The 3-6 Cleveland Cavaliers look no different than they did last year. The starting lineup still consists of the same five that took the court on opening night a season ago, Andrew Bynum is not coming off the bench on a consistent enough basis to make an impact, Jarrett Jack has gone cold since his 12-point first half to open up the season and Earl Clark has already been downgraded. Did I forget to mention that Anthony Bennett has looked absolutely horrendous, and clueless, in the Cavs offense?
This was all sadly on display Wednesday night when the Cavaliers traveled to Minnesota for their final game of the season against the Timberwolves (6-3). Although the Cavaliers squeaked away with a one-point victory last time around despite blowing a 23-point third quarter advantage, there was no way the Wine & Gold were going to come back from 30+ down the way they were sluggishly moving on the court. This team looks unconditioned, and definitely can’t function as a unit if Kyrie Irving is the only player putting the offense into motion.
Wednesday night’s 124-95 loss at Target Center was a perfect example of all the reasons why this team has lost big on the road consistently over the past few seasons. Cleveland looked a far cry from the team that took the court at the Q opening night. This was a team that knew there assignments.
But Cleveland didn’t come prepared for the test against Minny. Players like Corey Brewer constantly ran the court and lurked in the corner. Brewer connected on all five of his three-point attempts, tallying a career-high 27 points. When a player that pumps 20+ points into one of the highest-rated offenses in the League like Kevin Martin is out (illness), you absolutely cannot let another man go unmarked and think you can get away with loose coverage.
This is where Dion Waiters comes in. The Cleveland shooting guard made good on two of his six field goal attempts and played inattentive defense. That’s why he logged 22 minutes on the Mike Brown-coached Cavaliers, the lowest minutes of any starter.
Any timeout that Brown would call, whether it be in the first quarter or the third frame, was useless. Cleveland wasn’t in the zone for a comeback, and Minnesota kept on stomping on the Wine & Gold until they eventually threw in the white flag, or in this case Matthew Dellavedova. C.J. Miles had his poorest performance of the year off the bench, so someone had to come in and aid the sloppy shooting.
What initially did the Cavaliers in was the up and down movement by the Timberwolves to start the game. Corey Brewer was the main contributor for Minnesota in this facet of the contest, scoring the game’s first nine points. Of course Ricky Rubio is a main factor in facilitating this fast-pace game, which is why the T’Wolves rank second in fast break points per game (19.7). Minnesota logged 10 assists to Cleveland’s three in the first quarter, finishing with a 34-18 advantage.
What is always going to bother me when these teams matchup up is when Tristan is in at the PF, guarding Kevin Love and roaming the perimeter. Tristan is going to lose this matchup every time, and Love either hit a face-up shot in Tristan’s mug or found an open big (looking at you, Nikola Pekovic) down low with his crafty passing. This game pretty much ended as soon as Love put the Cavs down double digits with a slam off of a between-Jarrett-Jack’s-legs feed from Rubio with 3:07 left in the first quarter.
The final nail in the coffin before Cleveland (finally) gave in happened soon after the Cavaliers went down 20 with eight minutes remaining in the half. Anthony Bennett threw an errant inbounds pass right into the hands of Brewer. It was the icing on the cake of a terrible performance against a team on the rise. No excuses for the Wine & Gold, however, as this team still looks like it has plenty of fundamental issues to work out before they string some winning streaks together.
Cleveland will have a day of rest before they face the Charlotte Bobcats (4-4) at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
PG Kyrie Irving – 20 points, two assists and one rebound, while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 20 percent from. Irving continues to look shaky from the perimeter. It seems like he’s forcing shots that are nowhere near as smooth as they were last season. I don’t see anything different happening with his stroke, but 45.1 percent is definitely not a horrible performance by any means. It just looks like he could be getting better looks. As on the defensive side, Irving got in front of a Brewer breakaway, taking an elbow to the face and going down on the court for a bit. He got back up and returned shortly.
SG Dion Waiters – Six points, two rebounds and two assists, while shooting 33 percent from the field. Another maddening performance by Dion, and you can tell that Brown was not happy with his effort. When you have a chance with Martin out to take advantage over a guy like Robbie Hummel, then you absolutely must take advantage. Dion didn’t rise up, and Hummel finished with 10 points and four rebounds, while converting on four of his six three-point attempts.
SF Alonzo Gee – Five points, two rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes. The small forward problem persists, and it got so bad that Earl Clark again saw time after sitting out two games straight. Clark shot 3-of-8 and had seven points, so who knows, we may be seeing his name in the starting lineup again. This team isn’t playing defense the way that Brown wants them to, and even though Gee has defensive value, I’m afraid to see a lot of the fault lies at the three an Gee.
PF Tristan Thompson – 10 points and six rebounds. Tristan got ripped on defense. Love bodied Thompson all night long, and got away with it by earning 12 of his 33 points at the line. Tristan may look quicker on defense, but he’s in the same physical condition as he was last season. Until the softness goes away, guys like Love and Pekovic will look forward to playing the Cavaliers.
C Anderson Varejao – 13 points, five rounds and a +/- of -22 – While many pointed to Andy and Irving’s hustle when much of the team looked flat late in the second quarter, I saw a Varejao that wasn’t helping out his court general. Andy went into perimeter shooting mode in the second frame after hitting on two straight attempts. The team was just too far behind to try and claw back with 20-foot jumpers. Not smart shots in this type of situation, and that’s exactly why Cleveland wasn’t able to match Minny’s speed on the court.
SG Sergey Karasev – Seven points, four rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes. There weren’t many bright spots to pick from off of the bench because Brown reached deep down into his reserves before the fourth quarter rolled along. Karasev had played six minutes before logging 14, but this was the first actual look we saw of Karasev working with teammates.
Mike Brown likes to call timeouts when his team is not doing what he has taught them to do on defense. If there was a way teams could be awarded infinite timeouts, Brown probably would have thrown up the signal 50 or so times to try and slow down the Minnesota offense. The fast break doomed the Cavaliers, as Minnesota racked up 29 points in that category. Brown will have to discipline his guys better to respond to getting back on defense quicker if he doesn’t want this season to be a short one.