The Cleveland Cavaliers’ midseason turnaround has been fueled by a more efficient offense, with no small thanks to Kyrie Irving’s improved 3-point shooting.
They seek a 17th win in 19 games Tuesday night when they visit the Detroit Pistons, who are also vastly improved.
The Cavaliers (35-22) are an NBA-best 16-2 since Jan. 15, a run that followed a season-worst six-game slide. In that span, they’re shooting a league-best 47.9 percent and averaging 108.6 points. They averaged 99.8 points on 44.8 percent shooting previously.
Even with the surge, Cleveland is still a game back of first-place Chicago in the Central Division and leads Washington by 1 1/2 games for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"We have goals in mind," coach David Blatt said. "We know that in order to achieve those goals, we have to play the game in front of us and be competitive every day and simply win as many basketball games as we can coming down the stretch here. Looking behind and looking ahead, it doesn’t really serve any purpose. What we can control is what we do on the court on a daily basis."
Irving is 55 of 110 from 3-point range in 17 games since Jan. 16, tying him with New Orleans’ Eric Gordon for the best percentage in that span. He was previously shooting 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Irving was 2 of 4 from deep and Cleveland shot at least 50.6 percent from the floor for the fourth time in five games in Sunday’s 101-83 win at New York.
As good as Irving has been, the Cavaliers have benefited from balanced scoring. He scored 18 Sunday, one of four players with 16-plus.
"The ball’s hopping around, guys are getting open looks," Irving said. "Just the pace that we’re playing with, everybody was clicking. It’s good when we have not only our starters clicking but the bench coming in and doing what they do."
The Cavaliers have won 10 of 11 against sub-.500 teams after starting 11-8, though Detroit (23-33) doesn’t necessarily look the part after winning 18 of 28.
The Pistons ranked 28th with 97.6 points per 100 possessions during a 5-23 start, but have been among the league’s best since at 106.5 – a tick behind Cleveland’s mark of 106.6 since Christmas.
"This group has been fantastic," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They were 5-23 at Christmas, and I don’t know how many teams would have kept it together at that point. Since then, we keep making changes, and they keep figuring it out, and now we’re in the playoff race."
The offense figures to have more potential for growth after the acquisition of Reggie Jackson. He missed his first eight shots before hitting 7 of his last 10, finishing with 17 points and five assists in Sunday’s 106-89 win over Washington.
"Once he got calmed down in the second half, he looked like the player we traded for," Van Gundy said.
Irving and James willed Cleveland to victory in a 103-95 win in Detroit on Jan. 27, the Cavaliers’ fourth in five meetings. Irving scored 38 and hit six 3-pointers while James added 32.
James had 17 points on 5-of-19 shooting and Irving sat out with a knee contusion in a 103-80 home loss on Dec. 28, while the now-injured Brandon Jennings scored 25 for Detroit.
The Pistons, who have won 10 of 15 at The Palace of Auburn Hills, are trying to avoid a fourth straight home loss to Cleveland for the first time in series history.
Cavs forward Shawn Marion will miss at least the next two weeks with a hip injury that’s been bothering him for the past month.