By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Perhaps it’s coincidence that on the day Dion Waiters was caught in controversy he had his finest performance of the season — against the two-time defending champions, no less. Perhaps he’s simply fed up with the losing.
Regardless, the Cavs’ two young guards, recently separated in the rotation by coach Mike Brown, are trending in opposite directions entering two winnable weekend games.
Waiters had a season-high 24 points, defended well and earned high praise from Brown following the Cavs’ 95-84 loss to the Miami Heat. Kyrie Irving, however, stumbled through another miserable (6-of-19) shooting performance in a season in which he is struggling to find his way.
“There have been a few games where I haven’t been shooting well, but that’s just a part of the game,” Irving said. “I’m getting in early, staying late and trying to get up as many shots as possible.”
Irving’s shooting percentage has decreased in each of his first three seasons, from .469 his rookie year to .452 last season and now .404 this season. The decline, as Brown subtly pointed out Wednesday night, began following the All-Star break last season.
Over his last 32 games dating to last season’s All-Star break, Irving is shooting .410.
“I think they’re all struggling, and it’s trickled down to him,” LeBron James said following the Heat’s victory. James has been one of Irving’s loudest supporters dating back to Irving’s rookie season. “He’s an unbelievable talent. They’re all struggling trying to find things offensively and defensively.”
A strong argument could be made the exact opposite is happening, that Irving’s struggles have trickled to the rest of the team. One of the biggest complaints of this anemic Cavs offense from both players and coaches has been the lack of ball movement. That starts with Irving, the point guard. And that’s where Waiters enters into all of this.
Waiters was named in an ESPN report Wednesday as the central target of the Cavs’ players-only meeting two weeks ago. Waiters reportedly complained that Irving and Tristan Thompson play “buddy ball” and don’t share the ball with him enough.
Other parts of the ESPN report, such as Waiters inferring to the Cavs he’d like to be traded, were rebutted by both team sources and Waiters. But Waiters’ comments both before and after the loss to the Heat, plus prior conversations with him, seem to confirm his unhappiness with the stagnant offense.
Prior to the game, Waiters said the only way for he and Irving to coexist in this system is if they sacrifice for one another, something he suggested isn’t happening right now.
“It’s a new system,” he said. “It’s early. We’re still trying to get situated in a new offense. Time will tell.”
After the game, when asked if the Heat brought out the best in him defensively, Waiters turned the conversation back to Saturday’s 30-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
“They play for one another,” he said. “You just see their chemistry out there. They don’t care who takes the shot. Once we get to that point and that mindset, we’ll be dangerous. We have all the talent to do that.”
Brown moved Waiters to the bench in part because of his defensive inconsistencies and his lack of chemistry alongside Irving. To make it clear this was viewed as a long-term move, he elected to start an undrafted rookie ahead of Waiters once C.J. Miles injured his calf.
It’s clear the Cavs are moving forward with Irving as their star and Waiters as their dynamic scorer off the bench. Now they just need both players to cooperate, which includes Irving breaking out of this season-long shooting funk and Waiters continuing to defend as he did Wednesday night.
“I guarantee once I get over this hump,” Irving said, “there’s no looking back.”
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.