Tag Archives: JR Smith

Cavaliers offend with their offense

After declaring a rebirth of sorts for the Cleveland Cavaliers in my last piece, I now feel a bit of egg running down my face after the team has dropped two very winnable games this past week. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two factors that I think led to these disappointing outcomes.

I have said this before, and it rings true this week as much as it has all season. We MUST win the games we are supposed to win!

No one takes us seriously when we beat the #2 team in the league one week and lose to a sub .500 team the next. It makes fans and the national media question whether we are actually a good team or just putting on a show with smoke and mirrors.

Offensive Strategy: At times, I find the strategy that the Cavaliers decide to use on offense, offensive. Meaning that it offends my common sense approach as an analytical fan.

For example, when the game is close or we are starting to squander a lead late in a game, why on earth do any of these professional players think that the best idea is to run the shot clock down and hoist up a three pointer? Is it an engrained desire to be the hero as they have practiced thousands of times since they were first introduced to the game as kids?

Sure, sometimes the shot goes in and we all talk about how clutch that player is and how they always seem to bail us out. Most of the time, those shots do not go in and amongst fans there seems to be no accountability for having just wasted a crucial possession.

We should be taking high percentage shots from the paint in these situations. This is the most opportune time to rely on Kevin Love.

He has shown over the last few weeks to be not only shooting a high percentage from down there, but it also puts him in a great position to possible secure an offensive rebound for another clock eating possession. I don’t understand why we settle for just running out 24 seconds and taking a low percentage shot when we can get a higher percentage shot and possibly the chance to run out 40 seconds.

I also want to complain about one more strategy on offense that goes hand in hand with the one I just mentioned. That strategy is the isolation play for James.

Yes, I realize that he is The King and can make his way past most defenders one on one and get a high percentage shot, but it is what consistently happens AFTER he makes it past the player defending him that is in question.

Either he takes a tougher than necessary shot trying to get an “And One” and doesn’t get the call, OR if he does get the call and misses we take our chances at the free throw line.

For being a superstar in our league and contending with James Harden for most “And One” opportunities amongst all players, he has been mostly inconsistent at the free throw line. In close games like the 104-103 loss to Boston, #AllFreeThrowsMatter

Another thing that the isolation play does when you run it over and over, is that it gives the opponents time to rest as the play usually consists of James on one end of the court and the rest of the players just standing around watching on the other side. Make these guys run the slalom around picks at the end of the game so that the fatigue catches up with them and they will make more mistakes.

If Lue is dead set on running the ISO in these situation, PLEASE do it with Kyrie! At least he is shooting a reasonable percentage from the line and finishes just as well or better than James.

Bench Play: The contributions off of the bench in these two most recent losses have been truly disappointing as a collective group. Dellevadova being out with a hamstring issue only cements my suspicion that he is maybe the most important component of the second unit.

The strength of the second unit is clearly anchored in Iman Shumpert’s ability to steal the ball and make players think twice about lazy passes. This is an invaluable asset that we have as it gives us more possessions in addition to take potential points off of the board for our adversaries.

From an offensive standpoint, we just cannot produce consistently. Just when we think that Mozgov has “figured it out” he reminds us that there is a reason he is not starting anymore with another blunder at a crucial juncture.

Against the moderately talented Charlotte Hornets all that out five bench players could amass was 13 points. Delly is averaging over 8 points per game on his own so his contributions are clearly missed.

We cannot expect to win close games without these intangibles. I challenge the players and coaches to play a smarter game and, if necessary, make some key changes to the team that put us in a stronger position to contend in the Finals.

Even if we play horribly, we will get one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference purely based on our talent level. Having Kyrie and Love in the Finals this year will not matter though unless some of these issues are corrected.

I’m ready to see if Tyronn Lue is up to that challenge.

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.

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.

How Good Are The Cavaliers Thus Far?

