Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers dropped their seventh consecutive game, 117-92 to the Miami Heat Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. It marked their longest losing streak in an 8-30 season and is the second-longest active losing streak in the league behind the Knicks’ eight.
1. Amidst the Cavs’ struggles, Heat shooting guard Dion Waters took a major step as he continues to salvage a career that was once on the rocks.
2. The chapter he wrote in Cleveland on this night was dripping with irony, since it came against the Cavs, who drafted him fourth in 2012 then gave up on him after 21/2 seasons, partly because he couldn’t mesh with point guard Kyrie Irving.
3. Now with his third NBA team, Waiters, 27, had been out for over a year following surgery on his left ankle last Jan. 22. Before the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Waiters would be active, but didn’t promise he would see action.
4. Then Spoelstra was forced to use some of his perimeter players longer than he wanted in the first quarter and fatigue caught up with them in the second period. So Spoelstra turned to Waiters, sending him in at the 6:26 mark and letting him finish the half.
5. It was the first time Waiters had played in the NBA since Dec. 22, 2017.
6. He hit his first three shots – a long two that was initially ruled a 3, a 3-pointer and a driving layup. He celebrated on each, throwing up three fingers, looking to his bench. At halftime, he had seven points, a rebound and two assists.
7. “I said I was going to make my first couple shots,” Waiters said. “It was nice, just all the hard work that we put in. The rehab day in and day out. That constant grind, just for them shots to fall, it felt good.”
8. That hard work included practice time last month in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the Heat’s G League team.
9. “I’ve been working my ass off man,” he said. “I feel like coming into it, I was ready, you know? When I’m coming into the game, the only thing I can do is think about positivity. Coming in with negative thoughts, you’re going to get negative outcomes. At the end of the day you got to bet on yourself. I think I did that. I went in with a great sense of urgency and just played the game. Just have fun. It’s basketball at the end of the day.”
10. Waiters finished with seven points, two rebounds and three assists in nearly 11 minutes. The Heat outscored the Cavs by 14 when he was on the court.
11. Waiters appreciated that he started his comeback from injury where it all started, in Cleveland.
12. “Cleveland took a chance on a kid from Philadelphia. At the end of the day, I’m always going to have love for them,” he said. “When I come back, they always show nothing but love. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But I appreciate it, just to come back and the first game be here and get a win. I couldn’t ask for more.”
13. One of those who appreciated Waiters’ performance was Tristan Thompson, the Cavs’ fourth overall pick in 2011. Both are represented by agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group, whose most famous client is LeBron James.
14. “He’s Klutch. He’s my guy,” Thompson said.
15. “He’s a very talented wing player in our league. He’s very confident. He’s a Philly guy ‘til the day he dies. I’ve always been a fan of Dion. I’m happy he got back out there, he’s healthy, back in shape. They’re going to need him down in Miami if they want to make a run at the playoffs because he brings a different dynamic for their team, kind of different than anyone else. He’s the kind of guy that if he gets going early, he can change the whole game. They’re lucky to have him.”
16. Being “a Philly guy ‘til the day he dies” doesn’t make it easy to foster relationships. It didn’t in Cleveland and it didn’t in Miami, either.
17. “I like Dion,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a lot of narrative, probably, that’s out there. I have no idea what it is here. But I’ve gotten to know him pretty well. I’ve been to Philly, we spent a lot of time together. We’ve butted heads several times at first.
18. “But over the years we’ve come to find some common ground and in the competitive field we’re not that far apart. Her has a charming side to him and the competitive side, as long as it’s channeled the right way, is our language. It’s just a matter of getting it directed in a collective way and in the right direction.”
19. That doesn’t mean it will be easy for Spoelstra to fit in Waiters, who carries a career 13.3 average. Goran Dragic is out perhaps until the All-Star break following knee surgery. The Heat also have starters Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, backups Dwyane Wade and Tyler Johnson and guard/forwards Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones Jr.
