The bottom fell out for the Cleveland Cavaliers mere minutes after LeBron James made yet another public decision to leave the franchise in the 2018 offseason.
After mustering back-to-back 19-win seasons, the Cavaliers aim to start the 2020-21 campaign on the right note against the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
The continued development of Collin Sexton will be a major storyline for Cleveland, which saw the 21-year-old take a step forward after the team traded Jordan Clarkson to Utah last December.
“He finished on an extremely high note and I think it’s our responsibility to get him back there,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Sexton, who averaged a team-best 20.8 points per game.
“The numbers may look different because there’s more options on the floor with him, but our expectation is for him to be aggressive on the offensive end and make the right reads.”
Sexton may need some time to get up to speed, as a sprained ankle limited him to just participating in the preseason finale on Friday. He went 2 of 11 from the field and misfired on both 3-point attempts in 21 minutes of Cleveland’s 119-83 loss to the New York Knicks.
“I just didn’t have a rhythm,” Sexton said. “… Certain shots, certain layups and stuff that I know I’m going to make when the season comes, certain plays I’m gonna make.”
Although Andre Drummond averaged 17.2 points and 15.2 rebounds last season while splitting the campaign between Cleveland and Detroit, the 6-foot-10, 279-pound center recently made the claim that he’d like to be named the Defensive Player of the Year. Cleveland surely would embrace that, considering it allowed a robust 114.8 points per game in 2019-20.
Kevin Love, who joined James on Cleveland’s 2016 championship team, is nursing a right calf strain and will sit out Wednesday. Larry Nance Jr. likely will take the place of Love, who missed 69 games over the last two seasons due to maintenance and injury.
While Cleveland likely is banking on young talent in its rebuilding process, Charlotte opened the checkbook and signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract in the offseason.
Hayward, 30, is on pace to play in the opener after sustaining a broken finger on his right hand during a preseason contest against Toronto on Dec. 14.
“(He) looked great,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of Hayward, who played in just 52 of Boston’s 72 games last season because of a variety of injuries.
“I mean, he’s in great shape. I don’t know if he’ll play on Wednesday or not but he practiced today. He looked good. He’s in good spirits. So, we’re trending in the right direction.”
Devonte’ Graham, who finished fifth in the NBA’s Most Improved Player voting last season, averaged team bests in points (18.2) and assists (7.5) for a Hornets’ team that limped to a 23-42 record.
Graham had 25 points and Terry Rozier added 24 in Charlotte’s 120-117 preseason loss at Orlando on Saturday.
LaMelo Ball, who was the No. 3 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, made just 1 of 10 shots from the field and misfired on all four 3-point attempts in that contest.
–Field Level Media