CLEVELAND — With Anderson Varejao and C.J. Miles out with injuries, the Cavaliers needed someone to step up Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings.
Led by rookie Anthony Bennett, tons of guys did as Cleveland won its third straight game with a 109-99 victory over the Kings in front of 14,245 happy fans.
The Cavs (19-33) will attempt to make it four in a row tonight in Detroit. The last time they had a four-game winning streak was when they won eight in a row from March 8-24, 2010, when LeBron James was still No. 23.
With Varejao out with a sore lower back and general body soreness and Miles sidelined by a bad foot — Varejao did not travel to Detroit, but Miles did and might play — Bennett had his best game as a pro as Cleveland atoned for a dismal 124-80 loss to Sacamento (17-35) on Jan. 12.
The much-maligned No. 1 overall draft pick set career highs in points (19) and rebounds (10) while recording his first double-double.
“He can play,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “It was unfortunate he was hurt (in college). It was unfortunate he didn’t get to play in summer league. It’s part of being a rookie and experiencing some things, but he got himself right. He’s just starting to be what you’re going to see.”
There’s still work to be done, but the same might be starting to be true of the Cavs, who once again got a lot of contributions from a lot of players.
“We’re getting there,” said small forward Luol Deng, who led a balanced Cleveland attack with 22 points. “We’re not there yet, but we’ve done a nice job of moving the ball and playing better defense.
“We’ve still got to continue to improve, but the last three games show how good we can be.”
While the Cavs are showing improvement as a team, the fact Bennett is contributing is just as important. He looked comfortable from start to finish against Sacramento, going 6-for-9 from the field and making all three of his 3-pointers in 30 minutes.
“You’re starting to see a little bit of what we see in practice and the reason why we drafted him,” Brown said. “He’s a talented young man.”
Bennett went just 4-for-9 at the line or his scoring total would have been greater, but the 20-year-old twice made baskets to stop mini fourth-quarter runs by the Kings.
“It feels great,” Bennett said. “All the hard work I put in is really paying off. … I guess I was being anxious on the court and trying to make the best play (early in the season). Now I’ve calmed down a little and am trying to have fun.”
In addition to Bennett and Deng, who also had three rebounds and four assists, Cleveland got 20 points and eight assists from Dion Waiters and 16 points and 13 rebounds from Tristan Thompson.
Kyrie Irving had 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting and six assists, but he shared the ball as well as he has all season, particularly with Waiters.
Overall, the Cavs tied a season high with 30 assists (on 41 field goals), with Matthew Dellavedova getting five — plus four rebounds — and Jarrett Jack four.
“We’re just making plays for one another,” Irving said.
From a defensive standpoint, the Cavs made the Kings work for everything they got.
Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins had 21 points and 10 rebounds, but his last field goal came with 46.7 seconds left in the first quarter. Cousins, who was 11-for-16 at the line, was 5-for-10 from the field in the first period and 0-for-2 over the final three.
Credit for that goes to Henry Sims, who had seven points and five rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes, and Thompson, who took over for Sims because Tyler Zeller, who started in place of Varejao, was overmatched physically.
“All we wanted our guys to do was make him work,” Brown said. “If we can make him work to score, we’re doing our job.”
Behind 11 points and four rebounds from Bennett, the Cavs took a 55-43 lead at intermission. Cleveland went up as many as 18 in the third quarter before Sacramento got within seven with 9:23 to play in the game.
That’s when Bennett stopped his third mini-run of the game by grabbing an offensive rebound and getting fouled. He split the free throws, but that started a 7-0 spurt that put the Cavs up 14.
“We didn’t defend at all and Anthony Bennett kicked our (butt),” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I’m sure (former Cavs GM) Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so.”
Bennett later sealed the deal by hitting his third 3-pointer to put the Cavs up 100-85 with 4:41 left.
“He’s going to get it,” Deng said of the rookie. “These kind of games are going to come more often.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.