CLEVELAND -- If you’re someone who responds to visuals, there has been no stronger sign yet of the Tyronn Lue era getting off on the right foot than seeing LeBron James shimmy and shake to “Super Freak” during the Cleveland Cavaliers' 115-93 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
“Rick James is a great artist,” LeBron James said when asked afterward, appearing to almost blush when asked about his dance that was captured on the “humungotron” during the fourth quarter.
If numbers are your thing, how about this for evidence of a promising beginning: Cleveland’s 34 assists -- basketball’s most selfless stat -- against the Suns were a season high.
“That’s huge,” James said of the Cavs dropping dimes on 75.6 percent on their made baskets. “And we got to continue to do that. It’s not going to always result in 34 assists because obviously you got to make shots as well, but I think the tempo that we’re playing with and the defensive intensity we played with in the second half helped that."
If its words that work for you, consider this quote from Lue about what the feeling is like between teammates when they win a championship together: “It’s just a bond that you just can’t describe. It’s like a blood transfusion.”
It doesn’t get more connected than that, and it can be something that shapes your life. If Lue starts his playing career on another team other than the Los Angeles Lakers squad that went on to win two championships in his three seasons there, who knows how the rest of his time in the league goes. He learned all the sacrifice it takes to get to that ultimate goal right off the bat and he has been chasing that feeling ever since.
There has been a two-pronged approach to Lue’s first days at the helm. He wants the Cavs to execute a different brand of basketball than David Blatt implemented, sure. But, perhaps more important, he wants his team to support and enjoy one another while doing so.
“He’s emphasizing that a lot,” James said. “We want so much out of each other and you get yourself into trouble when you think about the wrong things instead of just appreciating this game and appreciating your teammates that you have. So, he’s preaching it and it’s hitting home [with] all of us.”
The quicker pace worked for the Cavs against Phoenix, though it took a bit to get going. Cleveland actually trailed a Phoenix team that is now 14-33 by five in the second quarter and only led 55-50 at halftime.
The Cavs broke it open in the third quarter with their defense, picking up five of their 12 steals for the game in the period, turning them into easy run-outs on the other end. It led to a balanced (five players in double figures) and efficient (the team shot 55.6 percent from the field) offensive night.
Another one of Lue’s first points of emphasis since being promoted was re-engaging Kevin Love. The power forward was effective on both ends, finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks and making the type of second effort and hard contests on defense that had become a rarity.
Love, the one player on the roster that seemed the most ill-fit for Lue’s new accelerated style, even reported an improvement in stamina.
“You start to notice those things, but as you continue to catch a second wind, a third wind, it will get better,” Love said.
The one person who can make this transition time easiest on Lue is James. When he plays to the top of his abilities, others tend to follow. And when he plays with total engagement combined with a sharpness that could be a result of his new “five-a-day” midseason workout regimen to try to literally get up to speed to Lue’s liking, the Cavs will be hard to beat even when they aren’t facing one of the league’s doormats such as the Suns or Minnesota Timberwolves.
James took eight field goal attempts and seven free throw attempts Wednesday and missed only one of those shots -- a 3-pointer. He finished with nine assists against just eight shots and played only 31 minutes, sitting out the entire fourth quarter with the game in hand.
“It was a very efficient night for myself, but the ball was moving and it doesn’t matter who is shooting or taking shots,” James said after his second lowest shot total in any game of his career. “It’s about how we’re getting the ball moving from side to side and do we feel involved and feel comfortable.”
Surely the comfort factor that had LeBron James dancing to Rick James by the end of the night can only be a positive for Lue.
“Everything he preaches we want to try to execute,” James said. “It’s not rocket science. What he tells us, we got to do. He’s the head coach and we got to go out and execute that to the best of our abilities.”