CHARLOTTE, N.C.: In his final audition, Earl Clark had his best shooting performance of the preseason. Now, he’ll have to wait and see if it’s good enough to earn him the starting small forward job on opening night.
Clark scored 12 points and shot 5-of-7 in a 105-92 loss Thursday at the Charlotte Bobcats to conclude the preseason. The Cavaliers will take about a week off now before opening the regular season at home against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
Alonzo Gee was a healthy scratch Friday and C.J. Miles sat while battling a nagging calf injury, leaving Clark with the bulk of the minutes. Both Gee and Clark started slowly this preseason, at least offensively, but both have enjoyed productive games this week. Gee made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday while Clark took the night off, then he countered Thursday while Gee sat.
All of that seemingly leaves coach Mike Brown no closer to a decision at small forward than he was when training camp opened three weeks ago.
“Nobody’s really separated themselves drastically from the other guy,” Brown said. “One game, one guy played pretty good, then another guy played pretty good. I told those guys it can go into the regular season, just keep yourselves ready to go in case your number is called.”
Kyrie Irving scored 20 points, Tristan Thompson had 11 points and eight rebounds and Jermaine Taylor had 11 points off the bench for the Cavs, who conclude the preseason 4-4.
Clark opened the preseason shooting 24 percent through the first three games before finding a little bit of a rhythm this week. He is essentially learning to play a new position and still figuring out where to find shots.
At 6-foot-10, Clark was primarily a power forward last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he moved over and played a little small forward when Pau Gasol returned from injury. The Cavaliers saw enough out of him there to believe he could man the position full time, but Brown made it clear Thursday he needs more rebounds out of his small forwards. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao have accounted for 35 percent of the Cavs’ rebounds this preseason, while Gee and Clark averaged less than 3 each.
Clark is used to crashing the glass as a power forward and is still learning when to crash and when to get back in transition.
“As the season goes on, I think I’ll know when I can crash and when to get back,” he said. “Right now I’m playing a different position than I played before. It’s kind of hard for me right now, but I’ll find a way to get more boards.”
With the preseason concluded, the priority will be getting the roster down to the 15-player limit by Sunday’s deadline. The Cavs have four players to release between now and then.
After the roster is set, Brown can begin setting his rotations. The most obvious question centers around who will claim the small forward job. Brown would like to stick with one starter, but wouldn’t commit to that on Thursday.
“If I can help it, I’d like to stick with one guy,” he said. “A lot of coaching for me is feeling it. If I don’t feel it, it’d be hard for me to stick with him. But I want to give guys a fair opportunity to earn that spot and keep it.”
After the rotation is set, the Cavs will spend this last week cleaning up components of the offense and defense. Brown didn’t like the offensive spacing at times during the preseason and wants to work on what to do when things break down offensively. He thinks the transition defense has been inconsistent and didn’t like the way the effort seemed to come and go overall. The Cavs were last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage last season, allowing teams to shoot better than 47 percent against them.
Opponents shot 43 percent against them in the preseason.
“We’ve been working long enough and hard enough to where we know what we’re supposed to be doing and we’re not quite doing it all the time,” Brown said. “I don’t blame it on youth, I blame it on being attentive and alert and playing with a sense of urgency all the time because it’s hard. It’s hard to do that every single play in this business against another opponent. It’s something we have to try to be better at.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.