What? The Cavs have another three game win streak? Two in one season? A guy could get used to these things.
Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 24 points (along with eight assists and six boards) and Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington came off the bench to score 18 and 14, respectively, and the Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic for the first time since the LeBron era, 119-108. Tristan Thompson added 16 points and Dion Waiters pitched in 15 as the Cavs upped their record to 16-34. Nikola Vucevic finished with 25 points and 13 boards and Arron Afflalo scored 23 to pace the Magic (14-36), who lost their twelfth in a row.
While giving up 108 points to an Orlando team without Big Baby Davis and JJ Redick isn’t exactly a crowning achievement, it’s hard not to feel like these young Cavaliers are turning a corner. Cleveland is 6-2 in their last eight games and 11-11 since beginning the season a dismal 5-23 (and 5-2 since Chris Grant flipped Jon Leuer for a Real NBA Bench and a pick). As much fun as it is to see Kyrie go off and the Cavs steal wins against the Bostons and Oklahoma Citys of the NBA, watching them take care of business at home against teams like the Bucks, Bobcats and Magic is the real sign of progress.
The addition of Speights, Ellington and Shaun Livingston has provided a real lift for the Cavaliers. Having some decent veterans coming off the bench has taken the pressure off Cleveland’s young core and kept guys like Samardo Samuels, Donald Sloan and Omri Casspi off the court. Rather than blowing leads, Cleveland’s new bench bunch is actually increasing the leads. Led by newcomers Speights and Ellington, every Cavalier reserve had a positive +/- and they outscored their Orlando counterparts by a whopping 51-15.
Some Random Thoughts.
Weird looking box score. Tyler Zeller finished 0-0 from the floor but finished with seven points (7-10 from the stripe). Speights shot a woeful 3-13 from the floor and finished with 18 points (12-12 (!!) from the line). Also, Waiters, Thompson and Gee all played less than 30 minutes (again, really nice to see the Cavs get a win without having to run the starters ragged). It should be noted that the Cavs shot 41 free throws to Orlando’s 13.
Orlando’s starting bigs kinda dominated. Nikola Vucevic had as many offensive boards as Tristan Thompson had total boards (five). Vucevic and rookie Andrew Nicholson combined for 46 points and 21 boards while Zeller and Thompson put up a combined 23 and 9. Zeller had some major issues in keeping both Vucevic and Nicholson off the glass (the Cavs also had a number of defensive breakdowns that led to easy looks).
Kyrie Irving is good. Ho hum, 24 points eight assists, six boards and a couple big plays late in the game. This kid is a joy to watch and his array of moves is astounding. If you aren’t paying attention, shame on you.
I think Dion might be stealing some of Kyrie’s moves. Most notably, the hesitation dribble. Waiters began the game 5-5 from the floor (finishing 6-10 overall) and he can get to the rim seemingly at will. While he’ll still settle for a bad jumper, he’s getting better at picking his spots and setting himself up.
I keep waiting for Marreese Speights to come back to earth, but he refuses to do so. The big fella has scored in double digits in every game as a Cavalier and he’s had a real positive impact on this team (averaging 15 points and 7 boards off the bench will do that). Speights didn’t shoot well on Friday but he kept active, banged down low and willed himself to the line (where he shot 12-12!). He was up and down in Memphis but maybe with consistent minutes, he can keep this up.
With Samardo gone and Casspi glued to the bench, Alonzo Gee is the new whipping boy. And with good reason. Over the last five games, Gee is shooting a brutal 26% from the floor and is just 1-7 from behind the arc. It’s not like he’s stuffing the stat sheet in other ways either; ‘Zo finished 2-8 against the Magic for six points to go along with just two boards, three steals and zero assists. The small forward slot needs a slight upgrade.
Obligatory Byron Scott complaint. I like that Scott will ride the hot hand or keep the bench unit on the floor if they’re playing well. However, I feel sometimes he leaves these guys in a minute or two too long. I feel he needs to sub the starters back in before the second unit runs out of gas, not two or so plays after.
Home sweet home. The Cavs play their fourth game of their seven game homestand tonight against the Denver Nuggets (32-18) at 7:30. A fourth win a row would mark the Cavs’ longest win streak of the season and their largest streak in the post-Decision era.