CLEVELAND — LeBron James knows enough about basketball to realize a slight lineup change isn’t going to cure everything that’s wrong with the Cavaliers.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown moved Larry Hughes back into the starting point guard spot and brought Daniel Gibson off the bench Tuesday against the Miami Heat.
It was the first time the Cavaliers used the lineup they employed during their run to the NBA Finals a season ago: James, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sasha Pavlovic and Hughes.
James supported the move — “We’ve been a very good team with that backcourt, especially at the end of last year going into the playoffs,” he said — but he also knows the Cavaliers must improve in many other areas, most notably on defense.
“Right now, it’s not looking good for us,” he said before the Heat game. “The basketball we’ve been playing has not been good. The best thing you can say is it’s a long season and we can fix it, but when do you?”
For the first time in his career when he’s been healthy, James did not talk with the media following a game after the Cavaliers fell 105-96 to Golden State on Sunday.
“It was frustration,” he said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody.”
The 22-year-old also showed up 2½ hours before the game Tuesday to take extra shooting practice.
“It’s time for a change, I guess,” he said. “If it’s not working, you’ve got to fix it.”
James has let teammates know he hasn’t been happy with the club’s performance, but he doesn’t plan to start calling players-only meetings every other day.
“A team meeting is not going to help us win games,” he said. “We’ve got to go out and do it.
“That’s what is killing me,” he added. “I just want us to play well.”
Straight to the point
After back-to-back games of 22 and 37 points while playing shooting guard off the bench, Hughes was very vocal about not really wanting to play point guard.
Considering he entered the Miami game 14-of-61 from the field over his previous six contests (.230), the 6-foot-5, 185-pounder should probably be happy he’s playing at all.
“I’m doing what’s best for the team,” Brown said. “If this is best for the team and it works out, that’s going to be the lineup. If it’s not best for the team, I may have to make another change.”
The coach then added, “Either you’re on board or you’re not.”
On the defensive
Miami began the day 8-19, which tied it with New York for the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers were 12-16 and had lost 10 of their last 13, which placed them ninth.
“They’re a little bit like we are,” Heat coach Pat Riley said of the Cavaliers. “Last year, they made the NBA Finals as a defensive team. They’re struggling a little bit defensively.”
Cleveland, which plays in Dallas on Thursday and at New Orleans on Saturday, began the day allowing 101.0 points a game, which ranked 21st in the league.
The Cavaliers’ .466 field-goal-percentage-allowed ranked 27th out of 30 teams. A year ago, the Cavaliers gave up 92.9 points (5th) and held opponents to .448 shooting (8th).
“There’s a lot more that can be done,” Brown said. “I have to continue preaching (defense). I have to continue teaching it. I have to continue demanding it.”
Brown said he’s spoken to the struggling Pavlovic, who entered Tuesday 10-of-37 from the field in his last six games (.270), but added there comes a time when talking can do more harm than good.
“He’s thinking a little bit,” the coach said of his shooting guard. “That (confidence) is just going to have to come. I’ve talked to him and other people have talked to him. It gets to the point where there’s too much talking.”
Riley said Chicago’s firing of coach Scott Skiles was “the nature of the game we work in,” but spoke highly of the former Bulls coach.
“He’s one of the great young coaches in the game,” Riley said. “It’s disappointing to see it happen, but those things happen.”
Fouled up (and out)
Miami center Shaquille O’Neal, 35 years old and in his 16th year in the league, had fouled out of his last five games prior to Tuesday.
The NBA record is six, set by Milwaukee’s Don Boven in 1952. Seven other players fouled out in five straight. The last was the Kansas City Kings’ Steve Johnson in 1982.
Turn up the heat
O’Neal began the day averaging 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in 28.3 minutes a game. He was shooting .486 from the line
(68-of-140). Dwyane Wade (24.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6.6 apg) has started to pick things up a bit, as he was averaging 31.8 points in his last four games prior to Tuesday, including a season-high 41 Thursday against New Jersey.
Former Cavalier Ricky Davis is coming off the bench for the Heat, but is second on the team in scoring at 14.7 a game.
Tuesday was the eighth time Cleveland has played on Christmas Day and its first since 2003 in Orlando.
The Cavaliers last played at home on Christmas in 1984. Miami also played on Dec. 25 in 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Noland may be reached at email@example.com or 330-721-4061.