Cavaliers sacrifice short-term satisfaction for long-term benefit of rest

LOS ANGELES -- There is, undoubtedly, a certain type of NBA fan who takes joy in seeing J.R. Smith hoist up 17 shots in 28 minutes and that is enough to satiate his or her hoops fix on a Saturday night.

But when even the shot-happy Mr. Swish himself wasn't having fun in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 108-78 loss to the LA Clippers on Saturday while LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving sat out to rest, you know there is something wrong with the frequency with which stars sit in the NBA.

"I'm getting too old to be doing all that," Smith said. "I don't like all that dribblin' around, step back, I like my normal game, get to the corner, catch and shoot and defend. I like that."

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who owned the decision to keep his guys out even though he said it made James "mad" and "pissed," didn't like what he saw, either.

When asked what he would have chosen between the likes of Arizona-Saint Mary's or Virginia-Florida in the round of 32 or Cavs-Clippers if he was just a basketball fan sitting at home in front of the TV on a weekend evening, Lue answered with zero hesitation.

"NCAA tournament," he said.

What was supposed to be a marquee matchup for the league -- James in L.A. with Irving and Chris Paul battling it out at the point, and Love and Blake Griffin going toe to toe in the frontcourt -- quickly devolved into an embarrassment.

Cleveland scored a season-low 31 points in the first half and trailed by 16 at the break. That deficit would swell to 32.

The ad campaign by ESPN and ABC promoting their prime-time, nationally televised Saturday night games features the rapper Lil Jon taking liberties with his hit "Turn Down For What" and changing the lyrics to fit that week's matchup.

For the second consecutive week, after Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr rested four of his best players against the San Antonio Spurs last Saturday, the question became "Turn on for what?" As in, why would anyone turn on their TV to watch a lesser product?

In the arena, an L.A. crowd that paid premium prices to see James' lone road game against the Clippers this season started a "We want LeBron!" chant in the second quarter.

The crowd on social media echoed the sentiment. Here is a sampling:

This season the league launched a new nine-year television-rights deal worth $2.66 billion annually, negotiated with ESPN and TNT last February. The deal caused a salary-cap balloon the likes of which the NBA has never seen before, and players benefited greatly with a free-agency bonanza this past summer. Seven- and eight-figure deals were even being tossed around to role players.

With that compensation comes an obligation to play, the logic goes. You know how many of those players' fans don't miss a day of work all year just to make in 12 months what they earn in one game?

Then again, these are world-class athletes tasked with facing other world-class athletes. Love is barely a month removed from knee surgery and is on a minutes restriction as he tries to get back into shape. He could have played Saturday, sure, but the team felt an extra day of rest would benefit his health more. Irving experienced tightness in his left knee in Cleveland's previous game. Again, it's something he could have played through Saturday, but what if it flared up and then he wasn't available to play Sunday against the Lakers?

James is the most important player to the Cavs, and really the most important player to the entire league. The Cavs didn't want him to shoulder the load solo without the rest of the big three.

"Everyone is going to have an opinion, everyone is going to say something," said Tristan Thompson, who, it should be noted, owns the league's longest ironman streak at 438 consecutive games played. "They'll complain now and then tomorrow LeBron will do a windmill down the lane and the tweets will all change and say 'King James' and they’ll say, 'Kyrie between the legs, best handles in the game' and 'K-Love's back.' So it’s only a couple hours for them to be mad and then it'll be over."

Ultimately, most basketball fans would choose seeing James at the top of his game when it matters most -- say, like when he put up a triple-double in Game 7 of the Finals last June to win the championship -- than see anything he has to offer in a regular-season game.

Rest is a means to an end. But you can't blame fans for wanting to see the league put an end to games like the one that was played Saturday.