The mountain has been turned into a series of considerably smaller molehills. While the Cleveland Cavaliers have a long way to go before they are even within eyesight of the top, each rest station along the way comes with its own intrinsic reward.
After being embarrassed by 18 points in Detroit late last week, the Cavaliers — the team as well as the front office — had a series of meetings. There was a closed-door meeting with Byron Scott, his assistant coaches and all 15 players. Blunt objects were not thrown, but choice words most definitely were. From there, Scott and his coaches sat down to focus on the short and intermediate term. Long term talk is fantastic fuel for narrative, but it was obvious that young players needed something on which to hang their respective hats.
As unfavorable as the first-half has been for the Cavaliers in the win-loss department, it has been even worse from a scheduling standpoint with the team having played 28 road games — the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics have each played 22; the Miami Heat have traveled just 23 times. The fortune has started to turn, however, as the mishap in Motown was placed immediately in the rear view mirror and a six-game homestand was the only thing that stood between present day and the All-Star break.
Using this cross-section of the schedule, Scott and his team went to work.
On a giant white board inside of the Cavaliers locker room, pregame pep-talks come accompanied with in-game goals — these typically encompass target numbers of trips to the free throw line as well as things like assist-to-turnover ratio. But to find the root of these bogeys, Scott lobs series-long goals at his players. Taking things a bit further, he decided to utilize the six-game stretch to focus on pictures bigger than an insular game, but more granular than a narrative like competing for an NBA title.
“We always have small goals, to be honest with you,” the head coach told WFNY earlier this week. “We always go into a season. It might be a five-game plan or a ten-game plan — we always look at it into just small steps to see what we want to achieve in these next five games or these next ten games. We pull out all our numbers that we want to try to hit on both ends of the floor. All those small goals eventually turn into big goals when it’s all said and done, but you want to give these guys something to hold on to.”
The numbers, per Scott, are aggressive, but realistic. The players agree. And if the first two games of the six-game stand are any sign, said players are also well on their way to meeting — if not exceeding — the targets placed before their collective arrows. Following a roof-raising fourth quarter against the championship contending Oklahoma City Thunder, the Wine and Gold took what appeared to be a trap game against the Charlotte Bobcats and turned into a whistle-t0-horn waxing.
The starting unit, who was given the fourth quarter off as means of punishment in Detroit, watched the final period from the bench once again, but this time as means to give The Nephews 1 some additional run. Kyrie Irving had a quiet 22 points on 88.4 true shooting percentage. Tristan Thompson had 15 points and six boards at the half, falling a rebound shy of a double double and nearly topping Irving’s efficient evening with a true shooting mark of 87.1 percent. Rookie off-guard Dion Waiters was the team’s leading scorer for a portion of the night, tallying 19 points in just 24 minutes of play. Newcomers Marrese Speights and Wayne Ellington each chipped in double-figure point totals off of the bench.
Ball movement? There was plenty — the Cavaliers recorded 33 assists; The Nephews recorded 17 assists on their own with just 21 field goals made. Ball control? Compared to the 33 assists, the Cavs turned the ball over just six times. The wire-to-wire effort and focus that had been missing at times throughout the marathon season? Lasers.
“I was curious to see if we learned from some of our past mistakes and if we have grown as a basketball team and I can say we definitely have,” said Scott following the latest win. “It’s just a matter of now keeping it going but I really love the signs I saw from our guys. The effort from the beginning of the game, we pretty much carried it out throughout the game.”
The team was told that had they lost momentum and allowed the woeful Bobcats to beat them at home, any praise and pomp that had been rained upon them due to the win over the Thunder meant nothing. They Cavaliers were challenged. The Cavaliers accepted.
While that loss in Detroit stings and serves as a rude awakening to the youthful and inexperienced truth that exists underneath all of the fanfare, the Cavaliers have won five of their last seven contests, as well as five of their last six at Quicken Loans Arena. The win over the ‘Cats marked the largest regular season margin of victory for the Cavs since March 1, 2010 when Cleveland won by 31 points in a 124-93 win over the New York Knicks and a small forward named LeBron James dropped — of course — 22 points.
Rest assured that these two wins, while fulfilling in their own right, will disappear the moment this team decides to let off of the gas pedal. If and when they do, as young players tend to from time to time, it will be Scott and his staff to ensure that the ship’s direction is realigned and the smaller game-to-game goals are put in place as to promote focus and progress. Not a management tactic exclusive to the Cavaliers, but one that may carry the most value given the circumstances that surround the city and this specific cast of characters.
Following the contest against the Bobcats, Irving had what could be perceived as a mental lapse, not being able to recall the next two teams who the Cavaliers will host prior to the break. But it could also be seen as a player who is not looking ahead, focusing on the task at hand, climbing the ladder one goal-based rung at a time.
“The season is such a long season — its hard for guys to stay focused through 82 games, you know, and eight games in preseason, that’s a lot of games,” said Scott this week. “Trying to hit our target on short term goals, we do that almost weekly.
“We’ll see if we hit those numbers when the All-Star break comes; when we come back, we’ll have even more.”
- A term coined by Fred McLeod — via Twitter — for the reserve unit which pays obvious homage to Kyrie Irving’s ‘Uncle Drew’ [back]