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Random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ 131-123 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
1. This team is going to all right. At least, it sure feels that way after two games. And by “all right,” I mean the Cavs are going to play hard, keep scrapping and even when overmatched, display the type of spirit that their fans can get behind.
2. Yeah, I know, it’s only been two games, and the Cavs have lost both. But I can only go by what I’ve seen so far.
3. Besides, I’m reserving judgement until I see the Cavs play a home game. I said it about the opening loss to the Toronto Raptors and I’ll say it again here — the Cavs could have lost in similar fashion with You Know Who still on the team.
4. So far, the difference between this season and last is the Cavs don’t just sort of go through the motions. No longer will you hear coach Tyronn Lue say, “Just get me to the playoffs.” Now, every game matters. The Cavs want to build good habits even in losses. It seems that’s what they are doing.
5. Kevin Love was fantastic with 25 points and 19 rebounds. Cedi Osman was nearly as good in just his second game as the new starting small forward. Osman scored 22 points, passed for eight assists and went 4-of-7 on 3-pointers.
6. Osman to reporters: “It’s all good. We really enjoy playing with each other. It’s going to be a really fun year for us.”
7. For the second game in two tries, the Cavs were bad in the second quarter. They gave up 71 points in the first half. Their transition defense needs serious work. They say they know that.
8. Osman again: “Everything starts with the defense. We have to start playing tough, start denying the ball. We have learn to play defense for 48 minutes, not just three quarters or 20 minutes. And we will.”
9. Osman, Love, Jordan Clarkson and rookie Collin Sexton have all already been playing with loads of confidence.
10. Clarkson finished with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He is instant offense off the bench, a major threat off the dribble. His mid-range game looks to have vastly improved.
11. Sexton scored 10 of his 14 points in the critical fourth quarter. He’s just 19 years old and was playing in his second real NBA game. But it’s very clear he’s not in awe of anyone or anything. He just competes.
12. The Cavs trailed by 21 with 8:13 left in the third quarter. But they cut it to four on a couple of occasions in the fourth. They were still very much in it with a minute left. They didn’t give in. They kept fighting. And the bench was a major part of the equation. Those are all good signs.
13. Interestingly, it was Clarkson and Sexton who manned the backcourt in the game’s most meaningful moments — while starters George Hill and Rodney Hood watched from the bench. That doesn’t mean Hill and Hood are headed for reserve roles. It just means the Cavs clearly have some fire on the second unit.
14. Better yet, while it’s still very early, maybe Lue is finding some combinations and rotations that work. That would be good news, because the Cavs no longer have a superstar. Any success will be the result of determination, teamwork and chemistry.
15. Tristan Thompson gave an extremely underrated showing with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He made his first six shots. He also collected 10 boards. Better yet, Thompson spent most of the game defending Wolves standout center Karl-Anthony Towns, who was mostly miserable on offense (12 points, 4-of-10 shooting, four turnovers). Towns did compile four blocks, including a couple of biggies near the end.
16. Not enough can be said about Love, who was a rebound away from a 20-20 night. For the second straight game, he struggled with his shot (6-of-19 from the floor). But he’s been considerably more aggressive at getting to his spots and positioning himself near the basket. As analyst Campy Russell said on FOX Sports Ohio, a few more of those shots go down and Love has himself a 35-point night.
17. Love to reporters: “We’ve gotta not dig ourselves a hole. We showed a lot of grit, determination. We were right there. If we can put together some consistent basketball …”
18. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are supposed to be a mess, but looked far from that. Star swingman Jimmy Butler has demanded a trade and the Wolves intend to accommodate him.
19. Of course, Butler was outstanding at both ends. He is clearly driving up his trade value. He made a huge steal and finished with 33 points and seven rebounds. He went 10-of-12 from the floor and 12-of-12 on free throws. Minnesota fans booed him heartily at the beginning. But they chanted “MVP!” at the end.
20. Butler comes to play every time he steps on the court. He was the difference in the game. And yet the Timberwolves MUST trade him. Otherwise, he’ll bolt on his own in free agency.
21. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau: “We did a lot of really good things to build that lead, but in this league you let your guard down … and now you’re fighting for your life again.”
22. The Cavs want more coaches to say that about them as the season goes on. They want every opponent to feel as if it is fighting for its life. So far, they’re getting that done. Now they just need a home game. The first is coming Sunday against the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
23. Their goal should be to steal a few on the road and take care of business at The Q. Right now, the Cavs look more than capable of doing just that.