Cleveland: When San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich speaks — or, in his case occasionally grumbles — the NBA listens.
That’s why his comments after his team took a 120-90 drubbing from the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 25 weren’t a surprise.
“My opening comment here will be: I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room, ’cause it might’ve gotten me fired,” Popovich said.
It was a less-than-veiled remark directed at the Cavaliers’ front office in response to the team firing coach David Blatt earlier this month and replacing him with assistant Tyronn Lue a few days after the Cavs suffered their own lopsided loss to the Warriors.
“I didn’t hear it,” Lue said. “I heard about it. I didn’t hear exactly what he said. Obviously I respect coach Popovich. He’s done a lot for this game. I’ve stolen a lot of styles from him and I respect him a lot.”
Popovich stood firm by the remark in Saturday’s pregame media interview prior to the Spurs taking on the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena in a nationally televised game.
“I think it says it all,” he said.
When asked about the topic later in the session, he passed on answering again.
“I’m going to leave it alone with the statement I made already,” he said.
Lue saw it for what it seemed to be.
“What he says and his opinion, I have no control over that,” Lue said. “All I can do is look forward to coaching this team and making it the best team it can possibly be.”
For those who’ve noticed LeBron James’ assists numbers rising in the first four games of Lue’s tenure, it’s not an accident.
James has recorded 35 assists — an average of 8.75 per game — in that span. Lue said he’s talked to James and asked him to take a larger role in getting others involved on offense.
“I want the ball in LeBron’s hands to facilitate and create for other guys,” Lue said. “He’s 6-8. He’s a great passer and I want Kyrie to be more in attack mode, more aggressive looking to score because I don’t think anyone can stop him one-on-one.”
Lue said James’ passing skills — he’d been averaging more than six assists per game before the coaching change — offer the team a lot of options on offense.
“Also with Kevin [Love] at the elbow and posting Kevin a lot, he can pass also,” he said. “It’s been great for us so far.”
The Cavs went into their game against the Spurs on a three-game winning streak.
Heading into Saturday’s game, the Cavs were 0-3 against the teams — the Spurs and the Warriors — many experts consider the two best in the NBA.
When asked how he viewed Saturday’s game, Lue said he didn’t emphasize it any more than other games on the team’s schedule.
“I just want to make sure our style of basketball is what we want to play. I know it’s a big game because it’s the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s only one game for us,” he said. “If we take care of our business and do what we’re supposed to do, we don’t have to beat this team until June.
“I just want to keep getting better and improve this basketball team and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.