CLEVELAND, Ohio – After being sidelined for nine months in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cleveland Cavaliers requested four preseason games.
Three down. One to go.
Wednesday’s matchup, the first of two consecutive games against the New York Knicks, became more of an audition as the Cavaliers gave big minutes to their marginal rotational players in the 100-93 loss. The Cavs wasted an 18-point lead in the second half. They are 2-1 in the preseason.
Andre Drummond, one of the mainstays in the ever-changing starting group due to injuries, set the tone early and helped the Cavs build a big lead in both halves.
The Cavs played through him on offense, using his size around the edge and unique passing skills for a center. Drummond was dominant in the camp for the first few weeks, and no one in Cleveland could match his strength. The Knicks had the same problem. Drummond scored 18 more points with 14 rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes. He’s ready for the opener.
Point guard Darius Garland continued to make positive strides, finishing with 13 points and five assists.
But the Cavs’ back-end options failed to hold the lead against a mix of starters and reserves from New York in the fourth quarter, better than 34-13.
With eight players missing, including late scratch Dante Exum, and one more missed opportunity to develop continuity, Wednesday was more about rewarding the guys who are either fighting for a permanent spot or rotating playtime. It was an opportunity to test the depth of the team.
“Whether here or elsewhere, right now they have the chance to be seen throughout the league,” said head coach JB Bickerstaff. “What can you do for the team, even if you are played the right way at those times, when there is so much at stake for you personally and your career? Can you still play the right way? Are you still selfless? Are you still willing to participate? Take the opportunity.
‘We’ve all seen it. There has been that man who stood out in the preseason and eventually made a team and after that his career has become extremely successful. We have also seen it the other way around. We’ve seen guys come in and press and try to get their numbers but it doesn’t work out for them. So this is an opportunity for these guys. “
Thon Maker started with power forward, which allowed Bickerstaff to take a closer look at Drummond-Maker’s front line. Maker finished with five points, six rebounds and one block.
‘They are extremely long. They can interact. They play hard together. They like to play together. They defensively ate space. They protected the paint, ”Bickerstaff said of the tandem. “I think in the third quarter (the Knicks) had five points in the paint or something. A lot of it had to do with those two guys wandering through the paint, challenging edge shots, and being able to rebound and start our break. I thought it was good to be able to put that type of size on the floor. “
Damyean Dotson signed with the Cavs towards the end of the free service and has impressed coaches so far. Dotson took the place of injured starting gunman Collin Sexton, and it was a special opportunity for Dotson, who returned to Madison Square Garden, his basketball home for the past three NBA seasons. Dotson admitted it was “weird” to enter the visitor’s locker room and enter through another loading dock for the morning shoot.
Dotson played against his old team, scoring six points and providing three assists in 24 minutes.
“The goal is to get him to the ground,” said Bickerstaff. “I think what he does is a bit unique to us. His size, the way he can take his own photo. We have guys who can make plays for him. But having a guy get you a bucket will be key for us late in the shot clock and stuff. So he also helps our other players. He makes Darius better, he makes Collin better, he makes Kevin better. It’s busy in that position. “
Dylan Windler is another player in that group. After missing the entire season due to leg surgery last season, Windler continued his steady rise. He scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting and 2-of-4 from 3-point range before slipping awkwardly and stopping in the third quarter. He watched the rest of the game from the couch with a wrap around his left lower leg. Bickerstaff called it as a precaution because it was the same lay that gave him trouble during his lost rookie season.
The Cavs closed the match with Dotson, Matt Mooney, Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens and Marques Bolden.
Wade, who opened camp with the inside track to one of the last selection spots, scored nine points and got four rebounds. Bolden added eight points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Cleveland will finish the preseason in New York on Friday and will likely use the game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener that will run in a week.