Tag Archives: Golden State Warriors

The Cavaliers dreams turn into a nightmare

Well, that was unpleasant.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

In the wake of the 132-98 beat down that the Warriors handed the Cavaliers on MLK Day, I have a few dreams too for my hometown basketball team. If my dreams can have one tenth of the impact that Dr. King’s did, we might just be ok.

Let me set the stage for last night. I was in my favorite chair, with a full belly, watching the national sports media reporting from all of the places I recognize in my city.

It always feels good when my city is featured on this scale. It is a city that has a less than stellar reputation, however, most visitors that I meet are pleasantly surprised with all that it has to offer.

So there I am in my chair, and I see that Mozgov is starting. This is puzzling to me until I am reminded that he has traditionally guarded Andrew Bogut very well.

I am willing to trust my coach and even though Golden State jumps out to a quick 10-2 lead, I am pleased with Mozgov’s play in the first quarter. He looked like a composed, calculating NBA center.

As we proceed though, the rest of our team looks downright awful. They appear to be woefully unprepared for a challenge of this magnitude.

Our team is unable to get stops on the Warriors, nor score on the offensive end. This causes not only the lead to balloon up but also the Cavalier’s frustration level.

At one point, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference was losing by 43 points to the best from the West. This leads me to one of my dreams.

I dream of a day when the Eastern Conference is treated as if it is one half of a professional league and not the minor leagues of the Western Conference.

I get the impression that players from the West truly think that East teams are a joke and do not really belong on the same grand stage as they do. Sadly, this narrative is perpetuated by the national sports media also.

We certainly did nothing to dispute that notion last night. It angers me that this memory of the Cavaliers will be the one that sticks in everyone’s mind and not the 5-1 record we amassed over the road trip against top teams from the West.

If the Cavs can ascend the mountain again in the East and make it back to the Finals, that would be our next opportunity to play the Warriors (provided they successfully maneuver the West gauntlet). This terrible performance will be the first example given when comparing the teams.

The Warriors are the reigning NBA champs so they deserve to be the measuring stick for all teams and I would not deny them that. I would, however, deny the idea that the Cavaliers do not possess the talent to achieve my ultimate dream of hoisting that banner into the ceiling of The Q someday.

The Cavaliers themselves were poised in defeat last night. Coach Blatt took responsibility for the loss and Kevin Love said that the changes need to come from the leadership of the team, though it is unclear whether he was referring to James or Blatt.

Kyrie Irving was essentially a no show last night in his performance. He finished with eight points and five rebounds on 3/11 shooting while Love was also quiet with only three points on 1/5 shooting.

With that depressing of a showing, I would hope that Love would take more responsibility rather than point the finger up the bench. Perhaps he feels that he is not being used in the proper capacity.

Love was certainly more effective earlier in the season when he was being fed the ball in the low post more often. Since the return of Irving and Iman Shumpert, I have noticed him spending more time setting picks and staying outside the three point line.

This strategy with Love is what contributed to a 19-20 record about this time last season. It seems that January is a tenuous month for this iteration of the team, though we have had many more successes overall than 2015.

I am supremely dejected after this loss, though I will not be one of those fans that declares that our dreams of a title are vanquished. The feeling of defeat is one that this city is not only very familiar with experiencing but also very adept at overcoming.

As fans, we need to realize that a defeat of this nature can be used to motivate our guys in the future. The sick feeling in our stomachs can be converted into fuel reserves that can be accessed when we need it the most in the playoffs.

That is the most constructive way to process last night’s result. Otherwise, that sick feeling will encompass us and create doubt in our minds.

The Wine and Gold Nation must do their part and not allow this to happen.

What does tonight's game mean?

The hot takes will be burning up around Midnight EST tonight after the game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs.

Here’s what a win and loss means for each team.

Cavs
A win means the Cavs will improve to 28-9.
A loss means the Cavs will fall to 27-10.

Spurs
A win means the Spurs will improve to 35-6.
A loss means the Spurs will fall to 34-7.

That’s all it means. Look, we all love to make crazy predictions and declarations after these kinds of games. Everyone is going to do the same thing after the game against Golden State on Monday night. Sure, this game and the one against Golden State could be a measuring stick but more than likely that if the Cavs and Spurs/Warriors meet in the NBA Finals that the Cavs roster will look different. The Cavs are going to add a piece or two by the trade deadline.

The Cavs team is just starting to gel now. Kyrie Irving has been #KYRIDICULOUS since he came back including this massive three pointer against the Dallas Mavericks in overtime on Tuesday night:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3aRnG9mhew]

We all know how good Kyrie Irving is, there is no denying that. But Kyrie has the capability to take his game to the next level, MVP level. The only thing that can hold him back from getting there is staying upright and fighting away the injury bug.

Regular season games do have fun match-ups, so here are the three that I cannot wait to see tonight.

Kevin Love vs LaMarcus Aldridge

These two players are two of the best at power forward in the game. Both players can shoot from the outside. Both players can rebound the basketball. I cannot wait to see how they match-up tonight. The key for Kevin Love is his defense. We will have to wait and see if he can keep up with Aldridge all night long as the Spurs use creative ways to get him the basketball.

