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Wisconsin

Cleveland Cavaliers say they are different heading into rematch with Milwaukee Bucks: ‘There’s a swagger we have’

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers star guard Donovan Mitchell did not hesitate when the query was requested.

How are you different from the staff that misplaced to Milwaukee final week?

Mitchell took a fast look to the best and pointed to all-star heart Jarrett Allen, who didn’t play that fateful night time attributable to a non-COVID-related sickness and a sore ankle.

“We got this guy back,” Mitchell mentioned with a beaming smile.

That’s only one distinction from final Wednesday – albeit a huge one. Not solely is Allen the linchpin of protection, however he and Mitchell have fashioned essentially the most environment friendly pick-and-roll partnership within the league. As Allen lifts off the bottom, Cleveland is unrecognizable — on each ends. In the primary matchup towards Milwaukee, the Cavs fell in need of 100 factors on offense for the primary time all season and completed with their fourth-worst defensive ranking.

Allen’s again makes for an unquantifiable enhance. But that is only one distinction. There are numerous others. That’s why the suddenly-rising Cavs, who’ve gained 4 straight video games, go into Friday’s rematch with renewed religion — and significantly better spirits. They wish to present that final week’s defeat – which led to a prolonged heart-to-heart within the customer’s dressing room and scathing criticism from Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff who pointed to a worrying fat-cat mentality – was an ungainly fluke was.

“We’re a different team mentally coming to Milwaukee, but we also understand that we have room to improve,” Mitchell mentioned. “I think we have a confidence. There’s a boast we have. This will be a great test to see where we stand, especially if you’ve just played them and they’re fresh in your mind.”

The first showdown should also be a benchmark. That’s what the players talked about beforehand. The Bucks won the NBA title two years ago and are considered one of the favorites again this season. The souped-up Cleveland with a trio All-Stars on the starting lineup is not only looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018, but they also have their sights set on a deep run. Teams like Milwaukee stand in the way.

Even though it’s only November, some games have even more significance. This is one. Especially given the positive momentum that has been building over the last week.

“I think we have a better understanding of what we need to do to be the team we want to be,” Bickerstaff said. “That was at a time when we were too free-flowing and playing at a pace that we weren’t comfortable with, that didn’t suit us. I think we came back to that. They’re a really good team. It will be a tough challenge for us. But I’m confident that our boys are ready for it.”

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The Cavs staggered early in last Wednesday’s game. They found themselves in a week-long malaise, skidding after losing four games while physically and mentally exhausted after a hectic schedule and a barrage of inexplicable late-game stumbles that led to a pile of losses. They had lost their identity as junkyard dogs and abandoned the principles that led to a smashing 8-1 start to the season.

But that night turned out to be a turning point, the kind of loss that led to soul-searching, awkward conversations, and cast changes.

Caris LeVert, the ill-fitting scorer who won’t play in Milwaukee Friday night because of an injured ankle, was benched in a more appropriate sixth-man role, while tenacious, defensively-minded swingman Lamar Stevens came on the starting lineup.

The Cavs are 4-0 since that brave — and clever — move and have the NBA’s best defensive rating.

“Defensive identity has definitely changed over the past week,” said Darius Garland. “I think we’ve started to come back to that. I think we started playing more physically. We get more stops on defense, which leads to offense.”

Stevens is on the heart of the reversal.

“Lamar leads it, to be sincere,” Garland said of the increased physicality. “He units that tone for us defensively and I believe it simply wears off on everybody else.”

“He has great balance. He’s not afraid of the moment. There isn’t a matchup he doesn’t think has the favor,” Bickerstaff added when asked about Stevens. “At the end of games when you have guys like Donovan and Darius and their ability to create and score for others, you’re going to need to get those stops. He was able to fit into that group to help them get stops. The threesome, he and Jarrett and Evan (Mobley), are struggling defensively. We’re working to find that balance but I think he’s done a great job so far.”

Late game execution is another notable difference.

In every game on that winning streak, the Cavs went into the fourth quarter with a lead — and finished it. It wasn’t always nice. Opponents made runs. But they didn’t crack.

Instead, they found pet sets, plays that worked, counters, and successful deployment combinations. The three-man action involving Garland, Mitchell and Allen was deadly. There have been some exciting big-to-big connections with Allen and Mobley. Garland and Mitchell find the right balance – even if it’s the same piece over and over again, only with subtle nuances to make it fresh.

“It seems like we’re getting better at finishing games with every game,” Allen said. “There are some games that we stopped because we slowed down. But games like that home stretch, when we were 10 ahead and needed to stay in the lead, we improved on that – we’re still playing our game, still making the simple moves to get the job done. In terms of maturity, we grow up a bit as we finish games.”

Allen is back. The defense too. There’s a new starting quintet with a better mix of offense and defense. And the bugs that were raw, fresh, exploitable, and moody have apparently been fixed.

This isn’t the same team the Bucks left behind on the Fiserv Forum. At least that’s what Cleveland thinks.

There’s only one way to prove it.

Cavaliers Fanatics earnings 2021

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