Rookie guard helps Cavs overcome inexperience, mistakes in win over Bulls.
By SAM AMICOFS Ohio
Well, it’s only the preseason, but the
Cavaliers acted too young to know any better.
First, they built a 50-29 lead in dominating Chicago in the first half. Then, they held on for an 86-83 victory Friday in Champaign, Ill. – but only after the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler missed a near-banked-in heave at the buzzer.
Basically, the Cavs (2-1 in the preseason) looked like the inexperienced, exciting and up-and-down team they’re likely to resemble most of the real season. On the bright side, they won anyway.
Here are some of the highlights:
Dion Waiters. The rookie guard didn’t just score a game-high 18 points off the bench. He went 7-for-12 shooting and buried all four of his 3-pointers. Most impressively, Waiters entered the game in the second half with his team leading by just two points. The Cavs, thanks mostly to Waiters, quickly extended it to nine.
• Waiters again played a lot of backup point guard, and on this night, he was much better than reigning rookie of the year Kyrie Irving (more on that in a minute). While Waiters wasn’t drafted fourth overall for that reason, it’s nice to know he can maybe rescue the club when Irving is way off.
• Waiters not only controlled the offense, he made some fantastic passes in traffic. One resulted in an easy layup for fellow rookie Tyler Zeller (10 points, four rebounds) in the first half. Another resulted in a wide-open baseline 3-pointer for small forward Omri Casspi (nine points, 3-for-5 shooting, all threes).
• Not to keep riding this wild train, but it was a great bounce-back performance for Waiters. A lot of fans doubted him after a miserable showing against Milwaukee. But he was the main reason the Cavs were able to fend off a colossal meltdown against the Bulls.
• OK, now for the bad news. Irving shot just 2-for-15. Last year, he struggled mightily against Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich (then with the Hawks). That continued Friday. Hinrich (14 points, eight assists, four rebounds) blocked Irving’s shot twice, stripped the ball from Irving twice, and just generally stayed in front of him. It’s nothing to be cry about, though. Hinrich’s one of the league’s best backcourt defenders.
• Now for the worse news: Starting small forward Alonzo Gee has been nonexistent in the preseason. He averaged just 3.5 points in the first two games and scored a measly two points Friday. Gee needs to get it together, man. And fast.
• As for Zeller, he had his best half as a pro in the first two quarters. Then he spent the rest of the game looking like a rookie. That’s expected. But it doesn’t make it any less frustrating for fans. Bottom line: Better get used to it.
• After leading the Cavs in the first two games, C.J. Miles was all over the place. He made a couple turnovers and missed some defensive assignments. Still, he was far from horrible. He went 3-for-9 from the field for nine points. It’s pretty apparent coach Byron Scott has given Miles the green light to shoot.
• Opponents still get too many easy looks at the basket, as the Cavs don’t really have anyone to protect the rim outside of Tristan Thompson. Defensively, their guards are weak. If they don’t make the playoffs, everyone can point to those two reasons.
• Luke Harangody saw his first action of the preseason and did a nice job. He scored nine points in nine minutes, and didn’t miss a shot (3-for-3).
• The Cavs are back in action Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena against Washington. They also open the regular season against the Wizards at The Q (Oct. 30).