School is in Session as Cavaliers face Magic to Begin Anew ... Again

Sam Amico

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- When you're a basketball player, practice is when coaches teach and players try to learn. The preseason serves as a pop quiz and the real games are when you see how much you really know.

For new coach John Beilein and the Cavaliers, it's a case of ready or not, the real thing is here.

"Every year it’s pretty much the same thing," Beilein said. "You get a few scrimmages, some exhibition games and now the real stuff. You find out where you are.”

Beilein is in his first NBA season after more than three decades as a college coach. Unlike the University of Michigan, there are no Saginaw Valley States or Albion Colleges to serve as tuneup games. There are no cupcakes.

Instead, the Cavs hit the road to face the Orlando Magic in Wednesday's opener (7 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio). The Magic think they are team on the rise behind a frontcourt that includes center Nikola Vucevic and forward Aaron Gordon.

They could make a pretty strong case, too. They are coming off a playoff appearance and actually held a 1-0 series lead against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.

The Cavs? Well, they finished 19-63. They added three rookies, including guard Darius Garland, who is expected to start. Another, swingman Kevin Porter Jr., is expected to see his fair share of minutes off the bench.

So the Cavs are on the road ... against a good team ... and still figuring out Beilein's offense while he figures out the NBA.

Yes, the Cavs have an experienced frontcourt with power forward Kevin Love and center Tristan Thompson, and even forever-underrated reserve big man Larry Nance Jr. But this is still a test they are not expected to pass. They are still early in the learning process.

Collin Sexton is still trying to prove he is a legitimate future star. Cedi Osman is still navigating life as a starting small forward. And the the other rookie, shooting guard Dylan Windler, is still recovering from a stress fracture in his leg.

"It’s going to be a challenge," Beilein said. "But I can’t wait to find out more about our team.”

Beilein was quick to add this is the first year "of our program." He corrected himself, perhaps realizing this is no longer college and the lingo is not the same. But the tests do in fact remain.

And right now, it couldn't be more evident that the Cavs are ready for a game. 

"We're just ready to play basketball," Thompson said. "Just ready to play when it matters.”

That time, finally, has indeed arrived. The 2019-20 Cavs finally get a gauge of where they can go and what they have to do to get there.

“We’re excited about it,” Beilein said. “I’m excited as I’ve been."