Cavs top (really bad) Bucks in preseason opener

October 9, 2013

This is Mike Brown’s basketball team. That’s the most important takeaway from Cleveland’s 99-87 win over Milwaukee tonight at The Q, a game that was even more lopsided than the score suggests. Cleveland displayed a defensive intensity from the jump I don’t think we’ve seen since MB 1.0 ended in 2010.

The Cavs forced 23 turnovers — but had 26 of their own — and held Milwaukee to 37.7% from the field and 22.2% from distance. MB’s defense closed well on shooters across the floor, protected the rim and won the rebounding battle 50-38 minus two rotation bigs in Andrew Bynum and Tyler Zeller.  The Bucks managed just 38 points in the first half, and their starters combined for 27 points in 90 minutes, led by O.J. Mayo’s 7 on 3-10 from the field.

Let’s compare this to Cleveland’s 2012-13 D under Byron Scott:

  1. The Cavs allowed opponents 101.2 points per game (No. 25 in NBA).
  2. Cleveland opponents shot 47.6% from the field (No. 30).
  3. Cleveland opponents shot 37.2% from 3 (No. 25).

I’m not saying it’s all peaches and roses, or that the Cavs’ D is suddenly good again. Keep in mind this is a Bucks team without a real offensive threat, outside shooter, except for Caron Butler in the corner, or offensive identity. I’m just saying I like the progress and MB’s attention to detail — he must have called five timeouts tonight after missed assignments handed Milwaukee open shots.

All right, on to five quick observations:

* Dion Waiters impressed on both ends. He abused O.J. Mayo head-to-head. Waiters finished with 12 points on 4-11 shooting in 24 minutes and a game-high +/- of +23; Mayo’s +/- was a game-worst -24 in only 19 minutes. Dion’s shooting form looks much improved, and I loved his willingness to attack the cup. Twice he was rejected by LARRY SANDERS! only for Tristan Thompson to clean up the mess.

** The second unit is in good hands with Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles. I tweeted during the game the closest thing the reserves had to glue last year was Luke Walton, perhaps the reason why Cleveland lost so many games in the second quarter. Jack’s a superb facilitator — he dished out a game-high 5 assists in 16 minutes — and can score in bunches, as he proved for Golden State in last year’s playoffs.

And C.J. is arguably the team’s fourth-best wing scorer, behind the obvious Kyrie Irving, Waiters and Jack. He drilled two from distance tonight and tallied an efficient 12 points on 4-7 in 19 minutes. Of the three vying for that starting SF spot — Alonzo Gee, Earl Clark and Miles — I think C.J. has the slimmest chance but may be most important to this year’s success. Gee and Clark bring athleticism and length, but C.J.’s the far superior scorer of the three, and this team needs his instant offense when Kyrie and Dion sit.

*** Like Saturday’s Wine & Gold scrimmage, No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett started slow. Bennett’s still struggling with his jumper, especially from deep, where he finished 0-3 tonight. Bennett air-balled two 3-point attempts Saturday, air-balled a third tonight and hit nothing but backboard on a fourth. Similar to Saturday, Austin Carr commented he’s fading rather than jumping straight up, much like Dion in his rookie campaign. This guy shot 53% from the field and 38% from 3 last year at UNLV, so I trust he’ll figure it out.

Despite his 2-12 showing, Bennett impressed me inside. He was blocked on his first few interior attempts, but then started attacking his defender. He attempted eight foul shots in 23 minutes; unfortunately, he missed five of them — another issue he’ll need to correct with the coaching staff. Bennett also tied Anderson Varejao with a game-high 10 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end. The aggressiveness is clearly there; the confidence just has to follow.

**** Of the mop-up guys, Kenny Kadji looked the most NBA-ready … and may very well be playing himself onto this roster. Henry Sims was inserted before Kadji in the first quarter, but Kadji ultimately tallied more minutes, 12; more points, 15; and more rebounds, 5. Kadji almost had a nice chase-down block, too, but was whistled for a first-half foul.

Kadji has a nice inside-out game, can move up and down the floor, is a strong interior presence and possesses a nice frame — 6’10”, 242 pounds. If he doesn’t make it in Cleveland, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on a 15-man roster in another city by the end of November. (And if that doesn’t work out, he can always go to work for his family at Kadji Beer, the Budweiser of Cameroon!)

