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Inspired defense key to Cavs snapping skid

CLEVELAND -- It's been 15 years since James Posey was locking up the likes of Lamar Odom of Rhode Island en route to being named the A-10 Conference's defensive player of the year at Xavier.

Posey took those award-winning long arms and quick feet with him to the NBA, where he found himself tasked with harassing Dirk Nowitzki in the 2006 Finals and Kobe Bryant in the 2008 Finals -- two of the top 10 scorers in league history -- en route to capturing two titles with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, respectively.

Now an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Posey figured Monday morning's shootaround was about time for him to share some of the lessons he learned along the way. The Cavs needed to break their four-game slide later that night against the Orlando Magic, and he knew the way they had to do it.

"He had some good phrases, but I can't say it," Tristan Thompson recalled after the Cavs routed the Magic 106-74. "But simply just, we control what goes on on the court. If we're bad or we're not playing well, it's up to us as players. The coaches are not out there playing. It's up to us as players to take ownership and be men and go out there and compete."

Added Kevin Love: "He spoke up, was very vocal and you never know who it's going to come from, but it happened to be him today."

All of the voices emanating from the Cavs' losing locker room over the past week or so were starting to converge into a deafening din. First there was coach David Blatt saying Cleveland was "playing in the dark." Then there was LeBron James calling this bunch a "fragile team right now."

Posey cut through the cacophony with a message meant for the players, not for the media: Put up or shut up. And against the Magic, the Cavs looked like a team that Posey would have loved playing with in his day.

Before the game Blatt said defense "needs to be the answer" to any potential turnaround by the Cavs, and they went out and had more answers than the team that takes home the $100 bar tab on Quizzo night.

Blatt previously said his team's standard for opponent's field goal percentage should be in the 42-43 percent range. The Cavs came into Monday allowing their opponents to shoot 47.7 percent through their first 12 games, ranking them 28th in the NBA. They held the Magic to 36.3 percent overall and 29.4 percent (5-for-17) from 3-point range.

"They did a good job of getting their hands on balls, getting a lot of steals and getting deflections," said Orlando guard Victor Oladipo. "They did a great job of rotating and stuff like that, so just credit them for playing a great game."

Blatt also said his goal is to keep opponents to 22 points or less per quarter. The Magic scored 16 points in the first, 22 in the second, 20 in the third and 16 in the fourth on Monday.

"I just think it was the energy and effort and the communication," James said about the defense, nabbing three of the 14 steals the Cavs racked up as a team.

James put himself in the crosshairs earlier Monday, saying his play of late "stinks" and adding "I need to play better." A final line of 29 points on 9-for-17 shooting, 11 assists and 4 rebounds to go with that aforementioned trio of steals while resting the entire fourth would certainly qualify as better. He was so good, in fact, that he was responsible for all eight of the Cavs' made field goals in the first quarter -- four assists and four buckets of his own -- as Cleveland built an early double-digit advantage.

"No one puts more pressure on me than myself," James said. "You go out, you don't just talk about it. You also go out and show it, too."

"He knows that his influence is widespread," Blatt said of James. "The things that he does and the way he plays the game and the impact that he has on those around him is consequential in every respect."

While the game was a romp, there was a bit of pressure on the Cavs early in the third quarter when the Magic quickly cut Cleveland's 18-point lead down to 12 in the first 3 1/2 minutes.

Rather than rely on the coaching staff to call timeout and regroup them, the players adjusted on the fly for themselves.

"Coach was about to call the timeout and 'Bron called the play and we scored," Kyrie Irving said, detailing how James was able to set up Anderson Varejao for a jump shot as part of a personal 6-0 run for the center. "It was just one of those moments that could make or break a lead like that and I feel like we kept our composure and closed out the game."

Rather than slump their shoulders and cower like they did when Toronto made its charge on Saturday, Cleveland struck right back.

"No holding our heads this time," Love said.

Posey's message manifested itself on the offensive end as well. Blatt can call any intricate play he likes, but if the players aren't on the same page while they run it, there's no hope of it working. Against the Magic the ball moved on offense and the stats showed it, with the Cavs racking up 30 assists on their 42 made field goals and shooting 51.9 percent from the field.

The hope is for those messages -- at least of the verbal variety -- to be unnecessary in the future. The team will internalize what it needs to do on its own.

But perhaps a visual cue or two couldn't hurt.

"If you watch, he wears his ring every game," Thompson said of Posey. "He wears one of the two rings he got. That's motivation right there. You see him on the sideline with his ring from Boston and Miami, that's enough motivation for us as players."