CLEVELAND — It will become official tonight: Kyrie Irving will become the third player in Cavaliers history to start for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
LeBron James started for the East from 2005-10 — he was the NBA All-Star Game MVP in 2006 and ’08 — and Shawn Kemp started in 1998.
“It’s a big feat,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena prior to a game against the Chicago Bulls. “A lot of guys, especially young guys, strive for that.
“For him to accomplish it at such an early stage of his career speaks highly of what he did prior to getting here and what he’s done since getting here.”
The 6-foot-3, 191-pound Irving entered Wednesday averaging 21.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He was shooting .427 from the field, .360 on 3-pointers and .832 at the line.
The third-year pro’s field goal shooting, 3-point shooting, free throw percentage and rebounding average were all career lows, but that didn’t prevent fans from voting him an All-Star starter.
After finishing last in the league in field goal percentage defense last season under Byron Scott, Cleveland entered Wednesday ranked 16th (.452) with Brown as coach.
“We can be a top-five defensive team in time, like we were when I was here before, just with repetition and once we get seasoned and believe and all that stuff,” Brown said.
Under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls entered Wednesday third in the league in field goal percentage defense (.430) and second in points allowed (92.7). The Cavs, who play at a faster tempo, were 21st in points allowed (102.0).
“That’s a tough, physical team,” Brown said of the Bulls. “They communicate well and try to stick to their schemes to a ‘T.’”
Offensively, Cleveland began the night averaging 96.7 points (22nd) to 92.8 (29th) for Chicago, which Brown called a “meat-and-potato team that gets stops.”
“Personnel-wise, we’re not quite where his team is,” Brown said of Thibodeau’s Bulls. “He’s got a lot of Andys (Anderson Varejao) on his team that have won a lot of games — and big games. I’ve got some young guys I’m trying to push in that direction while also trying to take advantage of our ability to score, especially in the open court. From that standpoint, it’s a little different.”
Former Chicago small forward Luol Deng, who was traded to the Cavs on Jan. 6, joked prior to the game that he wouldn’t be surprised if the intense Thibodeau accidentally got on him for making a mistake on the court.
“He might yell at me,” Deng said. “I might have a bad defensive stand or turn the ball over or something and he’ll start yelling at me.”
Deng also said he’s been unable to figure out how to change the NBA app on his phone that lists his favorite team, so he’s still getting Chicago updates instead of Cavs ones.
“I keep hearing about all these Joakim Noah double-doubles,” he said. “I’ve got to get rid of that.”
Up and down
The Cavs sent rookies Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix to Canton of the NBA Developmental League so they could play for the Charge on Wednesday night against Fort Wayne.
Karasev entered the night averaging 14.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in three games with the Charge. Felix was averaging 10.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in six games.
Already minus point guard Derrick Rose (knee), the Bulls also played without power forward Carlos Boozer (calf) and point guard Kirk Hinrich (hamstring) against the Cavs.
Chicago signed point guard Mike James to a 10-day contract Wednesday.