It’s not easy getting a trio of elite players to jell on offense, but the Cleveland Cavaliers and their three stars are clicking under Tyronn Lue.
Since losing Lue’s first game as coach, the Cavaliers have been playing well and can extend their win streak to six Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
Elevated to head coach when David Blatt was fired Jan. 22, Lue had less than 36 hours to prepare for an eventual 96-83 home loss to Chicago that closed a 3-3 stretch in which Cleveland averaged 95.5 points.
The win streak has provided a different look from the Cavaliers (35-12), who have quickened the pace and spread the floor while averaging 114.2 on 51.5 percent shooting.
The previous three games in particular have shown what an offense led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can do. Prior to Friday’s win at Detroit, those three hadn’t scored 20 apiece this season, but they did it again Saturday against San Antonio and just missed a third when Love had 19 in Monday’s 111-106 overtime win at Indiana.
"We’re out there playing basketball," said Love, who has averaged 22.5 points in his last four after scoring 15.5 per game prior to that. "We’re helping one another, we’re having each other’s backs, and I think that’s going a long way right now."
With their top players taking quality shots, the Cavs haven’t forced much with 23 or fewer 3-point attempts in three straight games. They averaged 28.2 before this stretch.
"We’re just learning how to win, that’s all," James said after Cleveland recovered from blowing an 11-point lead to force the extra period against the Pacers. "We’re learning how to win in tough situations and tonight was one of those."
James had 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but he scored only seven after taking what he called a stinger to his shoulder in the third quarter. The injury doesn’t appear to be a concern, however, and he’s likely to play.
Irving scored six of his 25 in overtime, J.R. Smith had 19 points and Tristan Thompson 14 to put all five Cavs starters in double digits for just the seventh time.
The drawback to the new pace has been an average of 103.0 points allowed on the streak, and the Cavs may need to rely more on defense against the Hornets (23-25).
Charlotte’s numbers point toward an ability to slow the Cavs in transition and stuff them in the lane. The Hornets are second in the NBA with 38.5 points allowed in the paint per game and are among the top 10 with 11.8 allowed on the fast break.
Those stats held in Cleveland’s 95-90 win at Charlotte on Nov. 27, when both teams had just six points on the break and the Cavs owned a slight 40-36 advantage in the lane – but the biggest factor there was that Irving didn’t play.
The point guard’s presence should open things up considering the last time he faced Charlotte on Jan. 23, 2015, the Cavs scored 27 on the break in a 129-90 rout.
The Hornets will also be at a disadvantage in that regard if point guard Kemba Walker sits in the opener of this four-game homestand because of a sore left knee.
Walker had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 19 points and 12 rebounds apiece in a 101-82 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday that closed a 2-2 trip.
"We just wanted to end the road trip the right way," Walker said. "The energy and intensity was all there. We did everything we wanted to do."