Dribbles: Plain and simple, Cavs different now than at start

Collin Sexton is cooking like few Cavaliers rookies ever have, scoring 27 in a home win over the Pistons.

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 126-119 win over the visiting Detroit Pistons on Monday.

1. For the Cavs, there will be no playoffs. So these games are about as big as they get.

2. Last time these teams met, the Cavs didn’t have Kevin Love. This time, the Cavs didn’t have Love, either. Last time, the Cavs were hammered by 36 points. This time, not so much.

3. Granted, the Pistons are likely to be still be playing when the regular season ends in April — and were resting star forward Blake Griffin for their playoff push. But hey, that ain’t the Cavs’ problem. They can only play the opponent that steps on the floor.

4. So does this game really tell us much? Yes, kind of. It tells us the Cavs still have a fighting spirit. I know. I’ve been writing that a lot. And a fighting spirit and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee, but only if you get it from a gas station.

5. Still, it beats the alternative. Say this much for Cavs coach Larry Drew — despite all the losing, all the youth and all the injuries, the wheels have never really come off. In fact, if anything, the Cavs (18-53) are better now than they were at the beginning. And isn’t that every team’s goal?

6. The best example of that continues to be rookie point guard Collin Sexton. He buried a pair of gutsy 3-pointers late on his way to 27 points. Sexton has now scored at least 23 points in six straight games.

7. How long has it been since a Cavs rookie did that? Well, it was before LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. In fact, you will have to go way, way back — as in Austin Carr’s rookie season of 1971-72. Yes, we’re talkin’ about A.C., who plenty of fans only know as FOX Sports Ohio’s game analyst.

8. No member of the Cavs has scored at least 23 seven straight times. None. Ever. Sexton will get that chance Wednesday at home vs. the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks.

9. Sexton on the feat and big threes: “I’m not surprised because I put in the work. I knew it eventually was going to pay off. Those are the moments people will remember: ‘He made a big shot.’ Those are the moments I work for.”

10. Drew on the Cavs overall: “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Are they the same players they were at the beginning of the season?’ And by no stretch of the imagination are they. Those guys have really, really shown growth.”

11. Sexton isn’t alone. The Cavs resemble a real, professional outfit also because of the play of swingman Cedi Osman (21 points), and sometimes, the likes of shooting guard Nik Stauskas (17 points) and even Marquese Chriss (10 points, 10 rebounds) as well.

12. Stauskas, Chriss and David Nwaba (13 points as Love’s replacement) are long shots to be back next season — but that’s almost beside the point. What nights like these prove is Drew has consistently gotten the most out of what some might consider a rag-tag bunch of misfits.

13. That’s not intended to be an insult. Rather, it shows that today’s Cavs are less worried about their next contract and more concerned with the here and now. It’s not only a credit to Drew, but also to the front office. It gives hope for the future, because it indicates general manager Koby Altman is determined to find high-character guys who play hard and have gotten over themselves.

14. All of this might sound like a lot of praise for a team that has a terrible record and has to focus on the luck of the lottery as its greatest offseason hope. But former coach Tyronn Lue said at the beginning that this season isn’t about wins and losses. “It’s about wins and lessons,” he said. The Cavs have changed a lot since then, but Lue was right, and the good news is the Cavs are learning.

15. Finally, guard Brandon Knight played his best all-around game in some time, finishing with 16 points and five assists. Guard Jordan Clarkson tacked on 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting off the bench.

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