PORTLAND, ORE.: Fourteen thoughts tonight, one for each of Anderson Varejao's rebounds from a game the Cavs were in until the end of a 108-96 loss to the Blazers...
1. I feel like I'm writing about Luol Deng in some form or angle every day. It's not intentional, but it's quite obvious the Cavs were facing a critical juncture of the season last week. They could've folded their hand, released Andrew Bynum, played Anthony Bennett big minutes and played for a stacked draft or they could push all in and play for the postseason. We all know which way they went.
2. As a result, Mike Brown rotation looks drastically different these days. Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving all played at least 38 minutes tonight -- on the second night of a back-to-back. Dion Waiters played 30. Brown can try downplaying the importance of these games, but his minutes log indicates how he really feels.
3. Waiters had it rolling early, so Brown stuck with him over C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack. That tends to be the way Brown handles Waiters. He'll play Waiters and sort of take his temperature. When he's rolling, Brown sticks with him. When he's not, he'll sit him until the second half and try again. Tonight Waiters was on.
4. The acquisition of Deng has sliced into Jack's minutes, too. He was averaging about 28 minutes a game prior to Deng's arrival, but has only played about 18 minutes a game since in part because Brown is doing his best to keep Matthew Dellavedova in the rotation. Delly played slightly more than Jack in the win against the Lakers and they were fairly even Wednesday against the Blazers.
5. Jack, Miles, Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee have all played sparingly in recent days, which is probably why all four were back on the floor long after the game ended Wednesday. The workers in Portland were shocked to see the four Cavs players run back on the floor with assistant coaches after the arena had been cleared and said they've never seen that before by the Blazers or a visiting team.
6. I have no idea how long they stayed, but I snapped a picture of them and posted it to Twitter 45 minutes after the game ended. By then, the second (and final) bus was about to leave the arena. So the guys left on the floor presumably found their own way back to the hotel.
7. It's rare the players can do that after a road game, since they're typically taking a bus to the airport and on to the next city immediately after the game. But the team stayed the night again in Portland to visit the Nike store on Thursday, so the players were able to get in extra work.
8. Jack is an established veteran making more than $6 million a year. Miles is in his ninth year. They also played a total of about 24 minutes tonight, far less than their typical workload this season. I give them credit for going back on the floor after the second night of a back-to-back.
9. It's funny the quirks you notice after you've done this long enough. Whenever reporters are in the locker room, Tyler Zeller is always showered, dressed and holding dinner in his hand. He waits to see if anyone wants to talk to him, then leaves. It finally struck me tonight that he's always showered, dressed and ready to go when most everyone else is still in towels and hasn't even showered yet. I finally asked him tonight why he can be ready so quickly when everyone else takes so long. "Guess I don't have as much stuff to do," he joked.
10. Zeller barely broke a sweat tonight because he committed a foul seemingly every time he stepped on the floor. He's been very aggressive this season, perhaps too aggressive Wednesday. He had 6 points and 5 fouls in about 8 1/2 minutes. A couple of the fouls were questionable, but the most egregious was the elbow he spiked into Damian Lillard's jaw while going to the basket. Zeller was whistled for the charge and was furious. "I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw the replay," he said. "I had to go apologize to the official after that one."
11. These are the games the Cavs eventually have to figure out how to start winning. They played the Blazers even until the game's final 3 minutes, then they hit the wall and the wall fell on top of them. This game was played at a fast pace, the Cavs were on the second night of a back-to-back and the Blazers had been off since Saturday. So in a sense, it's understandable. But 14-25 is still 14-25.
12. Funny moment in the locker room pregame tonight: Deng was house hunting on his phone and asking guys which apartment buildings they leave in downtown. The trade happened so fast, the Cavs left for this trip before Deng could find a place to stay. He packed five bags and left Chicago, but still hasn't found a place to live. Has to be the wealthiest homeless man in Cleveland.
13. This has been a miserable trip because my laptop fried in Los Angeles. It was working fine, then it wouldn't load website, so I tried restarting and it said I needed to reload the recovery discs or some kind of crap like that. I drove it to Manhattan Beach and they scrubbed the computer and reloaded it, but the internet hasn't been working right since I got it back. Part of the reason the Final Thoughts have been shorter, the pregame stuff has been sketchy and images from games have been non-existent on this trip. I can't load anything besides text. I feel like I'm back to AOL dial-up days.
14. Big game Friday in Denver. Seems like I keep saying that a lot lately. See you there.