Tag Archives: Kevin Love

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.

Who to target at the trade deadline?

The NBA Trade Deadline is less than three weeks away on February 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers may be looking to add a piece.

Before we get into who the Cavs will target, you have to ask yourself, “What needs do the Cavs have?”

Offensive-minded Backup for Kevin Love

The Cavs offense struggles mightily with its second unit. Recently, the Cavs have played Love with the second group in order to maintain some level of offensive competency. It’s no secret that when they play Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao at power forward, they lose offense naturally.

Thompson, with his rebounding prowess, is more suited to play the center position. He can get rebounds by the handful. Timofey Mozgov can stretch the floor with his mid-range shot but he is a center and only a center. Varejao’s mid-range shot is unreliable at best. He has added it to his game over the years but has not been able to hit it consistently.

When you decide to rest Love, who do you put out there at power forward? You can go small and put LeBron there and play Iman Shumpert or Richard Jefferson at the small forward position. It is a mismatch against almost every power forward in the NBA to play LeBron at that position. However, LeBron does need his rest during games.

A solution? Find an offensive-minded power forward, a stretch four, to play when Love needs to go to the bench.

A Potential Replacement for Timofey Mozgov

Timofey Mozgov is in the last year of his contract, and with the NBA Salary Cap rising next season, he is going to get a large contract. There has been speculation that the Cavs will try and trade Mozgov before the deadline. If the Cavs do stand pat and keep Mozgov, it is likely that he will not be with the Cavs next season.

According to Nylon Calculus, a basketball statistical breakdown website, Mozgov ranks in the Top 10 in Percent of Shots Contested at the Rim of those who play at least 18 minutes per game. He is a very good rim protector. So if you are going to replace Mozgov, you have to find someone that is near his level, or has the potential to reach Mozgov’s level of rim protection.

Timofey has also developed a mid-range shot. This season, he has hit 67% (12-18) of his shots from the 16-foot to 3-point range, almost all of them from the left side of the basket.

So what happens if you trade Mozgov? You have to find a reliable backup because Thompson will take over the starting role for good. The Cavs lineup is best with Thompson in the lineup. If you can find a young center, or one with a manageable cap number for three or four years due to the luxury tax, that would be ideal.

Who to Target at the Trade Deadline?

Here are seven names (six realistically), that the Cavs could look at to add to their championship roster.

Al Horford – C – Atlanta Hawks
One Year, $12,000,000

Let’s get this one out of the way first because it is least likely. There are very few reasons why the Hawks would trade their All-Star center. Horford is in the last year of his contract at $12-million.

Horford is going to get one more large contract before he retires, more than the three-year, $60 million contract that fellow Hawk Paul Millsap received last summer. He will more than likely get a max contract, which is going to be massive due to the rising cap.

Whether the Hawks are going to pony up and give him that contract remains to be seen. They have two other centers locked up beyond this season, Tiago Splitter and Walter Tavares. Tavares is an interesting prospect and may be seen as the replacement in the future for Horford.

I could give you a hundred reasons why the Cavs would do this trade.

In order to make the trade work, the Cavs would have to give up Varejao along with other assets to even make the Hawks consider it. The Cavs do not have a pick in the 2016 NBA Draft that they own. The Clippers owe them a second round pick but it is Top 55 Protected. They would have to part with more than one first round picks.

Kosta Koufos – C – Sacramento Kings
Four Years, $7,700,000

Koufos would be a great a replacement for Mozgov. The Sacramento Kings have a loaded front-court with DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein. Koufos has been the third man in this rotation.

Koufos does not have much of an outside game, but he is an above-average defender at the rim. He would fit well defensively in the second unit if the Cavs decide to move on from Mozgov.

In order to get Koufos, the Cavs would be able to use the Brendan Haywood trade exception. They could also throw in a player like Sasha Kaun or Jared Cunningham, but what Sacramento could use is draft picks. There is a relationship in the past with the Cavs and Kings from the JJ Hickson and Omri Casspi trade.

Brandon Bass – PF – Los Angeles Lakers
Two Years, $3,000,000

The Lakers will look to be shedding more salary that is on the books for next year with this summer’s free agency class (Kevin Durant). Bass has averaged 18-minutes per game with only six points and four rebounds per game.

