Before his insertion into the starting lineup last week, C.J. Miles scored 28 points or more in two of his first 404 games in the NBA. Then he went out and scored 28 points in his first two starts in a Cavaliers uniform.
Coach Byron Scott will have an intriguing decision to make this week if all goes as expected today at practice. That’s when rookie Dion Waiters is expected to make his return from a sprained left ankle.
Waiters has missed eight games with the injury, but if all goes well in his first practice today, he’ll be available for the home game Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors.
Now the question is who starts at shooting guard, Waiters or Miles? Scott isn’t ready to say. Asked how Miles fits in once Waiters returns, Scott said he wasn’t sure yet.
“I think right now with the way he’s playing confidence-wise, that’s something I’ll cross when we get to that point,” he said.
Miles scored 28 points in consecutive games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers, then followed it up with 17 points against the Milwaukee Bucks and 17 more in the loss Saturday against the Knicks in New York.
Miles’ early season struggles are a thing of the past. He’s attacking the basket more, getting to the free-throw line and making more of his 3-point attempts. In 15 appearances as a reserve, Miles averaged 7.1 points, shot 34 percent and 28 percent on 3-pointers.
In his four starts, Miles is averaging 22.5 points, shooting 46 percent and 52 percent on 3-pointers. Of course, Kyrie Irving has started alongside Miles in all four of those games. Both Miles and Scott believe Irving’s presence has made a difference in Miles’ game.
“He definitely gives me a lot more space,” Miles said. “Instead of a guy being one step away, now he’s a step-and-a-half or two steps away because they have to load up to [Irving’s] side of the floor.”
Miles, Scott and General Manager Chris Grant were having a conversation at the free-throw line a few weeks ago after a practice — ironic, since up until that point, Miles had rarely been to the line.
Miles didn’t shoot his first free throw until Nov. 27 against the Phoenix Suns in the Cavs’ 15th game of the season. That was around the time Miles had the conversation with Scott and Grant, who was stunned to learn how little Miles had been to the line. Since then, he has made it a point of getting to the basket more often — which Scott was asking him to do during his early season struggles.
Miles didn’t get to the line Saturday against the Knicks, ending a string of eight consecutive games of shooting free throws.
“I made a conscious effort to put the ball on the floor,” Miles said. “Knowing I can get to the line, knowing I can shoot [free throws] at a high clip, why wouldn’t I try to get there?”
When Miles started attacking the rim more, it improved some of the looks he was getting off jumpers since opponents couldn’t be so aggressive closing out on him.
Regardless of who starts Tuesday, it’s likely only a matter of time before Waiters returns to the starting lineup. Players traditionally don’t lose starting jobs to injuries, and Waiters is clearly the future at the position after the Cavs selected him last summer with the fourth overall pick.
But it will be interesting to see if Miles can carry this hot streak back to the bench if and when he returns to his reserve role. For now, Scott is just pleased to see him breaking out of that early season funk that forced Scott to bench him for five games.
“He understood the situation of not playing as well as he’s capable,” Scott said. “He understood he was going to get another opportunity, he just had to keep himself ready. That’s one thing he did. Being in the league seven years, that experience helped him big time because he’s been around. If he’d been in his second or third year, it’d affected him a lot more. His experience helped him work harder in practice and do some of the little things he had to do.”
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.