CLEVELAND: Twenty thoughts following another disappointing 100-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans...
1. Sifting through the rubble of this failed homestand, it’s difficult to know where exactly to begin. But something is clearly wrong with this team and the problems are getting worse.
2. Mike Brown is saying the same things night after night, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening. Not on offense or defense. He says the guys are still listening to him and Kyrie Irving believes guys are listening, too. But it’s hard to find the proof these days.
3. Asked if Brown has lost the team, Irving said “Not at all. Anything he needs me to do, I’m willing to do and I know my teammates are willing to do as well.”
4. The talk is getting pretty old, though. The Cavs failed miserably at both ends Tuesday. They went the final 5 ½ minutes of the second quarter without scoring a basket, they were lousy at getting back in transition, they were lousy underneath …
5. Brown said Tyler Zeller (tied a career high with 13 points, added 10 rebounds) only played three minutes in the second half because he didn’t like the way Zeller was defending inside. He went to Anthony Bennett and shifted Thompson to center. Greg Stiemsma, for instance, entered averaging 2.5 points, yet scored 9 against the Cavs. “There’s nobody that’s a presence for us defensively,” Brown said. “They’re getting lay-up after lay-up. … What we had out there wasn’t good enough and that’s why I made the change.”
6. Brown emphasized two points after the game: The lack of the Cavs’ competitive spirit and their unwillingness to pass the basketball. It was the same script the last two games. The Cavs were terrific moving the ball in the first quarter against both Phoenix and New Orleans, but as the game progressed the Cavs got more stagnant.
7. “We’re putting ourselves in position to take some difficult shots with time on the shot clock,” Brown said. “Seems like every time the ball hits somebody’s hands, they want to go make a play. Sometimes we have to pass the ball just to pass the ball. Pass and cut, pass and cut. Those are two things (effort and passing) right now are hurting us and hurt us tonight. It’s contagious.”
8. I’ve said all season this team defends better when it’s scoring. Brown hates that, but seems to finally concede that it’s true. He wants guys to defend regardless if they’re scoring or not, but the body language on this team dies when shots stop falling. We’ve seen it time and time and time again.
9. Brown needs to start getting the ball to Luol Deng in places where he can score. Right now most of Deng’s points seem to be coming in post-up and catch-and-shoot situations. That’s fine, but a real strength of his is cutting to the basket. He conceded after the game he hasn’t had the chance to do that much since joining the Cavs. It’s a big part of his game that would really help the Cavs get some easy baskets.
10. “I just came in. I can’t come in and try to change the whole offense,” Deng said. “It’s just one me. There’s a lot of other guys on the team that are used to what we’re doing, so it’s tough to come in and change everything.”
11. Deng has played 10 games with the Cavs. After his 6-point night on Tuesday (3-for-10 shooting), Deng is averaging 15.6 points with the Cavs and is shooting 43 percent. He was averaging 19 points and shooting 45 percent with the Bulls.
12. “The biggest thing is figuring it out, figure out my teammates and for them to figure me out, how I get going, where I’d like to have the ball and moving more without the ball,” Deng said. “It’s not going to look perfect and it’s tough when you’re traded in the middle of the season. I think slowly Coach will try to put in more plays. It’s hard to just do it over (10) games.”
13. Brown threatened lineup changes again after the loss, but he doesn’t have much wiggle room, particularly if Anderson Varejao is out any length of time. Brown thought Matthew Dellavedova helped turn the momentum a bit in the third quarter, but I’m not sure what dramatic changes he can really make.
14. If there was a glimmer of hope on this night, it was the play of Anthony Bennett. In his most extensive time this season (31 minutes), Bennett produced a career-high 15 points and 8 rebounds, which also tied a career high. He committed a couple silly fouls and had a turnover, but he seemed to gain confidence the longer he was on the floor.
15. Brown said he went to Bennett because of the way he practiced on Monday. Bennett probably earned another look Thursday, which just so happens to be the national television game on TNT. Bennett had a dunk, a couple of 3-pointers and a nice turnaround jumper as part of his baskets.
16. It’s clear his teammates are trying to get him going. Irving had a couple of options on a fast break in the fourth quarter, but specifically put the ball in Bennett’s hands. Likewise, Jarrett Jack had an open 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer, but made the extra pass because Bennett was also open behind the line. That turned out to be a terrible decision, however, because the game clock was already running low and the extra pass prevented the Cavs from getting a shot off at the buzzer. To be fair, Jack didn’t even have time to get a shot off because Dion Waiters took to long to initiate. By the time Jack caught the ball, there was less than a second left.
17. “He took advantage of the opportunity,” Brown said of Bennett. “Gotta stay ready when your number is called and he stayed ready tonight.”
18. If Bennett this is the night that sparks Bennett, then not all was lost. But I also wrote that after that terrible road loss at San Antonio a couple months ago when Bennett played decent during garbage time in the fourth quarter, then nothing really changed. Let’s wait and see what happens Thursday.
19. I’ll give the final thoughts tonight to Brown and Irving. First Brown: “Our competitive spirit is non-existent.”
20. Now Irving, when asked if he’s confident the Cavs can get through this terrible stretch of basketball: “I’m sure of it. I’m leaving my trust with Coach Brown. I’m riding and dying with Coach Brown.”