SALT LAKE CITY: When Luol Deng walked into the visitors locker room Friday night at Energy Solutions Arena, he was still expecting to find a red and black “Chicago” jersey in front of his locker.
Old habits die hard, and after 10 years wearing Bulls colors, seeing a wine and gold Cleveland jersey jarred him slightly.
“It just sort of hits you again,” he said. “So I went in the mirror and checked the colors out. They looked pretty good.”
On the first night with his new team, the new look Cavaliers looked pretty good, too.
Kyrie Irving scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the third quarter and the Cavs beat the Utah Jazz 113-102 Friday to start an important five-game West Coast trip with a rare road win.
The Cavs erupted for 39 points in the third quarter, the most they’ve scored in any quarter this season, to take command and win just their third road game. They entered the night an NBA-worst 2-15 on the road.
“It was a big win for us,” Mike Brown said. “We’ve been struggling on the road, so for us to come out here and get a win in this building … to start the road trip off the right way was big.”
Deng had 10 points in his debut in just 21 minutes. The Cavs placed him on a 30-minute restriction as a precaution given his Achilles injury last month. Deng has battled various injuries throughout his career, and the nagging Achilles injury forced him out of nine games last month.
The Cavs are trying to be cautious with Deng after he routinely ranked among the league leaders in minutes played. He is ninth this season, averaging more than 37 per game prior to Friday.
“Every game it’s feeling better. It’s going to get better and better,” Deng said. “It’s just a lot of talk. I’ve got a lot going on (after the trade). I just wanted to get on the floor and just move onto the next chapter. I’m glad this game is over with. Hopefully I give it a few more games and people will stop talking about it and I can just be a Cav and just play.”
Deng was a spectator for much of the second half after the Jazz went scoreless for nearly three minutes near the end of the third quarter, allowing the Cavs to extend a 72-68 lead to 85-70 on Jarrett Jack’s 3-pointer to close the quarter.
Irving scored 7 consecutive points during the streak to beat a Jazz team playing without its leading scorer. Gordon Hayward missed the game with a hip injury after scoring a career-high 37 points in the Jazz’s home victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
“He hit a couple buckets and he just stayed aggressive,” Brown said of Irving’s hot third quarter. “I called a few plays and Jack called me off and sent the ball to Kyrie and it worked out great. Both our point guards have the green light to make a play call. They can get across whatever point they want to to the other four guys better than I can. Kyrie did a nice job of continuing to put pressure on Utah once he got rolling.”
Dion Waiters had 17 points off the bench, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao combined for 29 rebounds and C.J. Miles continued his hot streak with 17 points after entering the night averaging 22 points and 5.3 rebounds in his last four games.
It was his second game back in Utah after spending his first seven years here, but the night didn’t carry quite the same feeling that last year’s return game did.
“It’s great to see a lot of familiar faces, a lot of people I spent a lot of time with. But it’s not as jittery as it was last year,” he said before the game. “Last year you could say it was just a game, but now it really feels more like just another game. There’s not as much emotion tied to it.”
The Cavs continue this road trip Sunday at the Sacramento Kings. The first three stops on this trip (including the Los Angeles Lakers game on Tuesday) are against the three worst teams in the Western Conference, meaning the Cavs have the opportunity to match their season road win total just on this road trip.
“It’s 2014, that was 2013,” Waiters said of the Cavs’ struggles. “We ain’t looking back. It’s a new year. We have a chance to do a lot of damage coming up.”