Dribbles: Cavs Messy at Start, But All Part of Preseason Learning Curve

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 113-97 preseason home loss to the 76ers on Monday …Darius Garland

1. These types of things are bound to happen in a scrimmage, especially when you’re adding a player such as Donovan Mitchell to a lineup with Darius Garland and the rest.

2. Translation: Mitchell struggled early, the Cavs were sloppy in the first quarter, and guess what? There is still some work to do.

3. And that’s OK. As coach J.B. Bickerstaff said afterward, “This why we have preseason games. It’s an opportunity to work things out.”

4. When Bickerstaff said “things,” he meant “the kinks.” Surprise, surprise, these Cavs have some. Frankly, so does everyone.

5. Mitchell played about 28 minutes and went just 3-of-9 shooting for 11 points. He missed his first three free throws … well, actually four, but the 76ers were whistled for a lane violation. So it’s no surprise that when he buried a 3-pointer in the third quarter, he sort of gave a look that said, “Finally!”

6. Yes, all of the Cavs starters played more than 23 minutes. It was as if Bickerstaff wanted to give them an little extra time to get things sorted out. Garland (17 points) played a team-high 31, but said he “felt good” after the game.

7. The 76ers were without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who stayed home for the purpose of rest. That resulted in a much smaller lineup — and a big night from Cavs center Jarrett Allen (19 points, 12 rebounds).

8. But that small-ball brand brought by Philly sort of threw the Cavs off kilter. And while the Sixers were small, they were mighty — instituting some physical play to make up for their lack of size.

9. Cavs wing Caris LeVert (13 points) on the loss: “Their small lineup kind of messed us up. It got us out of our actions. We weren’t setting good screens. So we had some turnovers and some tough shots.”

10. But LeVert looked good in his second straight preseason game starting at small forward. The Cavs have asked him to be more of a facilitator, which LeVert proved capable of on this night. Perhaps a little too much. Sometimes, he will do that, Bickerstaff said. The key is finding a balance.

11. You could make the case that LeVert looked more comfortable than ever since arriving in Cleveland. He put in extra work on his body during the offseason, and seems to be obsessed with the improvements. Per Garland, LeVert was back in the weight room after the game. “That’s why I love him,” Garland said. “He’s a competitor.”

12. That said, all eyes are on how well Garland and Mitchell are able to mesh. They are undoubtedly getting there. In fact, Garland threw an alley-oop pass for a Mitchell dunk for Mitchell’s first basket. 

13. Bickerstaff on Garland and Mitchell: “It’s been good to see how much they want to help each other. Early in camp it may have been too much, to where it became a detriment. But I think now they’ve found a balance.”

14. Garland admitted that he’s been watching film of Mitchell from last season, when Mitchell was with the Jazz. All in an effort to see what makes Mitchell tick. “Just knowing what he likes, where he likes to get the ball,” Garland said. “It’s evolving great.”

15. One thing the Cavs will definitely have to get used to? Rival teams trying to push them around. That’s what the Sixers tried on this night, and with some degree of success.

16. Bickerstaff on that very topic: “Teams are gonna be physical with us, because they know we have talent. We’re still learning what we’re going to face. These games will give us different tests and different opportunities to learn as a group.”

17. Power forward Kevin Love sat out after bumping knees in the first preseason game. Bickerstaff said Love would have played had the game mattered. But now is the time to be extra cautious. Dean Wade (eight points) turned his ankle in the second half, but wanted to re-enter the game. So no worries there, either.

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