After a 1-6 preseason, Cavs face 'big week' before opener

CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ clunker of a preseason ended on a positive note Monday with a 103-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks to avoid the dreaded o’fer. Instead they finished 1-6.

There are myriad reasons the Cavs could used to explain away the lopsided record. Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert missed the entire exhibition schedule with injuries. LeBron James and Kevin Love only played in two games apiece. Mo Williams, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov all missed multiple games as part of the team’s adorably named “ongoing body maintenance and management program.” And Tristan Thompson, of course, was nowhere to be found as his holdout was dubbed a “distraction” by James.

Through it all there has been a sense of calm directing the team’s collective mindset, however. Perhaps they know that reinforcements will be on the way, eventually. Perhaps they remember the way they tore through the entire NBA in the second half of last season after an inauspicious start.

Or perhaps, because of some of the challenges presented by injuries and the like during the preseason thus far, training camp really is only beginning right now.

“This is a big week leading up to Game 1,” Love said.

The Cavs will have five practices in their next seven days before opening up the season on the road against the Chicago Bulls and barring any unforeseen injuries, will have seven of their top 10 rotation players in uniform.

Only now, after James’ lower-back injection has worn off, after Love’s shoulder is strong enough, after Smith’s hamstring, Mozgov’s knees and Anderson Varejao‘s leg are healed enough, will they get to approximate the team they’ll be playing with when the games matter.

And it will start with James and Love at the start of the season, a tandem that hasn’t played a real basketball game together in six months and a pair that looked mismatched at times in their first campaign together.

“I think we, starting with us two, have to carry most of the load,” Love said of he and James. “But like you saw in last year’s playoffs, I went down, Kyrie went down and different guys stepped up and that’s what we’re going to have to have.”

They are several viable candidates to star in the step-up department. There is Smith, who is always a threat to drop 30, and Williams, who knows how to play off James better than just about any other teammate he’s had. And there’s Mozgov, who remains bigger than just about any other player he’ll face this season and showed in Game 5 of the Finals what he can do when featured, and even Richard Jefferson, who looked as sharp as any Cleveland player on the roster since training camp opened.

“I think we’re in a good place,” Love said. “We know that looking at film and just going over stuff every single day that we have a lot to work on. There are certain points, and it happens in all preseasons, where it’s not too pretty, but we’ll clean that up a lot this week.”

There is only so much polishing the Cavs can do to their final product without the likes of Irving, Shumpert and Thompson, but that doesn’t mean that the team they trot out there will look anything like their exasperating exhibition squad.

“We will still be missing a few guys, but physically we’ll come into the first game in good shape,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “I believe that and it will really give us a lift, I think, suddenly kind of getting the whole team — or not the whole team — but a good part of the team back.”

It’s hardly the stuff that inspires 70-win talk like what was floated during Cavs’ camp last year, nor does it even make one think that the No. 1 seed in the easy-street Eastern Conference is a lock, but it should be a decent starting point. And it should also make fans forget about the dismal preseason rather quickly.

“Not setting any agendas, but we will — not be at full strength at the beginning of the season — but at least I think we found a way that we want to play, I think we got all the guys that are playing on the same page and we’re looking forward to the beginning of the season,” Blatt said. “Even if we’re not at full strength, we’re going to be there ready to fight.”

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