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Anthony Bennett Shines as Cavs Hopes Darken

By now, we have all heard about Anthony Bennett’s horrifying rookie season as the 1st pick overall in the 2013 draft. Averaging 2.4 points, 0.2 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game is not what anyone expected of him at the beginning of the season. Coming off a shoulder injury and having sleep apnea and asthma, there were concerns with Bennett’s health, but nothing would have suggested these kinds of struggles. In his past 10 games, he’s averaged just 1.8 points per gam on 13% shooting from the field goals, as well as not getting any playing time at all in 6 of the previous 7 games. However, tonight was a different story.

So many people questioned Mike Brown’s coaching of Bennett, not sending him to the D-league after struggling extensively this season, instead letting him rot on the end of the bench. Get him playing time in some way, shape or form, instead of hurting his future.

Apparently the critics (including myself) need to keep quiet.

Anthony Bennett logged 31 minutes tonight, and looked like the #1 pick the Cavs hoped he would be. His shot looked confident, and he played extremely aggressive. The stats looked pretty spectacular too: 15 points, 8 rebounds, an assist, a blocked shot and only one turnover, as he came into the game off the bench. He shot 5/10 from the field (that’s right, he took 10 shots!), and went 2/3 from beyond the three-point stripe. He had two ferocious dunks in the game and showcased his raw athleticism and talent. Bennett also shut players down on the defensive side of the ball.

The problem with the 20-year-old was never his shoulder or his health, it was his mental health, his confidence. You can see when Bennett hesitates and overthinks he doesn’t perform well: the pressure with being the first overall pick from a mid-major UNLV school will do that to you. But when the 6’8″, 240 pound man unconsciously plays the game and ignores the outside criticism, he plays well, shown tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans. A similar instance occurred in the preseason against the Orlando Magic on October 12th, where Bennett scored 16 points, 14 of which came in the 4th quarter, and led the Cavs to a 110-105 comeback win. Meaningless game? Absolutely. But it showed us Bennett can ball, and that his shoulder and health is not a major issue.

The preseason is nothing like the regular season, let alone the playoffs, because the spotlight isn’t on the court yet. It’s a completely different atmosphere when the game sstart counting, and with the #1 pick-label comes huge responsibility and expectations to be great right away. Victor Oladipo was the #2 pick, averaging 13.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, an 4.5 rpg this season, and having a decent year with the Orlando Magic, simply because there is nowhere near the amount of pressure on a #2 pick as there is on a #1 pick. Anthony Bennett was quoted by Bleacher Report seven games into the season on his struggles. He said:

“Coming in No. 1 in the draft, everybody has high expectations, But in this situation, I don’t have to produce right away. There are a lot of other young talented players in my position that can help me along the way. So I’m just here for the learning experience. Later on in the season, hopefully I can do my thing.”

He really was a man of his word tonight, later in the season. Bennett definitely proved he deserves more minutes after tonight’s performance. Hopefully his game can improve much more and his opportunities increase astronomically.

As for the Cavs hopes, they have been going down the drain. Cavs fans (such as myself) need to face reality: time is running out. They lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 100-89 tonight, while NOLA was missing some key assets. They also had no answer to Anthony Davis, who had 30 points and 8 blocked shots. At 16-29, the Cavs went 1-4 on their home stand, disappointing as they were coming off a successful 3-2 road trip.

Luol Deng and Kyrie Irving have seen drops in their numbers compared to a year ago. At times the defense of the Cavaliers seems disinterested, and Mike Brown sometimes seems to have no idea what he is doing. The Eastern Conference is a very forgiving conference this year, having an abysmal track record. But the Cavs have only made their playoff chances worse. On paper, they look like a good squad (Irving, Deng, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Jarrett Jack, Bennett after tonight), but the pieces aren’t fitting together. You can blame it on the players, but a lot of it also has to be on Mike Brown. A defensive coach has his team ranked 19th in defense in the NBA.

A lot of this mess also has to be put on Kyrie Irving. In an interview his former coach Mike Krzyzewski said “he’s gonna lead the Cavs to the playoffs.” Right now, it doesn’t look like it at all.

But I still have faith in the wine & gold. The team still needs to gel without Bynum and with Deng, and this team needs to finish quarters strong and consistently play defense and offense. In addition, the Cavs have won every game where they have at least 25 assists. Team basketball wins games and strong ball movement is an effective weapon. The Cavs are a good team, but they only have so much time to prove it to everyone.

If we’ve learned anything tonight, it’s that with all hope lost, something can emerge. Anthony Bennett had a great game tonight, and the same can happen for the Cavs. Games from now on are now grains of sand in an hourglass that is running out of time. However, the Eastern Conference is bad enough to act as Father Time and keep this Cavs act relevant for a little bit longer.


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