PHOENIX: The change in J.J. Hickson began a couple of weeks ago, when Cavs coach Byron Scott sat him down to discuss his attitude and demeanor both in practice and games.
Hickson was quiet and keeping to himself. He was unhappy with his role and inconsistent minutes, the fact he lost his starting job and always seemed to be doing something that made Scott unhappy. Just when he seemed to be improving, he skipped a mandatory practice and was suspended for one game last week.
None of that matters anymore. With Anderson Varejao lost for the season to a torn tendon in his foot, Hickson is a starter again. Only now he's playing center instead of forward, which may be a good thing since it will force him to stay in the post rather than launch long jumpers from the perimeter.
Hickson had 23 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in the Cavs' 108-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. They're now the owners of two 10-game losing streaks, separated only by an overtime victory over the New York Knicks. They haven't won on the road in two months, but there are signs of hope in Hickson and Manny Harris.
Harris had 27 points and eight rebounds, Mo Williams had 12 assists and Antawn Jamison had 23 points for the Cavs, who lost when they went nearly the final six minutes of the game without scoring from the floor.
But the real story was Hickson. After learning Sunday afternoon that Varejao was lost for the season, Scott decided to give Hickson back a starting job.
"My first thought was I feel bad for him, but I know Andy is the type of guy, he doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for him,'' Hickson said. "It's bittersweet. It's going to be more playing time for me and other bigs. It's an opportunity for a lot more people to get minutes and get better.''
In a separate move, Scott moved Christian Eyenga into the starting lineup at small forward and moved Alonzo Gee back to the bench. Eyenga is likely to start for the remainder of this West Coast trip so Scott can get a good look at what the former first-round pick can provide.
Eyenga had eight points, five rebounds and a couple more blocks against the Suns.
"With Manny and Christian, you've got two young guys. We're going to make some mistakes,'' Scott said. "But it's a
good chance for us right now to find out if these guys can play. They're going to get extended minutes from this point on. We'll get a good idea of what they can be in the future.''
The loss of Varejao is crushing to the Cavs' defense. Scott has wanted more rebounding out of Hickson all season, now it's no longer a wish — it's a requirement. For one night at least, Hickson was huge. Nine of his rebounds were offensive.
Scott was hesitant to play Hickson at center during the preseason and Hickson conceded he'd rather play forward, but he's just happy to be starting again. He is approaching this as a fresh start with his new attitude.
"I felt like my game was slipping away from me,'' Hickson said. "The attitude I had, I'm big on energy. I felt like I was going in with a whole bunch of negative energy. When I'm that way, I don't play good. I had to change myself and put my teammates first to get the job done.''
Scott has noticed the change. Now the Cavaliers need it to be permanent. So far, so good.
"Like I said two weeks ago, he's the head coach,'' Hickson said. "He makes the calls and from here on out, I'm willing to do whatever he says. There's been a change in my behavior, in my attitude toward the coaching staff and the team and I think it shows on the court.''