The Cleveland Cavaliers played an actual basketball game on Wednesday night, a 113-112 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
While the final results are merely a footnote in exhibition basketball, there were plenty of notes and observations from the first preseason game. The Wine and Gold were back on the court, and that reason alone is grounds for excitement.
With Evan Mobley sidelined the next 1-2 weeks with an ankle injury, the Cavs rolled out a starting lineup of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Kevin Love and Jarrett Allen.
The Cavs starting backcourt looked impressive as Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell combined for 29 points and nine assists in the first half before giving way to the reserves.
The Cavs scrapped until the final buzzer, tying the game at 109 with 30 seconds left before Philly scored on their next possession on a basket by Montrezl Harrel forced a missed 3-pointer from the corner.
Opening night is just 14 (13 depending on when you're reading this) days away. Here are my five thoughts on what happened at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Donovan Mitchell is the real deal
The Cavs were a team that struggled at times to put the ball in the basket last season. Adding a player like Donovan Mitchell provides an instant jolt of offense. Mitchell knocked down a couple early 3s and the Cavs first 15 points came from beyond the arc.
Mitchell showed his ability to knock down shots, but also that he wasn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas, particularly in a preseason game. He pulled down a tough offensive rebound midway through the 2nd quarter and finished with the and-1.
He played off the ball while Garland was on the floor but assumed the primary ball handling duties with Garland on the bench in the second quarter. Mitchell showed why he’s much more than a scorer, displaying some chemistry with Caris LeVert while running the show as the pair hooked up for a couple give-and-gos.
He ended the night after just under 19 minutes of work with an efficient 16 points on a tidy 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep.
Kevin! Where’d you get all them dimes from?
Kevin Love can’t be forgotten in this offensive equation, either. Love knocked down his first three 3-pointers and his ability to stretch the floor and hit perimeter shots, whether it comes off the bench of in a spot starting role, can’t be overlooked.
Love played in 74 games last year, the most since the championship season in 2016. He’s made it a point to focus just as much on the “prehab” as the rehab as he ages.
He finished the night with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Prime Love in limited doses can go a long way towards a successful Cavs offense.
Caris LeVert gets the first shot at small forward
Caris LeVert got the first crack at the starting small forward position and made a couple of nice plays defensively, with a block in transition in the game’s first two minutes and deflecting a ball off a 76ers player to force a turnover.
He had active hands in the passing lanes and used his trademark quickness to be in good position to defend.
Levert knocked down a 3-pointer in the second quarter and was credited with one turnover, but the offensive element LeVert brings was never in question. For a team that rocketed from 25th in defense to 5th a year ago, the Cavs will place an emphasis on team defense. LeVert’s showed his commitment to defending early and often in his 13:40 of playing time and contributing seven points.
Dylan Windler injured AGAIN
Dylan Windler was out of the lineup with an ankle injury. He was one of about a half-dozen that Bickerstaff said were competing for the small forward position. Windler’s career has been completely mauled by injuries, and it’s been next to impossible to get a true sense of what he could provide on the floor.
This training camp, Windler appeared to be healthy and ready to finally make a serious run at a spot in the Cavs rotation. Alas, another injury interrupted his time on the floor. The best ability is availability, and for Windler has been absent more than he’s been accounted for since he was drafted with the 26th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
What is a transition take foul?
The NBA Board of Governors approved a change to the playing rules back in July that cracked down on defensive players who commit a “transition take foul,” which is an intentional foul committed by a defender to deprive the offensive team of a fast-break opportunity.
The league has made it a point of emphasis in the preseason. A primary factor in determining a violation lies in whether the defender makes a legitimate play on the ball. If the foul occurs before the fast break, it can also be deemed a transition take foul.
The 76ers where whistled for a couple transition take fouls in the first half, when Joel Embiid committed one on Darius Garland in the 1st quarter and Raul Neto drew one on James Harden as time wound down in the 2nd quarter.
The Cavs made it a point to improve their conditioning this training camp, with Donovan Mitchell even remarking that this has been the most difficult training camp he’s been a part of. While the Cavs didn’t run the 76ers off the floor, both teams frequently pushed the pace and traded rushes in the first half.
The Wine and Gold don’t play another game until Monday night against these same 76ers, but the Wine and Gold scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Wolstein Center on Cleveland State’s campus.
Tickets are free for any fans who want to get an early glimpse of the team.
You may also like:
SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel for more coverage of the Cavaliers!
Follow our comprehensive Cavs coverage through Sports Illustrated's FanNation network here:
Follow Jon Rudder on Twitter: @JonRudder