Cleveland Cavaliers say they are different heading into rematch with Milwaukee Bucks: ‘There’s a swagger we have’

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell didn’t hesitate when asked the question.

What made you different from the team that lost to Milwaukee last week?

Mitchell quickly looked to his right and pointed to All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who didn’t play that fateful night because of an unrelated COVID-related illness and a sprained ankle.

“We got this guy back,” Mitchell said with a bright smile.

It’s the only difference from last Wednesday – albeit a big one. Not only is Allen a great defensive player, but he and Mitchell form one of the league’s most effective partnerships. With Allen off the floor, Cleveland will be unrecognizable from both ends. In Game 1 against Milwaukee, the Cavs failed to break the 100-point mark on offense for the first time all season and finished with the fourth-worst defensive rating.

Allen’s return will be an unmitigated boost. But that’s the only difference. There are countless others. That’s why the Cavs, suddenly on a four-game winning streak, head into Friday’s rematch with renewed confidence and a much better attitude. They last week’s loss left the visitors’ locker room lingering and Cavs coach J.B. It would show a focus on the breakdown of the Fat Cat mentality, which led to Bickerstaff’s fierce criticism.

“We’re a different team mentally to Milwaukee, but we know we have room to improve,” Mitchell said. “I think there is faith in us. We have a scam. It’s going to be a great test to see where we’re at, especially when you’ve just played them and they’re fresh in your mind.

The first match should also be a measuring stick. This is how the players talked about it. The Bucks won the NBA title two years ago and are considered one of the favorites again this season. With a trio of All-Stars in their starting lineup, Cleveland is looking to not only make the playoffs for the first time since 2018, but to make a deep run. Teams like Milwaukee are getting in the way.

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Even though it’s only November, some games still make a big difference. This is one. Especially given the positive momentum built over the past week.

“I think we have a better understanding of what we need to do to be the team we want to be,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s been a spell where we’ve played in a very free flow and at a pace we don’t like. I think we’re back to that. They are a really good team. It will be a tough test for us. But I believe that our guys are ready for it.”

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Entering last Wednesday’s game, the Cavs were skidding. They’ve had a week of trouble, a four-game losing streak, a slippery ride, a physically and mentally grueling schedule and inexplicable late-game stumbles that have led to numerous losses. They lost their garbage dog identity and abandoned the principles that got them off to an 8-1 start to the season.

But that night turned out to be a moment of loss that led to soul-searching, awkward conversations, and lineup changes.

Caris LeVert, a scrappy, point-scoring first baseman who won’t play Friday night in Milwaukee because of a sprained ankle, was sent to a more suitable spot in the sixth, while tough, defensive-minded swingman Lamar Stevens entered the starting lineup. .

The Cavs are 4-0 and boast the NBA’s best defensive rating with that brave and shrewd maneuver.

“The identity of the defense definitely changed last week,” Darius Garland said. “I think we’re starting to get back into it. I think we started playing more physical. We’re getting more stops on defense, which leads to offense.”

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Stevens is at the center of a turnaround.

“Honestly, Lamar is leading it,” Garland said of his increased physicality. “He’s setting such a tone for us on the defensive end that I think it’s not working for everybody else.”

“He has a great position. He is not afraid of the moment. There’s not a single match where he doesn’t believe he’s in his favor,” Bickerstaff added when asked about Stevens. “When you have guys like Donovan and Darius and their ability to create and score late in games, you have to get those stops. He was able to join that group to help them stop. The trio, him and Jarrett and Evan (Mobley), is tough on defense. We’re working to find that balance, but I think he’s done a great job so far.”

Late game performance is another notable difference.

In every game during this winning streak, the Cavs entered and finished the fourth quarter with a lead. It wasn’t always pretty. Competitors ran. But they did not break.

Instead, they found pet sets, viable plays, counters, and successful lineup combinations. The three-man effort with Garland, Mitchell, and Allen ended in death. Allen and Mobley had some interesting big-time connections. Garland and Mitchell strike the right balance – even when it’s playing the same game over and over again, with only subtle nuances to make it fresh.

“Every game we’re getting better at closing plays,” Allen said. “There are some games because we took off the gas pedal. But when it’s home games like 10 and we have to keep a lead, we’re getting better at it — still playing our game and making simple plays to get the job done. Maturity-wise, we’re closing games and getting a little bigger.”

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Allen is back. Defense again. There is a new starting quintet with a better offensive-defensive mix. And the raw, fresh, exploitative and mood-sucking flaws seem to have been fixed.

This is not a command posted by Bucks in the Fiserv Forum. At least, Cleveland believes so.

There is only one way to prove this.

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