LeBron James vs Kawhi Leonard

Leonard is playing a high level of basketball this season. He is averaging over 20 points per game and if Steph Curry hasn’t been so ridiculous this season, Leonard would be one of the leading candidates for MVP. We all know how good of a player LeBron is on defense, but Leonard is a pretty good defender too. I am curious to see how well LeBron performs on offense tonight.

Cavs’ Bench vs Spurs’ Bench

Both of these teams have good benches. It has been a staple of the San Antonio Spurs for years. They have players such as Borris Diaw, Manu Ginobli, David West and Patty Mills that come off the bench and play high minutes. They all play at a high level. The Cavs’ bench will have their work cut out for them tonight as Delly, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mosgov try to keep those players in check. The most interesting match-up off the bench is Ginobli and Shumpert. There is no doubt that Shumpert can guard Ginobli so we shall see if he is a big factor.

Cavaliers face tough "Tour of Texas"

What a fun couple of weeks to be a Cavs fan!

The Cavaliers have won seven straight games dating back to 12/26 which means they are undefeated so far in 2016! We are quickly approaching the anniversary of last season’s turning point also.

Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat dribbles the ball during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Arena on December 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat dribbles the ball during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Arena on December 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Last January, our team was a disappointing 19-20 in mid January. The addition of Lebron James and Kevin Love was not paying dividends and the team looked average at best.

As soon as David Griffin made the deals that brought JR Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks and unloaded Dion Waiters to OKC for Timofey Mozgov, the Cavaliers caught fire.

This year we have many more encouraging results and outcomes to show in the first two and a half months of the regular season. 26 wins and nine losses is a hell of an improvement in my book.

Now having said all of that, our next four games are maybe the most critical stretch of the whole season up to this point. The teams that we are facing over the next four have a combined record of 108-43.

During our “Tour of Texas”, as I have dubbed it, we are facing the 22-16 Dallas Mavericks, 32-6 San Antonio Spurs and the 19-19 Houston Rockets. Houston looks like easy pickings with that record but they ALWAYS play the Cavaliers tough.

Look at the tough game that the 4-35 Philadelphia 76ers gave the Cavaliers last night. Teams always seem to be at their best when playing the Cavs.

I expect all of those games to be extremely difficult and will go a long way to determining our progress in developing a championship attitude and resolve for this season. I would be pleased with one win out of those three games as long as we play hard and show heart.

No one is talking much about San Antonio even though they have only registered six losses this season. They have always been a dangerous team and this year is certainly no exception.

The Spurs remain in the shadow of Golden State in the Western Conference and I am certain they prefer it that way. Speaking of our arch nemesis, the Warriors will be waiting for us at home after out Texas road trip to see if there is anything left of us.

We only have one of our nine losses at home this year. After losing to the Warriors on Christmas Day, it sure would be satisfying to defend our home court successfully against them on 1/18.

In grammar news, Kyrie-diculous has officially entered the vocabulary of Cleveland fans and announcers alike. It is truly amazing how quickly he has returned to championship form when it comes to finishing.

The only piece of his game that I feel he is still trying to find is his three point shot. Otherwise, I truly believe that he is, even though he has only been back a few weeks, the best player in the league at the rim.

We cannot ignore the leadership and contributions of James either. He has averaged 26.6 points over the last five games and has also improved his finishing from earlier in the regular season.

He has most definitely been taking the ball to the hoop more consistently than even last season and seems to still be improving. This accomplishes two things from my perspective.

It not only puts teams on the defensive if they are expecting a physical drive but it also racks up personal fouls and creates opportunities from beyond the three point arc for his teammates.

This is a tried and true characteristic of ALL championship caliber teams. This week I am very interested to see if they can couple that with a “win at all costs” mentality and toughness while they visit the Lone Star state.

Cavs Remain Average On The Road

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 29:  Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers grabs a rebound against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 29, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Cavaliers defeated the Nuggets 93-87.   (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tristan Thompson
DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 29: Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers grabs a rebound against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 29, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Cavaliers defeated the Nuggets 93-87. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tristan Thompson

Two wins and two losses. That is how the Cavaliers finished their four-game road trip out west during the holidays.

Even though the team was unable to be home for Christmas, Cleveland was most certainly with them when they faced Golden State on Friday. We were unable to defeat the Warriors on their home court, but there were other small victories to be celebrated.

Most notably was the final score of 89-83. The Cavs were on the short end of that score but the big news is that not one opponent has held Golden State to 89 points in a game this season.

Personally, I think that Steph Curry and company were reminded of the level of defense that our team brings to the table and they were intimidated by it. They have felt invincible this year with the one exception being their loss to Milwaukee.

Every time I have seen the Warriors play, they seem to hit shots whenever they feel like it. This was not the case on Christmas as the Cavaliers disrupted their shots and dove into their passing lanes.

Cleveland’s downfall in the game was their poor offensive performance. Golden State has good defense but we were the ones who caused most of our own misses.

We did not look like an elite offense at all. Iman Shumpert scored zero points in 29 minutes of play while Kevin Love was only able to contribute 10 (but 18 rebounds) in 39 minutes.

So there were some results from that night that were cause for hope. Then they stunk up the court the next night against the Portland Trailblazers.

