INDEPENDENCE â€” The regular season hasnâ€™t even started yet, and the Dallas Mavericks already own a victory over the Cavaliers.
The Mavs, who open the season against Cleveland tonight at 8 at Quicken Loans Arena, Tuesday won a bidding war for free agent big man Juwan Howard, whose contract was bought out Monday by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Cavaliers, who are relying on aging veteran Donyell Marshall and unproven youngster Dwayne Jones to supply front-line depth with Anderson Varejao holding out, also pursued Howard, as did the Boston Celtics.
â€œWe have to go to war with the soldiers we have,â€ Cleveland power forward Drew Gooden said.
Those soldiers include starters Gooden, LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes and Daniel Gibson, who are likely to play fairly heavy minutes early in the season as the Cavaliers begin defense of their first Eastern Conference championship.
â€œWe donâ€™t need any respect,â€ said Cleveland coach Mike Brown, whose club is not considered to be among the NBAâ€™s elite by most experts nationwide. â€œWe just need to make sure weâ€™re focused on our job and the task at hand.â€
The Cavaliersâ€™ task tonight is a Dallas team that won an NBA-high 67 games in the 2006-07 regular season, only to be stunned by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Cleveland hosts the New York Knicks on Friday, then goes on a six-game West Coast road trip.
â€œI donâ€™t think anything is won in the first week of the regular season or the first month or the first three months,â€ Brown said. â€œWhat you use the regular season for is to put yourself in the best possible position to make a playoff run.â€
Despite losing a number of games they should have won and finishing third in the Eastern Conference last season, thatâ€™s what the Cavaliers were able to do. They beat injury-riddled Washington and New Jersey teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs before downing Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavaliers, however, do not have Varejao in camp and did not sign Sasha Pavlovic until Tuesday. Their only offseason additions were Devin Brown, Cedric Simmons and Demetris Nichols. Of the three, only Brown is likely to play consistent minutes early in the season.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to work with the pieces we have,â€ Gooden said.
That work didnâ€™t go well in the preseason, as the Cavaliers struggled to a 1-6 record. A year ago, however, Cleveland was 2-6 in the exhibition season and reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
â€œYou know how the preseason is,â€ Gooden said. â€œItâ€™s kind of a drag. If youâ€™re doing great, people think youâ€™re going to win a championship. If youâ€™re doing bad, people think youâ€™re not going to make the playoffs. Itâ€™s the same every year.â€