He would not provide the offensive spark that the Cavs need in the second unit, but defensively he would be a good addition. The Lakers would not any salary in return that would be on the books for next year. The Cavs would only be able to use the Haywood extension, which would be a complete waste. The Lakers would have to send a draft pick along with Bass for the Cavs to take the contract.

Terrence Jones – PF – Houston Rockets
One Year, $2,100,000 (Restricted Free Agent after season)

This one is interesting. Terrence Jones is a player who has completely fallen out of the rotation in Houston. Unlike Bass, Jones can definitely provide a spark offensively and is a good rebounder. He is a freakish athlete. The Rockets have recently reacquired Josh Smith so his minutes are more likely to continue falling.

For this trade, the Cavs can use the Mike Miller trade exception, which make this a possibility. The Cavs would be able to sweeten the pot with future unprotected first round picks.

Ersan Ilyasova – PF – Detroit Pistons
Two Years, $7,900,000

I have liked Ersan Ilyasova back to his days with Milwaukee. He is a good athlete, can shoot the three. Detroit does not seem to be going anywhere and they are going to need all the cap room necessary to resign Andre Drummond.

For this trade, the Cavs would be able to use the Haywood trade exception and would likely have to include draft picks. He would be the perfect fit into the second unit.

Markieff Morris – PF – Phoenix Suns
Four Years, $8,000,000

Markieff Morris has fallen out of favor with the Phoenix Suns ever since they traded away his twin brother to the Pistons. He is only 26-years old and has a team friendly contract, especially one with a high luxury tax bill, for the next three seasons.

The Suns may just want to get out of this situation with Morris. The Cavs would have to use the Haywood exception but if the Suns would like a player in return, Varejao would be the likely candidate.

Channing Frye – PF – Orlando Magic
Three Years, $8,100,000

Let’s finish with my odds-on-favorite players for the Cavs to land at the trade deadline. Channing Frye is an older Kevin Love who is not as good at rebounding, but he can definitely shoot. Frye can still give you valuable minutes off the bench behind Love.

Orlando has been trying to rebuild their team since Dwight Howard wanted out of there. At 32-years old, the Cavs would have Frye for the next two seasons and would be the absolute perfect fit in their rotation.

So what would the Magic want? Draft picks. The Cavs can use the Haywood trade exception here again along with draft picks to pry Frye away from the Magic.

Dream Scenario

The Cavs use the Haywood trade exception on Frye and trade Varejao along with say Cunningham and Kaun for Al Horford. Let’s just way that won’t happen.

Personal Favorite Scenario

Channing Frye and Markieff Morris would be two great additions to the Cavs bench and would keep this championship roster together for a few more seasons.

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.

Getting to know: Sasha Kaun

Casual Cavalier fans know and recognize names like James, Irving, Love and even Dellevadova. Today my goal is to introduce a name into the conversation that otherwise has been left out: Kaun

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 5: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 5: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Sasha Kaun is a 6’11”, 250 pound center from Russia that signed with the Cavs late in the summer of 2015. He most recently played for CSKA Moscow winning five championships with them.

He has other connections to this team as well. He played for Coach David Blatt in the 2012 London Olympics where they finished with the bronze in basketball.

The casual fans are now thinking “I know that guy! He is tall and doesn’t talk a lot and rides a bear in that commercial!” Sorry, we are talking about the other Cavs center from Russia this time.

The primary reason you have not heard of Kaun is because he has only played in a handful of games during this regular season. He DID get some regular playing time in the preseason but that feels like a lifetime ago at this point.

After playing several years overseas, there are aspects of the NBA game that Kaun has struggled with adjusting to. Certainly the speed and size of the opponents are enough to throw off anyone coming from the European style of competition, but even things such as the size of the court (which is wider in the NBA than Euroleague) and the fact that the three point line is further from the basket, have frustrated the near seven footer.

Kaun is accustomed to running the pick and roll from his previous team but he has acknowledged that he is used to being closer to the basket after setting his pick and has had to retrain his brain to match the required timing of the new distance.

At the start of the season, Timofey Mozgov (the aforementioned bear jockey) was the starting center for the team. He has not been sharp and reliable since that time and has been replaced, rightfully so in my book, by the more versatile Tristan Thompson.