The Cavs were only able to score 34 points in the first half of play and went on to lose 105-76 to drop their second straight game in as many nights. The thing that bothers me the most is that Portland seemed vulnerable as their star, Damian Lillard, was ruled out for the game, but Cleveland could not capitalize on it.

This is exactly the type of game that championship teams need to be able to win. It doesn’t matter that it was a back to back because they will not be able to use that excuse in May and June so why should it be allowed now?

After a day of rest, the Cavs arrived in Phoenix to battle the Suns. This was the opportunity for the Cavaliers to redeem themselves and they took advantage of it.

Kyrie Irving started to look like the old Kyrie putting up 22 points in 24 minutes and he was helped by 17 points from JR Smith and 14 from Love. Irving’s shooting, especially down the stretch in the fourth quarter resulted in a 101-97 Cavs win.

The final stop, and second back to back in five days, for the Cavaliers landed them in Denver to face the Nuggets. Which version of the Cavs would show up in the Mile High city?

It turns out that the matchup against the Nuggets would be the best performance of the road trip. Lebron scored 34 points on the eve of his 31st birthday to lead the Cavs past the Nuggets 93-87.

I think that it is fitting that the team went 2-2 on the road trip as about half of what they did was great and half was a let down. I, for one, hope that the shortcomings are being worked out of their system in anticipation of a stellar January.

That is what we need to get the city excited and ready. I just don’t feel that way with the performances we have seen lately.

Are the Cavs ready for their January 18th rematch with the Warriors? Will our home court advantage be enough to swing the momentum in their favor?

Obviously, we are back where we started with more questions than answers.

Christmas in Cleveland – Cavaliers Style

I know that there is a Cavaliers game tonight against the Knicks at The Q but I am not going to discuss that matchup. I would like to delve into the Cavs most important game of the year so far which occurs on Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

On Friday, it will have been 92 days since the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in Game six of the 2015 NBA Finals. This will be the first meeting of the teams since June 16th.

A lot of things have transpired on each respective team in that time span. Some were good and some were bad.

Let us catch up with the Golden State Warriors. They are currently touting the best record in the NBA at 26-1 going into their Wednesday matchup against the Utah Jazz.  It is a good bet that their record will be 27-1 when they host our Cavs on Christmas afternoon.

They had a 28-game winning streak dating back to last year’s regular season that was spoiled by the Milwaukee Bucks a couple of weeks ago.

Stephen Curry has played like an MVP again this year, leading the league in points scored per game. It is amazing to me how many shots that kid can make, seemingly, whenever he decides to.

The Warriors have overcome some adversity though this season as well. Klay Thompson has not been 100% healthy, but the largest obstacle for them was losing head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr is rehabilitating some back injuries and has taken a leave of absence to heal more efficiently. Luke Walton (son of NBA great Bill Walton) has taken over as interim coach and obviously has done quite a good job of it.

Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, Lebron James and the Cavaliers have been eyeing Christmas Day as their day for redemption. To be honest, I think that in terms of basketball, this entire city has had December 25th circled for months and it has nothing to do with Santa Claus.

Kyrie Irving returned to the Cavaliers lineup last Sunday and played 17 minutes. He contributed 12 points, one rebound and four assists. This was not a representation of what Irving is capable of, nor was it intended to be.

He is being eased into his return, and for good reason, as the Cavs will need his skill set immensely come playoff time. I know that he has had Christmas on his mind since the NBA schedule was announced. After all, his knee injury occurred in Game one of the Finals against Golden State.

On Friday, Irving returns to the “scene of the crime” in California and is eager to replace the memory of the injury with SportsCenter highlights of the Cavaliers handing the Warrior their second defeat of the season.

Millions of families celebrating the holiday will be sitting together watching this game. What a stage for a story of redemption!

I expect our team to remind, not only Curry and company, but the whole NBA, the level of defense you can expect from the Cavs. As it was in the Finals, I believe that the Cavs need to hold Golden State under 100 points in order to win.

This is no easy task against the most prolific offense in the NBA but I feel that we are up to the challenge. My team has always played better when they are a clear underdog.

That is what needs to be tapped into in this city we call home. There is no greater feeling than accomplishing something that no one thinks you are capable of accomplishing.

After all of the Christmas music is replaced with Auld Lang Syne, and the trash bags sit on the curb stuffed with shredded wrapping paper, Cleveland will know where we stand amongst the NBA elite. Cleveland may just get one of the best gifts it has received in years.
I predict a Cavaliers 98-93 victory which would light a flame in this city that shines just as bright as the one on the first Christmas.

What the Bucks?

I’d imagine the Christmas cards are already en route from Milwaukee to Madison. If not for Bo Ryan’s surprising retirement at last night’s Badgers post game presser, all the talk today would be about the Milwaukee Bucks losing to the hapless Lakers 113-95 days after upsetting the best team in the league in Golden State. Even more so now that video has since surfaced of Bucks players at an L.A. strip club til after 2 in the morning the evening before the Lakers game. Greg Monroe, incidentally one of the players at the club, was a scratch for the Lakers game, apparently from a knee injury suffered at that shoot around hours after Bucks players were seen leaving the club. Ho, ho, ho.

