The Cleveland Cavaliers have a tough three-game stretch over a four-game period coming up and are still trying to get used to head coach’s Tyronn Lue’s up-tempo approach. This three game stretch includes away games against Detroit and Indiana and a home contest versus San Antonio.
Cleveland improved to 32-12 and 2-1 under Lue after turning in a dominating second half defensive performance against the Phoenix Suns in which they turned a five-point halftime lead into a 113-93 rout. The Cavs trailed 26-23 after the first quarter but scored the final four points of the half to take a 55-50 lead.
Cleveland started the second half on a 12-0 spurt over the first three minutes thanks to their defense creating three turnovers, which led to six fast break points. The Cavs forced the Suns into nine turnovers in the third period alone, five came off of steals, and turned them into 20 points – eight coming on the fast break. Cleveland led by as many 19 points in the third and outscored Phoenix 32-21 as the Cavs permitted the Suns to take 13 shots from the field, though they did make eight of those attempts (61.5 percent).
In total the Cavs limited the Suns to 43 second half points on 43.8 percent shooting from the field (14-of-32) as Cleveland held Phoenix to 6-of-19 shooting (31.6 percent in the fourth quarter). They also forced 23 Suns turnovers for the game, which the Cavs turned into 33 points.
Cleveland made at least half of their shots in all four quarters and shot 55.6 percent from the floor for the game (45-of-81). The Cavs also dished out a season-high 34 assists and had 19 fast break points – which includes these two points.
LeBron James has been very efficient on the offensive end the last 15 games – as he has made at least half of his shots in 12 of those 15 contests — but even more so over the last two games as he has only taken two three-point attempts. James has made 18-of-his-23 shots (78.2 percent) as he has made a conscious effort to get out and run and has scored 46 points as well as doled out 18 assists over the two game span – James has 39 assists and one triple-double in his last four games. He is also 9-of-10 from the foul line the past two games.
James needs just 15 points to become the 17th player in league history to reach 26,000 for career.
Kevin Love may have also finally broken out of his shooting slump as he tallied 21 points against Phoenix marking just the second time he has reached the 20-point mark in his last 17 contest. Love also made 8-of-his 17 shot attempts marking just first time since Nov. 19 he has made that many field goals. He has shot over 45 percent of his shots in each of his last three games making it the first time he has accomplished that feat since Nov. 25-28.
Love has 21 double-doubles this season.
JR Smith has been a menace on the defensive end the past two games and also got into rhythm on the offensive end against the Suns. Smith has seven steals over the last two contests, including four against Phoenix, and he finished with 18 points, four dimes and three rebounds on Wednesday night. He connected on 7-of-11 field goal attempts and was 4-of-6 from long-range. Smith has accumulated two of his three best plus minus scores in the past four games – he was a +20 against Phoenix and a +30 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
While James, Love and Smith appear to have embrace Lue up-tempo approach, Kyrie Irving has struggled since the Cavs have put an emphasis on getting out and running. He is averaging just 12 points while connecting on 16-of-45 shots (35.5 percent) from the field and 1-of-9 (11.1 percent) from behind the arc since Lue has taken over the reins. Irving has been going to the boards more often collecting 5.0 boards a game, he has just 10 assists and seven turnovers in the three games.
Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, Matthew Dellavedova and even Richard Jefferson has had their moments of spectacular play under Lue. Jefferson dumped in a season-high 14 points against Phoenix as he made all four of his shots, including 2-of-2 from long range.
The main point is that the Cavs will need to be clicking on all cylinders – on both ends of the court—if they plan on keeping a hold of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland is just two games up on Toronto (31-15), the Raptors have won 10 straight games. But it is really too early to worry about seeding at this point as the Cavs have more concerns at this point than that.
First up for Cleveland is a trip to Detroit on Friday. The Cavs are 14-9 on the road this season but must control Pistons’ center Andre Drummond this time around. Drummond posted 25 points and 18 rebounds in the team’s first game, which Detroit won 104-99 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Detroit (25-21) has won two straight and is 15-7 at home.
After traveling to Detroit, the Cavs return to The Q for a home contest against the Spurs. The Cavs are 5-3 in the second game of back-to-backs this year. Cleveland started off strong in the team’s first meeting but were dominated in the fourth as San Antonio earned a 99-95 victory.
San Antonio (39-7) has won 15-of-16 and has the league’s best defense, surrendering 90.6 points a game. The Spurs have the top point differential in the NBA and ranks in the top-10 in scoring, assists and rebounding. San Antonio will enter the game pretty well rested as they won’t had played since Wednesday.
The Cavs are off Sunday and then head to Indiana on Monday. The Pacers are 24-22 on the season though they are just 3-7 in their last 10. However, Indiana is 14-7 at home. Cleveland won the first game of the series 101-97 back on Nov. 8.