NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers' benefit of the doubt disappearing after new lows

Jay Asser 12/01/2018
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Cause for concern: LeBron James.

Loss after loss and defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown, it’s getting harder to trust that the Cleveland Cavaliers will look like a different team when it truly matters.

The story feels as old as time. The Cavaliers look vulnerable as their weaknesses are exposed in the regular season. We collectively wonder if this is finally the year that a LeBron James team gets knocked off its perch in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland dispel doubts by steamrolling the competition on their way to another NBA Finals appearance.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

If past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, then there’s no point reading into the Cavaliers’ current woes, right?

Well, at the risk of sounding like ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, this season feels different.

For one, this isn’t the same roster that flipped the switch in the playoffs the last few years. LeBron James remains the ultimate constant, but many of the key supporting pieces around him have changed – Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon are all in their first season with Cleveland.

And while it’s easy to attribute their current struggles to lack of effort, especially on defence, the truth is their personnel consists of fundamental flaws and inabilities on that end of the floor that can’t be fixed by just upping the stakes.

Cleveland’s defensive rating of 109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions isn’t just concerning, it’s likely fatal. That figure ranks the Cavaliers as the second-worst team in the league, ahead of only Sacramento.

For comparison, Cleveland were bad last year, but ranked 22nd in defensive rating at 108.0. There’s a difference between being below average and being nearly worst in the league.

Couple the Cavaliers’ deficiencies with the improvement of their two biggest Eastern rivals – Toronto and Boston – and there’s every reason to believe the gap has been significantly closed.

It may not end up mattering as it’s possible Cleveland are challenged more than ever through the first three rounds, only to get through the East again.

But really, this entire conversation doesn’t matter, if we’re being existential, because there’s no way this version of the Cavaliers can beat Golden State.

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Rozier helps Celtics down Cavs, Isaiah Thomas gets standing ovation from Boston crowd

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Terry Rozier scored 20 points off the Boston bench to lead six double-figure scorers Wednesday and the Celtics routed visiting Cleveland 102-88 in an NBA Eastern Conference showdown.

Jayson Tatum and reserve Marcus Smart each scored 15 points, Jaylen Brown added 14 points and Kyrie Irving and Al Horford each contributed 11 and nine rebounds as the East-leading Celtics improved to 31-10.

“That shows what type of team we are,” Rozier said of the Celtics’ scoring depth. “From day one we’ve always had that next man up mentality and we’ve kept it going.

“We just want to build from this and keep going.”

LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 19 points and added seven rebounds and six assists but Cleveland fell to 25-13, third in the East, behind Boston and Toronto.

Cavaliers big man Kevin Love injured his right ankle late in the second quarter and managed only two points on 1-of-11 shooting.

Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas sat out a night after making his season debut for the Cavs, missing more than two months with a hip injury after being traded from the Celtics in a deal that sent Irving to Boston.

Thomas exchanged hugs and smiles with his former team-mates before and after the game and when he was shown on the scoreboard videoscreen, Boston fans responded with a standing ovation. Ex-Celtics forward Jae Crowder received one as well.

“It’s always great going against your former team-mates,” Rozier said. “Those guys are great. I played two good years with them. Always great catching up.”

DeMar DeRozan scored 35 points to power the Toronto Raptors (26-10) to a 124-115 victory at Chicago while Greek standout Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 10 rebounds in Milwaukee’s 122-101 home romp over Indiana.

Stephen Curry scored 32 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining, and reigning champion Golden State improved to an NBA-best 30-8 with a 125-122 triumph at Dallas.

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson each added 25 points for the Warriors. Durant had 11 rebounds while Draymond Green contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Houston Rockets, playing without guard James Harden due to a hamstring injury, had 27 points off the bench from Gerald Green and 21 more from Clint Capela in a 116-98 romp at Orlando.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson each scored 17 points for the Rockets (27-9), who had 13 assists from Chris Paul and never trailed. Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 16 points.

Bradley Beal scored 27 points while John Wall added 25 and nine assists in Washington’s 121-103 home rout of New York. Poland’s Marcin Gortat added 21 for the Wizards while reserve Michael Beasley led New York with 20 points.

Australian guard Ben Simmons scored 26 points while Joel Embiid shook off a right hand injury to produce 21 points and 11 rebounds in Philadelphia’s 112-106 home victory over San Antonio.

Aussie reserve guard Patty Mills scored 26 points to lead the Spurs, who rested star guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker plus Kawhi Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points and 14 rebounds in a losing cause.

Canadian Kelly Olynyk had 25 points and 13 rebounds while Slovenian Goran Dragic added 24 points and 13 assists to lead Miami over visiting Detroit 111-104. Tobias Harris had 19 to lead six double-figure scorers for the Pistons.

Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored 26 points and passed off nine assists, sank the winning jumper with nine seconds remaining to give Brooklyn a 98-97 victory over Minnesota. Jimmy Butler led the visiting Timberwolves with 30 points but missed a decisive jumper at the final buzzer.

Anthony Davis scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to spark New Orleans to a 108-98 victory at Utah while Gary Harris scored 36 points off 14-of-17 shooting to power Denver over visiting Phoenix 134-111.

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Kobe Bryant's jersey numbers retired in ceremony as Magic Johnson hails him as greatest Laker ever

Sport360 staff 19/12/2017
Kobe Bryant poses with his family after both his jerseys are retired at Staples Center.

Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant was hailed as the "greatest" Los Angeles Laker of all on Monday by fellow legend Magic Johnson in a ceremony to retire Bryant's jersey numbers.

The tribute came at half-time of the Lakers' Staples Center matchup against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, with Bryant's Numbers 8 and 24 joining other inspirational Laker icons from the team's 70-year history.

"We're here to celebrate the greatest to ever wear the purple and gold. He made us rub our eyes and wonder what did we just see," said Johnson, now Lakers president of basketball operations. "There will never, ever be another Kobe Bryant."

Bryant played 10 seasons in each retired number, winning three titles in the single-digit uniform top and two in the higher number jersey. "Thank you so much for tonight," Bryant told the crowd, which chanted his name while giving him a standing ovation. It's not about my jerseys that are hanging up there for me. It's about the jerseys that were hanging up there before." Many of the team's past legends were on hand to welcome Bryant, who retired after the 2015-16 campaign as an 18-time All-Star, a 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time NBA Finals MVP, two-time NBA scoring champion and two-time Olympic champion. Bryant, 39, said fans inspired him to put in the work every day that became his trademark over two decades with the Lakers, an unprecedented feat. "Those times are the dream," Bryant said. "It's not the destination. It's the journey. If you accomplish that, your dreams won't come true -- something greater will." With a nod to his "Black Mamba" nickname, Bryant closed his remarks with, "Mamba out." With his family on hand to watch, Bryant was honored with the mention of such career highlights as his career-high 81-point game in a 2006 victory over Toronto, the second-highest point total in any game in NBA history. Also acknowledged was his final game, when he became the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points, hitting the mark on the number in his farewell victory over Utah. "There will never be an athlete in his last performance to top this man's performance -- 60 points. Man," Johnson said. The most emotional moment came when Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, who has helped keep the Lakers heritage together, paid tribute to Bryant. "What we're celebrating is the journey you took us on for those 20 years," Buss said. "If you separate the accomplishments of each of those jerseys, both of those players would be in the Hall of Fame. "We asked for your hustle and you gave us your heart which was so much more. You have forever made your mark on this franchise."

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