CLEVELAND: With 29 games remaining in the season, the Cavaliers embarked on the second half of their season with one clear mission — drastic improvement on defense. It’s such a priority that coach Byron Scott said there really isn’t a No. 2 on his checklist.
There’s a reason for it. The Cavs have been dreadful on defense since Scott’s arrival.
The Cavs have the worst defense in the league, allowing opponents to shoot a league-worst .476. If they could cut that down to even 44 percent, they could be in playoff contention this season.
As it is, they entered Wednesday’s game with the league’s fourth-worst record and a distant 10½ games out of the final playoff spot.
“If we can do a better job on that end of the floor, everything else will take care of itself,” Scott said. “It’s just a matter of our guys being very focused, paying attention to details, doing all the little things on that side of the floor.”
The Cavs are averaging 97 points to rank 15th out of the league’s 30 teams, so offense hasn’t been the problem. That’s why all the focus remains on the defensive end.
“When you’ve got a bunch of young guys, at times they think offense can win games for them and it can at times,” Scott said. “But to be successful in this league on a consistent basis, you’ve got to play defense every night. There’s still going to be nights where guys shoot the heck out of the ball, but our effort on that end of the floor has to be consistent. And that’s what we’re looking for these last 29 games.”
Tyler Zeller flew from Houston to North Carolina following his All-Star commitments so the North Carolina Tar Heels could retire his jersey just one year after he left.
Zeller needed the couple days of rest to rejuvenate himself after a difficult end to his first half.
“Getting a little break kind of helps you, but it also gets you out of rhythm a little bit,” Zeller said. “Hopefully it doesn’t take long to get back into it.”
Scott wants Zeller to be more aggressive in the second half of the season and take more opportunities to look for his shot. He had a three-game stretch prior to the break in which he totaled five shots.
“A lot of Tyler’s problems have been because he’s thinking too much,” Scott said. “He’s thinking about what he should do instead of react and play basketball.
“He had a string of bad games where he didn’t play the way he’s capable of playing. He has shots, but he wouldn’t look at the basket. When I say be aggressive, you’ve got to look at the basket.”
Scott going to L.A.
Scott is flying to Los Angeles early this morning to attend the funeral of late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Scott will take a red-eye tonight and return to Cleveland early Friday morning in time for practice.
Assistant coach Paul Pressey will run today’s practice.
The Cavs remained quiet as today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline approaches. Luke Walton recalled his first few years in the league, when his name came up at nearly every trade deadline in deals involving the Lakers.
“Guys would say me and Lamar [Odom] were going somewhere every year,” Walton said. “I’d call my agent freaking out asking him what was going on. After about four or five years, you get used to it and learn to ignore it.”