The NBA is a bottom line business. Did you win or lose? It’s really that simple.
But this season is more complex for the rebuilding Cavaliers, who have been playing without three rotation players since early November. They are still finding their way after four years perched at the top of the Eastern Conference.
In Cleveland, it’s about laying the foundation for a brighter future.
Sure, they want to win games along the way. But the journey is incredibly important.
Games like Monday night reinforce that. That’s why the Cavs opted to embrace the positives following a seven-point loss.
“Hey, come on, the Cavs are going in the right direction,” Veteran Kyle Korver said with a smile. “We’re going in the right direction. We had a tough stretch. We’ve got to keep on bringing the same juice, we’ve got to keep on getting better, keep on learning, keep on building our chemistry and all these things.
“We get George Hill back pretty soon, that will be a nice little bump for us. You know, we’re trending in the right direction. We’re not there yet, but we’re going in the right direction.”
That’s all anyone can really ask of a team that lost the league’s best player (LeBron James) and then its most important holdover (Kevin Love) four games into the season.
On Monday, the Cavs went down by double-digits early in the second quarter, as the tweaked bench — a result of David Nwaba’s sore knee — got clubbed by Minnesota. In previous games, at a different point in the year, with others around the team bringing morale down, the Cavs watched helplessly as the opponent’s lead grew, quickly turning the result into a blowout.
That hasn’t been happening as much lately. It didn’t against the Timberwolves.
“It shows a lot of growth,” Rodney Hood said. “When they stretched it from eight to 12 points at times we could have just gave in, but we didn’t, we kept fighting. We’ll be in that position and hopefully we’ll hit a couple more shots and hopefully make a couple more plays on the defensive end and maybe win the game. This is how the NBA works. I think this is a good learning curve for us and we’ll see what happens next time we’re in that position.”
Following Saturday’s win against Houston, one of the veterans said the two-game winning streak helped show some of the younger players what it takes to win. They were able to see the team-first style overcome a significant talent gap against two title contenders. They learned in those games against Philly and Houston how they need to play every night.
There were spurts Monday when the ball stopped moving and frustration began to set in. But to the Cavs’ credit, they turned it around.
As one of the players pointed out following the game when looking at the plus-minus numbers on the score sheet, all but one of the starters had a positive point differential. Cedi Osman was the exception, being outscored by 13 points with him on the floor.
The Cavs hung in all the way despite a rough night from three of their top scorers (Osman, Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson). That’s significant.
Two poor stretches by the reserves turned out to be the difference. That’s a more acceptable outcome.