Minus LeBron, little things and lots of Love lift Cavs
Random dribbles on the visiting Cavaliers’ 91-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday:
1. No LeBron James, no problem for the Cavs, who simply willed their way to a victory. And they needed it after losing three straight and four of the previous five. Maybe James’ absence will actually help a little — as the rest of the Cavs can no longer just sort of wait and hope he takes over when things get tough.
2. On this night, the Cavs were fairly methodical and valued their possessions. They didn’t make too many silly passes or take too many silly shots. Overall, they committed just seven turnovers (compared to 14 for the Hornets).
3. Kevin Love (27 points) definitely buried some biggies, seemingly coming to life after falling hard in the third quarter. It looked like he injured his knee, as he stayed on the floor and sort of stretched his legs. "It scared me," Love admitted to FOX Sports Ohio.
4. Instead, Love got up to knock down back-to-back 3-pointers. He hit another one a little later to give the Cavs a one-point lead. And no shot was bigger than his well-defended baseline turnaround late in the game that basically put it away.
5. Tristan Thompson (14 points and 14 rebounds) also saved the day with his hustle, follow-up dunks and overall intelligent play around the rim. "Tristan was awesome tonight," Love said. "He kept going to the boards, kept getting putbacks." Thompson also compiled three blocked shots.
6. Thompson played in all 82 games in each of the past two seasons and has played in all 33 this year. He takes care of his body and it shows in his ability to avoid injury. Some of that, of course, is pure luck. But Thompson is both thinner and stronger than last season. He’s compiled four straight double-doubles in points and rebounds in the five games since Anderson Varejao (torn Achilles) was lost for the year.
7. The Cavs trailed by double digits in the first half, but did a much better job defensively in the second. This isn’t rocket science. Play with energy and effort and the likes of Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters will give you a chance with their ability to score. This all holds true with or without LeBron.
8. Cavs coach David Blatt on the win: "What I liked was that we competed, we played intelligently and we knew how to hold onto a lead when we had it."
9. As I’ve written before (and will again), Blatt is sort of coaching for his job. It’s hard to envision the guy being under fire already — but the Cavs possess championship aspirations and a great sense of urgency. There’s little margin for error or doubt.
10. As for shooting the ball, forget it. The Cavs went just 4-of-15 on threes and 21-of-30 on free throws. But they defended and did enough of the other little things. Their transition defense was perhaps at its best. They got back quickly and contested shots the entire second half.
11. Irving (23 points) and Waiters (17) especially struggled shooting, going a combined 16-of-48 from the field. But Irving really took charge of the offense and forced almost nothing. And Waiters grabbed five boards and compiled a game-high four steals. Irving, in particular, made his free throws when they mattered. He finished 7-of-8 from the line.
12. The Cavs (19-14) suddenly seem to understand how defense can carry you on miserable shooting nights such as Friday. "We did a great job of guarding our man first," Waiters explained. "If you guard your man first, you know the backside (help) will have your back if you get beat."
13. Waiters also admitted he’s trying to complain less to the referees when he misses a shot. It often gets in the way of hustling back on defense.
14. Waiters came up with another good reason, too. "I’m getting better with the officials," he said. "I’m trying to save my money."
15. As for Irving and Waiters missing a lot of shots, Blatt insisted it’s a non-issue. "Those are two experienced, high-level players," he said. "They took the shots they should take. We’ll take our chances with their shots."
16. Shawn Marion (seven points) did a nice job off the bench in his first game back. He missed the previous two with a sprained ankle. Marion defended well (per usual) and kept the ball moving. He also attacked the glass, finishing with 10 boards.
17. This was the Cavs’ fourth straight game without LeBron. They lost the first three. Irving, Love and Thompson had best be prepared to log heavy minutes in the two weeks James is expected to miss. Thompson logged 43 minutes Friday, Irving went for 42 and Love played 38.
18. Blatt on life without LeBron: "We’re missing the best player in the world right now. We want him to come back fast. But while he’s out, we’ll continue to play properly."
19. Seven of the Cavs’ next nine games are on the road. All nine could come without James. One of the home games is Sunday afternoon against the reloaded Dallas Mavericks — who easily won at Boston in point guard Rajon Rondo’s return Friday. The Cavs need to win a game against a good team without LeBron. If they’re physical on defense and get up and down the floor, it could happen.
20. Granted, the Hornets (10-24) aren’t the greatest team in the world. They look like a shell of themselves after making the playoffs last season. Almost everyone is back, and they added talented guard Lance Stephenson. But both Stephenson and starting center Al Jefferson were out Friday with injuries. Then again, some folks will tell you Stephenson is at the heart of most of their issues.
21. Either way, the Cavs don’t care. They needed a win and they put just enough elbow grease into getting one without the best of their superstars. That is how good teams behave.