NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: James praises Irving’s play and leadership — Remember way back when the Cleveland Cavaliers were struggling this season and we were all worried about their place in the East hierarchy? Yeah, we can all forget those days now. The Cavs have won seven in a row after last night’s victory in Detroit that was spearheaded by LeBron James‘ 32 points and Kyrie Irving‘s 38. After the game, James had nothing but positives and praise to heap upon his point guard, writes Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
James was OK, though, and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. But just in case, Irving was there for 16 points in the final period.
“He was the great from start to finish, he just kept it going in the fourth quarter,” James said.
And that’s it. That’s the lot of it. There isn’t much more to be said about what transpired Tuesday night. The Cavs didn’t shoot well (37 percent), played great defense, and Irving and James combined for 70 of the team’s 103 points.
But in turning the page to tonight’s game – against Portland at The Q — it’s hard not to be whisked all the way back to Nov. 4 and consider how far Irving has come in James’ eyes since then.
That night, the Blazers beat the Cavs 101-82. James was so frustrated with Irving and Dion Waiters, he basically stood at the wing and watched while Irving and Waiters jacked up shot after shot in a bad loss.
Afterwards, James and Irving had a brief exchange in the locker room, and in a long session with reporters James said the Cavs had to break “bad habits” after four years of losing.
Irving shot 3-of-17 that night.
“Third game of the season, I don’t remember, who did we play?” Irving said with a smirk when he was asked about his personal journey since then. “You mean when everyone made something up? I think that definitely was a turn for us. Yeah, I agree with you.”
Cavaliers coach David Blatt confirmed a few days later that James and Irving did engage in something brief after the Portland game. And it was all too abundantly clear who James was talking about that night when he was talking about “bad habits.”
Anyway, consider what has happened since. Irving, though statistically better in 2012-13 than he is now, is enjoying his most complete season with 21.3 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals on a team full of talent. He’ll find out Thursday if he made the East All-Star team as a reserve.
“We’ve come very, very far. Very, very far,” James said, harkening back to his “bad habits” remark. “That’s part of the reason we’ve kind of turned a corner for our season.”
And what about Irving, specifically, since the Portland game?
“He’s been great, both on the floor and off the floor,” James said. “He’s turning into a leader in his own right, and every day it’s great to see him improve. Winning is a great thing in our league. No substitute for winning, but it’s how you approach it every single day that puts you in position to succeed. It’s not about winning ball games, it’s about winning every day.
“That’s part of the process, and Kyrie has taken that full storm and if we continue to get that from him we’ll be very, very good.”
Since Jan. 16, Irving has matched up defensively with point guards Chris Paul (15 points, 4-of-15 shooting), Derrick Rose (18 points, 5-of-14), Trey Burke (two points, 1-of-10), Kemba Walker (eight points, 3-of-14), Russell Westbrook (22 points, 7-of-26) and D.J Augustin (19 points, 8-of-15).
Only Augustin had an efficient evening against him last night.
Irving is also reveling in distributing the ball. He sounds as though he’s a long way from 3-of-17.
“Everyone’s sharing the ball, everyone’s getting a touch of it, ” Irving said. “I feel we’re at our best when everybody’s in the flow of the game and our trust is out there and the ball is swinging.”