Cavs looking to continue success against the West
The Cleveland Cavaliers still have some work to do if they want to be considered the class of the Eastern Conference, but ever since they’ve made their two big in-season moves they’ve done just fine against the West.
After coming up short against the NBA’s best team, the Cavaliers try to bounce back at the end of a grueling stretch Saturday night as they host the Phoenix Suns looking for an 11th win in their last 12 interconference games.
Cleveland (39-25) owns the league’s second-best record since Jan. 15, but has hit a bit of a rough patch so far in a stretch of seven games over 10 days.
The Cavaliers didn’t have Kyrie Irving in a Feb. 27 loss at Indiana or Sunday’s overtime loss at Houston, but after back-to-back wins to begin this stretch of four in five nights, it had its big guns ready Friday at Atlanta.
That didn’t make a difference against the ball movement of the Hawks, who became the second straight team to shoot better than 50 percent against Cleveland in a 106-97 win.
Eighteen turnovers didn’t help, half of them committed by LeBron James as Cleveland fell to 12-17 when it gives it away 15 times or more.
"I sucked," James said bluntly when asked to assess his turnovers.
The Suns were involved the last time the Cavs allowed back-to-back opponents to hit half their shots. Phoenix shot 52.6 percent in a 107-100 home victory Jan. 13 – the day James returned from his two-week injury hiatus.
James scored 33 and J.R. Smith 29 in his third start as a Cavalier, but Timofey Mozgov didn’t hit a field goal, Irving had eight of Cleveland’s 19 turnovers and Iman Shumpert had yet to don his new uniform.
Markieff Morris had a career-high 35 points on 15-of-21 shooting and the Cavaliers allowed the Lakers to shoot 51.3 percent two days later. But the Cavs won that one along with their next nine against the West prior to Sunday’s loss to the Rockets – a vast improvement after starting 4-11 against the opposite conference.
While Cleveland had yet to jell with its new acquisitions when it last saw the Suns, Phoenix (33-30) is the team adjusting to a roster transformation this time.
The Suns, however, appear to be getting more comfortable after losing their first three following the trade of Goran Dragic to Miami, winning four of six after rallying from 15 down in the fourth quarter Friday before beating Brooklyn 108-100 in overtime.
"We knew in the first half we were up and we didn’t make shots how we usually do, and so we knew in the second half if we just made a couple of shots we would put ourselves in position to win the game," said Brandon Knight, who was 4 of 16 and is shooting 36.6 percent in his first eight games with the Suns.
Knight averaged 26.5 points and shot 56.8 percent in two games against Cleveland while with Milwaukee earlier this season.
Phoenix pulled out Friday’s win despite missing its first 21 3-point attempts and finishing 3 for 26 from beyond the arc. The Suns are shooting 27.8 percent from long distance over their last seven games.
The Cavs’ 35.2 percent shooting from deep in March is almost exactly their season average, but they’re firing up 3s at quite a rate. Cleveland has attempted an average of 35.5 in four games this month, and coach David Blatt said after Friday’s loss that he’d like to see that number drop.
Smith hit 8 of 14 3s in the loss at Phoenix.