Midseason pickups help Cavaliers overcome slow start to top Nets
Cavaliers coach David Blatt had seen enough, more than enough.
After his team's sixth turnover in the game's first minutes, a disgusted Blatt called timeout and gave his players some very specific instructions.
"Stop turning the ball over," he told them.
The Cavs listened and then lit up the Nets.
J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov scored 17 points apiece, Kyrie Irving had 10 assists and the Cavaliers shook off the sluggish, sloppy start to win their 14th straight home game, 117-92 over Brooklyn on Wednesday night.
LeBron James added 16 points for the Cavs, who had seven players score in double figures. Just back from a four-game road trip, Cleveland trailed by 13 in the first quarter before going on a 30-8 run and didn't look back.
"The first game after a road trip is always kind of tough," James said. "We just found our rhythm."
The Cavs are 25-6 since Jan. 15, when they were 19-20 and being questioned about whether they were NBA title contenders. Well, Cleveland is an entirely different team these days with balance, inside muscle and a healthy James, who battled knee and back issues earlier this season.
Kevin Love returned after a two-game break to rest his back and finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. The Cavs recorded 32 assists on 45 field goals, a testament to their unselfishness.
"We moved the ball tonight," James said. "Mozzy was unbelievable in the paint. Kyrie was great getting guys involved and J.R. was shooting the ball well. Everyone worked well together tonight."
Deron Williams scored 20 to lead the Nets, who are running out of games as they claw to get into the playoffs.
Brooklyn led 22-9 in the first quarter before the Cavs stopped throwing the ball away and started making shots. Smith dropped four 3-pointers, each on an assist by James, and scored 14 in the second quarter, when the Cavs' bench sparked the rally and Cleveland outscored the Nets 36-21.
"LeBron went in the post," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. "We tried to help a few times and he threw it out and they made 3s, and he was in the pick-and-roll and he made plays for people and they made shots. He wasn't the man. It was the guys making the shots. He set them up. He was the orchestrator."
Leading by 12 at the half, the Cavs looked underneath in the third quarter and the 7-foot-1 Mozgov took over, scoring 12 points in the period to help Cleveland extend its advantage to 23.
The large lead allowed Blatt to rest his starters, including James, who sat out the final 5:04. Blatt intends to closely monitor his players' minutes down the stretch as the Cavs prepare for the playoffs.
Blatt said the balanced scoring attack is vital for James.
"You can't expect him to have huge games that he's had fairly regularly and you can't expect that all the time," he said. "The second thing is that it takes a lot of pressure off him going forward knowing that other guys can pick up the slack and carry it well."
Following his interview session, James intently watched the closing seconds of the Miami-Portland game on a TV inside Cleveland's locker room.
As the Heat set up for a final shot, James called out "step back" just seconds before Dwyane Wade did just that, dropping a game-winning jumper with 13.6 seconds left.
After Wade's shot fell through, James turned and said, "Told ya, step back."
The Nets' next four games are against teams battling to reach the playoffs. Brooklyn plays Milwaukee, Indiana, Boston and Charlotte in the next seven days.
"All these games are huge games for us," Williams said. "I hope we realize that."
Nets: Entering Wednesday, Brooklyn was the only team in the league with a better road record than home record (Chicago and Miami had identical road and home marks). ... Johnson has made at least one field goal in 868 consecutive games, the league's longest active streak. San Antonio's Tim Duncan holds the record (1,310).
Cavaliers: Blatt feels the Cavs have slipped some defensively over the past few weeks. They're ranked just 25th since March 1. "We want to get back to where we were before," he said. ... James has not filled in an NCAA Tournament bracket and he probably won't complete one. But if he did, prohibitive favorite Kentucky would likely be his choice to win it. That doesn't mean the Wildcats are invincible, though. "In the tournament, you get one team to slow the game down or a team is on fire, you never know," said James, who had high praise for UK coach John Calipari. "He's a great player's coach."