***** The Bucks are bad. Like really bad. I put out a Twitter message asking Bucks fans to chime in on their team’s offensive identity and/or who’s their primary option. One response read: “Hopefully [Andrew] Wiggins.”

LARRY SANDERS! is LARRY SANDERS! Milwaukee probably has something in Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 14 points, but the Kevin Durant comparisons need to stop. O.J. Mayo’s an overpaid volume shooter at $8 million per year on a team where he’s probably the No. 1 late-game option. And Brandon Knight’s done nothing to prove he’s a starting-caliber PG at this level.

MVP OF THE GAME

This award goes to Tristan Thompson, who finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds, 5 offensive, in 25 minutes. Thompson was a vacuum around the hoop; between he, Varejao and Clark, I see no reason why Cleveland can’t lead the league in both offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Thompson’s right-handed foul shot also looked good; he finished 3-4 from the line.

ON TO THE NEXT ONE

Cleveland’s in Orlando at 7 p.m. EST on Friday night. The game’s on NBA TV. A good chance to see Orlando’s young wing talent, particularly Victor Oladipo, who had some, um, not-so-nice words for Cleveland a month ago, and Tobias Harris. I’ll be at a hockey game, but try to catch a replay and blog some observations over the weekend.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

RELATED: KYRIE IRVING SHINES IN CAVS’ WINE & GOLD SCRIMMAGE

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Kyrie shines in Cavs’ Wine & Gold scrimmage

October 6, 2013

Editor’s note: Yes, this is the first post on this blog in two months. Yes, I hope to post more now that the season’s around the corner. And I’ll also concentrate more efforts on covering the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thanks for reading.

Kyrie Irving’s 17 points led Team Wine to a 46-38 victory over Team Gold in today’s abbreviated Wine & Gold scrimmage for military members and their families. Mike Brown called the game midway through the third quarter after Tyler Zeller sustained what appears to be a minor hip strain, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Schmitt Boyer.

THE TEAMS

Team Wine: Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao. Bench: Sergey Karasev, Henry Sims, Kenny Kadji, Elliot Williams.

Team Gold: Zeller, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, C.J. Miles, Anthony Bennett. Bench: Carrick Felix, Michael Lee, Matthew Dellavedova, DeSagana Diop, Jermaine Taylor.

* Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark changed teams after halftime.

THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME

* Jarrett Jack. I’m already happy to eat some of my concerns re: the Jack signing — that a 4-year, $25.2-million deal was too hefty a financial commitment. Jack wasn’t sensational today; he finished with 9 points and 6 assists. But it was clear from the opening tap he was the glue on the inferior Gold team. His playmaking ability, as a passer and scorer, has to be a welcome reprieve for Irving (say goodbye to the days of Dion running point!). GM Chris Grant mentioned on the broadcast that Jack often leads this Gold squad to victories in practice game against the Wine team, aka the temporary starters.

You can already tell his competitiveness will bring out the best in Kyrie, and the Dukie expended some serious energy on the defensive end against Jack. The question is how will Brown split playing time between Jack and Dion in the backcourt — and where does that leave C.J. Miles. Right now, based on his play and leadership ability, I’d expect Jack to see heavy fourth quarter minutes.

** Tyler Zeller. I’m not sure there’s a Cleveland player I’ve personally been harder on since Drew Gooden, but Zeller impressed today. Perhaps not to the extent of Dion, but his physique has been one of the storylines of training camp. (I’m not sure of his listed weight now vs. last year, but he does look — and play — stronger.) Zeller was the most impressive of Cleveland’s bigs, finishing with 13 points.

One play stands out: Zeller caught the ball in the paint with Tristan and another defender standing in front of the hoop. Instead of trying to finesse around them, he went straight to the rim looking to dunk and drew a foul on Thompson. Zeller’s competing with Thompson, AV, Bennett, Clark and eventually Andrew Bynum (hopefully) for frontcourt minutes. The mid-range jumper is there; Zeller needs to continue to finish strong, rebound the basketball and defend.

*** Kyrie Irving. Head and shoulders the best player on the court. Irving says he wants to be the NBA’s best player in Year No. 3, and he’s at least on his way to joining the conversation. Mr. Fourth Quarter finished with 17 points, made four of his six 3-point attempts, including about a 30-footer before the halftime horn, and displayed those filthy handles that Brandon Knight still has nightmares about. Kyrie had no problem splitting defenders at the top and finding the open teammate near the hoop with passes nobody should be able to make.

