The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the preseason with a mark of 3-4 after a 100-82 home loss to the Indiana Pacers; a game that was close up until the final period of play. The Cavaliers were outscored in the prior three frames 78-71 and appeared to be in the game behind strong performances by small forward Alonzo Gee (finally) and Kyrie Irving.
Head coach Byron Scott switched things up with a new starting lineup, going with Gee, Irving, Tyler Zeller, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters for most of the game. Each player, beside the lackadaisical effort that Wild Thing left on the court, played somewhere around 30 minutes or more. Something I have been really disappointed in throughout the postseason has been Varejao, who finished the night with 0 points and seven rebounds. I know that Varejao is a veteran, but he should have been setting a better example for players such as Zeller and Tristan Thompson.
We never go to look at the Thompson-Varejao lineup last season and we got our first look of the Zeller-Varejao combo last night, but Andy didn’t allow any sort of chemistry to work between either of them in the seven preliminary games. Because of the lack of effort, the Pacers were allowed to collect double digit boards on the Cavaliers, something that has been a problem for the team all preseason long. The energy on defense has been nonexistent, and it looks as if players aren’t trying to get down in the paint and go up for rebounds.
The Wine and Gold finished with 39 boards on the night, one of their weakest efforts of the preseason. Cleveland started off hot on the glass, but lost liveliness soon after the first quarter ended. What I did like from the defensive side was how Zeller, who started for the first time, matched up against Pacers big man Roy Hibbert. Hibbert shot 1-of-4 from the field and collected five rebounds in 23 minutes. Zeller by far shot the best out of anyone on the Cavaliers roster, going 5-of-8 from the field and grabbing a team-high seven boards.
As a team the Cavaliers shot a paltry 27-of-73 (37.0 percent) from the field and 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) from three. The Cavs haven’t had an impressive shooting night all preseason long, and rookie Dion Waiters, who started and played 31 minutes against Indiana, has led that struggle. Waiters shot 22.2 percent from the field and recorded his average two-assist, three-rebound game. If Waiters can’t hit shots as a starter in a preseason game, how is Scott expecting him to do that as a starter in a regular season game?
On the Pacers side, everyone on the bench seemed to be getting called into the game. When Indiana center Ian Mahinmi started hitting jumpers, you knew that it wasn’t the Wine and Gold’s night. Their bench outscored Cleveland’s 49-19, but answered a lot of question on Cleveland’s side of things regarding roster cuts. Kevin Jones, Michael Eric and Jeremy Pargo saw no minutes, while point guard Donald Sloan, who is on the hot seat, made no impact in his 15 minutes off the bench.
With all that said, I expect the Pacers to have one of the best starting and most-balanced starting five in the NBA. They went with Hibbert, David West, Danny Granger, Paul George and D.J. Augustin last night, and each was impressive in their own way. Hibbert may have been a non-impact on the boards and offense, but he controlled the middle of the lane, while Augustin logged 35 minutes and finished with 11 assists and nine points.
Something I was not impressed with was the Cavaliers effort in the preseason. A shaky win against an international team, a blowup against the Chicago Bulls and an overtime win against the Orlando Magic were the Cavs three wins. They were blown out in three of their four losses, which were all Central Division opponents. They will see those foes 18 times in the regular season, so this loss does concern me some bit.