We’re talking ‘bout practice …
Time Share ... As the calendar year wraps up, the Cavaliers travel to Indiana for a New Year’s Eve matinee with the Pacers – the top team in the East at 24-5 – with just a single home loss on the season.
The Cavs come to town as a team in transition. The starting lineup has been fluid all season and Mike Brown was forced to make another pair of changes over the last week alone.
But change isn’t always a bad thing, especially with a young roster like the Cavaliers. In Andrew Bynum’s absence, young bigs like Tyler Zeller and Anthony Bennett – the last two players on the floor following Tuesday’s practice at CCC – will get a chance to show their wares. And both have been impressive in spurts over the past week.
Zeller started 55 games as a rookie, but injuries and a truncated training camp set the sophomore back so far this season. He’s averaging over 15 minutes per contest over his last five, including a 21-minute run in Boston. In the December 23 loss to Detroit, Zeller held his own against the Pistons’ daunting frontline, scoring 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Against Boston, he grabbed 10 boards.
Bennett wasn’t thrown into the NBA fire the way Zeller – and Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were in previous seasons – and his development has taken a while longer. But the freshman from UNLV looks to be turning a slight corner and, like Zeller, found himself on the floor during crunch time in Beantown.
What did those fourth quarter minutes mean to Bennett?
“(It) boost my confidence a little, knowing I can go and defend in the fourth quarter,” said Bennett. “My conditioning has been great so far, so I just have to keep pushing.”
Bennett has shed some weight that remained after an offseason rehabbing a shoulder injury, and he’s noticeably quicker.
Mike Brown has been impressed with his rook’s gradual improvement.
“The little things that you see are: he’s running the floor better, he’s more of a presence defensively, he’s setting screens a little bit better,” said Brown. “The one thing that he has to do is, when he has the ball in his hands, (to) make sure he slows down a little bit. If he could slow down with the ball in hands a little bit, he’ll make some huge strides.”
“It is different, because in college I was taught to go before the double-team (arrived), to make a quick move,” admits the Brampton, ON native. “But here in the NBA, you have to just wait, clear space and see what the defense is giving you.”
After a pair of DNPs, Bennett’s minutes have also increased over the past week. He notched seven points in 15 minutes against Detroit and had his best overall line in Boston – finishing with five points, five boards, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
But NBA opponents haven’t been the only obstacles during Bennett’s rookie season so far. He’s been bombarded by critics who – in Mike Brown’s words – want to see progress “yesterday.” Bennett’s had to put the critics out of his mind and focus on basketball.
“I think he’s getting better (dealing with the criticism),” said Coach Brown. “I think it’s helping him become a stronger individual. At first, I think it bothered him. Not to say that it doesn’t because he wants to play better and prove to everybody he’s worthy or where he was selected. At first, I thought it wore on him, but now he’s strong enough to fight through it.”
“I really don’t pay attention to all that (criticism),” admitted Bennett. “That’s just people’s opinions. I just have to focus on what we have here and try to win some games.”
He and his teammates will get that opportunity against the beasts of the East, and there couldn’t be a better way to ring in the new year.
The Kid’s Alright … The Cavaliers recalled rookie swingman Sergey Karasev from the Canton Charge on Monday and he made the trip to Indiana with the squad for Tuesday’s matchup with the Pacers.
Karasev, who’s appeared in 14 games with the Wine and Gold, finished with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting, along with five boards and five assists in the Charge’s 107-95 win over the Erie BayHawks on Sunday afternoon. In Friday’s game against Reno, the Russian rookie notched 12 points, four steals and a pair of blocks.
In his three games in Canton this season, Sergey is averaging 14.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 33.0 minutes per contest.
Listen as Anthony Bennett and Head Coach Mike Brown discuss Monday's practice with the media.