Our Cleveland Cavaliers have taken us on quite a ride this year. We have already experienced our share of ups and downs.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 23: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Orlando Magic on November 23, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** LeBron James
CLEVELAND, OH – NOVEMBER 23: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Orlando Magic on November 23, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** LeBron James

This week, I would like to breakdown my thoughts on our team, player by player. I think discussing the progress (or lack thereof) for each player could help us understand how we have gotten to a 15-7 record and held onto the number one spot in the Eastern Conference. Lebron James: James is obviously the leader of this team. His 26.4 pts/game, 7.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game have him ranked in the top 10 in the NBA. This year has been no different in terms of his playing style. His minutes are being more closely managed but when the game is on the line, minutes don’t matter and “The King” takes over games. Kevin Love: At 17.8 pts/game, 11 rebounds and 2.5 assists, Love has been our number two producer on offense behind James. While he had a red hot start to the season his numbers have dropped some and he has only hit one three point shot in the last five games. J.R. Smith: Smith also had some difficulty hitting his three pointers at the beginning of the season. He managed to only make six of them in the first seven games. Over the last 15 games, Smith has hit 33 and has helped stretch the opponent’s defense more often as a result. He has also improved his defensive contributions over the last eight games with 11 total steals. Timofey Mozgov: The Cavaliers seven-foot center has been both a blessing and a curse so far this year. His turnovers and 4.1 rebounds/game have been a bit of a liability. There have been moments where I have thought that maybe he has figured out his role on the team, but he still makes an overabundance of mental errors. This causes the team to be less effective when he is on the court. Tristan Thompson: Thompson continues to be a strong contributor to this team coming off of the bench. His work ethic and focus on the glass, help to keep us in games when our starters are resting on the bench. When Thompson is in for Love, we lose some offensive potential but maintain our defensive presence. I would like to see him be more involved in taking shots from the paint and/or drawing fouls. Matthew Dellavedova: Delly has been our most improved player this year in my eyes. While he will never be a dominant player in the league, he always seems to bridge the gaps that our team has from time to time. Whether it is playing the alley-oop game with Thompson, driving in for a floater, or playing suffocating, high energy defense, he has definitely made the most of the minutes he has received. Moving into the starting role at PG, so the team can prepare for the return of Kyrie, has given him even more confidence. Mo Williams: Williams has transitioned to coming off of the bench after being the starting point guard when the season began. This was orchestrated to prepare him for his bench role when Irving returns from his knee injury. He has been consistent offensively and remains one of our strongest jump shooters on the second team. Richard Jefferson: Jefferson has been a welcome addition to this team. He is averaging just under 23 minutes and seven points per game. He is an upgrade from the Mike Millers and Shawn Marions of last year. Jefferson has also outplayed the younger James Jones whom I have not been at all impressed with this season. Anderson Varajao: The “Wild Thing” has proven to be an asset within the minutes he is given. He continues to exhibit his strong work rate and while he is not as limber as he was 2 injuries ago, the occasional jump shot or tip in for the second team is a welcome contribution. Iman Shumpert: Shumpert only returned this past Saturday but immediately put up 14 points on 66% three point shooting and three rebounds. I am excited for, not only the offensive bump he will give us, but also his defense which will start to make other teams think twice about making lazy passes. Kyrie Irving: We have not seen Irving on the court since his knee cap injury in the Finals against Golden State. He has been participating in full practices, and it was rumored that he may even make his season debut in Saturday’s game, but it was not to be. He is the one game changing player that can push us to achieve the team’s highest potential. This Cavs fan is ready to experience Cleveland basketball at that level again!

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.

Cavaliers Have An Identity Crisis

OK, nobody panic!

Yes, the Cavaliers have lost three in a row and four of the last six, but there are good reasons why.

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)

Well, there are reasons, though, I’m not sure how good they are. Wait, do not they call those excuses?

Regardless, the Cavaliers have not been particularly fun to watch lately. The lone exception for me being their run against the New Orleans Pelicans to force OT on Friday.

