Let’s be frank. That D-League team wearing the wine and gold this preseason isn’t exactly a joy to watch. Starters have passed in and out of the lineup like cameos because of injuries and the oddly loaded schedule. (Five games in eight days with two back-to-backs?) Whatever the excuse, the Cavaliers are still winless after five preseason games, after losing to the Indiana Pacers 107-85.
Those familiar with Coach David Blatt have probably heard him complain about the scheduling of games before, colored no doubt by the shorter European season. But he’s got a point this time, when he used it as an excuse for another lackluster outing by the Cavs backups.
“Third game in four nights and very depleted roster probably explains the energy and activity level,” Blatt said, later noting that the games themselves have set the team back physically. “We’re not even relatively healthy and that makes it tough.”
When questioned about Mo Williams, whose focus on these preseason shenanigans mirrored that of most of the media section, Blatt admitted that he’d pulled Williams. He finished the game 1-6 from the field with 4 assists and five turnovers.
“Mo is a veteran player, 13 years in, and I think at times these exhibition games are tough for him, especially when so many others of the main players are not playing,” Blatt said. “I just think mentally it’s a little harder for him to get up for them than maybe some other guys. And I completely understand. That’s why I pulled him out at a certain point.”
There were two questions after the game on Timofey Mozgov. In the first one, Blatt acknowledged that Mozgov isn’t where he wants to – or eventually will be physically after off-season knee surgery.
“I know he’s not in his best shape right now. He went through surgery this summer, and he’s battling back from that. He’s experiencing his better days and less good days,” said Blatt with a shrug.
“Even on a bad day he had 16 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes,” Blatt continued. “Numbers-wise that’s pretty good but he’s not playing the way I know that he can play and the way he knows he can play. But he’s fighting through it and he knows he’s got to get himself back to the kind of physical shape he was in last season and I believe he will.”
Varejao looked good in 19 minutes, grabbing 7 boards and hitting all four of his field goals for nine points. Richard Jefferson also looked good, and has indeed proven capable of staying with “2” guards thanks to his long arms, which allow him to recover even if he’s a half-step slow.
There wasn’t much else good to report. Joe Harris made a beautiful steal, then mistimed his jump and wound up blocked by the rim. It’s been that kind of a preseason for Harris. Luckily he drew a foul, though it looked like an early Christmas gift on the replay.
Jared Cunningham continued to play defense and drive every chance he can. He’s almost a lock for the 15th roster slot, particularly with Shumpert out for a couple months at least.
The Cavaliers are fortunate that their sidelined stars have played together, but it will still take time for this team to gel. That will have to happen during the season, though considering new rotation players Jefferson and Williams have a dozen years in the league, the learning curve should be quick.
(Interesting fact: After shooting 44 free throws against the Bucks, the Pacers turned the tables on the Cavs with 43 charity shots.)
It’s hard to be too concerned until we see something that remotely resembles the Cavaliers lineup on the floor. Nobody likes losing game after game, Blatt least of all, but this situation screams, ‘Is what it is.’
The best thing that can be said for the preseason is that it will be over mercifully shortly. Hopefully the week between Monday’s preseason finale and the season opener in Chicago will provide enough time for the team to get a little healthier and develop some chemistry.
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