Now let me be clear: we are dealing with alpha males in the prime of their lives who just recently became millionaires. To think that partying, either at gentleman’s clubs or other venues across the country, does not happen with NBA and other professional athletes traveling the globe is naive. I do not intend to sit on my high horse and pass hypocritical judgement on anyone for enjoying themselves or visiting an entertainment establishment on special occasion, possibly even til wee hours of the morning.

The frustration with such activities only really begins to creep in when the team is underachieving and losing in mind-boggling fashion. The Lakers only had 3 wins coming into last night’s contest, and they handled the Bucks easily. Was it because some players were out the night before? Was it because Monroe missed the game? Did he really have a knee injury or was he incapacitated for other reasons? Were those 20’s or 100’s when he was making it rain last night at the club (yes, this is in the video)? Are they incapable of winning on the road (2-11) because some players are often out seeing the city the night before? None of these questions need to be asked if the Bucks show up for their game last night.

Showing up is about all they did, and they may as well not have shown up at all. They showed up 2 games ago against Golden State, and that was a lot of fun. Even so, during the celebration of the Milwaukee Bucks improbable 108-95 victory that ended the Golden State Warriors record streak of wins to start the season, I’d imagine many Bucks fans were swept over by a wanton feeling of dissatisfaction. Don’t worry, as a sports fan this is completely natural. We do not allow ourselves to have nice things for long. That was quite fun, and we’d like to enjoy more of it. Where had that been all year? Where was it last night?

Looking at the win over the Warriors in a vacuum, the Bucks played like a young, talented and energetic team ready to ascend and compete for a spot in or just below the top echelon of the Eastern Conference. If informed that the opponent was the defending champs on a 28 game regular season win streak stretching back to last year that is playing the most impressive basketball we’ve seen in the NBA in quite some time, the feat would seem all the more impressive. Budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo notched his first triple double, and The Greek Freak was the youngest Buck to ever do so at the age of 21. Greg Monroe had a huge night with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists, abusing interior defenders on numerous occasions. Jabari Parker had a season high 19 points in the first 3 quarters, and did not even play in the 4th. Michael Carter-Williams came off the bench to play great on both ends of the court, and put the cap on a great victory with a steal and slam late in the game. He and Monroe combined for 22 of the team’s 28 4th Quarter points. Mayo and Middleton played well early, with the latter going cold after starting off hot, but there was enough team offense elsewhere to more than make up for it.

The defense was the best and most energetic I’ve seen out of them this year, and helped to spark the transition game they took great advantage of against what is a good transition team in Golden State. On offense the ball was moving and everyone was playing together. Passes and cuts seemed more crisp and the sets seemed to flow a bit more smoothly. Even Kidd’s sometimes confusing rotation decisions seemed to mostly be working. Golden State made some runs of their own. The Bucks weren’t perfect by any stretch, but that was a marked improvement over what these young bucks have displayed so far this season.

To be fair Golden State contributed some to Milwaukee’s success. They shot the ball uncharacteristically poorly for their high standards. The rigors of the 7 game road trip they were concluding, including a double OT contest the night before in Boston, seemed to catch up to them a bit. The pressures of their own success seemed to take their toll as they continued to take everyone’s best shot during their historic run. I mention this all to be fair to Golden State, but make no mistake: The Bucks played like they needed to in order to compete against a very good team. They played with energy on both ends of the floor and pulled away from and beat an incredibly talented juggernaut of a basketball team by 13 points, no matter the circumstances. They held the baby-faced assassin Steph Curry to a mere 28 points, which is like holding anyone else to single digits with how he has been playing as of late. They played like many Bucks fans hoped and knew they could this year. But that has not been the story all season. Maybe the strip clubs in Milwaukee have lost their appeal?

Coming off last year’s earlier than expected success, hopes were high for this year’s Milwaukee Bucks team. Adding Monroe as a free agent in the off-season going up against bigger markets was considered a huge coup for a small market team like Milwaukee. They’d be getting last year’s 2nd pick of the draft Jabari Parker back healthy after missing the end of what had started as a promising rookie of the year bid. Battling constant roster changes, including a trade that shook up the roster and chemistry mid-season, new coach Jason Kidd proved his worth by coaching up an injury-riddled and inexperienced team to a .500 regular season that pushed the Bulls to the last game in their playoff series before succumbing to their superior foe. That exciting run helped fuel public sentiment and governmental dealings to get approval for the Bucks to build a new stadium and stay in Milwaukee for decades to come. Things were good, and they were only going to get better.

Last year’s surprising success came a couple years too early in the grand scheme of things for new ownership, but now the future was bright for this season. As the season had worn on leading up to the Golden State game that brightness dimmed to a flicker of fleeting hopes. Bucks fans were then left waiting to see if that huge win could re-ignite the flame in a young team still trying to gel and find it’s way this season. Much to our dismay, we got our answer.

Tonight they face the Clippers in the same venue as last night’s debacle. Let’s hope they were in bed by midnight after watching game film. After L.A. they’ll have a day off (hint: ok to stay out late) before heading to play what will certainly be a revenge-fueled Golden State team, and they’ll close out the road trip at Phoenix on Sunday before coming home for a 2 game home stand against Philadelphia and Toronto sandwiched around a 2 day Christmas break. What that means for the immediate impact on their record is beyond me; they can win or lose against anyone in the league, as they’ve proven in their last 2 games.

