaliers signed Dwyane Wade as a free agent (after his buyout from Chicago). Gone from the Cavaliers are Deron Williams and James Jones, but the team added depth with the trade and the additions of free agents Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Jose Calderon.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CAVALIERS MUST ANSWER

1) When does Isaiah Thomas get back on the court? And how well can he move? The trade with Boston was a perfect combination for Cleveland of keeping an eye on the future (the Brooklyn pick) and still winning now in LeBron’s prime by getting All-NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas — if Thomas is healthy. Which he is not right now. The hip injury that ended his playoff run early still has him sidelined.

When will he return? On media day the Cavaliers were honest and said January. About halfway through the NBA season. Which creates a challenge for those first 40 games or so (see the next question) but is not insurmountable because the Cavaliers have one LeBron James.

The bigger question: How good will Isaiah Thomas be when he does return? I fear we saw peak Thomas last season, when he was an All-NBA player and fifth in MVP voting. How well with Thomas move when he returns, how explosive will he be? Can he be anything like the spark plug point guard we have come to know? His game is based on that athleticism and crafty moves, if those are limited so is he. It matters to Cleveland as they try to integrate him into the offense for the playoffs — if they get 90 percent of that Thomas it is a big boost for the Cavs, but if it’s 70 percent things get tougher. How he bounces back also matters to Thomas, who is a free agent after this season and needs to show he is healthy to get paid anywhere near what he wants.

2) Cleveland has a lot of talent, but does it fit together? On paper, the Cavaliers are deeper this season — Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose at the point, J.R. Smith, Dwyane Wade, and Kyle Korver at the two, Jeff Green behind LeBron on the wing, Jae Crowder adding to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson up front. There’s a reason I — and many others — are still picking the Cavaliers to come out of the East.

But when you start to put rotations together, things get harder, because all the talent doesn’t fit together well, especially for the first half of the season when Thomas is out. For example, can the Cavaliers really play Rose and Wade together with LeBron? Neither Rose nor Wade are good off the ball, they need the rock in their hands to create to do damage, but neither of them is near the creator or floor general LeBron is. Do the Cavs take the ball out of LeBron’s hands in this scenario? Remember, this is not the Wade from LeBron’s first couple seasons in Miami, this is a guy on the decline who can still create but is limited in other ways. Plus, both Rose and Wade (and Thomas when he returns) are limited defensively.

I like what Tyronn Lue is doing to start games: Rose, J.R. Smith, LeBron, Jae Crowder, and Kevin Love. That is a switchable and passable defensive lineup that will have great floor spacing on offense. Rose can create a little, but most of that should still fall to LeBron. It gets better when Thomas is back and Rose can go to the second unit with Wade — those two can do the shot creating and scoring with that group against other benches, and Tristan Thompson can handle the defense and dirty work with that unit. (Credit Thompson for taking his move to the second unit, which most would see as a demotion, as an opportunity.)

Cleveland has the talent to beat 28 other teams in a seven-game series, but the questions of fit come back to haunt them against their biggest foe. If the Cavs are still playing in June.

3) Does the “is LeBron staying?” saga weigh on the team? Probably not. Or at least not much. This is a team of veterans who know how to shut out the noise from the outside.

However, every move this team and LeBron make all season will be viewed through the prism of “what does this say about LeBron’s future?” And if for whatever reason this team gets off to a relatively slow start and things start to go sideways, that pressure will ramp up. If that losing starts to creep into the locker room — J.R. Smith and Crowder get into it again, Thompson gets frustrated with his bench role, or a million other things — then it becomes a problem. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s possible. This could be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland, and that certainly can become an issue.

Celtics pay the price to transform themselves

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Boston turned over 11 of 15 players from a team that earned the No. 1 seed and reached the conference finals. The Celtics made three trades each bigger than many teams’ biggest move this summer, and they signed Gordon Hayward.

An offseason so busy, I had to grade it twice.

Boston’s massive overhaul culminated in dealing for Kyrie Irving, a huge trade among the Eastern Conference’s two best teams. The Celtics got the young star, but at a significant cost.

The Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick is an elite asset. Jae Crowder is a versatile 3-and-D wing on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts. Isaiah Thomas is a star himself when healthy (obviously a major question). Ante Zizic is a nice developmental prospect. And Boston sent another second-rounder to complete the deal.

It can be hard to conceptualize the value of the Brooklyn pick, as it doesn’t show up when comparing last year’s Celtics roster to this year’s – definitely younger, maybe even better. But that pick was the centerpiece of their offer, and to me, it tilted the trade to unfavorable.

At least Irving will be ready to begin the season, unlike Thomas. That’ll keep the Celtics rolling, especially with Hayward.

Hayward was the lynchpin of a successful offseason. An in-his-prime star acquired with cap space created by renouncing marginal players and trading Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris.

That trade wasn’t great in a vacuum. I didn’t like trading the No. 1 pick for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and a future first-rounder, either. My reservations about those deals largely stand from my initial grading:

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Bradley for Morris is understandable given the circumstances. Trading down for Tatum is a difference of opinion, and Danny Ainge is rightfully sticking by his.

The Celtics are in awesome shape. They have a young good team plus three extra first-rounders, including the vaunted Lakers/Kings/76ers pick and a sneaky valuable Grizzlies pick.

But it’s important to remember they entered the offseason in awesome shape, and I’m grading how their position has changed. Though I didn’t love their decision-making, luring Hayward with cap space that mostly existed anyway was a massive victory.

Offseason grade: B

Isaiah Thomas to miss start of season, but Cavaliers otherwise secretive/uncertain

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Isaiah Thomas was better than Kyrie Irving last regular season.

If Thomas maintains that advantage next postseason, the Cavaliers – whose championship window is open with LeBron James – will be massive winners in their trade with the Celtics. But that’s uncertain given Thomas being three years older, six inches shorter and far more injured than Irving.

The age and size difference are known quantities. The status of Thomas’ hip is not.

So, that became the obvious discussion point at Cleveland’s press conference to introduce Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic.

Isaiah, how is your hip? Isaiah, what’s your timetable? Isaiah, what can you do right now? Isiah, when did you know you tore your labrum?

“I don’t want this to be the Isaiah Thomas hip press conference,” Cavs general manager Koby Altman interjected. “So, I’m just going to – with all due respect – shut down the hip questions. If we’re going to talk about Isaiah, let’s talk about Isaiah the All-Star.”

But will the Cavaliers ever get Isaiah the All-Star? If so, when?

“Isaiah’s not going to be starting the season,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue let slip when asked to compare Thomas to Irving.

It was tough watching Altman battle Thomas-hip questions, which barely relented despite the general manager’s decree, when Cleveland extracted an extra second-rounder from Boston due to Thomas’ physical and Thomas himself declared he wouldn’t lose a step. The Cavs can’t simply dismiss this as an issue not worthy of discussing.

Altman said surgery wasn’t in the cards – “Y’all hear that?” Thomas added. “Everybody want to be doctors now” – and that the the Cavaliers wouldn’t rush anything. But Altman wouldn’t even disclose whether a private timeline exists, going only as far as saying the goal is for Thomas to return “at some point this year.”

It’s a big season for everyone involved, with free agency for Thomas and LeBron looming. Hopefully, the Cavs have a firmer grasp on the situation than they revealed today.