PORTLAND, ORE.: Dion Waiters didn’t exactly enjoy his stay in Denver as the Cavaliers began this 10-day road trip. He was sick, couldn’t catch his breath and blamed his troubles on the high altitude.
When the team’s charter flight landed in Los Angeles in the early hours Saturday, Waiters began feeling a little better, and by the end of a 124-118 loss Monday at the Sacramento Kings, he was sensational.
He enjoyed his first 30-point game, finishing with a career-high 33 points in his best performance of the season. He attacked the basket more, erased some of those ill-advised stepback jumpers he rarely makes; he defended well; and he didn’t turn the ball over in 29 minutes.
“I thought he played great,” Scott said. “He scored, made some great decisions offensively. He didn’t turn the ball over. He did some real good things.”
But he didn’t do enough to move back into the starting lineup. Scott said he will continue to bring Waiters off the bench for another couple of weeks before reassessing the situation. His timing to remove Waiters from the starting lineup was curious and certainly surprising, but it’s difficult to argue with the results.
Waiters averaged 14.2 points and shot 36 percent as a starter. He is averaging 18 points and shooting 47 percent in seven games as a reserve. Both player and coach agree that his mentality and overall game haven’t really changed in his new role. The one big difference, however, is Waiters gets to play more with the ball in his hands, which is what he has been used to his whole life.
But when Waiters returned from a sprained ankle earlier this season, Scott said the biggest thing he needed was time on the floor with Kyrie Irving so the two could learn how to play together. So it was a bit surprising for Scott to reverse course after they played just 17 games together as starters.
“Some of the things we’ve talked about that he needs to work on, sometimes you just have to wait until the summer to work on them,” Scott said. “I still think they need time to grow and play together. They’re still playing together. They’re just not starting together.”
It seems counterproductive to separate the two if the end goal is to get Waiters more comfortable playing without the ball in his hands. The Cavaliers are 9-31 entering the game tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers and are already 12 games out of the final playoff spot in the East, making this seemingly the ideal time to let Waiters and Irving work out their problems on the court.
“You’ve got a point there,” Scott said. “I’m still of the belief that as long as we’re not mathematically out of the playoffs, there’s a chance. When we’re completely out, and I know it, then I’ll start tinkering with stuff.”
Moving Waiters to the bench has certainly improved his numbers and to an extent improved the bench, although C.J. Miles averaged 14.9 points and shot 47 percent as a reserve during December.
The game tonight is the season’s halfway point, and Scott said the other day he might leave Waiters in a bench role for the rest of the regular season.
Waiters initially sulked over the loss of his starting job, said a team source who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, but seems to have pulled out of it.
“It’s not my decision,” Waiters said. “I leave that up to the coach. Only thing I can go out and do is just play basketball. That’s what I did [Monday].”
Asked if he preferred one role to the other, Waiters stammered and chuckled for a moment.
“I’ll leave that to the coach,” he said.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.