With Bynum, Cavaliers get quick lift in every department
NOV 13, 2013 12:15a ET
• It’s pretty obvious the Cavs are different team when Andrew Bynum is on the floor. The most evident difference to me is on defense. When Bynum isn't in the game, the Cavs have been giving up too many easy shots at the basket. When he is in there, that’s extremely rare.
• Never was this clearer than in last week’s loss at Philadelphia. The 76ers were compiling layups and dunks with relative ease for most of the night. Then Bynum entered. Sixers guard Darius Morris drove with confidence, figuring it was time for another easy two points. In the middle of the play, he looked up and saw Bynum standing under the hoop. Morris almost looked frightened and just kept right on dribbling out of the key -- and as far from Bynum as possible.
• Offensively, Bynum lacks lift on his shot as he plays his way back into a rhythm. Yet he’s still a major threat every time he touches the ball on the low block. When double-teamed, he's proving to be a shrewd passer. Play him one-on-one, and he has the footwork and length to get over and around you.
• All of this and Bynum isn’t close to where he or the Cavs hope/expect him to be health-wise. If he reaches the point where he can stay on the floor around 30 minutes a night, look out. With the progress Bynum is making just eight games in (he’s played six), 30 minutes isn’t a pipedream.
• Now back to the bad news. When Bynum is on the bench or taking the night off, the Cavs allow way too many easy baskets. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson aren’t great rim-protectors. Both too often lose their man by not rotating back quickly enough when offering help. As a team, the Cavs just don’t do a good enough job of forcing opponents to take contested jumpers.
• In the win over Philly last weekend, Sixers forward Thaddeus Young hit a driving layup to send the game into overtime. Sixers swingman Evan Turner scored on what looked to be the same play to send it into a second overtime. These guys are not great penetrators. Both are off to nice starts, but when the game is on the line, Cavs coach Mike Brown wants opponents taking tough shots -- not the type of layups they can get in pregame warm-ups.
• It’s tough to see the Cavs beating the Timberwolves, but don’t freak out. Minnesota is much-improved and coming off a close loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Timberwolves also lost to the Cavs by a basket last week. So they'll be looking for a little payback on their own floor.
• Plus, Bynum will miss the next two games with what the Cavs called a "family medical issue." He was probably going to miss one to rest his knees anyway. Bynum is expected to rejoin the team Saturday at Washington for that night's game.
• Without Bynum, Wolves star Kevin Love and center Nikola Pekovic could have a carnival inside. Thompson and Varejao can hold their own against anyone rebounding, but if the Wolves figured out what enabled them to come back from 23 points down last time … and execute the same strategy … it could be a long night.
• Overall, the Cavs rank 12th in the league in points allowed (98.6). Brown wants them in the top 10 (if not top five). It’s not gonna happen in the blink of an eye, though. With the fine-tuning that comes with more time together, and more time under Brown, the Cavs can still reach their defensive goals. And as bad as things may occasionally seem, they’re already much more focused and disciplined on that end of the floor.
• Offensively, well, that’s not as dire as it seems. I know, I keep repeating myself here. I will acknowledge the Cavs have some spacing issues. They also lack a deadeye perimeter shooter. Obviously, Kyrie Irving can hit from the outside. So can Dion Waiters, Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles. But Irving has yet to get unleashed, and Waiters and Miles are more of the fill-it-up scorer types than lethal marksmen.
• No matter, I wouldn’t be overly concerned with it. Brown wants the ball to move and bodies to move. He wants sharp cuts and solid picks. He wants less pounding away the shot clock with dribbles, and more fundamentally sound basketball. As he often says, he wants the Cavs to “keep things simple.”
• When those things happen, the Cavs get good looks at the basket. Granted, they haven’t happened enough, especially in road games. I’m a firm believer it will come in time.
• Miles has been fantastic. He’s in great shape and tuned in, and not just when it comes to looking for his shot. He’s also been a spiritual leader and strong example on defense. The guy is playing his buns off in reserve.
• People constantly ask if I’m worried -- about the Cavs’ offense, about Anthony Bennett, about Brown’s coaching. The answers are no, no and double no. I don’t really think a season starts until about the 20-game mark. Until then, it’s a lot of feeling your way around. Especially when you have a new coach. Or in Bennett's case, when you're a rookie.
• And honestly, who has been impressive so far? OK, the Pacers. And probably the Spurs and Thunder. After that, the fourth team that comes to mind is the Suns. And the Suns were supposed to stink and still likely will. So don’t try to tell me what’s happening now is what’s gonna happen for the next 70-plus games. I’ve covered this league for too long.
• Besides, even at 3-5 and with no road wins, the Cavs are in third place in the Central Division -- behind the undefeated Pacers and .500 Bulls. The Bucks (2-4) and Pistons (2-5) are off to even slower starts. And everyone suspected the Pistons will be fairly decent. Instead, they're like the Cavs. The Pistons also have a new coach and a bunch of new faces. Neither team needs to panic.
• Mostly, I won’t even begin to worry until the Cavs lose a home game. And probably not even then. I predicted in September they’d get into the playoffs and lose in the first round. The important thing is getting a taste of how things are done in the postseason. The Pacers didn’t get to where they are without some hardships. They lost in the first round, then the second, then the Eastern Conference finals last year. The Grizzlies experienced a similar climb out West. Record-wise, the Cavs are about where they should be, all while learning on the fly.
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