Let me rephrase, Lebron James’s run to force OT in New Orleans. It appears that the Cavs have shown us yet another version of the team and I’m not much of a fan of this one.

There is this strange phenomenon that I have noticed about certain player statistics in relation to whether we win or lose. Has anyone else noticed it?

When JR Smith outscores Kevin Love, we lose. That was the case in all of the previous three losses in a row.

Smith had a rough start this season and Love was off of the charts to begin the year. Since Smith has been shooting at a higher percentage, Love’s numbers have dropped.

Why is this? Can we not have a team where everyone has good offensive production and we win?

In regards to Love, I have noticed that at times, recently, he has reverted to his offensive role from the 2014-2015 season which was primarily three point shooting. I thought we were having much more success using him in the paint and as a side bonus we were getting many more rebounds.

A friend suggested that the Cavaliers look bored. Its almost as if they are more comfortable playing with a double digit deficit.

There is no doubt that this team has the heart and talent to make runs and erase large leads. Personally, I would prefer NOT to always play from behind as that kind of pressure can wear on players during a season.

Something that I alluded to in an earlier article has continually come up this season as well. It has to do with our illustrious King, Lebron James.

The aforementioned “run” against the Pelicans on Friday was almost completely orchestrated by James. As he has many times in his career, he just took over.

The fact that no team can stop him when he is in that “zone” should not be a reason for it to be used as the team’s go to method of getting back into games. I sincerely hope that none of his teammates consciously think: “Just give it to LBJ and stay out of his way”

I certainly think James prefers things to go that way. In those instances, he knows that he can trust himself to either win the game or take the blame.

Those are both roles that he has fully accepted throughout his career no matter where he has played. It would be a breath of fresh air to see him actively encourage another player, like Love, to shoulder that burden once in awhile.

Love has shown flashes of brilliance on the court this year in moving closer to his statistical achievements with Minnesota. These last few games it appears as if he has been removed from being the focal point of the offense.

Is this a strategy to keep teams guessing? Possibly, but I would have abandoned it as soon as it cost us our first loss.

Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert have resumed full contact practice with the team. One or both could return to the starting lineup before the year is over.

We all saw an example of the team trying to save Lebron’s body for the post season when he sat out against the Miami Heat on Saturday night. The outcome was an embarrassing, one-sided affair that not only gave the Heat a great deal of confidence, but also moved them into a tie with us for first place in the division.

I don’t think that the year’s Cavaliers are necessarily playing for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. It looks like they are fine with being the second or third seed as long as the team is healthy and rested.

We may not see the “real” Cleveland Cavaliers until playoff time.

Kevin Love emerging early in the season

It has only been two games, however you can see that this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers team will be better than last.

Gone are the likes of Mike Miller, Dion Waiters and Kendrick Perkins. It is unfortunate about Perkins because I was hoping he would be around for the first Boston Celtics game (Kelly Olynyk).

The team brought in Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson and Sasha Kaun. And to borrow one of the Indians favorite sayings, “The team got back a healthy Anderson Varejao which is like making a deal at the trade deadline without having to give anything up.”

Throughout the first two games, something is very clear. Until Kyrie Irving returns from injury (insert Indians quote again), Kevin Love is going to be the primary option offensively.

Kevin Love Shot ChartLove was two baskets per game last season from being a 20 point/10 rebound player like he was in Minnesota. He look out sorts offensively all of last season, never getting into the groove. It appears that the focus of the offseason and training camp was to figure out how to get Love the ball more.

Love has touched the ball more under the basket than he did last season through the first two games. But the biggest change as designated by the shot chart is that he is getting more touches on the elbow.

Getting more touches around the elbow is vital for the Cavs’ offensive success. He really stretches the floor for the Cavs offensively. Stretching the floor gives LeBron more room to drive to the basket and helps Tristan and Mozgov get more offensive rebounds.

