CLEVELAND — Random hits from the Cavaliers’ 88-82 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday at The Q:
• We are now 20 games into the season, which is always a fair time to critique. It’s not the final verdict, of course, as 62 games remain. But it gives you an idea. And right now, the Cavs look like a team with a nice upside that can’t regularly be counted on.
• The Cavs are 7-13 overall. They’re 3-3 against the mighty Western Conference. That means they’re 4-10 against the feeble East. They’re 6-3 at home and 1-10 on the road. In related news, what’s up will now be considered sideways. For everything else, just cross your fingers and pray.
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• This is what happens when you have a fairly young team that didn’t really defend last season — and now boasts a new coach who just happens to base everything on defense. Things will be maddening. You’re gonna wonder stuff like, “How come we can beat the Clippers and can’t even look like an AAU outfit against the Atlanta Hawks?” And you’re probably not going to get a satisfactory answer.
• As for the here and now, it seems like every time the Cavs play the Clippers there’s a strange story to tell. On Saturday, we got two. First, a fan ran onto the floor in the first half, wearing a t-shirt that asked Kyrie Irving not to leave. Then there was that whole mini-brawl near the end of the game. It started with Anderson Varejao and Blake Griffin, and as soon as it looked like it might escalate … it didn’t.
• More important than any of that was the fact Irving scored 20 points. Thankfully, whatever happened in Atlanta on Friday (when Kyrie went scoreless) can now be considered a distant memory. The NBA can abuse players with its daunting schedule of back-to-backs. But thank heavens Kyrie didn’t have to live with that Friday game for very long.
• The first thing Irving mentioned to reporters after the win over the Clippers was the loss to the Hawks. Clearly, it weighed on him. But you could make the case Irving out-played Chris Paul (13 points, 15 assists) on Saturday. “It started with me just coming out and getting minutes and competing,” Irving said. “Everybody followed suit.”
• Tristan Thompson (20 points, 13 rebounds) also had another nice home game, and now he needs to start doing it on the road. NBA executives near and far will tell you that role players always play well at home — but not so much in enemy territory. Thompson is in just his third season, and he has an All-Star ceiling. But he needs to offer the same amount of productivity on the road, and soon.
• Obviously, the progress of Andrew Bynum (18 points, 8-of-13 shooting) has been encouraging. He is slowly but surely returning to the center we saw two seasons ago with the Lakers. If he can get three-fourths of the way there … and the Cavs can keep feeding him the ball … this will be a different, considerably more successful team. And as good as Bynum is offensively, he can alter the course of the franchise on D.
• Meanwhile, one night after scoring 30, Dion Waiters went 1-of-10 shooting for three points. Imagine if Waiters and Irving could get it together on the same night. Still, Waiters grabbed a huge offensive rebound at the end that basically sealed it. Brown called it “probably the biggest play” of the night. He also went out of his way to credit Waiters for staying focused despite the rough shooting night.
• I also liked how Waiters came to Varejao’s defense and started jawing with (the much-larger) Griffin during the scuffle. Waiters has a little bit of an edge to him, and it is unquestionably good for this team. (The same, by the way, can be said about Bynum.)
• Varejao is a happy-go-lucky guy who still manages to get under opponents’ skin. How? By going all-out on every possession. His constant effort truly is remarkable. He only knows one speed, and even though he’s a great dude, he doesn’t back down from anybody. And, oh by the way, he grabbed a whopping 17 rebounds.
• Since I know you’re probably up in arms over the Ohio State loss in the Big Ten championship, I tried to keep this short (or shorter, anyway). But I wanted to let you know what Irving said about the fan who ran onto the floor. The fan, by the way, is a minor. According to the Cavs, he was in the custody of the Cleveland police as of late Saturday. The team is in favor of the maximum punishment, although that will ultimately be decided by the law enforcement folks.
• Anyway, here’s how Irving explained it: “I was running back on transition trying to (defend) my man, and I was like, “Who is this guy?’ He just said, ‘Kyrie, don’t leave.’ Just a prideful Cleveland fan. I love them.”
• Finally, Brown indicated this is another game on which the Cavs can build. And that’s very true, as the Clippers are no slouches. “The ceiling is high for us,” he said. “We just have to keep both feet in the circle and ignore the noise.”