Normally December 26 is a day for Christmas Hangover. It often involves travelling, unpacking, laundry, shopping/returning, and just in general lamenting that the Christmas holiday is over.
This year, however, we’re lucky. This year, we get to experience the start of the 2011-12 Cleveland Cavaliers season. Things get started at 7:00 at The Q against the Toronto Raptors and I can’t remember the last time I felt this much excitement at starting what will probably be a losing season. I’ve already discussed my general thoughts on the season as a whole, and in that some of the things I’m excited about this season independent of wins and losses. Now it’s time to think about the opening game.
Last season the Cavaliers attempted to take LeBron’s leftovers and pass them off as a Thanksgiving feast. The results were mostly disastrous and created an emotionally difficult season for fans. But buried in all the bad memories were some really good things. The team learned a lot of hard lessons last year, and for those on the team who lived through it, those lessons were the first step of rebuilding.
And rebuilding is what this season is finally about. And that rebuilding will be done block by block, one game at a time. Tonight’s game against the Raptors is that first step, and that’s the main source for my excitement for this season. As of right now, this year’s Cavaliers are a blank slate. A mixture of unanswered questions and unmolded clay. It’s time to start answering those questions tonight.
The Cavaliers will debut a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao. The bench rotation will likely feature Ramon Sessions, Daniel Gibson, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and some combination of Ryan Hollins and/or Samardo Samuels. One X Factor in terms of minutes will be Christian Eyenga. I’m not clear yet on how he will find minutes if Gee is Coach Scott’s preferred backup at SF. Can Eyenga cut into Gibson’s minutes at SG or Gee’s minutes at SF? I’m curious to see how that plays out.
The Toronto Raptors are a team that is actually pretty similar to the Cavaliers in a lot of ways. They are a team trying to recover from losing their franchise player in Chris Bosh. They feature a mixture of veterans with young players they are trying to evaluate. Much like the Cavaliers, they are team sure to have more losing nights than winning nights this season, but for them, what’s much more important is the level of improvement they find in their on court schemes and play and the development of young players like DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis.
First year head coach Dwane Casey will bring to The Q a starting lineup of Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, and Jamaal Magloire. Bench players for the Raptors include Jerryd Bayless, Ed Davis, Leandro Barbosa, and Aaron Gray.
The Raptors were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season, and Casey has promised to make defense a focal point for the team this year. The Raptors showed some defensive promise in their preseason matchups with the Celtics. The question for them will be whether it carries over into the regular season.
For the Cavaliers, both sides of the ball need vast improvement. A huge turnaround in game one shouldn’t be expected, and there will definitely be some rust and some jitters, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t show some signs of life in this game against Toronto. Having Varejao back will help on defense, and adding Casspi and Irving on offense should help.
It’s next to impossible to predict a score or outcome for this game. It shouldn’t seem as though it doesn’t matter, either. A win would (obviously) be a great start to the season a great confidence builder. Byron Scott’s teams have always shown massive improvements in his 2nd year at the helm. Cleveland is a much different circumstance from the Hornets and Nets, however, and the lockout certainly didn’t help. First and foremost, a win may be what everyone is rooting for, but beyond that, everyone should be looking for signs of the future and points of optimism for what is to come for the future of this franchise.