Thankfully in the NBA it’s much more important how you’re playing in the 2nd half of the season heading into the playoffs. Putting together some winning stretches to pull back to .500 and prepare to challenge for the Central Division and the Eastern Conference playoffs is still possible. I’ve been caught saying before that the NBA season doesn’t start until Christmas. but it is important not to be too far behind the leaders when the jolly fat man gets stuck in the chimney next week.

So what has plagued the Bucks on the court previous to last Saturday’s magical win? Currently 13th in the East and 5th in the Central, they are 29th in points per game, 30th in rebounding, 6th in assists, 10th in turnovers and 18th in points allowed.

The fact they’re 6th in the league in assists is interesting considering they are near the bottom of the league in scoring. This seems to indicate when they do score it’s through good team offense, but they aren’t scoring nearly enough. Partly due to turnovers, I believe it is also due to them being 2nd last in attempted 3 pointers at only 17.7 per contest. In today’s NBA you need some gunners to spread the court, and though they are 11th in the league in 3pt% at 35.7%, they are not getting those shots in volume because they don’t have a lot of shooters. The irony is not lost on me when I consider that I just suggested that the Bucks need to make it rain from deep more often.

On defense they clearly give their opponents second chances way too often after playing below average team defense to begin with. That sounds like a recipe for a middling to below-average basketball team that will show flashes in spurts but will not be competitive on a consistent basis against any type of decent competition, especially more experienced veteran units. Three more general things I’d like to cover quickly before looking at more specific immediate fixes to this year’s season:

  • Expectations need to be reset by the fan base and I know that is difficult. But the fact remains that this was supposed to be year 2 of an Oklahoma City-styled rebuilding process fueled by talented youth that will play inconsistently as they figure out the NBA game. Last season pushed the expectations ahead faster than expected, but pumping the brakes is apropos here when considering the long term plan. The Durant/Westbrook/Harden blueprint took some time, and in that time it was necessary to have some down years that resulted in consecutive lottery picks to acquire the pieces needed for completing the rebuild.
  • That does lead me to something that needs to be covered here. What exactly is the plan for the future? I was surprised by the Monroe signing in the offseason because it didn’t really seem to fit into the plans. It felt very Herb Kohl-esque in nature, and had a hint of a Mark Attanasio-Jeff Suppan signing if you fellow Brewers fans know what I mean. There’s no real middle ground to rebuilding a professional sports franchise, as Brewers fans will be finding out harshly this season. I don’t recall OKC signing a big name free agent in the midst of their NBA rebuild either. Maybe it can work if the plan is to try to remain competitive while rebuilding the core of the team for the future, but I’ve seen attempts at that before from Senator Kohl’s Bucks teams, and it never ended well, instead miring the franchise in a state of mediocrity for decades.
  • Team composition is something I’d like to touch on a little bit here. It is no secret that Jason Kidd is for all intents and purposes calling personnel shots as well as coaching. John Hammond is a good GM, and valuable to the organization for his experience getting deals done. Though I’m sure his opinions are taken into account on personnel decisions, I think his job now is relegated to much like mine is on the occasional trip to the grocery store. I have a list and I need to abide by that list. I don’t get to go off and select my own ingredients and inject my own opinions very often. The meal has been planned and the ingredients have been listed. It is only my job to attain them now and not really ask questions. When you start to look at Kidd as de-facto GM and coach, it is funny to me to think that he is amassing a team of guys who resemble his playing style very closely. Brandon Knight was a shorter and more scoring-oriented point guard who was dealt last year to acquire a taller and longer point guard that can’t shoot very well from the outside. Sound familiar to anyone? The team is built around having length at every position to be able to defend and get out in transition and play in an equal opportunity offense that spreads the wealth, but, when looking at it’s players, has no semblance of outside shooting to speak of. I find this mildly amusing when comparing to Kidd’s style of game as a player. He’s an all-time great in this game, but he could never shoot the ball well.

After we’ve set expectations appropriately and put aside the debate on the pending plans for the future of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise and how the roster has been assembled, let’s look at a few things that could help the Bucks gain some stability and climb back into the race this season:

