CLEVELAND — Joey Graham took his spot in the starting lineup and Jamario Moon moved into his locker.
In their first game since the departure of LeBron James — and Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West — the new-look Cavaliers downed the Charlotte Bobcats 87-72 in exhibition action Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“It wasn’t strange at all,” Moon said. “It’s home. It’s never strange to go home. We were anxious to show people that basketball is still alive in Cleveland.”
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The Cavs have been billed as a run-and-gun team under new coach Byron Scott, but it was their defense that led the way against the Bobcats, who scored just 25 points in the second half.
Charlotte shot .317 from the field for the night (26-of-82). Subtract a 30-point second quarter and the Bobcats scored 42 points on less than 25 percent shooting (14-of-57).
“That’s who we are,” Scott said. “That’s the type of team we’ve got to be at the defensive end every single night.”
Offensively, the stars were J.J. Hickson and Daniel Gibson, who both came off the bench.
Playing a mixture of power forward and center, Hickson had 17 points and nine rebounds. He was just 5-of-13 from the field and committed three turnovers, but he was aggressive, which allowed him to go 7-of-10 from the line.
“It’s a matter of keeping him focused every night,” Scott said. “I think J.J. can have a breakout season.”
The same could be true of Gibson, who made 4-of-10 shots and all 10 of his free throws for 18 points. Gibson had just one assist in 27 minutes, but looked very comfortable in Scott’s Princeton offense, frequently scoring on midrange, step-back jumpers.
Like Hickson, Gibson also attacked the basket, often getting to the line when it looked like the Cavs were going to have trouble beating the shot clock.
“This offense is tailor-made for Boobie,” Scott said. “I think he’s enjoying it.”
Hickson and Gibson also seemed to enjoy not being one of the last options in the offense, as they often were with James dominating the basketball.
Though he was sometimes out of control and never did make a jumper, Hickson put the ball on the floor and repeatedly drew fouls by muscling his way through a defender’s arms.
“I want to take on that burden,” he said of being a focal point of the offense. “I think I’m gaining more trust from my teammates every day.”
With Mo Williams (groin) and Anderson Varejao (personal reasons) out, the Cavs started Ramon Sessions and Anthony Parker at guard, Graham and Antawn Jamison at forward and Ryan Hollins at center. The second unit consisted of Moon, Hickson, Loren Woods, Gibson and Danny Green.
“The lineup will change in the next few games,” Scott said. “Don’t look too much into that.”
Aside from the second quarter, when they repeatedly threw the ball away before even getting into their offense and were outscored 30-16, the Cavs looked pretty good against a Charlotte team that went with its regular starting five of Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Nazr Mohammed, Stephen Jackson and D.J. Augustin.
Moon finished with seven points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three blocks in 31 active minutes, while Sessions (11 points, four rebounds, five assists) and Parker (10 points, 4-of-5 shooting) were solid in the backcourt.
Among the negatives, Cleveland shot just .364 from the field (28-of-77), with Jamison going 1-of-9. Green, whose spot on the team could be in jeopardy if the Cavs elect to keep one of their non-roster big men, was 0-of-5 from the field and couldn’t handle the ball.
Scott went out of his way to talk to Charlotte coach Larry Brown prior to the game. He called Brown one of his best friends and a mentor, along with former Los Angeles Lakers coach and current Miami Heat president Pat Riley.
“I learned from two of the best,” Scott said.
Brown was even more effusive in his praise of Scott, whom he tried to recruit while at UCLA, only to have him go to Arizona State. Scott later played for Brown with the Indiana Pacers at the end of his career, serving as a mentor to a young Reggie Miller.
“Byron’s special,” Brown said.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.