By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
SACRAMENTO, CALIF.: For all the points C.J. Miles has scored in his last five games, for all the 3-pointers he has made, it’s his work on the defensive end that has impressed Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. And that defense has actually been a big reason for the offensive explosion.
Miles struggled miserably when Brown first flipped him into the starting lineup and sent Dion Waiters to the bench. Miles battled an identity crisis, not sure when to look for his shot and when to back off. He didn’t have a rhythm and he was slipping defensively. Everyone on the team was.
Yet in his last five games, Miles is averaging 21 points and shooting 54 percent. He’s even hotter on 3-pointers, shooting 55 percent (18-for-33). Included in that, of course, was his franchise-record 10 3-pointers last week in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Brown says Miles has finally settled in. He talked to Miles about not forcing anything, about not being so anxious to get up shots, which was negatively impacting his rhythm.
“He has gotten to a point where he has settled down and is taking great shots for us,” Brown said. “He’s not just settling for 3s. He’s getting out in transition and he’s getting to the rim. When he’s able to mix it up like that, he can be a very effective player.”
Miles has also rededicated himself defensively the last few weeks. While he still has too many careless turnovers, his length on the perimeter has allowed him to tip passes and grab steals, which has led to easy baskets in transition.
Miles wasn’t much of a defensive player last season, but he’s always had it in him. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan demanded a certain level of defense during Miles’ time in Utah. He has just spent this season finding it again
“I’ve hit a rhythm, but I’ve been more aggressive everywhere else also,” he said. “I’ve been out in transition, getting rebounds and steals and that’s allowed me to be in the open floor, which allows me to get easy layups and get to the free-throw line. That creates a better rhythm in the game for me.”
The Sixers’ defense was slow to react to the Cavs’ ball movement last week, allowing Miles to shoot 10-for-14 on 3-pointers. He joked before Friday’s game against the Jazz he wouldn’t get 14 looks again because that’s how scouting reports work.
Sure enough, Miles only shot one 3-pointer against his old team, but he made it. He missed one shot all night and scored 17 points, including 11 in the first half.
“If I’m getting to the basket, getting those little floaters or getting all the way to the rim a few times, by the time the 3-point shot comes, that seems like a layup now because I’ve already made three shots,” Miles said.
As Miles settles in as the starter, Waiters is producing in a backup role as well. He matched Miles with 17 points in Friday’s win against the Jazz and is third in the league in points off the bench, averaging 15.9 per game since the switch. Only the Lakers’ Nick Young and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford are averaging more.
The Cavs will still employ a three-guard attack using some combination of Kyrie Irving, Waiters, Miles and Jarrett Jack, but now it will be limited to when Luol Deng is resting.
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