Long after the final buzzer had sounded on the Cavaliers’ most recent contest, CJ Miles was hoisting jump shots. The final box score had been submitted, the Cavaliers falling victim to yet another loss—this one, a decided loss on their own home court to a team that, by all accounts, should have provided the Cleveland franchise with their ninth win within the confines of Quicken Loans Arena. Star point guard Kyrie Irving had long showered, his fire engine red headphones draped around his neck as he took in the requisite inquiries from the media horde in front of his locker. Fellow guard Dion Waiters, missing his third straight game with what is being called wrist tendinitis, was on his way out of the arena, his toddler son, Dion Jr., smiling brightly as he clung to his father’s shoulder. The arena cleaning crew had gone through their nightly detail, removing any and all garbage and remnants from underneath the 20,562 seats which lace the venue. The security detail, clad in their Jack Hannah-like beige uniforms, would typically be packing up for the evening, but several were forced to remain on the floor as Miles, the team’s current starting shooting guard and one of their more vocal leaders, was not ready to close the curtain on this Monday night.
Flanked by two team employees who were there to retrieve rebounds, Miles—now in a white, sleeveless Cavaliers t-shirt and wine-colored warm-up shorts—started from the right wing, taking jump shot after jump shot, his left wrist flicking with muscle memory that would rival a surgeon. Some of the shots would provide a crisp clap as it sailed through the net; others would carom to the free throw line as they would catch a little to much of the rim. Miles, treating Quicken Loans Arena as if it were his personal gym where no one would be there to witness what was unfolding, then moved to the right elbow. Then the top of the key. Then the left elbow. Then the left wing. Each time, receiving a pass at his hip and quickly turning it into a jump shot. As more of his teammates began filing out of the arena, setting their sights on the impending Christmas holiday, Miles would not be finished. Another round of shots were in order, this time with two Cavaliers coaches providing screens and would-be defense. Miles would roll from the right side of the floor around a high screen, take a jump shot at the free throw line, back up to the top of the key for another, and then quickly roll back to his right, just outside of the elbow for a third and final mid-range shot. Those that went in were greeted with an adrenaline-fueled confidence. Those that didn’t, especially when at the end of the set, would find the 6-foot-6-inch Miles walk toward midcourt in frustration.
His team, despite some flashes, just dropped its fourth game in five tries. Starting center Andrew Bynum was 0-for-11 despite rarely moving from his perch near the rim. Reserve guard Jarrett Jack missed all six of his shots, still failing to find his bread-and-butter running floater, but also wildly missing his mid-range jump shots. Reserve forward Earl Clark was not much better, going 2-for-9 in his efforts.
“You name it, we didn’t execute it right,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.
The 26-year-old had started this season—his second with the Cavaliers—with a flurry, averaging 15.2 points through the first five games. Turmoil and injuries and a search for answers had forced his head coach, Mike Brown, into making changes that inserted the eight-year veteran into the starting lineup at various times. Recently, with Waiters nursing his wrist injury, it is Miles who has had his name announced among the starting five, the man who gets to toss a mean mid-air hip bump in the direction of Irving as the team gets ready for its impending 48 minutes of play. But it’s this same stretch, especially the two recent losses in what were ultimately very winnable games, where Miles has converted only three of his 14 field goal attempts, hitting just one of eight three-point tries.
On the season, Miles has had relative success at the rim as well as any spot along the baseline. He has drained seven of his 16 three-point attempts from the left corner and is shooting 56 percent at the rim. But those elbow spots, the ones that Miles was feverishly working as the clock neared 10 p.m., have given him fits, hitting only four shots at the right elbow and not having made one yet from the left. Combine the free throw line in with these two corners, and Miles is shooting just 20.8 percent from mid-range. To his defense, Miles knows that this is his weakness—only 15 percent of all of his shots come from these zones. But on this night, after his team suffered their worst home loss of the season, one that Brown would refer to as “disturbing,” it was the weaknesses that would be getting the attention.
Following most games, the Cavaliers swingman often stays awake until 4- or 5-o’clock in the morning, watching a video replay of the recent game and then re-playing the entire game in his mind, conjuring up the things he did right, but mostly criticizing himself for the things he could have done better. It’s something he has done since he was 14 or 15 years old, playing basketball inside the gym of his Dallas-area middle school. It may fly smack in the face of most “how to” books regarding taking care of one’s body and getting requisite amounts of rest, but Miles has made it work—he finds other ways to compensate for the energy exerted in a given night and is willing to bend his routine in the event of back-to-back games. But this night was very different. Rather than secluding himself within his apartment, getting lost in the night’s events, Miles put his mind—his cerebral attack of the game—on display.
Was this work, in an empty arena with just security guards and coaches sharing the floor, the product of frustration or the desire to get extra work? Was it a quiet way to lead by example, to show his teammates that just because they have the next two days off, it doesn’t mean that the game will wait for them to catch up? “All of the above,” Miles would tell WFNY, his dissatisfaction keeping his words succinct and straight to the point.
There isn’t much in the way of explanations for the team’s recent skid. A win over the Milwaukee Bucks took an extra five-minute slate of overtime. Sure, they were competitive with the Portland Trailblazers and Miami Heat, but losses to a short-handed Chicago Bulls team coupled with Monday night’s loss has left the team, including the head coach, reeling. Every player or coach handles frustration their own way. Some bottle it up; some let it all out. Some call team meetings; others prefer to transfer it to the court. Some use unfortunate experiences to fuel their work the next day; others have no patience or desire to wait for tomorrow, opting to do their work—to try and fix their shortcomings—right then and there, long after everyone else has packed up for the night.