November 24, 2014

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Cavs’ Dion Waiters excited to open season in starting lineup

INDEPENDENCE — Dion Waiters is going to feel like a high school kid tonight when he plays his first NBA game.

Waiters

The 20-year-old shooting guard, who came off the bench during his two years at Syracuse, will be in the starting lineup for a regular-season game for the first time since his Philadelphia prep days when the Cavaliers host the Washington Wizards at Quicken Loans Arena.

“You’re going to get jitters regardless,” the No. 4 pick in the draft said Monday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “It’s a big game. It’s a big step for you as a person, something you’ve dreamed about your whole life. But once the ball goes in the air, you’ve got to calm yourself down.

“It’s going to be a great day,” he added. “I can’t wait till (tonight). Most importantly, I want to go out and get a win in my first NBA game ever.”

Waiters, who landed the starting job after averaging 8.6 points on .344 shooting in seven preseason games (four starts), will be joined by point guard Kyrie Irving, small forward Alonzo Gee, power forward Tristan Thompson and center Anderson Varejao.

Like Waiters, Irving is 20, while Thompson is 21, Gee is 25 and Varejao is 30, giving the Cavs’ starters an average age of 23.7 years. The average age of the 15-man roster is 24.9 years.

“I just thought that starting lineup would give us a lot of energy,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said.

With a six-game road trip following a Friday home game vs. Chicago — that starts a stretch where the Cavs will play 10 out of 12 games away from home — Scott plans on using a 10-player rotation to start the season.

The third-year Cavs coach wouldn’t name all his backups, but they will likely be Donald Sloan at the point, Daniel Gibson at shooting guard, C.J. Miles at small forward, Samardo Samuels (or Jon Leuer) at power forward and Tyler Zeller at center.

“It’s hard to get off to a fast start with two games, then you go on the road for six,” Scott said. “We’d love to win both games at home before we head out west. That’s definitely our goal.

“I’m anxious to see what happens on this road trip — good or bad,” he added. “It’s a helluva test right away. I’m anxious to see how we play and how our young guys react.”

Miles, who could also get some minutes at shooting guard, was Cleveland’s second-leading scorer in the preseason at 11.9 per game, but Scott likes the firepower the eighth-year pro can supply in a reserve role.

“To be honest, I don’t think he’ll have a problem with it,” said the coach, who met with the media prior to telling Miles of his decision. “With him and Boobie coming off the bench with (Zeller), that’s three pretty good players right there.”

Though Scott started Zeller at center in Cleveland’s final preseason game and moved Varejao to power forward, the only real battles for starting spots were at shooting guard and small forward, where Miles challenged Waiters and Gee, respectively.

Gee averaged just 8.3 points in the preseason but came on strong down the stretch. He is a much better defender than Miles, who also doesn’t produce many rebounds or assists.

“Zo did a great job in the preseason, especially on the defensive end,” Scott said. “It makes us a better balance.”

Based solely on production, Miles outplayed Waiters in the preseason, but the rookie convinced Scott he was ready Friday during an intense team scrimmage.

“In the last week and a half, he did enough in practice,” Scott said. “He’s growing. He was fantastic in the scrimmage on Friday. He wasn’t thinking as much.”

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As a result, Waiters will go against No. 3 pick Bradley Beal of Florida, the player many thought the Cavs were after in the NBA Draft, in his first regular-season game.

“I don’t worry about that,” Waiters said. “I’m just going to go out and try to help my team get a win.”

Apparently, Waiters plans on helping the Cavs get many wins this season, as he mentioned making the playoffs without going into a screechy Jim Mora voice.

“I think we’ve got something special here, honestly,” he said. “A lot of people probably doubt us, but we’ve got faith in each other and belief in each other. If we go out there and have each other’s backs and play as hard as we can, I think we’ll be good.”

Tip-ins

  • Washington’s two best players, point guard John Wall (knee) and big man Nene (plantar fasciitis in left foot), are out. Power forward Kevin Seraphin is also likely to miss the game with a calf injury. The Wizards are expected to start A.J. Price at point guard, Beal at shooting guard, Emeka Okafor at center, Trevor Booker at power forward and Trevor Ariza at small forward.
  • Irving resumed practicing Sunday after having four wisdom teeth removed Wednesday. Scott called him “50/50” for tonight, but that was long after the coach had announced the reigning Rookie of the Year as a starter. It would be very surprising if Irving did not play.
  • About to begin their 43rd season, the Cavs are 11-31 in season openers. Cleveland dropped its first six openers, getting its first victory in 1976. The Wizards are 21-30 in season openers, including 10-22 on the road.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.