Dribbles: Porter Jr. Gives Cavs Reason to Smile in Loss to Harden, Rockets

Sam Amico

CLEVELAND -- Random dribbles from the Cavaliers' 116-110 toughie of a home loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

1. When you're rebuilding, even when you play well, you still lose. And the Cavaliers did play very well in perhaps their most entertaining game of the season ... and still lost.

2. But that's OK. Anymore, their 5-19 record is almost beside the point. Nobody really expected the Cavs to beat James Harden and the Rockets. 

3. Overall, this is the kind of night coach John Beilein and the Cavs are hoping to experience more often. It's safe to say they're not going to the playoffs. We have no idea which veterans will still be here after the trade deadline in February. So the idea is to approach each night like a playoff game, to be mentally ready and give it your best shot. On Wednesday, that was the Cavs.

3. Harden finished with 55 points and made everything look so effortless along the way. At times, the Cavs guarded him very well. But as Beilein said, "Harden was Harden. We had some great (defense) on him and he still made it."

4. Harden is left-handed. For the Cavs, the story of the night was another left-hander, rookie swingman Kevin Porter Jr. He grew up idolizing Harden and the two spent some time training together over the summer. 

5. Porter was fantastic, playing by far his best game as a pro. He finished with a career-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, all in 29 minutes off the bench.

6. Along with that, he was instrumental in the Cavs' 17-0 run to start the fourth quarter by deflecting passes, making shots, making the right play. Not bad for the No. 30 overall draft pick.

7. But something else about Porter seemed to impress Beilein the most -- and it's that Porter has "embraced coaching at a high level."

8. Beilein explained. "Every timeout and every sideline discussion, he is so tuned in to the coaches," he said. 

9. Beilein credited lead assistant J.B. Bickerstaff as playing a big role in Porter's development. "(Porter) is gaining confidence," Beilein said. "We're putting him on some of the best players in the NBA. He plays with some passion, and it really means a lot to him to play well defensively."

10. This has been an ongoing theme lately. Porter has been picking it up, seemingly becoming more comfortable with the pro game each night. He's a rookie, so some rocky outings likely await. But all the Cavs really want from the likes of Porter, Collin Sexton (18 points) and Darius Garland (11) is to consistently show promise.

11. Cavs center Tristan Thompson on Porter: "The kid has something special in him, I'll tell you that. Like I've told you guys, the kid is a dark horse."

12. Harden on Porter: "Obviously, lefties have an advantage. He was aggressive. I haven't really watched him or their team much, but tonight his shot looked very good. He was attacking the rim and played with confidence. As a young guy, that's what you want to do." 

13. Interestingly, most of the positive things said about Porter on Wednesday were the questions so many had about him entering the draft. It's why he slid to the end of the first round. So far, he has answered those questions.

14. Along with Porter and Sexton, the Cavs received fine outings from Jordan Clarkson (17 points) and Thompson (11 points, seven boards). Also, Kevin Love bounced back from a rough three-game stretch with 17 points and 11 boards. 

15. But Love missed a 15-footer and committed a turnover in the final three minutes. The Cavs trailed just 107-105 with exactly 2:00 in the game. It wasn't Love's fault that they lost, far from it. Rather, it was just another example of their inability to get over the top when things are close.

16. Love on the outcome: "We shared the ball, had fun with it. Typically the 50-50 balls haven't gone our way. But sometimes, if you just play hard and play the right way, the basketball gods have a way of working things out. We played 46 really good minutes. It just wasn't enough there at the end."

17. Love added: "We fought against a very good team tonight, and KPJ was probably our best player."

18. Porter Jr. on his night: "It's really a confidence-booster seeing the ball go through the hole multiple times. I tried to do my best on (Harden). He just made a lot of tough shots. He gave me some encouraging words after the game and said to just keep going."

19. Russell Westbrook added 23 points for the Rockets (16-8). Clint Capela scored 10, grabbed 13 rebounds and swatted three shots.

20. For more on the game, check out the SI.com recap: Harden's 55 help Rockets withstand Cavaliers.

21: Next up: The Cavaliers hopped on a plane about an hour after the final buzzer to head for San Antonio. Back-to-backs anywhere are never your friend, especially on the road. And especially after a game where you're drained, like the loss to the Rockets. "That one hurts," Beilein said. "It will be a long plane ride."

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