20. “We have a lot of depth and we have some guys now that are finally healthy at the same positions,” Spoelstra said. “These are going to be challenging decisions from my spot and that’s what I’m here to do. They’re not going to be easy, but I’ll have a big picture in mind and we’ll get him going.”
21. Thompson also appreciates what Waiters has been through, being traded to the Thunder in January, 2015, then signing a multi-year deal with the Heat in July, 2016.
22. “There’s peaks and valleys in your career,” Thompson said. “I think he understood the importance of being a professional and staying in shape and being about the team. I think down in Miami, (president) Pat (Riley) does a good job with their culture. They tell you to get with the program or get lost, and I think Dion is at a point where he knew he had to buy in. I think that’s important for Dion. If he buys into the system like he’s done there and accepted the culture, it’s good for him.”
23. Not much positive to say on the Cavs’ front save for the return of Thompson and guard Rodney Hood from injury. Coach Larry Drew lamented that the Cavs didn’t trust what they’d been taught on how to handle the Heat’s zone defense, also a major factor in the Cavs’ 118-94 loss in Miami on Friday.
24. “Their zone got us a little stagnant and we missed some open shots, they came down and scored,” Drew said of the second quarter, when the Cavs were outscored 36-20. “Our defense was not as good in the second quarter as it was in the first quarter. We didn’t work our way through it.
25. “We knew they would be playing some zone against us and we went through some zone in preparation. We missed some shots early and we could not stop them. That’s where we kind of got in trouble and got behind. It was one of those situations where we didn’t allow ourselves to trust, particularly on all the things we worked on. Got us a little stagnant and couldn’t overcome it.”
26. Hood explained what Drew meant by the lack of trust.
27. “It’s something that works and we don’t trust it,” Hood said about reacting to the zone. “Sometimes we get a good shot and we miss it and we feel like it’s not working. We’ve just got to continue to trust it even if we’re not hitting shots. Knowing they’ll start falling if we continue to play the right way.”
28. According to rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the best way to attack the zone is “make sure we get to the middle of the paint.”
29. “If we get to the paint, usually all their heads are turned, so I just kick it out. Tonight we just weren’t making shots,” Sexton said.
30. Hood is in his fifth season in the league and said this is the first time he remembers playing against a zone defense.
31. “More and more teams are doing it, I know we do it, it messes up the flow of the game,” Hood said. “It takes a team out of their rhythm like they did to us tonight. So just got to be better. I’m sure we’ll see it again down the road.”
32. That may be the case every night. Going into the game, the Cavs ranked last in the league in 3-pointers made per game (8.9) and were 27th in 3s attempted (25.6). Kevin Love remains out following left foot surgery, J.R. Smith is not with the team as it tries to trade him, Channing Frye is averaging 8.9 minutes, Kyle Korver was traded to Utah, the Cavs’ next opponent on Friday.
33. Matthew Dellavedova (.450 beyond the arc as a Cav), Hood (.381), Sexton (.368), Jordan Clarkson (.338) and Cedi Osman (.304) as zone-busters won’t be enough to change opponents’ strategy. Soon everyone in the league will be copying the Heat’s plan.
34. But that wasn’t the only thing Drew took issue with Wednesday. He also lamented the Cavs’ defense as the Heat shot .512 from the field, .516 on 3s.
35. “Defensively we have to be better. We have to be grimy,” Drew said. “As far as our style of play, we can’t play cute, we can’t play pretty. We have to get on the floor for loose balls, we have to get our bodies on people when they are going to the rim. We have to do all the little things that add up to be big things. Then hopefully offensively we are making some shots.
36. “But there has to be a total commitment on the defensive end and total commitment as far as really getting out there scrapping and being grimy. That is the only way we win. The margin for error, as I’ve always said, is very small with this ball club. We have to understand that and accept that. Every night we step out there on the floor, we know what it’s going to take for us to win and for that to be, it’s got to be a real bulldog mentality. It starts with griminess at the very beginning until the end.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.