  • Consistent effort – I know what I saw against the Warriors and I know I hadn’t seen as much of it prior to that this season. I’d imagine it’s more often the case with younger teams to play up or down to their competition as they struggle to find their way through a long NBA season. I was thrilled when Kidd was hired because I believed he would be a great fit for a young team. How coach Kidd can motivate his players to give the effort needed on a nightly basis will be key to playing better and more consistent basketball this season. Things like defense and rebounding are largely effort based. They have to want it bad enough and be willing to work harder for it, plain and simple. Jason Kidd is incredibly competitive, and though he’s a young coach still, I would think it drives him crazy when he sees his team not playing to their potential in areas such as effort and competitiveness.
  • Shooting – Yes, defense wins championships, but if you can’t score, you’re not going to win in this league. This team sorely lacks consistent outside shooting from the guard and wing spots, which hurts when you don’t have posts that can step out and space the floor too much either. Mayo, Middleton, Bayless (currently out) and 1st round pick Rashad Vaughn all are capable of shooting the 3, but outside of them shooting better and more often, I’m not sure how you fix that at this point in the season. They did draft Vaughn in the first round to address this situation, but getting designed open 3 point looks in rhythm for the few shooters they do have needs to be a higher priority in my opinion. The benefits of spacing for the offense by forcing the defense to respect that credible threat would pay off nicely.
  • Defense – Much of last year’s success was based around great team defense. For much of the stretches where the Bucks had success they were among the league leaders in defensive metrics. Good defense not only helps from the obvious perspective of holding the opponent to less points, but it also fuels transition offense off missed shots and steals, leading to easier points to make up for other offensive inefficiencies. At critical points in games, there’s nothing that helps sustain runs and keep momentum on your side than getting huge defensive stops and turning them into points on the other end.
  • Offensive sets – The equal opportunity offense is a fun one to watch, and play in, but more designed plays to open up specific matchup advantages would be beneficial. Not only to create better looks from 3, but also to take advantage of the new weapon they acquired in free agency. When Monroe has a mismatch in the post, I’d like to see more effort made to run the offense through him. Getting the big man his touches could also help in opening up more clean looks from the outside after forcing defenses to double down and help in the paint.
  • Rebounding – This has been putrid. Rebounding is something you just have to want to do. I have no explanation for it. We can talk technique and defensive/transition philosophies contributing to the issue but we have plenty of data at this point a quarter of the way through the season and it is clear as day to me that they just do not want it as bad as their opponents. The Lakers out-rebounded the Bucks by 16 last night. That is flat out embarrassing. Maybe the Bucks coaches should take a new approach: “You know how that one honey was boxing you out at the club?…”

As Milwaukee continues on this west coast road trip, Bucks fans hope Jason Kidd can find a way to connect with this young team and motivate them to play more inspired basketball with higher defensive intensity and improved offensive efficiency. That could culminate into exciting games like we all had the pleasure of witnessing 2 contests ago against Golden State. It would go along way towards curing any fan concerns with off the court activities. We don’t expect the world.

They say winning cures everything. I would add that just playing respectable and competitive basketball with consistent effort cures most things. Show up for the game tonight against the Clippers and play with intensity throughout, and you can do whatever you want after the game. After all, your next game isn’t until Friday against, gulp, Golden State. Let’s hope the Warriors haven’t made any VIP reservations on behalf of their out of town guests for Thursday night.

Can the Thunder Unseat the Champion Warriors?

The Warriors finally added a blemish to their record-setting start over the weekend when they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.

They are 24-1, and barring any extended injuries to key players it seems that the number one seed in the West, as ridiculous as it sounds to say in mid-December, is under their ownership.

The Warriors boast the league’s best player in Stephen Curry, but there is a team that boasts even more star power in the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have two top five players in Kevin Durant, a former MVP, and Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder sit at 16-8, which is good for third in the West behind the Warriors and Spurs. After a less than impressive start, which included Durant missing six games due to a hamstring injury, the Thunder have seemed to have steadied the ship, currently possessing a five game winning streak.

So are the Thunder capable of beating the Warriors in a seven game series? A lot of things could happen between now and next May, but as of right now, it’s possible but not probable.

The Thunder have played well of late, but it seems their overarching consistency is their inconsistency.

Any chance that they have to beat the Warriors in a series, should they play them, will hinge on Durant and Westbrook’s willingness to involve their teammates.

Durant is third in the league in scoring average and Westbrook is sixth. Together they average half of the Thunder’s per game average. They are the team’s primary ball handlers when they are on the floor.

In a recent game against the Memphis Grizzlies Westbrook and Durant presented the recipe the Thunder must implement to have any hope of knocking the Warriors off of their championship throne.

In the game’s opening minutes Durant and Westbrook got the Thunder going, not by scoring, by passing. The twosome assisted five times to big men Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka to begin the game. Neither one even took a shot during that time. They finished the game with 22 combined assists, Westbrook with 16 of them. In what was easily the Thunder’s best performance of the year, they destroyed the Grizzlies 125-88.

Durant finished with 32 points on an ultra efficient 11 for 14 from the field and six assists while the usually shot-happy Westbrook took only seven shots, making five, to go along with the 16 assists. If you’re keeping score, Durant and Westbrook took a combined 21 shots in the game, embarrassing Memphis by 37 points. Durant and Westbrook average 17 and 18 shots a game respectively. Memphis isn’t the Memphis of the last few years but the Thunder have historically had trouble with the Grizzlies.

The problem for the Thunder is, games like these, even under former head coach Scott Brooks, are merely anomalies. But for them to beat the Warriors in a seven game series, these type of games must be commonplace.

The Thunder will be a difficult out for any team when its supporting cast is consistently engaged on the offensive end by its superstars. Serge Ibaka is at his most effective on both ends when he’s involved on the offensive one. But for him to be a factor on offense, Durant and Westbrook must get him open looks. Ibaka can not consistently create his own shots. His getting off early seemed to energize him in all facets of the game, especially in his forte’: rim protection.

In addition to Westbrook and Durant’s willingness to distribute, the Thunder’s small ball lineup has been highly effective of late as well. Against the Grizzlies, the wiry Durant guarded both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. His length was effective on both. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies had fits on the defensive end as the Thunder closed the first half on a 13-4 run to take a 59-47 lead at intermission.

And speaking of defense, through the first 14 games the Thunder gave up an average of 105.2 PPG, but in the last 10 that number has shrunk dramatically to 94.3 PPG.

