Clippers, Cavs aim for calmness after mental meltdowns
March 13, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) during the first half at Staples Center. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
CLEVELAND — J.R. Smith and Doc Rivers both had some explaining to do.
In a sense, both player and coach lost their minds Tuesday night. Now both are hoping for better Thursday when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Los Angeles Clippers.
Both the Cavs and Clippers are coming off tough road losses. The Cavs were embarrassed at the Milwaukee Bucks, while the Clippers lost in double overtime at the Brooklyn Nets during a strange night in the NBA.
The Clippers are staggering through this six-game trip, having lost three straight after winning 14 of their first 16 games.
“I think we are smelling ourselves a little bit. We haven't done (a thing). Nothing,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “We were No. 1 in the West for a couple of weeks? That don't mean nothing. At all.
“I feel like we took that for granted. We thought we were a lot better than we really are. We got to continue to get better and have respect for the game.”
Rivers was irate with referee Ken Mauer near the end of the first overtime Tuesday and was ejected after Mauer hit him with a pair of technicals.
Rivers became enraged with Mauer because he wasn't involved in the play and Rivers was talking to referee Lauren Holtkamp, but Mauer told a pool reporter he assessed Rivers with his first technical for crossing midcourt. Rivers earned his second technical for his reaction to the first one.
Smith, meanwhile, wandered off the court for the Cavs on Tuesday night to hug Jason Terry on the Bucks' bench. The man he was guarding, Tony Snell, was rewarded with an easy dunk while Cavs players looked on bewildered. Smith compounded his problems by wearing a ski mask after the game while addressing reporters and claimed he didn't know he was in the game when the gaffe occurred.
The mental lapse — and his handling of the situation after the game — did not sit well with Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who addressed the issue with Smith on Wednesday.
“It was (an) embarrassing moment,” Lue said. “We had a discussion about it, he felt embarrassed about it, it was an embarrassing play. We talked about it. We're moving on.”
Lue said he would not discipline Smith for the play or his reaction because it wasn't malicious. But he made clear he didn't appreciate the ski mask stunt.
“There's no need for that,” Lue said. “Just address the media in the right way, move on.”
Smith said he tried to have fun with the mistake because he didn't want to be boring.
“I said it more in a joking manner because you can see what happened,” Smith said Wednesday, sans ski mask. “Obviously I wasn't paying attention. For me to just sit there and tell you I wasn't paying attention makes it plain and boring somewhat, especially when you're asking a question you already know the answer to. But at the same time, I still have to give that boring answer, for whatever reason.”
Both teams are expected to be back at full strength Thursday. Clippers forward Blake Griffin was out of the lineup Tuesday to rest, while Cavaliers forward Channing Frye missed the past week following the death of his father. Frye rejoined the Cavs in time for practice Wednesday and returns Thursday as the league leader in 3-point shooting (.485).
The bigger problem Lue is battling right now is complacency, illustrated by Smith's gaffe.
“When you have a team that's a championship team and you went to two straight Finals, you've been doing the same thing for three years, it gets redundant,” Lue said. “But you still have to do the drills, continue to get better, you still have to go through offensive sets you've been working on, continuing to work on execution, and the guys know it, so they get bored with it sometimes. Rightfully so.
“We've got to continue to work on those things, you've got to continue to get good at those things, and it's going to help us down the road.”