The Cavaliers have won 15 of their last 17 games, and the trade earlier this season that sent Dion Waiters packing while bringing in J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert is a big reason for the team finding its way, and turning things around.
Smith in particular has been given heavy minutes in the rotation as a starter, and though his numbers are up only slightly over the ones he posted in New York earlier in the year, there’s a level of effort and focus that simply wasn’t there while playing for the Knicks over the past couple of seasons.
We know Smith can play; he earned Sixth Man of the Year honors the season before last, when the Knicks were a playoff team after finishing the regular season with 54 wins. But there were veterans present on the roster to keep him in check, and with LeBron James and Kevin Love there in Cleveland, it seems as though Smith is more committed to playing the way he’s supposed to — and Cavaliers head coach David Blatt couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
“I really can’t comment on anything in the past, but I can tell you one thing: J.R. Smith has been a dream for us, as a team and for me personally,” said Cavaliers rookie coach David Blatt. “I love the guy. I love coaching him. He comes to work every single day. He’s a great teammate. He’s playing both ends of the court for us consistently.
“He’s one of the main reasons for our turnaround, together with Iman, who simply started later because of the injury. Those guys, honestly, they’ve been a godsend. They really have. They turned the team around.”
Smith has said that the lack of nightlife options have helped him to focus more on basketball in Cleveland, but it’s more than that. It’s easier to stay engaged when the game’s best player is one of your teammates, and the expectation is to contend for a title — because no one wants to be the single reason that train gets derailed.