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Cleveland Cavaliers crush fans by sitting out LeBron James, Kyrie Irving in Miami

By Alex Butler
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Cleveland Cavaliers crush fans by sitting out LeBron James, Kyrie Irving in Miami
Gabriela Hernandez, 14, traveled from Dorado, Puerto Rico to attend the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat game on Saturday, March 3 at AmericanAirlines Arena. (Alex Butler/UPI)

March 4 (UPI) -- Gabriela Hernandez was in a heap of tears last Christmas as she opened up a big box from her parents in Dorado, Puerto Rico.

Inside rested a chance of a lifetime: tickets and airfare to Miami for an opportunity to watch her two idols, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

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Happy tears weren't on the 14-year-old's mind when she found out Saturday that the duo would be riding the bench.

Hernandez and her mother were among many other families who forked out hundreds of dollars, or more, to attend the Cleveland Cavaliers' contest against the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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They were quickly disappointed in their investments. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue's first words uttered to the media were: "LeBron [James] and Kyrie [Irving] are out."

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AmericanAirlines Arena had a sellout crowd of 19,600.

Tickets for the matchup dipped in price as the first quarter began and the Cavaliers rolled out a starting lineup of: Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, James jones, and Tristan Thompson.

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A melancholy Lue excused James' absence because of his championship résumé, exactly the reason many of the fans came to watch four-time NBA MVP.

"He understands the bigger picture of what we're trying to accomplish," Lue said. "The guy's played so many minutes over the course of his career. He's made six straight finals. He has to take some rest at times."

James, 32, entered the game averaging 37.6 minutes per contest, the fourth-fewest minutes per game in his 14 seasons. Last season he played a career-low 35.6 minutes per bout. The Cavaliers predictably lost the contest 120-92.

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A recent study found that the Heat have the second most unaffordable tickets in the NBA for fans from a team's respective metropolitan area.

Hernandez and her mother paid a premium to sit in the arena's lower bowl. The duo traveled 1,014 miles and Hernandez waited 69 days to see her favorite player: 'The Chosen One,' and his sidekick 'Uncle Drew.'

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But she inhaled her disappointment in favor of logic in hoping to see James hoisting another Larry O'Brien trophy.

"I think it's ok [he sits out] because he's kind of the best one and he can't get injured," Hernandez said.

Saturday was set to be the first time that Hernandez could watch her "idol" perform in person. She made a florescent green sign that read: "I traveled 1,014 miles to see LeBron and Kyrie. I want a picture with them. They are my idols. That is my life dream."

"I started watching the playoffs four years ago and I have been watching him ever since," Hernandez said.

Lue offered a to-the-point apology following the loss.

"Sorry," Lue said. "We had to travel and had guys that were tired."

The Cavaliers are 0-5 this season without James in its lineup.

Several superstars have hinted that they would rest in the second half of back-to-back road games. The Cavaliers played four consecutive home games before facing the Boston Celtics on March 1 at TD Garden. Lue's squad then traveled for a game Friday, March 3 against the Atlanta Hawks before landing the next day in Miami. In Friday's win, James and Irving combined for 81 points, 15 rebounds, and 17 assists.

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Lue also apologized to Memphis Grizzlies fans in December after James sat out, along with Irving and Kevin Love in another road contest.

"I'm sorry to the fans who have to go through this because you get a chance to see LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin one time a year," Lue told reporters, via Cleveland.com. "I understand that, but it had nothing to do with the decision."

"Of course you want to see LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love play," Lue said. "But we have 11 other professionals in the locker room that are also professional players and will also give you everything they got. So hopefully they will give you a good game. Those guys in there are NBA champions also."

"So, I understand the fans' reaction, but it was nothing toward the Memphis fans or the organization, or [Grizzlies coach David] Fizdale, who's my guy."

James has said that he will do whatever Lue asks, even if he wants to play.

"I do whatever my coach asks me to do," James told reporters in December. "My coach wants me to rest, I don't buck my coach. That's what he wants and that's what we gonna do."

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver disapproves of the strategy, but acknowledges that enforcing a new rule won't be a great solution. Silver would prefer that teams rest star players for home games instead of on the road, where fans buy tickets in advance and anxiously await their arrival.

"I get it for those disappointed fans," Silver told SiriusXM NBA Radio earlier this season. "Part of me would prefer that, if you're going to rest a player, rest him for the home fans, because they get to see that player all the time. But on the other hand, I recognize it's matchup specific. Once again, I'm not sure that having an absolute rule that if a player is rested, he must be rested at home works either. So, it's not an easy issue to resolve."

Former NBA commissioner David Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 in 2012 for resting four of its star players. Teams must report as soon as they know if a player will not make a road trip due to injury, but official word of the Cavaliers stars' absence for rest didn't come until just hours before game time in Miami.

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In 2015, the NBA announced a new format for its Finals playoff schedule. The new format gives two days off between any games when teams travel. Its schedule for the last two seasons has significantly reduced back-to-back games, per the collective bargaining agreement.

"It's the NBA," Heat forward James Johnson said Saturday. "If they're tired and have to sit, then so be it. We didn't think anything of it. You are going to rest guys. They are at the top and everyone is chasing them. They can do whatever they want."

Resting star players is now commonplace in the NFL during Week 16 and Week 17, for playoff and bye-week clinching teams. But fans have come to expect that and can plan for it earlier on in the season.

The Cavaliers travel to Miami, where James led the Heat to two championships in four years, just twice this season. It's next matchup at AmericanAirlines Arena is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 10. That contest is the team's second-to-last game of the season, before it hosts the Toronto Raptors two days later. It also follows a road game on April 9 in Atlanta.

The NBA plans to add a week to the schedule and reduce the number of preseason games for next season. Teams will begin the 2017 season 7-10 days earlier, according to reports.

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