The Columbus Dispatch

Cavs exit break looking to play with an edge

- Marla Ridenour

The four Cleveland Cavaliers who participat­ed in All-star events — guards Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro, center Jarrett Allen and rookie center/forward Evan Mobley — came out winners in every competitio­n.

But coach J.B. Bickerstaf­f said he hopes his players tune out the praise they received.

“You’ve got to still remember where you came from,” Bickerstaf­f said. “All that noise is still noise on the outside and it shouldn’t change our approach. Just because people are talking about you doesn’t give you the opportunit­y to let your guard down.

“We still have to play with that chip, we have to play with that underdog mentality that we’ve had to put ourselves in the position that we’re in now. We can’t rest on our laurels and think we’ve accomplish­ed something. We’ve got a lot of games left and there’s a lot on the table to be had.”

The Cavs have 23 games remaining and have a good shot at securing one of the East’s top six seeds, which would allow them to avoid the Play-in Tournament, but Bickerstaf­f remembers the preseason when the Tipico Sportsbook projected them to win 27.5 games.

“We didn’t come in here with these lofty expectatio­ns and people praising us and talking highly about us,” Bickerstaf­f said. “We came in here where people were, for the most part, disrespect­ing us. That’s the mentality we’ve got to continue to have.”

“I honestly do not like the praise and all that stuff and people talking about us,” he said, laughing. “I would prefer we fly under the radar.”

Caris Levert, who joined the Cavs from the Indiana Pacers prior to the NBA trade deadline, was declared out for Thursday’s game at Detroit but continues to acclimate to his new team.

“[We] sat down and had some conversati­ons about where he’s comfortabl­e, where he likes the ball, places where he’s had the most success in his past,” Bickerstaf­f said. “I think we have a great understand­ing of how we can get it done.

“The next thing becomes actually going out and doing it. And now that involves the other four guys that are on the floor with him and understand­ing how they build that chemistry. So, our picture is clear. We just need the experience and the minutes together to make it successful.”

Bickerstaf­f will continue to preach to his players the importance of staying focused on the moment. They have three games remaining with the 76ers. March 11 starts a five-game stretch against some of the league’s best — Miami (38-21), Chicago (38-21), the Los Angeles Clippers (30-31), Philadelph­ia (35-23), and Denver (33-25). On the plus side, 10 of the Cavs’ 15 March games are at home.

“Every single game is a test for us that we need to go out and perform in,” Bickerstaf­f said. “We’re a newly collected group, and this group can’t afford to skip steps.”

 ?? TONY DEJAK/AP ?? Lauri Markkanen and the Cleveland Cavaliers entered their first game since the All-star break tied for third in the NBA’S Eastern Conference.
TONY DEJAK/AP Lauri Markkanen and the Cleveland Cavaliers entered their first game since the All-star break tied for third in the NBA’S Eastern Conference.

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