It would be an exaggeration to suggest LeBron James saved David Blatt from being fired with his performance in a 109-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but it certainly gave the heavily-criticized rookie head coach some wiggle room and a bit of optimism going forward.
Most importantly? It was an end to a six game losing streak, as James, as usual, put on quite the performance when facing Kobe Bryant. He has won 13 of his last 16 games against the Lakers and Bryant, this time 36 points with five rebounds and five assists. People kept focusing on him and Kobe Bryant joking with each other, but at least for once, the main issue in this game was the Cavaliers facing someone playing worse defense than they do.
James also got plenty of help. Kevin Love scored 17 points, trying to change the trend of being the best first quarter player in the league before dropping off completely the rest of the way. Kyrie Irving scored 22 points, J.R. Smith was relatively harmless to his own team with 14 points on 5-of-13 from the field, while Timofey Mozgov didn’t do much on offense and doesn’t seem to be fitting in well with the system, but at least he provides some presence under the basket and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Personally Bryant had a very good game, maybe his best of the season, combining scoring and passing as it should be for him, finishing with 19 points and a career high 17 assists. He wasn’t too involved in the fourth quarter, as early on in it the Cavaliers managed to build up enough space between them and the Lakers. A Nick Young 3-pointer made it 106-102 with 10 seconds left in the game, but the Cavaliers finished the job from the line.
So is now everything good for the Cavaliers? We’ll know more once they finish their Western tour, with a much more difficult Friday night game against the Clippers. One game above or below .500, their problems aren’t their record, but their offensive consistency and overall their competence on defense. Maybe Blatt is getting the unfair share of the criticism because he’s an easy target, but the bottom line is finding a coach who can turn this group into a unit that works well on the floor.
Luckily for Blatt, he has James. Unless the rumors of James and his off-the-court team trying to push Blatt out in favor of Mark Jackson are true, James is too good of a player to let this team slip any further. But him putting on these kind of numbers every night isn’t going to happen, which means Love and Irving need to become a lot more solid in their contributions, while J.R. Smith needs to be restrained from having the kind of nights that ruin it for his team. Maybe this game is just a way to forget about all the problems, but it just might be a first move in the right direction.