CLEVELAND: Nineteen thoughts tonight for Anthony Bennett’s career-high 19 points following a 109-99 win over the Sacramento Kings…
1. When Anthony Bennett was at his lowest point about a month ago, Mike Brown sent him to the end of the Cavs’ bench and left him there. Amid cries both publicly and in the media to send Bennett to the Development League, the Cavs stuck with him and gave Bennett two weeks to clear his head and rebuild his game in practice.
2. Although he said publicly he’d be open to playing in the D-League, privately the Cavs believed otherwise. They feared a demotion could do more harm than good, so they kept him up and rebuilt his confidence brick by brick. No matter how loud the demands grew, the Cavs never seriously contemplated sending him to Canton.
3. Bennett had 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Kings and is now averaging 9.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and shooting 44 percent in his last eight games. He looks like he belongs on an NBA floor, rather than before when he looked lost, fired ridiculous shots, missed dunks, walked down the court on occasion and committed silly turnovers.
4. Brown said it was a collaborative effort in rebuilding Bennett’s confidence and knowing when he was ready to return to games. He met with former GM Chris Grant constantly and discussed Bennett’s progress with the assistant coaches to determine what to do with him and when to do it.
5. “We finally said, ‘We’re going to go let him play through his mistakes because he’s ready,’” Brown said. “We’d seen enough of him in practice to know he’s ready.”
6. Admittedly, the Cavs were nervous about Bennett at times, particularly early in the season when he looked so lost. But they kept coming back to the fact that nine basketball minds within the organization all watched him and all liked him. This wasn’t one or two guys pushing Bennett on the rest of the basketball staff, all nine had seen enough of him at UNLV to believe he’d be a good player in the NBA. That’s what they kept telling themselves through his early struggles.
7. “Anthony Bennett kicked our ass,” Kings coach (and former Cavs assistant) Mike Malone said after the game. “I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so. His number one guy came in and gets his career high in points and rebounds.”
8. I wrote about this in the game story, but Bennett let out a little sign of joy and relief tonight after he made his final basket. He took a pass from Kyrie Irving and stepped into a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 100-85 with 4:40 left. As the crowd roared, Bennett raised both arms in the air to celebrate as teammates greeted him following a Kings timeout.
9. “I was just having fun,” Bennett said. “We’re winning, we’re playing good defense, that shot was a huge relief for me.”
10. So I asked him the last time he had fun on a basketball court. “I don’t remember,” he said. “But today was definitely one of those days.”
11. Bennett needs to share some of the blame for how terrible his NBA career started. Yes, he had the shoulder surgery, but he was woefully out of shape when he arrived. He couldn’t even make it up and down the floor a couple times during the intrasquad scrimmage without gasping for air. It was clear he was overweight and needed to shed major pounds, but he seemed to bristle at that idea in early October.
12. Since then, however, Bennett has put in all the work. He’s done everything the Cavs have asked of him. He’s lost a ton of weight (at least 30 pounds) and he kept working. Imagine being a 19-year-old, drafted No. 1 overall and then getting booed in your home arena within weeks of your pro debut. All the whispers about being a bust, all the comparisons to Kwame Brown, being ignored during the Rising Stars game this weekend during All-Star weekend… Bennett kept his head down and kept working.
13. Brown has mentioned a few times Bennett often returns to the facility in the evenings along with members of the support staff for extra work. Luol Deng reiterated that following Tuesday’s game.
14. “He’s going to get it,” Deng said. “These kind of games are going to come more often. He’s always working hard, staying after practice. I went to the gym a few times late and he’s in there. From the outside looking in, you could see he was struggling a little bit. But the only way to get out of that is by working hard and that’s what he’s doing. He’s going to have more games like this.”
15. For the record, Kings beat writer Jason Jones revealed this in the press room after the game: Kwame Brown once had 30 points and 19 rebounds early in his career against the Kings. So I looked it up and he’s right. Brown played all 48 minutes on March 17, 2004 during his third season in the league, still with the Wizards, and never surpassed those totals the rest of his career. Just sayin’.
16. The Cavs have won three straight since Grant was fired. If it was meant as a wake-up call to a locker room that looked like it didn’t care anymore, then it certainly seems to have gotten the players’ attention.
17. Without Anderson Varejao, they held the Kings to a season-low 26 points in the paint. DeMarcus Cousins took two shots after the first quarter and missed them both. The Cavs forced him to earn the bulk of his points at the free-throw line – Henry Sims fouled out in 18 minutes. All part of the plan.
18. Anderson Varejao did not make the trip with the team to Detroit for Wednesday’s game against the Pistons, the final game before the All-Star break. The week off comes at a good time for Varejao, whose body is just beaten up. But he’s still upright and playing, and this is the longest he’s stayed healthy since 2009-10. C.J. Miles is battling a foot/toe issue, but traveled with the team. Won’t know if he’ll play until tomorrow.
19. If the Cavs can beat the Pistons, it’ll be their first four-game winning streak since the 2009-10 season. Five times since then they’ve had three-game winning streaks, including once earlier this season, but they’ve never gotten to four in a row. The Pistons, despite all their struggles this season, have also won three straight and remain ahead of the Cavs in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Talk to you tomorrow from Detroit.