Tyronn Lue quietly makes statement with handling of LeBron

CLEVELAND -- Tyronn Lue's first statement as Cleveland Cavaliers coach appears to have been quietly made.

Two weeks ago, Lue pulled LeBron James aside and, in so many words, told him to knock off the funny business and focus on the basketball.

It came after James' cryptic social media behavior, on-court fraternization with Dwyane Wade and off-court comments about teaming up with Wade and Carmelo Anthony and not, you know, his current teammates.

Only James and Lue know exactly how this message was relayed, but it has become clear that it was received.

Regardless of Lue's game plans, strategy, in-game moves or whatever, his most important job is to connect with and have the respect of James. This is a central reason he's in the job and David Blatt is no longer. If Lue can consistently reach James, he will have a better opportunity to work on the rest of it.

The concept that James' active behavior when he was on the bench while resting in a loss to the Houston Rockets last Tuesday was some sort of challenge to Lue was laughable. But it's even more so when stepping back and seeing how James has responded to Lue's first serious challenge to him.

James has been on a vicious tear since the Lue meeting two weeks ago, including two dominating performances in quality weekend wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets. With Kyrie Irving out with an ankle issue, James had 31 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists in Sunday's 112-103 win over the Hornets, who had the Eastern Conference's best record since January. On Friday, he had 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists against the Hawks, who had been the best defensive team in the league in the second half of the season.

Over his past seven games, James has been a demon, averaging 28.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 9.6 assists while shooting 57 percent from the field and 38 percent on 3-pointers. The Cavs are 6-1 in those games, squeezing the No. 1 seed in the East as their magic number to clinch it is down to three.

Off the floor, he has been as locked in and focused as he has been all season. No social media uprisings, no distracting quotes, just straight business and relentless execution.

"I think he's been leading by example knowing the playoffs are coming up and we have to get ready for this stretch," Lue said. "I think he's done a great job of setting the tone for us."

Former Cavs coach Mike Brown raised eyebrows when he once said it was up to James to "allow me to coach him." This was perhaps too honest, but it was true. It wasn't true earlier this season when James said he'd "never undermined a coach," and so the man in that job needs a lot more of the former than the latter.

James' level of commitment to a coach will always be variable, will always be fragile and will always be vital. When he's invested and there's cooperation, it can lead to sensational results. Were he to speak freely, and he has no motive to until maybe his memoirs, Erik Spoelstra would probably have to agree.

James has been sensational these past few weeks. The Cavs haven't always been in that class. They blew yet another 20-point lead Sunday, the third time they'd done so in five days. They've gone through all the stages of inconsistency, blasting through denial and bargaining right to acceptance. That's just the way they're probably going to be and their fans might want to load up on antacids for the postseason.

There's a lot of things that have to align for the Cavs to win 16 playoff games. That mountain becomes more passable if Lue and James work together. This episode earns them some guarded optimism.

"I'm going to continue to lead this team in the right direction," James said. "I'm ready. I feel great. This is the best I've felt in the last couple of years. … If the playoffs started tomorrow, we'd be ready to go."