INDEPENCENCE, Ohio — It was just one preseason game, but that’s really all it took. You just get the sense there’s something different about these Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now, that’s not intended to place unrealistic expectations on anyone. It’s not meant to trash the previous regime. But coach Mike Brown has the ears and eyes of his team. You can just tell the Cavs really admire Brown’s attention to detail — even if they don’t know it yet.
You can tell they really want to make the playoffs, to give themselves and their fans something special this year.
“Guys are accepting what (Brown) wants and we’re willing to learn,” said power forward Tristan Thompson.
Granted, the Cavs have wanted the playoffs for some time. It’s just that they didn’t seem real clear on what it took.
As Thompson indicated, they’re learning. That much was evident in Tuesday’s preseason opener, a 99-87 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
With three minutes to go in the first quarter, the Bucks had managed a measly six points. The Cavs were gritty, physical, and basically in the Bucks’ faces from the opening tip.
“Right off the bat, clearly, Cleveland set the tone for the game,” said Bucks coach Larry Drew. “They kind of manhandled us, bumping cutters, whatever.”
And it wasn’t just one guy. It was the type of collective effort Brown is seeking, the type he demands.
That, more than anything, is what was so impressive. Winning an exhibition game hardly matters. It’s really just a glorified practice. What your’e looking for is to see how well your guys are practicing, how they’re responding to what’s being taught.
It’s the equivalent of the first quiz at the beginning of the school year. Tests, mid-terms and final exams won’t be for a while.
But it never hurts to form good study habits early, and that’s what the Cavs are trying to do.
“I think we did a great job,” said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving. “There’s a different vibe out there, and we trust each other.”
Just one preseason game, and that much was pretty clear. And that type of mindset can carry a team even when things go wrong (read: injuries).
So that’s the good news about the Cavaliers right now. They look better today, and when you’re talking about the preseason, today is the only day that matters.
• Undrafted rookie big man Kenny Kadji is fighting for a spot on the roster, and he served himself well Tuesday. Kadji looked athletic and confident in scoring 15 points and pulling down four rebounds. “I just wanted to do what coach wanted: Bring energy and play hard,” Kadji said.
• No telling who might win the Nos. 14 and 15 spots on the roster, but you can expect Brown to keep one big man and one guard. Seems like Kadji and undrafted point guard Matthew Dellavedova are the favorites, but that’s just a wild guess.
• The Cavs’ next preseason game is Friday at Orlando. Tip-off is 7 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio. Jeff Phelps and Austin Carr will call the game. Phelps is filling in for Fred McLeod, who is attending his son’s wedding.
• Former Cavs guard Manny Harris is in camp with the Magic.