CLEVELAND, Ohio — So much for that slow start.
One day after Cleveland Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff put the blame on himself for Evan Mobley’s lack of involvement early in the season, Bickerstaff followed through with his promise to adjust. Mobley did the rest, helping lead the Cavaliers to a 103-92 win over the young, still-winless Orlando Magic on Wednesday night. It’s Cleveland’s third straight victory.
Showing the rare toolkit that has Cavs coaches and teammates salivating over his potential, Mobley looked every bit like the 7-foot unicorn capable of one day transforming Cleveland into a championship team.
Fierce dunks. Smooth step-back jumpers. Feather floaters. Nimble drop steps. Skillful dribble-drives. snazzy passes. Impactful defense. It was all there.
“He was determined to help us win this game,” Bickerstaff said of Mobley. “We know what he’s capable of. We believe in him a lot. He was attack-minded and he went out to prove a point. I think he did that.”
Mobley, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, finished with a season-high 22 points on 9 of 15 shooting to go with three assists, three rebounds, one steal and a block in 34 minutes. It’s Mobley’s first game of the season with double-digit shot attempts.
“He showed why he can be one of the best in the league one day,” Jarrett Allen said of Mobley.
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The Cavs needed every bit of Mobley’s two-way impact with three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell having a rare off night and the team’s offense failing to hum like the first few games. Mitchell, who became the first player in franchise history to start a season with three consecutive 30-point games, had that streak snapped Wednesday night.
Mitchell tallied just 14 points on a chilly 5 of 19 shooting. He also added eight assists and four rebounds.
With Mitchell struggling, others stepped up throughout. Mobley led a balanced scoring attack with six players in double figures.
All-Star center Allen, Mobley’s frontcourt partner, had his second double-double of the season, tallying 18 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. With his sixth rebound Wednesday, Allen surpassed the 3,000-rebound mark. He is only active NBA player age 25 or younger to achieve that.
During one stretch early in the third quarter, following a curse-filled halftime message from Bickerstaff about failing to play up to the franchise standard, Allen morphed into an unstoppable force, putting Orlando’s Bol Bol on a poster and punishing other Magic players in the paint .
“That’s how Jarrett Allen leads,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s not the most vocal guy, but guys follow his actions. That’s what we’ve become accustomed to. He received the message clearly. That’s what we needed from him. And there was no answer for him when he decided to go get it done.”
Cedi Osman continued his sizzling play off the bench, pouring in 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting in 31 minutes. Osman has scored double digits in all four games this season, his longest streak since November 2021.
Dean Wade, inserted into the starting lineup for an offensively challenged Isaac Okoro, added 12 points, hitting 4 of 7 from beyond the arc.
Caris LeVert chipped in with 10 points and six assists.
Orlando was paced by Paolo Banchero who continues to look the part of the 2022 No. 1 pick. Banchero had 29 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Franz Wagner added 22 points.
It didn’t take overtime like the home opener on Sunday night. It didn’t take superstar-level heroics from Mitchell. The Cavs just needed Mobley to get back to being himself, the guy whose arrival last June led to billboards and boasts, the guy who opposing executives tabbed as the season’s breakout player.
Maybe Wednesday was the start of his breakout campaign.
All-Star point guard Darius Garland participated in the team’s shootaround Wednesday morning but missed his third straight game because of a left eye injury. Garland, who has been getting fitted for protective goggles the last few days, was wearing them while going through shooting drills alongside teammate Kevin Love.
Bickerstaff said Garland will wear some form of protection upon his return — whenever that is. Sources maintain Garland is targeting Friday night’s game in Boston, but his playing status will be determined by the swelling around his eye. Wednesday was the second straight day Garland was on the court participating in basketball activities. The Cavs are scheduled to practice on Thursday.
The Cavs will travel to Boston for a matchup against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm
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