The Thunder know the recipe to put themselves in position to take down the Warriors. It begins and ends with Durant and Westbrook’s willingness to engage and involve their teammates on a consistent basis. Stay tuned.

Indiana Pacers: A State of Flux

A lot has changed since the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers ended their season just short of a playoff berth last spring. Gone are veteran power forward David West and defensive-minded center Roy Hibbert. The style of play has also changed, going from a deliberate pace to a more uptempo approach. The other thing that has changed? The team is winning.

Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird was planning to make at least one more run with the core group he had after the 2014-15 season. However, David West chose to opt out of his contract to sign with the San Antonio Spurs (at a greatly reduced salary). Once this domino fell, Bird decided to reshape the team in order to play the uptempo style that he prefers.

In order for the Pacers to play at a faster pace, plodding center Roy Hibbert had to go. He was given, er, traded to the Lakers during the offseason. Now, some players needed to be added that would fit the uptempo game. The most significant of these additions was Monta Ellis, a 6-3 combo guard who is an accomplished scorer and underrated passer. A younger, more athletic center was brought on board when Bird drafted 6-11 Myles Turner out of the University of Texas. There were several other minor player additions made, all with an eye toward playing at a faster tempo.

The big question now would be: after missing nearly the entire season recovering from a gruesome leg injury, what would the Pacers get out of All-Star Paul George?

George was a bright, up-and-coming talent who had already achieved All-Star status after being drafted by Larry Bird in 2010. While practicing with Team USA on August 1, 2014, George suffered a severe leg fracture, causing him to miss all but the last six games of the regular season. After a lengthy rehab process, would Paul George ever be the player he once was?

We now have the answer to this, and it’s an emphatic no. Paul George is not the player he once was, but incredibly, he’s better. So far this season, George has averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game. He’s also shooting an impressive 45% from 3-point range. Add to that the stellar defense he plays every night, and it would be fair to say that George has come back with a vengeance.

There was talk before the season started that George would be moved to power forward in this new uptempo scheme, but that hasn’t been an issue for him or for the team. While George is spending some time at the ‘4,’ it’s not dramatically changing the way he plays…he’s still showing the all-around game that he’s always had, but he’s doing it even better in this system.

pg and cj miles

A guy who deserves a lot of credit for Paul George’s performance so far this year is C.J. Miles. Why? Because C.J. has been willing to take on the daunting task of defending the opposing team’s power forward when that player has superior size and has a post game. Miles is three inches shorter than George, but he’s battling with those big men for the good of the team, and so far, it’s working.

It’s usually difficult for a team to find any success with multiple new players and a new offensive system, but after a slow start, Indiana is really taking to the uptempo approach. It’s a fun system to play in, and the Pacers have a roster stocked with guys who are well-suited for a faster style of play. As much as their offense has improved, their strong defense from last season hasn’t fallen off very much, and that’s a real key to why this new philosophy has been successful.

And, the most important piece to this puzzle has to be Paul George coming back and playing at a superstar level after suffering such a devastating injury. Pacer Nation would have been thrilled if George had just returned to his prior All-Star form, but he’s a better and more dominant player now than he ever was before.

Indiana found out this past Tuesday night just how far they have to go to get to an elite level, however, falling at home 131-123 to the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. The Pacers are now playing a similar style to that of the Warriors, but the Warriors do it better than anyone. The Indiana Pacers are clearly on their way up, but they haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet.

The Pacers have been one of the surprise teams of the league thus far, and the future looks bright as well. They should continue to get better at executing this offense as the season unfolds. The main concern, other than significant injuries, would be maintaining their defensive focus in such an offensive-oriented system. If they can do that, Indiana will be a tough “out” for anyone they play once the playoffs begin.

Which Cavs Lineup is Best?

The Cavs have thrown out many different lineups this season with all of the injuries they have had, but which one has worked the best for the them so far?

They will be referred to as: Lineup A, Lineup B, Lineup C, Lineup D and Lineup E.

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
Mo Williams had a season-high 29 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

With a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, the Cavs improve to 14-7 on the season. It was a gritty win that had the Cavs coming back from a large deficit in which they eventually overpowered the Trail Blazers.

The sleeved jerseys seemed to effect LeBron a lot less this time around as he had a team-high 33 points, including some crucial And-1 plays down the stretch. For the first time in a few games, the ball finally seemed to be moving again and it led to offensive efficiency.

Let us see how this lineups compare against each other

Offensive Rating – The number of points a team scores per 100 possessions.

Lineup A – 103.0
Lineup B – 128.4
Lineup C – 120.3
Lineup D – 93.6
Lineup E – 115.2

Defensive Rating – The number of points a team allows per 100 possessions.

Lineup A – 101.9
Lineup B – 94.4
Lineup C – 67.3
Lineup D – 127.1
Lineup E – 82.4

Net Rating – The difference between Offensive and Defensive Ratings.

