CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road against a non-playoff contender with the postseason looming a couple of weeks away -- especially for a team that has made it to three straight NBA Finals -- is pretty much the definition of the dog days of the season.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, that characterization took on a literal definition Wednesday, when the Cavs' head athletic trainer, Steve Spiro, arranged for the team to spend time with a golden retriever named Remington, the University of North Carolina baseball team's service dog.
Spiro said he read about "Remi," as he is called by most of the UNC ball players, last year and reached out to Tar Heels head athletic trainer Terri Jo Rucinski about setting up a meet-and-greet between their teams.
The Tar Heels played the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers on Tuesday and stayed overnight after the game. The Cavs landed in Charlotte after midnight after playing a game in Miami on Tuesday and didn't have a morning shootaround on Wednesday because their game against the Hornets was coming on the second night of a back-to-back. Instead, the Cavs hosted UNC -- and Remi -- to a brunch at their team hotel.
Several players and team staff members really took to the experience -- Kevin Love featured the dog, who has more than 4,000 Instagram followers, in an Instagram story -- but none was as smitten as JR Smith.
After spending time with his new pooch pal, Smith -- who totaled six points on 3-for-9 shooting in the Cavs' first two games of their three-game road trip -- finished strong in Charlotte, scoring 19 points off the bench on 8-for-9 shooting while adding five rebounds, three assists and three steals in a 118-105 win.
"It was right on time, especially for me," Smith said of his interaction with Remington. "I'm an emotional person. I live in my head. I don't really express a lot of things. But let's just say it was right on time."
Smith owns two English Bulldogs -- Dallas and Cowboy -- and threw a birthday party for one of his pups when it turned 1.
Spiro said Remington was provided to UNC by paws4people, an organization that believes in the healing powers that dogs can bring to humans. Remington not only provides companionship for team members while they're going through rehabilitation after injuries but also can execute functional tasks such as opening a door for a player on crutches or fetching a towel for a player coming out of an ice bath, according to Spiro.
"We had a great opportunity today to do something for our players outside of the normal routine on a back-to-back," Spiro told ESPN. "We looked for it to be a potentially very positive impact in a casual setting where the guys could enjoy being around Remington, who is an extremely loving and talented service/therapy dog."
Cavs acting head coach Larry Drew gave credit to Remington for Smith's breakout game.
"You know, I think it was the canine," Drew said. "I walk in the room, and there JR is sitting on the floor. ... He's sitting on the floor petting the [dog]. I think it was the canine that got him going. I can tell he's very fond of that dog, and we're going to have to get that dog back to more shootarounds."
Drew said that after brunch, the team held a walk-through to prepare for the Hornets, which meant Smith had to leave Remington's side. But not for long.
"After the walk-through, he went back over to the dog," Drew said. "I think it was the canine," again crediting Remi for Smith's big game.
Spiro said that to his knowledge, no professional sports teams have a service dog in their ranks. As a team, the Cavs have been at the forefront of mental health awareness this season, with former Cleveland big man Channing Frye opening up about dealing with depression and Love penning an essay for The Player's Tribune revealing that he has experienced panic attacks.
Spiro wouldn't rule out the Cavs having a service dog of their own in the future.
After the game, the whiteboard in the Cavs' visitor's locker room at Spectrum Center reflected the very good boy's contribution to the day: "Remington says good for you Swish," referencing Smith's nickname. A cartoon dog with a speech bubble that read "Woof!" was drawn on the corner of the board.
"It was exactly what I needed," Smith said of his doggy downtime. "Something to take my mind off the game and something to make me feel better."