Young Cavaliers growing into winners

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm •  Published: February 28, 2013
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller slipped on his cute "Dora the Explorer" backpack, grabbed the handles of the pink stroller carrying his baby doll and headed out of Quicken Loans Arena after a win over Toronto.

It was time to go home.

But not before some humiliation.

Such is life for an NBA rookie, who must tolerate some playful hazing through the course of a season. But in less than two months, Zeller and teammates Dion Waiters and Kevin Jones can ditch the new toys given to them by Cavs coach Byron Scott as a reminder that they have some growing up to do.

And after a rough start, the young Cavs have done just that.

"We're just playing ball," Waiters, the No. 4 overall pick in last year's draft said after scoring 23 points against the Raptors. "We're growing every game."

Now three seasons since LeBron James last wore Cleveland's wine and gold, the Cavs are showing signs of becoming a contending team again. They went 7-5 in February, their first winning month since March 2010, and are 4-1 since the All-Star break with the only loss by four points in Miami against James and the defending champion Heat, who have won 12 straight.

The Cavs are scoring, sharing the ball and playing good defense. It took a little time, but it's coming together.

An early-season stagger has given way to swagger.

"It's night and day when you talk about November-December and January-February and the way we're playing," said Scott, in his third season with Cleveland. "It takes time. They're young and they've got to get to know each other and they've got to understand what this game is all about. They've got to understand it's 'we' and not 'me.'

"That's always big when you've got a bunch of young guys, and they're starting to really understand that."

On Wednesday, the Cavs won their second game in a row without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who has a hyperextended right knee. Cleveland ended an 11-game losing streak against Chicago earlier in the week and followed it by shaking off a horribly slow start — the Cavs opened 1 of 15 from the field — to beat the Raptors.

Waiters, averaging 19.8 points and 54 percent shooting since the break, had another strong game and the Cavs got major contributions from second-year forward Tristan Thompson (14 points, 8 rebounds), Shaun Livingston (15 points), Wayne Ellington (13 points) and Luke Walton, who chipped in with just 5 points but had 7 rebounds and 7 assists in 21 minutes.

Walton and Livingston, who was claimed on waivers in December, are two of the veterans Scott is counting on to show Cleveland's kids what it takes to be a pro. They've embraced the leadership roles and are seeing their younger teammates mature.

"It's been a process all year long," Walton said. "It's not only a young team but there's a lot of new guys, and in this league there's definitely a learning curve. But it's a lot of fun to see the growth and see the team getting better."