By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
ATLANTA: While Andrew Bynum’s acclimation to the starting lineup has grabbed all of the attention, C.J. Miles is experiencing a similar choppy transition. His attempt to fit in is compounded by a strained calf muscle that is limiting his minutes.
Miles had an open canvas to create as he saw fit while playing with the reserves. Now that he’s starting, coach Mike Brown said he is the third or maybe even fourth option on offense.
“It’s completely different,” Miles said.
He was averaging 11.6 points and shooting 48 percent as a reserve, but entering Friday’s game at the Atlanta Hawks, he was averaging 4.4 points and shooting 31 percent in five starts. One of those starts lasted just two minutes before he suffered the calf injury, which sidelined him for five games and disrupted his rhythm.
Given all of the calf injuries around the league last season, and the fact Miles suffered a similar injury to the same calf in the preseason, the Cavs have kept him on a strict minutes limit since his return. That ceiling was up to 20 minutes for Friday’s game, still far below typical starter’s minutes.
Playing alongside a scoring point guard such as Kyrie Irving has forced Miles to adjust. It’s also a big reason Dion Waiters was removed from the starting lineup and sent to the bench. With guys like Irving and Andrew Bynum needing touches offensively, the ball wasn’t big enough to handle three ball-dominant players at one time. So Waiters has been given free reign to create with the second unit while Miles’ responsibilities have become stricter. He joked Friday that as a reserve, he could play with controlled chaos. As a starter, the emphasis is on the control and less on the chaos.
“[Irving] scores the basketball. He scores every which way,” Miles said. “It definitely changes the role as far as the type of sets and the type of spacing we have. … The shots you get now will be based on how the defense reacts to him.”
Part of the balance Miles brings to the starting lineup is his ability to catch-and-shoot, specifically from 3-point range. He’s making 36 percent of his 3-pointers (4-of-11) as a starter.
Prior to joining the starting lineup, Miles and Irving rarely played together. Miles was always in while Irving was resting, except for perhaps a few minutes in the fourth quarter when they overlapped. So both guards have spent the last week learning to play together.
“I’m not coming out and thinking I have to score a bunch of points,” Miles said. “That’s what the role is going to be, getting used to playing a lot more without the ball in your hands. … Now it’s making basketball plays, making plays all the time, whether it’s shoot it or pass it or push it on the break. I think it’s just figuring out how to be aggressive and make the right plays without messing up the flow.”
Odd man out
The hip injury and appendectomy Tyler Zeller suffered during the preseason set him behind schedule and he still hasn’t caught up. Much of the reason for that is the depth in front of him now that Bynum is starting and playing significant minutes.
Zeller played less than six minutes total through the Cavs’ previous four games entering Friday, including three nights when he never got off the bench.
“Tyler is a very good basketball player and he can help us,” Brown said. “The tough part about it is, we just don’t have any minutes right now for him. But Tyler has done a nice job of keeping himself ready, and at any given time we could call his number so he needs to be ready. He’s a very, very capable player. There’s just not enough minutes there right now.”
Brown and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer came up together through the San Antonio Spurs’ system and remain close friends. Brown was there the night Budenholzer met his future wife.
“He’s a very special friend. We’ve had a lot of good times,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve known each other a long time. We played summer league ball against each other in college. He’s one of my best friends in the league. I really respect him. He’s a very good coach and just a good, good friend.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.