CLEVELAND — “The LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal Show” got off to a successful start Tuesday night, but yet another chapter was added to the ongoing Delonte West saga.
James had 15 points in 15 minutes and O’Neal had six in 16 as the Cavaliers opened their exhibition season with a 92-87 win over the Charlotte Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena.
“He’s a great player,” O’Neal said of James. “I have a lot of experience playing with great young players.”
While James joined Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire as young superstars O’Neal has played with in 18 years in the NBA, West did not play and was seen leaving the arena early in the fourth quarter.
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Though coach Mike Brown was evasive when asked if West would be at practice today, the 26-year-old was apparently headed back to the Washington, D.C., area for a few days.
“He’s been with us for a year,” Brown said. “He knows what we’re doing. If he needs some time (off) as we go along, we’ll figure it out.”
West, who did not accompany the Cavaliers to their intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at the University of Akron, was in uniform Tuesday and scheduled to play, but ended up being a late scratch.
West went through his pregame shooting routine more than an hour before tipoff, but did not accompany the team onto the floor for warmups and was not on the bench during the game.
“(General manager) Danny (Ferry) approached me and told me not to play Delonte,” Brown said. “It was his decision.”
West, who has bipolar disorder, faces a Nov. 20 court date in Maryland after recently being arrested on weapons charges that came following a traffic stop.
West also likely faces an NBA suspension when his legal matters are concluded and had an unexcused, two-day absence at the outset of training camp that resulted in a fine.
With the Cavaliers’ permission and support, West missed almost two weeks of camp last year while being treated for a mood disorder and depression, but came back to win the starting shooting guard spot and went through the rest of the season without incident.
“Delonte is going through a process right now,” Brown said. “While he’s going through that process, we’re trying to use all the resources we have to help him through it.”
James and O’Neal wasted no time starting their process of developing chemistry on the floor, as they looked like they had been playing together for years.
James had seven of Cleveland’s first eight points, made 5 of 7 shots on the evening and could have scored 40 points if it had been required, while O’Neal’s presence forced Charlotte to double-team and led to some great floor spacing and open shots for his teammates.
O’Neal also made a great pass to Anderson Varejao, but the power forward was caught off-guard and fumbled the ball away.
“I’ve been telling him all season, ‘I may not look at you, but I see you,’” O’Neal said. “I take great pride in being one of the best passing big men in the game.”
Other than the debut of O’Neal and James as teammates and West’s failure to play, the biggest story of the night was second-year power forward J.J. Hickson, who put up 15 points and five rebounds in less than 17 minutes.
Hickson was particularly impressive in the first half, when he scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Moments after entering the game, the 6-foot-9, 242-pounder scored on the interior, then quickly converted a three-point play after running the lane, scoring and getting fouled.
Hickson also made an 18-foot jumper and hit an impressive 13-foot turnaround, but Brown continues to qualify his praise of the still-raw 21-year-old.
“The effort was pretty good,” Brown said. “Young fellow still has to be a little more physical. He has to box out. He’s so athletic and so talented, but he can’t rely on those things.”
Reigning winner James got 69 percent of the MVP vote in the league’s annual survey of NBA general managers, but the Cavaliers (17.9 percent) only tied Boston for second behind the Los Angeles Lakers (60.7) in balloting for the 2009-10 league champion. Boston (50.0) held a slight edge over Cleveland (42.9) in voting for Eastern Conference champion.
Though he earned first-team All-Defensive honors last season and finished second to Orlando’s Dwight Howard in voting for 2008-09 Defensive Player of the Year, James didn’t get a single vote when the GMs were asked to name the league’s top player at that end of the floor. Howard got 46.4 percent of the vote and six other players received at least one vote. GMs were not permitted to vote for players on their own team.
“It could be they respect my offensive game so much or they don’t see what I do at the other end,” James said. “I know what I’m capable of at that end of the floor.”
- As expected, the Cavaliers started James, Varejao, O’Neal, Anthony Parker and Mo Williams. The second unit was comprised of Hickson, Jamario Moon, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Danny Green and Daniel Gibson.
- One game with replacement officials seemed to be enough for Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who got a technical foul in the third period and appeared to be at wit’s end by the fourth quarter.
- Who: Cleveland at Charlotte (preseason)
- When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, S.C.
- Radio: WTAM 1100
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.