With All-Star Mo Williams held out due to a minor groin injury and Delonte West still attending to personal matters, Gibson started at point guard as the Cavaliers easily defeated Greece’s Olympiacos Piraeus 111-94 in exhibition action.
Gibson, who struggled for most of last season, finished with 15 points, two rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes.
“Just be solid,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said when asked what he wants to see out of Gibson at the point. “There’s nothing he needs to do out of the ordinary. Just be himself.”
With Williams also likely to be held out again Wednesday when the Cavaliers host the Washington Wizards, Gibson might get another start at the point, where he could be the team’s top reserve to open the regular season if West isn’t ready to go.
“I’m taking it as a challenge for myself,” Gibson said. “I’ve been working on being a better floor leader and dictating the tempo of the game.”
While Gibson’s point guard play won’t remind anyone of Chauncey Billups, the 23-year-old is hoping to benefit from his ongoing physical maturation. The fourth-year pro is listed at the same 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds he was last season, but says his body “is starting to fill out” and that he’s added strength.
“That was a point of emphasis for me in the offseason,” said Gibson, who did a lot of boxing workouts with friends in the Houston area.
Brown has noticed not only the work Gibson did on the court, but his overall improved strength.
“He did work,” the coach said. “He has always worked. You can start to see the maturity, not just in his game, but in his body. … You can see that he has gotten physically stronger.”
Before Cavaliers fans get overly excited, Gibson was playing against Milos Teodosic on Monday, not Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo or even Jose Calderon.
Not only that, he once again was bumped around and struggled to get Cleveland into its half-court offense, dribbling the ball for 20 seconds on one possession and turning his back to his defender while handling the ball on several others.
More often than not, Gibson still was basically playing the role of shooting guard in half-court sets, standing behind the 3-point line and waiting for a pass as the offense ran through LeBron James.
Cleveland isn’t looking for miracles from Gibson at the point, but Brown would like to get him as much time there as possible in case the West situation does not get resolved in a positive manner.
West, who faces a Nov. 20 court date in Maryland on weapons charges and a likely NBA suspension when his legal matters are concluded, suffers from bipolar disorder and had an unexcused two-day absence at the start of training camp. His latest absence, which the Cavaliers originally said would be a “couple days,” will reach the one-week mark this evening.
Williams’ injury is nothing serious – “He could easily play,” Brown said – but the Cavaliers want to let their point guard rest and get as close to 100 percent as possible for the regular season.
“It’s playable, but we want to get it right,” Williams said. “We don’t want it to be nagging.”
The Cavaliers were also without Jamario Moon (wisdom teeth extraction) and Danny Green (right glute contusion) for the second straight game, but Anderson Varejao was back in the starting lineup after missing one game with back spams.
Varejao was joined by James, Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker and Gibson, who wants desperately to prove he’s more than a 3-point specialist.
“That’s definitely not my game,” Gibson insisted. “It never has been my game.”
Exactly what Gibson’s game is remains unclear. Once a great 3-point shooter, he shot a career-low .382 from beyond the arc last season, once again struggled to defend anyone and didn’t display much ability to run an offense.
The Cavaliers still like Gibson, who is in the second year of a five-year, $20.5 million contract that runs through 2012-13, but they are now trying to learn just how much they can rely on him to run their offense during the regular season.
That’s why Gibson went straight to the point, with mixed results, against Olympiacos.
The 7-1, 315-pound O’Neal started against 6-10, 309-pound Sofoklis Shortsanitis, who is nicknamed “Baby Shaq.” The 24-year-old played great in Greece’s upset of the United States in the 2006 World Championships, but has had injury and weight issues since. The 24-year-old, who once ballooned to almost 400 pounds, was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2003, just two weeks after he had turned 18. The Clippers still hold his NBA rights.
“He’s a good player,” said Parker, a former Maccabi Tel Aviv star who played against Shortsanitis overseas. “Nobody ever said he was not a good player. He’s got a lot of skills. He’s just battled weight issues and injuries.”
The real Shaq had no problems with Baby Shaq, who more closely resembles former Cavalier Robert “Tractor” Traylor, only with less skills.
Olympiacos’ roster includes former NBA players Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza, as well as Florida State product Von Wafer.
l About a dozen Greece media members were in town. During Cleveland’s shootaround Monday morning at Cleveland Clinic Courts, their primary objective seemed to be getting their picture taken, one by one, with an arm around a Cavalier player. Parker was the chief victim.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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