INDEPENDENCE — Most Cavaliers reserves are making a strong argument they shouldn’t even get off the bench right now.
Coach Byron Scott can’t play all five starters 48 minutes, however, so he’ll keep trying different combinations.
“I’ve got a few more buttons I can push,” Scott said Thursday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “But pushing ’em don’t necessarily mean they’re gonna work.”
So far, virtually nothing has. That’s a large reason why Cleveland is 2-6 overall and on a four-game losing streak heading into an encounter with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
Only once in eight games have Cavs reserves outscored the opponent’s bench, that coming when they held a 29-22 edge over Oklahoma City.
For the season, Cleveland bench players are getting outscored by their counterparts by an average of 39.9-22.5 per game, with whopping deficits coming against Brooklyn (28-6), Phoenix (47-26), Golden State (36-15), Milwaukee (62-15) and Washington (46-23).
In the game against the Nets, starters Anderson Varejao (35) and Kyrie Irving (34) established career highs in scoring and the Cavs still never really had a chance to win, in large part because their reserves played 60 minutes and totaled six points on 2-for-13 shooting.
Scott has already tried a number of things, including benching C.J. Miles in favor of Omri Casspi and not playing Luke Walton, Samardo Samuels and Donald Sloan at various points, but nothing has worked. He’s even contemplated changing his starting lineup, but has decided to hold off on that for the time being.
“I’m just looking to find some pieces that will fit, that will work,” Scott said. “I don’t want to abandon what I think of our second unit, because I know they can play a lot better.”
So far, Cleveland’s best subs have been Daniel Gibson and Tyler Zeller, but it hasn’t been totally smooth sailing with them, either.
Gibson looked terrific in a three-game stretch where he scored 12 points against Golden State, 19 against Phoenix and 16 vs. Oklahoma City, but he came back Tuesday against Brooklyn and went scoreless in 18 minutes while attempting just one shot.
For the season, Gibson is averaging 8.5 points on .480 shooting, but take out his three-game hot streak and a 10-point night in the opener and he has scored a total of 11 points over his other four games.
Zeller, a promising 7-foot rookie, is averaging 7.5 points on .500 shooting, but he is just now coming back after missing four games with a concussion and fractured cheekbone. He’s expected to return to normal minutes against the Mavs, who will be without All-Star and former league MVP Dirk Nowitzki (knee surgery).
“Just having him back helps,” Scott said. “It’s another big body that knows how to play. He’s an integral part of what we’re trying to do.”
After Gibson and Zeller, there’s been way more bad than good when it comes to Cleveland reserves.
Miles, who was being counted on to be a major point producer, is averaging 4.5 points on .234 shooting. He was so bad early in the season he got totally benched during the team’s six-game road trip, but he may be about to get another chance because Casspi (2.8, .200) has been even worse.
Among other reserves that have spent time in the rotation, Samuels is averaging 4.5 points on .440 shooting, Jon Leuer is averaging 3.8 on .333, Sloan is averaging 2.6 on .292 and Walton is at 0.5 on .143.
Leuer and Samuels will see their minutes cut with Zeller back, though one of the two will still see some action. Miles or Casspi will play in relief of starting small forward Alonzo Gee, while Walton is probably out of the picture at the moment.
Gibson will continue to get steady minutes at guard, with Sloan or maybe even seldom-used Jeremy Pargo receiving a small dose behind Irving.
“What I don’t really want to do is go down to an eight-man rotation,” Scott said. “To me, that’s the last resort. I still want to keep giving these guys a chance. If they don’t perform, then I’ll go somewhere else.”
With the Cavs off until Saturday after completing a 1-5 road trip, Scott has been going over the team’s defensive principles from the ground up.
“There’s not one specific breakdown,” he said. “It’s a little bit of everything. That’s why we’re going back to the drawing board.”
Cleveland hasn’t held an opponent under 100 points since a 94-84 season-opening win over Washington. In the seven games since, the Cavs have allowed an average of 107.7 points.
Zeller went through a full practice and is expected to come off the bench against the Mavs while wearing what he called a “tedious” clear mask. He wore a similar protective device for a time at North Carolina when it was feared he had broken his nose.
“Dribbling could be more of a problem (because it’s tough to see downward), but I don’t dribble anyway,” Zeller said.
Zeller, who got stuck having to spend a night in Chicago while trying to return from San Francisco to Cleveland for more medical tests, has cleared the league’s concussion protocol process, but his cheekbone is still sore.
“It’s getting better every day,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt as bad today as it did yesterday.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.