Perhaps of most importance: I liked Kyrie’s commitment on the defensive end. He was active, in passing lanes and even chasing rebounds. (I’d pay just about anything to see he and Jarrett Jack go at it 1-on-1; those two guys have crazy competitive spirits that already seem to be mutually beneficial.) The bottom line: Kyrie’s in midseason form, and I fear for anyone in his way.

3 RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

* Anthony Bennett was up and down. The No. 1 overall pick air-balled his first two jumpers; both times, he appeared to looking down toward his feet to make sure he was beyond the NBA 3-point line. Carr noticed that he appeared to be fading on his shot — a concern Dion Waiters addressed this summer, and one frequently mentioned on the broadcast.

Bennett was involved, one for the better and another for the worse, in two of the game’s highlight plays. The latter: on a secondary break, Gee crossed up the rookie before a lefty lay-in; the former: a Bennett facial on Gee. After a rocky start, Bennett, like many of the other guys, appeared to settle into a rhythm. Important to note: MB’s not likely to ask much of the rookie early this year.

** You’ve got to love Carrick Felix’s energy. He plays at one speed and expends as much effort as anyone else on the floor. He finished with 2 points on 2-4 from the FT line, but his highlight play came on the defensive end, where he flashed quick recovery speed to block an Elliot Williams perimeter jumper. I love his effort and athleticism as an outside defensive specialist.

But Felix has to learn to play smart. He had an open, left-corner 3-ball that he passed up to recklessly drive on Gee and Henry Sims to no avail. I also have concerns about his ball-handling ability. That said, he looks to be a lock to make the team and will have ample time to develop in practice, or perhaps with the D-League club in Canton.

*** It was a fairly quiet day for Thompson and Varejao, but we did see Thompson’s new and improved right-handed foul shot. He missed both of his attempts, but his form definitely looks cleaner. TT shot 78% on 37 attempts in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas this offseason, a 20-point improvement over his career average.

Note: You can watch the full scrimmage on Cavs.com.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Some Cavs schedule notes.

August 7, 2013

The NBA has released its full 2013-14 schedule of games, and the Cleveland Cavaliers will open their season against the revamped Brooklyn Nets in an NBA TV affair on October 30. (Find the full schedule here.)

The Cavs and Nets have been 2 of the league’s most active franchises this summer — Cleveland’s re-hired Mike Brown as head coach, drafted Anthony Bennett at No. 1, and signed Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum and Earl Clark to free-agent contracts, while Brooklyn’s hired the just-retired Jason Kidd as head coach, traded for future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and also added a stable of veterans that includes Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Jason Terry and Alan Anderson.

Three years ago this summer, the Cavs opened against KG, Pierce and the Celtics in their post-LeBron debut, scoring a 95-87 win at Quicken Loans Arena. This one’s likely to have a similar atmosphere, and not just because it’s Livingston’s return to Cleveland. The Cavs are 2-1 in home openers in the post-LBJ era.

I like the NBA’s bet here. These are 2 likely playoff teams sure to grab the headlines this year, one for its aging All Stars and the other, if nothing else, for LeBron James’s pending free agency.

Then, there’s the questions. How will Kidd fare in his coaching debut? How will Brooklyn’s starting lineup of 4 superstars — past and present, mostly past — share the ball in the half court? And how will Bynum perform in his first real game action in nearly 18 months?

A few other nuggets on the schedule, in no order of importance.

* I counted 20 back-to-backs through 82 games, with the latter half of 11 of those coming on the road.

* The Cavs have a chance to start fast. Only 4 of the team’s first 13 games are against playoff teams from 2012-13, one of which comes versus a Milwaukee team that lost 3 of its best 4 players, Brandon Jennings (Detroit), Monta Ellis (Dallas) and J.J. Redick (LAC), this summer. That stretch also includes 2 games each against Charlotte, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington.

* The longest stretch of road games I counted was 5, from Jan. 10 to Jan. 17, right after which the Cavs return to The Q for 5, from Jan. 20 to Jan. 28, the longest home stretch of the season. The away stretch: Utah, Sacramento, LAL, Portland and Denver; the home stretch: Dallas, Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix and New Orleans.

