The Cleveland Cavaliers believe they’ve become a team to be feared — and with good reason.
Arguably the NBA’s most pleasant surprise, they’re now 11 games above .500 after winning eight of their last nine games. They’ll visit the last place team in the Central Division, the Detroit Pistons, on Sunday.
Cleveland will be well-rested for the contest. The Cavs haven’t played since an impressive 115-99 victory over defending champion Milwaukee on Wednesday. They outscored the Bucks 69-42 during the second and third quarters.
«That was a little appetizer,» guard Darius Garland said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. «Long way to go. But yeah, that was a big win for us. Think we put the whole league on notice after that win. We play with confidence. We play really hard. It shows that we’re not any slouch. You can’t just come to Cleveland and roll over us. Got to come in and compete at a high level just like you do with any other team — Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Lakers.»
The Cavaliers are continuing to pile up victories despite losing guards Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio to season-ending injuries. In their latest victory, reserves Kevin Love and Cedi Osman combined for 48 points. Garland led the first unit with 19 points and eight assists.
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff had the luxury of playing Garland just 26 minutes due to Cleveland’s comfortable lead. He dished out 11 or more assists in the previous five games.
«I think we’re a really good team,» Garland said. «Surprised a lot of people, so wherever we want to get to, that’s the ceiling.»
The Pistons are a long way removed from being a really good team, though they’re hoping to reach Cleveland’s level in the next season or two with their young core.
Detroit has won just 11 games and is currently saddled with a four-game losing streak. The Pistons were blown out by the rebuilding Orlando Magic 119-103 on Friday. They’ll begin a four-game homestand on Sunday.
Coach Dwane Casey said the Magic’s frontcourt size had an impact.
«You shoot 37 percent from the field, a lot of things are wrong,» Casey said. «You have to make great decisions against two 7-footers in the paint and I didn’t think we did that. We went in and tried to force some things when we had the corner open. That’s been a year-long struggle for us. That basket closes up quick against a lot of 7-footers in our league.»
Cade Cunningham followed up the best game of his rookie season with a clunker. Cunningham had 34 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four blocks and two steals against Denver on Tuesday. Against Orlando, he was limited to eight points on 3-of-17 shooting, two rebounds and four assists.
«There’s great players in this league, great athletes in this league,» Casey said. «I thought Orlando did a good job of preparing for him.»
Forward Rodney McGruder felt the Pistons lost the game before they left for Florida.
«We have respect for every team in the league. We were too loose (Thursday) at practice,» he said. «Guys are locked in most of the time.»
Cleveland notched a 98-78 victory over Detroit on Nov. 12. They’ll meet twice more over the next two months.
–Field Level Media