Random thoughts on the Cavaliers’ 109-100 victory at Orlando on Friday:
• Make it five wins in six games and no less than Shaquille O’Neal predicting the Cavs will finish with the No. 3 seed in the East. Funny how everything suddenly seems on the up-and-up, huh? Winning does that.
• Obviously, there’s a long way to go. The Cavs are 9-13. That means they’ve played 22 games. Multiply that times three — and the Cavs STILL have 16 games left after you do. So no, we’re not even a third of the way through the season.
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• But you can only go by what you’ve seen lately, and for the Cavs, it’s almost all good. After their previous game against Miami, they were 4-11. They’re 5-2 since and look considerably more sure of themselves. Interestingly, Miami is Saturday’s opponent. (More on that in a minute.)
• Kyrie Irving (31 points) clearly is a big reason for the turnaround. No shocker there. Along with just shooting better than he did earlier this season, he’s playing with more composure in every area. It looks as if he’s finally adjusted to Mike Brown’s defensive-oriented system. Irving is also taking considerably better care of the ball. The Cavs are committing less turnovers and that starts with the point guard.
• Of course, we can’t forget about Dion Waiters. In the last four games, Waiters has scored 30 points, followed by three, followed by six, followed by 21 (including 16 in the crucial fourth quarter) on Friday. Of those games, Waiters’ best efforts came on the road.
• He also went after Magic forward Andrew Nicholson after Nicholson shoved Varejao to the ground in the final seconds. That’s the second time in a week Waiters has defended Varejao’s honor — as Waiters also put himself in the middle of the Varejao-Blake Griffin commotion vs. the Clippers.
• “That’s Andy, man. That’s like my big brother,” Waiters told FOX Sports Ohio after the Orlando game. “We don’t back down from nobody; I don’t back down from nobody.”
• Waiters is a product of the tough streets of Philadelphia. One front-office member told me Waiters provides the Cavs with a “South Philly edge,” compared to Irving’s “Duke polish.” Obviously, the Cavs admire both.
• I’ve already heard several people defend Nicholson’s unwarranted shove of Varejao, saying Varejao should have pulled the ball out and not taken a wide-open layup. But the Cavs only led 106-100 at the time. What happens if Varejao dribbled away from the basket … and the ball went off his shoe and rolled out of bounds… and the Magic hit a 3-pointer … and then something else went wrong? Varejao wasn’t running up the score. He was securing the victory.
• Varejao just does so many things that can irritate and dismantle the other team. He only has one speed, and it involves lots of arms and legs and being in his opponent’s face at all times.
• That was on full display vs. the Magic, as he had a huge putback after Waiters got his shot blocked at the rim. Varejao followed it in and gave the Cavs a 103-96 lead with 52 seconds left. It clearly deflated Orlando. Then, on the next possession, he stripped Magic center Nikola Vucevic for the steal. Ball game.
• And no, there’s nothing to the rumor that suggested Varejao could be sent to the Rockets for center Omer Asik. Varejao is 100 percent hustle and energy. Asik is a talented big man — but one who has done little but complain and loaf since losing his starting job to Dwight Howard. Well, here’s a newsflash: Asik would back up Andrew Bynum in Cleveland. Talent alone doesn’t make a guy a good fit. You need to have the right mindset. Otherwise, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the Knicks would be a lot better.
• Overall, the Cavs are playing with more energy on both ends of the floor. That’s how you win road games like the one Friday. Mostly, they’re simply making shots. They were a sizzling 57 percent from the field against the Knicks and a solid 48 percent vs. the Magic. And as anyone who’s played basketball can tell you, all aspects of the game seem to improve when you’re making baskets. Everything else just becomes more fun.
• On the downside, the Cavs still have too many possessions that are plain awful and involve too much one-on-one. This is what is known as “hero ball,” or a guy trying to rescue the team by himself. Unless your name is Michael Jordan In His Prime, it almost never works.
• As for the rookies, Anthony Bennett played a productive eight minutes, finishing with six points on 3-of-5 shooting. I still can’t help but wonder how Bennett would fare in the starting small forward spot alongside the likes of Irving, Bynum and Tristan Thompson. Or at least in 16-20 minutes off the bench.
• And I can’t imagine what opponents must be thinking once Matthew Dellavedova checks in and turns into the Varejao of the backcourt. Delly annoys the tar out of guys with his constant hustle and rah-rah approach. Kyrie supposedly even gave him a shove during practice early in training camp. But like Waiters and Varejao, Dellavedova was a big key in the second half, burying 2-of-3 threes for nine points, and gluing himself to Orlando’s Arron Afflalo and others on D.
• OK, now for the Heat. The Cavs already got one on the road. Brown cautioned beforehand that the Cavs couldn’t look past Friday’s game — with LeBron James and the gang on the horizon. No one expects the Cavs to actually beat the Heat. The key is to again play well and give themselves a chance. In that event, anything can happen. Especially when you’re talking about a fairly young team that is suddenly giving itself reasons to believe.
• By the way, Shaq made his prediction about the Cavs on Thursday during TNT’s popular “Inside the NBA” show. Charles Barkley predicted the Wizards, not the Cavs, would finish third in the East. But no matter how you spin it, the Cavs are looking like they have a chance. And hey, this is the East. Who doesn’t?