CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Building a contender during a rebuild is a process.
It often is a painful one, especially in the early stages.
The Cavaliers, who won 19 games in each of their previous two seasons, were forced to go into rebuild mode after LeBron James departed for the Lakers in the summer of 2018 and they are now in their third season of trying to piece the franchise back together.
Currently mired in a 10-game losing streak following Sunday night’s 117-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who won for the third time in 10 games, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff refuses to lean on ‘the process’ as they look to emerge from their recent slump.
“I don’t want to sell our guys on the process, to be honest with you,” Bickerstaff said before the game. “We know where we have to continue to improve and we know we’ll take those lumps but as a group we know we want to be the same every single night so there’s no excuses. The process can be used as a bailout at times and I don’t want our guys thinking with that mentality. I want them to be thinking every single night [that] we lay it on the line and we deal with the results as they come.”
The Cavs have been decimated by injuries this year and three key players remain out – Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr. and Matthew Dellavedova.
“We have to pretend those guys don’t exist right now,” center Jarrett Allen said. “We can’t go into these games thinking ‘Oh, don’t worry we’ll be fine. We’re going to have Delly back. We’re going to have Larry back. We’re going to have K-Love back.’ We have to go out there and have that next man up mentality. We have to go out there and fill that gap, that we’re missing. It’s tough with those type of guys. They have a big impact on the team on and off the court, but we have to play scrappy.
“We’re not the most talented team. We’re not the biggest team right now, but at the end of the day, we don’t need those things to win games. We can go out there and play hard and play with grit.”
Love has been down since Dec. 27 and has missed all but two games this season due to a calf strain suffered in the preseason. Nance suffered a broken bone in his left hand that required nine screws and a plate to repair earlier this month. Dellavedova has yet to play this season after suffering a concussion during the preseason and Friday he underwent an emergency appendectomy.
The injuries have complicated the organization’s own evaluation of their roster and progress.
“I think we’re different with a healthy roster,” Bickerstaff said. “If Kevin Love is here and Larry Nance is here, Delly’s here, I think we’re a different team.”
That doesn’t make the losses, which continue to pile up, any easier to deal with.
“We are all frustrated with losing,” Bickerstaff said. “These guys don’t get to this level if they aren’t competitive. How do we handle it is the question… We have to handle it as a group. We can’t just go out individually and take out our frustration and try to win the game by ourselves. We have to do the right things as a group over and over and over again to help us go out and get the win.”
Bickerstaff, who praised his team’s effort in a 17-point loss to the Nuggets Friday night that saw Jamal Murray go for 50, got another inconsistent effort against the Thunder.
“At the end of the day it comes down to the pride each individual has and their willingness to sacrifice physically to go out and get the job done,” Bickerstaff said. “For us, to be honest, that approach shouldn’t change game by game. [While] trying to create an identity, we need to be the same people and the same team every single night. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we’ll have that consistency.”
Hot hand – Allen didn't miss a shot Sunday night as he was a perfect 11-11 from the floor against Oklahoma City.
He finished with 26 points, a career-high and 17 rebounds to join Dwight Howard and Dikembe Mutombo as the only players in the last 30 years to go 100% from the floor with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in a game according to ESPN Stats and Information.
“We feel like he hasn’t reached his potential,” Bickerstaff said. “Our goal is to help him get better.”
Allen has made 19-of-20 in the last two games for the Cavs but didn't take credit for getting the ball in the basket.
“It’s the guards that have been improving in finding me on rolls and alley-oops because I’m really not a shot creator for myself,” Allen said. “It’s the guards improving and us building more chemistry.”
Next step – Collin Sexton, the team’s No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, continues to put up points.
Sexton entered Sunday night's game averaging career-highs in points (22.8), field goals made (8.4), field goal percentage (.484) and assists (4.2).
“The most difficult thing in our league that we talk about is consistency,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s shown the ability to do that, to be able create that output that he’ created year to year to year and each yar maintains at that level is special. I think that’s the most impressive thing is figuring out different teams from different things [thrown] at him and he still figures out a way to get the job done and that has a lot to do with his work ethic and I think he needs to continue to do that.”
So, what does Sexton have to do to take his game to the next level?
“I think the next step for Collin is developing that leadership role,” Bickerstaff said. “A lot of our young guys, they have a hard time because they’re leading grown men instead of guys their age or younger than them. I think the next step for Collin is continuing to work on that, continuing to find his voice and how to use his voice in the right moments.”
String of bad luck – Matthew Dellavedova underwent an emergency appendectomy Friday after coming down with appendicitis.
“He’s in good spirits,” Bickerstaff said. “I talked to him [Saturday] afterwards and the first thing he said was, ‘I’m gonna have a string of good luck coming up soon.’ He’s optimistic about it and we hope that’s the case.”
Dellavedova had recently began on-court work as he recovers from his most recent concussion suffered during the preseason.
Injury report – Kevin Love was held back a bit Saturday and there still doesn’t appear to be a set date for his return from a calf strain that has kept him out all but two games this season. Matthew Dellavedova and Larry Nance Jr. continue to recover from surgery – Nance a broken bone in his left hand and Dellavedova from an appendectomy as well as concussion. Forward Taurean Prince remained sidelined with left ankle soreness.