Morning Shootaround

Jan. 26 Shootaround -- Cavs' struggles continue after loss to Kings Staff

LeBron, Cavs’ brass won’t back down from each other | Blazers honor ’77 title team | Clifford wants more from fans, Hornets | Sixers continue to impress

No. 1: Cavs’ woes continue as rumored Anthony deal fizzles — News came out last night that the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers’ recent bid for New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony was summarily dismissed by the Cavs. Combine that with last night’s stunning overtime loss to the sub-.500 Sacramento Kings and there’s still no joy to be found in Cleveland right now. Joe Vardon of has more on that trade, LeBron James’ sparring with the front office and more:

Neither LeBron James nor David Griffin has missed the chance over the past few weeks to chide the other in the press.

Another arose after the Cavs lost to the Kings, 116-112 in overtime, on Wednesday night for their sixth loss in eight games, and James was asked about an ESPN report in which the New York Knicks were said to have called and asked about trading Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love and were rebuffed.

James said he had “no reaction.”

“We got 14 guys in here,” James said. “We need to be ready every night, who we got in here we gotta play. We can’t play fantasy basketball. We got who we got and we gotta go out and play.”

But don’t think James’ answer means he backed down from his public back-and-forth with Griffin. Because while the Cavs have 14 players, they’re allowed to carry 15 — and that’s one of James’ complaints, that the team needs capable “bodies” who can make plays and take some of the load off of him, Kyrie Irving, and, to a lesser extent, Love.

James was essentially disciplined Wednesday for his wide-ranging critiques from the other night, not with a monetary fine or being made to go sit in the corner, but in a private meeting with general manager David Griffin. Coach Tyronn Lue also addressed the entire team because of James’ remarks.

This is not the first time Griffin and Lue have sought to put James in his place for something he’s done or said. But they need to be careful they don’t overplay their hand.

Last March, in the span of a week Lue and Griffin held separate, private meetings with James in which they addressed some odd behavior. Lue lectured James about the bad optics of carrying on with Dwyane Wade during halftime of a game in which the Heat was blowing out the Cavs; Griffin told James it was time to knock off the cryptic Tweets and get serious.

James wasn’t jumping up and down publicly when asked about the lectures, which were reported by, but he knew his coach and general manager had a point.

Griffin has not once, but twice rebuffed James’ comments to reporters over the past couple weeks. When James first called for a backup point guard and big man earlier this month, Griffin said he wasn’t necessarily on the same page with him, and neither were the coaches, with regards to another post.

And then on Wednesday, in responding to James’ criticisms of roster management and questioning the organization’s commitment to winning, Griffin said: “It certainly wasn’t appropriate from a teammate perspective.”

And then he said: “In a perfect world we wouldn’t make any changes to the roster, and we very well might not make changes to the roster.”

The Cavs’ front office, and likely owner Dan Gilbert, were furious with James over his assertions that organization may have grown complacent over winning the Finals last year.

They see the $57 million they gave James’ friend, J.R. Smith, who is represented by James’ agent Rich Paul, as only one of the latest signs of their commitment. Trading for Kyle Korver, one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history, was another. The Cavs do have the league’s highest payroll at roughly $130 million, and nothing talks louder than money.

But James has raised legitimate points. The lack of a true backup point guard has been obvious all season. Only James and Irving can dribble the ball and create offense for others. It’s overly taxing on them and limits Lue’s substitution patterns.

And, for two weeks now, the Cavs have sat with an open roster spot. James has played over 40 minutes in three consecutive games.

Oh, and they’ve lost six of eight, and three in a row.

James has said, unequivocally, more moves must be made for them to repeat as champions. On Wednesday night, Griffin said the roster as constructed, when healthy, is good enough.

Is this a fight worth having for Cavs management?

