INDEPENDENCE: Two-thirds of the way through his rookie season, Dion Waiters is finally learning how to drive in the NBA.
He is finally attacking the basket the way the Cavs have wanted him to since drafting him fourth overall. He has all but eliminated the 3-point shot and focused on getting to the basket with regularity.
The results are evident.
He is shooting 59 percent in his past six games and 51 percent in the past month, when nearly half of his shots (52-of-106) have come from within 3 feet of the basket. He has only attempted 18 3-pointers in his last 11 games.
“I feel that one of my strengths is going to the basket,” Waiters said. “I feel nobody can stop me but me going to the basket.”
Just as important as getting to the basket is finishing, and the shots are finally starting to drop. Entering tonight’s game at the Orlando Magic, Waiters is making 62 percent of his shots on drives to the rim.
As a result, his overall numbers are on the rise. Waiters’ 14.2 points average ranks second among rookies and his overall field-goal percentage is up to 40 percent, ranking him fifth among rookie guards (minimum five attempts per game).
“It’s a great thing,” Waiters said of his improved field-goal percentage. “I’m taking better shots, playing within the offense and feeling more comfortable.”
Yet for as far as he has come offensively, there is still plenty of work to do defensively. Waiters hasn’t forgotten his defensive lapse that left the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard wide open for a game-winning 3-pointer in the final game before the All-Star break.
He made the same mistake previously in a loss at the Miami Heat. Now the Cavs return to AmericanAirlines Arena for a game Sunday night in the second of back-to-back games.
The Cavs made this same journey at the end of November, losing to the Magic and Heat on consecutive nights. They had an opportunity to win both games, and probably should’ve beaten the defending-champion Heat if not for a collapse in the final two minutes. But the Magic aren’t playing nearly as well as they were the night they beat the Cavs at Amway Center.
They’ve lost 26 of their past 29 entering their game Friday at the Memphis Grizzlies, they traded away one of their best players Thursday in sharpshooter J.J. Redick and they’ll be playing their fourth game in five nights tonight.
“We gave them away, we know that,” Waiters said of the last time the Cavs made this trip on Thanksgiving weekend. He was also quick to remember the shot he allowed to Allen.
“It won’t happen again,” he said. “Just like San Antonio, I’m not going to easily forget about that, knowing that we could’ve won the game. That’s the thing about the NBA, you get a chance to get them back. I ain’t worrying about it.”
Cavs coach Byron Scott was a little groggy when he returned to practice on Friday. Scott took a red eye from Los Angeles after attending the memorial service for late Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
Scott dropped his wife off at home early Friday morning, then drove directly to Cleveland Clinic Courts. He was there by 7:30 a.m., then boarded another flight to Orlando, Fla., in the afternoon.
All of the extra travel was worth it to him to honor a man he considers one of the finest he’s ever met.
“He had so many people there, it was unbelievable,” Scott said. “He was loved by so many people and touched so many people. Got a great chance to see a bunch of old teammates, which was fun as well. It was really fun to go back and pay my respects to a man I admired very deeply and had a lot of appreciation for and I’m going to miss.”
Luke Walton spent the first 7½ years of his career playing for the Lakers and the Buss family and said he was nervous the first time he met him.
“I was a rookie trying to make the team and we were in Hawaii for training camp,” Walton said. “He took everyone out to dinner and was talking with everyone. Just a great, great guy. He was a great owner, a great person. Just wanted to win. He treated people fairly. He’ll definitely be missed out there in Laker land, that’s for sure.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.