* I only counted 2 other road trips of at least 3 games — Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, at New York, Houston and Dallas; and March 12 to March 16, at Phoenix, Golden State and LAC.

* To the naked eye, the most brutal stretch of games comes Nov. 22 to Dec. 10; the games: at New Orleans, at San Antonio, vs. Miami, at Boston, vs. Chicago, vs. Denver, at Atlanta, vs. LAC and vs. New York. After New Orleans, that’s 8 straight against postseason teams from a year ago, though Boston, Denver and maybe Atlanta are likely to regress.

* Immediately after this stretch comes a 2-day Florida sweep: at Orlando on Dec. 13 and at Miami the next day.

* Ironically, the Cavs’ second home game against Brooklyn, whom they open the season with, is the last game of the season on April 16.

* LeBron’s return to The Q comes early this year — on Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving. Miami returns to Cleveland on March 18.

* Andrew Bynum doesn’t have to wait long to play his most recent team, the Philadelphia 76ers … and Philly fans don’t have to wait long to boo. Cleveland and Philly play a home-and-home on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, the first of which comes at Wells Fargo Center in a Friday night slot that I’d guess could be a national TV affair.

* Jarrett Jack doesn’t return to the ORACLE until March 14, but Golden State travels to Cleveland on Dec. 29.

* The ex-Lakers contingent of Bynum, Mike Brown and Earl Clark returns to L.A. on Jan. 14. The Lakers travel to Cleveland on Feb. 5.

* With Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in the fold, Detroit figures to compete for a low playoff seed, potentially against the division-rival Cavs. Two of Cleveland’s last 10 come against the Pistons, including an April 9 affair at The Q. The other 2 meetings are Dec. 23, at Cleveland, and Feb. 12, at Detroit.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Andrew Bynum to Cavs: All reward, no risk

July 12, 2013

Andrew Bynum is your newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The news of an incentive-laced 2-year, $24-million deal, first reported Wednesday by ESPN’s Chris Broussard, brought out excited Cavs fans on Twitter. And why not.

Admittedly hesitant at first, here’s why I love this deal.

Not a lot of financial risk.

$6 million guaranteed in Year No. 1, Year 2’s a team option. Sign me up!

If Bynum flops, Chris Grant lets him walk next summer and maintains flexibility to sign a max-contract player, such as a LeBron James. Even after the signings of Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack, the Cavs needed to spend to reach the $52-million salary floor. Why not spend it on a 7-footer who’s still only 25 and has averaged double-figure scoring every year he’s played since 2007-08, all while carrying the burden of being Shaquille O’Neal’s successor in L.A.

If Bynum plays well, Grant owns a team option for an affordable $12.5 million, barely $1 million more than DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee are scheduled to make, next season. Trade Anderson Varejao and decline team options on Clark and Alonzo Gee, and, boom, you’ve got your max slot again!

Or, Grant could pick up Bynum’s team option and then shop him. L.A. picked up Bynum’s option last summer, only to deal him to Philadelphia in the Dwight Howard trade 2 months later.

The injury history is real, but doesn’t bother me.

Not every day does a team add a 19-point, 12-rebound-a-night center. Those were Bynum’s stats in 60 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, under current Cavs coach Mike Brown, while sharing touches with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. He’s a 2-time NBA champion with 74 postseason games under his belt, easily the most among any current Cavs player barring a Luke Walton return.

Sure, Bynum’s a health risk. He’s played only one 82-game season throughout his 8-year career, and he’s missed at least 15 games 5 out of 7 times since he started earning meaningful minutes in 2006-07. Much is made of how Bynum’s knees, re-aggravated during a November bowling injury, kept him out of all last season in Philly, and how many, including Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, have questioned his work ethic.

But now, Bynum’s legitimately playing for his NBA career. If he flops in Cleveland, and if the knee issues return, he’s going to have a hard time finding anything more than veteran-minimum dollars in free agency next summer.

Look at this roster. This is a playoff team.

There’s five teams in the Eastern Conference above everyone else — in no particular order, Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana, Chicago and New York. Boston traded 2 of its 3 best players, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, to Brooklyn, sent their Hall-of-Fame coach to L.A. and could be shopping Rajon Rondo. Atlanta lost Josh Smith to Detroit, and Milwaukee’s likely to lose Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick.

