Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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The Cox Pavilion was relatively silent Tuesday with five minutes to play in a NBA Summer League game between the Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets.
Denver had a 25-point advantage and most of the crowd in the quaint, 2,500-seat facility had moved to the adjacent Thomas & Mack Center for the start of the day's next game.
But in the makeshift locker rooms at the Cox Pavilion, some 20 feet behind Chicago's bench, the mood was drastically different. So different, you could easily hear the enthusiastic clapping coming from behind the red curtain that serves as the changing area's door.
It was the Cleveland Cavaliers finishing a pregame meeting for their summer league opener against the NBA D-League Select, a group of all-stars from the developmental league.
When you consider what the organization has endured the past week, the upbeat attitude from the players spoke volumes. LeBron James' decision to leave the Cavs in free agency for the Miami Heat was a big blow to the franchise and city.
So, simply putting on their jerseys and taking the court was a significant step in the recovery. Rallying from a seven-point second-half deficit for an 88-82 victory was icing on the cake.
"It was important to get out here and play ball and forget about what happened last week," Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. "This was the first step in that process."
Post player J.J. Hickson, who averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest last year while starting 73 games, finished with a team-high 18 points and nine rebounds in playing all but two minutes.
The 6-foot-9 Hickson has two years NBA experience and easily could have complained about being asked to play in the summer league, a venue primarily for rookies and free agents to showcase their talents for a roster spot in the fall.
But Hickson is expected to fill part of the void left by James' departure and knew taking a leadership role with the summer-league team could carry over to the regular season.
"I see my role expanding (without LeBron)," Hickson said. "Everyone will have to step up, including myself."
Scott, who was hired three weeks ago, watched the game from three rows behind Cleveland's bench. Like all head coaches, he isn't coaching the summer-league team.
He did talk to players in the changing area, including having some stern words for Hickson at halftime. Cleveland had eight rebounds at halftime and Hickson — who clearly was the best player on the court — had only one.
Cleveland came on strong in the fourth quarter, outscoring the NBA D-League Select squad 26-16 in pulling out the victory. Unlike the first three quarters, the Cavs did a good job pushing the ball up the court and took advantage of their athleticism.
Scott told them following the game they can't wait until the fourth quarter to be aggressive. That holds especially true for Hickson.
"His role will obviously be expanded this year," Scott said. "Like I told him, 'I expect you to play extremely well this year.'"
Danny Green, who played 20 games last year for the Cavs, had 12 points in 34 minutes. Pooh Jeter, an overseas veteran looking to crack a NBA roster for the first time, had 17 points and seven assists. Jeter's ability to push the ball up the court in transition was the difference late.
"We have a lot of good pieces already," Scott said. "We just have to add a few more pieces to that puzzle."
The Cavs have four more games in the summer league, but none will carry the significance of Tuesday's initial contest. Scott was happy for his squad's step in the right direction.
"The first thing we had to deal with was the shock. The second was the hurt," Scott said. "But the city is very resilient."
While losing LeBron — a native of the Cleveland area who was the face of the franchise for his seven-year tenure — was tough for the Cleveland community to stomach, Hickson says, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
"I didn't see it coming," he said of James leaving for Miami. "It's unfortunate, but we have to move on."
Grizzlies win at the buzzer, Lakers still looking for win
Sam Young's 3-pointer as time expired gave the Memphis Grizzlies a 67-64 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee trailed by six points with 34 seconds to play, but Larry Sanders hit a pair of 3-pointers to even the game at 64. Sanders' second shot was with .07 seconds left.
Memphis limited Milwaukee to seven points in the second quarter.
Also, Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 12 rebounds and the Kings erased an 11-point first-half deficit in beating the Los Angeles Lakers, 90-84.
Washington's John Wall, Cousins' teammate last year at Kentucky, watched the game courtside at the Thomas & Mack. Wall and the Wizards had the day off.
Derrick Caracter had 14 points for Los Angeles, which is looking for its first win after four summer-league games.
In other action, Toronto shot 52.9 percent from the field in a 100-91 victory against the Houston Rockets. DeMar DeRozan had 23 points in the win, while Jermaine Taylor tallied 17 points for Houston.