August 28, 2014

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Cavs’ bench bunch packs punch

INDEPENDENCE — The way coach Mike Brown looks at it, the Cavaliers don’t have bench players, they have qual­ity players who don’t start.

Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, Jamario Moon and Daniel Gibson have all made valuable contributions this season and are a large reason why Cleveland owned a seven­game winning streak — the Cav­aliers had also won 12 of their last 13 — prior to losing 91-88 to the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday. “Our bench has been ter­rific,” Brown said. “‘Z’ has had great games at both ends of the floor. Delonte has had great games at both ends of the floor. Obviously, Anderson has at both ends of the floor.”

The Bobcats game was a huge blip on the radar, as Cleveland reserves combined to go 4-of-23 from the field. Varejao, who repeatedly got his shot blocked by former Cava­liers flop DeSagana Diop, was 1-of-8, while Moon was 0-of-5 and Ilgauskas 0-of-4. West, who finished 3-of-6, was the only substitute to enjoy any success at all, as Gibson stayed glued to the bench.

If the Cavaliers are to get back on track Wednesday when they host the Washington Wizards, they’ll need their reserves to produce, especially if starters J.J. Hickson and Anthony Parker continue to provide little.

Cleveland’s bench lacks a guy who puts up big scoring numbers on a consistent basis, like Dallas has in Jason Terry, but it has a plethora of players who are capable of contribut­ing in numerous ways.

After a slow start and a big adjustment to coming off the bench, the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas has regained his outside shoot­ing touch, giving Cleveland a nice complement to the rugged inside presence provided by 7-1, 325-pound Shaquille O’Neal.

The long-limbed Moon is a high-flying dunker who is capable of making 3-pointers in bunches when he’s hot, but his real value stems from the length and athleticism he pro­vides as a perimeter defender.

Gibson is the long-range shooting specialist and also a much-improved defender, while the up-and-down West is the X-factor. When West is playing at a high level, the Cav­aliers can look almost unbeat­able. When he’s not, Brown still has the luxury of turning to Gibson, who has fallen in and out of the rotation in recent games simply because there aren’t enough minutes avail­able when West is playing well. The game-changer is Varejao, whose 8.0 scoring average and 7.9 rebounding average are in no way indicative of how impor­tant he is to the Cavaliers.

“The Wild Thing” is adept at drawing charges, he’s one of the best perimeter-defending big men in the NBA, he constantly battles for offensive rebounds and he’s always diving for loose balls, making him a guy oppos­ing fans — and many opposing players — love to hate.

“He’s a guy who can get under your skin,” Brown said. “He does it because every pos­session he plays hard.”

Put all that together and the Cavaliers own a 27-9 record. Not only that, Cleveland reserves had scored at least 30 points in 13 of the last 19 games prior to the Charlotte debacle and are averaging 28 points and 16 rebounds for the season.

“It ends up being a good mix when we go to our bench,” Brown said. “We feel like we still have got guys coming in who are capable of starting. It’s definitely a positive for us.”

Brown honored

Brown was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month after leading the Cavaliers to an NBA-best 14-3 record in December. Cleveland went 7-3 on the road, a franchise record for victories in any month, and 7-0 at home. Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, who led the Grizzlies to a 9-4 month, was honored in the West.

Next up

  • Who: Cleveland vs. Washington
  • When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: The Q
  • TV/radio: FS Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.