CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed toward the All-Star break on a high note.
So is Anthony Bennett, the much-maligned No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
As the Cavaliers avenged a 44-point loss to Sacramento with a 109-99 win over the Kings on Tuesday night, Bennett had 19 points and 10 rebounds — both career highs — in Cleveland’s third straight win.
“You’re starting to see a little bit of what we see in practice and the reason why we drafted him,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “He’s a talented young man and he’s starting to come to life a little bit. He’s even better than what you saw tonight.”
Former general manager Chris Grant, who was fired last week, was roundly criticized for taking Bennett with the first pick in June, but the rookie from UNLV has made major strides after being a non-factor until mid-January.
“Anthony Bennett kicked our butt,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home — and deservedly so — because that was his No. 1 pick.”
Bennett was smiling, too. Asked when the last time he had fun playing basketball he said, “I don’t remember, but today was one of those days.”
Bennett hit two 3-pointers in a little over a minute in the second quarter and scored 11 points in the first half. His 3-pointer with 4:40 left in the game gave Cleveland a 100-85 advantage. Bennett was aggressive going to the basket — going to the line nine times.
Bennett had shoulder surgery before the draft and didn’t play in the summer league. He adjusted slowly once the season began, and his minutes were limited when he played.
That has changed.
“It feels great,” Bennett said. “All the hard work I’ve put in with the players and coaching staff is paying off.”
Brown began giving him playing time last month after he showed progress in practice.
“It’s not anything that all of a sudden happened overnight,” Brown said. “He’s a good basketball player. He can pass it. He can shoot it. He can run the floor. He can finish in traffic. He can rebound.”