Cavs respond to coach, top 'Cats

Cavs respond to coach, top 'Cats

Published Apr. 5, 2011 9:13 p.m. ET

CLEVELAND --  It’s been a tough season for Cleveland basketball, but anyone who has watched the Cavaliers lately knows there have been the occasional rays of hope.

An example of that came in a 99-89 victory over visiting Charlotte on Tuesday, when the Cavs were challenged by their coach, and quickly responded.

That’s different from three weeks ago, when Byron Scott assured players their every on-court move was being monitored closely -- and that the season’s final month would serve as sort of a try-out for next year.

Scott seemed to be making threats, and with the way the team was playing, you couldn’t blame him.

But things are different today, and wins and losses aside, that is pretty good news in an otherwise too-often-disheartening season.

And the reasons for feeling good, or at least OK, are promising. The Cavs have been believing in themselves, playing with a little confidence and yes, taking blame when things don’t go their way. It may not be championship stuff, but it’s a mindset on which a foundation can be built.

That is a lot different than the beginning of the year.

“After all of the tough things that happened, we are starting to understand what it’s all about to play basketball the right way and win games,” Cavs guard Daniel Gibson said.

In Tuesday’s game, that could best be seen with how the Cavs -- particularly center Ryan Hollins and forward J.J. Hickson -- dealt with Bobcats big men Kwame Brown and Boris Diaw.

These same two teams played last week, and Brown and Diaw dominated the interior in a one-point Charlotte victory.

“Those two guys kicked our butts,” was how Scott put it.

But it was a different story Tuesday, with Hickson and Hollins out-hustling and out-muscling their counterparts near the rim. Each finished with 16 points, and Hickson grabbed a whopping 19 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Brown finished with 10 points and just two boards, while Diaw made just one field goal for three points -- less than a week after torching the Cavs for 26 points and 11 assists.

Scott demanded Hickson and Hollins do a better job protecting the rim and just playing more physical this time.

“We took that challenge as a team with help-side defense, as well being scrappy,” Hickson said. “I had tonight circled on my calendar.”

Hickson also spoke the truth when he called this a team-wide effort. Ramon Sessions came off the bench to compile 18 points on 5-for-7 shooting, and starting small forward Alonzo Gee scored a quiet 13.

All of which took place against a Bobcats team that is fighting to make the playoffs. But following Tuesday’s loss, the Bobcats might be best served to focus on next season, too. They are now 2 ½ games behind Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East, and time is running out quickly. Charlotte has five games left, Indiana has four (including three at home).

Anyway, back to the Cavs.

Besides Scott, deserving tons of credit for this mini-turnaround is veteran point guard Baron Davis (11 points, five assists, unlimited leadership).

As Hollins said, “He picks up the level of play of our team. We have a team of young guys, so we need a guy like that.”

Davis will have a chance to do for this franchise what World B. Free did back in the 1980s, when the Cavs were a mishmash of youth and veterans. Free came to Cleveland later in his career and carried his Cavs teams to unexpected things -- and Davis is likely to do the same next season.

He’s already done it in limited time this year.

You can see as much with the way the Cavs (16-51) have matured as players, with the way they have managed to win games like the one Tuesday.

“We have a young team, so we understand that our future is ahead of us,” Gibson said. “We are going to play all 82 games as hard as we can because we’re trying to build something. Coach Scott is the head of that horse.

“The philosophies he teaches us of playing hard all the time, playing defense and playing together, you have to build on those things.”

With just five games left, that is nice to know.