Cavaliers look to continue surge against Wizards
Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said the team's four new players forgot all the plays over the All-Star break, so Wednesday's practice was a busy day to re-teach and re-learn.
No one is forgetting about the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavs now, especially since LeBron James has awakened from his January slumber.
So has his team.
The Cavs resume play after the All-Star break by hosting the Washington Wizards on Thursday. Cleveland has won four straight and James is averaging 30 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 13 assists in those games.
Two of those wins came with new players George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. - all of whom were acquired at the Feb. 8 trade deadline. They are averaging 48.5 points and shooting 51.4 percent from the field as a group.
"I don't see them being scared or being afraid of the moment," Lue said Wednesday.
The Cavs were 7-13 since Christmas leading up to the deadline, needing a serious injection of attitude and energy. The same went for James, who saw major dips in production in January while the Cavs struggled.
General manager Koby Altman traded away six players Feb. 8 -- including Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose -- and the mood around the team has been noticeably lighter since.
James is back to being, well, James. He was named the NBA All-Star Game MVP for the third time in his career Sunday, and his team (named Team LeBron, because of the new format) edged Stephen Curry's team 148-145.
With the hoopla from the All-Star weekend in Los Angeles behind him, James is ready to begin talking about the Cavs contending for a title -- something he hadn't been able discuss over the past month.
"We have a lot of work to do," James said. "We just added four new guys before the break, and we have a lot of work to do. So I really don't like to think that too far ahead. But obviously winning championships is what it's all about. That's what this league is all about and hopefully at the end of the road then I have the Cavs there to actually compete for one, to be in a Finals representing the East. So that's my goal. Getting back."
Cleveland sits third in the East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards. Washington has been hot lately, winning two straight and seven of their last nine, and has been largely riding the hot play of All-Star Bradley Beal (36 points in his last game against the Knicks).
Otto Porter Jr. is averaging nearly 20 points over his last nine games.
All-Star guard John Wall is expected to be out until mid-March after knee surgery before the All-Star break.
The Wizards have the third-toughest schedule in the NBA after the All-Star break, according to basketball-reference.com
"We take advantage of (the All-Star break) because we got a lot of guys banged up," Beal said, according to the Washington Post. "We still got John out. So, we got to get as much rest and take care of our bodies as much as we can. I think (the break) came at a good time, although we were definitely on a nice, little run. We finished off well, going into All-Star (weekend), and we've got to pick it up right where we left off."
Wizards guard Tim Frazier (broken nose) is expected to play against the Cavs and wear a mask.
Updated February 21, 2018