April 17, 2014

Medina
Mostly sunny
60°F

Tyler Zeller survives big test for Cavs

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers coach Byron Scott doesn’t want his players to get complacent or take anything for granted, so he’s doing his best to keep everyone guessing about his opening-night starting lineup.

Scott started Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Anderson Varejao and rookie Tyler Zeller on Tuesday as Cleveland lost its final preseason game 100-82 to the talented Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena.

Tyler Zeller

Most notable among that group was Zeller, who was on the floor for the opening tip for the first time. Playing against 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, the 22-year-old more than held his own, finishing with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in 29 minutes.

“The one thing he did, he battled,” Scott said. “He went against a guy who is an All-Star. He played great.”

Hibbert wasn’t exactly a focal point of Indiana’s offense — he didn’t have to be, because the Cavs (3-4) guarded no one on the perimeter — and finished with four points on 1-for-4 shooting, five rebounds, three blocks and five turnovers in 23 minutes.

“I think I did fairly well,” said Zeller, acquired on draft night after Dallas chose him with the 17th pick. “Hibbert’s a great player and definitely someone I was nervous to go against.”

The 7-foot, 240-pound Zeller hit a 17-footer off a pass from Irving on Cleveland’s first possession, but struggled to make jumpers the rest of the night. Still, he remained aggressive and got a number of field goals or drew fouls by going hard to the hoop.

“If you look at Game 1 to Game 7 in the preseason, he’s come a long way,” Scott said. “The speed limit is coming down.”

Zeller’s block was a swat of a David West shot in the key. Soon after that, the North Carolina product grabbed a rebound and threw away the outlet pass, but didn’t quit and drew a charge when Hibbert tried to bull his way to the basket.

“There are days when I feel like I can go out and make plays,” Zeller said of his steady preseason improvement. “Before, my mind was all over the place.”

Before the game, Scott reiterated that only Irving and Varejao are guaranteed starting spots for the Oct. 30 season opener against Washington, but it’s probably unwise to read too much into the moves he made against the Pacers.

The coach openly admitted he was throwing Zeller into the fire against Hibbert — “That’s why I did it,” he said with a mischievous smile — but he may also have been trying to send a message to second-year man Tristan Thompson, whose work on the defensive boards hasn’t always thrilled his coach.

If that was the case, Thompson, who started at power forward in the first six exhibition games, has not yet gotten the memo. He finished with four points, three rebounds and five fouls in 13 minutes against the Pacers.

Varejao was even worse in his first extended time at power forward, finishing with zero points, seven rebounds and five fouls in 23 minutes. The normally frenetic Brazilian, who attempted one shot all night, played 10:13 in the first half and didn’t post a statistical number other than three fouls.

Gee, who is battling C.J. Miles for the starting small forward spot (Miles is also battling Waiters for the starting shooting guard spot), probably helped his cause more than anyone against the Pacers.

The Alabama product had 18 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, a block and four turnovers in 34 minutes in what was far and away his best performance of the preseason.

Irving, who sprained his right ankle early in the first quarter but stayed in the game, finished with 20 points on 8-for-21 shooting (1-for-5 on 3-pointers), one rebound, two assists and four turnovers.

Waiters was 4-for-14 from the field in 31 minutes and Miles was 2-for-7 in 22, while Omri Casspi, the opening-night starter at small forward last season, played 8 minutes in the first half, did nothing positive and probably won’t be in the rotation to begin the season.

Tip-ins

Scott said Daniel Gibson, who missed the game with a mild concussion, got elbowed by Samardo Samuels in practice “a few days ago.” The guard began exhibiting symptoms of a concussion Monday, but has already started going through the league’s concussion protocol process so he can return to practice.

 Further reason not to read too much into Scott’s starting lineup against the Pacers: He was considering starting Gibson before the guard got hurt.

 Cavs forward Luke Harangody sat out with a sore right knee, while Pacers guard George Hill was out with a hip pointer.

 Indiana swingman Danny Granger saw his first preseason action after being out with a sore left knee and scored nine points in 12 minutes.

 Power forward West had 15 points and eight boards for the Pacers, while shooting guard Paul George had 14 points and point guard D.J. Augustin had nine points and 11 assists. Reserves Gerald Green (13), Lance Stephenson (10) and Ian Mahinmi (10) all scored in double figures.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.