Random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ 104-96 road loss to the Hawks on Tuesday:
1. This was a loss, but another not-so-terrible one, in the Cavs’ final game before All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. They don’t have another game until a week from Thursday.
2. And hey, who couldn’t use the break from real games for a bit?’
3. Of course, it’s hard to know what those of us who can’t wait to watch them are supposed to do. Guess it’s time for some serious Netflix binging. (As an aside, Netflix wasn’t even yet a streaming service when I first started covering the NBA.)
4. Anyway, on to stuff you care about.
5. For the second time in three games, the Cavs ran into a big-time superstar on the road. And just as 76ers center Joel Embiid did earlier this week, Hawks guard Trae Young pretty much had his way — finishing with 41 points and nine assists.
6. Young was the biggest reason the Hawks won, but certainly not the only reason. As a team, the Hawks held the edge in making the key hustle plays, collecting the loose balls that to led to some easy baskets, and grabbing offensive rebounds for extra possessions.
7. So this wasn’t a bad game for the Cavs. It was very close most of the way. But when they started to run out of steam and the shots stopped dropping, the Hawks picked it up.
8. Darius Garland was again very good, especially in the first half, in his final game before his first All-Star appearance. Garland went for 30 points and eight assists, showing again that these days, if he’s in the lineup the Cavs will almost always have a chance.
9. Otherwise, you can’t really judge the Cavs (35-23) on these games. A win would have been unexpected. Yes, the Hawks (27-30) entered the night in 10th place in the East. But they advanced to the conference finals last season and have been saving some of their best basketball for the past few weeks.
10. This is also something the surprising Cavs will need to get used to. Opponents are now taking them very seriously and coming at them hard. Everyone else realizes these aren’t the same old Cavs, and if you approach games like they are, you’re in trouble.
11. So this is just life as one of the East’s top teams. As Bally Sports Ohio analyst Austin Carr said during the broadcast, the Cavs are now a team “that people are hunting.” And that means “you can’t be soft,” Carr added.
12. That’s not Carr taking a shot at the Cavs, or downplaying what they’ve accomplished so far. He just confirmed what was written above. Opponents view the Cavs as a true threat to win the East, and will continue to treat them as such.
14. Jarrett Allen added 14 points and seven boards, and Caris LeVert had nine. It seems LeVert will soon start next to Garland, with Isaac Okoro coming off the bench. That’s just speculation, nothing that’s coming from coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
15. But clearly, LeVert is the bigger offensive threat and a pretty solid defender himself. It seems doubtful the Cavs would trade for him to keep bringing him off the bench.
16. Speaking of starters, we can expect to see forward Lauri Markkanen back in the lineup once the break ends. It really does seem like the Cavs miss him. He is more explosive than Dean Wade and obviously, Makkanen’s length always adds to the Allen-Mobley tower approach on defense.
17. Old pro Danilo Gallinari added 25 points for the Hawks, and De’Andre Hunter had 18. Hunter is a former lottery pick and is turning into a very nice player, now that he’s finally been able to stay healthy.
18. As an aside, the Hawks finished with a 14-point advantage on free throws. They won by eight. As Bally’s Jeff Phelps said, “It’s not hard to do the math on there.”
19. Bickerstaff said he and the players are looking forward to the break, though he wants the team to use the time off “wisely,” and prepare for the final stretch. “We’ve played a ton of games already,” he said. “It’s been physically and mentally wearing. So you have to take the time off and use it. But it’s not a shutdown.”
20. In other words, this is a time to reflect on the pleasant surprise the Cavs have become, what’s working, and what needs to improve. And to find a way to keep this cool thing going.