The Mike Brown era has begun once again in Cleveland. The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night 99-87 in Brown’s return to Quicken Loans arena, and it was really never that close.
The Cavs limited the Bucks to 38 percent shooting and forced 23 turnovers. They were up 52-38 at the half and led by as many as 22 points. Tristan Thompson led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Kyrie Irving contributed 14 points and three assists. Thompson shot 70 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line, so the hand switch seems to be working thus far. Irving was Irving. He had some highlight plays and basically did what he wanted, which should be a nightly occurrence for him this season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (my favorite rookie from this year’s draft) poured in 14 points for the Bucks. He’s the type of player that has all of the potential in the world, but at only 18-years of age, it was assumed it would take him a few years to adjust to the NBA level. His wide array of skills were on display last night, however, and he should have a promising future in the league.
Yes, it’s only a preseason game. No, the Bucks aren’t a good team, but the Cavs approach to defense was still immediately evident last night. The defensive effort from every player, led by Anderson Varejao, was something rarely seen last season. It was obvious from the start of the game that the Cavs were focused on smothering the Bucks, and they did.
Speaking of defense and effort, it was nice to finally see Varejao healthy again and back out on the court. He was the catalyst on defense in the first quarter and really set the tone for the whole game. He contributed four points and 10 rebounds, as well as a couple of timely steals in 21 minutes of action.
Andrew Bynum (knee), Tyler Zeller (hip strain) and Alonzo Gee (hamstring) were all out due to injuries. Brown gave Earl Clark the start at small forward in the first half and C.J. Miles the start in the second.
Clark and Jarrett Jack both played fairly well in their first game with the Wine and Gold. Jack had three points and five assists in 16 minutes off the bench, while Clark added three points and three rebounds in 16 minutes. It was encouraging to see Clark active on defense and this writer expects him to provide a lot of intangibles for the Cavs this season. He will be competing with Gee and Miles for the starting SF position, which should end up being more competitive than this writer originally expected.
Miles was impressive in the first half and finished the game with 12 points, shooting 50 percent from three in 19 minutes of action. He has been reporting on how hard he’s worked this offseason and it showed tonight. He looked confident on offense and eager to work on defense. While originally expected to play mostly shooting guard, Brown has thrown his name in with Clark and Gee at the SF position, and he looks poised to carve out some minutes there.
Dion Waiters played a more controlled first half and ended the game with 12 points (and one monstrous dunk) in 23 minutes. He took a few ill-advised shots in the second half and still has some work to do, but he had a decent first game. This writer expects Jack to have a positive influence on Waiters game throughout the course of this season.
Anthony Bennett struggled, putting up seven points on 2-12 shooting, but that’s to be expected. Bennett just started working out less than a month ago after recovering from shoulder surgery and still needs to get back into playing shape. He’s admitted that he could still stand to lose about 15 pounds by the start of the season, and it was evident last night that his conditioning just isn’t quite there yet, although he did pull down 10 boards. Fans need to give him time to get into shape and adjust to the NBA before overreacting. Critiques really shouldn’t start until November at the earliest. This writer has a feeling he’ll start putting things together around that time.
Rookie Sergey Karasev saw 14 minutes of action and was able to show off his lighting-quick release. The Cavs could have some dangerous lineups with he and Miles on the wings. Every team could use a sniper. Karasev also showed off his passing skills with some nice assists, including an alley-oop to Bennett in the second half.
With essentially only two roster spots open for the Cavs, and assuming Matthew Dellavedova fills one of those, the final spot should ultimately be given to Henry Sims, DeSagana Diop (yes, that Diop) or Kenny Kadji. Out of the three bigs, my choice would easily be Kadji. He is a hustle player who never gives up on the play. In just 12 minutes of action last night, he ended with 15 points and five rebounds. The Cavs will most likely want a big for insurance purposes to fill that final roster spot, and Kadji seems to be their best option.
The fact that so much excitement and positive discussion came out of the first preseason game of the season shows just how much fun this season is truly going to be. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess exactly where the Cavs will be come next April but one thing is for sure, this season is going to be fun.
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