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Another January Rebirth for the Cavaliers

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.

The NHL All-Star Weekend

The NHL All Star Game will take place in Columbus, Ohio this year. The NHL’s finest and most voted would take stage with fellow peers of the same echelon to show off their super skills and represent some kind of team. Sometimes it was an Eastern Conference All-Stars vs. Western Conference All-Stars game. In the past, the NHL has done an all-star game featuring all-stars from North America taking on World All-Stars, meaning star players from different areas of the world not located in North America. That has not happened since 2002 though. During the 1940’s through 1960’s there was a team of all-star players selected to play one NHL team. For instance, NHL All-Stars vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was a long time ago. Now, two team captains are appointed and select other players selected for the NHL all-star game in a fantasy draft.

Every player currently playing in the NHL and/or has had success in the NHL is capable of all-star talent to me. Professional sports are a cruel business and unlike other forms of entertainment, there is no luck of the draw. These athletes have worked and sacrificed their entire lives to have a chance to play in the NHL and if they make it, I think that is an impressive feat. Nonetheless, the decision process for those invited to take part in the all-star game is democratic. The democratic process entails fans voting for their favorite player who they think the best player in each position has been this far into the season. Those votes dictate three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie that will play in the NHL all-star game. The rest of the players to fill up two teams (twenty-four forwards, twelve defenseman, and six goalies) are then picked by the NHL suits.

There are two things that bother me about the voting process: 1) Fans are passionate and as voters, somehow, become even more so. This leads to things like Buffalo Sabres forward, Zemgus Girgensons being the highest-voted player thus far in the 2014-2015 season. I will say, the young Latvian forward is a beast and I think will be a great player in the NHL for a long time. Girgensons is twenty years old, has great hands, and size and strength. But, I do not think he is among the NHL elite quite yet. For elaborative support, now obsolete defenseman; Mike Komisarek represented the Montreal Canadiens on the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2009. Komisarek was a solid defensive defenseman who had some good years in Montreal, none of them, which at an elite level. 2) The rest of the roster(s) are picked by the NHL “higher ups.” And while they may have a more educated analysis on which the best of the best are that season, it leaves the taste of an electoral college in my mouth. Makes me think of an NHL brain trust telling fans, “Yeah, your vote counts, but only so much.”

Now this may sound contradictory to my initial statement that all NHL players are capable of that high-end skill, I still am aware that there is definitely a discrepancy between top players and those who fill specific roles for specific teams as bottom line players. All NHL players have ability to shoot the puck hard, skate fast, or make a nice move in a breakaway challenge, but there are significant differences statistically that separate the elite from the rest of the pack.

There is an entire weekend dedicated to the all-star game. Starting with an all-stars super skills demonstration: a bunch of cool puck-trick events, precision shooting and passing contests, and skating competitions amongst the NHL’s finest. Some of the skill competitions include: hardest shot, fastest skater, and a crowd favorite, the most accurate shooter (however, that specific skill requires not only accuracy, but precision as well). Six goalies are chosen to play and join in on skills competitions as well. Whether it is a supporting role in a specific competition or an event that solely reflects said skills of an individual goalie like the breakaway challenge, goalies participate too.

The day following the super skills competition, the All-Star game is played. The game itself is a bit of a skeptical. I have never been a huge fan of how the all-star games are played. There is lot of passing, a lot of unselfish plays, and not a whole lot of defense. Goalies are often peppered and hung to dry as defenseman like to jump in on far too many rushes and are always gliding back on the back-check. Very rarely will there be low-scoring all-star games. The lowest scoring all-star game was a 1-1 tie in 1956. The highest scoring game was in 2001 in which fans got to see twenty-six goals scored as the North American All-Stars beat the World All-Stars by a score of 14-12. I appreciate the notion that more offense is a good tactic in order to draw more fans, but for some fans like me, I appreciate defensive skill just as much as offensive skill. To add to the show that is the NHL All-Star game, there is a music guest and an MVP awarded at the end of the game. It is always a nice gesture to pay tribute to the player who had the best game, but to award that player with a brand new car is a little excessive.

