SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a year, but C.J. Miles still has a vivid memory of returning to the place he used to call home for the first time as an opponent.
After spending the first seven seasons of his NBA career in Utah, the affable shooting guard was as nervous as heck to face the Utah Jazz as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And he played like it.
Miles missed 5 of 6 3-pointers, shot 4 for 11 overall and mostly struggled, like his team, in that 109-98 loss to his old team at EnergySolutions Arena last January.
“Last year, it took me a couple of minutes to settle into the game,” Miles recalled. “I mean, my first shot hit the side of the backboard.”
A year later, Miles enjoyed a nice welcome, had fun seeing familiar faces, and really loved seeing almost all of his shots hit the bottom of the net.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who’s been on a tear of late, hit 6 of 7 field goals, drained his only 3-pointer, and netted all four free-throw attempts in a smooth 17-point night.
And the Cavs, like their starting shooting guard, played a heck of a lot better in a 113-102 victory over the Jazz in this reunion contest.
“It’s a little better this time around,” Miles said. “Last year’s trip wasn’t as successful. It was still emotional a little bit right before that tipoff. You still get the butterflies. But it wasn’t as jittery.”
That description also works for the evolution of his game.
Miles certainly isn’t as jittery as he used to be at times in Utah, where he started playing as an inconsistent-but-potential-filled teen after graduating from Dallas’ Skyline High School back in 2005.
That was noticeable in his play Friday.
It was really evident in his offensive explosion Tuesday in Cleveland when he hit a franchise-record 10 3-pointers and scored 34 in a Cavs win.
The 26-year-old Miles has been playing at this productive level since the calendar turned. In five games since Jan. 2, Miles is averaging 21 points, including 54.5 percent shooting from 3-point range, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
“Just playing basketball. I’ve been solid on both ends,” Miles said. “I’ve been doing more than just shooting the basketball.”
That would be music to the ears of Miles’ old coach, Jerry Sloan, who wasn’t in attendance for this particular performance.
His current coach certainly appreciates the improved play of Miles, who’s averaging 10.1 points and a career-best 39.4 percent from beyond the arc this season.
“We just tell C.J., ‘Hey, just concentrate on playing D the right way and take the open shots,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “I think sometimes when he presses, he gets out of sorts a little bit. When he doesn’t press, when he just lets the game come to him, he’s a very good player.”
Both Brown and Miles credited the tutoring the ninth-year veteran received during his sometimes-volatile stint in Utah from 2005 through 2011.
“He played for a Hall of Fame coach, so he learned a lot when he was here (in Utah) and he’s learned a lot in other spots,” Brown said. “He can play. It’s just a matter of him staying within his box and not trying to get too far outside of it.”
Miles showed his gratitude to one of his old mentors after the final buzzer Friday when he hustled over to the opposite side of the court and tracked down Tyrone Corbin before the Jazz coach slipped into the tunnel en route to the locker room.
Corbin worked extensively with Miles when he was an assistant coach after the youngster was drafted 34th overall in the second round of the 2005 draft and then as the player’s head coach for just over a season after Sloan resigned.Comment on this story
When asked how influential the current Jazz coach was to his development, Miles quickly responded: “As big as anybody.” He remembered spending time, lots of time — "after the game, before practice, after practice, everything" — with Corbin.
“That’s who taught me a lot of things as far as offensively playing off the ball because coming out of high school I played with the ball in my hands a lot. I had to learn the system," Miles said.
“Defensively, he just put a bug in my ear about playing hard all the time and that was what was going to get me playing time. He was just as influential as Coach Sloan.”