July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Cavs live, die behind 3-pointers

INDEPENDENCE —The 3-point shot can be a great weapon for the Cavaliers, but it can also result in some self-inflicted wounds.


Cleveland’s 108-91 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday contained the good and the bad.


The Cavaliers shot well from beyond the arc early – but didn’t shoot from there too much —and built a double-figure lead, but spent most of the second half standing around while LeBron James or Mo Williams went one-on-one.


“In the second half, we brought the ball to a complete stop offensively,” coach Mike Brown said. “We didn’t get any player movement or ball movement.”


As a result, Cleveland finished the game 7-of-22 on 3-pointers (.318). On the positive side, the Cavaliers are still shooting a sizzling .448 for the season (103-of-231).


James led the Cavaliers with 34 points and nine assists against the Wizards — no one else had more than 10 points —but he also committed six turnovers and dominated the ball way too much.


A strutting, smirking and posing James was knocking down shots from all over the place in the third period, but, for one of the few times in his seven-year career, the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder got a little carried away.


It began as an innocent heat check, turned into a personal battle with DeShawn Stevenson and ended with the visibly frustrated 24-year-old spraining his left wrist on a viscous dunk late in the game with Cleveland getting blown out.


Just like that, the Cavaliers’ five-game winning streak —they had also won 8-of-9 —was history.


Cleveland (8-4) will look to turn things back in a positive direction tonight in Indiana, but it will be playing without center Shaquille O’Neal (strained shoulder) for the fourth straight game.


Backup big man Anderson Varejao (hip contusion), who has missed the last two contest, will be a game-time decision, while James, who did not require X-rays and is not listed on the team’s injury report, is expected to play.


Regardless of who plays, ball and player movement will be good indicators of Cleveland’s offensive success.


If James is dribbling a lot above the 3-point arc and four teammates are standing there looking at him, there will be some great individual moments, but there will be even more low-percentage shots as the 24-second clock winds down.


If the ball is moving, players are also much more likely to be moving, which will result in lobs to a cutting J.J. Hickson and drive-and-kicks to people like Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson.


Until the Wizards game, that’s exactly what the Cavaliers were doing, which is they they had scored at least 100 points in five straight contests. Not coincidentally, the Cavaliers were 5-0 in those games, when they averaged 106.8 points.


For the season, Cleveland is 7-0 when it scores at least 100 points and 1-4 when it is held below the century mark.


“Offensively, we’re a lot better than we were,” Parker said. “You can credit that a little bit to us just shooting the ball better.


“You go through stretches during the season where you just feel good and the ball goes in all the time. Also, you can attribute that to the ball moving well.”


When the ball moves well, James doesn’t attempt seven 3-pointers like he did against the Wizards. Instead, he facilitates, often drawing an early double-team and kicking the ball out, where the Cavaliers quickly swing it around the perimeter until they find the open man.


Often, that man is Parker, who has made a living shooting threes from the corner. For the season, the 34-year-old is fourth in the league in 3-point percentage (.553, 26-of-47).


“I know where I’m supposed to be,” Parker said. “Everybody knows where they’re supposed to be. Guys have a confidence in each other.


“When you’ve got guys like LeBron and Shaq, you have to send people at them. That opens up shots for everybody else.”


Parker isn’t the only Cleveland player connecting at a high rate.


Williams is ninth in the league at 48.1 percent (26-of-54), while Gibson is 14th at 46.1 (23-of-49). James, who vowed to shoot less 3-pointers this season, still leads the team in attempts. For the season, he is 20-of-55 (.364), while Jamario Moon is 7-of-19 (.368).


In James’ defense, a chunk of his misses come on attempts with the 24-second clock ticking down, but there’s an easy way to evaluate how the Cavaliers are playing offensively.


When James —or anyone else, for that matter —holds the ball or repeatedly dribbles in the same area, it’s a bad sign. When he shoots, attacks or moves the ball soon after receiving it, the Cavaliers are probably playing extremely well at the offensive end.


The latter is what was happening prior to the Washington game, and it’s what the Cavaliers will try to get back to tonight in Indiana.


Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.