I do like the concept of the All-Star game though. Competition is important to almost every facet of life. And the 2015 NHL All-Star game is not animals fighting over a depleting resource, there is player-celebrity and reputation to fight for. We watch sports directly for that reason, competition. And other than the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL All-Star games do a fine job demonstrating the talent the league has to offer.

Will Dion Waiters be an All Star This Season?

It’s a simple question, really. But when it comes down to actually answering it, there are so many variables in play here.

FSO’s Sam Amico brought this question up a couple weeks ago after the Cavs’ Media Day on Friday.

This is a very fun subject to talk about, which is fitting since Dion is a fun player to watch. Dion is a pretty polarizing figure to basketball fans, even within the city of Cleveland. His value to the team the last couple of years has been argued. His chemistry with backcourt partner Kyrie Irving has been put into question. His actual play on the court is disliked by some. His interaction on twitter has also raised some eyebrows at times.

All of these factors come into play when asking yourself whether or not Dion can make the All Star team this year. His fan approval will determine his chances of being a starter in the game mid-February – very unlikely. His play on the court and chemistry with his teammates – especially the new ones – will determine how much he’s noticed by head coaches around the league.

The first thing to do is to dig into the All Star voting process.

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Of the starters, two backcourt players and three frontcourt players are selected. After that, coaches vote on the reserves from their respective conferences, besides their own team (i.e. David Blatt couldn’t vote for Dion Waiters). Like the fans, the coaches vote for two backcourt players and three frontcourt players, but also two “wild cards” – two players of any position. For the wild cards, the coaches can also choose players they think would be best suited with the team, not necessarily the best player.

So let’s play the way-too-soon-to-predict-All-Stars game.

(Note: I’m going under the assumption that no player gets hurt.)

In the East, the 2014 starters were Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony (the only purpose the frontcourt players serve here is to provide context as to how the reserves fill out the roster).

Right away, I think there’s a change up with the starting lineup as it pertains to the guards. I still think Irving gets the nod, but someone will replace Wade; my guess would be John Wall, unless Derrick Rose proves his poor performance in the FIBA World Cup was just him working out the kinks. He’ll still get a ton of fan votes either way.

I think the starting lineup will look something like this: Kyrie Irving, John Wall, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Carmelo Anthony.

The chances of Dion getting into the starting lineup will be slim to none. There are a couple of things going for him as far as fan acknowledgement goes. First and foremost was his duel in the Rising Stars Challenge last year against Tim Hardaway Jr.

http://youtu.be/0jQHxEaV0-I

Something like that is what helps you get your name out there, especially when you’re being overshadowed (rightfully so) on what were some bad Cavaliers teams. With this performance I think this performance is what started the popularity of fans outside of Cleveland rooting for a guy like Dion.

The next thing is the endorsement of LeBron James. It first started in LeBron’s letter when he announced he was signing with Cleveland: “I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.” Even though it was just one sentence, it was one sentence in the most popular piece of the summer. LeBron only named four then-current Cavs and Dion was one of them. And Andrew Wiggins was not.

Let’s look at the Eastern Conference reserves from last year.

The coaches selected John Wall, Joe Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, and Paul Millsap. Wall is the only holdover I foresee, as I mentioned I thought he’d be named a starter. Johnson is getting older and on a declining Nets team, I think he misses. DeRozan has a good shot to make it again; I think he’ll be in the running.

The players I think Waiters will be competing with are: DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Kyle Lowry, Derrick Rose, Lance Stephenson, and Dwyane Wade.

Last year there were three reserves at guard, compared to four for the Western Conference (until Anthony Davis replaced James Harden, who replaced an injured Kobe Bryant as a starter). It’s conceivable that out of the seven guys I named above, including Waiters, four of them are picked by coaches as an Eastern Conference reserve.

So what would force these East coaches to select Waiters over guys like DeRozan, Wade, Rose, etc?

Over a couple months ago in late July, I wrote about why I thought Dion was poised for a breakout season; this preceding the additions of guys like Kevin Love and Shawn Marion.

