LAS VEGAS – Dion Waiters thinks the Cavs are ready to do what Golden State did last season – capture the hearts of America.
“We’re an up-and-coming team with great chemistry,” Waiters said Thursday after scoring 27 points in the Cavs’ 72-66 win over the Spurs. “A lot like Golden State this year, but I feel like we’ve got a chance to be special, especially if we buckle down defensively and play our game, do what we do best, I think we’ve got a chance.”
With rising star Kyrie Irving running the point, Waiters on the wing and a plethora of big men down low – including new acquisition Andrew Bynum to go with Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao – the Cavs certainly have the pieces.
“[Bynum]’s a huge addition,” Waiters said. “You can’t teach size, and especially with Andrew he’s won championships. We’re just waiting for him to get healthy.”
Waiters battled his own injuries in his rookie season, playing in 61 games, averaging 14.7 points on 41 percent shooting, and says he’s learned from his up-and-down first year.
“It hits you fast if you come in feeling like you’re the man and better than everybody,” Waiters said. “You’re supposed to have that mentality, but you’ve got to keep it to yourself and just go out there and work hard, show everybody you’re working hard.”
Waiters, who admitted he was out of shape entering last summer’s Summer League, had his best showing of this year’s action, finishing with 27 points, six rebounds on 12-for-23 shooting. He did miss all four 3-pointers, but says coaches aren’t even talking about his offensive numbers.
“I felt like myself today,” Waiters said. “I got my legs underneath me a little bit. Took my time and made my shots. “You can’t come in here thinking you’re top 5 (pick), top 10 or whatever. You’ve got to earn that respect, because it’s not easy.”
If Waiters can make the leap this season, the Cavs may open some eyes and grab some fans the way the Warriors did last year.
Non-rookie of the day: Waiters, see above.
Other notables: Toronto Raptors. Take your pick from the veteran Raps, who beat the Nuggets 95-78. Jonas Valanciunas, who has been dominant all week, put up another double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds while Terrence Ross scored 17 with eight rebounds. Kent Bazemore, Warriors. The Golden State sophomore scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds (on 10-for-21 shooting, 1-for-6 on 3s) to lead the Warriors to a 79-76 win over the Mavericks.
John Henson, Bucks. Milwaukee’s lanky big man has been a beast on the boards all week, and kept it up Thursday with 13 rebounds to go with 16 points and three three blocks in the Bucks’ 72-68 loss to the Lakers. For the Trail Blazers, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson each tallied double-doubles in Portland’s 92-84 loss to the Suns. Leonard had 15 and 13 while Robinson had 14 and 11 as they continued their strong work on the boards.
Rookie of the day: Vander Blue, Grizzlies. Teammate Jack Cooley had another big day (16 points, 10 rebounds) to solidify his spot on the Rookie Ladder, but it was fellow undrafted rookie Blue that stole the show Thursday. Blue got hot from outside, hitting 5-for-8 3-pointers (9-for-17 overall) for 24 points off the bench. Blue, who left Marquette after his junior season is hoping to earn a camp invite in the fall, and Thursday’s performance should only open eyes.
Other notables: C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers. Once again, McCollum showed an ability to score, putting up 22 points to go with four rebounds and five assists, but he needed 26 shots (making nine) to get his points. Dwight Buycks, Raptors. Two days after reaching a deal to be Toronto’s backup point guard, Buycks had 18 points and 10 assists in the Raptors’ 95-78 rout of the Nuggets. Buycks has taken a circuitous route to the NBA, spending time in the NBA D-League in 2011-12 before playing last season in France.
Coming up: Friday’s action features a full slate of consolation round action. It will be the final game for 14 teams. The quarterfinals begin Saturday with four games, all in the Thomas & Mack Center. Check NBA.com/summerleague for Thursday’s complete schedule and the rest of the tournament bracket.