Author: Kurt Helin

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Clippers

It’s not about style points, Cavaliers get needed win vs. Clippers


LOS ANGELES — Chemistry is a three game winning streak.

That’s not Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt’s phrasing but that’s what he’s been hinting at lately — the defense and chemistry issues making headlines around the Cavaliers are a lot easier to discuss and fix after a team has racked up a few wins.

Like the ones the Cavaliers got the last two days.

After an entertaining win over the Lakers on Thursday, the Cavaliers leaned on the hot hands of stars Kyrie Irving (37 points on 12-of-18 shooting) and LeBron James (32 points) to beat the Clippers in a shootout 126-121 Friday night at Staples Center. That improves the Cavaliers to 21-20 on the season, back above .500.

We could pick apart how the Cavaliers played spotty defense and gave up 117.4 points per 100 possessions, how they turned the ball over 20 times (LeBron had nine), how they reverted to isolation, hero ball through much of the fourth quarter, but that misses the point. The Cavaliers aren’t in this for style points, they just needed wins and the Cavs got one against a good team Friday.

“This is a great step in the direction we’re trying to go,” LeBron said. “We’ve had some struggles, but I’m happy I’m able to go out and play at a high level to help our team win.”

The Cavaliers went 3-2 on a recent road trip, but Blatt saw it as better than that.

“There’s nothing I particularly like about losing, but in four of the five games we played pretty well,” Blatt said.

LeBron was doing LeBron things — he hit a key three with Matt Barnes almost in his jersey, for one, and he defended Chris Paul at times down the stretch — but it was Irving that was the difference in this one. With Kevin Love out resting a sore back Irving was making plays.

“I thought he made big plays under duress,” Blatt said of Irving, who hit 10-of-15 contested shots in the game. “It wasn’t like it was easy.”

With Love out Tristan Thompson stepped up with 24 points. The Cavaliers even played stretches of good defense in this one (as did the Clippers), but there was a lot of offensive firepower on the court Friday and it showed.

The Clippers were led by 34 points and 10 rebounds from Blake Griffin.

“We’ve got to take this momentum and get some wins,” Irving said.

“It’s easy for people to see the warts, to criticize…” Blatt said before listing the major injuries that the team has faced, including LeBron. “We went through some tough times but we’re staying together. And fighting.”

And picking up some needed wins.

Austin Rivers makes history as first son to play for coach/father (Doc) in NBA

Austin Rivers

LOS ANGELES — With 2:24 remaining in the first quarter Friday night, for the first time ever an NBA player was called off the bench and took the court for his father’s team — Austin Rivers was just traded for and is now playing for his father Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers.

How is this going to change their father/son relationship?

“I think the biggest difference is now he has to listen to me,” Rivers joked before his Clippers took on the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night. “From his perspective, he probably thinks every kid will listen to their parents if you pay them.”

The Clippers got Rivers as part of a mid-season shakeup of their bench. The Clippers paid a steep price moving Reggie Bullock, Chris Douglas-Roberts and a second round pick to bring in Rivers. The trade was not well reviewed by pundits (this one included) but Doc Rivers reiterated many times that he did this to make the team better.

“He fits our team,” Doc said.

What does the younger Rivers’ bring?

“For one defense,” Austin said before his first game with Los Angeles. “Being a physical guard, a bigger guard, just trying to be physical with players. Guarding the one or two spot, even the three depending on who.

“Offensively I can score the ball, and just play make. That’s something I think the team needs with that second unit — someone who can make plays scoring and setting up other guys. Just someone who can attack the basket and kick out to other shooters. When they said they needed that, that’s why I didn’t even hesitate, to do that for a team like this, I had to jump at this.”

The younger Rivers struggled in his debut, going 0-4 from the field with an ugly turnover.

From Doc’s perspective, art of the reason to do this also was a chemistry issue, there were concerns about the dynamic in the Clippers’ locker room and with bench players. This was seen as a way to improve it. While Jordan Farmar (who was waived Friday) may have gotten under the skin of teammates Austin came in talking about fitting in with his role, knowing he was not the star of this team but saying he would look for ways to help.

For the Clippers, trading for Austin and waiving Farmar is part of a likely series of moves as they have their eye on buyout guys like Nate Robinson and Tayshaun Prince.

“It gives us a lot of flexibility,” Rivers said. “Like last year — and we could be wrong with this — but we think this is going to be a big buyout season for a lot of guys, and we wanted to have flexibility.”

Doc and Austin seemed good with how this would pay out. They both said the person really in the middle was Doc’s wife and Austin’s mom Kristin.

“To be honest I never thought something like this would happen,” Austin said. “(Doc) called he up and asked, ‘is this something you’d be into because we need you?’ When I heard that I had to think, had to take a day to myself and think could this work?”

“First thing I did was call my mom, because she’s the one that’s got to deal with this, and she was a wreck the first night,” Austin said.

But he convinced her that he and his father, who have long had a basketball-centric relationship, could make this work.

Now Doc and Austin have to just make history and make this work.

David Blatt talks about trying to win LeBron James over

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers

The rumors have circulated for a while — LeBron James would prefer a different coach than David Blatt for the Cavaliers. LeBron has denied that — not convincingly — but you don’t need rumors, just watch LeBron’s body language and level of interest during timeouts when David Blatt is holding court. LeBron is mentally elsewhere.

Blatt knows if he wants to be the Cavaliers coach beyond this season, he needs to win LeBron over. He needs the charismatic leader LeBron on and off the court the Cavaliers thought they were getting but hasn’t been a regular sight in Cleveland.

Blatt also knows that he can’t win a power struggle with LeBron, so he’s just trying to win him over. Blatt talked openly about that with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Blatt has played it level and cool with James, it seems, letting the superstar dictate the terms of the relationship. Blatt hasn’t tried to overreach, nor battle him in public or private. It is a fight no one coach could win, nor survive. Blatt’s strategy seems simple: Over time, sell James – sell all these Cavaliers – on a vision for victory.

“It is a process,” Blatt told Yahoo Sports. “It really has to come first from the professional side. Man to man, we’re OK. We don’t go out drinking together, but we’re fine man to man. But professionally, LeBron wants to win. And he wants from me, from any coach, a vehicle to help him win.

“Sometimes, it’s tougher. Sometimes, it’s less so. He’s one of the great players of all time. He’s been in the Finals four straight years and five times overall. He’s got his own opinions and he expresses them. At times, he can be stubborn. But what I know from him, what he wants from me, is a vehicle to help him win. And beyond that, nothing else is really important.”

When you hear the whispers, it’s about how the players like lead assistant Tyronn Lue better, that they trust him. Lue played in the NBA. Blatt trusted Lue too, handing over the reins to the defense — and that is the end of the court where the Cavaliers are struggling. Part of that is personnel, they don’t have the roster to be a great defensive team. However part of it is effort, and while it’s coming on the side of the ball Lue overseas it is Blatt who takes the heat for it.

Blatt has assessed his situation correctly — if LeBron thinks Blatt can lead him to victory he will play nice. However, watching LeBron’s effort, particularly in defense, makes you question if he is even willing to give Blatt a shot. That’s not fair to Blatt, but it’s the reality — LeBron has the power in this relationship and this organization. Which means if he wants a new coach next season, the Cavs most likely have one.

Blatt is not accepting that as inevitable. He sees that what this team needs right now is a winning streak to ease the pressure and make the questions go away — something that will not be easy with the Clippers, Bulls, Thunder and Trail Blazers among the next seven games.

Things are not going to get easier for the Cavaliers. But they have time. They just need to give Blatt a real chance.