To sum it up, I think adding LeBron and Love is an easy equation in predicting how well Waiters will do this year. The start may be a bit rocky, just because of all the turnover the Cavs have seen this offseason. However, I think throughout the season we’ll see Dion’s opportunities to show off his talent increase, as well as his overall game.

Leading up to the season, Dion has expressed how much he’s yearned for LeBron to take him under his wing.

Dion seems like a hard worker from afar and learning from LeBron as well as the multiple veterans on this team that have won a championship will help him learn how to put the pieces of the Dion-puzzle together.

Dion’s been steadily improving his 3-pt shot since his rookie year and it should improve this year with LeBron, Love, and Kyrie all drawing defenders. Things will open up a lot more for Dion this year to shoot or drive. If he can improve his finishing ability around the rim, his game will be scary.

If I’m deciding today whether or not Dion Waiters makes the All Star team, I’m saying yes. He works too hard, plays too hard, and is in too good of a situation this year not too. In the end, it’ll be up to the coaches to put Dion’s name down on their ballots.

Cleveland Cavaliers Head Into All-Star Break On Four Game Winning Streak

The Cleveland Cavaliers have won four straight games for the first time in nearly four years.

 

From @SBNation
The Cavs are finally back to their dancing ways with winning streak.   via @SBNation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the season started, I, along with most fans, was extremely high on this Cavaliers team. I projected them to finish the season as a sixth or seventh seed in the East and wouldn’t have been shocked if they exceeded that projection. Even after the Cavs slow start to the season, the Bynum debacle, the Bennett disaster, the constant rumors and the overall lack of effort; I still somehow remained optimistic.

 

 

Then, a few weeks ago, the Cavs finally broke my spirit. After taking an in-depth look at the projected standings in the East and watching this team consistently lose to inferior opponents, I finally became pessimistic about this Cavs team.

 

 

And wouldn’t you know it; as soon as I gave up on them, they went and achieved their first four-game win streak in nearly four years. The last time the Cavs won four games in a row, LeBron James was still here. Kyrie Irving was in high school. Lance Armstrong still had seven Tour De France wins. Kim Kardashian had yet to marry and divorce Kris Humphries and no one knew who Macklemore or Lorde was yet. In other words, a lot has happened since the Cavs won four straight.

 

 

The best part is that the Cavs decided to start playing well right before the All-Star break. Just a week ago, it appeared to be a lost season with a lot of questions remaining to be answered. Now, the Cavs are 20-33 and get to head into the All-Star break feeling good about the remaining 29 games of the season. Most of the team will have a week to rest and enjoy their newfound winning ways, while Kyrie and Dion Waiters will get to feel good about competing during the weekend festivities.

 

 

If you’ve watched this Cavs team all season, then you’ve noticed that there’s a noticeable difference in the team these last four games. Everyone (instead of just Delly) is playing with effort and the team looks more cohesive. It’s also obvious that they are actually having fun out there, which accompanies winning. It’s hard to pinpoint what changed within the team over the last week, except that the firing of Chris Grant may have been a wake-up call for some of the younger players.

 

 

Kyrie and Waiters have been playing much better together and it’s been great watching them coexist on the court. After the win over the Memphis Grizzlies last Sunday night, Waiters was quoted by Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico as saying he’s partly to blame for Grant getting fired, “If we’d played the way we have last 2 games he’d probably still be here.”

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Grant is the guy who drafted all of the young players on this roster, so it’s understandable that they all of a sudden realized how urgent it is for them to win after his departure.

 

 

 

 

 

David Griffin, the Cavs interim GM, also seems to be very good at inspiring and motivating players. There have been reports that Griffin spoke with Kyrie and Waiters individually and reassured them that neither needed to worry about being traded and that they should just start having fun again. If those reports are true, it’s obviously working.

 

David Griffin
David Griffin – bleacherreport.com

 

 

The Cavs still have major improving to do in order to have any chance at earning a playoff berth this season. They currently rank 23rd in points per game, 11th in rebounding, 27th in assists per game and 24th in offensive points per game. The four game win streak is nice to see, but I’m going to continue to keep my optimism to a minimum for the time being. This team still has a lot of work to do and a ways to go before I can begin to even think about getting excited about the playoffs again.

