Off night? No biggie, as Cavs keep finding a way

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ hard-fought 103-96 win over the host Detroit Pistons on Tuesday:

1. Even when things aren’t great, the Cavs have been pretty doggone good lately. That was the case Tuesday, when they simply willed their way to a victory despite shooting 42 percent from the floor. The Cavs have had better nights — but on this one, they did so many of the little things well. That’s especially true of the defense.

2. Here’s a stat I’m sure you’ve already seen, but the Cavs made just four of their first 19 shots. The ball probably felt bloated, the rims probably seemed extra tight. The Pistons made it an ugly first quarter. For the Cavs, almost nothing went right.

3. Also, I’m not sure if Kyrie Irving was talking about the actual temperature in the building or the Cavs’ shooting, but he said: "It was cold as heck out there." In either case, it was an accurate assessment. It truly was freezing inside The Palace. Can’t help but think the Pistons may have made it that way on purpose.

4. Anyway, another strange stat: Until 54 seconds remained, the Cavs had attempted just seven free throws — all from LeBron James. In the end, they finished 16-of-17 from the line, with Irving finishing 6-of-6. And the only reason Kyrie got any was because the Pistons fouled on purpose to extend the game.

5. I repeat, no one on the Cavs other than LeBron attempted any free throws until there was less than a minute left. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that. And I’ve been covering this league since we wrote about it via chisel and granite.

6. OK, on to what matters. The Cavs (26-20) have won seven straight. They’re 20-1 when they score at least 102. They’re finding ways, coming up with big plays, and just some very positive signs.

7. As James said after, "Not saying it’s gonna result in a win every night, but we’re starting to understand what it means to be a professional." Never was that more evident than Tuesday. The Cavs won despite the ball refusing to cooperate.

8. Not enough can be said about Irving, who tied his season-high with 38 points. He was just so steady offensively, calmly hitting every important shot. That included a 6-of-10 shooting night on 3-pointers, including a biggie with just more than 1:00 left.

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9. Just as impressive was Irving’s determination on defense. He constantly swiped at the ball, finishing with a game-high three steals and just generally pestering the Pistons guards. Irving was active, and that’s all Cavs coach David Blatt is asking.

10. Blatt on Irving: "He’s an All-Star player. I sure hope he’s there because he deserves it. … I think you’ve seen a pretty great year from one of the premiere point guards in the NBA."

11. Amen to that, coach.

12. Of course, LeBron wasn’t half-bad himself. He finished with 32 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and displayed the guts of a man who owns two championship rings.

13. James also was flying all over the floor defensively, trying to create turnovers and clapping passionately, particularly in the fourth quarter. He fell hard after leaping to block a shot at the end of the third. He struggled to get up. He grabbed his wrist and winced in pain. Everyone from Blatt to the 7-year old Cavs fan in Euclid was greatly concerned.

14. But LeBron started the fourth and not long after, threw down a two-handed slam off a Kyrie steal. So yeah, the wrist is fine.

15. Meanwhile, J.R. Smith couldn’t hit a thing. He started 0-of-6 shooting then only improved to 2-of-11 on the night for five points. But you have to love how the guy just keeps shooting. He’s a scorer and he’s confident he’ll stick it in your mug. When he’s right, it works out well. When he’s wrong, the Cavs still have LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin Love.

16. I know, Love was mostly miserable, too. He went just 3-of-11 overall and 1-of-8 on threes. But for all the grief he can take from fans, his teammates appreciate how he’s always willing to make the smart pass and sacrifice himself to grab rebounds and take the occasional charge.

17. Love may also be laboring a bit with on-again, off-again back spasms. He also suffered a dizzy spell in Sunday’s win over Oklahoma City. But with the Cavs rolling, he’s not likely to want to take any time off.

18. Also, an interesting tidbit from Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy: Prior to the game, Van Gundy said the Cavs are so talented that he doesn’t even game plan for Love. That wasn’t a shot at Love. It was meant as respect for a team that is finding its groove with the likes of James and Irving, as well as the additions of Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timoefy Mozgov.

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19. More specifically, Van Gundy on Love: "You don’t even talk about him in your preparation hardly. That’s how good the other guys are."

20. As for underrated contributions, Shawn Marion was very active around the basket and kept the Cavs alive with eight points — all in the first half. Mozgov only played 20 minutes, but made an impact in the second half, hitting a couple of hook shots and being physical on his way to six points.

21. Of course, Tristan Thompson continued his tear on the boards, and I sure hope Cavs fans appreciate the guy. He’s just been a joy to watch with his relentless. Thompson finished with 12 boards.

22. Mostly, though, the Cavs have been getting it done with team defense. That may sound simple, but it was something they severely lacked several weeks ago. "Just trying to make it a habit from game to game," Irving said. "We’re best in transition when our defense is leading to our offense."

23. As for the Pistons (17-29), they’re hit a rough patch after losing point guard Brandon Jennings for the season to an Achilles’ tendon tear. Jennings underwent surgery before the game and the Pistons have lost four of five. Young big men Greg Monroe (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (12 points, 17 boards) are coming along very nicely. But without Jennings, there just isn’t enough help.

24. As for the Cavs, Irving put it this way: "It’s finally coming together, and it feels good."

25. Up next is another toughie, as the Cavs return home Wednesday to face the Portland Trail Blazers. "They’re not only one of the top teams in the Western Conference, but the entire league," Irving said.