Victory not perfect, but it’s a lot closer to good for Cavs
Random stuff from the Cavaliers’ 97-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday at The Q:
• With the win, the Cavs are just 1 ½ games out of the East’s final playoff spot. Obviously, that’s a joke. But the point is, even at 5-12, the Cavs don’t need to panic.
• This was far from perfect, as the Cavs blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and had to hang on at the end. But they played with considerably more energy, and considerably smarter, than they had in about two weeks. More than anything, after losing five straight … they just needed a win, baby.
• I should probably get to the Andrew Bynum mention now. He led the way with season-highs of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 30 minutes. That last number impressed me most, because I was a little worried we’d never see it. I certainly never envisioned Bynum playing that many minutes in a single game anytime in November or December.
• Bynum also blocked five shots and altered countless others. He went 8-of-14 from the floor himself. Basically, he looked a lot closer to the All-Star center who played for Mike Brown two seasons ago with the Lakers than the one who sat out all of last year with Philadelphia.
• We entered the season expecting to know the top five seeds in the East (in any order): Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York. Spots Nos. 6-8 were supposedly up for grabs. But based on the first month, everyone has a chance to fight for third behind the Pacers and Heat. The Bulls lost Derrick Rose to injury, and the Nets and Knicks are off to putrid starts. Can you name a clear-cut favorite for No. 3 in the East? I sure can’t.
• So if Bynum can continue to progress and have more nights like Saturday … hey, don’t laugh. But I know. One step at a time. Even as good as Bynum was, the Cavs still have a ways to go to be considered a team on the rise. It was a win, but it was just one game. Either way, there’s no denying it was a big relief.
• Word around the league is to get physical with the Cavs early and they’ll fold. Pretty much the opposite happened Saturday, as Kyrie Irving (19 points, six assists and ZERO turnovers) set the tone by playing with urgency and taking it right at the Bulls.
• Irving was very good, but I’m going to be a Negative Nelly for a second. Keep in mind what follows isn’t a criticism as much as it is an observation.
• It’s fairly evident Kyrie’s shooting touch has mostly abandoned him. Lots of those nifty spin shots in traffic aren’t dropping. His success rate on the perimeter is iffy. A lot of his shots (or at least a lot more than usual) are getting blocked. Irving is still fantastic, obviously. I just can’t wait until he reclaims his stroke.
• What does annoy me (and it admittedly is MY problem), is Irving’s free-throw shooting. He seems to miss one every game. As much as he goes to the basket, he needs to have mostly perfect nights at the line. Now, he’s making just a shade less than 80 percent of his free throws. That’s pretty doggone good. But he set the bar high by hitting 83 percent for his career. He needs to get back up there, or better, soon. Especially now, as the Cavs haven’t exactly been blowing out opponents when they do win.
• I don’t understand how this happens, either. These guys shoot hundreds of free throws at the end of practice. I’m not sure what the ritual is, but I say guards don’t leave the gym until they hit 20 in a row, and 10 in a row for big men. That shouldn’t be asking too much at this level. Free throws are so absolutely critical. They cost San Antonio a championship last season (just rewind the last two minutes of Game 6 of the Finals for evidence).
• I’ve written way too much without mentioning Dion Waiters. He’s been great in the past three games (maybe more, but I can’t think back that far). Entering Saturday night, the Cavs’ bench led the NBA in scoring (54.0 ppg) since Mike Brown placed Waiters in reserve (Nov. 20). The problem, of course, has been the scoring of the starters, but that’s another note for another time.
• For now, let’s focus on Waiters. He wants to start. Everyone does. But he’s killing that notion by having his best games as a sixth man. He said after Saturday’s game he’ll do whatever it takes to win. I believe him. And as any coach (and most players) will tell you, it’s not who starts. It’s who finishes.
• Waiters ended up with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Eight-of-10! He also committed four turnovers without an assist — but again, small steps. Besides, it’s easier to overlook some of the negative when the night ends with a positive.
• The small forward spot makes me miserable and I wish Brown would start Anthony Bennett.
• There. I said it.
• I may be wrong, but I don’t see how Bennett can give you less than Alonzo Gee. Bennett certainly couldn’t be much worse. Not that Gee is awful, but there are too many nights when it’s easy to forget he’s even on the floor. Mostly, the Cavs are getting killed by opposing small forwards. The Celtics’ Jeff Green scored 31 points on Friday, the Bulls’ Luol Deng had 27 on Saturday. Gee is a better defender than Bennett at this stage. But if you’re gonna give up large numbers to the opposing three spot anyway … why not give the rookie a real opportunity?
• It would be different if the Cavs hadn’t selected Bennett with the first overall pick. They could’ve picked anyone they wanted. THEY chose Bennett. So if he can’t play, guess who’s to blame?
• I’ve preached patience since the start of the season, and I’m not about to change now. But we’re getting closer to that 30-game mark. You should have some semblance of a rotation. Brown certainly has a semblance, but is admittedly still searching. But the front office hasn’t done him any favors at small forward. So why not try Bennett?
• It may sound like I’m being overly critical of general manager Chris Grant, but that’s not my intent. If you think the Cavs are struggling now, just imagine if I ran the team. I promise you that the 26-game losing streak of 2010-11 would be shattered. So the Bennett thing is just my own personal preference. It doesn’t mean it would work. It could be a disaster.
• If I owned an NBA team, I’d leave the basketball decisions to the basketball people. I’d never want to meddle. But I might place a call to the GM, casually mentioning that I’d like to see what the No. 1 overall pick can do (and soon). It’s gonna sound harsh, but I’d want a decision made on the top draft pick so I could eventually make a decision on the people who picked him. Actually, that’s not harsh. That’s life in pro sports.
• P.S. Bennett played just six minutes (and scored two points) Saturday. This despite the fact Earl Clark was out sick.
• P.S.S. It was good to see CJ Miles back in the starting lineup at shooting guard. He’s a great guy who is great to have around the team and is capable of big nights. I’ve been impressed with Miles’ defense. That says a lot, because that was never really his specialty.
• Yes, I’m Mr. Sunshine when the Cavs lose and that Negative Nelly jerk when they win. I promise, it wasn’t planned. The bottom line on Saturday is the Cavs got it done. Bynum and Waiters were awesome, Tristan Thompson (14 points, 14 rebounds) came back to life and Kyrie was Kyrie as usual. That’s all good news, and fans should feel a little better about following this team and seeing where it goes. I still believe some really cool things could happen.