 

 

Still, with the current streak, the Cavs are only three games out of the eighth seed in the awful Eastern Conference. They also have some very winnable games coming up. If the team continues to play the way they have this week, they could end up with a 26-34 record by the end of February. That would most likely have them in the playoff hunt before embarking on a tough March schedule. The Cavs have let us down before though.

 

 

The next couple of weeks might be the most important of the season thus far as the trade deadline hits and the Cavs determine whether we start preparing for a first round series or a first round lottery pick. Griffin told the media that the Cavs will be buyers at the deadline and will continue to look to “win now,” although I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else. I don’t completely buy that the Cavs will be major buyers and I highly doubt they give up any large assets, and they shouldn’t.

 

 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Anderson Varejao is moved and I’m hoping that Jarrett Jack is. Varejao has been in trade rumors for the past few years as the deadline nears and he always seems to get hurt just before it arrives. He is currently out again this year with a week before the deadline, although he is expected back after the All-Star break. I’m not sure what the Cavs will be able to fetch for Andy right now, but I assume he’ll be gone either next week or in the offseason. Jack may be harder to move due to his 4 year, $24 million contract given to him by Chris Grant and his less than stellar play so far this season. Not to mention the fact that he’s 30 years old. If the Cavs can acquire additional assets or substantial players for the 30 and 31 year olds though, they have to pull the trigger. That would also allow Zeller and Bennett to obtain more playing time and continue to develop the rest of this season, as well as moving Waiters to the backup point guard position.

 

 

It seems pretty evident that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has put a lot of pressure on the organization to win now. That’s why Grant was fired and it’s why Mike Brown and David Griffin have been assumedly put on the hot seat. For Griffin though, it’s been so far, so good. It will be interesting to see what he can pull off by the trade deadline to make this team better in the short and long term. I just really hope he doesn’t feel the need to make a dumb panic trade in order to appease his boss and keep his GM position.

 

 

Regardless, it seems likely that the Cavs make some sort of move within the next week. For now though, we can all relax and enjoy the All-Star festivities this weekend as Waiters participates in the Rising Stars challenge on Friday night and Kyrie takes part in the three-point shootout on Saturday and the All-Star game on Sunday. And hopefully does some more of this…

 

From @SBNation
via @SBNation

 

Here’s to the Cavs remaining undefeated in the David Griffin era!

 

 

Who Snubbed Jason Kipnis?

In case you’re a baseball fan that somehow doesn’t use social media or watch ESPN, I need to tell you that there’s been some drama concerning the Major League All-Star Game, its Final Vote, and some pretty widely perceived snubs.

When MLB announced this year’s Final Vote participants – Yu Darvish, Jake Peavy, Jason Hammel, Jonathon Broxton, and Ernesto Frieri of the American League and David Freese, Bryce Harper, Michael Bourn, and Aaron Hill of the National League – Cleveland Indians fans went borderline insane that Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis didn’t make the vote.

Really, Cleveland fans had been going insane since it was announced that Texas manager Ron Washington gave his own Ian Kinsler the backup second base spot in the first place (and it can be argued that Cleveland fans are just insane in general), but not even getting a chance at the Final Vote sent the few mentally stable Tribe fans left over the edge. (Before you go getting angry, I own approximately 482 Indians hats, so I’m right with you) Continue reading Who Snubbed Jason Kipnis?

Cleveland Indians 2012 All-Star Chances

It’s that time of year again, baseball fans. It’s the time of year when every trip to Progressive Field comes with two dozen pleas to vote all of your favorite Cleveland Indians to the 2012 All-Star Team.

I always wonder how effective those in stadium ballots actually are. I never know whether I should just vote all Indians, or if I should just vote my conscious. Deep down, I’d love to see as many Indians in the MLB All-Star game as humanly possible, but there are a lot of years that there aren’t any hometown ballplayers that deserve a spot.

What about this season? Are there any Indians that actually deserve to be All-Stars?

Let’s find out. Continue reading Cleveland Indians 2012 All-Star Chances