Cavaliers get it done in style, and yes, with a smile
CLEVELAND — It’s hard to know what you’ll get from the Cavaliers from night to night, but things sure have been fun lately. And that’s all you really have to go on.
Make it three straight wins after a 109-99 cruise job over the visiting Sacramento Kings in front of a smallish (14,245 announced) but fairly loud crowd Tuesday.
The Cavs weren’t perfect, but as acting GM David Griffin pointed out earlier this week, this is the NBA. No one is flawless.
What the Cavs have done lately, it seems, is handled their occasional less-than-perfection quite well. They’ve handled it like men.
They also seem to be doing something else Griffin said he’s seeking — along with the obvious goal of winning, the Cavs are suddenly enjoying themselves and smiling. They’re sharing the ball, they’re working hard for good shots, they’re keeping things simple and forcing little. They’re making the whole experience, dare we say, fun.
"Our guys did a nice job of trying to move the basketball and keeping the floor spaced," said coach Mike Brown.
It’s not often you hear such a defensive-minded man gloat about the O. In fact, the first thing Brown mentioned (and repeated) was how the Cavs racked up their 41 baskets via 30 assists.
That, kids, is teamwork.
Dion Waiters came off the bench to lead the way with eight assists — a few of which resulted in highlight-worthy scores. Kyrie Irving passed for six. Matthew Dellavedova compiled five and Luol Deng and Jarrett Jack four apiece.
Of course, the line of the night belonged to no less than rookie forward Anthony Bennett. He totaled a career-high 19 points. He corralled a career-high 10 rebounds. He looked Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins in the eye and erupted for a double-double.
Actually, it didn’t exactly go down that way, but there’s no denying Bennett is gaining steam as the season progresses, and that’s great. The Cavs (19-33) need him.
In six February games, Bennett is averaging 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. He’s even making 63 percent of his 3-pointers. On Wednesday, he played nearly 30 minutes, helping fill the void in the absence of sore-all-over center Anderson Varejao (who will also sit out Wednesday’s game at Detroit).
Perhaps that is why Tristan Thompson — who compiled a very underrated 16 points and 13 rebounds himself — summed up the evening this way: "We’re playing together and sharing the ball," before adding of Bennett, "young fella came out and played."
This is a quick about-face for Bennett. It was just a week or two ago when fans and media alike wondered why the Cavs refused to demote him to the minor-league club in Canton.
Now, no one wants him anywhere but in a Cavaliers uniform.
Brown admitted Bennett’s sudden increase in playing time wasn’t a one-man call. Former GM Chris Grant, the assistant coaches and the medical staff also played a role. "It was one of those things where you said, ‘You know what? He’s ready,’" Brown said.
The coach also predicted Bennett is "even better than what you saw tonight."
Interestingly, Cousins (21 points, 10 rebounds) sort of joked he didn’t really know much about Bennett. But Kings coach Michael Malone sure seemed to appreciate him.
"I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so," Malone said. "His No. 1 guy came in and gets his career high in points and rebounds."
But as great as it was for Bennett, this was a team-wide effort in the truest sense.
Deng was as good as ever (and by "ever," that includes his Chicago days), efficiently going for 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Waiters scored 20 in perhaps his best all-around effort of the year. Irving ran the offense to near-perfection, tallying 13 points and committing one measly turnover.
The Cavs have one game left before the All-Star break. The last three have been good examples of where they could go from here.
But that’s big picture stuff. Right now, you’re getting your wish, Mr. Griffin. The Cavs are smiling more.