Now that they've asserted themselves on offense under Tyronn Lue, the Cleveland Cavaliers may want to get back to defense given recent results and a nagging injury.
With Kevin Love hoping to play through a bruised left thigh, the Cavaliers will try to end a two-game skid Saturday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Although it boasts the offensive talents of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love, Cleveland (35-14) had been winning primarily with defense under David Blatt.
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In their 41 games under Blatt through Jan. 21, the Cavaliers tied Miami for the second-fewest points allowed per game at 95.7. Although they've bumped their own average to 106.8 in Lue's up-tempo system, the defense has given up 102.6 in those eight games.
The new focus has created some big swings. Cleveland has led by double digits six times under Lue but has let several opponents close the gap, including Boston on Friday. The Celtics trailed by 15 but won 104-103 on Avery Bradley's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Cavs, who threw the game away by missing 14 of their 35 free throws, lost Love when he had to be helped off the court in the third quarter, but he's hoping rest and treatment will allow him to play Saturday.
“(Marcus) Smart hit me on the box out and I went right to the floor,” said Love, who separated his shoulder against Boston in last season's playoffs. “For 10 minutes it was just dead leg. I'm optimistic it's just a thigh bruise. Nothing else.”
The loss opened a five-game homestand for the Eastern Conference leaders, who have a good opportunity to re-establish their defense with 10 of their next 13 games at home.
With Love hobbled in the frontcourt or perhaps sidelined, Anthony Davis should get plenty of touches for New Orleans (18-31). Even with a healthy Love in the lane Dec. 4, the All-Star forward had one of his best games of the season in a 114-108 overtime victory. Davis shot 13 of 22 and finished with 31 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.
James had another big game against the Pelicans with 37 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but his gaudy numbers in the series haven't meant much. The four-time MVP has averaged 36.7 points and shot 55.7 percent in his last three against New Orleans, but Cleveland has lost two of those games.
The Pelicans, who rank in the NBA's top 10 at 102.4 points per game, enjoyed a 7-2 stretch to close January but are now riding a three-game losing streak after a listless 99-96 home loss to the West-worst Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
New Orleans missed eight of its first nine shots and trailed 13-2 just four minutes into the game, and coach Alvin Gentry said afterward that his team played “selfishly” on offense and failed to lock in defensively.
Davis shot 16 of 25 with 39 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which missed several easy baskets, went 14 for 26 on free throws and 4 of 20 from 3-point range.
“When we have as many breakdowns as we did, when we miss free throws, miss defensive assignments, we give them a chance to stay in the game and then they start getting confidence and feel like they can win,” said Davis, whose team dropped to 0-4 this season when he scores 36 or more. “That's what happened tonight and they won.”
Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans missed his fifth straight game with right knee soreness and there's still no timetable for his return.