Dribbles: Cavs Show They’re On Right Path Even In Defeat

Random dribbles on the Cavaliers, who saw their four-game winning streak snapped by the visiting Wizards on Wednesday …

1. Bottom line on this one: The Cavs met a team that is playing equally well and is equally gritty under first-year coach Wes Unseld Jr.Evan Mobley

2. This truly was the story of NBA Early-Season Team of the Year. The Cavs lost. Barely.

3. So they are still in the running.

4. Clearly, the Cavs (7-5) missed the injured Collin Sexton. Say what you will about Sexton, but the man gets buckets. Cleveland’s slow start showed just how much it missed him. 

5. A big key for the Cavs will be to keep defending like they did in this 97-94 loss. Yes, they blew the coverage at the end, leaving Washington’s Kyle Kuzma wide open for a 3-pointer. But overall, they did a nice job, the type of job that will completely suffocate lesser opponents and keep the Cavs in matchups against the good ones.

6. This game also offered support to those who say Darius Garland (19 points, 8-of-16 shooting) may be even better without Sexton. I haven’t made that determination. I have heard it, though. Anyway, aside from missing his final shot to give the Cavs the lead, Garland was fantastic.

7. But better without Sexton or not, it doesn’t really matter. Garland and Ricky Rubio are now the main men in the Cavs’ backcourt, and they will have to carry the load mostly on their own. A lot of people think Sexton’s torn meniscus is going to sideline him for quite some time.

8. Rubio, of course, has been remarkable lately, lighting up Madison Square Garden for 37 points, then following it up with 20 against the Wizards. He apparently has brought his all-world performance with Spain in the Olympics to Cleveland.

9. Back to Sexton. There’s still no word on an extension. I could still see the Cavs trading him. But they won’t do it just to do it. In fact, I’ve only been told they’d do it if the return meets the “wow factor.”

10. In other words, if Sexton is traded, it would only be for something that would be more exciting than a guy who can really score, and has also taken a step back on volume shooting to be a better fit this season. It’s a shame he’ll have to start over once he returns.

11. I should add that the Cavs are not actively exploring Sexton trades. But they do remain engaged in talks for 76ers star Ben Simmons, per Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. 

12. Anyway, back to the business at hand. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been impressive in his schemes and convincing the Cavs to buckle down and defend despite the injuries and absences (Sexton, Kevin Love, Lauri Markkanen). 

13. Bottom line, Part II: I love watching this team and admire the mettle it is displaying on a regular basis. To me, the Cavs have really only had two “bad” games — the opener vs. the Grizzlies and then later against the defending Western Conference champion Suns on the road. And those were more like bad quarters than games.

14. And Evan Mobley, man, I just can’t get enough. He scored 19 points vs. the Wizards and is averaging 15.3 points and 7.9 rebounds on the season. He is just so calm, so skilled and so good at using his length (7-foot-0), he doesn’t look anything like a rookie who is trying to fid his way. Just imagine the guy when he gets a full NBA season under his belt.

15. Bickerstaff on Mobley: “You’re watching him learn on the fly, and not only learn, but apply. That’s the thing that’s unique. In a one or two-game span, he can apply the things that he’s learned. A lot of times, it takes guys years to figure it out.”

16. Eventually, Love and Markkanen will return. I’m going to speculate that they’re each about a week away. In the meantime, the Cavs will just have to keep defending like they’ve been to stay in games and keep what is a good thing going. Throw in reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jarrett Allen and I like their chances.

17. In case you missed it, sideline reporter Angel Gray is leaving Bally Sports Ohio for ESPN. I don’t know Angel real well, as I stopped attending games in March 2020, at the start of pandemic. But she’s one of the kindest people I’ve met in the entire pro basketball family and quite a talent. And I’ve been doing this since the late 1990s. Without a doubt, Angel will be missed in Cleveland.

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