I see the Cavs, next to Washington and Detroit, competing for those 6-8 playoff spots, along with Atlanta, maybe Toronto and whatever Boston throws on the floor.

The Cavs needed an offensive punch, so here comes Bynum, Jack and No. 1 selection Anthony Bennett. The Cavs needed a defensive mentality, so here comes Mike Brown, Clark and Jack.

Barring any other major moves or injuries, that’s a rotation of Kyrie Irving and Bynum, 2 of the league’s top 30 players when healthy; Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Bennett, Jack, Clark, Tyler Zeller, C.J. Miles, Gee and maybe Sergey Karasev. That’s 11 quality NBA talents.

And when they need buckets, a 3-guard lineup of Irving, Waiters and Jack, coupled with Bynum and Bennett would give defenses a lot to handle.

Yeah, I really like this team.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 reasons to love the Earl Clark signing

July 5, 2013

About 86 hours into free agency, Chris Grant made his first move. Enter Sporting News’ Sean Deveney.

And TNT’s David Aldridge.

Boom. And here’s 3 reasons why I love this deal.

1. It’s all about the $.

A team option for year No. 2 of this deal means zero risk for the Cavaliers, a team clearly trying to preserve at least enough cap space for next summer to make a run at a max free agent. If Clark fails to meet expectations, Grant can easily wash his hands of the former Louisville product a year from now, and we’re right back where we started.

Should he so desire, Grant could still throw $15 million a year at a Nikola Pekovic, Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala and remain firmly under the cap, though I’d guess those are unlikely. Or, Grant could fill out his roster with short-term deals and rookie contracts, then leave ample room for a major splash next summer, should LeBron James explore the market. Until this year’s rookie class is signed, the Cavaliers actually have $0 on the books for next season, just team options.

On Clark’s end, after a breakout year in an ugly situation, I expected more potential suitors. Clark had never played more than 12.5 minutes per game before last season, and still only averaged 7.3 points with the Lakers. But his age, 25; size and versatility, 6’10” and can play the 3 or 4; and range, 34% from 3 last year and improving, make him an appealing target.

Now, he’s in Cleveland on essentially a 1-year, $4.5-million deal. And you know he’ll work his ass off because it’s very much a contract year.

2. Versatility, baby.

That Mike Brown loved this kid enough to help lure him to Cleveland, after coaching him for only 5 regular season games in L.A., tells me a lot. Mike D’Antoni said last year that Clark could guard all 5 positions. With Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao at the 4, early reports indicate the Cavs plan on using Clark at the 3. Clark should compete with Alonzo Gee and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, another stretch 3-4 at 6’7″, for a starting spot.

A thrown-in part of the Dwight Howard deal, Clark averaged a very respectable 11.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. L.A.’s most commonly used 5-man lineup — Clark, Howard, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash — left Clark at the 4 for close to 340 minutes. D’Antoni loved Clark so much, he started him in 36 games, often over 4-time All Star Pau Gasol.

Clark immediately becomes the best perimeter defender on the Cavs’ roster. In a conference with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, he’ll draw a range of assignments.

Consider these words from ESPN L.A.’s Dave McMenamin, who covers the Lakers.

3. Another weapon for Kyrie, Cavs.

Just add another face to a team loaded with young, quality talent. I’m not suggesting Clark is as important to Cleveland’s long-term future as Kyrie Irving, Thompson, Bennett or even Dion Waiters, but it’s not every day you add a playoff-caliber role player. (I’m not concerned with his dismal postseason stats against the Spurs — 3.5 points, 3 rebounds and 37% shooting — given how short-handed L.A. was for that series.)

I anointed Clark one of my 5 second-tier free agents to watch last week, before I knew Cleveland had interest. If there was any doors open on a Luke Walton or Omri Casspi return, those are, thankfully, shut. With team options on both for 2014-15, I’m guessing Clark and Gee will spend 2013-14 fighting for one spot, unless the Cavs strike out next July.

This move was made because of Clark’s defensive prowess. But he can grow as a 3-point shooter — hopefully enough to stretch the floor for Kyrie-AV pick-and-rolls and Tristan post-ups — and rebounder.

By no means is this a blockbuster move. But be excited, fellow Cavs fans.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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