Anyone who suspected that might not be the case has been living in an NBA fantasyland.
In Wednesday night’s 113-99 preseason loss to Philadelphia, the Cavs revealed what we should have known all along: They’re extremely young, lost one of their top two leading scorers from last season, and are still learning the finer points of the pro game.
That last point was especially driven home in perhaps the nitty-and-grittiest facet of them all — rebounding. Philadelphia outrebounded the Cavs by a 50-39 count, with 14 of the 76ers’ boards coming at the offensive end.
Second shots in this league are killers. And if the Cavs want to compete, they’d better start sticking their backsides into opponents. Trying to just out-jump people ain’t gonna cut it, kids. Not at this level.
Regardless, that’s almost beside the point.
What you really need to consider is this: The Cavs started a second-year point guard (Kyrie Irving), second-year power forward (Tristan Thompson) and rookie shooting guard (Dion Waiters). Their small forward, C.J. Miles, is starting on a regular basis for the first time. Not only that, but Miles was signed during the summer primarily to play shooting guard.
And, oh yeah, Miles is just 25-years old himself.
It was pretty much the same story with the bench. Backup center Tyler Zeller is a rookie. Forward Jon Leuer is entering his second year and barely played last season. Forward Alonzo Gee is entering his third year, but coming off his first with any real playing time. And guard Donald Sloan wasn’t rescued from the D-League until the middle of March.
So what we have here is similar to a college team of freshmen and sophomores. On Wednesday, that young team played a scrimmage … against a team expected to contend for a division title … on that team’s home floor.
Three other major things should be mulled over here as well:
1. It’s the preseason.
2. The mighty Lakers are expected to compete for a title and are 0-4 in the preseason.
3. It’s the preseason.
Think back to last year’s preseason, when Irving looked out of shape and a little overmatched, and ask yourself how much it matters now. Truth is, it didn’t then and it still doesn’t. Right now, we’re learning very little about this team. Trying to convince yourself otherwise would be foolhardy.
About the only thing we do know is the Cavs are setting a foundation on which to build. They’re not rebuilding — but they are growing. And they’re learning on the fly.
So when Waiters misses jumper after jumper, keep in mind he also scored 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting in a road win over Chicago. He’s not The Next Michael Jordan, but Waiters is no slouch, either. He’s mostly just a rookie who’s going to have his fair share of inconsistency. That’s just what rookies do.
When Thompson or Zeller forget to box out, well, that’s just the way young big men play. They simply leaped over everyone and snared rebounds away in college, so why wouldn’t it work here?
Well, it won’t. If Cavs coach Byron Scott hasn’t spent an inordinate amount of time trying to drill this into his young players’ skulls, he will. Oh, he will.
And guess what?
It’s still not going to work. Not right away, anyway. Maybe not even this season.
Without question, the Cavs have a lot of adjusting to do. They need to find a consistent second option behind Irving. They need some serious lessons on defensive rotations and protecting the basket. They have to stop settling for so many doggone long-range jumpers, particularly on the road.
But if you think that’s going to happen overnight, you need to brush up on some basketball history. Nobody goes from consecutive last-place finishes in the division to the conference finals in a season. Not without some type of basketball miracle, which hits the NBA maybe every decade or so.
Losing won’t be easy. Youth is frustrating. Many of the key players are going to mess up time and time again.
So sit back, relax, and try to enjoy the good nights. And get used to some of the bad, like Wednesday. It may not be a season-long thrill ride, but it is a necessary step in the process.
And that should be a shock to no one.
• Irving scored a game-high 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting. It’s the second straight game that he shot at least 50 percent from the field.
• Anderson Varejao went 4-for-4 for 10 points. Miles and Thompson also scored 10 points, and Thompson grabbed 10 boards.
• Boobie Gibson had his best night of the preseason, scoring 18 points on 4-for-7 shooting. Leuer added six rebounds.
• For whatever reason, Gibson has given some of his best showings in this building. For shooters, comfort is everything.
• The Sixers are very polished and can really bury it from the perimeter. Nick Young and undrafted rookie point guard Maalik Wayns each scored 19 off the bench. Just imagine this team with a real inside presence, which is what it will have when center Andrew Bynum (knee) finally suits up.
• The Cavs play their final preseason game next Wednesday against Indiana at The Q.