New Orleans Pelicans superstar center Anthony Davis was his usual dominant self on Saturday night, posting a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes while adding three assists, four steals and two blocks to his stat line while teammate Jrue Holiday sliced and diced his way to 22 points and frontcourt mate Julius Randle posted a near triple-double, with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists.
It was the Pelicans 18th win of the season, and the Cavs’ 32nd loss, with neither team expected to reach the playoffs after making appearances last season. Both teams have lost superstars with LeBron James leaving Cleveland to join the Los Angeles Lakers and DeMarcus Cousins leaving New Orleans to join the Golden State Warriors.
However, while this is the first time the Cavs have experienced this level of mediocrity in eight seasons — since the first time James left Cleveland in free agency — the Pelicans have failed to reach the playoffs two times in the last four seasons and four out of the last six seasons, not including this year.
Davis knows as much as any player, perhaps, what Cleveland is going through and what the difference is between the teams that reach the playoffs and the teams that don’t.
Following Friday’s loss, the five-time All-Star detailed that difference, using one key tag word: experience.
“Experience, that’s all it is.”
Davis would expound on his initial statement, saying that though the Cavs do have veterans, the Pelicans benefited from bringing in a former All-Star in guard Jrue Holiday (Tyreke Evans was also an addition to New Orleans’ backcourt corps) to take over the starting point guard duties at a position that was missing a star after Chris Paul left the franchise after the 2010-11 season:
“And they have experienced guys… I think the biggest thing for me was just experience. Just knowing the league, bringing other guys in — you know Jrue came… We had Eric [Gordon], Ryan [Anderson]… We had a lot of vets, you know, so I think it’s just about experience and just wanting to get to the playoffs, you know.”
Ultimately, it was a combination of him — as the future face of the franchise — becoming a better player with experience, the team having experience and a sheer desire to reach the playoffs.
Cleveland will undoubtedly be adding another lottery talent in the 2019-20 season, as they hold the NBA’s worst record (8-32) at the midway point and even the return of Kevin Love won’t boost their win-loss record to the point where they’re in the top-half of the Association’s 30 teams. So, even though they may not have the cap space or drawing power to attract star free agents, they do have the ability to draft a potential star — or even trade for an All-Star talent.
Adding talent will take care of itself, as will gaining experience, as that comes with time. However, the Cavs have to show that they have the mental makeup of a playoff-contender, coming out to fight every night, even when the score is as lopsided as it was on Friday night when Cleveland lost by a 35-point margin.
So far, so good.
Their frustration has shown both on and off the court, at times. The team likely senses that it doesn’t have enough talent to be as competitive as a playoff-contender. But young players like rookie point guard Collin Sexton, shooting guard Jordan Clarkson and big man Larry Nance Jr. are always playing with all-out effort.
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“Just keep fighting,” Davis said. “This team is a young team. They gonna fight all game and that’s all you can ask for.”
Cavs head coach Larry Drew has questioned the group’s effort at times and rightfully so, as there are a couple of players who get too down on themselves or the team when they’re on the court and seem to float around the court at times. However, it’s the job of the head coach to be a motivator for his team and much like Pelicans former head coach Monty Williams — who led Davis to his first playoff appearance in his third season — Drew will have to weather the storm and get his team to buy-in to showing their grit for 48 minutes, rather than just 24 minutes as they’ve tended to do throughout the season.
They’ve been outscored by 125 points in the second half during their nine-game losing streak.
The return of key players, like Love, and players who play with the effort Drew is looking for and that Davis was talking about, like veteran point guard Matthew Dellavedova and the young, versatile David Nwaba, will provide a spark.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the Cavs.