CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 118-103 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
1. This season stopped being about wins and losses some time ago, so everyone should feel free to celebrate Dante Exum.
2. Exum had the type of night GM Koby Altman and the Cavs probably hoped for when acquiring him from Utah in the Jordan Clarkson trade.
3. Final numbers: A career-high 28 points, 11-of-13 shooting and 4-of-4 on 3-pointers. Not bad for a guy who entered the season with a career average of 5.7 points per game.
4. Exum is a young player (24) with upside, a former lottery pick. He is 6-foot-5 and as Cavs coach John Beilein pointed out, Exum is part point guard and part shooting guard. On this night, he was the Cavs’ Mr. Everything.
5. Exum went particularly nuts in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 points in the first four minutes, as the wildly shorthanded Cavs overcame a 25-point deficit. His final three gave the Cavs a 97-96 edge with 8:26 to play. They would not lead again.
6. After a knee injury to rookie shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr., Exum had to play more than expected. So after his big 3-pointer, Exum was gassed. So were the Cavs. Exum checked out to catch his breath — and the Timberwolves went on a 14-0 run. Game over.
7. The Cavs (10-26) were already without Kevin Love (rest), Tristan Thompson (sick) and Larry Nance Jr. (knee). This meant John Henson started at center and Cedi Osman at power forward.
8. It also meant meaningful minutes for the likes of Exum, Ante Zizic (15 points on 6-of-7 shooting), Brandon Knight and Alfonzo McKinnie. Zizic was good, but no one took advantage of the opportunity like Exum.
9. It’s hard to know if Exum’s night was an aberration or if this was the start of something good. But the idea for the Cavs is to find more players with untapped potential, pair them alongside the likes of Collin Sexton (19 points) and Darius Garland (14), and see what happens.
10. Exum was buried on the bench in Utah. He appeared in 11 games with the Jazz this season and averaged a paltry 2.2 points. His career was derailed early after undergoing major knee surgery and shoulder surgery. The book on him coming to Cleveland was that he couldn’t shoot. That sure wasn’t the case Sunday.
11. Exum has practiced tirelessly on that aspect. “I feel like coming into the NBA I wasn’t known as a shooter,” he said. “It’s something I’ve worked on every summer, before every practice, after every practice. It’s just something I want to be respected for. It will open up my game when opponents respect my shot.”
12. That’s the bright side of an otherwise lost night. The dark side was the injury to Porter.
13. The 6-foot-4 rookie crumpled to the floor in the third quarter, the result of his knee bending awkwardly as he made a move and got tangled with Minnesota’s Robert Covington.
14. The Cavs players and coaches gathered around Porter on the court. He needed help getting up and into the locker room. He couldn’t put much weight on his left leg. Altman got up from his seat to check on Porter shortly after the injury occurred.
15. Porter left the arena on crutches. He is expected to undergo an MRI on Monday. No one is saying much but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Cavs are praying for some good news and bracing for the worst.
16. Gorgui Dieng led the Timberwolves (14-21) with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Zizic finished with 12 boards for the Cavs and Henson collected 11. Despite missing Thompson and Love, the Cavs actually out-rebounded the Wolves by a 44-43 count.
17. For more, check out the recap on SI.com: Exum, Cavs rally but can’t overtake Timberwolves.
18. You can also read more about Wolves coach Ryan Saunders and how Cleveland Heights High School dedicated its gym to Saunders’ late father Flip in my pregame dribbles: Cavs-Wolves a good one if you like watching young guns.
19. Next up: The Cavs face Detroit in Cleveland on Tuesday, then again in Detroit on Thursday.