November 25, 2014

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Cavaliers: An opening night win but don’t expect many more

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers fans were all witnesses to an opening-night win at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night, with Cleveland beating the John Wall-less Washington Wizards, 94-84, in front of a sold-out crowd.

Not to rain on the 1-0, first-place party, but it’s a pretty safe bet those fans won’t be seeing many more victories this season. Keep in mind, the Wizards, who aren’t projected to hoist any title banners this year, were without two injured starters in Wall (their best player) and forward/center Nene.

Kyrie Irving is legit, no doubt about it — as evidenced by his one-man scoring show (29 points on 11-of-20 shooting). He’s one of those rare NBA players that you build a team around.

But his supporting cast this year pales in comparison to those surrounding stars around the league.

Anderson Varejao? Yes, he’s a nice role player and maybe even a starter on a championship-caliber team — ya know, like the one the Cavaliers used to employ before the evil LeBron James left town?

Yes, the King not only took his talents and your hearts to South Beach, Cleveland fans, he also took with him any chance the Cavaliers had of wearing an NBA crown anytime soon.

Who knows how long the oft-injured Varejao is going to last, anyway? A trip to the inactive list is always a possibility — he left the opener minutes into the first quarter with an injury, but did return — and he was the topic of plenty of trade conversation this offseason.

Irving and Varejao make up two/fifths of a Cleveland lineup, a starting five that just doesn’t have enough talent to compete on a consistent basis in this league, and certainly not enough to vie for an NBA title anytime soon.

Forward Tristan Thompson appears to be a nice, young player, but there aren’t the flashes of brilliance that you see from Irving, and no reason to believe he will blossom into an All-Star, let alone productive regular.

Dion Waiters? Who knows what to make of the Cavaliers’ first-round draft choice. He certainly didn’t arrive to the fan fare that Irving did out of college in Syracuse, where he wasn’t even a member of coach Jim Boeheim’s starting five. He looks like a nice offensive player — 17 points Tuesday night — but he didn’t record an assist or a rebound despite playing 12:55 of the opening half.

Waiters had also already been in and out of coach Byron Scott’s dog house prior to the first regular season game. That’s never a good sign.

Alonzo Gee was the final member of the starting five Tuesday, and we aren’t even going to go there. This guy wouldn’t be a starter on any other team in the league, maybe not even on the roster of a title one.

How about the bench?

Daniel Gibson provides the team with a little offense in reserve, but as Cavaliers fans have seen the past six years, Boobie is a 3-point specialist with little more to offer. When he is hot, it’s a nice asset. When he’s not, he may as well pass out water and towels to the starters when they need a break.

Omri Casspi, a starter for much of last season, appears to have fallen out of favor with Scott (DNP Tuesday). He was a disappointment after arriving in a trade from Sacramento last year and doesn’t seem to have much future in Cleveland.

Then there’s CJ Miles, Donald Sloan, Tyler Zeller, Jon Leuer and Samardo Samuels. Zeller looks as though he could develop into a nice big man off the bench, but the verdict is far from in for the rookie from the University of North Carolina.

Luke Walton? Puhleez.

It comes down to Irving and Varejao — the Cavaliers’ tiny Big 2. They accounted for 38 points, 29 of Cleveland’s 54 rebounds (Varejao with a career-high 23) and 12 of the team’s 22 assists against the Wizards.

How does that sound next to James and Wade in Miami, or the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard? How about compared to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, or even Boston’s Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo?

Those are title-contending teams that have plenty more than two recognizable names. The Cavaliers do not and will not for some time.

As far as this year goes, will the Cavs be a young and exciting team, as they were at times on opening night, or just an inexperienced bad one, as they were when they allowed the depleted Wizards to overcome a sizable deficit in the fourth quarter?

My guess is that it’s going to be the latter.

There have been plenty predicting a playoff spot this season for these Cavaliers. That would be nothing short of a smashing success.

 

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.