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March 29, 2011
On the Beat
James Back in Cleveland

by John Perrotto

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Tonight marks the second return of LeBron James to Cleveland as the Miami Heat faces the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The first meeting on Dec. 2 got greased the skids for what has been an embarrassing awful season for the Cavaliers.

The Heat rolled to a 118-90 victory as James scored 38 points, beginning an NBA-record 26-game losing streak for the Cavaliers. They were 7-10 coming into the game and have gone 7-47 since for a league-worst 14-57 record.

The most disturbing part of that night for the Cavaliers is that they seemed to relish playing the role of the Washington Generals. Cleveland players joked with James, their former teammate, throughout the game. Though the Cavaliers insisted there was more trash talk than friendly banter, those who were courtside say that was not the case.

The Cavaliers claim they will be all business in this go-round against the prodigal son, who grew up just up Interstate 77 from Cleveland in Akron, Ohio. No clowning around this time.

"Like anyone who runs into a bully the first time, you (get scared)," Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. "Then you realize, the bully (isn't) that tough and you stand up to him."

Scott points to the fact that Cavaliers lost by just six points, 101-95, to the Heat less than two weeks later on Dec. 15 at Miami as an indicator that his team won't play patsy to James and friends.

"I know it will be different," Scott said of tonight's game. "The next time we played them, it was different. It was a much more physical, more aggressive and tighter."

Point guard Baron Davis wasn't with the Cavaliers for the first James return as he was acquired from the Clippers in a trade later in the season. However, he is sure Cleveland won't be rolling out the red carpet this time for James.

"We're not going to be laughing and joking," Davis said. "There's not going to be a lot of smiles. I want to give (my teammates) the confidence, motivation and passion to play. I think that will be a good game for us. I think it will be a different attitude than the other games against Miami."

Making Playoffs No Longer Thunder's Milestone

The Oklahoma City Thunder has qualified for the playoffs for the second straight season. A sign of how far the franchise has come in a short period of time is that there was little fanfare surrounding its victory Sunday night over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers that clinched the postseason berth.

The Thunder wants to be a factor in the playoffs this season after pushing the top-seeded Lakers to seven games last year before losing in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. That is a far cry from two years ago, when the Thunder went 23-59 in the first season after the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City from Seattle.

"It feels good," Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. "A couple of years ago, we were the worst team ever. Two years later, we have clinched consecutive playoff appearances, so it feels good. We have to keep pushing."

Pushing on is indeed Oklahoma City's theme with 10 regular-season games remaining. The Thunder is in fourth place in the Western Conference and has a substantial edge in gaining home-court advantage for the first round as it leads the fifth-place Denver Nuggets, who also are second in the Northwest Division, by 4.5 games.

"It's more important for us just to improve and use these last regular-season games to get better," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

However, Brooks also knows his team is loose and confident as it prepares for the playoffs.

"We have a group that loves to compete and loves to have fun at the same time, which I don't mind as long as for 48 minutes they're serious and their spirit of competition is at a high level," Brooks said. "But they do enjoy being around each other."

Memphis Believes in Veteran Presence

One thing the Memphis Grizzlies learned from their unsuccessful run at a playoff spot last season was that they needed to sprinkle some veterans on a roster filled with talented young players. They started by adding Tony Allen in the offseason and have acquired Shane Battier, Leon Powe and Jason Williams in the last month.

"To have veterans who have been there helps," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "They understand what it takes to keep poised. Even if your young guys get rattled, we have veterans telling them, 'Get your head back in it, don't worry about it, do this and do that.' Those are the type of things that keep your club solid."

The Grizzlies' maturation was evident last week when they went 3-1. First they beat the Jazz, a team chasing them in the Western Conference. That was followed by a road victory over the current East No. 2 seed Celtics, a narrow loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls and a late comeback at home to beat the Western Conference-leading Spurs on Sunday night.

"I said at the start of this week there were a lot of teams beneath us that were looking at us in Boston as a loss, probably looking at Chicago as a loss and San Antonio as a loss," Hollins said. "So win two of three, we put a little crinkle in their paper. That's what it's all about. Going out there and competing every night."

Jackson Doesn't Want Company in L.A. Area

The Kings are angling to become the NBA's third franchise in Southern California and L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson isn't very happy about it.

"What other metropolitan area has three teams in it?" Jackson said. "It's ridiculous to put another franchise in this market. It just doesn't make sense to do that."

While the Lakers and Clippers share the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Kings are looking to relocate to Anaheim. Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have had a lawyer secure naming rights to the Anaheim Royals, and there is a 103-page lease in place to rent the Honda Center that awaits only a signature.

The population in the five-county Los Angeles area is just under 18 million. Metropolitan New York, with a population of 19 million, has three NHL teams with the Rangers in New York City, the Islanders on Long Island and the Devils in New Jersey.

The Lakers and Clippers are reportedly asking other NBA owners to not vote for the Kings' relocation. A majority of league owners, who make up the Board of Governors, must approve a franchise move. The Kings have until April 18 to formally file for relocation for the 2011-12 season and the board will meet next month to discuss it.

"They're putting publicity out and trying to seed the ground, but there hasn't even been a formal Board of Governors (decision) in front of the owners," Jackson said. "There's definitely a push, but that doesn't mean that it's going to happen."

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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