CLEVELAND — Suddenly, we are starting to see the signs.
Signs that the Cavaliers can play team basketball, pretty good defense, make their free throws and get a basket when needed.
Signs that Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are the kind of players you hope to land with the No. 4 overall draft pick.
Signs that all this youth is coming together.
The latest example came Wednesday, when the Cavs raced past visiting Toronto by a 103-92 count.
Make that four wins in five games for the Cavs (20-38), all coming since the All-Star break. Heck, the Cavs even won on the second night of a back-to-back.
That’s been a real rarity this season, but maybe not anymore.
Or how about this: The Cavs put together a winning month, finishing 7-5 in February. Haven’t heard something like that around these parts in a long time.
There’s really no way to describe the sudden surge. It’s just been quality basketball. It’s just been the Cavs playing with nearly as much confidence (and swagger) as they did when You Know Who was here.
Only now, the best players go by names such as Waiters, Thompson, Alonzo Gee, Luke Walton and Shaun Livingston, we presume.
Livingston, after all, has started in place of reigning Rookie of the Year and leading scorer Kyrie Irving the past two games. As Cavs coach Byron Scott will tell you, Livingston brings a calming influence to an otherwise young and excitable bunch.
As for Waiters, it doesn’t really matter who’s running the point lately. Since the All-Star break, Waiters is averaging 19.8 points on 54 percent shooting. Better yet, he’s cutting way back on his three-point attempts and generally not forcing a thing.
Read: The kid is really starting to get it, and man, just look at him now.
He is driving to the basket more often, finishing or drawing fouls, and heeding the advice of his coaching staff. The result was a team-high 23 points on Wednesday.
Of course, if there’s one thing we’re learning about these Cavs, it’s that everyone is getting in on the act. Livingston scored 15 for the second straight night. Thompson tallied 14 points, eight rebounds and went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Wayne Ellington came off the bench to score a quiet (but deadly) 13.
Now, just as it was too soon to get overly down on the team earlier this season, it’s too early to call the Cavs the next great NBA dynasty.
But isn’t this fun? Isn’t it nice to witness the signs, the progress, the wins?
This is what Scott and general manager Chris Grant suspected would eventually happen. This is what we can begin to predict will happen on a more regular basis. If not this season, then next.
“It’s starting to come a little bit more frequently now with some of our young guys,” Scott said. “You knew they’re capable of doing it, but the game was too fast for them. Now it’s slowing down. They see it at a different speed, which is obviously helping them.”
Tough calls await
Now, the Cavs will have some decisions to make at the end of the season. (What team doesn’t?)
Reserve big man Marreese Speights has been a major contributor, but can opt out of his contract and sign with anyone.
Ellington’s contract gives the Cavs the option to sign him or let him walk.
Walton’s deal is expiring altogether. Before this stretch, saying goodbye to Walton would’ve been no big deal. Now, the Cavs will have to consider bringing back the wise old veteran at a lower rate. That’s just how good Walton has been lately.
Same goes for Livingston, picked up off waivers on Christmas Day. So far, he’s been quite a gift.
But all those calls on contracts and such can safely be made when the season ends. For now, the young guys can benefit simply by playing and practicing next to the older ones.
That’s really what this season has always been all about. Only now, it’s starting to show up with actual victories.
“It’s been a process all year long,” Walton said. “In this league, there’s definitely a learning curve. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of and to see the team getting better.”