Amico: Confident Cavs clearly eager for real thing to begin

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson has displayed professionalism and battled nightly during the rocky start.

Well, at least the Cavaliers’ preseason is over. The finale came Friday night against the Detroit Pistons at Michigan State, and neither team looked exactly like basketball Spartans.

It was more like two teams who couldn’t wait for the preseason to end.

Final score: Pistons 129, Cavaliers 110 and it’s now on to something more meaningful. Namely, the real thing.

The Cavs now face a full slate of 82 regular-season games, this time without LeBron James. Most people in Cleveland don’t really want to talk about James much anymore, at least not when they’re talking about the Cavs. But it’s hard to ignore the fact the greatest player on the planet was on the team the previous four seasons — and is no longer here.

But in some regards, that may work in the Cavs’ favor. After all, no one has gotten a good look at this version of the Cavs. No one has seen film of how they’ll play in the regular season, with Kevin Love as the top option. No one yet knows how good Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton can be while playing meaningful minutes. And no one has yet witnessed how Tyronn Lue has shaped what he promises will be an up-tempo offense predicated on actual ball movement.

In other words, the Cavs can hang their hat on the element of surprise. They’re not just a new team in Cleveland; they’re a new team for the rest of the NBA, too.

They’re also a confident team. They are very clearly motivated by the fact most everyone predicts they’ll stink.

“We’re a playoff team. That’s realistic,” Cavs center Tristan Thompson told reporters at Michigan State (via Cleveland.com). “Everyone that says playoffs is overachieving doesn’t know our squad and doesn’t believe in our squad. For us, we’re a playoff team. We just have to go out there, be ourselves and prove the naysayers wrong, which we will.”

Thompson is one of two Cavs remaining who started in each of the Cavs’ four straight runs to the Finals, with J.R. Smith being the other. So it’s probably not all that surprising that Thompson is a believer in big things.

Friday’s prediction marked the second time in less than a month that Thompson stood in front of reporters and talked boldly. Last time, he named names.

“We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions, so until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say,” Thompson said on Sept. 27. “Boston, Philly, they ain’t got much to say. Boston had home court Game 7 and lost. Philly, you guys almost got swept. Toronto — we already know that story. So until someone takes us down, there’s not much they can really say.”

The fun begins Wednesday night, fittingly, at Toronto. It doesn’t end until April 9 at home against the Charlotte Hornets. Of course, if you ask Thompson and the Cavs, that’s merely when the regular season ends. They expect to play beyond that day.

It’s that realistic? Is it even smart to aim that high — with a potential lottery pick in the balance? Then again, Cavs general manager Koby Altman can always find a way to trade back into the lottery if need be.

For now, the Cavs aren’t thinking about the draft. Altman, Lue and the players are determined to build a winning culture, even without LeBron. The best way to do that, as Lue has said, is simply by winning.

The mindset entering the season really is all about “proving the naysayers wrong.” How that actually plays out, well, there’s only one way to find out.

There is still a pro basketball team in Cleveland, the Cavaliers still exist. And they very clearly are dying to show the world what they got.