LeBron James shouldering historic burden in carrying Cavaliers to NBA Finals

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As the Cavaliers were presented with the Eastern Conference championship trophy, LeBron James lied on the floor off to the side. Soon enough, Doris Burke – hosting the televised ceremony – beckoned him.

“I got to talk again?” said a clearly exhausted LeBron after leading Cleveland past the Pacers, Raptors and Celtics and into the NBA Finals.

His teammates helped him to his feet, and he returned the favor in his interview.

“I know I get a lot of the headlines – win, lose or draw, whatever the case may be,” LeBron said. “But in order to be successful, it’s a team game. I learned that from when I first started picking up a basketball to play organized basketball at age 9.”

That is true. No individual wins by himself.

But some do more than others, and LeBron is doing more than anyone in a long time.

He has put the Cavs on his back after failed trades, bad signings and aging (exacerbated by deep playoff runs annually) have left his supporting cast inept. His teammates are literally the butt of the joke.

The problems started last summer, when LeBron’s top teammate – Kyrie Irving – requested a trade. The Cavaliers dealt him for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, and when those two didn’t work, flipped them to get George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Though Cleveland also netted the No. 8 pick in that string of transactions (and relinquished its own first-rounder), that selection isn’t helping this postseason.

Neither are Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, two overhyped signings who were also sent away. J.R. Smith looks old. Tristan appears worn down.

Even the bright spots are blemished. Kevin Love is a star, but he has never neared his Minnesota-level contributions with the Cavs, and he’s not getting any younger. Plus, he’s still dealing with a concussion. Kyle Korver is a fine one-way player in a two-way sport. Jeff Green is finally providing surplus value – now that he’s earning a minimum salary. Jose Calderon has soared past expectations for someone who looked washed-up last year. Cedi Osman plays with a lot of energy but is deployed.

The other Cavaliers will have their moments, but so, so, so much falls on LeBron.

And he has risen to the occasion.

LeBron has posted 44% of Cleveland’s win shares this postseason. That’s the fifth-highest percentage ever for someone who led his team to the Finals and highest since the NBA-ABA merger.

The all-time leaderboard in percentage of team’s postseason win shares among players who led their team to the Finals:

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And here’s since the merger:

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Of course, win shares are far from a perfect measure. And these are all postseason-long marks. Perhaps, LeBron’s changes in the Finals.

But this matches what we’re all seeing unfold: LeBron is dragging an undermanned team deep in the playoffs.

The burden will probably become too great this round. The Warriors are stacked – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

One man can’t topple this Golden State team alone.

If LeBron’s teammates are as capable as he says, this would be a great time for them to step up.

He got them this far. Now, he needs more help.

Report: Cavaliers’ Rodney Hood refused to enter Game 4 win over Raptors

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Rodney Hood reportedly wanted the Jazz to trade him, and he couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Utah sent him just before the deadline to the Cavaliers, who needed more wings and had the potential for a long playoff run.

But Hood has struggled in the postseason, to the point Cedi Osman replaced him in the Cavs’ rotation for their Game 4 win over the Raptors last night. Then, asked to play garbage time, Hood apparently refused.

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

Hood will be a free agent this summer. (Cleveland can make him restricted.) This doesn’t bode well.

That this got out so quickly especially speaks to a problem. Sometimes, teammates and coaches cover for a trusted player who reacted poorly in an unpleasant situation. But multiple people outed Hood to the media just after the game. That indicates what people in the Cavs organization think about him.

Ideally for Hood, he’ll regain his form and help the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. But after this episode, I’m not sure he’ll get the chance.

Three adjustments LeBron James, Cleveland should consider for Game 2

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Cleveland’s regular season woes followed them into the playoffs — they were a terrible defensive team all season (29th in the league), so when they didn’t adjust well to slowing Victor Oladipo or Myles Turner in Game 1, it was to be expected.

However, the Cavaliers had a new problem that cost them Game 1: Their offense was terrible, scoring just 0.84 points per possession. LeBron James had a triple-double but his performance still felt just okay. Jeff Green was a disaster. So was the Cavaliers three-point shooting overall. Kevin Love was a non-factor. The Cavs didn’t get good looks and missed the ones they did get.

Indiana is up 1-0 heading into Game 2 Wednesday, so what do the Cavaliers have to do now? Here are three things to watch.

1) LeBron James has to set the tone early by scoring. To open Game 1, the Indiana Pacers put Bojan Bogdanovic on LeBron — that should have been an open invitation to go into attack mode. Bogdanovic is a better defender than you may think, but he’s nowhere near ready to handle aggressive and attacking LeBron.

Except he didn’t have to. LeBron spent the first quarter trying to set up teammates and getting everyone involved, and as a result LeBron was 0-of-3 shooting for the first quarter (he had two points from a couple of free throws). Cleveland as a team shot 25 percent for the quarter and was down 19 just 12 minutes in. LeBron was more of himself after that and finished with 24 points, but the opportunity was lost. So was the game, the Cavaliers never got all the way back in it.

LeBron has to carry more of a load with this team than any team he has been on in years, probably since he left Cleveland for Miami. Fair or not, that’s the reality. He can’t be passive and set guys up early, he has to shoulder the burden from the start and put up big numbers, then hope as the defense overloads to stop him someone else can step up with a few buckets.  Expect to see LeBron attacking from the opening tip on Tuesday.

2) Get Kevin Love the ball. Love had nine points on eight shots in Game 1, and took only two shots inside the arc in his entire 34 minutes of play — and he had 6’8″ Thaddeus Young on him much of the night, a guy Love can take down to the block and score over and around. It simply was not enough touches and looks for the second best scorer on Cleveland.