Mozgov is losing value nearly every time he steps on the court. I think it would be wise to give those minutes to Kaun, if only to see what you’ve got to work with.

I’m sure he is getting plenty of reps at the training facility in Independence, but I also think that we can agree that playing in an actual game is much more telling of a players potential. Like Mozgov, I am sure that Kaun is benefitting from some mentorship from former Cavalier big, Vitaly Potopenko.

Perhaps it is time to shift some of Potopenko’s focus to Kaun in lieu of Mozgov. Kaun was signed to a fairly meager deal compared to the rest of the roster so what do we have to lose?

I hope that Blatt can look past the adjustments that Kaun needs to make and see that over many seasons in Russia he shot 70.4 percent and even in the meager amount of minutes and opportunities during this season he has shot 60 percent.

Kaun may never be a starter in this league but I think he can be a solid contributor off of the bench after he works out some of the kinks. Here’s hoping the Cavaliers invest some minutes in the big man and try to get a good return on their investment.

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 Show Their Double-edged Sword

The Cleveland Cavaliers have piled up three consecutive wins in the last five days and they have done it with both their offense and defense.

Offensive ‘Sword’

The Cavs put up three 100 point-plus wins against the Orlando Magic (104-79), the Toronto Raptors (122-100) and the Washington Wizards (121-115).

In those three games, LeBron James posted 29, 20 and 34 points respectively. His three point shot has been a work in progress this season so he has had to find other ways to attack the rim. So far this season, LeBron has scored 55.6% of his points in the paint, which would be the highest percentage in his career if he maintains this pace. In his last three games, he has scored 68.3% of his points in the paint, an astonishing number. Tonight against the Wizards, he was 4-9 from three-point range, hitting four of five in a three minute stretch.

But it isn’t only LeBron making an impact offensively. The Cavs’ bench has been a big impact as well.

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

In the games against the Magic, Raptors and Wizards, you have seen these performances:
James Jones (Magic): 10 points
Mo Williams (Magic): 8 points
Timofey Mozgov (Magic): 7 points
Matthew Dellavedova (Raptors): 11 points

The lack of Cavs’ depth showed last season when they got to the NBA Finals. They were forced to start Delly and Thompson and players such as Mike Miller and James Jones were forced to play a high amount of minutes. They were put into spots where they weren’t used to playing.

This Cavs’ team is different. Because of injuries early in the season, other players have been forced to step up. When Irving returns, the Cavs’ rotation will be 11 deep, which is one less than the 13 needed for the active roster. Right now, they are the deepest team in the NBA and it has only gotten deeper now that Kyrie Irving has returned and is playing at a high level.

Defensive ‘Sword’

The Cavs’ defense shined against the Magic, in a game that was fueled with emotion, holding them to 79 points and shooting 38.2% from the field for the entire game. Their defense also had a strong two quarters against the Magic, which helped them build their lead. In those 1st and 2nd quarters, they held the Magic to only 32 points.

The player who had the biggest impact against the Magic? Kevin Love. Love’s defense is vastly underrated. Channing Frye, the Magic’s starting power forward went for 3 points on 1-4 shooting. We all know how good defensively LeBron and Iman Shumpert are, but Love hasn’t been exactly praised for his defense.

Cleveland is 3rd in the NBA in points allowed with 96 points per game. They also force other teams to hold the ball. The Cavs do not allow passes to open players. They rank 5th in the NBA in opponents assists.

Double-Edged Sword

The most complete game the Cavs played was against the Orlando Magic, blowing them out 104-79. The entire Cavs’ team put out a great effort against the Magic. They only had FOUR turnovers for the entire game.

It is awesome to see what Iman Shumpert’s return has done to this Cavs team. He is such a great defender coming off the bench and can guard multiple positions. In the game against the Magic, he had a +21 plus/minus for the 21 minutes he was on the court. That is outstanding.

The most interesting thing I saw during these games? It would have to been the line-up that the Cavs put out there tonight against the Wizards. They had Kyrie, Delly, JR, Shumpert and Thompson, four guards and a power-forward. It gave the Wizards problems, regardless of the fact that Irving went #KYRIDICULOUS on them, scoring 10 straight points to start the 4th Quarter.

Coming up, the Cavs continue their six-game road trip with stops in Minnesota, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Then, they come back home for revenge against the Golden State Warriors

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!