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With young talent, Cavs may not remain in the back of pack

11/8/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

CLEVELAND — When you’re going to school, best have your backpack with you. Eight-year-old girls know it; first-round NBA draft picks know it.

At least in one case, both of the above are sporting the same accessory.

In the home team’s locker room after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second game of the season, shooting guard Dion Waiters’ attire included a pink backpack.

“The veterans are making the rookies carry Barbie backpacks,” explained Kyrie Irving, whose locker is next to Waiters’.

Waiters, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, is being asked to carry a good share of the load in his first season. Coach Byron Scott named the 20-year-old former Syracuse standout a starter.

Waiters made a nice first impression in the team’s opener, scoring 17 points in Cleveland’s 94-84 victory over Washington Oct. 30. But he and his teammates struggled three days later, getting blown out by the Chicago Bulls 115-86.

The Cavs shot 40.5 percent (32-for-79), while the Bulls were knocking down shots at a 63.8 percent clip (44-for-69).

“They just did a great job on defense, and we weren’t able to hit the shots that we normally make,” said Waiters (3-for-7, seven points).

Against the Bulls, the Cavs did not score — or even put up a shot — until nearly two minutes into the game. Easy shots were nonexistent, unlike in their win over the injury-riddled Wizards.

“When we’re not executing offensively, it’s hard to score on [Chicago],” said Irving, who led the Cavs with 15 points (6-for-15). “I know that every time I saw the ball, I saw three Bulls jerseys.”

One of those Bulls jerseys might have belonged to Carlos Boozer, the former Cavalier who slipped out of Cleveland after the 2003-04 season. The fans at Quicken Loans Arena had not forgotten this, booing him at every opportunity.

Boozer is on a team of veterans. Most of the Cavs’ core players are still getting their feet wet and cannot compete against playoff-caliber teams unless they bring their best.

“Obviously, [the Cavs] are a young team, and they still have a lot to learn,” said Scott. “As I told them before the game, as I told them after the game, and as I told them at halftime, we have to come ready to play, to play hard, especially against good teams.”

And if they don’t, the result is a game less compelling than a geography bee.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t bring it today, and I think it’s a great lesson for these guys to go through this,” said Scott. “We’ll see how they’ll react.”

The Cavs reacted positively, though their efforts didn’t immediately result in a win. In the first game of their six-game road trip, they battled Milwaukee but lost 105-102 on a last-second jumper by Brandon Jennings.

Two days later, the Cavs took the Los Angeles Clippers to school. Waiters scored 28 points and Irving added 20, as the Cavs beat the Clippers 108-101.

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