With another win, Cavs look closer to good things
CLEVELAND — Random hits from the Cavaliers’ 98-88 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at The Q:
• Well, there you have it, Cleveland fans. A winning streak. Granted, it’s just two games, but it would be tough to call this anything other than the Cavs’ best game of the season.
• Entering the night, the Cavs had two main goals: 1. Slow down electric Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson; 2. Crash the boards and keep the Nuggets from getting out on the break. The two are often related. “That engine is pushed by Ty Lawson,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said before the game. “He’s relentless.”
• Lawson finished a miserable 1-of-13 shooting for four little points (although he did pass for a game-high 11 assists). The Cavs also marched off with a 58-43 rebounding advantage. That’s called hitting your targets.
• So much went right in this one … well, it’s tough to know where to begin. But we rarely start with Tristan Thompson, and he truly was the man of the night. Thompson was uncompromising near the basket, grabbing a career-high 21 rebounds, including nine big ones on the offensive end. He also tallied 17 points. Perhaps just as meaningful, he did a nice job defensively on Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (seven points, four boards).
• Then there was Anderson Varejao. His best role seems to be in reserve, and he was fantastic on this night: 18 points, 7-of-9 shooting and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes behind Andrew Bynum. Brown has always managed to keep Varejao’s minutes reasonable — dating back to Brown’s first stint with the Cavs (2005-10). That’s a good thing. It helps Varejao stay injury-free and often-productive.
• And when was the last time we talked about the Cavs this long without mentioning Kyrie Irving? That sometimes happens when you’re a returning All-Star. We just expect you to be good. It’s only when you’re not good that you hear from us. Right? Right. Anyway, Kyrie was certainly good, calmly running the offense, not forcing much and finishing with a team-high 23 points. The Cavs looked fairly fluid offensively, and Irving was at least 60 percent of the reason why. (Probably more.)
• Now on to Bynum. He couldn’t hit anything early. Everything was short and ugly. He even had his shot blocked by ever-improving Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov in the third quarter. But the Cavs kept feeding him the ball anyway. And when a guy is 7-foot tall and wider than Berea, that’s not a bad idea. In the end, Bynum finished with a solid 14 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Mostly, not enough can be said about the impact he makes on defense — and all he has to do is stand near the hoop.
• By the way, after Mozgov blocked Bynum’s shot, Bynum went at him again two possessions later. This time, Bynum scored on a nifty turnaround six-foot jumper. Then he turned toward the Nuggets’ bench and nodded his head in celebration. Apparently, there’s a little trash-talking going on in these games. Imagine that.
• Overall, the Cavs played inspired basketball, the type that makes you think they may be on to something. “It was encouraging because, if you think about it, while we’re going through all this, we’re learning how to win,” Brown said. “We’re trying to figure ourselves out and all that other stuff. It’s tough. But our guys have been great.”
• Meanwhile, there was this from Thompson on his matchup on Faried: “There’s a lot of good bigs in this league that can rebound and he’s definitely one of them. He kind of gets them going, so my role was just kind of to take him out of it, and that’s what I did.”
• Former Cavs power forward J.J. Hickson is off to a nice start in his first season as the Nuggets’ starting center. He had a decent game again Wednesday, finishing with 15 rebounds and 11 boards. Hickson talked about Cavs rookie Anthony Bennett and Mike Brown before the game. You can read about it here.
• Bennett, by the way, had a respectable evening in his 10 minutes. He hit his first jumper, a 3-pointer, on his way to five points. I also liked how he got the ball in the post on a couple of occasions and seemed to know what to do with it. As I’ve written repeatedly, let’s see more of the kid.
• I tweeted that Bennett finally looked like a No. 1 draft pick. Someone disagreed and fired back, “He finally looks like an NBA player.” I’d say he was actually somewhere in between.
• The Cavs (6-12) have played much better in their previous two games, and not just because they won. Their spacing is better offensively, making it easier for them to get the ball into Bynum — and for Bynum to actually have a chance once he receives the pass. Defensively, they held the Nuggets to 17 below their average of 105 points per game.
• The current starting lineup of Bynum, Irving, Thompson, C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee is 2-0. Brown said he’s going to stick with it for a while. At last, things feel better. But the Cavs have two toughies over the weekend — traveling to Atlanta on Friday before returning home Saturday to face the L.A. Clippers. Win ’em both, and this place will start to get crazy.