Lineup A – 1.1
Lineup B – 33.9
Lineup C – 53.1
Lineup D – -36.6
Lineup E – 32.8

It is very clear that Lineup C has been the best lineup for the Cavs this season. Here are the actual lineups:

Lineup A – LeBron, Love, Mozgov, Smith, Williams
Lineup B – Delly, LeBron, Love, Thompson, Smith
Lineup C – Delly, LeBron, Love, Thompson, Williams
Lineup D – LeBron, Jefferson, Love, Mozgov, Williams
Lineup E – Delly, LeBron, Jefferson, Love, Thompson

There are some other stats that shows how well this lineup works together. Out of the five lineups, this is the best rebounding lineup. They out rebound the opposing team by a ratio of 2:1, including grabbing almost 45% of the offensive rebounds.

Everyone is fascinated with the pace at which the Golden State Warriors play at. When the Cavs are playing this lineup, they are playing just as fast as Golden State is. They average 1.5 less possessions than Golden State, an incredible pace. The Warriors may be good offensively, but they are poor defensively. The Cavs give up 17 less points per possession defensively than the Warriors.

When the Cavs are in this lineup, the opposing team is shooting only 34.3% and they also force their opponents to turn the ball over 20 times every 100 possessions. That is just INSANE.

Where does all of the credit go in this lineup? It is a complete team effort.

Delly has greatly improved his offense this season and continues to pester other players while on defense. LeBron is LeBron. He is the ultimate all-around player. Love has been more involved in the offense this season and the Cavs have benefited greatly from it.

One of the biggest reasons this lineup succeeds is Tristan. He is a monster on the glass and has the arm-length to effect shots at the rim. Mo has been a great welcome to the Cavs this season. The offense just seems to flow while he is in the game. Not only can he pass the ball well, but he can create his own shot.

It will be interesting to see how the lineups are when Kyrie and Shumpert return. When they return, be sure to check back here for a comparison on how the lineups perform. Maybe this lineup will continue to perform at a high level even after they return.

Stephen Curry: Easy Like Sunday Mornin’

I apologize for this article being the umpteenth article of late on Warrior superstar Stephen Curry, but I can’t just sit back and watch him play the game I love at a nearly unfathomable level, while making it look, forgive the cliche’, easy.

This is what the great ones do, no matter the sport they play. They make the difficult look easy. They make it look effortless. Their mechanics are efficiently flawless, void of any unnecessary motion.

He’s unquestionably the most highly skilled player in the NBA. He is its greatest shooter, ball handler, and one of its top creators.

He is not the most athletically gifted as we’ve come to define athletically gifted. He’s not nearly as powerful and explosive as Russell Westbrook. His foot speed is average(although he’s exceptionally quick). His leaping ability is below average. His build is slight. But, behold the skill.

When I heard Curry made 77 consecutive NBA three pointers in a summer shoot around, my initial thought was that the report can’t be true. I was stunned. Most basketball players, no matter the level, would have a difficult time standing under the basket and concentrating long enough to make 77 in a row.

Curry reminds me of the guy or gal we’ve all known, who after completing the same workout we did, didn’t break a sweat while we produced enough of it to fill a gallon milk jug.

As of this writing, Curry’s Warriors have won 18 in a row to begin the season(an ongoing all-time league record) and barring injury, as ridiculous as it sounds 18 games into a season, he’s already locked up his second consecutive MVP award. The Warriors aren’t just eking by teams, they are toying with them and eventually running them out of the gym. 13 of their 18 wins have been by double digits.

And Stephen Curry is the lead assassin, doing whatever he pleases whenever he pleases from wherever(on the court) he pleases. The license to shoot interim head coach Luke Walton has given him has no restrictions(not that it’ll be different when Kerr returns). He’s green-lighted the moment he steps foot into whatever arena in which he’s playing.

But unlike one of his closest(in ability) contemporaries, the previously-mentioned Russell Westbrook, no matter the degree of difficulty in his shot-taking, rare is the time that I can say he took a bad shot. He’s the guy who shows up on the playground courts that no one wants to guard. Curry makes defenders look foolish trying to keep him in front of them, but when they do, he consistently makes shots from places on the floor most players don’t typically have to defend. He’s on course for what will likely be the first of multiple 50-40-90 seasons and has a league-leading player efficiency rating(PER) of 34.73.

But make no mistake, although he is the most deadly shooter in the league, he’s so much more than a brilliant marksman. Remember, his team is on the cusp of achieving a tier in the NBA we haven’t seen since Jordan’s Bulls won 72 in the 1995-96 season.

But this feels different. It seems 70 wins are a forgone conclusion for the Warriors. They may have 30 by the end of the year-30 wins by the end of December! And Curry is the head of the snake, which includes venomous, life-killing fangs. He’s averaging nearly twice as many points as Klay Thompson, who’s second on the teaming in scoring. He runs this Globetrotteresque offense which is averaging a mind-blowing 115.8 points per game while allowing only 99.8 per game. He is Geese Ausbie. And Warrior opponents, nearly all of them to date, have resembled the Washington Generals.

Championships don’t come easy though. No team will allow Curry and the Warriors to waltz to a repeat. The Spurs will have something to say. The Thunder will have something to say. LeBron will have something to say.

But it isn’t playoff time. Heck, we’re all still digesting our Thanksgiving gluttony. Christmas is nearly four weeks away. The regular season is barely a quarter of the way through.

So enjoy the Warriors. Enjoy watching Curry making it look easy while simultaneously ripping the will out of not only his defender, but also his opponent. Enjoy watching the difficult look easy.