Cleveland won its first game of the season against Washington but arrived in Los Angeles after a two-game skid in which they lost to Chicago by 20 and to Milwaukee on Brandon Jennings buzzer-beating triple with 0.7 seconds left.
Such is life for a talented yet youthful team: There will be surreal highs and bottomless lows, and sometimes you really can’t be too sure what you’ll get.
On Monday night, the Cavaliers showed why they are considered to be on the upward tick as they came away from the Staples Center with a 108-101 victory over the loaded Clippers.
The win was sparked by team play and hustle on both ends, and that always begins with Anderson Varejao. The Brazilian center cradled 15 rebounds (he is averaging 15 through four games and 4-plus on the offensive end), scored 15 points and played solid pick-and-roll defense all night, as he ended up switching onto and staying in front of Chris Paul multiple times in these situations.
Rookie Tyler Zeller looked the part of a center who is still grasping the speed of the NBA game but undoubtedly has a future rebounding and knocking down open pick-and-roll jumpers. Alonzo Gee has gone from D-League project in 2011-12 to jack-of-all-trades starter in 2012-13; it was Gee who was matched up with Paul for extended stretches, forcing him to work around a taller, stronger and more athletic defender.
Last but not least, the two-headed monster that Byron Scott has dreamt about since the draft finally came to fruition last night: Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters combined for 52 points on 18-of-40 shooting, including 11-of-19 from distance. Irving was red-hot in the first quarter, scoring 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and three 3-pointers. When he began to slow down, Waiters steadily contributed difficult 3-pointers, and did so with flair.
At one point in the third quarter, Waiters was knocking home contested, off-the-dribble bombs and running the other way with a competitive smile that Cavaliers fans should begin to relish; the competitive streak of this combo guard along with the ability to hit difficult, clutch shots is what sets him apart from other players, as he showed throughout the course of his two-year career at Syracuse. Despite being maligned by the press for “being out of shape” at NBA Summer League, Waiters has continued to work hard to learn from coach Scott and staff and should continue to emerge alongside the multi-dimensional offensive talent of Irving.
Despite playing well in his 32 minutes as a starter last night, there are some areas that the Cavaliers staff will help Waiters to improve upon over time on the offensive end:
Patience: There are times where players get caught up in the moment and take bad shots. Waiters is human and since he was feeling it, he decided to pull up from deep with about 20 seconds on the shot clock and 1:40 left in a tight game. Scott was disappointed, but these are the growing pains that a coach, team and organization must go through when attempting to turn a rookie into an elite player.
Playmaking: Waiters is such a talented scorer because he is crafty with the ball and has a more consistent outside jumper than his less-than-aesthetically-pleasing form loans itself to. As the game slows down for him and his chemistry with Irving and the rest of his teammates develops, Waiters’ ability to make plays for his should come more naturally within the flow of the game. “They’re still getting better and they’re still getting used to each other,” Scott said. “As much as they want to talk about how they’ve known each other since AAU, they still haven’t played together that much. They’re still getting used to one another, but they’re starting to come along.”
Settling For Deep Shots: Has Waiters begun the season with an excellent shooting touch from deep? Sinking 55 percent isn’t a bad way to start your career, but relying on off-the-dribble triples – the case with many of Waiters’ attempts – could be a risky proposition for a rookie. The coaching staff in Cleveland is probably helping Waiters to craft an in-between, pull-up game so he isn’t so reliant on the 3-pointer.