The Cleveland Cavaliers put a strong push to come back and defeat the Orlando Magic in NBA Pre-Season basketball. The battle between the #1 and #2 overall picks in this year’s draft had drama, lead changes and intrigue. The Cavs were down 18 at one point in the game but came flying back with tough defense and ball movement. Dion Waiters led the Cavs with 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson had 17 and 14 as well. Rookie, and overall #1 pick Anthony Bennett struggled early in the game but came on strong in the 4th quarter, hitting all 6 of his makes in the last 6 minutes including 2 three pointers.
- Bennett’s play on both end of the floors. Bennett has wide shoulder and girth that allows him to stay strong in the post. He guarded Nikola Vucevic who stands at 7 foot tall, at least 3 inches taller then Bennett, and was able to keep him from getting deep in the post. Bennett, while hitting those 2 three pointers, needs to lay off the deep ball but showed deft touch on his shots. Bennett has the ball handling and athleticism to take players off the dribble from the top of the key or wings as well.
- Waiters shot selection and play at the 2 guard was spectacular. Waiters work on his body and jump shot this summer is obvious as he has thinned out while adding muscle. His jumper is more straight up leading to more pure shots and confidence on his part. Efficient scoring from Waiters consistently could make the team dangerous, and his “Poor Man’s Dwayne Wade” a easy goal to reach.
- Sergey Karasev, the Cavs other first round pick, is a smooth shooter. He only attempted 3 shots but hit 2 including a three pointer. On his only miss he fell back just a bit on his shot leaving it short. Karasev will provide great spacing for the team’s second unit and has long term positives for the team, as he is only 19 years old.
- Kyrie Irving was a defensive effort player. Irving, not known for giving much effort on D, was down in a stance many times during the game, chasing 50/50 balls and overall provide much better effort then in years past. As a leader of the team he will set the tone for Mike Brown’s defensive desire.
- When the ball was moving the offense looked solid. The team has spent little time on the offense in practice so this is a great sign.
- Being down 18 to a young, most likely lottery bound, Magic is concerning. The team seemed to lack energy. Whether that was do to the full practice Brown put them through that morning or a mental issue for a young team is important for the coaches to figure out.
- Brown needed to call multiple timeouts due to defensive lapses. The team is learning his “defense on a string” strategy so this should not be surprising but needs to get fixed quickly. Adding Anderson Varejao back to the lineup should help long term but the starters aren’t used to playing with him.
- While Irving was giving max effort on defense, he was able to do so knowing he was playing limited minutes. He also struggled stopping #2 pick Victor Oladipo. On the final play of the 1st half Oladipo was isolated at the top of the key, with Irving down in his stance. Oladipo took Irving to the hole and scored on a jump stop. Irving may never be a lock down defense but he will be needed to limit his counterpart.
- Free agent signee Earl Clark did not look comfortable on the court. He seemed slow to react both offensively and defensively. Many are hoping that Clark can take control of the starting small forward position this year but he will have to show great improvement before that can happen. Alonzo Gee was not with the team due to injury and Brown has been playing Karasev and CJ Miles at the 2 instead of the 3. While most teams focus their offense around their wing player, with Irving and Waiters the Cavs need overall competence and occasional spurts from Clark this year.
- Varejao seemed uncomfortable on the court, except for chasing every rebound and keeping balls alive. As the roll/pop man his spacing was a off a bit and defensively he was a step slow. Coming back from almost a full year off will take time to come back from.
- Andrew Bynum isn’t playing. While the Cavs need to take care of Bynum’s knees, the team will need to learn to play with him. The offense last night rarely went through the post, instead relied on the pick and roll or isolation. With Bynum the offense should feature him on the post and on defense he has far less range then Varejao, Thompson or Tyler Zeller.
Overall a good game. Its important to never take too much from a pre-season game, either good or bad. Hopefully the bad can improve and the good can continue for the team.