CLEVELAND: It didn’t take long Monday night for Cavs coach Byron Scott to prove he was serious about Dion Waiters earning his spot in the starting lineup. Not only did Waiters not start Monday’s 91-85 victory over Montepaschi Siena in the preseason opener, he didn’t play at all in the first quarter.
If it was a test to see how the rookie would respond, Waiters conceded he was a bit rattled.
“I’ve never sat out a quarter before in my life,” Waiters said. “I kind of got down a little bit, but I told myself, ‘This is what he wanted. He wanted to see how I’d react to things like that.’ ”
Waiters’ debut was spotty. He finished with 11 points, three rebounds and an assist, but his range remains questionable while his strength remains his ability to get to the basket.
When he finally did enter the game five minutes into the second quarter, he promptly lofted a 3-pointer that hit absolutely nothing.
Kyrie Irving sat on the bench and laughed when Waiters shot the air ball. His first 3-pointer last year as a rookie clanked off the corner of the backboard.
“That’s definitely rookie jitters,” Irving said. “He’ll establish himself well going forward.”
With Waiters planted firmly on the bench, newcomer C.J. Miles got the start at shooting guard and sparked the Cavs’ third-quarter turnaround. He had eight points and all three of his assists in the third quarter and finished with 10 points for the game.
Scott insisted it’s far too early to read anything into the starting lineup and the rotations. Half the camp roster, including guys like Jeremy Pargo, Luke Walton, Jon Leuer and Luke Harangody, didn’t play at all and are expected to play in today’s second preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Canton.
Despite being selected fourth overall last summer, Scott wants to make it clear to Waiters the position won’t be handed to him. He even said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Waiters started the first 10 to 15 games coming off the bench.
He’ll start at least three of the Cavs’ eight preseason games, just to see how he adapts to playing with the first team, but beyond that, nothing is guaranteed.
“Dion has to earn it. Simple as that,” Scott said. “We have three weeks before the start of the season. It could change. It’s not a knock on Dion. I think the kid has made some great strides, especially on the defensive end.”
Waiters played primarily a zone scheme at Syracuse, but has said for a few days now that he feels comfortable with the Cavs’ defensive schemes. Scott seemed to agree with that and Waiters showed an aggressiveness on defense Monday night against a Siena team that shot 34 percent and hoisted 33 3-pointers.
Samardo Samuels scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but perhaps more importantly continued to show a little range and a nice touch on his jumpers. He made 4 of 5 shots from beyond 15 feet and added a nifty little turnaround jumper.
After losing so much weight in the offseason, Samuels doesn’t consider himself just a muscle man in the paint anymore. He spent the summer working with Antawn Jamison in Charlotte, N.C., working on face-up jumpers and the results are obvious. His longest jumper on Monday was about 18 feet.
“I always could shoot, but I always had that big body to where I thought I was better off with my back to the basket rather than facing up,” Samuels said. “Now that I’ve lost the weight, I’m not going to bump too many people around. I’ve got to face up.”
The Cavs shot just 30 percent in the first half on Monday and appeared sluggish at both ends of the floor, perhaps the result of a rigorous practice they endured Monday morning. Irving, who had 10 points but shot just 1 of 7, said the players caught a second wind in the second half, when they shot 67 percent and missed just 11 shots.
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