July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Cavaliers: Team trying to keep focus on Boston not Heat

INDEPENDENCE — It’s unusual when an imminent game against the defending Eastern Conference champions takes a back seat to an upcoming one, especially for a sub.-500 team, but these are unusual times.
The Cavaliers host the Boston Celtics tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, but media members spent most of Monday trying to get coach Byron Scott and his players to talk about a Thursday matchup with LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Not that they had much success following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
“We’re playing the Boston Celtics (tonight),” Scott said. “To me, they’re still one of the best teams in the league and, obviously, the Eastern Conference. Our focus right now is on (tonight), period.”
Guards Daniel Gibson and Mo Williams seconded that motion, though Gibson, after fielding a number of softballs about his personal play, did finally say he’s talked to James from time to time.
“He’s checked in on me,” Gibson said. “He’s watched the way I’ve been playing. We talk a lot about basketball.
“He’s still a friend of mine,” the guard added. “When we get out there on the court, I’m going at his neck. When we’re off the court, we’ll say our hi’s and our goodbyes.”
When Gibson was then asked what type of atmosphere he expected Thursday, he quickly fell back in line with the one-game-at-a-time approach.
“We don’t know what to expect,” he said. “Right now, we expect to go out there (tonight) and get a win.”
Williams wasn’t pressed as much about James’ return to the city where he spent his first seven NBA seasons, but he had a ready answer when asked how he would prevent himself from looking ahead.
“It’s easy,” he said. “I’ve got (Boston’s Rajon) Rondo (tonight). That should be enough said.”
Cleveland (7-9) beat the Celtics (11-4), who had opened with an emotional win at home against James and the Heat the night before, 95-87 at The Q in its season opener.
The Cavs, however, realize they will face a rested Boston team tonight, so they know the Celtics — and not the Heat — have to be their first priority.
“Those guys are the Eastern Conference champions,” Gibson said. “We know in order to be a great team, and a team that’s continuing to get better, those are the type of teams you want to beat. We’ll be going after those guys (tonight).
“The way we feel right now as a basketball team, we feel we can beat anybody,” he added. “It’s going to be a great test for us to get out there and continue what we’re doing.”
Miami heat
James recently said Miami (9-8 prior to a home game against Washington on Monday) was still in “a process” when it came to molding three superstars — James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — with each other and the rest of the team.
“We’re used to having the ball, making plays, finishing plays,” James told the (Florida) Sun Sentinel when asked about sharing the ball with Wade. “So, right now, it’s a process of us having to still be aggressive but playing off the ball. So it’s an adjustment for ourselves. We’ve talked a lot recently, just trying to figure this thing out and do what’s best for ourselves individually and what’s best for the team. It’s something that we’re making progress with.”
The Heat held a lengthy players-only meeting following a loss to Dallas on Saturday, but James said there’s only so much he and Wade can do.
“I can’t change my game dramatically, and I don’t think he can, either,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to do that. I’d be a role player at that point, if I changed my game dramatically. We have to figure out a balance where we continue to be who we are for the better of the team, for the better of each other.”
Hot seat
Though many expect Pat Riley to eventually come down from the front office and take over as coach, current Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the Sun Sentinel he’s confident Miami can get clicking.
“Right now, we haven’t played near our top level of basketball,” he said. “That is clear. But we have an opportunity to get better. We understand there’s a process that we have to through. As painful as it may be right now, we’re going through it. But we will get better.”
Asked about the $35,000 fine he received from the league Sunday for criticizing officials following a loss in Orlando on Friday, Scott said, “It is what it is.”
**Former Cavs center Shaquille O’Neal had 25 points and 11 rebounds in Boston’s 89-83 win over New Jersey on Wednesday. It was the 432nd time O’Neal had at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in a regular-season game. O’Neal is averaging 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in 22.7 minutes a night. He’s started all 11 games in which he’s appeared.
**The Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery), Jermaine O’Neal (knee soreness) and Delonte West (broken wrist) are all sidelined. West, a former Cav, has appeared in five games off the bench. He’s averaging 6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 17.6 minutes.
**Rondo is averaging 10.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and a league-high 14.2 assists. The highest single-season assist average in NBA history is 14.5 by Utah’s John Stockton in 1989-90.
**Cavs forward Antawn Jamison got banged on his thumb in practice and required treatment, but is expected to play tonight. Center Anderson Varejao was once again held out of contact drills to protect his sore ribs, but will be in the starting lineup against Boston.
Quote of the day
“They’ve still got me on suicide watch.” — Alabama product Williams, when asked if he had recovered from the Crimson Tide football team blowing a 24-0 lead and losing to Auburn on Friday.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.