Bennett looks like rookie, but overall, Cavs getting it right

CLEVELAND — Random thoughts from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 99-87 preseason win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday:

• Our first look at No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett resulted in Cavs coach Mike Brown saying little and giving a hand gesture that indicated, “Eh, so-so.” But let’s remember, Bennett missed most of the summer following shoulder surgery. And No. 1 pick or not, he’s a rookie playing his first (almost) real NBA game.

• Now, Brown isn’t being too hard on Bennett. Brown’s just being a coach. He’s just being himself. And you could see Brown’s impact right away. He demands defense and attention to detail. For the first preseason game, the Cavs appeared extremely well-organized and focused.

• As Brown has constantly preached to his young team, winning isn’t a weekly or monthly process. “It’s a play-by-play process,” he said. Brown has repeatedly told the Cavs that defending for 23 of the 24 seconds on the shot clock won’t cut it. “No possessions off,” is the rally cry.
• Anyway, back to Bennett. His first shot attempt was a straight-on 3-pointer that crashed into the backboard. He made just two of 12 shots and went a miserable 3-for-8 on free throws. But at 6-foot-8 and about 260 pounds, he continued to throw his body around down low and showed a lot of grit, tying Anderson Varejao with a team-high 10 rebounds. It’s pretty evident what the Cavs saw in the kid.

• Yes, Bennett appeared winded. Yes, he had several defensive lapses. (“He was responsible for four of the five timeouts I called,” Brown said.) And yes, it will likely be more of the same for a while. That’s OK by Brown. “I don’t expect anything from him but to give effort,” Brown said.

• OK, now for the Cavs you already knew and loved. That likely starts with Kyrie Irving, and includes Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Varejao. Irving almost seemed to play at half-speed, but that wasn’t actually the case. He just makes it look so doggone effortless. He finished with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting (including 2-for-4 on threes) and was clearly dedicated on D.

• Meanwhile, Thompson put forth perhaps the best performance of anyone, missing just three shots on his way to 17 points. He also grabbed eight boards in about 25 minutes. Is he a righty, is he a lefty or is he undecided? Who knows, who cares and the Cavs just hope he can keep this up.

• As for Varejao, he was simply Varejao. If you know anything about the guy, you know what that means. A lot of hustle, a lot of agitating the opponent, a lot of showing the younger guys that this, folks, is how it’s done. And what fun it always is.

• Or how about Waiters? He scored 12 points with what appeared to be a much more fluid jumper. It’s true that he made just four of 11 shots, but it just looked better — even when missed. Not a surprise, as Waiters has been working on going straight up on his shot (as opposed to fading). Overall, he’s much smoother.

• Now, all of that’s probably way more than Brown wants to hear about offense. But he did actually make one comment on that facet. “We had some good moments where the ball was humming,” he said, and he was right.

• Added Irving: “I think we did a great job. We held them to 35-percent shooting. … I was really impressed with the effort on both ends and the way we shared the ball.”

• Oh, and about those timeouts. Brown seemed to call one every time there was something that resembled a slip-up defensively. That wasn’t a coincidence. “They gotta understand how important each possession is,” he said. If that means using all his timeouts quickly, “then I’ll do it,” Brown said.

• Not to be forgotten was the performance of forward Kenny Kadji off the bench. The undrafted rookie impressed the Cavs with his all-around game in summer play. Tuesday, he scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds.

Bucks nuggets

• OK, on to the Bucks. Not surprisingly, they looked like a bunch of Anthony Bennetts, running around without a real idea as to how this might work. The answer: Not good. Again, no shocker there. The Bucks have a new coach (Larry Drew) and 11 news faces, including three new starters.

• Afterward, Drew admitted, “We can’t expect it to be smooth. … We have a way to go.”

• Read: This could be a trying season for Milwaukee. At the very least, the Bucks seem doomed to a slow start. But you could do a lot worse than an all-new starting backcourt of O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight. “When (Mayo) gets it going, he can be as good as anyone in the league,” Drew said.

• On the bright side, rookie forward Giannis Antetokounm looks like one smooth operator with the ball in his hands. He finished with 14 points, a couple of assists and three surprising blocked shots. All that, and he’s 18 years old.

• On the down side, starting small forward Ersan Ilyasova, a major piece of this year’s team, went down with a sprained ankle in the second quarter. X-rays showed no fracture, but more tests are coming Wednesday.

• Ilyasova left Quicken Loans Arena on crutches. “I’ve twisted that ankle before, but never that bad,” he said. “It really hurts when I step on it. I’ll get a lot of treatment and we’ll see, but it’s really disappointing.”

Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO