Cavaliers pounded by Bulls 115-86
BY EDDIE DILWORTH
The Cleveland Cavaliers entire 2012-13 NBA season could hinge on the play of rookie guard Dion Waiters. Sure it's not fair to place an undue amount of pressure upon a rookie's shoulders, but that is the reality of where the Cavaliers stand.
Night to night, the Cavs roll out one of the youngest rosters in the league. Superstar in-the-making Kyrie Irving, who remains just 20 years old, has been forced into a leadership role – one that he embraces – with the departures of veterans Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker. However, if Waiters, who is also 20 years young, fails to provide a consistent scoring presence, the Cavs may find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
Friday night, neither Waiters, nor any of his teammates were largely productive as the Chicago Bulls manhandled the Cavs, 115-86 in a sold-out Quicken Loans Arena.
"That's what you call a good old fashion butt whooping," Cavs head coach Byron Scott said. "Obviously, as a young team we still have a lot to learn."
Chicago completely dismantled the Cavs. After trailing the Bulls by 25 points at halftime, the closest the Cavs came within the Bulls in the second half was 20. In the contest, the Cavs never had a lead or tied the game. When they showed him on the Jumbotron, even Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who sat courtside, appeared less than impressed with the Cavs lethargic effort.
When the third quarter ended and the scoreboard read Bulls 83, Cavs 56, some of The Q faithful began to head for the exits.
"I told them before the game, I told them after the game and I told them at halftime; you have to come ready to play and you have to play hard from the get-go, especially against good teams," Scott said. "Chicago's a great basketball team, especially on the defensive end. I don't think we matched their intensity from the start of the game until the end of the game, and we can't play that way against teams like that."
Irving was swarmed by the Bulls trapping defense throughout and finished the game with 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting with four assists. The Cavs can't afford too many off nights from Irving because they don't have another consistent scoring threat on the roster. Hence, they need Waiters to score.
"Anytime he's (Irving) having a tough night shooting, I have to be there," Waiters said. "It's going to click (and) we're going to still get in a rhythm with each other out there."
Waiters had Bulls forward Luol Deng in his back pocket all night. The Bulls knew Waiters was potentially the Cavs most lethal offensive option behind Irving, so Chicago had Deng, who is 6-foot-9 and one of the NBA's best defenders, guard Waiters. Waiters totaled seven points and four assists in 25 minutes.
"I didn't try to force anything, I tried to let it come to me," Waiters said after facing quite possibly the league's best defense.
None of the Cavs impressed as only three members of the team reached double figures – Irving, Varejao (12 points) and Gee (12 points). Scott emptied his bench in the fourth quarter as the Cavs were unable to surmount their first half hole.
The Cavs were abysmal in the first half. When the first quarter ended, Cleveland trailed 32-16 following a Bulls dunking and layup exhibition, effectuated by 11 first quarter assists. Meanwhile, the Bulls defense was smothering as they forced nine turnovers in the first quarter alone. By halftime, the Cavs had totaled three bench points, Chicago led 60-35 and the contest was all but over.
"Chicago's a great defensive team first and foremost," Waiters said. "Going down the stretch, we couldn't get stops when we needed them."
Chicago was flawless. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Richard Hamilton also dropped 19 points while Nate Robinson dazzled with 16 points and 12 assists off the bench. Add Deng's 14 points and Joakim Noah's 10 points in 32 minutes, and the barrage of scoring just came from too many options.
"We couldn't get stops," Waiters said. "They got every stop and then it got bad when we couldn't hit shots also. We went a long time without making a basket and they were hitting everything they threw up. Against a team like this, you have to be sharp; you have to have each other's back on the defensive end most importantly."
In a preseason contest last month, Waiters saw flashes of the effect the Bulls defense can have. Chicago's regular season defense is a far cry from the Washington Wizards defense Waiters saw this past Tuesday.
Waiters first game as a pro couldn't have gone any better. The Cavs rookie scored 17 points and collected three steals in his NBA regular season debut versus Washington. Waiters also out-shined Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who was selected one spot ahead of him in the 2012 NBA Draft.
"I thought Dion seemed to be a lot more relaxed than I thought he was going to be for the first game," Scott admitted. "He just seemed to be very calm when the game started. It's almost like the last few weeks he's been kind of waiting for this."
Devoid a bevy of offensive threats, the Cavs will need nights similar to Waiters' opener throughout the season. Cavs guard C.J. Miles was supposed to be a viable spark off the bench, but he hasn't gotten going yet.
"You just have to let the game come to you," Waiters said. "Anytime you find yourself out there trying to do too much, it kind of hurts you; so at the end of the day, it's just picking your spots – when to go."
The Cavs visit the Bucks in Milwaukee Saturday night.
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POSTED 11/02/2012 23:25