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LeBron James plays Grinch as Cleveland Cavaliers stiff fans at road game

By Alex Butler
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LeBron James plays Grinch as Cleveland Cavaliers stiff fans at road game
LeBron James arrives on the red carpet at the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Ceremony 2016 at Barclays Center on December 12, 2016 in New York City. LeBron James was honored as the 2016 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year alongside special guest Michael Phelps and 2016 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award Winners Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Bill Russell. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

MEMPHIS, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Many fans undoubtedly purchased tickets in advance, waiting for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to travel to Tennessee and face the Memphis Grizzlies.

Some even paid the lofty ticket prices for Christmas presents.

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But the Cavaliers presented those fans with a poor product Wednesday. Cavaliers' stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love didn't even travel with the team for the 93-85 loss. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue announced, after the teams met Tuesday, that his big three would sit out for the rematch Wednesday. Only Love had injury concerns, as he deals with a stiff back.

"I do whatever my coach asks me to do," James told Cleveland.com. "My coach wants me to rest, I don't buck my coach.

Cleveland.com reported that the choice to bench the Big Three was made before Tuesday's game. Irving had previously complained of tired legs.

Attendance was announced at 17,449 for the contest. That number is about 96 percent of the capacity of FedExForum.

Several fans took to social media to express their dismay over Lue's decision. One fan held a sign saying he traveled four hours and spent $800 "to see LeBron, and he's at home."

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New York Times' Victor Mather speculated that the NBA should perhaps warn fans of this probability.

"Until then, N.B.A. tickets should perhaps come with a warning: "Understudies may substitute for stars," Mather wrote, referring to the league's new collective bargaining agreement [CBA].

The NBA and its Players' Union agreed to a new CBA on Wednesday. The new pact reduces the number of times teams play games on consecutive days. By starting the regular season about a week earlier, the schedule creates more days off for the players.

James, Irving, and Love are averaging 71 points, 21 rebounds, and 15 assists per game for the Cavaliers. Journeyman James Jones led the Cavaliers Wednesday with 15 points. A 5-foot-9 rookie named Kay Felder chipped in 14 points in the loss. On Tuesday, James poured in 23 points and Love scored 29 as the Cavaliers slammed the Grizzlies 103-86.

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James has twice led the NBA in minutes played during his 14-year career. He has led the NBA in playoffs minutes played five times. His 39,286 minutes played are No. 7 all-time among active players. Love ranks No. 78 on that list. NBA veteran Zach Randolph played both games of the back-to-back for the Grizzlies. Randolph ranks No. 16 on that same list.

But the Cavaliers aren't the first franchise to pull the bait-and-switch on faithful fans. Legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is known for resting his own "Big Three" during the regular season. Fans were also outraged when Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili road the pine or didn't appear in road arenas.

The NBA fined the Spurs $250,000 for one of those instances, when Popovich didn't bring Parker, Duncan, Ginobili, and Danny Green to the final contest of a six-game road trip in Miami.

"The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team's only regular-season visit to Miami," former NBA commissioner David Stern said in a 2012 statement. "The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."

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Popovich himself was never fined or suspended for the action.

James, 31, is averaging 25 points, 9 assists, and 7.6 rebounds this season. He plays an average of 36.7 minutes per game, his most since 2013.

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