MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - When Philip Speering’s mother told him she would do something special for him making good grades, he focused on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ only visit to Memphis this season to play the Grizzlies.
Speering, 15, wanted to see LeBron James. He wanted to see Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the defending NBA champions.
Speering got his wish to attend the Cavaliers-Grizzlies game Wednesday night, but none of Cleveland’s top three players was even in town. As many NBA teams look to rest their top players more and more, James, Irving and Love were all left home, and Memphis beat the short-handed Cavs 93-85.
“Honestly, I feel like they should come and support their (fans),” said Speering, who was wearing a Believeland T-shirt. “I understand rest, but it’s kind of disappointing.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue announced immediately after his team beat Memphis 103-86 in Cleveland on Tuesday night that James, Irving and Love would not make the overnight, one-game trip. The Cavaliers’ next game is at home Saturday against the Lakers.
The Grizzlies took a similar approach to Tuesday’s game in Cleveland. Memphis center Marc Gasol was left home rather than make that trip.
Teams are increasingly relying on minutes calculations or assessing the number of games in a particular stretch in deciding whether to sit their best players on a given night.
That can be upsetting to fans of the visitors who - in Cleveland’s case - have only one chance to see certain teams come to town. With the Cavs in the Eastern Conference and Memphis in the West, they face each other twice a season - once on each other’s floor.
Throughout the day Wednesday, sports talk-show hosts debated the decision - both from the focus of the team, but also from the fans, some of whom paid premium prices for the one opportunity to see the defending champions. Some noted that in sharing ticket packages, the Cleveland visit was among the first games selected.
Rick McKenna of Memphis was sitting by himself in the stands. The native of Ravenna, Ohio, said he paid $400 for his ticket.
Lue said a combination of factors contributed to the decision. The Cavs played four games in six nights before the Tuesday game against the Grizzlies. James has not had his usual pep, Lue said, Love has dealt with back issues (although he had 29 points and 13 rebounds in Tuesday’s win), and Irving has dealt with “tired legs.”
All three were listed as not with the team due to “rest.”
“It was pretty much the circumstance. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re coming to Memphis; we’re going to sit our guys.’” Lue said.
The reasoning still doesn’t sit well with fans. Jaden Jenkins, 14, of Memphis, was decked out in his Cavaliers shirt in the pregame. He noted it was “pretty upsetting” when he heard James wasn’t playing, but “even worse,” when Love and Irving were added to the mix.
“If a player only plays one game at a particular location, they should play that night,” Jenkins said.
Mark Edge and his 12-year-old son, Coleman, of Bartlett, Tennessee, a Memphis suburb, “marked the game on the calendar” as soon as the schedule was released. The father said it might be the only NBA game they attend this season.
“It’s like if you had a lollipop and someone stole it,” Coleman Edge said.
The disappointment was tempered somewhat when a member of the Cavaliers security staff approached and said the team liked to have people in Cleveland gear on its bench during pregame.
At that point, Coleman was escorted to the Cavs’ bench. He wouldn’t see James or Irving, but he was perhaps sitting in the same seat they would have occupied if they made the trip to Memphis.
And his father could find a bright spot to the whole episode.
“We’re kind of disappointed,” Mark Edge said, “but it’s still a nice father-son night. We’re still making memories.”
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