Dribbles: Heart Continues to be What Makes These Cavaliers Click
Random dribbles following the Cavalers' 108-87 road massacre of the New York Knicks on Sunday:
1. It's easy to get caught up in the nifty numbers when a team wins two straight road games, as the Cavs have done. But what's been most impressive about this team so far is its heart and grit.
2. Collin Sexton scored a career-high 31 points and if you read my earlier game recap, you already know what he told reporters in New York. Still, one quote in particular is worth repeating. "We're just playing together, having fun," he said.
3. I have also already repeatedly praised coach John Beilein, and he now has his first NBA winning streak. That's amazing for several reasons. Mostly, aside from Kevin Love (17 points) and Tristan Thompson (nine points, nine rebounds), you can't ever really be sure what you're going to get from anyone. And even Love and Thompson aren't the same type of sure things as most star players.
4. Afterward, Beilein said he thinks Sexton and Darius Garland are getting more comfortable playing together. Garland has definitely asserted himself in the two road wins, scoring 12 points and passing for six assists vs. the Knicks. He also had six assists in Friday's win at Washington.
5. In short, the Cavs (4-5) sure are a lot better than I ever thought they'd be after watching the preseason and catching the end of a couple of training camp practices. I'm not talking wins and losses here (though I had serious doubts about that going very well). I'm mostly referring to the organization and determination that's displayed on a daily basis.
6. Credit Beilein and the coaching staff, as well as veteran leaders such as Thompson, Love, Jordan Clarkson (17 points), Matthew Dellavedova and even Larry Nance Jr.
7. Nance doesn't turn 27 until New Year's Day, but he is truly one of the older vets on this team. No one really says much about him. Yet he has been a throwback to the days of ... well, the days of Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price. By that, I mean Nance Jr. is a hustling type who just plays to the best of his ability, without trying to make all the highlight shows (though his monster dunks sometimes do anyway). It's pretty evident he just wants to have fun, wants to win.
8. It was Nance Jr. who said earlier this season that, yes, the Cavs are well-aware how everyone projected them to be terrible. And yes, they are using that as motivation.
9. Here is what Price recently told me about that type of mentality: "All the guys on that team are pro athletes. They’re likely to play with a chip on their shoulders. This is a good opportunity for them to further their own careers and prove people wrong.”
10. Clarkson has been another player who you really notice during the game, but doesn't often make the headlines. He can be a little streaky. Still, Beilein loves how he always attacks. Through the first nine games, the Cavs (4-5) have been prone to building some big leads, or at least keeping things close, then allowing the momentum to shift. It's often been Clarkson who swings it back with a hard-earned bucket.
11. I can see that the fans are really eating this up and have a lot of admiration for the way this team is competing. Following the win in New York, Thompson even suggested the Cavs have both eyes on the playoffs. I'm not sure exactly what the organization wants. If the Cavs go for the playoffs, come close and don't make it, they're likely to lose a pretty good first-round pick. The one at the end of this season is only top-10 protected.
12. Then again, they just landed Garland (fifth overall), Dylan Windler (26th) and Kevin Porter Jr. (30th) in the draft. Sexton was taken eight overall the year before that. How many first-round picks do you really need?
13. At some point, the Cavs will have to figure that out. I'm still leaning strongly toward them being in the lottery. But I also know most fans aren't looking that far ahead. The here-and-now has been far too enjoyable for all that talk.
14. As one Cavs source told me, "We're always looking to improve. That never stops. How we go about it can change from week to week. But improving the team each season is always the goal."
15. So sit back, relax and just enjoy the early surprises.
16. It's not all been rainbows and unicorns, of course. There are times that Sexton, Garland and Porter can be maddening. That's just the way it goes with young players. And I still don't know if Cedi Osman is someone who can be a big part of things on a winning/contending team. But there is still time to figure that out, too.
17. By the way, Windler (leg) should be ready to make his debut Thursday at home vs. the Miami Heat, or Sunday vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. It will be interesting to see whose minutes he might eat into. The Cavs have not shot particularly well on 3-pointers and that is said to be Windler's strength.
18. The Cavs did not trail in either of their previous two games. That may be the most surprising stat of all.
19. Next up: Things get much tougher, with a trip to face Joel Embiid and the 76ers on Tuesday. Sixers guard and NBA steals-leader Ben Simmons has missed two straight games with a shoulder injury. The early buzz is Simmons is doubtful (but hasn't been ruled out) for the Cavs.