CHICAGO – Fortunately this is only the preseason.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have more than two weeks to go before opening the 2021-22 campaign in Memphis. And if Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls is any indication, they’ll need the 15 days to get rid of the rust, learn about this new offense, create an identity, create chemistry and become a connected group. They are far from that.
Cleveland was crushed in the opening game of Tuesday’s preseason, 131-95.
Looking uneasy and uncertain on offense, the Cavs missed 13 of their first 14 shots before ending the quarter on a flurry and reducing Chicago’s lead to six. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio – two of the expected veteran stabilizers – were at the center of the brief turnaround. Rubio orchestrated the offense and Love drained some 3-point rapids. It all fell apart from there.
The young people of Cleveland began to press and force things. Ill-advised shots. An abundance of turnovers. Sloppy and disconnected defense. Looks of perplexity.
Ahead of the game, head coach JB Bickerstaff said he wanted to see how the squad changed – with a rookie in the starting lineup, three new players in the rotation and what should be a revamped offense that plays faster and creates more than 3- pointers – watched against a quality opponent. Tuesday was the opportunity to film and analyze everything in the coming days.
There is clearly a lot to learn.
“I wanted them to understand how hard this league is and how hard it is to win and be good in this league and how you have to value all the little things to be a winner in this league,” he said. Bickerstaff said of his post. after the loss. “We talked about the courage you have to play with when you’re supposed to carry a culture and an organization. Every night there are targets on your back and you have to prepare for them. It is not an easy thing. But you have to learn and these are the choices that you are going to have to make. You have to understand that people come to you and how do you react when they come to you? “
In some ways, Chicago was a valuable measuring stick. The Bulls are also looking to make a playoff push after a 31-game winning season and an abundance of hard-hitting summer additions. There are technically 10 places available in the Eastern Conference. This is the path to the Play-In tournament. The Bulls look like a formidable obstacle at Cleveland’s goal.
Behind a pesky defense, a 3-point barrage, a deadly transition game triggered by the Cavaliers’ 22 mistakes, the Bulls exploited Cleveland’s weaknesses and showed the value of experience. They pushed the lead to 43 points at the start of the second half, when the regulars were still there.
It somehow got worse from there.
The popular number 3 pick Evan Mobley started alongside Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen. Like the team, it took a while for Mobley to acclimatize. Even during the preseason, there is a different level of size, speed, length, athleticism, and natural talent. Mobley learned the hard way.
His third possession ended with a trip. Minutes later, the 7-footer saw a layup attempt blocked by 6-foot-4 swingman Javonte Green. Mobley didn’t score his first basket until 9:14 of the second quarter, knocking down a float off Garland’s pass.
Mobley’s biggest impact came on the other end. His length, springs, and instincts were apparent, helping him finish the debut with two blocks, a flight and a plethora of modifications. Mobley also scored 10 of 3 of 7 on the field and 4 of 4 on the foul line in 22 minutes.
“We have to come out ready every time we step out on the floor,” Mobley said, recapping his debut. “We got out a bit slow. We were all nervous, first game, we’re a young team. This largely played a factor.
Another of the new additions, Lauri Markkanen, scored 13 points off the bench. Acquired from the Bulls in a three-way trade with Portland and Chicago, 24-year-old Markkanen is eagerly awaiting a fresh start after four uneven seasons to begin his NBA career.
Sexton led all scorers with 14 points. Rubio also hit double digits, with 10 points left with six assists and five rebounds in 20 minutes.
In total, the Cavs shot 30 of 84 (35.7%) from the field and 10 of 33 (30.3%) from long distance. They collected 21 assists.
This is not what Bickerstaff expected. Not what he wanted either. Barely the exciting – and entertaining – style he foreshadowed.
The good news: Preseason games don’t count – and there’s a chance to bounce back Wednesday in Atlanta. The bad news: pretty much everything else.
“Our guys are going to learn more, get better at what we ask them to do with the more reps they get,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve had 10 days to do the things we’re trying to do. And you do these things against yourself, against guys who are still learning. We will continue to grow and this is what our young people are going to have to do. They need to continue to focus every day on how they can improve, not just individually, but what it takes to be a good team and what it takes to lead and carry a team. These are different things that they have to keep working on. We will do our best to help them.
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