When you have a very young team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, much of what happens in the win column has to do with confidence and believing that others trust you as well as you trusting yourself. So, even though the Cavs struggled mightily this past month, that confidence got a boost quickly after their last-second win against the Atlanta Hawks. In their third win of the streak, the Cavs upended Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 112-109 in overtime and now stand at 13-21 as they approach the halfway mark of this NBA season.
After, the most devastating 10-game losing streak that preceded this current win streak, there wasn’t much to be encouraged by. But now this very young and yet raw talented group of players is starting to figure out more and more ways to win consistently. Their three top scorers, PG Collin Sexton, SG Darius Garland and C Jarrett Allen are all keys in this long-term project. But it’s also the other guys starting to contribute more that is leading to the Cavs recent successes. PF Dean Wade, SG Dylan Windler and PF Lamar Stevens are all playing well.
I lived in Kansas for 25 years and followed Dean Wade’s young and successful career to this point. Wade grew up in the small town of St. John, Kansas. The 24-year-old is the same age as my daughter who was also a basketball player. There were many weekends that I’d see the St. John youth teams play during the summer basketball tournament season. St. Johns has had great basketball teams and Wade was a big part of that success when he was there. He was Mr. Kansas Basketball his senior high school season. He went onto Kansas State University and helped lead them to several great seasons as well.
So, now a Cavalier, is it a coincidence that they began this three-game win streak when Wade got to the start in the starting lineup? Wade is scrappy and plays solid defense. His stats over those three games aren’t stellar but that doesn’t always matter in basketball. He does the dirty work by getting an extra tipped ball, makes that extra pass or runs out of bounds to save the ball. In the game against the 76ers, he had six points but grabbed 12 boards.
Windler and Stevens are also getting more minutes and helping the cause. Windler had 15 points in one game and is grabbing 5-8 boards and Stevens, the Penn State product, had the exceptional last-second game-winning dunk in their first of the three wins when they beat Atlanta Hawks, 112-111.
Interesting side note, in all three games the Cavs have won this past week they have scored 112 points each game. Prior to the current streak, the Cavs had gone on a west coast trip at the beginning of February. The losses piled up and reached 10 games. The Cavs gave up 124 points a game in that losing streak. But now, they’ve only given up 105 points a game in the three wins.
I read and hear a lot about some of the inconsistencies in players like Darius Garland. But a lot of this current streak has to do with Garland’s solid play. The 21-year-old, yes 21, is learning the ropes of the NBA one game at a time. I know that Garland makes mistakes regularly, but his upside is off the charts. He’s averaged nine assists in the last three games. He contributed 25 points, 11 of those in the recent OT of the Philly victory. And what get’s me most excited about his future is how he responds after games when questioned about his team and how he can help the most. He said after the 76ers win, “ It just brings joy to me when I get an assist…when people are making shots, it’s fun to watch. That’s all I’m trying to do is have fun on the court, and when I’m getting everybody involved, I’m having fun…”
Keep that fun going, Mr. Garland! The Cavs look to carry on with their win streak when they battle the struggling Rockets Monday night down in Houston. And then it’s another home game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. The Cavs sit only three games out of the final playoff spot. If this young Cavs squad can keep building on their recent successes, there’s no telling how far their confidence can carry them.