INDEPENDENCE — It will be young veterans against very experienced ones tonight when the Cavaliers open their 2013-14 NBA season by hosting the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs, who are expected to start third-year point guard Kyrie Irving, second-year shooting guard Dion Waiters, 10th-year center Anderson Varejao, third-year power forward Tristan Thompson and fifth-year small forward Earl Clark, will enter the season with a combined 18 years of NBA experience in their first unit.
Nets power forward Kevin Garnett is an 18-year veteran all by his lonesome. He will be joined by 15-year vet Paul Pierce at small forward, eight-year pro Brook Lopez in the middle, 12-year vet Joe Johnson at shooting guard and eight-year pro Deron Williams at the point, giving Brooklyn’s starting unit a combined 61 years of experience.
Brooklyn has former Cavs point guard and eight-year pro Shaun Livingston listed as its starting point guard on its media game notes, but Williams, who had been out with an ankle injury, played in the team’s final exhibition game.
The Nets’ roster also includes 15th-year pro Jason Terry, 12th-year pros Andrei Kirilenko and Reggie Evans and ninth-year pro Andray Blatche.
“They’re a veteran team that knows how to play the game,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said Tuesday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “They’ve been around a long time. They’ve got multiple All-Stars and future hall of famers.”
The Nets, who acquired Garnett, Pierce and Terry from Boston and signed Kirilenko as a free agent, are clearly gearing up for what they hope is a title run after finishing 49-33 a year ago.
The Cavs, on the other hand, are an up-and-coming team that has its sights set on making the playoffs and continuing to improve.
Cleveland finished 24-58 last season, 21-45 in 2011-12 and 19-63 in 2010-11, but the continued growth of Irving, Waiters and Thompson, the good health of Varejao and the addition of veterans Jarrett Jack and Clark — plus Andrew Bynum when he’s ready — are good reasons to believe the Cavs could have a winning record.
“As long as we have discipline, we can be as good as the good teams I played on,” said backup small forward C.J. Miles, who played on several Utah clubs that won 50-plus games. “If we don’t have any discipline, we can be as bad as anybody.
“To be honest, that’s the biggest difference. It’s not so much about having talent, it’s about putting everything together. You can walk in the gym and see there’s talent just by watching us play around.”
In addition to devoting considerably more time to defense under Brown, the Cavs also have much better depth this season.
Brown said he was leaning toward starting Clark at small forward, but he also plans to try to get minutes for Miles and Alonzo Gee, the starter for most of last season.
Cleveland also has No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett at power forward, second-year man Tyler Zeller in the middle and No. 19 pick Sergey Karasev to play on the wing.
“It’s not necessarily always who starts,” Brown said of leaning toward the 6-foot-10 Clark at small forward. “I know that’s the glamour thing.
“But you look at San Antonio for all those years and I don’t think anybody in this building right now or anybody in the game can tell me Manu Ginobili doesn’t deserve to start. A lot of times, it’s who you think you want to have on the floor at the end to help you win the game.”
The Cavs definitely want former All-Star center Bynum on the floor. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen tonight, but it hasn’t been officially ruled out, either.
Cleveland listed Bynum’s status as “TBD” — to be determined — on the injury report on its game notes. It also did the same for Zeller, Miles and Karasev, who have been or will likely be cleared to play, so the team is probably being intentionally vague on all fronts.
Bynum went through some more 5-on-5 drills Tuesday, but team doctors have not cleared him for games. Again, there’s a chance that could happen prior to tipoff tonight, but it doesn’t appear likely.
“When it gets to the point where we all feel he’s clear, we’ll clear him,” Brown said.
The 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum, who turned 26 on Sunday, is getting close to that point, barring any setbacks. He has been taking part in full-court, contact drills for about 10 days, but hasn’t gone through a complete practice.
Bynum last played in an NBA game on May 21, 2012, when the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated by Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals.
“He’s humongous,” the 6-6, 231-pound Miles said. “He’ll pivot and turn and you’ll … be feeling like a little kid.”
Zeller, who underwent an appendectomy early in the preseason, has been cleared to play tonight, while Karasev (ankle) went through a full practice. Karasev hasn’t been cleared to play in games, but that could happen prior to game time.
Miles, who had a strained calf, is healthy and ready to go, while second-round pick Carrick Felix (hernia) is out.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.