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No. 2: Blazers reflect on championship run from ’77 — No team in modern NBA history has ever done what the 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers did, that being win the championship in their inaugural playoff run. “Blazermania” is an everyday word in Portland now, but that playoff run in the spring and early summer of 1977 birthed a legion of fans and Oregon’s loyalty to their team. Last night, the Blazers’ championship squad reunited in Portland to reflect on that magical run, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:

The Blazers celebrated the 40th anniversary of their only championship Wednesday night at the Moda Center and no one was going to tell the person who delivered that franchise-defining moment to stick to the rules. It was about an hour before tipoff of the Blazers’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers and part of a whirlwind 24-hours of reminiscing for the men who helped give birth to Blazermania.

“Forty years — I can’t believe it,” Walton said. “It seems like yesterday. And the memories. The freshness and just the happiness. It was the ultimate celebration of basketball, as fine as it’s ever been played, in front of these incredible fans and in this beautiful place.”

It’s not all that often that players from that championship team return to Portland together. Every now and then the Blazers will retire a jersey or hold a reunion or honor a fallen member of the team. But get these guys in a room and it’s like it’s 1977 all over again.

“It’s funny,” Dave Twardzik, said. “We won’t see each other for five or 10 years, but whenever we get together, it’s like time hasn’t elapsed at all. We still talk about the same things. The same things crack us up. We still crack on each other for the same things. And then we start talking about the stories. It was the best time of our lives, there’s no question.”

Ah, the stories. Whenever the group reunites, the stories flow like the Willamette. The “fight” in Game 2 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Maurice Lucas’ season-changing handshake before Game 3. The do-or-die final seconds of Game 6. The crowds at Portland International Airport. The pandemonium at Veteran Memorial Coliseum after the Blazers did the impossible. The victory parade.

The trophy remains as proof that the Blazers made history. The retired jerseys hanging in the Moda Center rafters honor those who were part of the unforgettable season. But it’s the stories from those days that perhaps mean the most.

Portland basketball fans were warming up to their team, but the Blazers still played in front of sparse crowds. Blazermania was not yet born.

But there was one man who knew before anyone else that the Blazers would shock the world that season: Walton.

“I knew it was going to be special as soon as Maurice Lucas came to town,” Walton said. “Because Maurice called me up when he got here and said, ‘Let’s get together.'”

It was August 1976 and Lucas wanted to have a sit down with the Blazers’ best player. So Walton invited “The Enforcer” to join him and Herm Gilliam for dinner at Jake’s Famous Crawfish downtown. They hit it off immediately, sharing jokes and stories and ambitions over a casual meal.

Then, as they parted ways later that night, Lucas changed Walton forever.

“At the end of the dinner, we were standing out in front of the restaurant on the street corner and Maurice took my hand — I had a broken hand at the time — and he squeezed my hand like he was going to break it again and he said, ‘We’re going to win the championship this year,'” Walton said. “And I looked at him and I said, ‘Maurice, are you kidding? This team has never made the playoffs. This team has never won more than 38 games in franchise history. This team has never sold more than half the house.’ He looked back out at me as he squeezed my hand ever harder and he said, ‘We’re going to win the championship. This year.’

“I never doubted anything he ever said again.”

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No. 3: Clifford wants more out of team, fans — The Charlotte Hornets have been in the thick of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference and have, at times, shown the make-up of a postseason squad. But last night’s loss to the visiting Golden State Warriors was a letdown to coach Steve Clifford and his crew. Clifford, now in his fourth season in Charlotte, has seen the Hornets through perhaps their best era of sustained success. Still, he’s wanting more from his team and the community’s view of them, too. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more :

Clifford’s strong words came following a 113-103 home loss to the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors. Clifford buys that his team played hard, certainly harder than they did in the first half of Monday’s home loss to the Washington Wizards.

He also knows that the sloppiness his team demonstrated in committing 15 turnovers Wednesday doomed the Hornets’ chances of upsetting the Warriors. Golden State converted those 15 turnovers into a remarkable 21 points.

Clifford was asked a question that implied there were positives about how the Hornets performed. Clifford wanted none of that.

“I love this city, but that is also one of the problems,” Clifford said of Charlotte’s forgiving nature.

“It’s not OK. We have to get past the point (where trying hard is enough). We’re good now. We’re not the Hornets of five years ago.

“I love our fans, (but) everybody saying, ‘Great effort!’ that’s not OK. If we run back on defense and don’t turn the ball over, that’s a great win.

