CLEVELAND: Twenty-nine thoughts for 29 defensive rebounds in a 122-100 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday…
1. LeBron James doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the kid, even though Kyrie Irving already has three All-Star appearances and an All-Star MVP on his resume. So when James was asked about Irving following his dazzling performance in the win over the Raptors, James initially hedged before later perhaps hinting at the guard’s future.
2. “If he continues to play the way he’s been playing, but also continues to progress in his game over the years, he can do something that’s very special around this league,” James said. “I’m not going to put too much pressure on him, but I know in my head what he can become in this league and tonight he showed it.”
3. James added later that Irving is “more than an All-Star.” There isn’t much more than an All-Star, except perhaps…
4. “There would never be a question if Kyrie Irving is the MVP as long as he’s on the floor and he’s healthy,” James said.
5. So in the span of only a few minutes, James went from not wanting to put too much pressure on him, to calling him more than an All-Star, to declaring him an MVP candidate.
6. Irving set season highs with 25 points and eight assists against the Raptors, including nine points and three assists in the fourth quarter. He turned a 12-point lead entering the fourth into a blowout that allowed James to sit the final 12 minutes. And it was vintage Irving.
7. He stepped into a 30-foot 3-pointer earlier in the game, then saved his spin move around two defenders/Euro-step to the basket for the game’s final minutes. He shot 10 of 16, grabbed six rebounds and only committed one turnover in 29 minutes. The minutes are increasing, the production is increasing and the rust is decreasing.
8. “Kyrie did amazing things,” Raptors forward Patrick Patterson said.
9. “It felt like he was himself tonight,” David Blatt said. “Tonight it just looked like the old Kyrie.”
10. Irving was a surprise entry in the first batch of All-Star returns when he was second in backcourt voting released Christmas Day. An updated balloting list should be released soon, and the guards were bunched tightly enough that Irving could slip out of a starter’s spot before voting closes in a couple of weeks. But James voted for Irving on Twitter Monday (along with Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony) and believes Irving belongs in the game regardless of the injury and small sample size to his season.
11. “There’s not many guys if any, at the point guard level that’s better than him,” James said. “So I don’t think it should even be a question.”
12. James paused when asked if Irving looks as good now as he did last season prior to the fractured kneecap. James believes he still has some ground to make up, but it’s clear by now the injury shouldn’t prevent Irving from becoming the player he once was.
13. “For me it’s just about getting better every single game. That’s what I’ve tried to do,” Irving said. “There’s going to be some nights or the past two nights where I didn’t have my legs or my jump shot and I started questioning it. Or I dive on the floor when we’re up by 20. That mental hurdle to get over. But for me now it’s just continuing, continuing, continuing to progress and get better for my teammates. And that’s making plays and being decisive on my decisions. When I’m able to play like that and get other guys shots and be aggressive and guys are hitting shots, gosh, the game is so fun.”
14. Guys certainly enjoyed themselves this time. The Cavs made 17 3-pointers (J.R. Smith had eight of them) and they shot 55 percent. Blatt thought this was the first time the Cavs just outscored a team to win, but James and Blatt both liked the defensive effort in the second half after the Cavs’ defense broke down too often in the first half.
15. The Raptors shot 60 percent in the first half and scored 56 points – half of them in the paint off dribble penetration. The Cavs cleaned things up in the second half, but part of it could’ve been the Raptors fading. They entered Sunday essentially tied with the Bulls for second place in the East behind the Cavs but leave Cleveland fifth in the East after losing road games at the Bulls and Cavs on consecutive nights.
16. “One-hundred points should be enough to win in this league,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “But until we turn it on defensively, we’re kidding ourselves.”
17. Smith has been inconsistent shooting 3-pointers all season, but had a big night against the Raptors. His 62 3-pointers for the season tie him with Omri Casspi (remember him?) for 25th in the league. Kevin Love is a few spots ahead of him with 67 3s.
18. Smith is only shooting 37 percent from deep, but his eight 3s Monday were a season high.
19. “When the first one goes in I feel like I’ll make the next three or four,” Smith said. “One of those things where it kept running hotter and my teammates just kept finding me.”
20. As he was leaving the locker room, I asked Smith if he’d ever participated in a 3-point contest during All-Star weekend because I couldn’t recall ever seeing him there.
21. “You know they don’t want me there,” Smith said. “You know they don’t want me part of All-Star festivities.”
22. Funny postgame moment: As James was leaving the locker room, Blatt – wearing only a towel – swung open the door to his office and called James over to him.
23. “C’mon Coach,” James said. “I can’t talk to you like this.”
24. He did, though. James obliged and after the two briefly chatted, James turned and walked toward Tristan Thompson. “That man was naked,” James said.
25. Players walk around locker rooms in towels all the time. Unusual to see coaches do it, however.
26. Big six-game road swing begins Wednesday. It’s a screwy trip, even by NBA standards. The trip begins in Washington before moving to Minnesota, then back to the East Coast and Philadelphia before the Texas triangle.
27. The Cavs’ longest trip of the season is always in the middle of January because Disney on Ice takes over the Q. That’s usually when the league sends the Cavs on a West Coast trip, but that trip was shoehorned into December in order to get the Cavs-Warriors Christmas Day game. As a result, this screwy East-Midwest-East-Southwest trip was created and the Cavs are spending 18 of 23 days (counting travel days) away from home.
28. “We’ll see what happens, starting in D.C.,” James said. “It’s a team who beat us really good, and we remember that, so we look forward to trying to get them on their home floor like they got us.”
29. The Wizards are the only team to beat the Cavs at the Q this season. Talk to you Wednesday from Verizon Center.