CLEVELAND: Nineteen thoughts for 19 Suns free throws in a 115-93 win Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns…
1. In an effort to create better ball movement, the Cavs wrote some fascinating stats on the white board in the locker room prior to the game: They are making 27 percent of their shots without a pass, 32 percent of their shots with one pass, 40 percent of their shots following two passes and 52 percent of their shots after three passes.
2. “I tried to put that on guys’ minds before we went out,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We did a good job of moving the ball.”
MORE: Cavaliers-Suns box score
3. The Cavs matched their season high with 34 assists Wednesday and shot 56 percent. After a sluggish first half, they forced nine turnovers in the third quarter and turned them into a staggering 20 points.
4. Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith each had a pair of steals in the third. Smith fed LeBron James for a couple of lob dunks. All in all, it was pretty much how they want to play every night.
MORE: Cavaliers notebook: LeBron James fires back at critics, insists he isn’t a coach killer
5. “We just got a little bit more aggressive defensively and we started reacting a lot faster than we were in the first half,” James said. “We can get our hands involved and go after loose balls and turn them into fast-break points for ourselves.”
6. Irving, however, didn’t seem overly impressed by the statistical research.
7. “I guess that’s an important stat,” Irving said. “When you have players like we do on this team, I mean, honestly, that doesn't take away my freedom or what I feel like coming over half court. I'm going to make the best decision for the team and myself, coming up and being aggressive. One pass, two passes, three passes, if we get no passes and someone hits a shot, then I mean I'm still cool with it. As long as it's in rhythm and I feel like it's a good shot, I have confidence, no matter how many passes. That's an interesting stat though.”
8. It bears repeating: the stat was written on the board in the locker room prior to the game and Lue was the one emphasizing it. Irving didn’t seem to pay much attention to it, however.
9. James took just eight shots Wednesday. That’s his fewest total in exactly six years and the second-lowest total of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. James shot 7-of-8 and the only shot he missed was a 3-point attempt. Five of his baskets were within 2 feet, including three dunks.
10. “I think that’s the way we want to play,” Lue said. “Everybody gets involved. (James) is getting out in transition. He got five or six layups, which takes a lot of pressure off him in the half-court sets.”
11. For all the emphasis on the faster pace and the wide-open offense, the defense has been sacrificed. Granted, it’s an extremely small sample size of just three games, but teams are shooting nearly 47 percent against the Cavs since the coaching change, which ranks 18th in the league. They were ninth (44 percent) under David Blatt. It’s far too early to draw any concrete conclusions, but it’s certainly something to monitor.
12. Speaking of the defense, Mike Longabardi was officially added to the Cavs’ coaching staff on Wednesday. Talk about going from stomping the grapes to drinking the wine: Longabardi has gone from the woeful Suns to unemployed to an All-Star team coach in the span of about a month.
13. Lue and Longabardi were on staff together in Boston, but he was most recently the defensive coordinator of the Suns this season before he was fired last month in a staff shakeup. He was the Suns’ defensive coordinator, although they had the league’s worst defensive field-goal percentage (46.8 percent) at the time of his firing. If it makes you feel any better, the Suns have been even worse (49.2 percent) without him.
14. It has been a strange season in the NBA, from the fight between Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes to Rajon Rondo’s homophobic slur to Blake Griffin breaking his hand in a fight with a team employee to Blatt’s firing. But the oddest quirk might be Lue coaching the East All-Stars after just three career games.
15. “He’s won 66 percent of his games so far,” Kevin Love joked. “I don’t think it’ll be his last time coaching the All-Star game. We’re happy for him.”
16. The league made the official announcement immediately after Wednesday’s game concluded. The Cavs clinched the best record in the East by the Jan. 31 deadline, assuring Lue the job despite just recently receiving the Cavs job.
17. Lue initially suggested Blatt come back to coach the game since he accumulated most of the victories, but the league never considered that because Blatt is no longer (at least for now) an NBA coach. Lue said when he took the job he would coach in the All-Star game if the league wouldn’t allow Blatt because the rest of the Cavs’ staff deserves the honor.
18. “It’s a tribute to Coach Blatt and the players and the hard work the assistant coaches put in to get us to this point,” Lue said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a great honor to represent the Cleveland Cavaliers and having a chance to do this, I know my coaches are excited, and I know it’s going to be a surreal moment.”
19. The Cavs are taking Thursday off before a key weekend back-to-back. They’ll play at the Detroit Pistons on Friday (they’ve already lost once this year at the Palace) before hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. Talk to you Friday from the Palace.