“My point, and I think this is an important point, is we have to get past the point where there is such low expectations here that trying hard is a moral victory.”

I took Clifford’s comments as saying the players have to hold themselves more accountable, and a kind-hearted fan base used to losing has become an unintended enabler.

“This isn’t the old Hornets. We are past the 21- and 7-win seasons,” Clifford reminded.

True, but those down years have been replaced by first-round playoff failure. There’s still much work ahead.

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No. 4: Sixers continue to show signs of improvement — With their win last night in Milwaukee, the Philadelphia 76ers are 10-3 in their last 13 games and are three games behind the New York Knicks for fourth in the Atlantic Division. That win against the Bucks — like many of the others during Philly’s recent turnaround — has been fueled by a stout defense. Since Dec. 30 (or when the Sixers’ 13-game run began), Philadelphia ranks No. 2 in Defensive Rating (101.4), trailing only the Warriors. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the Sixers’ latest win:

The recent success of the 76ers has been due to several factors.

The center play – whether Joel Embiid is playing or not or whether the rotation involves Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor or Richaun Holmes – has been just about dominating inside of late.

T.J. McConnell has been the orchestrator of an offense that has been mind-bogglingly good lately. The team threw up 72 points in the first half Wednesday, its highest point total for a 24-minute stretch this season. Over his past five games, McConnell has accounted for 47 assists and only 12 turnovers, including 13 assists Wednesday as the Sixers won for the 10th time in 13 games, 114-109 over the Bucks.

Because of the outstanding ball movement, six players scored in double figures for the Sixers (17-27), led by Gerald Henderson’s 20. Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric scored 17 each, while Noel collected 16 points and 13 rebounds. Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas added 11 each.

When Jason Terry deposited yet another layup for Milwaukee early in the second quarter, the Bucks’ lead grew to 10. They had made 20 of their 32 shots up to that point, most without much resistance from the Sixers. But after that Terry make, over the final 8 minutes, 56 seconds of the half, Milwaukee sank only four of its next 15 shots, and the Sixers blitzed them by scoring 39 and romping out to a 72-58 lead at the break. It was the most points the Sixers had scored in either half this season.

“That’s not, at times, uncommon in the NBA (for teams to have a big quarter, like the Bucks’ first),” said Brown. “The ebbs and flows and mood swings in NBA games are dramatic. It’s not out of the ordinary for them to start like they did. For me, it was about not overreacting and declaring the obvious – it’s got to start with our defense. It’s a long game, and I felt like we got things settled and found a way to even it out, and then take some leads and finally hold on.”

“They’re playing great. They’re one of the hottest teams in the league,” said Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd, whose team dropped to 21-24. “They’ve won with Embiid or with Embiid out. Coach has done a great job. They have always played hard and now they have some confidence. Embiid has given them the breath of winning and competing to win. I think it’s become contagious through that locker room.

“With him out, maybe it might be a little bit different, but they’ve won with him out of the lineup. They’re used to playing with him and without him, and that’s another great credit to the coach of having those guys prepared.”

So well so that they swept back-to-backs against two teams, in the Clippers and Bucks, that most likely will compete in playoff basketball in a few months, and did it without Embiid either night.

“This team is well-balanced and we’re bringing a lot of tenacity, especially on the defensive end,” said Noel. “I think it translates to offensive with getting transition buckets and guys are stepping up.

“I think the guidance that has come from coach Brown, and focusing on defense, then everything else comes into place. They were up early, we got the lead, then they came back, and we still found ways to get good, efficient shots. And it worked out for us.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, here’s who will be playing in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge … The Boston Celtics will have GE ads on their uniforms next season … Arron Afflalo enjoyed his moment in the sun in Cleveland last night … After nailing another big bucket for the Miami Heat in a win, Dion Waiters is truly living right lately … NBA legends Clyde Drexler, Rick Barry and Rick Mahorn have all joined TheBIG3 as coaches … George Karl reflects on his days in Milwaukee and The Finals he feels the Bucks should have made … Great read on former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden and how he’s moving on with his post-NBA life …