Wins and Lessons with the Cavs: Let the Lessons Begin

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Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Ty Lue said this season won’t be measured in wins and losses, but rather “wins and lessons.” With that in mind, WFNY is going to follow along with what we learn every week.

The Cleveland Cavaliers kicked off their 2018-19 AD season (or, 0001-02 AL1 season, if you prefer) this week with a 116-104 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Toronto. This was a bit of a feel-out game for both teams, as neither really resembled the teams that squared off in the playoffs the last few seasons.

The Cavs kept it close for a while before the Raptors ultimately settled in and opened a 20-point lead in the second half. The Cavaliers certainly deserve some credit for fighting back and getting it back within single digits late in the 4th quarter, but the Raptors were simply too much for the new-look Cavaliers to overcome.

So what are some of the lessons to take away from this one?

The elephant in the room: Getting it out of the way, this was the first regular season game without LeBron James as part of the franchise since 2014. By the end of that season, the Cavs were rolling out Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson, and Spencer Hawes in the starting lineup. This time around they have George Hill, Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson. When you see the flaws of those lineups, you realize why this franchise’s record is what it is without LeBron James.

There’s no question. The Cavaliers are going to miss LeBron– a lot. It’s going to take time getting used to him not being there. Players who have feasted off of playing beside him for years have to learn to play without him now. These adjustments will take time, if they happen at all. The 2010-11 Cavaliers never figured how to play in a post-LeBron world. There’s no question the team has a better foundation, culture, and leadership in place now compared to back then, but there’s no guarantee they will figure it out. But game one of the season made it clear just how different things are going to be now.

The new sheriff in town: This was the first game with Kevin Love as the focal point of the offense and the results were….mixed. Love played hard and tried to assert himself quickly. He was aggressive in getting to the free throw line, especially early in the first half. He was able to get Pascal Siakam into some early foul trouble. He certainly seemed to be trying to assert himself and his team.

Of course, Love also missed a lot of shots. A. LOT. OF. SHOTS. Love finished the game 5-18 from the field (1-4 from three-point range). As WFNY’s Jeff Nomina said in our internal Slack channel that night: “Thought Love was having a great game and check box score and he’s 1-5. Which is probably a good sign.” Indeed. Love finished the game with 21 points (thanks to going 10-14 from the FT line) and 7 rebounds. His -3 rating was by far the best of the starters, if you’re looking for some kind of gold star moral victory. But the fact is, this simply wasn’t good enough for Love and the Cavs if this team is going to be successful whatsoever this season.

As Channing Frye told SBNation’s Paul Flannery: “If you’re playing with two other All-Stars, some games you can get away with having a 12-and-9 game. You can’t really get away with that anymore. We need 20-and-15, 30-and-14; those kind of games consistently. Now, he doesn’t have to do it all 82 [games], but he has to play at a super high level and he has to make other people better in his way.”

The Cavaliers will need more from Kevin Love, and Love acknowledged as much after the game. It’s not that this was a bad game, per se, from Love. He did a lot well that won’t show up in the box score, but the Cavaliers need him to knock down shots and do things that do show up in the box score as well.

What play style is this? One of the biggest questions I had going into this season was what style of play would we really see? There was a lot of talk about more movement and a faster pace. The Cavs know their defense is still a glaring weakness, so the goal is going to be to push the tempo, get out on fast breaks as much as possible, and just outscore teams as much as they can.

Of course, the Cavs were outscored 22-18 in fast break points by the Raptors. The Cavs got 6 points off turnovers, compared to 16 for the Raptors. The idea of pushing and running sounds ok, but the Cavs didn’t do a lot to inspire confidence in finishing those fast break opportunities.

Last season, the offense was mostly the ball in LeBron’s hands where he would drive and either score or kick out to a 3-point shooter. That style is pretty much completely gone, if this game is any indication. We saw a lot more mid-range jumpers in this game and a lot less wide open three-point attempts. All of this was to be expected. But it really felt like the Cavaliers were a little unsure of what their offensive identity should be in this game. It’s going to be something to keep an eye on in these first few weeks.

Other miscellaneous thoughts: If there’s one lesson to take away from this game, it’s not to take anything too seriously just yet. Watching the first quarter, it was easy to think “Hey, the Cavs are really hanging in there with the Raptors. They might not be too bad this year!”. By the second quarter, it was more, “Oh man this is gonna be a long season!”. And in the end, it was “Hey, not bad. They fought back a bit, they sort of hung in there with a team widely expected to be one of the two best teams in the Conference. It’s something to build on!”.

That’s how first games tend to go. You don’t want to overreact to much. But Cedi Osman certainly looked promising and you can see a solid game for him to build on. Collin Sexton, on the other hand, showed that he is going to have a lot he needs to work on this season. Rodney Hood showcased the best and worst of what he has to offer. Jordan Clarkson is going to drive fans crazy despite filling the box score. Figuring out how to use Kyle Korver on this team is going to be a challenge.

There are plenty of questions and things to consider, but it’s also just the first game. This one wasn’t a win, but there will be lessons to be learned for sure. But until we see more, we simply don’t know what things are lessons and what things are simply one-night outliers.

The next game won’t get any easier, as the Cavaliers travel to Minnesota tonight to take on the Timberwolves. The home opener Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks will be the first chance to see how the Cavaliers perform against a team that has less talent on paper. By this time next week, we should begin to have a little more clear vision on what, exactly, this team is made of. For now, it was fun just getting back to basketball, even if it did feel a lot different with this roster.

  1. After LeBron, duh []