Neither of the Cavs’ rookies had a chance to sleep in on their first day of the All-Star break. Limited availability on commercial flights forced the Cavs to break up their traveling party to Houston for All-Star weekend.
There were two available seats on an early morning flight and a few more available on the later flight. Seniority ruled, meaning Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were given seats on the later flight. Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller had to fly before 9 a.m.
When he is done with his obligations at tonight’s Rising Stars game, Zeller is flying to North Carolina for a few days of rest and recovery. He needs it.
Zeller impressed Wednesday with 16 points and nine rebounds while banging away at the San Antonio Spurs’ Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. It was a bit of a surprise performance, given how badly Zeller has struggled in recent weeks. He had scored a total of 14 points in the Cavs’ three most recent games before Wednesday. He scored in double figures just once in his previous 10 games and went scoreless in a dismal loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Cavs coach Byron Scott was asked about a week ago if the team’s two rookies had hit the rookie wall. Scott chuckled and said “they’re leaning” on it.
“It kind of wears on you after a while,” Zeller said of this season. “I don’t know where the rookie wall is, but it’s definitely lingering.”
Despite his sub-par game recently, Scott has refused to remove Zeller from his rotation. Mo Speights is a viable option to start at center, but Scott has steadfastly refused to consider it.
It’s easy to see why. Zeller is considered a core piece of this team’s future. He has been outplayed by bigger, more physical centers around the league, but Scott insists this is valuable experience that will make him better next season and the rest of his career.
“Most rookies have to go through this,” Scott said. “All the things he’s going through are going to make him a better basketball player, period. I truly believe that. He’s having a tough go of it right now, but I know him as a person. Tyler is taking this very personal, but it’s going to make him stronger. And he’s going to be much better next year, guarantee you.”
Part of Zeller’s problem is his inability to let go of things easily. He conceded he sometimes holds on to bad games too long and is learning how to flush his mind quickly and move on to the next game.
Whenever he struggled in college, Zeller had three or four days between games to work on his game physically and clear his mind mentally before having to play again. In the NBA, sometimes he doesn’t even get 24 hours.
“I struggled with that a lot at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I’m one of those people, you screw up, I want to make it right next time. In college my last year, I was very good at being in the right spots, making the right plays pretty much all the time. Here everything moves faster and everyone is bigger. You’re going to screw up and miss those plays every once in a while.”
In his first half-season in the NBA, Zeller has been tossed around by Dwight Howard, exchanged verbal jabs with DeMarcus Cousins and has been outweighed by almost every opponent every night.
That’s why he was happy to see the All-Star break and is getting out of Houston as quickly as he can. He’ll have his jersey retired at North Carolina this weekend and spend time with his girlfriend before returning to Cleveland for the season’s second half.
“This break, to get a couple of days off and clear your head a little bit, it’ll be kind of rejuvenating for the second half of the season,” Zeller said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
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.