CLEVELAND — Random dribbles a day after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 124-119 win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
1. What was different about the Cavs in this one? You can start with Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. Both were engaged from the moment the ball tipped, and Smith in particular came out firing.
2. Meanwhile, Love positioned himself on the low post and went to work against the Bucks’ more athletic (and undisciplined) defenders. Behind Love, Smith and LeBron James, the Cavs took command and refused to let this one get away.
3. Love finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds — without even so much as attempting a 3-pointer. That last part was a first since January 2015, according to my friend Rick Noland of the Medina Gazette.
4. Smith had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting and went 5-of-7 on threes. It was by far his best game of the season, and while the Cavs don’t need 20 from him every night, they do need him to look to shoot and be aggressive. That alone will give them a lift.
5. And James’ 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists were barely noticeable. Notice I didn’t write that they weren’t needed. It’s just that so many other Cavs played well that LeBron was sort of quiet — until you looked at the final box score. He also delivered an amazing bounce pass to Jeff Green on the fast-break. It ended with a one-handed slam.
6. Iman Shumpert and Dwyane Wade also gave underrated performances off the bench. Shumpert made all three of his shots (two of which were banks) and collected five rebounds. Wade scored 10.
7. The Cavs (5-6)still have plenty of work to do, of course. The defense again left a lot to be desired. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 for the Bucks, which is actually no great travesty. He does that against just about everybody. But the Cavs can’t expect to score 120-plus every game. They have to find a way to be more physical and stop collapsing every time someone drives to the hoop. They give up way too many WIDE OPEN perimeter shots.
8. Also, Derrick Rose has not been particularly impressive lately. He commits too many turnovers and sometimes has played out of control.
9. Frankly, I’d like to see more Cedi Osman, too. He’s not going to be a star, but he does play hard, offer some young legs, and has played well off the older guys. He needs some experience, and now is the time to give it to him.
10. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue on Love: “I think he did a good job of posting up with a purpose, getting physical and not bailing out guys because they were small.”
11. Lue on Smith: “When J.R. scores the basketball, it’s big for us because he’s normally making threes.”
12. LeBron on Smith: “Swish is my guy. He’s been struggling, we all know that. … He mixed it up tonight. He hit the three-ball, got in the paint. He was just Swish. We’re going to need more of that from him.”
13. J.R. on J.R.: “I just went back to my old mentality — shoot every time I touch it. Fortunately, it went the right way. Less thinking involved. I was doing too much thinking and not enough just playing.”
14. The Cavs gets James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Thursday. The Rockets are playing very well. They can score with the greatest of ease. It’s a road game. Should be real interesting to see how the Cavs fare.
15. I wrote more dribbles about the Cavs and why they didn’t make a serious run at Eric Bledsoe, traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Bucks on Tuesday. You can read the column here.