This morning's headlines:
- Cavs, Lue downplaying opener vs. Celtics
- Whiteside to Embiid: I'm no 'softee'
- Rockets motivated for opening night
- Gallinari, others return for Clippers
Cavs pacing themselves with opening night up next -- One game. That's all it is to Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, Tuesday night's tilt against the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Sure, it's Kyrie Irving's first game against his former teammates. And it's the kick off of the 2017-18 season. Oh and there is still uncertainty surrounding the status of LeBron James, who was limited significantly during the preseason with an ankle injury. But as Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com points out, the Cavaliers are taking a measured approach amidst all of the hype:
"It's one game," Lue said after practice Sunday, scoffing at a reporter's questioning if the Cavs geared up for the Celtics throughout their entire training camp. "I know both teams want to see each other, but at the end of the day, you don't win a championship by winning or losing the first game. So they're up for the game, they're ready for it, but that's not our main focus is playing Boston."
Perhaps putting a damper on expectations is LeBron James' status. James played in just one of the Cavs' five preseason games after spraining his left ankle on the second day of camp. Lue said James continued to be limited Sunday.
"He went through probably one-fourth of the practice," Lue said. "Some plays, teaching stuff, some just 5-on-0 offensive stuff, getting up and down the floor. He went through that stuff today, and he went and got cardio in the weight room."
When asked about James' chances of playing, Lue said, "You got to ask him. You got to see how it feels. Just getting the treatment, working the right way and see what happens."
James did not speak to reporters Sunday. However, he told ESPN on Friday that his ankle injury is testing his patience.
Should James sit out and miss a season opener for the first time in his 15-year career, Lue believes the Cavs are better equipped to win without him than they were the past three seasons, when Cleveland was just 4-23 without the four-time MVP in the lineup.
"I think we'll be a lot better off," Lue said. "I think we got a lot of different pieces. We're deeper. A lot of versatile players. A lot of different lineups we can play. So it will be different, but I think we have a better chance, yes."
One of those versatile players added is Crowder, who will start at power forward this season to try to take pressure off James on the defensive end. Crowder has waited two months to see the Celtics, and he admitted that he is looking forward to the opportunity to "go up against 'em and bang up a little bit and have a good, fun challenge," but he didn't want to rehash any hurt feelings he might have from being traded from Boston after he helped rebuild the franchise into an Eastern Conference contender.
"I'm over it. I've moved on," Crowder said. "I'm with a great group of guys right here who have worked very, very hard each day we've been at practice. It's been fun to be around. Of course, at the time I was shocked, but now that I've moved on, I'm not."
Whiteside to Embiid: I'm no 'softee' -- The budding Joel Embiid-Hassan Whiteside Twitter feud/rivalry has the makings of a big man cold war that could last for years, or at least as long as the Philadelphia 76ers' big man and Miami Heat's behemoth play out their NBA careers. But Whiteside wants to make one thing clear, he's no "Mr. Softee" and Embiid knows as much, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who has the latest update in this saga:
Two days after the two first went back and forth on the court in the Miami Heat's exhibition loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Kansas City, with Embiid gesturing to the Heat bench to remove Whiteside because of Whiteside's early foul trouble, Whiteside said what ensued on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat was nothing more than playful respect.
"It's funny to me," Whiteside said after practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "I'm going to talk trash back if somebody talks trash to me. Maybe when I was younger, I would have been a little more angrier, It would have been a little madder.
"But, you know, that's the kind of guy he is. He makes joke. He's a good player, so it's all fun to me. I can go all day with it."
Whiteside said it is nothing more than respect between what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called "titans" of the game.
"Ever since last year, my very first words to Embiid was, 'Man, I'm glad to see you back on the court.' " said Whiteside, with Embiid's NBA debut delayed by a foot issue, one Whiteside playfully cited amid their Friday late-night Twitter exchange. "He told me we're going to bring the center position back. And after they won, he called me, 'barbeque chicken,' so I was waiting to get back at him."
"Embiid, he don't stop. He don't stop," he said. "My first foul, he said I was going to foul out. I said, 'Man, I'm not playing more than 15 minutes. You really think these fouls is a big deal?' He don't stop, man. But he's like that.
"It's not him talking about somebody's family. It's not nothing crazy. It's just basketball. He called me softee. Come on, man. He knows that's not true. I'll be on his team's scouting report."
Whiteside said if social media fuels the rivalry it is a bonus for fans.
"Yeah, man, you know fans love it, man. Fans get into it. I love it, too," he said. "Because I know the next time we play him, he's going to give it his all, he's going to go as hard as he can. And as a competitor, that's what you want. You want your opponent to play at his maximum speed."
Rockets don't need any added opening-night motivation -- James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets don't need any extra fuel for Tuesday's season opener in Oakland. Getting the first shot at the champion Golden State Warriors is more than enough, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
The Rockets will have a front-row seat for the Warriors’ ring ceremony on Tuesday, but were undecided if they would take in the show. Rockets guard James Harden said the team will discuss it and decide, though Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said his inclination would be to stay in the locker room.
Guard Eric Gordon, who has been on the visiting team when the Celtics and Lakers received championship rings before season openers, said he is more interested in how the night will end than how it will begin.
“I don’t really like them,” Gordon said of watching ring ceremonies. “You have to watch them get their rings. The crowd’s into it. It’s like their night. We want it to be our night. We want to win. It’s a great opportunity.”
D’Antoni said he does not have a rule for such occasions, other than preferring to see a ring ceremony with his team receiving the jewelry.
“My only philosophy is it’s better to be receiving than watching,” D’Antoni said. “We need to be the other team. We’re not going to watch, unless they want to watch. They can watch it on TV back in the locker room. They’ll be fine.”
“We should be motivated,” D’Antoni said. “We want to win a championship. Everybody wants to win a championship. I don’t think you need it. It’s in their DNA. They want to compete and be the best they can be.”
Reinforcements return in nick of time for Clippers -- Timing is everything for the LA Clippers, who went through all of training camp and the preseason without a full complement of healthy bodies. But with the regular season upon them, they started filing back onto the practice floor, reinforcement just in time for the real grind. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times has more:
Sweat poured down the faces of Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari on Sunday, a byproduct of both of them finally practicing after they had succumbed to injuries during training camp in Hawaii two weeks ago.
They joined another injured teammate, Sam Dekker, back on the court to make the Clippers almost complete again.
Still unable to practice was guard Patrick Beverley (sore right knee) and rookie Sindarious Thornwell (sprained right shoulder).
But Rivers, who had been out since the first exhibition game in Hawaii because of a strained right glute, at least gives the Clippers one of their starting guards back.
“I’m ready to go, man,” he said after practice. “I could have played the last game, honestly. They are just being cautious with it. But I’m ready to go. I’ll be ready for Thursday.”
But when asked if he was pain-free, Gallinari said, “No, but I’m ready to go. I’m ready. It was a very good practice.”
Dekker also was injured during the second game in Hawaii, suffering a strained left oblique.
For Beverley, his goal was to practice Monday.
“I’ve been through it before,” Beverley said about his knee injury. “It’s something I’ve been through before and so I’ll be ready.”
Rivers, Gallinari, Beverley and Dekker are expected to play in the season opener Thursday night against the Lakers at Staples Center.
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