Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith’s slump and the green light: Bill Livingston (photos)

(This column was updated at 10:30 p.m. with Smith’s stats for the Cavs game against Milwaukee.)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Friday night, J.R. Smith made a 24-foot 3-pointer 72 seconds into the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rout of the Dallas Mavericks. It was his second shot of the game and his only basket of the night.

That shot was followed by a sequence for two straight games that consists of:  miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, which was sort of a one-day slide in the stock market, subject to correction soon.

And of miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, and then it was more like a customer trying to flag down his waitperson because the soup is cold.

And of miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, and at this point the market is doing an Acapulco cliff dive and the customer is stalking out of the restaurant, check unpaid.

And of miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, which, even for the streaky Smith makes a staggering 20 straight misses. In baseball, such a batting slump might even test Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona’s boundless faith in some of his favorites. (Yeah, talking about you, Mike Napoli.)

The Swish miss stats

Going into Tuesday’s dismal 118-101 Cavaliers loss at the Milwaukee Bucks, Smith had missed 21 of his 22 shots overall in his last two games against Dallas and at the Philadelphia 76ers.

Among the 20 straight misses, Smith has conducted a regular Anvil Chorus beyond the 3-point arc with 15 straight clangers, bangers, rim benders and “Swish” pretenders.

Although Smith has hardly lived up to the aforementioned nickname, neither his arc struggles (30-of-91, 33 percent) nor those of Mike Dunleavy (10-of-36, 27.8 percent), who was signed specifically to be another long-range bombardier, has hurt the Cavs’ effectiveness.

Against the Bucks,he made his first two 3-pointers, but it meant little. Missing his next five, he finished with the same six points.

Cavs keep blazing away anyway

In statistics for their first 15 games, the Cavs ranked second in 3-point accuracy (39.2 percent) to San Antonio, second in made threes per game (almost 14 per game) to Houston, and second in attempts (over 35 per game) to Houston.

Which puts the Cavs ahead of arch rival Golden State in all three categories and touches off more ho-ho-hos in the executive suite than jolly old St. Nick will be making in a few weeks.

Much of this is attributable to NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week Kevin Love, who made seven of his first eight threes on the way to a fever dream of a first quarter against Dallas, in which he scored the second-most points in one quarter in NBA history, 34.

Shoot it, J.R.

Smith still has unlimited freedom to fire away. Neither his first Cavs coach, David Blatt, nor his current one, Tyronn Lue, wanted to monitor the shot selection of one of the great streak shooters in the NBA today.

Asked last season if he would like to be Smith, even for just a day, LeBron James said, “You mean where you can just shoot any shot that you want? Yeah.”

Then James added, “J.R. is the only one who has the ultra green light. Coach says, ‘Shoot it, J.R. Shoot it, shoot it. When you’re open, when you’re not close enough, just shoot it.'”

A green light life

The “ultra green light” is a concept out of an American past filled with muscle cars and a present with gas cheap enough to dream of what was.

The winking green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock was a beckoning symbol of the American dream of wealth and social acceptance in one of the great American novels, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Smith shed a career-long reputation for untapped potential when he scored eight of the Cavs’ first 10 points in the third quarter of the seventh game of the NBA Finals at Golden State to help bring the team back from a seven-point halftime deficit.

Next he hindered Andre Iguodala’s potential go-ahead fast break layup long enough for James to block it from behind in the last 2 minutes of the game.

Finally, Smith nearly broke down emotionally in his post-game comments as NBA champion about his parents as on Father’s Day.

Why Smith has staged counter-productive holdouts two straight seasons with a Cavs team that values him more than any other is one of the mysteries that  makes him such a challenge on court and off.

His jump shots will eventually fall. Smith is too good a shooter for them not to. But does he understand he has already reached the dock and realized the dream?

That right here, right now, is as good as it gets?

Leave a Reply

...