Tyron Lue needs to call some sets for Love early and get him the rock down on the block and let him go to work — if the defense collapses or the doubles come, Love is a very capable passer out of the post. But let the man work. The Cavaliers were struggling to get buckets in Game 1 and were leaning more on new guys like Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and Jeff Green to take the shots. Basketball can be a simple game — get your best shooters/scorers the ball more and let them work. That means more LeBron and Love, less from the other role players.

3) Lineup/rotation changes: More J.R. Smith and Cedi Osman (maybe even Tristan Thompson), less of the new guys. Cleveland started Larry Nance Jr. and he looked a little lost in the moment. Jordan Clarkson played 20 minutes, however, all but two of those came when LeBron was on the court, which is not ideal (Clarkson needs the ball in his hands to create to be effective, but when LeBron is on the court the ball should be in his hands). The Cavaliers second best player in Game 1 was J.R. Smith off the bench — the veteran looked comfortable in the moment.

It’s time for Lue to consider lineup changes, or at the very least significant rotation changes. Start Smith and bring Rodney Hood off the bench. Get more run for rookie Cedi Osman, who is a good defender plus plays well off the ball and can knock down threes (36.8 percent from beyond the arc this season). And I like seeing the lineups with Love at the five, but maybe more Tristan Thompson as a physical, board-crashing change of pace (although it will be tough to play him if the Pacers have the stretchy Myles Turner at the five). Despite the roster shakeups, there are Cavaliers who have been in these moments before, lean on them.

LeBron James scores 33, Cavaliers rally to stun Wizards

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and brought Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 17-point deficit to stun the Washington Wizards 119-115 on Thursday night and maintain the No. 3 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Cavs trailed 104-87 with 7:35 left before storming back behind James, who added 14 assists, nine rebounds and made sure coach Tyronn Lue got a win in his return after missing nine games due to health reasons.

Jeff Green added 21 points and Kevin Love had 16 for the Cavs, who are 10-1 since March 17, when Lue was forced to leave a game in Chicago with “piercing” chest pains. Lue, who has changed his diet and is taking sleep medication, has come back to a team that seems to be hitting its stride just in time for the playoffs.

But it took another of those patented James’ comebacks to down the Wizards, who have dropped seven of nine and are in a three-way battle with Milwaukee and Miami for playoff positioning.

Washington’s John Wall looked more like his speedy All-Star self in his third game back from knee surgery, scoring 28 points with 14 assists. But he had a costly turnover in the closing seconds and the Wizards couldn’t put away the Cavs down the stretch.

A basket by Markieff Morris gave the Wizards a 110-100 lead with 3:16 left, but James scored six straight, fed Green for layup, and Rodney Hood made two free throws to complete a 10-0 run by the Cavs.

Green’s two free throws – on a tough call against Washington – gave the Cavs a 116-115 lead, but after Walls missed a short jumper, James split a pair of three throws, giving Washington one last chance.

Wall drove the lane but his twisting pass back outside was stolen by rookie Cedi Osman, who made two free throws to close it out.

Playing in just his third game since surgery, Wall had that burst back in his first step and he found his touch after two tough games. Bradley Beal added 19 points, and Otto Porter had 18 for Washington.

Lue came back to a familiar situation as the Cavs, who have endured injuries for months, were missing point guards Jose Calderon (hamstring) and George Hill (ankle). Lue started Osman at point.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Wall lost weight during his recovery, and coach Scott Brooks said that should help the All-Star going forward. “It’s going to be good for his long-term recovery,” Brooks said. “It’s good for him. It’s good for us. He just needs to gets some reps.”

Cavaliers: Won their eighth straight at home. … James has scored 30 points in 429 games, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for fifth place in league history. … Osman is the seventh different starting point guard for Cleveland, which because of injuries has had 29 starting lineups. … Lue was sorry to learn Celtics guard Kyrie Irving will miss the playoffs with a knee infection. Irving had a great run with Cleveland and will be forever remembered for his go-ahead 3-pointer in the closing minutes of Game 7 in the 2016 Finals. “He was a big part of what we did here, a big part of winning the championship and even though he’s on another team you still don’t want to see anyone go through that,” Lue said.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Host Atlanta on Friday night.

Cavaliers: At Philadelphia on Friday night.

Cavaliers get Nance Jr., Thompson, Hood back from injuries

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers are closer to being at full strength.

Forwards Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood all returned from injuries on Friday night as Cleveland, which has been riddled with injuries all season, hosted the Phoenix Suns. Acting coach Larry Drew said none of the players will start and all will be on minutes’ restrictions.

Drew, who is filling in while coach Tyronn Lue is on leave to address his own health, plans to keep his starting lineup intact and ease the returning players into the rotation.

LeBron James, Jose Calderon, George Hill, Jeff Green and Kevin Love were scheduled to started against Phoenix, which has lost nine in a row. Drew said he and Lue will talk again Saturday about lineup changes for the upcoming trip to Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte.

“I really didn’t want to disrupt the starting five that we have out there right now and those guys will be playing limited minutes, so I wanted to get them slowly back and acclimated to what we’re doing,” Drew said. “There’s a chance that there could be some early substitutions to get the guys in there. I’m not ruling that out, but right now I just kind of want to stay with the flow, stay with what we’ve done the last couple of ballgames and then we’ll probably after tonight we’ll see as far as where we stand as far as starters are concerned.”

Thompson missed nine games with a sprained right ankle, Nance Jr. was out four with a hamstring issue and Hood was out the past three games with a bad back.

Drew said he did not know if Lue will accompany the team on its trip.

But while the Cavs are healthier than they’ve been in weeks, the team is still missing Kyle Korver, who is with his family in Iowa following the death of his brother, and rookie Cedi Osman, who is sidelined with a left hip flexor strain.