JR Smith was all smiles as he strolled through the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room just prior to an ABC matchup against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. After escaping the perils of New York Knickdom this season, he’s landed in Cleveland to average 15.3 points and 3.8 rebounds during a six-game winning streak the Cavaliers hope to extend in Detroit on Tuesday. He’s the starting shooting guard on LeBron James’ team, too, and his new teammate has returned from injury to average 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists during the month of January.
“I know you guys have all been waiting on me,” Smith announced to a collection of reporters gathered by LeBron’s locker before Sunday’s game. “My bad on that everyone, I’ll be ready in a few minutes to talk though.”
As those within earshot laughed, Smith prepared for Kevin Durant and the Thunder in a way that works best for him. He replied to a question from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin about how far his range actually extends by noting that he feels comfortable shooting regular jumpers just beyond the half-court line. He then went out and hit four threes during Sunday’s 108-98 win over OKC, one game after drilling seven.
“This is definitely the most fun I’ve had in an NBA locker room,” Smith told SLAM following the win over OKC. “This team is the most fun. Especially, right from the start. We all clicked right away.”
James won the duel with Durant on Sunday, totaling 34 points, seven boards and seven assists. Durant offered 32, nine and six in response, but it wasn’t enough. Kevin Love added a 19-point, 13-rebound double-double for Cleveland, Kyrie Irving scored 21, and Tristan Thompson joined Smith and company in double figures with 10. OKC’s Russell Westbrook scored 22 and Dion Waiters threw in 14 during his return game in Cleveland.
Despite being on the receiving end of a bone-rattling Kendrick Perkins screen, Smith didn’t stop smiling afterwards either when the subject moved to his new fan base.
“The Cleveland fans are great,” Smith said. “There’s so much energy in the building, it’s crazy in here.”
While the well-known and well-traveled Smith arrived in Cleveland along with Iman Shumpert—his former Knicks teammate—big man Timofey Mozgov arrived via Denver rolling solo. Filling a desperate need up front for the Cavs—dramatically enhanced by the injury to Anderson Varejao—Mozgov has been a sight for sore eyes under the basket. But while he does have a well-documented relationship with head coach David Blatt, Mozgov didn’t know anybody else before he arrived earlier this month.
“I knew Coach Blatt and that’s it,” Mozgov said after the win on Sunday. “After the trade, I spent some time with JR while we were in Denver right before we got here. But I had never played with, or really met any of the other guys. But, we are all together and we’re winning. We are all working hard, and it’s not just highlights. The highlights these guys have, they’re being created from hard work.”
Mozgov’s hard work has been supported by Thompson up front since he’s arrived in Cleveland. While the 28-year-old, 7-1 center from Russia is averaging 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds during the six-game winning streak, Thompson is also putting in work right beside him. To go along with 10 points against a front-line led by Serge Ibaka, Thompson also collected a season-high 16 rebounds on Sunday.
“It’s been great,” Thompson said. “JR, Moz, Shump, they’ve all come in and bought into our principles right away. And they’ve definitely advanced our team. We’ve become a better ball club, especially on the defensive end. Myself, Moz and Shump, really everyone, we’re trying to change the game defensively for our team. Then on the offensive end, we’re just trying to help and assist our lead guys—compete around the rim and be an asset to this team in any way we can. That’s what everyone’s doing.”
It’s that attitude and approach from Thompson that appears to be the consensus throughout the locker room. Generally and collectively, however, that feeling wasn’t necessarily obvious to an observer at all times prior to the arrival of Smith, Mozgov and Shumpert. The team appears to be whole now, though, and more importantly healthy. A renewed excitement of sorts has been certainly evident in the arena as a result.
“I didn’t see a lot of the city since I’ve been here,” Mozgov admitted. “I see only my room, the practice facility, and the arena. There isn’t much time to go around the city. But the fans in Cleveland, they’re loud. There is a lot of energy in here, every time you know the fans will have the energy. They just are here for great basketball, and you try to work hard and give them that.”
Brendan Bowers is an NBA writer who covers the Cavaliers and the NBA in Cleveland for SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @BowersCLE. Image via Getty.