Veterans set important example for Cavaliers

Whether it was through free agency or a trade with another NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a concerted effort to add veterans to what was a fairly young roster at the beginning of the year.

And as the Cavaliers pulled to within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after Wednesday's last-second 97-96 victory over the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills, coach Mike Brown believes it was the veteran presence of forward Luol Deng, who was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Chicago Bulls, that helped steady the ship when the team was down by 16 points at the end of the third quarter.

"During the course of the game, Luol was great," Brown said. "I've been with a lot of really good teams, a lot of good players, and Luol in the huddles, the stuff he was saying to our guys, he was keeping me composed.

"I know if he was able to keep me in the game, he was keeping the other 14 guys in the game, plus the other coaches. I tip my hat off to Luol because he had a huge impact on the game. It's not going to show up on the stat sheet."

What did show up on the stat sheet from Deng, even though he made just three of 15 field-goal attempts, was the fact that he was able to hand out four assists and corral six rebounds, including one with 3.2 seconds left in the game to give the Cavaliers a final chance to win the game.

In addition to Deng, forward Anderson Varejao gave the Cavaliers a boost in their victory over the Pistons.

Known for his energy and hustle, Varejao answered the bell on both counts as he scored 12 points, pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds and helped the Cavaliers outscore the Pistons by 25 points when he was on the floor.

"All of our bigs struggled to rebound except Andy," Brown said. "He's just a rebounding machine. He can't jump but yay high, but has for a nose for the ball, knows how to use his body. His 16 and 12 were huge for us because there was a stretch of four games where I thought if we had him, Toronto twice, Memphis once and Washington, those are big teams and we missed a guy like Andy. We ended up losing all four. I thought his presence on the glass was huge tonight."

And while Varejao was crashing the boards, veteran point guard Jarrett Jack scored 17 points, most of which came in the final quarter.

"Jarrett's been huge (with) his leadership on the floor," Brown said. "He was another guy that was good in the huddles. He was good on the floor. He was just as good as Luol. We put him in a little pick-and-roll and he's tough to take because if he had any room at all from 17 to 19 feet, we feel it's going in. He's made huge plays for us down the stretch for quite a while now, and we need that from him, especially with Kyrie (Irving) out."

It is because the veterans have stepped up and the younger players have followed their lead that the Cavaliers are now three games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after dropping to six back with a four-game losing streak last week.

And by-in-large, the Cavaliers have fought their way back and played some of their best basketball on the road as of late.

The Cavaliers took two of three games, at Phoenix and Golden State, on a recent West Coast trip, and broke that four-game losing streak with a 106-100 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Sunday.

"That's growth," Brown said. "This team has grown a ton. You could see it in the way we play. You could it in the stats from certain points in the season until now. We had a little turbulence, obviously, early on when we had Andrew (Bynum). We kind of didn't know who we were, what direction we wanted to go and we were searching.

"Once we were able to settle in with who we were going to be roster-wise and all the other stuff, it kind of took off. The guys just kept believing and kept working, and now, we're seeing a little bit of it. We're seeing what we can be. The thing I like is, I think our ceiling is still pretty high with the group we have.

"You're not out until you're out, but for me, I'm just concentrating on, 'Hey, let's win the next game.' If we don't win it, let's try to play the right way and leave it on the floor."


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