For the second week in a row, ABC’s nationally televised NBA game featured a powerhouse team sitting its starters due to rest.
Last week, the Golden State Warriors rested Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green against a San Antonio Spurs team lacking star power due to legitimate injury (LaMarcus Aldridge - heart; Kawhi Leonard - concussion protocol; Tony Parker - back).
The Warriors lost that game, 107-85, and shot 36 percent from the field.
On Saturday, the Cleveland Cavaliers sat LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to rest up in the first game of a back-to-back. Kyle Korver is out with a foot injury.
Instead, they trotted out a lineup of Deron Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Tristan Thompson against a fully healthy Los Angeles Clippers team.
More over, the Cavaliers didn’t announce they were resting their stars until just moments before tipoff. That prompted a call from the NBA league office to team general manager David Griffin:
When did the league call? Griff: "Seven minutes after it was announced. Yeah, they were not happy."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) March 19, 2017
Cleveland rested its big three for a reason
The Cavaliers had a grueling stretch of games coming into their Saturday night loss to the Clippers. Just six days ago, Cleveland finished its second game of a back-to-back: a fast-paced matchup against James Harden and the Houston Rockets — a game where James and Irving played a combined 77 minutes and still lost, 117-112.
The defending champs never got a break. Between March 11 and March 18, the Cavaliers played five games with a sixth looming against the Lakers on March 19. The next tidbit of information likely made the decision even easier.
A Utah School of Medicine study cited in an ESPN TrueHoop report by Tom Haberstroh found that back-to-back games on the road yield 3.5 times more in-game injuries than those played at home. Cleveland’s upcoming Sunday matchup against the Lakers is their second set of road back-to-backs in a week. With that knowledge, it wouldn’t have taken a sports doctor to pinpoint Saturday’s game against a hungry Clippers team as a day for optimal rest.
The NBA took a step forward slashing the number of back-to-back games this season, but expecting players to play two sets of back-to-backs in a nine-day span without adequate rest time in between is borderline negligence.
It just so happened this game was nationally televised.
The lackluster lineup provided the most stale matchup of the NBA season
Cleveland and Los Angeles combined for 30 first-quarter points before the Clippers pulled away and made a mockery of their opponents in a 108-78 rout. Jamal Crawford scored 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, toying with his possessions much of the game.
Had it not been for a Blake Griffin put-back dunk off a missed DeAndre Jordan free throw, Saturday night’s headliner would have been without a highlight. Even the Staples Center crowd pandered for The King to play:
Cavs fans chanting "We want LeBron!" during Clippers-Cavs: pic.twitter.com/KwAk7CSUUk— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) March 19, 2017
The Cavaliers’ big three are expected to play in their Sunday matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. They’ll exact their revenge against a Lakers team that may as well start its worst five players.
James Harden picked up his seventh 40-point triple-double
...And the NBA picked out the best moments of all those games in a video it tweeted last night. Harden scored 18 points in the third quarter and finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists on the night:
Russell Westbrook hit us with another beautiful dime:
Westbrook fell short of a triple-double, though, with only eight rebounds to go with his 28 points and 10 assists.
Steph Curry drilled a three from the logo:
Wow. Just wow.
Saturday’s top performances
James Harden: 40 points (11-of-23 shooting), 10 assists, 10 rebounds
Harden hardened his case for MVP with yet another 40-point triple-double to lead the Rockets to a win over a tough Denver Nuggets team on Saturday.
Russell Westbrook 28 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds
Jusuf Nurkic: 12 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks, 2 steals
Damian Lillard dropped 27 points, but Jusuf Nurkic’s all-around assault helped power Portland to a much-needed win that’s brought it within arms reach of the eighth seed.
Stephen Curry: 28 points (9-of-13 shooting, 6-of-8 on threes)
Curry was in a three-point shooting funk not too long ago, but he may have found himself rebounding with an efficient performance in a 25-point win over Milwaukee.