Another big change for the Cavs this season is the play of the bench in the first two games. It is clear to see why the Cavs went out and got Williams. He can still contribute consistently at his age. When Irving comes back, Williams will really give the Cavs a scoring threat off the bench and will pair up with either Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith.

Outlook

The Cavs take on the Miami Heat tonight at The Q for their home opener. The place is going to be electric. The Heat seem to be the media darling to dethrone the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. I’m sorry. That is just not going to happen.

We all know that Dwayne Wade is not going to stay healthy the whole season and Heat will go as far as Wade goes. They do have a formidable front court now with the return of Chris Bosh and the surprising emergence of Hassan Whiteside last season.

I expect the Cavs to go small tonight and put LeBron on Bosh for the game. It depends on if the Heat pair Bosh with a center or he plays that position tonight. If they do go with Bosh at center, I would expect the Cavs to counter with Mo, Delly, Smith, Thompson/Love and LeBron. I am looking forward to seeing Delly pester Wade all night.

After having back-to-back games on the road to start the season, the Cavs have the next five of six at home against Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Indiana and Utah. The schedule gives the Cavs an opportunity to get off to a fast start.

Quick thoughts:

  1. Kaun really takes up some space, and that is a good thing.
  2. Matthew Dellavedova looks like an improved player offensively.
  3. Where in the heck did Jared Cunningham come from? Oh, the Cavs actually drafted and traded him. It appears he can contribute this season.
  4. I am comfortable with James Jones never taking another 3 this season.

The Cavs are Fun Again

Early in the season, it was not uncommon for Cleveland fans to state that they did not feel a connection to the team. The roster resembled a “superteam” that we have grown to dislike ever since the creation of one directly caused the Cavaliers to become literally the worst team from 2010-2014.

People flocked to social media to say that they are excited to have the team that was in place, but that they didn’t necessarily feel like it was as fun as previous LeBron James Cavs teams were. Perhaps a reason for that was because the roster felt like it was bought as opposed to built. That shouldn’t have really mattered that much given that LeBron James returned home where he (arguably) belonged and that Kevin Love was here only because the Cavs traded away a potential superstar talent in Andrew Wiggins to bring him on board.

This season was an adjustment for Cleveland fans. For years we were looking ahead. Trades were made in order to obtain assets. Cashing them in was an abstract idea that would happen on day in the distant future. Instead of trading Anderson Varejao for a prospect and a 1st round pick, the Cavs extended him for a multi-year deal. David Griffin traded away 9 draft picks since the draft and the end result is a team that is in contention.

The reason this was likely an adjustment is because there were suddenly expectations for the team to succeed. Rooting for a horrible team is not fun, but it is in a way a less stressful experience. The team is expected to lose. There are no heartbreaking losses. In fact, losses are oftentimes considered a good thing. The only thing that matters is acquiring more assets and doing well in the lottery. Given Cleveland’s ability to win the lottery and trade guys like Jon Leuer for a lottery pick, it was a more simple time.

The Cavs absolutely have to do well this year. A trip to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals will not cut it. Kevin Love has the ability to walk at the end of the year and given how poorly he has been treated by the media, fans and even teammates, it would not be a surprise to see him leave if the team does not live up to its lofty expectations.

At one point, the Cavs had a 19-20 record and did not look even remotely close to being a contender. In addition to the team being an adjustment to the fans, something else felt off. The roster lacked any sort of characters that make rooting for a team fun. Dion Waiters was entertaining in his own way and Cavs fans really took a liking to him, but it became abundantly clear that he did not fit on the roster. The team needed someone who was comfortable taking catch-and-shoot threes and he liked to dribble and dribble and dribble.

