The first-year Cavalier hasn struggled on thedefensive end of the floor.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- For one of the few times in the last two years, LeBron James wasn't the Cavaliers player most in demand following practice.
Actually, the All-Star was unavailable. Sasha Pavlovic was the one everyone wanted to talk to anyway.
"They want you," James said as he playfully tugged at Pavlovic's gray hooded sweat shirt before leaving Gund Arena. "You're the one who guarded Kobe."
Pavlovic, emerging as a key contributor after a slow start in his first season with Cleveland, drew the defensive assignment of his lifetime on Sunday, matching up against Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant.
Bryant scored 26 points in his return after missing 14 games with a sprained right ankle, but Pavlovic made him work for every basket. Bryant went 7-for-22 from the field, but just 1-for-10 after halftime as the Cavs beat the Lakers.
"Sasha did great, as good as anyone can do," said Cavaliers coach Paul Silas. "Kobe's a handful, he's going to throw up a lot of balls and score. He had to shoot a lot of shots to score that much, that was the key."
Defense isn't exactly Pavlovic's forte. In fact, guarding the pick-and-roll and switching on down screens have been tougher for the 21-year-old native of Serbia-Montenegro to grasp than English.
Didn't play early
Pavlovic didn't get off Silas' bench in 15 of Cleveland's first 29 games because of his defensive liabilities.
But Pavlovic's defense is improving, and now that he's getting playing time while starter Ira Newble rests an Achilles' injury, the Cavaliers are hoping he continues to develop the weakest part of his game.
Pavlovic understands what he must do.
"You have to play defense if you want to play," he said.
His sweet outside shooting touch and athleticism caught the eye of Cavaliers' general manager Jim Paxson, who got Pavlovic from the expansion Charlotte Bobcats last June for a future first-round draft pick.
Pavlovic, 6-foot-7, played in 79 games for Utah last season, averaging 4.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. When he came to Cleveland, Silas wasn't sure what kind of player he was getting.
No offensive problems
"I had no idea he was so athletic," Silas said. "He can penetrate. He's got great hops and can dunk on folks. That's something you just can't teach. When he can hit his outside shot, he's almost unguardable because of the way he can go to the basket."
It's protecting the basket where Pavlovic has struggled. It was no different in Utah, where Cavaliers assistant coach Kenny Natt was with him last season. Pavlovic has become Natt's pet project with the Cavs, who could use another perimeter player to open the floor for James.
"There isn't anything about his offensive game we're concerned about," Natt said of Pavlovic, who scored 12 points in 30 minutes against the Lakers. "In order for him to be productive, it's always been about his defense. I always tell him, 'Why does Ira Newble start? Because Ira plays defense.' "