Cavaliers are much improved

CLEVELAND – Look at his feet. You’ll see the black sneakers with yellow lip and laces worn by Kyle Korver.

The Cleveland Cavaliers guard takes shot after shot. His lanky, 6-foot-7 frame is squared up to the glass hoop inside Quicken Loans Arena.

Korver’s feet are parallel as he swishes yet another 3 pointer.

Practice. Repetition. Even the professionals get their warm-ups in prior to game time, which was at 8 p.m. Thursday, against the Washington Wizards.

J.R. Smith came out a bit later. His footing, a bit more erratic, but he started at the free-throw line. Eventually, the NBA veteran moved beyond the arc. He wasn’t as consistent as Korver, but he ranks in the top 15 in league history in 3s made.

There he was, the guy who follows his own path, shooting 3s with a grey warmup and a wide red stripe down the side. The other Cavs players had long-sleeved black T-shirts.

He was hitting more 3s as game time neared. Maybe it’d be a good sign as the Cavs played their first game since the All-Star Break?

Seats around the 20,000-plus seat arena were mainly empty at this point with black signs saying All 4 One on every chairback.

There I am, in the midst of a media area in section 130, eye level with an enormous Jumbotron, which you have to be legally blind not to see.

I’ll admit, I’m wondering how the massive implement is held up from crashing to the ground. Guess I’m enamored by the simple things.

Bringing me back to my Horizon League roots, there’s Cavs starter George Hill, a former IUPUI player.

His team was part of the Summit League then and the Jaguars (newcomers to the Horizon) were pretty darn good about a decade ago with Hill in the backcourt for the Indianapolis-based school.

Smith squared up his feet before he shot and made a 6-foot jumper to start the Cleveland scoring. Guess that pre-game practice paid off, even for a 14-year veteran.

What has been essential for this Cavaliers team is an infusion of youth on their roster and eliminating unnecessary baggage from the offseason.

You can see it in the Cavs’ play.

A quick play in transition as LeBron James to a cutting Tristan Thompson as the Cavs went up 13-6 on the Wizards.

The addition of Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson from the Los Angeles Lakers, Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz, and Hill from the Sacramento Kings has done more than add scorers. It’s resurrected a once dysfunctional Cavs team into vaulting this team back into the NBA Finals conversation.

Then, there’s Nance. The high-flying Ohio native had a couple of thunderous dunks from an ally-oop pass from James and a shovel pass from Jeff Green as Nance put the ball through the hoop with an emphatic two-handed slam — lingering on the rim for a full effect.

When he and Clarkson entered the game, there was a rousing ovation from the capacity crowd inside Quicken Loans Arena.

For me and other longtime Cavalier fans, we remember his father, Larry Nance Sr., a Cavaliers Hall of Famer with his No. 22 hanging from the rafters. Those late 1980s and early ’90s teams were the virtual essence of team basketball and Nance was part of that team unfortunately denied of a berth in the NBA Finals.

The legend himself, Nance Sr., was in the building and held out a basketball for one of the Cavs mascots, Moondog. The mascot rushed down the court, carrying the ball almost like a running back, bounced off a mini trampoline, took the ball from Nance and slammed it home … on the second try.

This year’s team, with the new additions, has the same camaraderie of those teams coached by Lenny Wilkens in the ’80s and ’90s. However, it’ll take a while for that to come into full fruition.

he Wizards went on a second-quarter surge to make it a nip and tuck game until the end. Korver made a 3 late in the third for a short-lived lead. His feet were parallel, just like in practice.

Korver added another 3 early in the fourth. Again, it was all in the footwork.

His uncanny ability to catch and shoot reminds me a heckuva lot like former Cavalier sharpshooter Craig Ehlo. That, my friends, is a great comparison.

Korver, hovering around the 3-point arc after a rebound, was drawing the defense as James trucked down the lane and Korver found the NBA legend with the give-and-go to cut the Wizards lead to 104-99 with 2:14 left.

Smith then blocked a Kelly Obure shot with a minute left, down by three, forcing a rare jump ball. Video review overturned it to Washington ball and subsequent basket.

Why aren’t the Cavs finding Korver? A team shooting 24 percent from 3. This is why this franchise brought him over from the Atlanta Hawks. Find him in your offense.

James’ late-game magic wasn’t there.

Wizards won, but it’s a much better product the Cavs are displaying than they did more than a month ago. I’d like to see how this team comes together by this time next month.