CINCINNATI: Four games were long enough for Kyrie Irving to struggle shooting the ball. In Monday’s 114-111 overtime victory against the Orlando Magic, he got a little more aggressive in calling for the ball and finding his own shot.
The results were evident – a preseason-high 22 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He made the only 3-pointer he took, sank all 11 free throws, dished three assists and played like the reigning Rookie of the Year for the first time this month.
He entered the night shooting just 24 percent (11-of-46) in the preseason, but no one was overly concerned about it.
“Not everybody shoots great during preseason and this is my first true preseason,” Irving said after the lockout wiped away most of the preseason last year. “I was never concerned about it.”
Neither was coach Byron Scott, who keeps reiterating that Irving has focused most of his attention the last couple weeks on defense.
“Told ya I wasn’t worried,” Scott said. “I’m not worried about that young man right now. He’s just trying to get into a rhythm. This is almost the right time, with a couple of preseason games to go and the season a couple of weeks away, to start finding his rhythm.”
The Cavs are in the unorthodox position of having just two preseason games left. Conversely, teams like the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns entered the week having played only two preseason games.
The regular season doesn’t begin for two more weeks, but the Cavs will spend the bulk of that time on the practice floor. Scott plans to treat the final two preseason games as regular-season matchups, meaning the rotations will get tighter and minutes for fringe players trying to make the roster just went extinct.
Monday was their final time to impress with mixed results.
Kevin Jones played the final few minutes of the fourth quarter and all of overtime and grabbed five rebounds without taking a shot. Luke Harangody played five minutes and Micheal Eric played just two brief minutes in the fourth quarter and committed a foul. Scott spoke glowingly of Eric during the summer league, even comparing his defensive potential to All-NBA Defensive Team member Serge Ibaka, but Eric has totaled just seven minutes through two preseason games.
“I’m just waiting for my opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been working hard and these guys have been encouraging me a lot, trying to keep my focus. Whenever I get an opportunity, I try to take advantage of it.”
Jeremy Pargo played 27 minutes with mixed results. He had five assists, but he also turned it over five times. His play at the end of regulation sent the game to overtime – with a huge assist from Magic rookie Andrew Nicholson.
Pargo was driving to the basket in the final seconds with the Cavs down three, but Nicholson inexplicably fouled him. Pargo completed the three-point play to send the game to overtime tied at 107.
Omri Casspi scored seven of his 12 points in overtime as the Cavs improved to 3-2 in the preseason. C.J. Miles had 17 points starting at small forward, Dion Waiters had eight points on 3-of-7 shooting and Alonzo Gee had 13 points off the bench.
Now the fringe players trying to make the roster must use the roughly 10 remaining practices to impress the coaches. Scott made it clear their game minutes on the court are likely up.
“Their games are in practice,” Scott said. “Some of those guys have to treat practice like it’s a game situation. We’ll see how it plays out.”
There appears to be two open spots left at the bottom of the roster, but Scott insists he hasn’t made up his mind in terms of who he is keeping and who will be cut. But money, in terms of guaranteed dollars, isn’t expected to play a role in any decisions.
“It’s still pretty wide open,” Scott said. “I even sat down with our coaches and said, ‘This is going to be tough.’ As much as you want to go by what you see in games, you have to go by what you see in practices as well. I’m not going to jump to any conclusions anytime soon. I’m just letting it play itself out.”
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.