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Two for one: Cavs fall to Zion Williamson’s Pelicans

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Zion Williamson collected his first NBA win on Tuesday night

New Orleans Pelicans v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Here is the two for one from the Cleveland Cavaliers 125-111 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Positive: Kevin Porter Jr. impresses off the bench

Whether or not Porter Jr. would play on Tuesday night was a game time decision, after rolling his ankle on Monday. Seeing him not only able to play, but playing well in his minutes off the bench helped make this loss considerably easier on the eyes.

Collin Sexton continued to do what he’s done recently with an efficient 24 points. But in order for the Cavs to turn this thing around, they’re going to need their rookies to step up and continue to show flashes of their potential.

With Darius Garland struggling recently and resting tonight, having Porter Jr. provide a shot glass of hope was needed. There were times where he was pressing and not playing team basketball, which is to be expected as he finds his rhythm.

The offensive side of the floor will likely continue to be streaky until he cleans up his jump shot. But the potential he flashes on both ends of the floor and ability to impact the game without scoring is very encouraging.

Positive: Team building proof of concept from the Pelicans

In a matchup between the Pelicans and Cavs, it is hard to not think about the two general managers of both teams. David Griffin and Koby Altman both worked together in the front office during the team’s title run and the messaging we’ve heard from the Cavs this year seems to indicate a similar philosophy when it comes to team building.

This summer the Pelicans went out and brought in veterans on short-term deals to help elevate and support their young players. Tonight we saw most of the young Pelicans struggle to some extent, but the team was able to come out of half with a renewed focus and put away the game. A charge that was primarily lead by the veterans.

Not every veteran will want to be part of a rebuild. We clearly have seen that with Kevin Love this season. The Cavs also have way further to go in their rebuild and likely don’t have a Brandon Ingram, forget a Zion Williamson. However, even if Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and the other veterans aren’t here next year, the team should still prioritize getting vets that can fit with the young core on the court and support them off the court.

The best method to build a team will forever be debated in sports. Luck will continue to be one of the biggest factors, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be diligent in addressing the aspects you can control. We saw how a full-on tank with no veterans went post decision. Making sure there are adults in the locker room and working towards establishing a culture should be a priority for the Cavs. Like it is with the Pelicans.

Negative: Not nearly enough Zion Williamson

Could I complain about the Cavs anemic defense here? You bet. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love both had terrible games on that end. While Larry Nance Jr. continued his solid play as of late while also making a nice tribute to Kobe Bryant by wearing #24 in the first half.

But the Zion Williamson show has arrived in the NBA and I wanted more highlights. Zion is a draw at levels we haven’t seen since LeBron James first came into the league. Maybe we don’t feel the same way about Giannis Antetokoumpo because we saw his growth from a scrawny kid to modern day Shaq before our eyes. While LeBron and Zion appear to have come down from Mt Olympus with cruel intentions in their eyes.

I’ll admit, having a potential Zion highlight ruined by Collin Sexton blocking his dunk was a pleasant surprise. Wouldn’t change that moment if I could. But in a game where the Cavs weren’t going to win I selfishly would have liked to see more flashes of the player we saw at Duke.

Even working his way back into shape, Zion is remarkably quick laterally and his explosiveness jumps off the screen. Unfortunately we won’t get to see Zion completely unleashed against the Cavs this season. But it still was nice to see him back on the court and getting through 30 minutes of playing time.