In came J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov and the team became a lot more fun to root for. Sure, it had something to do with that series of trades turning the season around. Winning is the most important thing. Nobody would confuse the San Antonio Spurs for the Memphis Grizzlies but their fans do feel a connection. Winning has that result. The Cavs weren’t winning and had a roster full of pretty boring guys prior to that trade. J.R. Smith has been everything on and off the court that we hoped Dion Waiters could but refused to be. Timofey Mozgov is like the low-key goofy guy who is fun to be around. Iman Shumpert plays hard, gets a ridiculous amount of steals and is fun to watch when he is in the game and when he is celebrating on the bench.

The tone that LeBron James set on media day in 2014 was that of all business. Perhaps he wanted to send the message that this was not going to be like the 2008-2009 team that went over the top with its celebrations and pre-game fake pictures. Setting that tone was probably necessary, but the addition of the three new players and their more laid-back and fun attitude has made for a much more pleasant viewing experience for Cleveland fans.

The Cavs Have Been Good Since January 7th

January 7th is a key date in the current Cavaliers campaign because that was the date that JR Smith played his first game with the team. JR Smith is not a measuring stick type player like one would expect from Kyrie Irving or LeBron James, but his arrival marked the beginning of the Cavs turning their season around. Gone was Dion Waiters and his over-dribbling and in came JR Smith and his ability to catch-and-shoot.

SunsCavaliersBasketball-03577The Cavs at that point had a lackluster 19-16 record. They couldn’t stop anyone defensively and boasted a defensive rating of 108.5 points per 100 possessions. To put it into perspective, the championship-clinching Spurs of 2014 had a defensive rating of 100.1. The previous two Heat teams that won titles had defensive ratings of 100.5 and 97.1. The team that won a title in recent memory that was closest to the Cavs’ 108.5 defensive rating was the Dallas Mavericks who had a 102.3 rating, and that’s a significant gap.

In other words, the Cavs had to be a better defensive team if they even wanted to think about playing in June.

Since January 7th, the Cavs have the 16th best defense with a defensive rating of 105.6. These numbers are not necessarily good; they are about as average as they come. Since the trades, the Cavs are an average defensive team. This is a long way from when they were a horrible defensive team that didn’t offer any rim protection.

The Cavs do not have what I consider to be a championship-caliber NBA defense. I am not sure that really matter because of how good the team is on the offensive end of things. Since January 7th, the Cavs have the NBA’s best offensive rating of 113.5 points per 100 possessions. Their net rating during this time period (the difference between offensive rating and defensive rating) is 7.9, which is third best in the league.

Prior to the trades, the Cavs net rating was only 1.4. Having a jump of 6.5 after making the trades is pretty remarkable.

Another interesting statistic of note is how often the Cavs are shooting threes lately. From October 30th to January 6th, the Cavs averaged 23.1 three point attempts per game. Since January 7th, they are shooting on average 30.5. Since February 1st, that number has jumped to 31.4. In March, the Cavs are shooting 32.4 threes per game.

The Cavs have become a better scoring team which can be attributed to having a better roster surrounding the big three. It should also be noted that the offensive numbers have improved since they started shooting a lot of threes. The old school NBA fan and writer is not a fan of teams taking so many three point shots, but the analytics movement dictates that they are the best shots to take in addition to right beneath the basket. The old adage “live by the three and die by the three” is no longer in play. The San Antonio Spurs made the 5th most threes of all playoff teams last year and it didn’t cost them an early exit. With teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trailblazers all shooting a lot of threes and having regular season success doing it, it is antiquated to be adamantly against the “pace and space” era that we are currently in.

The Cavs are winning despite their tough schedule and are doing it by playing acceptable defense and shooting a lot of threes. It is important that they take smart threes instead of those that are contested in nature, but they should not change the game plan because members of the local media do not like where the game is heading. If anything, the Cavs should play less isolation ball. It’s a bad habit that they have fallen into and LeBron James is the biggest culprit of it. The team will be easier to oust in the playoffs than they should be if they don’t start having off-ball movement and running some offensive sets. It’s up to David Blatt to make that happen.