Portland entered Wednesday having dropped three in a row, was playing at home, and is in front of the Cavs when the idea is young and up-and-coming teams.
The Trail Blazers are fighting for the playoffs. The Cavs are fighting for … well, continued development.
Final score: Cavs 93, Blazers 88 in another semi-nail-biter at the famed Rose Garden.
And guess what?
The Cavs (10-31) have won six times in 25 road games. That may not sound like much, but it’s better than their 4-12 record at home.
But the bottom line in the Cavs’ previous two outings is they have given GM Chris Grant and coach Byron Scott what they’re seeking. That’s right, this young team displayed (here’s that word again) progress.
Kyrie Irving (31 points) was the best player on the floor on Wednesday. Two nights ago in a loss at Sacramento, it was Dion Waiters. He scored 33 in that game, but struggled mightily (1-for-9 shooting) against the Blazers.
Neither development should be a cause for drama or reason to get overly excited. After all, Irving is the best player on the floor a lot of times. And Waiters is still a rookie.
These are the 2012-13 Cavs. They lose close games. They fail to show up and get blown out. They win when the fans have completely given up.
All of that is to be expected.
What’s not always expected, but what’s become more of a reality, is that Tristan Thompson is getting pretty doggone good.
The second-year power forward finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds and tons of enthusiasm. Remember when Thompson always got his dunks blocked? Remember when he couldn’t come close on that little hook shot in the lane? Remember when we thought he couldn’t score 19 points if left alone in the gym with crickets as the only defenders?
Yeah, I’m having a hard time remembering that myself.
That’s not to say it’s time to start mailing in Thompson’s name for the All-Star ballot. He has a ways to go and he knows it. But it’s not nearly as far of a ways as it was four weeks ago.
Another positive on Wednesday was the Cavs’ defense. While getting killed inside, they’ve been forcing 19 turnovers a night on this trip through the Western Conference. But against the Blazers, the Cavs forced 19 turnovers.
The Blazers (20-19) are a nice team with some maturing talent of their own. One of those guys is rookie point guard Damian Lillard, and he didn’t score a field goal (or get many good looks at the basket) until the fourth quarter.
The Cavs’ defense isn’t typically very strong, but it sure was for the majority of this one, including the physical inside play of Thompson and rookie center Tyler Zeller (11 points, nine rebounds).
Both refused to back down from the Blazers’ athletic and sturdy frontcourt of forward LaMarcus Aldridge (15 points, 10 boards) and former Cavs center J.J. Hickson (13 and 11, respectively).
Or how about C.J. Miles (eight points)? He’s mostly viewed as a guy who probably got a new rim every Christmas, as Miles usually shoots first, second and third, and doesn’t ask questions later.
But that’s what the Cavs want from him. The fact he took a couple of charges and kept his man from getting open on the perimeter when it mattered were merely bonuses.
Not to be forgotten was the all-around hustle of Alonzo Gee (nine points, three steals) or veteran Luke Walton (seven points, four rebounds, three assists) in reserve. Walton can take some funky jumpers that clang off the rim, but he keeps things under control.
His seven points equaled what was manufactured by the entire Blazers bench.
So the Cavs made it happen for a night, finally finishing the job after building a 17-point lead in the first half.
It’s not about winning, it’s about taking positive steps.
But, hey, what do you know? On Wednesday, the Cavs did both.