Four games, four wins, and an average margin of victory of almost 13 points.
This was the week of basketball provided by our Cleveland Cavaliers under the direction of their new head coach Tyronn Lue. Sure, Lue’s first game last Saturday, a 96-83 loss to Chicago, was likely to give GM David Griffin a small jolt of buyer’s remorse, but these last four games have most certainly solidified his confidence in the decision to replace David Blatt.
I think that it is safe to say that the way this team plays now is notably different from the previous regime. Its the same cast of characters but as a whole, it is a very different narrative.
One of my favorite decisions that Lue made right away is moving Tristan Thompson back into a starting role. If you look at the level of talent that he brings to the court, coupled with the amount of money we invested in him just before the start of the season, having him in the starting lineup just makes good basketball sense.
I know that I have been hard on Timofey Mozgov this season and most of it can be backed up with hard evidence. Having said that, I have not seen him play more consistently than I have in his role coming off of the bench this week.
Thompson and Mozgov are where they now belong in the rotation and I don’t anticipate that changing unless the very healthy and reliable Thompson goes down with an injury. As a Cleveland sports fan it is impossible to not have thoughts of an injury in the back of your mind considering the storied history of maladies that our sports figures have endured that end of derailing our championship hopes and dreams.
Here is an example of just that type of mindset. During our 117-103 victory of the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night, Kyrie Irving had a moment where he seemed to fall awkwardly on his knees and just played there for a moment.
Of course, ABC decided it was a perfect time to take a commercial break without addressing or showing whether Irving stood back up and appeared to be fine. The entire commercial break I was fidgeting in my seat while praying that I would not see an image of trainers working on Irving as soon as the broadcast returned.
Thankfully, I did not see that and there was never any mention of Irving getting up slowly or asking to be subbed out. Did I invent this entire scenario in my own mind or did I simply interpret things incorrectly?
Regardless, all is well in Cavalier country as our team has seemed to reinvent itself again in January. Some of my readers may wonder why I do not go more in depth about Lebron James’ role and accomplishments with this team.
James is the heart of this team and of course we would not be able to compete at the same level without him. Everyone knows that we can rely on him for scoring, defense and leadership.
From last year’s Finals we know that Lebron is not enough singularly to win us an NBA title. The contributions of Love, Irving, Dellavedova, Thompson, Smith and Shumpert are what will determine our eventual success level.
I would like to go player by player and give my opinion of each of those player’s role as it stands today.
Kevin Love – Love must continue to be a threat both inside the paint and outside the arc. He is getting more lift under his three point shots and we have seen a higher percentage of them being made. Under Coach Lue, he has been asked to produce more under the hoop and has not disappointed.
Kyrie Irving – I’ve said it before and I will say it as many times as it is deemed necessary. Irving is the best finisher in the NBA. His penetration under the basket causes defenders to leave their assignments which provides Smith, Love, Shumpert, James or Dellevedova enough space outside the arc to get off a clean, calculated shot when he kicks it out. Irving has been both hot and cold from long distance but any of those others have the potential to knock those down when called upon. Kyrie is a master facilitator in that respect.
Matthew Dellavedova – Delly has been able to not only find the player that we all cheered for against Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but to improve upon that player as well! He is no longer afraid to drive to the hoop and has shown an amazing increase in his three point percentage. He is a part of this team that could not be easily replaced if we lost him.
Tristan Thompson – His presence in the starting lineup is essential to our success. When matched up against the current King of NBA rebounding Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Thompson out rebounded him 14 to 8! This is an example that Cavs fans will do well to remember as we go up against more of the elite teams in this league.
J.R. Smith – Swish, as they call him, has become a much more important part of this team as the year has progressed. He is not only scoring fairly consistently for us but he is starting to contribute in other areas such as steals that are worth just as much as a basket because it takes potential points off of the board for our opponents.
Iman Shumpert – While Shumpert isn’t getting the minutes of J.R. most games, he is still putting forth his best effort with the minutes that he does get. I always look forward to opponents getting “Shumped” when he is on the floor. He is a true student of his adversaries and likely knows things about their tendencies that they may not even be aware of. This leads to a bevy of great defensive work from him.
We are about to embark on our February journey in the NBA. February brings the All Star Break and an opportunity to not only obtain a status report of the respective teams at the half way point of the season, but to remember why they all started playing the game in the first place; their love for it.
In Cleveland, January has been a month of transition for the second year in a row. I have high hopes of what this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers has in store for us in the months ahead.